Businessman to replaced Hukill in Senate race

With less than four weeks before the Nov. 6 election, a Volusia County businessman will replace the late Sen. Dorothy Hukill in a race for a Central Florida Senate seat.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal and Florida Today reported that Republican leaders from Volusia and Brevard Counties on Thursday night picked businessman Tom Wright to run in Senate District 14.

The GOP has had to quickly find a candidate after Hukill died Oct. 2 following a battle with cervical cancer. With vote-by-mail ballots already sent out, Hukill’s name will remain on the ballot — with votes cast for her going to Wright.

Wright, 66, lives in New Smyrna Beach and owns businesses in Minnesota. Florida Today reported that he will fund his own campaign but has not determined how much he will spend.

“I am a self-made businessman,” Wright wrote in a letter to a nominating committee, according to Florida Today. “I have no one that I owe or am beholden to. Through hard work, I have been blessed with business success, and I know firsthand what it takes to run a business, make payroll, live within a budget and make the tough decisions that come with running a business.”

District 14 includes southern Volusia County and northern Brevard County. Hukill, a longtime lawmaker from Port Orange, faced only an unaffiliated candidate in winning the seat in 2016.

Wright will run against Brevard County Democrat Melissa “Mel” Martin in the November election. Martin, a former judge advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps, had raised $41,850 for the race as of last Friday and had about $27,000 in cash on hand, a finance report shows.

District 14 has not been one of a handful of high-profile Senate races that the state Republican and Democratic parties targeted this year. As of last week, for example, state Democratic leaders had provided little in-kind assistance to Martin — one indicator of attention from state parties and leaders, according to Martin’s finance report.

Hukill had raised $249,221 for her re-election bid, though she had not raised any money since mid-September, reports show.

Some high-profile names were floated as possible replacement candidates for Hukill, including former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and state Rep. Tom Goodson — all Brevard County residents.

But Wright and three other finalists considered Thursday night did not have legislative experience.

Hukill, 72, died after a recurrence of the cancer that forced her to watch the 2017 legislative session from home while she underwent treatment. Hukill, who was chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, returned for the 2018 session and planned to seek another four years in Tallahassee.

But she announced Sept. 28 that she was ending her re-election bid due to an “aggressive recurrence” of cancer and that she was entering hospice.

Jim has been executive editor of the News Service since 2013 and has covered state government and politics in Florida since 1998. Jim came to the News Service in 2011 after stints as Tallahassee bureau chief for The Florida Times-Union, The Daytona Beach News-Journal and Health News Florida. He moved to Florida in 1990 and worked eight years for the Times-Union in Jacksonville and St. Johns County. A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he graduated from Northwestern University and worked at The Blade newspaper in Toledo, Ohio, before moving to the Times-Union. Jim enjoys covering legal and regulatory issues and has extensive experience in covering health care.