Primary Election Winner Will Square Off Against Current District 60 Rep. Shawn Harrison
By Matt Wiley
Following a small hiccup in issuing correct absentee ballots, the Florida House District 63 primary election is fast approaching and two Democrats have their eyes set on the seat currently held by District 60 Rep. Shawn Harrison (R-New Tampa), but they will have to defeat one another first.
On July 16, 166 New Tampa registered Democrats in Precinct 363 received absentee ballots that were missing this Democratic primary race, which is set for a vote on Tuesday, August 14. In the running to be Harrison’s Democratic opponent are ZJ Hafeez, who has run for the Florida legislature in another district, and longtime area resident Mark Danish. Neither name appeared on the initial absentee ballots.
“We caught the mistake early,” says Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office spokesperson Travis Abercrombie. “We mailed out corrected ballots on July 18 with an insert that explained to voters that the initial ballots were incorrect.”
Abercrombie says that the office has been keeping track of who requested the ballots while making sure that the ballots that are returned are the corrected versions.
The winner of the primary on August 14 will go head-to-head against Harrison in the general election in November.
Hafeez feels confident that he will be the name on the November ballot.
With economics and political science degrees from the New College of Florida in Sarasota, as well as a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, Hafeez, 28, says that he feels qualified to represent New Tampa in the Florida House.
After law school, he says, he spent a year living in Geneva, Switzerland, where he worked for the World Trade Organization in the legal affairs division and dealt with trade policies. He then returned to Tampa and worked for Quality Health Plans as a legal consultant before opening his own private law practice in downtown Tampa. Hafeez also is an advisory member of the Tampa-Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization.
He previously ran for the Florida House Dist. 67 seat against Rep. Greg Steube in 2010, but lost that time with only 27 percent of the vote. However, he says that loss helped prepare him to run a better campaign this time around.
“It’s what’s given me the skills to beat Shawn Harrison in the general election,” he explains. “We know how to win a campaign this time. This District is for Democrats to win.”
Hafeez says that he thinks Rep. Harrison is “out-of-touch” with the residents of the Distrct and doesn’t vote for the things he says he stands for. Hafeez says that Harrison voted to cut budgets for higher education, including USF, and that even though Harrison says he supports small businesses, he currently is not supporting any legislation from which they would benefit. If elected, Hafeez says, he wants to get more funding for higher education and the public school system, instead of cutting even more funds for education.
“Our biggest issue is trying to get Florida back to work,” he says. “We want to work to create high-quality jobs for the state, and a big part of doing that is to reinvest in education. Our K-12 system really needs a lot of work and I have some specific policy ideas to help fix that (problem).”
Hafeez says he and his wife Fatima, who works at USF, are house hunting in New Tampa. They are expecting their first child later this year.
A local teacher and current New Tampa resident, Mark Danish also says that he has what it takes to properly represent our area in the state House.
After graduating from the City University of New York in 1976 with a degree in earth and environmental science with secondary education, Danish moved to Tampa and began his career as a middle school science teacher. He has no previous elected office political experience, but Danish says his experience as a teacher is what sets him apart from both his primary election opponent Hafeez and from Rep. Harrison.
“I have taught countless students over the last three decades,” he says. “I know what it is like to struggle each month to provide for my family, to pay a mortgage and send my kids to college. I know what the people in my community need because I have lived either in Lutz or New Tampa for the last 35 years.”
The focus of his campaign, he says, is on jobs, education, infrastructure and tax reform. “I believe that we must literally build our way out of this recession,” he says. He adds that he believes that the state needs to invest more in roads, bridges and, yes, high-speed rail, and to stop reckless cuts to education.
“(Florda Gov.) Rick Scott and Shawn Harrison may think that it’s a good idea to cut public education and higher education funding, but I beg to differ,” Danish explains. “We need to stop these reckless cuts, and invest in our children’s future. Businesses will only be attracted to Florida if we have the best-educated workforce possible.”
Rep. Harrison says that he is excited about the November election. “I’m looking forward to facing off against whoever wins the primary,” he says. “(This election) is going to be based on ideas, experience and longevity in the District. It’s going to be exciting.”
For more info about the Dist. 63 Democratic primary candidates, please visit their respective websites at VoteZJ.com and MarkDanish. com. And, please be sure to vote in the August 14 primary election!