Scott Franklin

Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, a first-termer representing Florida’s 15th District, which includes northwest Polk, east Hillsborough and Clermont.

It’s rare for an incumbent to be challenged by a member of his or her own party. But Spano continues to be under federal investigation over money he loaned his campaign during his successful 2018 race to succeed U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, who decided not to run for re-election.

Spano initially said that nearly $175,000 he loaned his campaign was his own money. But it was later determined that Spano received $180,000 in loans from personal friends.

“There’s no question there’s a cloud hanging over the seat. That’s indisputable,” Franklin said. He said he wants to focus his campaign on what he can bring to the district and not on “the alphabet soup” of queries into Spano’s troubles.

Franklin, 55, was elected to the Lakeland City Commission in 2017 and began serving in 2018.

He said he deliberated for months about challenging Spano in the Republican primary and the tipping factor was that people in the district deserve better leadership.

Franklin said he would not be surprised if other Republicans got in the race against Spano. The filing deadline is noon April 24, and the primary election is in August.

The winner of the Republican primary will still face an election challenge. Two Democrats — state Rep. Adam Hattersley and former TV news anchor Alan Cohn — have entered the race and are gathering financial support and endorsements.

Spano was not pleased with Franklin’s announcement, particularly the timing. He responded to LkldNow via email.

“My approach to public service has always been ‘People not Politics.’ Today, I announced a temporary pause to my campaign to fully address this public health crisis related to COVID-19.

“I find it unsettling that Scott Franklin would choose to launch a campaign during these trying times. I remain focused on serving my community: working with President Trump, talking to pastors, healthcare providers, constituents and small business owners from across the district — and politics is the last thing on everyone’s minds. Focusing on anything else right now does not reflect the values of Florida’s 15th District.”

Franklin said he knew when he filed to run for office that Spano would criticize his timing. He said with a filing deadline to run for the office in April and with no quick end to coronavirus, there is no date to file that would be considered good timing.

Franklin, whose campaign website proclaims him a “Conservative for Congress,” is a business advocate. In a recent city discussion, he questioned the cost of the city requiring sprinkler systems in some buildings.

He said he is proud to be part of the “collective renaissance” in improving the city’s downtown.

Franklin spent 14 years in the Navy. He was a naval carrier pilot who flew S-3 Viking jets in the Bosnian War, Kosovo and Desert Shield.

Franklin also served as CEO of the insurance company Lanier Upshaw. The Lakeland-based company announced in December that it was being acquired by BRP Group, a Tampa insurance distribution and holding company.

Franklin said he has a long list of things he’d like to help accomplish as a congressman. Improving transportation and the infrastructure and providing for a strong armed forces are a few of his priorities.

He said he also wants to help restore trust in government, promote civility and reduce cynicism in Washington.

Prior to Spano, a Valrico resident, the seat was held by Republicans Dennis Ross and Adam Putnam, both of Polk County.

Members or Congress are paid $174,000 per year.

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