POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Saying it’s a lot easier to get to Bartow than it is to Washington D.C., Neil Combee says he’ll be running for the Polk County Commission next year where he previously served from 1988 - 2004.

  • Neil Combee to run for Polk County Commission
  • Combee closes door on potential primary bid
  • Combee lost to Spano for the congressional seat in 2018

In making his decision to get back into local politics, the 60-year-old Lakeland Republican is closing the door on challenging Congressman Ross Spano in his bid for reelection to Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Speculation of Spano getting a Republican party primary challenge has increased in the past month after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it will be taking over a criminal investigation that originated in the U.S. House Ethics Committee into reports that Spano converted personal loans from friends into his congressional campaign account last year.

Though no Republican has announced that they will run against the incumbent, Combee had been considered a prime possibility. That’s because the two competed for the GOP nomination for the then open congressional seat last year.  Spano defeated Combee by more than 10 percentage points.

“It’s black and white. It’s not gray,” Combee told Spectrum Bay News 9 about the allegation of that Spano violated campaign finance laws in accepting the personal loans and putting them into his campaign coffers.

Combee says that it's apparent that Spano's actions "are actually crimes" and says the only question is whether he "can convince the people doing the investigation that he didn't know any better."

In a statement issued after it was announced that the Justice Department would continue the investigation which the House Ethics Committee had begun, Spano acknowledged that “mistakes were made with respect to the campaign loans, but those mistakes were completely inadvertent and unintentional.”

Combee told Spectrum Bay News 9 last month one reason why he was never likely to challenge Spano was because of how hard it is to knock off an incumbent member of Congress. And to further prove his point, he mentioned the case on Tuesday of California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter who won reelection last year even after he was indicted on charges that he misused campaign contributions. Hunter announced on Monday that he was now going to plead guilty to that charge.

Combee most recently represented Polk County in the state Legislature from 2012 - 2018.  Before that he served on the Polk County Commission for more than a dozen years.

Among his chief concerns are about how growth and developing is threatening the quality of life for regular Floridians.

Combee disagreed with some members of the Polk County Commission, who a year ago opposed a proposed constitutional amendment that would have increased the homestead exemption of homeowners from $50,000 to $75,000. Local lawmakers feared that if approved the measure would have reduced the property taxes that helps fund local governments.

"People who are living here minding their own business, trying to make a life and raise a family. They see their assessed values going up," he lamented. "It's out of their control.  We've gotta find ways to push back."

Combee says running for Congress is an experience he doesn't regret, despite "some of the shenanigans." And he says he's no victim. 

"The victims are the people who donated money to Sean Harper (the Republican who finished third in the race) and me, thinking it was going to be a clean process," he said. 

Combee's annoucement that he was going to run for Polk County Commission was first reported by Florida Politics.