In race for Hillsborough state attorney, challenger wants public debate

The Tampa lawyer who recently filed to run against Hillsborough State Attorney Suzy Lopez now wants to debate her.

Democrat Elizabeth Martinez Strauss sent a letter to Republican Lopez last week, inviting her to discuss “our differing viewpoints” at a public forum.

Topics Strauss wants to include: what she called a “trial tax” that reduces sentences for defendants who enter pleas instead of going to trial; issues with how defense lawyers receive evidence against their clients, known as discovery; and the prosecution of “victimless crimes such as drug possession,” she wrote.

“The voters of Hillsborough County deserve to understand the policies of the State Attorney’s Office,” her letter said.

Lopez’s campaign senior strategist Ryan Smith fired back a letter to Strauss on Monday after an inquiry from the Tampa Bay Times. The letter said they would “happily” arrange a public forum “at a time and date and under a format to which we and the Democrat nominee mutually agree.”

“Given the election is nearly 9 months away and qualifying for the State Attorney race has not yet occurred, now is not that time,” the letter said. “We will wait to see if you will have a primary opponent and or if you will even qualify for the race before making any arrangement with your campaign to debate.”

Strauss, 35, told the Times she will qualify to run. “I am the only candidate that is not using delay or equivocation as a tactic in this race,” she said.

She is a newcomer to an already complex political scenario. Lopez, a former prosecutor, was appointed in 2022 when Gov. Ron DeSantis removed twice-elected state attorney Andrew Warren from office. The governor accused Warren of refusing to enforce certain laws, while Warren called his ouster a political stunt.

In his bid to get his job back, Warren recently received a favorable ruling from a federal appeals court, leaving open questions about whether he might get reinstated before the November election or if he might opt to run himself.

Lopez has already gotten substantial support from the legal community and garnered more than $250,000 in financial contributions.

The letter from Lopez’s campaign said when a debate is held they look forward to “a thorough conversation on all the important issues to voters, including whether you or Mr. Warren or whomever else may be the Democrat nominee will follow all the laws of Florida, not just the ones you like.”

Strauss, a former prosecutor and assistant public defender, comes from a well-known local family: Her grandfather was Victor J. Martinez, a doctor who later became a lawyer, and her father is attorney Victor Martinez. Her mother, Rosalie Bolin, made international headlines when she married convicted serial killer Oscar Ray Bolin in 1996. Bolin was executed in 2016.

Strauss has already borrowed from the “Safer with Suzy” slogan Lopez has been running on for months and adapted it for her own, with “Safest with Strauss” printed across campaign materials.