Representative to leave Fla. House for Dept. of Defense post

TAMPA — State Rep. Michael Scionti, D-Tampa, has been appointed by President Barack Obama to a position in the Department of Defense and will resign his post in the Florida House, effective Sunday.

He reports for work at the Pentagon on Dec. 14.

“I’m excited beyond words,” said Scionti, a 41-year-old attorney and veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “It is a true honor. I’m just looking forward to doing great things for our Department of Defense and for our soldiers.”

Gov. Charlie Crist will schedule a special election to replace him.

First elected in 2006 and again in 2008, Scionti represents parts of Hillsborough County, including West Tampa, Town ‘N Country and Seminole Heights.

In his new job as a deputy assistant secretary, he will serve as a liaison between the Department of Defense, state governments and their national guards, and other federal agencies such as the Border Patrol, FEMA and Homeland Security.

Scionti, who helped Obama win Hillsborough County, said he was contacted within the past four months by the White House.

Scionti joined the Army Reserve in 2000. He spent more than a year in Iraq, and during his first term in office served for six months in Afghanistan.

As a lawmaker, he sponsored legislation that gave tuition assistance to Reserve combat veterans. This year, he sponsored a bill that would provide housing assistance to the families of National Guard veterans who are unemployed because of the bad economy.

Almost immediately after Scionti announced his departure Monday morning, potential candidates lined up to succeed him.

Janet Cruz, 53, a Democratic fundraiser, community activist and businesswoman who lives in South Tampa, announced her candidacy, along with a long list of endorsements. Among them: U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa and Kendrick Meek of South Florida; Alex Sink, a candidate for governor and Florida’s chief financial officer; state Rep. Betty Reed; and state Sen. Arthenia Joyner.

Scionti’s legislative aide, John Rodriguez, said he also may run for the seat. Rodriguez, 46, has worked for Scionti since 2006.

And Mike Suarez, who in 1998 made a bid for the District 57 House seat, said he might make a bid. Suarez, 45, is an insurance salesman and former chairman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party.