First elected to House District 65 over Democratic incumbent Carl Zimmerman in 2014, Chris Sprowls had little difficulty getting re-elected in 2016 against Democrat Bernie Fensterwald. At this point, 2018 appears to be shaping up the same way. Sprowls currently serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and he’s eyeing the top spot in the House.
The former Pinellas-Pasco prosecutor is a likely (and favored) contender for the 2021-2022 House speakership.
That would be a huge deal for Pinellas, which hasn’t seen a representative ascend to the speakership since Democrat Peter Rudy Wallace held it in 1995.
Insiders say it’s not just his intelligence and savvy that got him here.
“Chris’s rise to leadership so quickly is a testament to the respect that members of both parties have in his unique ability to understand complex issues and forge a solution that is fair,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Chris Dudley.
Tampa businessman Akash Patel, a Republican running for Hillsborough County Commission District 7 said: “Chris has been a strong leader since I served with him on the Senate at Boy’s State when we were young. He will continue to grow his leadership skills and will be one of the strongest House Speakers of our day.”
As a lawmaker, Sprowls has shown considerable muscle.
During the 2017 Session, he and Rep. James Grant shepherded a bill through the legislature that created a uniform statewide policy for ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft. In 2018, Sprowls was a driving force behind an effort to secure funding for SPC and USF St. Petersburg, namely as a way to help students graduating with associate degrees from the former transition into higher degree programs at the latter — the aim being to help ensure local students will continue to have access to four-year and advanced degrees despite USF’s growing prestige. Conversely, he also backed the locally unpopular bill to pull all USF campuses under the same umbrella.
Outside Tallahassee, Sprowls earned praise earlier this year by convincing Citizens CEO Barry Gilway to personally visit a condominium complex in Sprowls’ district that had seen extensive sinkhole damage. The state insurer had previously refused to pay out on condo owners’ claims. As a result of Gilway’s visit, Citizens paid out at least $12.7 million to the affected homeowners.
Of course, whether Sprowls will hang on to all the clout hinges on the November election. Newcomer Alex Toth, a Palm Harbor entrepreneur and Air Force veteran, became Sprowls’ Democratic opponent in March. Sally Laufer, another Democrat, then filed in late May. Neither has shown significant fundraising, while Sprowls’ campaign has amassed nearly $151,000. A PAC that backs Sprowls, Floridians for Economic Freedom, has meanwhile taken in more than $1.1 million in contributions so far this election cycle.
Sprowls tops this year’s list after coming in ninth last year and No. 14 in 2016. He replaces former Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who dropped his bid for governor and resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, suggesting what a difference a year (and a powerful movement like #MeToo) can make.
Joe Henderson‘s take: “A young man on a fast track. House Speaker in 2020, and after that opportunities could abound.”
For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.