Kate Bradshaw, Author at Florida Politics

Kate Bradshaw

Kate Bradshaw is a Florida-based journalist, writer and editor. She is a former staff writer at the Tampa Tribune news/politics editor at Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

#1 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Chris Sprowls

As any observer of Florida politics will tell you, this 34-year-old Palm Harbor Republican is on the move.

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.

#2 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Bob Buckhorn

The last time anyone asked, Tampanians overwhelmingly said they approve of the job Bob Buckhorn has done as Mayor of Tampa. Back in November, some three-quarters of 350 Tampa residents surveyed said they approve of his performance, and most said the city is headed in the right direction — that was before Raybor was a thing.

In his more than seven years as mayor, Buckhorn has been a vocal proponent of downtown Tampa’s transformation from a gritty spot with little activity to a vibrant hub with a true sense of place. The same goes for recently-reimagined neighborhoods like Ybor City and Tampa Heights.

“Tampa’s Mayor gets stuff done,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Seth McKeel. “He’ll leave Tampa way better than he found it and has ensured a significant and long-lasting legacy.”

Buckhorn’s office likely selected Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park for his final State of the City address in May for more than its pretty backdrop. The newly revamped park, which sits on the Hillsborough River’s long-ignored western bank, is emblematic of the progress the city has seen under Buckhorn’s direction.

Buckhorn has been getting plenty of time on camera as part of Hillsborough County leaders’ efforts to build a stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays in Ybor City.

But construction cranes, food halls, a lovely riverfront and the possibility of pro baseball in Tampa proper only tell part of the story. In the past year, Buckhorn was front-and-center as national news outlets depicted a region that sat squarely in the crosshairs of Hurricane Irma. Months later, he was the face of the effort to find the Seminole Heights killer, which ultimately led to the suspect’s arrest in December.

While Buckhorn’s been an effective mayor, he is not without his foils. Pre-emption policies Republican lawmakers have passed at the state level have blocked Buckhorn and other Democratic Florida mayors from enacting local regulations on a range of matters, including guns and raising the minimum wage. And while Buckhorn has long been a vocal advocate of overhauling Tampa’s sorely-lacking transit infrastructure, his calls for boosting gridlock-easing public transportation are often met with little enthusiasm at the county and state level.

It’s unclear what Buckhorn will be up to a year from now. He leaves office in spring of 2019. It’s been over a year since he turned down a run for governor, but he appears to be up for serving as lieutenant governor under the right person. He could also do what many former electeds do: transition back into private life as a well-paid consultant, at least for the time being.

In the meantime, he probably won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Despite his term ending next year and an uncertain future after that, Buckhorn climbed to the No. 2 spot from his third-place ranking in 2017.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “He is term-limited as Tampa’s mayor next year, but he likes the action too much to stay on the sideline.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#3 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Bill Galvano

Given that he’s the incoming Senate President, there’s no way Bill Galvano wouldn’t have landed at or near the top of the list.

The Bradenton Republican representing Senate District 21, will lead his chamber over the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions by determining legislative priorities and setting the tone of the conversations it has with the House and the governor. He replaces outgoing Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican. Galvano is a veteran in the legislature. He was elected to the House in 2002, where he served until terming out in 2010. Two years later, voters sent him to the Senate, where he served as Majority Leader from 2014 to 2016.

When his status as incoming Senate President became official in October 2017, his colleagues commended him for his thoughtfulness and ability to take a long view. During his own remarks, he promised to be an inclusive leader and to tighten the reins on the state budget.

“The President-Designate is a thoughtful conservative and a leader’s leader. He listens to all concerned then charts a decisive path,” said Seth McKeel of Southern Strategy Group.

Galvano currently chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee on Higher Education and serves on a host of other committees, including Appropriations. He represented the state Senate in talks with the Seminole Tribe that were intended to result in a deal that would have expanded gambling in the state — talks that were ultimately a non-starter. In 2017, he championed the ouster of state Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who made racist remarks in front of his colleagues at a Tallahassee restaurant.

There’s one (pretty big) caveat that precedes Galvano’s assumption to the Senate’s top seat: if Democrats manage to take enough seats in November, they will get to choose one of their own for the role. It’s unclear whether the blue wave and other factors will provide them enough momentum to win the five seats they need to flip the Senate, or if the impressive volumes of cash Galvano and his allies control can dispense of such a threat.

His PAC, Innovate Florida, as more than $7.4 million on hand now.

Galvano moves up one slot from 2017 — from fourth place to third. Barring any earth-shattering event affecting the makeup of the Florida Senate Galvano could easily sit anywhere in the top three again in 2019.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#4 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Rick Kriseman

As the 2017 mayoral race ramped up last year, re-election was never a sure thing for incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. It was far from it at times.

Yet despite a significant challenge from former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who was often ahead in the polls, he and his allies pulled it off.

Whether it was a sign of a blue wave or the result of constant door-knocking or one of many other potential factors, we’ll never know. But Kriseman’s re-election helped solidify the city’s status as a (mostly) progressive haven.

A former state Representative who’s a lawyer by trade, observers say Kriseman is as likable as he is serious about policymaking.

“It’s not often you meet an elected official you want to go to a Jimmy Buffett concert with and also work with on major policy issues. Mayor Kriseman is that guy. Faced with many challenges, Rick has shown that he is not only extremely well-liked but is leaving behind a legacy of progressive leadership,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Laura Boehmer.

Since sworn in for his second time, Kriseman has championed a proposed ban on offshore drilling, joined a lawsuit against Governor Rick Scott over a 2011 barring cities and counties from passing local gun laws and renamed the main branch of the city’s library after former President Barack Obama. While he and other mayors’ hands are tied on gun laws per se, he’s also vowed to divest city dollars from gun manufacturers and vendors.

The city (downtown in particular) is seeing an influx of development under Kriseman’s watch. While Chamber of Commerce types herald these projects for their economic development potential, some are concerned that the diverse population that made downtown appealing are being priced out of their neighborhoods and Central Avenue storefronts.

Remaining to be seen is whether the Pier will finish on time. There’s also that little thing that almost cost him his re-election: whether the city’s wastewater system overhaul will be completed in time to prevent any more sewage dumps.

What significantly boosts Kriseman’s power factor is the fact that the majority of St. Petersburg City Council members support his agenda. It can’t hurt to have the bulk of the Pinellas County Commission generally on his side, either.

Unlike Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who terms out in early 2019 with an uncertain, Kriseman has more than three-and-a-half years to go as mayor. That gives him room to step up as a regional figure. We saw that potential in his willingness to let the Rays look at potential stadium sites in Tampa (even though he seemed to think team officials would ultimately stay in St. Pete) and in his ability to get Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to pitch in for a ferry service pilot in 2016.

Kriseman ranked seventh in 2017.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#5 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Wilton Simpson

An egg farmer by trade, Wilton Simpson currently serves as Senate Majority Leader. The Trilby Republican’s prestige doesn’t end there, though. Simpson, 51, is slated to become Senate President in 2020, on the heels of incoming Senate President Bill Galvano. (Both presidencies, of course, hinge on GOP dominance in that chamber following the 2018 and 2020 elections.)

Voted to represent Senate District 10 in 2012 with no prior political experience (unless you count the million or so chickens under his watch), Simpson has established himself as a strong conservative, albeit one that gets along with many members of the environmental community. In 2016, he filed a bill that would have allowed guns in airport terminals. That same year he also sponsored a measure that would have banned “certain refugees and immigrants” from entering the state.

On the flip side, this year he co-sponsored a bipartisan resolution encouraging the feds to extend a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico east of the Military Mission Line.

“It is rare in politics to have a leader who has proved himself successful in so many ways in the business world. It is even rarer to have a leader who connects with people, who is humble, and who genuinely acts on principle. Wilton manages to do both and will undoubtedly be a powerful and productive leader for the state in the next four years,” said David Browning of Southern Strategy Group.

While Republican control of the Senate might not be a definite thing, Simpson will probably have an easy time getting re-elected. His district covers Citrus, Hernando and part of Pasco counties, which are all reliably red. So far, his campaign has raised nearly $421,000 — not that he’d need it all. While state records suggest former Sen. John Legg as a primary challenger to Simpson, Legg has confirmed he’s not actually running. Simpson has not drawn a Democratic challenger, either.

Simpson’s PAC, Jobs for Florida, has raised more than ten times the money his campaign has; as of this writing that committee has amassed more than $4.3 million.

Simpson ranked sixth in last year’s survey.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#6 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Kathy Castor

Whether it’s a string of good decisions — or that she has had an impossibly charmed life in politics thus far — Congresswoman Kathy Castor doesn’t really seem capable of having a bad year. Yet the Tampa Democrat has certainly been an underdog more than once; first, as a Hillsborough County Commissioner in the Ronda Storms era, then as a member of Congress starting her third term amid the tea party wave.

Her Tampa district, which voters first sent her to represent in 2006, is safely blue. And even though lawmakers added thousands of Republicans to it because of the gerrymandering lawsuit, she easily won re-election in 2016 against Trump-supporting Republican Christine Quinn, whom she beat by an astonishing 24 points.

This year, she won re-election by default when not one person filed to challenge her.

Castor hasn’t been afraid to espouse progressive causes. She’s passionately opposed to offshore drilling and will speak out against any Trump administration attempt to roll back environmental protections. She’s been an outspoken advocate for protecting — and enhancing — the Affordable Care Act. In the wake of recent mass shootings, she’s taken to the House floor — and the airwaves — to express her frustration with her GOP colleagues’ unwillingness to consider what she sees as preventive measures.

In 2014, Castor helped the Obama administration develop its plan to re-establish diplomacy with Cuba.

In other words, she and her district are part of the reason Florida is a purple state.

Last year, there was speculation that, given how little power Congressional Democrats presently have, she may step down and run for mayor of Tampa, but she since declined to jump in.

The possibility that a blue wave will have enough might to flip the House could prove a boon to Castor, who would finally, after eight years in the minority, have Congressional leadership that listens to her. Important committee assignments wouldn’t be out of the question, either.

Whatever happens in November, Castor probably won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Castor was No. 8 on this list in 2017.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “She has one of the safest seats in the U.S. House and could emerge as a major power if ‘Blue Wave’ happens this fall.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#7 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Richard Corcoran

Although he had a good run in his two years as House Speaker — and managed to make a splash as a prospective candidate for governor, the Land O’ Lakes Republican falls five spots this year.

He claimed the No. 2 slot last year after his raucous showdown with Gov. Rick Scott over VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida funding.

Richard Corcoran might have ranked higher than he did this year had the political winds not shifted as they did over the course of the last several months — and if he wasn’t about to term out and face an uncertain future in politics.

Earlier this year, he seemed to be sowing momentum. His Watchdog PAC released a TV ad demonizing immigrants via an inaccurate depiction of the shooting death of Kate Steinle, followed by Corcoran’s plea to Floridians to support a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities. That ad was red meat to potential GOP primary voters, but critics said it was racist.

Barely two weeks after it first aired, in the middle of the 2018 Legislative Session, gunman Nikolas Cruz killed 19 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. As students across the state rallied for stricter gun laws, Corcoran’s PAC released yet another ad targeting illegal immigration, which some critics considered tone-deaf, given how the gun debate still raged.

Corcoran demonstrated his muscle in shepherding through a compromised gun law that raised the gun-buying age from 18 to 21 and mandated that schools train certain personnel to carry guns on campus. The NRA panned the bill for what it saw as limitations to the Second Amendment, though Corcoran seemed to make amends with the group in a letter to the Constitution Revision Commission calling on the panel to turn down a proposed amendment that could have banned assault-style rifles (which the commission did).

Another legislative win for Corcoran was an education package that shifts state dollars away from public schools and toward scholarship programs that favor charter schools, which school choice advocates heralded earlier this year. It also set new membership requirements that could potentially diminish teachers’ unions.

“The Speaker’s left a mark on the region,” said Seth McKeel of Southern Strategy Group. “He’s been a powerful and constant voice of conservatism in Florida.”

By the end of Session, many observers were ready for Corcoran to announce a run for governor, but a couple of forces were working against him. First, his potential primary opponents were way ahead of him in their fundraising. Second, the two major Republican candidates — Trump favorite Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — would have made it difficult for him to craft a message that stood out to primary voters. In May, he announced he would not run and endorsed Putnam.

Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC had some $2 million when he dropped his bid for governor.

Corcoran ranked second in 2017.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#8 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Jeff Brandes

The Republican state Senator from St. Petersburg fell a few slots this year. That’s not to say Jeff Brandes doesn’t have the juice he did in prior years.

And like in previous years, he had a busy 2018 Session. He sponsored some 65 bills and co-sponsored dozens more. He sat on seven committees, including as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

He did have a couple of legislative losses, including on measures aimed at overhauling transportation as well as criminal justice reform. Among his wins: a law that bars state and local government agencies from doing with business with companies that boycott Israel, a measure protecting consumers from having to pay security fees on credit reports and a bill reducing the minimum age of corrections officers from 19 to 18 to help meet staffing demands.

Over the years, Brandes has earned a reputation for being a maverick who’s ahead of his time on everything from criminal justice to transportation. He was an early backer for ride-share technology and is a major proponent of incorporating driverless electric vehicles into the state’s public transit infrastructure.

“Sen. Brandes is a visionary, and he’s carved a powerful pathway as Florida’s thought leader on advanced technology,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Seth McKeel.

Brandes’ Senate District 24, covers most of southern Pinellas County, save for a large swath of south St. Petersburg, which is part of Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson’s district. It was a seat newly redrawn in 2012; Brandes left the state House seat he won in 2010 to launch his successful bid for it. In 2014, he bested Democratic opponent Judithanne McLauchlan by four points, and he had no significant opposition in 2016.

This year is different, though. Brandes has a potentially strong opponent in St. Petersburg attorney Carrie Pilon, a Democrat whose husband is the son of former State Rep. Ray Pilon, a Republican.

Recent polling suggests an early lead for Brandes over his Pilon, but it’s still early, and there’s no accounting for what kind of impact the blue wave can have in a district like the HD 24.

A key advantage for Brandes is his access to seemingly boundless volumes of cash via his campaign coffers as well as his PAC, Liberty Florida.

Brandes came in fifth in 2017.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#9 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Ken Hagan

The likely reason for Ken Hagan’s steep climb in the rankings this year is no mystery. A fixture on the Hillsborough County Commission since first elected in 2002, Hagan has been the face of county leaders’ campaign to woo the Rays across the bay.

It’s an effort that appears to have succeeded. The team finally announced its intent to move the team to a proposed site in Ybor City. It was a huge victory for Hagan, who has been the county’s point man over the course of the stadium search.

Of course, plenty of loose ends remain, including — most importantly — how to pay for the stadium at a time when taxpayers are wary of putting their money toward a project that could cost half a billion dollars. If it works out, a new stadium could offer untold economic potential — and Hagan would deserve the lion’s share of the credit for his role in the county’s talks with the Rays.

A Republican from Carrollwood, Hagan has a reputation for being a pragmatic leader who prefers to work behind the scenes.

“Commissioner Hagan is a steadfast and tireless advocate for Hillsborough County,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Laura Boehmer. “His passion and willingness to take chances has paid off for the region.”

While there had been speculation that Hagan might move to Tampa proper to run for mayor in 2019, he opted to instead jump into the race for the commission’s open District 2 seat in April of last year. His current District 5 seat (which he’s terming out of this year) is countywide, while District 2 goes from Citrus Park to Lutz down to Brandon. He and current District 2 Commissioner Victor Crist, also a Republican, are essentially hoping to swap seats.

In his fifth consecutive bid for Hillsborough County Commission, Hagan faces newcomer Chris Paradies in the Republican primary. Assuming Hagan clears that race in August, he’ll face Democrat Angela Birdsong in November. Fundraising, of course, has Hagan at a dramatic advantage. As of late May, Hagan has them both beat by a mile; as of this writing, his fundraising total ($472,774) drastically dwarfs that of Paradies ($23, 465) and Birdsong ($11,368).

Hagan placed No. 17 last year.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “If Tampa Bay Rays get new stadium in Tampa, Hagan will be a big reason why.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#10 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Darryl Rouson

Darryl Rouson is known for his willingness to work with Republicans over the years as well as his passionate advocacy on behalf of his Senate District 19 constituents. A most recent example of this is his support of a proposed constitutional amendment to expand Florida’s homestead exemption, which will appear on the statewide ballot in November.

Yet Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat representing Senate District 19, is not without his progressive cred.

He has been a key advocate for restoring voting rights to felons who have served their sentences. While the legislature wouldn’t pass such a law, the proposal will be on the ballot in November.

Rouson also sponsored a bill that provided for the construction of a slavery memorial, which unanimously cleared both houses.

And though it didn’t pass, Rouson’s support of the Competitive Workforce Act brought more attention to the fact that the State of Florida still has no policy preventing discrimination against its LGBTQ residents and visitors.

“Darryl Rouson always has his district’s and his regions interests at heart — he’s a skillful negotiator and a tireless advocate for the causes he gets behind,” said Southern Strategy’s Seth McKeel.

Rouson currently chairs the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation. He also serves on seven Senate committees, including as vice chair of the Transportation Committee.

After terming out of the State House seat he had held since 2008, Rouson won a bruising four-way primary against Ed Narain, Betty Reed and Augie Ribeiro in August 2016. Given the district’s strong Democratic leaning, the general was a breeze for Rouson; with 66.91 percent of the vote, he beat Republican opponent John Bouman by more than 33 points.

This year, he is likely to go onto a second term without a challenge.

Rouson came in at No. 11 in 2017.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

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