Kelli Stargel draws Polk County Democrat challenger in SD 22 race
Democrat Debra Wright (left) is challenging incumbent Kelli Stargell (right) in Senate district 22.

wright stargel

A Polk County Democrat announced this week that she will run against Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel in the newly redrawn Senate District 22.

Former Polk County School Board member Debra Wright made the announcement Monday during the Open House at the Democratic Headquarters in Haines City, During the same meeting she earned the support of Polk County Democratic State Committeewoman Ruth Ann Eaddy.

“Ms. Stargel’s record has shown a disregard for what is best for her constituents by writing laws and taking positions that are best for her corporate sponsors and are especially bad for women,” Wright said Monday. “The law she wrote that would make it impossible for a judge to award custody of children in divorce cases to the more responsible parent was so poorly crafted even our Republican governor was persuaded to veto it.”

After the announcement, Eaddy said Polk County Democrats were “delighted” Wright is “taking on one of our most misguided state legislators in this new district.”

Eaddy also noted that Wright’s candidacy marks the entry of a Democrat into the three districts in the Florida Senate and five districts in the Florida House that include Polk County, though Florida Division of Elections records show no Democrat has filed against Republican Sen. Tom Lee in the new SD 20, nor Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley in the new SD 26.

Wright served one term as the District 6 member of the Polk County School Board before losing out to current school board member Lynn Wilson 53-47 in the 2014 election cycle. Once her paperwork is accepted by the Florida Division of Elections, she will be the only candidate in the SD 22 race other than Stargel.

Stargel currently represents SD 15, which includes a southwestern piece of Orange County, a small slice of Osceola County and the northern third of Polk County. That district delivered her a 17-point victory over Democratic challenger Christopher Pennington four years ago, but the newly redrawn SD22 could be a little tougher for the veteran lawmaker.

SD22 includes the northern third of Polk County as well as southern Lake County and is the least GOP-friendly of Polk County’s three new Senate districts.

According to the district plan, Democrats make up 41 percent of the SD 22 electorate compared to a 37 percent share for Republicans. Back in 2012, the district went for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney by about a 2 points, though Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson snagged a 12-point margin over former Republican Congressman Connie Mack IV in the same cycle.

Stargel has a substantial head start in fundraising, however. Through the end of April, the Lakeland Republican had $195,604.46 in her campaign account, though she has only raised $1,000 since the start of the 2016 Legislative Session.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.


  • Jennifer

    May 12, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    All central Florida progressives MUST assist Mrs. Wright in a successful campaign against Stargel. Florida’s families are counting on it! I for one will do everything in my power to assure that status quo no longer reigns supreme.

  • C.l. Gibson

    May 13, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Yes! Where can I volunteer to help Ms. Wright into office. We need common sense back in our legislature

    • Jennifer

      May 14, 2016 at 11:24 am

      I have been communicating with people on the Polk County DEC page regarding this race before she even made this announcement, hoping someone, anyone would run. Stargate (as my extremely well educated child calls Stargel – due to the complete lack of RESPECT the child has for that woman) must NOT win.

Comments are closed.


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