As the incoming 2021 Speaker of the House of Florida Representatives and last year’s top Tampa Bay politico, it’s no wonder that Rep. Chris Sprowls again tops the list this year.
Sprowls will be the first Pinellas County-based House Speaker since Democrat Peter Rudy Wallace held the top legislative post in 1995. That’s a huge deal for Pinellas as Sprowls’ power as the state’s top lawmaker will position the county and region well for funding for local projects and will allow him to target Tampa Bay-specific legislative priorities.
“Representative Sprowls hit the ground running and proved himself to be adept at the process, with an ability to get things done. His rapid assent to important leadership roles is propelled with a thoughtful conservatism and a keen ability to build a great team. The first Speaker of the House that Pinellas County has had in decades, and only the second in history – expect a legacy leaver,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Laura Boehmer.
Sprowls will likely be able to draw down crucial transportation funds, particularly for the Interstate 275 project the Florida Department of Transportation is moving forward with widening the highway and adding lane continuity to portions of the highway north of downtown Tampa.
The project faces opposition from transit activists who argue it creates “induced demand” that encourages more drivers to take to the road and doesn’t ultimately alleviate traffic congestion. But the project has broad support from the regional business community. The Tampa Bay Partnership, a coalition of local CEOs, is eyeing 2021 and 2022 when Sprowls is expected to take on House leadership as a key opportunity to move the project forward.
“The competition for resources is fierce in Tallahassee. You need a powerful champion to ensure your voice is heard, and we’re fortunate enough to have two,” said Tampa Bay Partnership President and CEO Rick Homans. “With Rep. Chris Sprowls and Sen. Wilton Simpson in line to lead the House and Senate, we’ve got a rare opportunity to advance our region’s most important priorities, including the funding of regionally significant transportation projects. That’s a game-changer for Tampa Bay.”
Other local political observers praise Sprowls as an astute policymaker.
“Chris Sprowls is a young, dynamic, direct and effective legislator,” said Republican political consultant Anthony Pedicini. “Since his arrival on the political scene, Rep. Sprowls has been at the forefront of major policy initiatives and been at the heart of many legislative negotiations. Sprowls is also an astute political operative, which will enable him to lead his party effectively in what most believe will be one of the most costly battles between the parties in a decade.”
With his speakership on the horizon, Sprowls played a key role legislatively in the Tampa Bay region this year. He helped usher in crucial language for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg that enshrined into law language protecting the school’s autonomy as USF moves to consolidate its three regional campuses into a singular accreditation.
He also proved a key USF ally in obtaining funds for the St. Pete and Tampa campuses including $12 million for the downtown Tampa medical school.
That adds to Sprowls’ already established record in advocating for tough bills in a contentious political climate in Tallahassee. Two years ago, Sprowls played a key role in creating uniform policies for ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft to operate in the state, putting an end to the long battle in Hillsborough County surrounding the Public Transportation Commission that pit Uber and Lyft against taxi companies.
Sprowls’ back-to-back first-place finishes come after he landed at ninth on the 2017 list and No. 14 in 2016. He replaced former Sen. Jack Latvala at the top of the list last year after the Clearwater Republican dropped his bid for Governor and resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations.
Joe Henderson’s take: That the Palm Harbor Republican is the likely House Speaker after the 2020 elections is good news for Pinellas County. There hasn’t been a Speaker from there since Peter Rudy Wallace in 1995.