There are few politicians more gifted at winning over people in one-on-one conversations than Orlando’s Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart.
On the campaign trail, she’s the Queen of the Front Porch, piecing together her own populist coalitions of voters who have less to do with caucuses or interests than with, well, her.
In Tallahassee, that translates to a sincerity driven by her ability to identify with people, and to get them to identify with her.
Stewart, 69, is ranked as the 17th most powerful elected official in the first-ever Florida Politics Central Florida 25 most Powerful Politicians survey. Although Orlando has several strong Democratic state Senators, the Florida Senate is (and will be for the foreseeable future) entirely in Republican control, so she is the only Central Florida Democratic state Senator who makes it onto the list.
“Having been in politics as long as I have, over a decade, and working with Democrats and Republicans, when I was in the [Orange County] Commission and over at the House, and today, the most important thing for me is that I have friendships with everybody,” Stewart said. “We know each other very well. We’re not going to agree on every issue, but we always will be able to find issues that we do agree on.”
Consequently, Stewart, representing Senate District 13 in eastern Orange County, never seems far away from any of the issues that develop bipartisan support. Those might include specific local issues, such as securing money for the Pulse Memorial and Museum, or organizations fighting human trafficking, or they might include statewide matters ranging from public arts funding to environmental protection.
Stewart is a reliable progressive Democrat on such issues as abortion choice, LGBTQ equal rights, and environmental protection, and that sometimes results in trench warfare, fought in the committees or floor debates.
But she is not going to bludgeon or belittle anyone, even in losses.
And sometimes little victories of expanded support must be counted within the bigger losses. In the 2019 Legislative Session, several of Stewart’s signature measures died, but not before advancing further than they had before, or further than anyone had expected.
Stewart was one of the principal sponsors of legislation to ban fracking in Florida. All the bills died, but not before some complex deal-making involving Stewart, Senate President Bill Galvano, Republican state Sen. Ben Albritton, and Democratic state Sen. Bill Montford at least advanced proposed bans through a couple of committees.
She pushed for a $100 million annual commitment for the Florida Forever Fund. The fund got just $33 million in new money in the 2019-’20 state budget, but Republican leaders at least tried to paint it as $100 million by including $66 million left unspent from last year.
Her bills to require motion-detector alarms in daycare transportation vans to prevent tragedies of forgotten children in back seats on hot days, and to eliminate the statute of limitations for rape reports involving teenage victims, both advanced, but never made it to law. She also got several line items into the budget that wound up being vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.