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Chris Sprowls to be designated next House Speaker — and that’s good news for Tampa Bay

The Clearwater Republican will set legislative priorities beginning in 2021.

Rep. Chris Sprowls will be officially named Speaker-designate Tuesday as lawmakers descend upon Tallahassee for a committee week ahead of the 2020 Session. Sprowls will officially take the top leadership role in the House for the 2021 Session.

While it’s been known since 2016 that Sprowls had clinched the Speakership, Tuesday marks his official designation. He will officially take on the title of House Speaker-designate following a 2 p.m. vote in the House chamber.

It’s a big deal for the Tampa Bay region.

“I think he’s got all of the qualities of a great Speaker,” said Sen. Wilton Simpson, who is slated to become Senate President at the same time Sprowls ascends to Speaker. “He’s principled, he’s smart and he knows how to get things done.”

With both lawmakers in power, the Tampa Bay region is in prime position to draw down regional priorities and state dollars for projects. Sprowls’ District 65 includes parts of Clearwater. Simpson’s Senate District 10 is in Citrus, Hernando and parts of Pasco counties.

“The nice thing about term limits is you have officers from different parts of the state bringing their unique perspective,” Sprowls said. “Sen. Simpson and I will both bring that perspective.”

There are a couple of potential big wins for the region. With two Tampa Bay elected officials in leadership roles, the region could potentially access Florida Department of Transportation dollars for regional projects leaders are prioritizing.

The Tampa Bay Partnership, a coalition of top-tier business leaders, has long been pushing for a 41-mile express bus route connecting St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel along I-275. While not everyone is a fan — transit activists argue the plan wouldn’t create effective transit — the project is a priority among many local officials. Partnership CEO Rick Homans targeted 2021 and 2022 as key years to draw down funding because of the local leadership in the House and Senate.

It’s also an opportunity for Sprowls to use his upcoming leadership to ensure the University of South Florida maintains its commitment to the St. Pete and Sarasota/Manatee branch campuses to preserve autonomy. The school must consolidate its existing three accreditations into one by July of next year.

That’s before Sprowls or Simpson take control of their respective chambers, but they’re still both in a position of power.

Sprowls was instrumental in securing legislation guaranteeing St. Pete and Sarasota/Manatee maintained “branch campus” designation rather than “regional campus,” which local leaders determined would protect autonomy. However, a recent presentation suggested the consolidation plan might strip the two smaller campuses of hiring and budgeting authority.

Sprowls said he remains committed to ensuring the school upholds the terms of his legislation as well as the spirit of legislative intent.

He’s also committed to working on behalf of the entire state, not just the Tampa Bay region.

“We care about the whole state. We don’t think about it in the context of the neighborhood you live in,” Sprowls said. “The House is a collaborative place. It’s about making sure that children, regardless of where they grow up, have access to a great education.”

Sprowls’ priorities as Speaker also include making sure Florida is a place where autonomous vehicle technology can thrive and where businesses and families feel welcome. He also expressed a commitment to conservative reform.

Simpson said he plans to also work with Sprowls to continue aggressively funding environmental projects that have been a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“You’ll continue to see that funding for our springs restoration and for the Everglades,” Simpson said.

Praise from colleagues

Sprowls’ ascension wasn’t always guaranteed. Among his 2014 class of lawmakers, Sprowls faced serious competition for the top leadership post from Eric Eisnaugle.

One of Sprowls’ early supporters was Rep. Blaise Ingoglia.

“I think it’s just clear he’s going to be a great leader for not only the House but the whole state of Florida,” Ingoglia said. “He pays attention to detail; he is extremely intelligent. After serving this last Session with him as rules chair, it’s clear the guy’s a four-dimensional chess player.”

Rep. Chris Latvala, a close ally of Sprowls, represents the district adjacent to Sprowls’ in Largo. Latvala praised Sprowls for leading by example.

“He’s the type that he doesn’t have to have his name on stuff. He’s humble,” Latvala said. “He’s going to be pretty conservative. Education and school choice have always been a big issue for him.”

Latvala said he also expects Sprowls to take on problems like the state’s opioid crisis and health care access challenges.

While Sprowls and his Republican colleagues acknowledge his leadership will favor conservative ideals, his colleagues also praised his collegial nature.

“He’s conservative but he’s not a flame thrower in trying to make his colleagues on the other side of the aisle look bad,” Latvala said.

Jennifer Webb, a Democrat in the minority party, agreed.

“We are lucky in the Tampa Bay area to continue to have our legislative leaders spring from our region. With Chris Sprowls elected Speaker-designate, our region and our state are certain to benefit from his thoughtful approach to governance,” Webb said. “I look forward to working alongside him this coming session.”

It’s not just lawmakers who are celebrating. Pinellas/Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, Sprowls’ former boss, also showered praise on the young lawmaker.

“He knows how to be persuasive without being offensive,” McCabe said. “You have to have the ability for critical thinking.”

McCabe said even in law school, Sprowls was already flexing his leadership muscle, serving as president of the law student section of the American Bar Association.

He’s even gotten a nod from Alan Suskey, a lobbyist who represents local and statewide clients.

“Chris Sprowls’ designation as the next Speaker of the Florida House is great news for hardworking Floridians all over the state,” Suskey said.

“Of particular note, his designation will be extremely impactful to the Tampa Bay area. His principled leadership at the helm of the Florida House will no doubt lead to continued investment in education, transportation and economic growth throughout the region.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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