Ken Wilkinson, author of Save Our Homes, to retire as Lee Property Appraiser
Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson during a 1986 news conference fielded questions from the media. Wilkenson has proposed state officials freeze the value of all homestead exemption property in Florida to protect homeowners from rising taxes and to make newcomers pay for growth. He penned the Save Our Homes amendment a few years later. Photo by Mark Foley courtesy of State Archives of Florida.

Ken Wilkinson
He would support Matt Caldwell running as his successor.

Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson won’t run for reelection this year.

The decision opens a major political office in Southwest Florida’s most populous county; Wilkinson already suggested he would like to see former state Rep. Matt Caldwell succeed him in office.

But Wilkinson’s retirement also means the exit of one of Florida’s most influential voices on tax policy and homeowner protections.

“I’m not a revenue agent for government, I’m an advocate for the taxpayer,” Wilkinson told Florida Politics. “I’ve shown that over the years, more than any living Florida citizen.”

In office since 1980, Wilkinson’s influence reached far beyond Fort Myers. As part of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, he wrote three constitutional amendments ultimately approves by voters, most notably Save Our Homes.

The measure passed in 1992 and guaranteed the assessed values of homesteaded properties could not increase annually by more than 3 percent. That ensured that as growth caused property values to skyrocket in some areas, homeowners wouldn’t be forced to flee because of escalating tax bills.

“The only ones who opposed me on that were in government themselves,” Wilkinson said. “They saw it as losing money they could spend. I saw it as protecting homeowners, who were the ones being penalized for growth.”

Through the decades, Wilkinson championed increases in the homestead exemption and assurances all waterfront homes were not assessed as if the land was awaiting high-rise condominiums.

He also pushed for now-routine government practices, like automatic renewal of homestead exemptions. When Wilkinson took office, individuals had to apply each year for the tax break, but as technology streamlined record-keeping, the process seemed increasingly burdensome. He worked with then Sen. Frank Mann to get counties statewide to automate renewals.

“It was just common sense but my brother appraisers fought me tooth and nail,” he said.

Caldwell, most recently the Republican nominee for Florida Agriculture Commissioner, has been frequently mentioned as a candidate for local office since his narrow statewide loss to Nikki Fried. Sources close to Caldwell say he will likely file for the Property Appraiser post in coming weeks.

Wilkinson said he considers Caldwell a good candidate because he has done appraisals professionally and understands the job.

“I wouldn’t have problems supporting him,” Wilkinson said. “Nobody in the office has said they would run.”

Wilkinson first ran for office in 1978, a failed bid for Lee County Commission. But when the Property Appraiser seat opened up in 1980, the professional property appraiser ran for the post. He had some limited exposure to computers at the time, and saw the potential for digital records to revolutionize the office. But he said he never imagines the ways mainframes, internet access and computerization would change the field for him and all appraisers.

He will wrap up 40 years in office when his term ends.

Wilkinson announced his decision in an email to staff Monday, news that quickly was picked up by the News-Press.

It was emotional today when I sent that out,” Wilkinson said. “I had made up my mind, but it was still a little bit more emotional than I thought it would be.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704