Tom Lee reverses course, will not run for Hillsborough Clerk

tom lee
He was in. Now he's out.

Sen. Tom Lee will not run for Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court, he announced Monday.

Lee’s decision comes just three days after he filed to run.

“Last Friday, I filed paperwork which would have allowed me to qualify at noon today for the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court. While my head told me I wanted to continue representing the residents of this great county, ultimately, my heart told me that this was not the best way for me to serve my community at this time,” Lee said.

Lee tenured his resignation from the Senate at the end of May effective November 3. That resignation still stands, he said.

“My wife, Laurel Lee, is currently serving as Secretary of State, and she and my young daughter are in Tallahassee,” Lee said.

“My decision to leave the Florida Senate was born out of a desire to reunite my family. My wife and I have since concluded that this objective would not allow me to dedicate the necessary time to honor the legacy of my friend Pat Frank and fulfill the duties of the office.”

Lee will continue serving Senate District 20 until his resignation is effective in early November.

His departure ends a two-week flurry among candidates who had already filed to replace Frank, the incumbent Clerk who is retiring.

Lee’s candidacy would have likely positioned the Clerk’s race as one of the county’s big money races. As an incumbent Senator, Lee would have had access to a deep well of establishment donors, courted over the course of his more than two decades in Florida politics.

Significant money has already poured in with former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner raising nearly $105,000 and Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart nearly $23,000 in just four months, nearly all of which came in April when she officially announced her campaign.

Lee would have faced D.C. Goutoufas in the Republican primary and potentially Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who has filed for the seat but isn’t expected to stay in after qualifying.

Murman has about $134,000 of the $193,000 raised so far parked in the race, should she decide to actually run. Goutoufas has raised just over $10,000.

Without Lee, the Clerk’s race looks like an easy win for Democrats, considering Goutoufas slow fundraising and assuming Murman doesn’t enter the race.

Had Lee run, Beckner and Stuart would have been forced to spend heavily on a competitive primary while also having to ensure adequate resources for a general election. His bid could have created a new dynamic shifting the Democrats’ campaign strategies to focus their primaries more on attacking Lee than each other.

While Beckner has raised significantly more than Stuart, her momentum shows promise in the race. She raised nearly $20,000 in April, compared to Beckner who raised just shy of $5,300. Beckner also has a much higher burn rate, having spent more than $38,000 as of the end of April compared to Stuart’s just over $1,000 spend.

Fundraising is further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shifted traditional campaigning to an entirely new model void of typical fundraisers.

Candidates instead are tapping internal sources, special interests and other deep-pocket groups, a strategy that favors incumbents and those with high name recognition. While Beckner previously held public office and Stuart still does, neither have served at the state level.

“My wonderful wife has stood by my side for many years supporting me in my public service, and now it is my turn to support her as she serves Governor DeSantis and the citizens of Florida,” Lee said. “I will continue to serve as Senator to District 20 through early November, ensuring that the individuals who have championed me throughout these many years remain represented as Florida faces these unprecedented and challenging times.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected]


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