Vanessa Baugh likely to run for state House under proposed maps
Vanessa Baugh

Baugh horizontal
If final maps don't change, she will run for a Lakewood Ranch area seat.

Depending on the outcome of the House redistricting process, Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh plans to run for a House seat. The Lakewood Ranch Republican said it all depends on where political lines fall.

“I’ve always been interested in serving my community at the state level,” she told Florida Politics. “It depends on the redistricting maps. But if they afford that as an opportunity, I’d like to take it.”

Today, Lakewood Ranch sits in House District 73, represented by Sarasota Republican Rep. Tommy Gregory. But under both draft maps published so far by House Redistricting Committee staff, that would change. The Ranch, at least the northern portion of it, would fall into the new House District 72 under both H 8005 and H 8007. Both proposals imagine a district entirely within Manatee County, clinging to almost the entire south and east borders and with a northern border defined by State Road 62 and U.S. 301, while a CSX railroad track primarily shapes the western boundary.

Baugh ran for the House before. The current HD 73 seat was open in 2018, a result of then-Rep. Joe Gruters, also a Sarasota Republican, running for the Senate. Baugh entered the race but bowed out early. Gregory won that year and was re-elected in 2020. But he would not be living in Baugh’s district under the plans being considered now.

That offers a fresh opportunity for Baugh. Should she win, she would be the first Manatee County resident to represent Lakewood Ranch in the House since now-U.S. Rep. Greg Steube left the chamber in 2016.

The possible run comes as Baugh has earned some statewide notoriety — or perhaps infamy. The Florida Ethics Commission last month found probable cause Baugh abused her position when she put her name atop a vaccination list in February. Baugh didn’t receive a vaccine and publicly apologized. She said she cannot speak to the ongoing case. Her attorney, George Levesque, last month issued a statement saying he looked forward to demonstrating Baugh “did not violate any law and did not violate any of her ethical obligation to her constituents.”

Still, there is no doubt she maintains significant political sway locally. Voters in Manatee County elected a conservative majority to the Commission in 2020. Colleagues then named Baugh as chair. Baugh faced only write-in opposition after a brief primary challenge by former County Administrator Ed Hunzeker, who ultimately ran for a different seat and lost.

In fact, Republican Party of Florida chair Joe Gruters, who has served previously as campaign treasurer for Baugh, said her candidacy may be prohibitive to others.

“She’s an odds-on favorite as the sitting County Commissioner representing that area,” Gruters said.

In December, Commissioner Kevin van Ostenbridge, a political ally, took over as Commission chair.

Just this week, opponents on the Commission tried to strip Baugh of her spot on the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, which she chairs this year. But that effort failed Thursday.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune the next day ran an article stating Baugh would probably resign amid the conflict. But she told Florida Politics that’s far from certain.

“If the maps give me the option to look seriously for a run at the Florida House of Representatives, I will,” she said.

That would leave the conflicts with colleagues behind, but would there be unfinished business with the Commission? Baugh said she’s not overly concerned about that. Her county district remains deeply conservative.

“I’m sure that whoever takes my place on the board will be one who has conservative values like myself,” she said.

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]

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