No. 12 on the list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians: Gus Bilirakis

A Bilirakis has represented Pinellas County on Capitol Hill for nearly 40 years.

Conventional wisdom in politics is that when a member of Congress lands in the minority party, their effectiveness diminishes substantially.

So, how has U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis seen eight legislative initiatives become law since 2021?

The Palm Harbor Republican, after 14 years on Capitol Hill, has managed to keep piling successes onto his résumé even with a Democrat in the White House and his party out of power in the House or Senate. That’s mainly on the strength of relationships on both sides of the aisle. This year, the Lugar Center Bipartisan Index found him to be the 27th most bipartisan member of Congress, the highest of any member of the Florida delegation.

“I have known Congressman Gus Bilirakis for 22 years. Gus is a workhorse, not a show horse,” said Shawn Foster of Sunrise Consulting Group. “He is one of the hardest-working elected officials I know. You can ask anyone that has met him, and they will tell you that he is the most approachable elected official they have ever met. They walk away from meeting him and call him Gus, not Congressman. Gus is an advocate for veterans, and he and his staff make responding to their constituents their number one priority and it shows.”

He’s also unapologetic about prioritizing effectiveness over red meat politics. Indeed, the Center for Effective Lawmaking at the University of Virginia shows him to be the most effective Republican Representative from Florida and the second most effective in the state overall behind only U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch.

Bilirakis scores exceptionally high on defense initiatives, including support for nearby MacDill Air Force Base. He backed 38 legislative initiatives that have become law over his eight terms in Congress to date.

His bilateral ranking goes up every year, just like Bilirakis’ space among Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians. He moved from No. 17 on the 2021 list to No. 12 this year. Whether Republicans take control of Congress after the November midterms may determine if he leaps a few spots next year. He’s already the ranking member of the House Consumer Protection & Commerce Subcommittee, which he will likely chair should Republicans close a gap of just 12 seats in November and take over the chamber.

Anticipate results-focused politicking in the meantime. He’s also a member of the Health Subcommittee and Communications and Technology Subcommittee, where he focused on research into rare diseases and worked on senior priorities like expanding insurance coverage for devices aiding the optically impaired.

It’s no shock much of his success has come by working on issues with Democrats. His latest bill to become law, the Reducing Exposure to Burn Pits Act, was co-authored with Rep. Raul Ruiz, a California Democrat who has worked with Bilirakis for years on national defense issues. He also took a pragmatic approach pressing for more resources to promote Brand USA, an international tourism marketing arm, rather than becoming dogmatic about spending.

But what does all this mean for Tampa Bay? Even from the minority party, Bilirakis announced $13.79 million in federal funding from an omnibus bill signed by President Joe Biden. That includes grants both large ($3 million for the AmSkills Workforce Training Innovation Center, $2 million for the Mental Health Collaborative Project between Premier Community Health Center and Community Health Centers of Pinellas County), and small (The Pasco-Pinellas Public Defender’s Office’s INTERCEPT Project).

“While I am no proponent of big government spending, I have a duty to ensure my community receives its fair share of allocated federal resources and be transparent about my efforts to prioritize these important projects,” Bilirakis said.

While he’s not a showboat appearing every other day on cable outlets, he’s a workhorse who quickly mastered a process in Washington that perplexed others for a lifetime. Maybe credit learning the ropes from his old man. Former U.S. Rep. Michael Bilirakis served north Pinellas County from 1983 to 2007. That means a Bilirakis has represented North Pinellas in Washington for nearly 40 years.

In Tarpon Springs’ Greco-American community, the Bilirakis brand is sterling. That’s not just about local dollars but a keen interest in issues important to the community.

The incumbent Bilirakis is co-chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus and co-founded the Congressional Hellenic Israel Alliance Caucus. While all Florida members talk a good game on Israel’s Iron Dome or take tough stances with Iran, none rival Bilirakis’ working knowledge of the fractious relationship between Turkey and Cyprus. He has stepped up pressure on the Biden administration regarding the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline months before alternatives to Russian petroleum dominated American discourse.

That’s largely because so much of the Pinellas constituency cares deeply about the economy of the Mediterranean thanks to family and financial ties there. In turn, for Bilirakis’ diligence, the community has provided loyal support and bountiful resources to the politician.

The result? A tremendous influence for Bilirakis among the local electorate and in the nation’s capital.

It also looks like Bilirakis has fared well in the once-a-decade redistricting process. While a plan approved by the Florida Legislature (H 8019) sees Bilirakis losing his east Pasco County turf and absorbing Hernando and much of Citrus counties instead, he keeps that core Pinellas County that likely will keep re-electing him for as long as he cares to run.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis’ has now officially vetoed the plan, it doesn’t appear that changing plans will necessarily hurt Bilirakis. The latest draft from the Governor’s Office (P0094) would still leave a Republican seat in Pinellas that includes Bilirakis’ core constituency.

The Legislature’s map puts Bilirakis in a safe Republican seat where 61% of voters went for Republican Donald Trump in the last presidential election. The DeSantis map leaves Bilirakis with a different constituency but one that still went for Trump by nearly nine percentage points.

That’s not as comfortably red, but the Congressman should be in decent shape either way.

Joe Henderson’s take: Bilirakis joined a bipartisan push to pass the STANDUP Act aimed at suicide prevention training for students in grades 6 through 12. It’s nice to know that leaders can still join hands across the aisle when something is this important.


As for methodology, we define the Tampa Bay region as Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco, but can also include Hernando, Polk or Sarasota — if the politicians from those counties impact either Pinellas or Hillsborough.

We define a politician as being in office or running for office.

Being first on a panelist’s list earns the politician 25 points, second earns them 24 points and so on, to where being listed 25th earns a politician one point. Points are added and, voilà, we have a list.

Special thanks go to our experienced and knowledgeable panelists, who were essential to developing the 2022 list: Christina Barker of the Vinik Family Office, Ashley Bauman of Mercury, Ed Briggs of RSA Consulting, Ricky Butler of the Pinellas Co. Sheriff’s Office, Reggie Cardozo of The Public Square, Ronald Christaldi of Schumaker, Evan Donovan of WFLA, Joe Farrell of Pinellas Realtors, pollster Matt Florell of Vicidial Group, Shawn Foster of Sunrise Consulting Group, political consultant Max GoodmanMike Griffin of Savills, Joe Henderson, Todd Josko of Ballard Partners, Natalie King of RSA Consulting, Patrick Manteiga, publisher of LaGaceta, Seth McKeel of The Southern Group, Jennifer Motsinger, EVP of Tampa Bay Builders Association, Mitch Perry of Charter News, Ron Pierce of RSA Consulting, Preston Rudie of Catalyst Communications Group, and Alan Suskey of Shumaker Advisors. With Michelle and Peter Schorsch.

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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