No. 2 on the list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians: Chris Sprowls

Florida's top state Representative advanced priorities on parenthood and cemented his legislative legacy.

A day after the close of Session, Gov. Ron DeSantis shared a stage in Pinellas County with Speaker Chris Sprowls. The Governor reminded the audience he grew up in Pinellas — his parents still live in the same Dunedin house where he grew up. He felt particularly impressed by the work done on behalf of the community by the lawmakers and singled the Speaker out.

“This region really had probably unprecedented heft in the last two Legislative Sessions,” DeSantis said. “It’s such a dynamic area, there’s a lot of other leaders coming up in the ranks who were impressive, but this has been a pretty good run for the Tampa Bay area.

“You know, we’re losing Chris Sprowls. We’re losing some of the others. But we’re regaining Tom Brady, so that’s not such a bad … well, I don’t know.”

It’s true the average denizen of Tampa Bay likely more closely follows the career moves of its most famous Buccaneer, but there’s a reason the Governor halts himself before giving more credit to a quarterback than an outgoing House Speaker. It’s an enormous boon to any region when a local lawmaker presides over a chamber of the Florida Legislature. This year, Tampa Bay politicians headed both. Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, wielded the gavel in the House, where he led 120 state Representatives through the economic recovery and ultimately lucrative rebound after the COVID-19 pandemic.

And like it or not, the past two years have been consequential ones, particularly for Sprowls. He has successfully advanced several personal priorities, from a Medicaid expansion for new mothers to legislatively addressing fatherlessness in Florida. It’s work that sailed through the House this year after never being able to move before — thanks to Sprowls’ position. It’s now a significant part of the Pinellas County lawmaker’s legacy.

The Legislature this year passed a $112 billion budget, a record amount. And while House Speakers don’t technically sponsor and carry bills, the fact North Pinellas did so well after a Palm Harbor man gaveled lawmakers into Session is surely no coincidence.

“Speaker Sprowls is an incredible leader for our state and the Tampa Bay region,” said Rep. Will Robinson, a Bradenton Republican. “Certainly, most Speakers, and I would include Speaker Sprowls here, focus on policy and funding priorities for the entire state but the experience of knowing their local area and leveraging those connections and funding needs is exceptionally valuable for any area that is lucky enough to have a Speaker or President. The Tampa Bay area is blessed to have Speaker Sprowls, and our region is far better off because of his service.”

It’s all enough to place Sprowls at No. 2 on the list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians. Sure, it’s a single spot drop from his No. 1 performance last year but that’s more to do with, well, be patient and you’ll read more on that later today.

But Sprowls in his final sojourn to Tallahassee (at least for a regular Session) made an impact on the entire state of Florida that will be held for years. And he never lost sight of the community that gave him a platform for the last eight years from which to do strong work.

“He knows he’s only there a short period of time and wants to do what he can for the region,” said Alan Suskey, a lobbyist at Shumaker Advisors.

Temporary as the post may be, there just aren’t many positions in politics that rival the power of a Florida Speaker of the House. The structure of the Legislature allows the presiding officers to advance (or delay) almost any priority to the highest levels. That resulted in an elevation of institutions within the region in a way that will outlast the time Sprowls grasped the Speaker’s gavel.

“It’s been transformative for our region — USF, in particular, is better positioned because of his vision,” said Rep. Jackie Toledo, a Tampa Republican.

“Consolidation, preeminence and the investments into the branch campuses have elevated USF to its rightful place as an elite Florida university. But I think a large part of the Speaker’s success has been his ability to implement large scale reforms that have helped, not just our region, but every corner of the state. From the New Worlds Reading initiative to get books in the hands of children to the sea level rise and flood residency programs that are protecting Florida’s coastal communities for decades to come, the Speaker has made his mark on our region and state.”

Only a fight with a Senate President or a Governor can truly scuttle a Speaker who wants to get things done, and Sprowls has enjoyed a strong relationship with both Senate President Wilton Simpson and with DeSantis.

But by no means did that show an unwillingness to go toe-to-toe with either one. Multiple times last week, he wore a grin as he stood alongside the Governor as redistricting questions were lobbed. And while, yes, Sprowls and Simpson filed a brief in support of a DeSantis query to the Florida Supreme Court, the House had a map ready to publish within hours of the courts turning away the Governor’s request that made clear the Legislature would continue its direction on reapportionment.

One of the most startling moments of the Session came when an expert sent to a redistricting meeting on behalf of the Governor at the Speaker’s request was, as one member put it, “Howitzered” by hostile pushback from Republican leadership. Sprowls also took the bold step of removing from a subcommittee any GOP members who might push for the Governor’s maps.

And while Simpson and Sprowls are as friendly a buddy matchup as can be found on the fourth floor, the Speaker was willing to throw cold water on an insurance reform package and play budget hardball when necessary this year.

Unafraid to utilize the power of his office, Sprowls could shut down Democrats on the floor for “attacking motives” and he could banish critics in his own party to the basement. And he could do all of it without shedding the affable veneer and boyish charm that never seems to fade.

He walked away from Session this year with significant policy wins. Sprowls made clear early that he wanted to address what he sees as a social crisis of too many children being raised without an active father playing a role. The result was a $70 million investment in the promotion of responsible fatherhood, protection of at-risk boys in the state and greater support for foster programs.

“We cannot legislate fatherhood, responsibility or character,” Sprowls said. “But we can direct some state resources to ensure that fathers, father figures and mentors have the support they need to be inspired, equipped and excited about being present and active in their children’s lives.”

He also introduced some traditions that feel like they will stay far beyond his time with a gavel in hand. The Law Enforcement Officer of the Day becomes a moment when politicians across the spectrum could bring a cop to the Capitol for a hearty embrace. In an era when support before law enforcement has become a core plank of conservatism, few serve as a better spokesperson for the party than Sprowls.

Joe Henderson’s take: His leadership on issues such as literacy, health care and the environment made him one of the most effective House Speakers in memory.


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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