No. 13 on the list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians: Darryl Rouson

'Sen. Rouson’s superpower is bridging divides.'

Coming in at No. 13 is St. Petersburg Democrat Sen. Darryl Rouson.

Known for his charismatic and agreeable nature, Rouson is one of only three Democratic Senators to chair a committee within a GOP-dominated Legislature. Rouson leads the Senate Agriculture Committee and is also one of the three Democrats to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Although Rouson continues to graze the Top 10 benchmark, down from his No. 11 spot last year, he’s still maintaining his spot in the Top 15.

“Darryl Rouson is a savvy survivor. The St. Petersburg state Senator remains effective as a Democrat even as Republicans have tightened their control in Tallahassee,” said Preston Rudie, founder of Catalyst Communications Group. “He pulls it off by picking his shots, avoiding unnecessary grandstanding, working hard — and working with Republicans when he can. The result: Rouson regularly brings home millions in local projects and programs that have kept him popular and influential.”

“He remains a reliable voice for the underserved and for those needing a second chance, and representing a district that includes both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties makes him the rare elected official that is effective on both sides of Tampa Bay,” Rudie continued.

Rouson’s commitment to bipartisanship earns him respect from Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike. Once a Republican himself, he often takes on the role of a mediator in a way both parties admire. 

And his five-star balancing act applies to his district too, which spans across Tampa Bay.

“Sen. Rouson’s superpower is bridging divides,” said Christina Barker, Chief of Staff for the Vinik Family Office. “Despite what some saw as a Pinellas/Hillsborough divide when Rouson first won his seat, he faced no meaningful opposition for his re-election in 2020 because he put the work into understanding the needs of all his constituents and fighting for them no matter what side of the bay they call home. In Tallahassee, Rouson is known for working across the aisle, bridging the partisan divide to deliver for his district and pass meaningful legislation.”

Rouson is also a staunch advocate for substance abuse treatment and restoring felon rights. As an openly recovered individual who struggled with addiction himself, Rouson brings a sense of compassion and firsthand understanding to his legislation that is few and far between.

This Session, Rouson was successful in his mission, carrying a bill (SB 282) that would allow those recovering from substance abuse disorders — peer specialists — to play a role in substance abuse treatment programs. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law shortly after it cleared the Legislature in March.

“The most notable divide Sen. Rouson works tirelessly to bridge is that between those struggling with addiction and the care they need to recover. The Governor signed into law Rouson’s most recent priority on the issue, bolstering participation in peer specialists to aid in others’ recovery,” Barker said. 

As for what’s ahead for Rouson, the Senator has been appointed to serve as the vice chair for the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, one of the state’s oldest minority political groups.

“Senator Rouson is the leading voice for thousands facing addiction and mental health issues in the state of Florida. No one works harder for this too-often-ignored part of society and his legacy will be in the thousands of lives his policies and funding priorities have saved,” said Alan Suskey, Shumaker managing partner of state affairs.

He is also set to run for re-election, although redistricting may pose a bit more of a challenge for Rouson than he’s used to — in 2020, Rouson won re-election with 69% of the vote. However, it’s clear that Rouson’s favorability has created a strong foundation among his colleagues and constituents, ties that will only continue to strengthen his career in the political sphere.

“Throughout his legislative career, Sen. Rouson has consistently demonstrated that he is one of the most knowledgeable and effective legislators in the state. His understanding of the process is clear in the impressive amount of policy and budgetary wins he seems to rack up every year — even as a member of the minority party. There are few legislators that are greater champions for their districts and their constituents than Sen. Rouson,” said Ron Pierce, president of RSA Consulting.

Joe Henderson’s take: This likable and dedicated Democrat made a difference when his peer specialist bill unanimously passed the Senate. It allows former addicts to serve as counselors for others battling substance abuse. That bill didn’t get the biggest headline of the Session, but it shows Rouson’s ability to find common ground on issues like this.


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.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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