Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd is perhaps Florida’s most well-known Sheriff. For some, he’s beloved for his tough-on-crime politics. For others, he’s notorious for the very same reason.
But in 2023’s red Florida, that hard-line brand is a winning strategy.
Like last year, Judd narrowly missed the top 25, but insiders in The Process clearly still know Judd is a power broker in his own right. It may just be that Polk County tends to be overlooked when considering its more urban, more populous neighbors in Hillsborough and Pinellas.
Still though, Judd continues to rack up wins, including an announcement in mid-February that he had arrested more suspects in an undercover human trafficking operation than ever before.
His “Operation Traffic Stop” led to 213 arrests of individuals accused of soliciting or offering to commit prostitution, as well as those who profited from prostitutions (read: pimps).
He’s also not shy about sharing his opinions, including on gun rights. Also in February, Judd made a public statement about a proposed constitutional carry bill by referencing the 2018 Parkland school shooting.
“On that day, at that moment in time, when Nikolas Cruz showed up with that firearm, had there been people on that campus right there at the moment in time with a firearm, well-trained and used it, there wouldn’t have been a massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas,” he said, in favor of the bill.
His remarks were delivered on Valentine’s Day, on the five-year anniversary of the Parkland massacre.
Judd, it can be argued, is also the most sought-after endorsement in Polk County for those seeking office.
While he has put his thumb on the scale in numerous races, the one with perhaps the biggest impact in recent memory came in 2020 when Judd opted to back Scott Franklin for Congress, a major diss to the then-embattled incumbent Ross Spano. Insiders suspect it was that endorsement that perhaps sealed Franklin’s victory and sent Spano into relative political oblivion.
As retired Florida Politics columnist Joe Henderson pondered at the time: “Spano’s demise was all but assured after Judd endorsed Scott Franklin in the CD 15 Republican Primary, which covered parts of Polk, Hillsborough, and Lake counties. It’s worth wondering if the same fate awaits Democrat Alan Cohn, who defeated Adam Hattersley in that Primary.”
For those who weren’t paying attention, the answer to Henderson’s question about Cohn was yes, yes it did.