Brian Willis considering bid for Hillsborough County Commission


This month, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman blew some minds when he told The Tampa Tribune that he’s probably going to attempt a return to local politics, as he eyes the countywide District 6 commission seat being vacated next year by a term-limited Kevin Beckner.

Norman was a county commissioner 18 years, before he opted to run for the  Legislature in 2010. He won, but it occurred while he was being investigated for a $435,000 “gift” that his GOP benefactor, the late Ralph Hughes, had provided to Norman’s wife Mearline to buy a house in Arkansas. Although exonerated by the feds, Norman did sign a stipulation with the Florida Ethics Commission acknowledging he failed to timely repot the gift his wife received. He also admitted failing to disclose his interest in a home and two boats she bought with the money.

Norman served one term in Tallahassee before stepping down in June 2012. That came after he a growing part of the GOP establishment appeared to be supporting by fellow Republican John Legg in the Senate District 17 contest.

It looked like his political career was over. Done. Kaput.

But this is Hillsborough County, where the Democratic Party failed to prop a live human being to contest him in 2010 (the seat also encompasses Pasco County). So anything is possible.

Now there is a Democrat who is considering a run for that same seat — Tampa lawyer Brian Willis, 31, who is best known for his efforts on transit issues in the community. He has been proponent of increasing transit options in Hillsborough County, and helped one co-found the group Connect Tampa Bay. Willis says  he’s seriously considering making a run, and says that he cares about all parts of the sprawling county.

“I grew up in Carrollwood, my parents live in Lutz now, my grandfather is in Thonotosassa, so I’m hearing from people about issues from all over the county,” he told Florida Politics Monday night. “My grandfather is telling me the county isn’t filling the potholes out on Stanley Road in Thonotosassa, and so I’ve been encouraged to run potentially countywide for county commission because I’ve been hearing from all these different groups that I’m involved with about the county’s needs.”

Willis works at the downtown Tampa law firm of Shumaker Loop & Kendrick, where he represents clients in real estate and business issues. He says he’s doing as much as he can right on policy issues while maintaining his busy duties as an attorney. “I care what happens to Hillsborough County and I’m trying to do my job as best I can and at this point I feel like I’m balancing that as best as I can. But at some point if there’s an opportunity to work full time on community issues then I think that’s a great thing and I definitely see a need in our community for that — for some new ideas and new leadership, and it would totally be an opportunity to spend more time on this.”

Willis isn’t naive. He’ll need to raise a considerable amount of money to be competitive, and he admits that as a first-time candidate that would be a challenge.

“But money is a necessary thing to get out your message if you’re going to do one of these so I’ve gotta be realistic, and I’ve got to look at what the opportunities are to raise money to run a competitive race,” he said. “I wouldn’t do this to not do it the right way and to get out your message you’ve got to be successful, you’ve got to put together a campaign organization, and I know how big the county is. Like I said, growing up driving from Carrollwood to visit my grandparents in Thonotosassa, so I definitely know it’s a big county, it’s a diverse county, and it’s one of the great strengths of this area, is how diverse it is, and all the different communities that we have here.”

Willis says he’ll probably decide this spring whether he’ll pull the trigger. There could be other Democrats and Republicans getting in the race before the campaign begins in earnest in the summer.

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected]


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