2019 Legislative Preview
Florida Senate and House: The next 60 days
Power in the Legislature is heavily concentrated in small oligarchies in which the most influential members are typically the presiding officers, the appropriations chairs and the incoming presiding officers.
In the Senate, that triumvirate is Bill Galvano; Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, who’s a municipal law attorney from Clay County; and 2020-22 Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Pasco County businessman who owns an egg farm and an asbestos-removal company. But here are a few others to watch:
- Travis Hutson (Republican)— A vice president at his father’s housing development firm in St. Johns County, Hutson is in a tight race to follow Simpson as Senate President for the 2022-24 term. After the bitter Negron-Latvala contest that divided and disrupted the Senate, Galvano has been careful not to tip the scales; he named Hutson chairman of the committee that oversees the transportation and economic development portions of the state budget, typically a choice spot from which to earn chips with senators seeking money for hometown projects.
- Kathleen Passidomo (Republican)— A partner at a tax, estate planning and real estate services law firm in Naples, Passidomo is the other contender for the 2022-24 presidency. Galvano named her the Senate majority leader, making her a part of the chamber’s leadership team — and giving her a spot, like Hutson’s, from which she’ll have ample opportunities to help, and earn the support of, other GOP senators.
- Joe Gruters (Republican)— The job of a typical freshman senator is usually to keep quiet and learn. But Gruters, a CPA from Sarasota, is not a typical freshman. One of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters in Florida, he won election in January as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. Those outside sources of power make Gruters an unusual center of gravity in the Senate.
- Lauren Book (Democrat)— Democrats wield some clout in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 23-17 majority and several GOP senators represent potential swing districts. Book, an advocate for child victims of sexual abuse and the daughter of longtime lobbyist Ron Book, is more influential than most. She avoids partisan bomb-throwing and will work with Republicans. She’s often mentioned as a potential candidate for governor, though the election of Nikki Fried as agriculture commissioner has complicated that path.
In the House, the three dominant leaders are Jose Oliva, the Speaker; Appropriations Chair Travis Cummings, the owner of an insurance and employee-benefits consulting company who, like Rob Bradley, lives in Clay County; and future House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a former prosecutor from Pinellas County who’s now part of the law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney. A few more names to know:
- Ray Rodrigues (Republican) — The director of community relations at Florida Gulf Coast University, Rodrigues is one of Oliva’s top lieutenants. Oliva picked Rodrigues to be his point man on health care, Oliva’s priority issue, ensuring Rodrigues will be at the center of what may well prove to be the session’s most intense battle. Adding political intrigue: He’s one of three House Republicans (along with Reps. Dane Eagle and Heather Fitzenhagen) who could all end up running for the same open Senate seat in 2020.
- Jay Trumbull (Republican)— Just 30 years old but already beginning his third term in the House, Trumbull is tight with Sprowls, who will take over as Speaker after Oliva. A sign of his growing influence came when Oliva agreed to make him chairman of the House’s transportation and economic development budget committee. Even bigger things are ahead: Trumbull, who owns a Culligan water business in Panama City that was founded by his grandfather, is widely expected to become Sprowls’ appropriations chair in two years.
- Randy Fine (Republican)— A wealthy entrepreneur from Brevard Country, Fine failed in his own bid to become House Speaker for the 2022-24 term (that job looks like it’ll go to Rep. Paul Renner, a Flagler County Republican). Even people who don’t care for him personally admit Fine is one of the sharpest minds in Tallahassee. And as chairman of the House committee in charge of university spending — which House leadership wants to come down on hard this session — he’ll be a key figure in a debate that’s likely to capture the spotlight this spring.
- Anna Eskamani (Democrat)— A progressive activist from Orlando who is sharp, passionate and charismatic, the freshman Eskamani already has left Democrats around the state with stars in their eyes. She has a knack for making headlines, once publicly turning down an invitation to a cocktail reception hosted by the business lobbying group Associated Industries of Florida at a members-only club a block from the Capitol. “If anybody’s going to make news the next couple of months on a regular basis, it’ll be her,” says one of the state’s top Republican lobbyists.
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