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A conversation with influential Florida Republican Kathleen Shanahan

Kathleen Shanahan, in her Tampa office recently, has been named one of the 50 most influential Republican women by Newsmax. Active in policy and politics since 1982, she thinks the presidential election is Donald Trump’s to lose.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Kathleen Shanahan, in her Tampa office recently, has been named one of the 50 most influential Republican women by Newsmax. Active in policy and politics since 1982, she thinks the presidential election is Donald Trump’s to lose.

After earning a degree in biochemistry, Kathleen Shanahan sidelined her plans for medical school when she worked as an elevator operator in the U.S. Capitol and then took a job as staff assistant for President Reagan's national security staff. Now one of the cagiest survivors in the often male-dominated field of contemporary GOP affairs, she has been active in politics and policy since '82, having worked as chief of staff for Gov. Jeb Bush and vice president-elect Dick Cheney.

She and five KLH private equity partners purchased Ground Works Solutions, a soil density company in Florida, which has expanded into 31 states.

The 57-year-old chairman and South Tampa resident is most proud that she is working with a growing company and viewed as an engaged business leader in an area that is dramatically growing.

"You have to have a community from which your back is protected and that's Tampa for me,'' Shanahan said.

Shanahan recently sat down with Tampa Bay Times correspondent Mary Scourtes Greacen to discuss politics, business and Tampa.

A recent Newsmax list of the 50 most influential female Republicans who will play a key role in shaping America's future placed you as No. 22 behind Peggy Noonan, Gov. Susana Martinez and Pam Bondi. What would you suggest to presidential candidate Donald Trump?

I wish he would learn to listen more and speak less. I think the value in being a nominee, candidate or elected official is appreciating whom you are representing and to fulfill promises to the people who voted you in.

As an influential GOP woman, is it better to have a candidate strong on economic issues or foreign affairs?

I feel we are very vulnerable in our foreign policy and national security and this president has done things I don't support. The world is so very vulnerable. At the same time, the economy is important. I'm a free market believer; if you take the regulation out of the picture, the market will find answers and grow appropriately.

What is Trump's appeal?

He was on national TV for 15 years and we have become a country of serial celebrity watchers, hoping and believing their lives can somehow become ours.

Have we opened the floodgates for future campaigns of distortion and evasion?

The world has changed meteorically; if there is too much, make the choice to turn it off, disengage or unplug.

How do you call the election?

It is Trump's to lose. If he controls his bullying instinctive response and answers people's frustrations with solutions, he wins.

How do your personal beliefs differ from the party line?

While a strong conservative, I think the rights and choices of each person, whom you love, how you pray, how you live under the law is the right of each individual.

How do you measure our education efforts?

The value in education is making sure whatever delivery system is focused on the success of every child; it's not about the adults. It's about children learning and most important to know what they are not learning … so they can be successful. I don't think we should run away from testing.

Your take on local politics?

Local politics matter the most. They are the closest to the people. They need to listen, communicate on all content platforms and decide, lead, act. Everyone who lives anywhere in Tampa Bay knows we need some improvements in our transportation delivery system to grow and develop in a way that provides a good quality of life. Watching this debacle at the county commission is frustrating and their lack of collective leadership is disappointing.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn is an example of leadership in constant action with measured goals of success measured in Tampa transformation.

What do you do to unwind?

I love going to the gym. I ride my bike all over town. I love the downtown Riverwalk. I garden. I love reading, so I joined a book club, and I spend as much time as I can with nieces and nephews at sports events in Orlando.

Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.

A conversation with influential Florida Republican Kathleen Shanahan 06/09/16 [Last modified: Friday, June 10, 2016 1:38pm]
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