1. The Buzz

Is the I-4 corridor finally gaining clout again in Washington?

Lawmakers from the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas will have critical new roles in the Democratic-led House of Representatives. Will they flex that power to help the region?
SCOTT KEELER | Times Left to Right: US Rep., Kathy Castor, D- Tampa, US Rep., Charlie Crist, D- St. Petersburg, Grace Nelson, wife of US Senator Bill Nelson, D- Orlando, greet US Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D- Massachusetts, at Williams Park, St. Petersburg, Tuesday, August 7, 2018. The Congressmen were joined by local residents and healthcare advocates to call on elected officials to protect the Affordable Care Act and Floridians' access to affordable healthcare — fighting attempts to undermine protections for those with pre-existing conditions, holding "Big Pharma" accountable for rising prescription drug prices, and calling on Florida to expand Medicaid.
Published Jan. 15
Updated Jan. 15

WASHINGTON — The Democratic takeover of the House has brought influential roles for lawmakers representing the Tampa Bay and Orlando areas, which some hope could mean a new era of clout for the Interstate-4 corridor.

Representatives from the two metro areas nabbed highly coveted positions on House committees and in the Democratic caucus when assignments were finalized last week. St. Petersburg Rep. Charlie Crist will join the Committee on Appropriations, the panel that controls the purse strings of the federal government. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park is on the Ways and Means Committee, which writes the tax code.

Meanwhile, Tampa Rep. Kathy Castor was tapped by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to lead a highly anticipated committee on climate change. And two Orlando lawmakers have influential new assignments: Val Demings will lead candidate recruitment for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Darren Soto will serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee, a panel that will address health care in the new Congress.

Combined, it represents the most power the region has held in Washington since the passing of legendary Rep. C.W. Bill Young in 2013.

“It’s a big boost to Florida and the I-4 corridor,” Crist said. “The synergies between these committees, on climate change, infrastructure, health care — all the major issues facing our state and nation — are significant.”

The vaunted I-4 corridor carries special weight in Florida and national politics during election seasons. But for much of the past 50 years, its influence in the halls of Congress was almost entirely a byproduct of Young’s power as chair of the appropriations committee and the relationships he built over 42 years in Washington.

When Young died, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn remarked that “whoever replaces him will never attain that seniority. We just have to find someone that can fill that role in a different capacity, but there will never be another Bill Young."

It may take all five people to fill that void — and shared goals that extend beyond each lawmaker’s district.

The Tampa Bay and Orlando metropolitan areas each gained more than 50,000 people in 2017 and are two of the fastest-growing regions in the country. The metro areas inch closer every day as their populations grow, and a proposed high-speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando could further unite them.

Transportation and infrastructure are areas that could bring collaboration. Castor hopes to use her new platform with the climate change committee to encourage green energy businesses in the region and the state.

With local representatives on schedule to lead the Florida House and Senate in coming years, too, Buckhorn said Monday that Tampa-to-Orlando is positioned to become the economic engine of the state.

“We are the bookends of what will be one of the fastest-growing megalopolises — if that’s a word — in the country," Buckhorn said. "But we need to develop an agenda to take advantage of this for the entire I-4 corridor. What’s going on in Orlando is very comparable and complimentary to what’s going on in our area, but we need to get on the same page and maximize this moment in history.”

The five Democrats bring vastly different experiences to the job — Demings is a former Orlando police chief, Crist was once a Republican governor, Murphy is a former national security specialist for the Pentagon — and varying paths to power in the Democratic caucus.

Castor has risen through the traditional route: longevity and loyalty. Now in her seventh term, she’s in Pelosi’s inner circle. Murphy and Soto, meanwhile, have quickly gained clout after just two years in D.C. by sometimes fighting party leadership as members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group working toward pragmatic fixes, and leveraging their independence into key roles.

Still, none of them carry the seniority of Young, who even in the minority was an effective legislator, said former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. Baker’s tenure overlapped with Young’s turn as appropriations chairman, an especially fruitful time for the Tampa Bay area. Young helped to secure funding for several Midtown projects and to turn U.S. 19 into a north-south connector, among many other local priorities.

Lawmakers today have another disadvantage. Republicans barred earmarks — funding for local projects tacked onto bills — during their eight-year reign. That makes it difficult for members of Congress to secure money for projects in their districts.

There has been some speculation Democrats could reinstate earmarks, though they remain politically unpopular.

Baker said the true test of the strength of these local Democrats will be how well they can convince the two Florida Republicans in the Senate, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, to support local initiatives.

“It’s always good to have a good delegation,” Baker said. “We haven’t had a Bill Young since he passed, and I don’t think we have that now. We’ve had significant representation on the Republican side and now we’ll have it on the Democratic side.”

“But,” Baker added, “We’re not there yet.”


  1. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.
    Scott renews his talking point in the wake of an investigative story.
  2. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at the Polk County Democrats Steak Fry, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) CHARLIE NEIBERGALL  |  AP
    All the candidates are here, hoping to pass the Hawkeye test. So far, Elizabeth Warren is surging.
  3. Tallahassee Mayor and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum talks with reporters before addressing a group of gay and lesbian Democrats in Tallahassee on Aug. 19. (AP Photo/Brendan Farrington)
    Gillum accused Florida’s Republican governor of “routine” voter suppression.
  4. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis talks to reporters in Tampa on Aug. 21. Delays in his filling vacancies on the state's five water management district boards have twice led to those agencies canceling meetings to levy taxes and set budgets, which one expert said was unprecedented. OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES  |  Times
    Vacancies lead to canceling two agencies’ budget meetings.
  5. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  6. Richard Swearingen, Florida's Commissioner of the Department of Law Enforcement, testifies before state lawmakers on Monday. Florida Channel
    But law enforcement officials are getting behind a “threat assessment system.”
  7. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  8. The Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach. JOE RAEDLE  |  Getty Images
    It wasn’t immediately clear how much Mar-a-Lago would charge to host the Marine Corps Birthday Ball — or even if it might do so for free.
  9. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
  10. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.