Elections have consequences, and the November election made changes in the makeup of some Tampa Bay area local governments and the area’s representatives in state government.
Those consequences will be among the top local political stories to watch 2023.
Here are some of the upcoming events and stories to keep track of:
- With Tampa city elections coming up March 7, some signs will come early in the year about the future of the city’s government. As the year ended, no opponent likely to be competitive had filed against Mayor Jane Castor, and time was running short to mount an effective campaign. But rumors of possible opponents continued to swirl. Meanwhile, the conflicts between Castor and the City Council and the influence of progressive Democrats who have criticized Castor recently could influence a couple of council races. Council member Lynn Hurtak will face Janet Cruz, who has family ties to the mayor, but late in the year no opponent had filed to challenge Castor’s harshest critic, South Tampa representative Bill Carlson. Meanwhile, Tampa’s longest-serving council member, Charlie Miranda, expected to seek his ninth term since 1975, will face a challenge from younger-generation civic activist and lawyer Hoyt Prindle.
- Tampa in early 2023 will mount its second police chief search in a year, to replace Mary O’Connor, who resigned in December after flashing her badge to avoid a traffic ticket for her husband. In March 2022, the City Council, which traditionally approves mayoral choices for department heads, approved Castor’s choice of O’Connor but with two negative votes — an indication of potential opposition to Castor’s next pick.
- The Nov. 8 election gave Republicans a 4-3 majority of Pinellas County commissioners, their first in eight years, and that could affect how the board handles at least two issues, term limits and property taxes. A proposal last year by Republican Commissioner Dave Eggers for a term limits referendum, needing five votes, failed with three; two new Republican commissioners, Chris Latvala and Brian Scott have said they favor term limits. The commissioners have cut property tax rates for two years in a row as increased values boosted tax revenue but haven’t gone as far toward a rollback rate as some Republicans want. The more conservative slant of the board could affect decisions on spending for a baseball stadium.
- The new Republican majority on the Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners may change how the county deals with transportation and growth issues. The more conservative board is unlikely to impose any further moratoriums on growth in the rapidly developing east and south county, where development is badly straining infrastructure, but traffic congestion, water supply and a shortage of school classroom space may limit their decisions on zoning approvals.
- After the failure of the All for Transportation tax referendum, it’s unlikely the new Hillsborough County board will look at any new taxation to fund its estimated $13 billion in road improvement needs or enhanced public transit. But the county could get an infusion of money collected under the 2018 version of the All for Transportation 1-cent sales tax before it was ruled invalid by a judge, some $562 million now being held in limbo. The Florida Legislature may decide in its upcoming session what to do with the cash; it’s thought all or most will come back to the county, but in what form and with what strings attached is unknown. South Hillsborough Republican Commissioner Mike Owen says he’ll fight to spend at least part of it widening Lithia-Pinecrest Road in his district, one of the county’s worst traffic bottlenecks, potentially a $150 million project. Extending the Tampa Riverwalk and a possible request for baseball stadium money are other big spending decisions the more conservative board may face.
- Meanwhile, a battle likely will start in 2023 over potentially competitive Hillsborough County board seats, including the countywide seat held by term-limited Pat Kemp. Democrats had won nearly all countywide elections for four years until commissioners Mariella Smith and Kimberly Overman surprisingly lost their seats in the November red wave; both are mentioned as potential candidates, along with Democrat Sean Shaw. Republican Ken Hagan is term-limited in his GOP-leaning district, but November’s results could tempt him to look at the countywide opening.
- For the last decade, Tampa Bay area state legislators have held an unusually high number of the most powerful positions in the state Legislature — Senate presidents, House speakers and powerful appropriations chairpersons. But that string ended this year. “Now there’s no top leadership in the Legislature out of Tampa Bay,” noted former state Senate President Tom Lee of Brandon. That could affect decisions, including the disposal of the leftover All for Transportation money, and major institutions like the University of South Florida, University of South Florida St. Petersburg and the Moffitt Cancer Center could feel the effects.
- The new Congressional election districts rammed through the Legislature in 2022 by Gov. Ron DeSantis directly affected Tampa Bay area elections. That districting plan is now under legal challenge on the grounds that it violated the Fair Districts Amendment by decreasing Black representation and being designed to boost Republican wins. It made the St. Petersburg-Clearwater District 13 more Republican, leading to a GOP takeover of the former Charlie Crist district by Anna Paulina Luna, and it created a GOP-leaning district in east Hillsborough, Polk and Pasco counties won by Laurel Lee. If the litigation succeeds, it’s possible those districts could be made vulnerable to Democratic challenges.