Danny Burgess, a Republican former lawmaker and state agency leader, was headed for a return to the Legislature after securing the state Senate seat for District 20 Tuesday night.
Around 9:30 p.m., Burgess had about 54 percent of the vote, according to unofficial totals reported by Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties, that did not include all mail-in ballots.
Burgess, 34, is a former House member from Zephyrhills who was first elected in 2014 and was re-elected twice. In late 2018, he was tapped by Gov. Ron DeSantis to head the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs, a position he resigned from in June to run for Senate. An attorney, Burgess is a captain in the Army Reserves in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
Burgess said he received a “very gracious” phone call from opponent Kathy Lewis by about 9:30 p.m., adding he looks forward to working with her to make the state better.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d have the opportunity to serve in the state Senate,” he said. “It’s truly amazing and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The seat was up for a special election after Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, retired halfway through his four-year term — initially saying he was running for Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court, but then changing his mind and removing his name from the ballot.
The win for Burgess preserves the Republican hold on the seat, decreasing Democrats' chances of flipping the Senate — which is all the more important this year, because the upcoming Legislature will re-draw the districts for the state House, Senate and Congress over the next two years based on Census data. The last time lawmakers redrew the political maps, a court ordered them to re-do their Senate and congressional districts because they were shaped to favor GOP incumbents.
Burgess had more campaign cash and Tallahassee connections than Lewis, a Democratic disability rights advocate.
Lewis, 59, of Wesley Chapel, also ran for this seat in 2018 against Lee, and that year won the Hillsborough portion of the district, which generally covers the area where Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties meet. It includes much of the the University of South Florida campus, New Tampa and Wesley Chapel.
Lewis has said that her campaign was focused on helping Floridians get more out of their government, and was partially inspired to run for public office because of the difficulties she has faced getting services for her daughter, who has a disability.
By late October, Burgess' campaign had raised around $400,000, with another $400,000 in his political committee, while Lewis had raised around $63,000 in her campaign fund.
Members of the 40-person state Senate are paid $29,697 each year, and pass bills along with the House, which become law if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs them.
Times/Herald staff writer Kirby Wilson contributed to this report.
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