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Florida Senate: The Times Editorial Board recommendations
Three local seats in the state Senate are up for grabs.
The Florida Senate chamber.
The Florida Senate chamber. [ Times (2020) ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 7, 2020

Members of the Florida Senate are elected to four-year terms and paid $29,697 per year. The general election is Nov. 3.

District 19

State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg
State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg [ Times files ]

Darryl Rouson spent eight years in the Florida House before winning his Senate seat in 2016. He’s reliably Democratic on many issues — supports bans on offshore drilling and assault weapons — but is pragmatic enough to establish solid relationships with his Republican counterparts, including local Sen. Jeff Brandes. The two senators, for instance, agree on certain aspects of criminal justice reform.

Rouson, who is a lawyer, would like to see “draconian minimum mandatory” sentences eliminated. He also supports examining sentences on which the law has changed. For instance, a drug offender sentenced to 20 years — but who would only receive five years under current laws — should be allowed to petition the court for release, he said.

Rouson, 65, thinks Florida underfunds its education system. He’d also like to see the Legislature pass a bill on mandatory bodily injury liability insurance for drivers. “Florida should follow the 48 others states that require that kind of insurance,” he said.

Rouson won a close Democratic primary for the District 19 seat in 2016, before easily winning the general election over his Republican opponent. This year, there is no Republican in the race. Rouson is pitted against Christina Paylan, a no party affiliated candidate.

In 2014, a jury found Paylan, a cosmetic surgeon, guilty of obtaining a controlled substance by fraud and fraudulent use of personal information. She was sentenced to slightly less than a year in jail. She has donated $42,000 to her campaign and raised less than $700 from other sources, according to the latest campaign finance reports. Rouson has raised nearly $290,000.

This is an easy call. For Senate District 19, the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board recommends Darryl Rouson.

District 20

Kathy Lewis
Kathy Lewis

Kathy Lewis brings a compelling life story and a rich mix of professional and civic experience to this race. Her drive and clear view of the problems Floridians face would bring a fresh jolt of reality to the Senate.

Lewis, 59, is an author, speaker and businesswoman who advocates on behalf of families with children with special needs. She was motivated to run for this Senate seat in 2018 after an ordeal with obtaining services for her daughter — an experience that Lewis said shows the holes and indifference in the social safety net that punishes hard-hit families.

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Lewis said her fight for disability rights grew beyond an interest in expanding Medicaid. And she says the coronavirus pandemic exposed the need to deal with social services across the board. She would invest more in education and public health, improve the unemployment benefits process and devise a strategy to address impacts to the budget. She also rightly wants Tallahassee to be more disciplined about preempting local control. Her agenda and infectious energy could bring average residents into the decision-making process and help restore public faith in government.

Republican Danny Burgess, 34, is an attorney and former state House member who served as executive director of the state Department of Veterans' Affairs from 2019 to 2020. Aside from supporting more reliable access to Florida’s jobless benefits system, Burgess doesn’t offer many exciting ideas or stray from the Republican playbook. He supports the costly plan for new transportation corridors, which is unfocused at best.

Lewis would bring a rich life experience to the upper chamber and a history of perseverance. She emerged from an inner-city household in Baltimore to become a financial analyst in both the public and private sectors and a civic leader in school and children’s groups. She has a command of what’s happening on the ground and what should happen at the 30,000-foot level. The Times Editorial Board recommends Kathy Lewis.

District 21

Jim Boyd
Jim Boyd [ SCOTT KEELER | TIMES ]

This is an old-school, new-school race that features two candidates with totally different strengths. On balance, though, Republican Jim Boyd is the more promising choice.

Boyd, 63, is chief executive of Boyd Insurance and a former state legislator from Manatee County. The Bradenton native was first elected to the Palmetto City Council in 1989, later serving as the city’s mayor, and was a member of the Florida House from 2010 to 2018, representing Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key.

Boyd espouses a traditional Republican agenda — controlling the budget, holding the line on taxes and promoting small business. In the House, he addressed regulatory matters and veterans issues, and later took a lead in confronting Florida’s opioid crisis. Boyd had a solid record on environmental issues and was known for dealing attentively to the local needs of his district. He is widely regarded as a consensus-builder, a good fit for a chamber that prides itself on that approach.

Democrat Anthony “Tony" Eldon, 23, is a public school teacher and social media entrepreneur. He wants to increase funding for schools, expand health care and buy more environmental land. Eldon said his candidacy is a natural extension of his civic advocacy for social and environmental causes. He is personable and driven. His agenda shapes this race for the better and serves as a bellwether for the growing district.

Boyd’s experience in elected office, and record to date, makes him a better fit. He has long been sensitive to constituent issues, which is important for a Bradenton-based seat that also takes in the southern Hillsborough County communities of Lithia, Sun City Center and Wimauma. Boyd will need to be accessible to his Hillsborough constituents and attuned to their very distinct needs. The Times Editorial Board recommends Jim Boyd.

Related: All of the Times Editorial Board recommendations

Candidate replies

The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. The ones not recommended for U.S. House can send a reply of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. Oct. 15 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at gbrink@tampabay.com.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news