Five local races for Florida Senate: Times Editorial Board recommendations
The races will help fill out the 40-member state senate.
Visitors walk into Florida's Capitol building.
Visitors walk into Florida's Capitol building. [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 13, 2022

The Florida Senate faces critical issues in the years ahead, from addressing the property insurance crisis and the lack of affordable housing to improving education and protecting the environment. Members are elected to four-year terms and paid $29,697 annually. The general election is Nov. 8.

Related: Read the Times recommendations in other races.

District 14: Janet Cruz, Democrat

Janet Cruz
Janet Cruz [ Courtesy of Janet Cruz for Senate ]

Democrat Janet Cruz is a voice of sanity in Tallahassee and a fighter for the average Floridian and, while in the minority party, she knows how to get things done.

Cruz, 66, was elected to the Florida Senate in 2018 after serving eight years in the state House of Representatives. A small businesswoman and fourth-generation Tampa resident, Cruz understands the needs of working-class Floridians and has worked to increase opportunities by strengthening the schools, the job market and access to health care.

Cruz is a longtime advocate for increased spending on education and teacher salaries. She supports expanding Medicaid to assist hundreds of thousands of uninsured Floridians obtain health coverage. Cruz has also supported a range of smaller initiatives to help businesses and entrepreneurs, and measures that make it easier for veterans and military spouses to enter college or the workforce. Cruz’s job fairs have also provided families the opportunity to make a fresh start.

Republican challenger Jay Collins, 46, is a former Green Beret combat medic who is campaigning heavily on his military career. He is supported by the state’s Republican leadership. While Collins promises to “champion an agenda that lowers taxes, keeps our communities safe and puts Tampa first,” the details of his platform are unclear.

Cruz has long focused on the bread-and-butter needs of Tampa-area families. She lends her strong voice to the principled causes of fair play and equal treatment — ideas that are not always in fashion in the Republican-controlled Capitol. She is accessible in Tampa and familiar with the district’s varied neighborhoods, which include South Tampa, West Tampa, Town N’ Country and Hillsborough County’s northern suburbs. She’s always worked hard and had her priorities straight.

For State Senate District 14, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Janet Cruz.

District 16: Darryl Ervin Rouson, Democrat

Darryl Rouson
Darryl Rouson

Democrat Darryl Ervin Rouson’s transactional approach to politics has helped him succeed in the Republican-controlled Legislature, and he’s the best choice in this sprawling, needy district.

Rouson is a 67-year-old attorney who was first elected to the Florida Senate in 2016 after serving eight years in the state House of Representatives. Rouson has focused on the neediest and most marginalized in Florida’s struggling communities, supporting housing, health care and jobs programs and progressive reforms to the state’s criminal justice system.

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Rouson’s priorities for another term include expanding affordable housing and providing greater funding for mental health and addiction counseling services. He has long talked movingly about the impact that counseling programs can have in turning around a troubled life. Rouson wants to spend more on K-12 and higher education, and dedicate more resources to protecting Florida’s springs and other natural environments. He would ban assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, and look for ways to ensure that ex-felons who vote are not running afoul of the punitive restrictions that still prevent many from exercising that right.

Rouson’s rounded agenda demonstrates how he brings the human experience to the lawmaking process. Knowing that one mistake can mean the difference between making it or not is especially important in many of the poor, heavily minority neighborhoods in this Pinellas and Hillsborough district, which generally runs east of Gulfport and south of 22nd Avenue N, and includes much of central and east Tampa, and the coastal Hillsborough communities of Apollo Beach and Ruskin.

Republican challenger Christina B. Paylan, 54, lost to Rouson in 2020, when she ran as a candidate with no party affiliation. On her website, she touts herself as “a voice for common sense lawmaking,” and promises to “end hyperregulation of small business” and improve transparency for elected officials.

Rouson’s agenda, though, is more vigorous and relevant to the district’s needs. He pays attention to small civic groups under the radar whose work is making a difference in this community, and he has the relationships in Tallahassee to win state support for the people back home.

For State Senate District 16, the the Tampa Bay Times recommends Darryl Ervin Rouson.

District 18 - Eunic Ortiz, Democrat

Eunic Ortiz
Eunic Ortiz [ Provided ]

Eunic Ortiz is running against Nick DiCeglie to replace term-limited Sen. Jeff Brandes. This was a close call for this editorial board. There’s a lot to like about DiCeglie. We have recommended him in previous races, but Ortiz is direct, succinct, smart and sharp on policy issues. Voters should send her to the Florida Senate.

Ortiz, 34, graduated from Tarpon Springs High School, St. Petersburg College, the University of Florida and has a master’s degree from New York University, where her thesis was on how social media play a vital role for local government communication. She has worked in television news, public affairs and as a spokesperson for the New York City Council. Ortiz, who teaches ethics and problems in mass communications at the University of Florida, also helped lead the successful campaign to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Ortiz priorities include bolstering the state’s public schools, and she said she would “fiercely advocate to ensure our per pupil spending is nationally competitive.” She also wants to tackle affordable house by fully funding the Sadowski program, a dedicated revenue source meant to help build affordable housing projects, but that the Legislature often sweeps to spend the money for other purposes. “Additionally, we must support home-rule and allow local governments to creatively develop our cities and counties that account for our rapid regional growth,” she said. “We should think creatively about incentive programs for developers and Realtors that provide affordable housing units. Lastly, we must ensure we’re attracting good-paying jobs to provide folks with income to meet the rising inflation costs.”

She favors the ban on offshore drilling near Florida, wants to create a more robust and competitive property insurance market, and supported the move by Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson to raise state workers minimum pay to $15 an hour and also boost the pay of state workers who made between $15 and $25 an hour. She supports a women’s right to choose and would push back on moves to ban abortion.

DiCeglie, 48, is the state representative for House District 66, first elected in 2018 and reelected in 2020. He’s affable, thoughtful, approachable and has a reputation for being strong on constituent service. He’s not a flamethrower, looking to stir things up to curry political favor. He owns a waste and recycling collection business. He has a keen grasp of the challenges faced by the state’s small business owners. He also favors bolstering vocational programs. He voted in favor of Florida’s recent 15-week ban on abortion, but the self-described devout Catholic was non-committal when asked whether he would vote in favor of an outright ban on all abortions.

He, too, said he favors using the money earmarked for the Sadowski fund to build more affordable housing. He says he favors home rule — that local municipalities have the right to govern themselves — but he hasn’t always voted that way. It can be hard to buck your own party in the top-down state House. Senators often have more elbow room. We’d hope that if DiCeglie wins this race that he would be able to help set the agenda, not just follow the party line.

Voters in this district have the choice between two solid candidates. In their own ways, both appear likely to help temper the Legislature’s worst instincts. Ortiz, though, has run a strong campaign, raising more than $300,000 in cash and in-kind campaign contributions, an impressive amount especially for a first-time candidate. She has a reasonable outlook on what it would mean to be a Democratic senator in a Republican-dominated Legislature. She seems to know when to dig in on an issue and when to compromise for the greater good. For State Senate District 18, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Eunic Ortiz.

District 21: Ed Hooper, Republican

Ed Hooper
Ed Hooper

Ed Hooper, 75, was a firefighter for the better part of three decades, a Clearwater city commissioner, a state House representative, and now a state senator. He has lived in the area since 1972 and is running in the redrawn District 21.

On property insurance, he favors some tort reform and calculating payouts based on the actual cash value of damaged roofs, not the replacement value. On affordable housing, he supports “fully using the Sadowski Trust Fund as intended. I see merit in using that fund to issue block grants to the counties as they better understand the local solutions.” On the environment, one of his priorities would be to hook up more homes to sewer systems that currently use old septic systems.

Hooper is running against Democrat Amaro Lionheart. Lionheart’s campaign hasn’t gotten much traction, and he’s raised very little money, less than $4,000 compared to Hooper’s $316,000, as of late September. Lionheart’s platform includes pegging teacher pay to inflation and legalizing marijuana for people 21 and over. He also wants free public college for people who major in an “essential field” and agree to work in the state for at least two years.

For State Senate District 21, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Ed Hooper.

District 23: Danny Burgess, Republican

Danny Burgess
Danny Burgess [ Danny Burgess ]

This one’s easy. Republican Danny Burgess is the only candidate running a serious race. Though we find parts of his agenda too conservative, Burgess is experienced, competent and pushes some priorities that could have bipartisan appeal.

Burgess is a 36-year-old attorney who was elected to the Senate in 2020. He served in local office in Zephyrhills before being elected to the state House of Representatives in 2014, where he served until 2019. A major in the U.S. Army Reserve, Burgess also served as executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs from 2019-2020.

Burgess brings valuable life and political experience to the Senate. His agenda is decidedly conservative, promoting lower taxes, school choice and a “reasonable” regulatory environment for business. But he also talks about addressing “the rising cost of living for Floridians,” which could be a forum for confronting the steep housing, insurance and transportation costs that burden families across the state. Burgess also wants to pursue further enhancements to water quality and promote Florida citrus, efforts that could draw bipartisan support. These are also sound priorities for a representative of this east Pasco and east Hillsborough County district, which includes Land O’Lakes, Dade City, Brandon and Plant City.

Democrat Mike Harvey is a businessman who wants to spend more on public schools and teachers, expand Medicaid coverage and increase the stock of affordable housing. The agenda is great but the campaign is virtually nonexistent.

Burgess approaches the job with the seriousness it requires. He also understands the dynamics behind Florida’s maturing economy, and how the state must compete as it evolves.

For State Senate District 23, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Danny Burgess.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.