With 2020 finally in the rearview mirror, it’s time to take a look at which prominent Republicans will be making moves, waves or news in 2021:
State Representative Jay Trumbull
The “Culligan Man” (he once ran a former dealership in Tallahassee) has a lot on his plate for the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session. Aside from being one of the Panhandle’s biggest advocates, Trumbull will now preside over one of Florida’s most important fiscal budgets — given the lingering pandemic and uncertainty of the virus. As Chairman of the all-important Appropriations Committee, Trumbull will be instrumental in keeping small businesses — Florida’s lifeblood — afloat into 2021. Committed to his constituents as evidence of his leadership following the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, Trumbull has what it takes to navigate the state through turbulent waters and catapult his blossoming political career to the next level by 2022.
State Senator Kelli Stargel
Like Trumbull, Stargell will be tasked with leading the state through COVID-19. With the state facing a revenue shortfall estimated to be as high as $2.75 billion, Stargell will look to wield her leadership in the Senate to cement a balanced budget in an uncertain year for Florida’s economy. A proven leader in her own right — serving as an outspoken voice on the right to life — Stargel is ready to prove that she’s up to the task of leading the Senate Appropriations Committee.
State Representative Tom Leek
Leek is in a unique position this upcoming session. Serving as chair of the new Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee, a committee that was created in the House in response to COVID-19, Leek will be called upon to deal with pressing issues brought forth by the virus. But the committee won’t be limited to just the coronavirus. The body will be more than just a temporary problem solver, as Leek will oversee the preparation of future health crises and disasters.
State Senator Joe Gruters
Known as one of the original Trump supporters in Florida, Gruters now must adjust to life in 2021 without his friend at the helm of the nation’s executive branch. While many die-hard Trump loyalists will fall by the wayside now that Trump is out, Gruters has enough name-recognition and political capital in the Sarasota area to be a legitimate power player moving forward. That still hasn’t stopped left-wing outlets from pushing an anti-vaccine conspiracy theory against him, despite Gruters professing that he only opposes “mandated vaccines” — two completely different things.
State Senator Manny Diaz Jr.
Fresh off a groundswell in South Florida that saw the political pendulum swing in Republicans’ favor last November, Diaz will look to parley his accomplishments into a bigger payoff. Having helped secure the Latino vote last election for Republicans, Diaz will now turn his attention to his magnum opus: expanding educational options and reducing taxes for Floridians. With so much success in his short stint as a state senator, Diaz has placed himself in a prime position to guide the Senate in the near future.
RON DESANTIS – The General
It’s not a real list without the de facto Republican leader in Florida.
Since the start of the pandemic, every action taken by DeSantis has been methodically placed under the media microscope. Democrats and legacy media outlets like CNN have done everything in their power to have the public believe that DeSantis is asleep at the wheel when it comes to leading the Sunshine State through the worldwide contagion.
But Florida’s stats tell a different story. While the media criticized the Republican for his restrained approach to tackling the virus — while conveniently lionizing his Democratic counterpart, Andrew Cuomo — the two states are miles apart in terms of economic freedom while statistically similar in coronavirus cases.
There will be few surprises from DeSantis in 2021 as he prepares himself and his administration for a reelection campaign in 2022. People have speculated that DeSantis has his eye on the White House in 2024, but he knows better than anyone that he’s got to take care of business at home first.
RICK SCOTT – The ER Surgeon
Like an emergency room physician called in to save a patient who is mortally wounded, Rick Scott has the unenviable task of trying to patch together the financial resources necessary for the GOP to mount a comeback bid in 2022, in one of the most difficult post-election environments Republicans have ever faced.
Scott, who was elected chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) in November, will be called upon to flex his political fundraising muscle and help the GOP regain control of the Senate. Luckily for Republicans, Scott has a proven track record in overcoming the odds and strengthening a war chest. To date, the former Florida governor is 3-0 when it comes to campaigns, and knows all the right people when it comes to raising money.
Scott, like DeSantis, is rumored to have eyes on the White House in 2024. But Scott, like DeSantis, has to take care of the business at hand first: fully embracing the uphill battle leading the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm to spoil Democrat plans beyond 2022.
MATT GAETZ – The Gunslinger
The “Doc Holliday” of the Republican Party, Gaetz seems to steal the show when the spotlight is on him with his memorable quotes and indelible persona.
Like Scott, Gaetz must tread water long enough to get the GOP back on track in 2022. Facing a momentous task, the GOP, surprisingly, only needs a handful of seats to take back the House. The problem in this plan, however, is that Republicans in Congress are fractured, torn over how to proceed in the post-Trump era.
Few are more adept at analyzing and navigating uncertain political terrain than Gaetz. He’ll have to decide if the crusade to reintegrate his conservative base is worth the hassle. A media darling on the Right, Gaetz could easily to transition into a role that allows him to show off his political chops to a national audience.
While Gaetz might be tempted to tell Fox News “I’m your huckleberry,” his political star is still on the rise in the U.S. House – especially now that Republicans are in the minority role where vocal opposition is the GOP’s most potent weapon.
CHRIS SPROWLS – The Shepherd
Serving as House Speaker, Sprowls has the opportunity to come out swinging in his first session at the helm of the House. But his more important role will be as the guiding hand in policies pushed by his conservative body. Sprowls will also serve as a partner to DeSantis in 2021, tasked with keeping the House focused on a handful of the governor’s key priorities.
Certainly, Sprowls has a lot on his plate — the pandemic, liability protections, and an uncertain budget — but one telling measure is an anti-riot bill that would increase penalties for violent protests. The bill, “Combatting Public Disorder” (HB 1/SB 484), was pushed by DeSantis last summer after protests and riots turned chaotic in several metropolitan areas around the country.
DeSantis made it clear that Florida would not be a bastion for such unlawful behavior, signaling that this bill could be his top priority for the 2021 Legislative Session. The proposal faces strong opposition from Democrats, and groups are likely to present legal challenges to pushback against the bill.
But the Palm Harbor Republican has proven that he’s no pushover, and has made his mantra clear: “Florida will be a state of law and order.” He’s made several appearances on Fox News to make the case for the legislation.
Sprowls has the unique opportunity in his first season as the voice of the House to pass a first-of-its-kind bill and set a precedent in Florida that could serve as a catalyst for other state legislatures to adopt.
WILTON SIMPSON – The Stalwart
While Simpson takes pride in his background in agriculture, he’s got a lot more going on now that he’s heading the Senate. Simpson is a skilled and principled conservative who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo or call out bad policy, even if it’s politically popular.
But that’s not the only thing that makes Simpson a “must-watch” legislator this upcoming session. It’s obvious that Simpson would be a natural fit to run for Agriculture Commissioner in 2022. The move makes sense, given his roots in Florida’s agriculture community. It would also force the Democrats to choose between Nikki Fried defending the seat as an incumbent, or trying to install a new Democrat in her place should she decide to challenge Ron DeSantis.
Unlike many before him, serving as Senate President is not likely his terminus in Florida politics.