© 2023 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
00000174-121d-d47e-a1f7-523d2c950000 WUSF News regularly collaborates with University of South Florida journalism classes in Tampa and St. Petersburg, providing students an opportunity to share their work with the greater Tampa Bay area.Some of the projects have included:“Past Plates” - a podcast and written stories produced in Spring 2017 that look into people’s memories and traditions related to food, food culture and food business in south St. Petersburg. In fall 2016, students profiled candidates running for Tampa Bay area elected offices. They were produced as part of the USF Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications' Advanced Reporting or Public Affairs classes; and as part of the Media and Elections class at USF St. Petersburg’s Journalism and Mass Communications Department.In 2015, WUSF journalists joined the USFSP Neighborhood News Bureau in creating oral histories of residents of St. Petersburg's historic Midtown neighborhood. That work was featured on WUSF's Florida Matters public affairs show.

Elections 2016: Florida House of Representatives District 59 Candidate Ross Spano

Ross Spano

Ross Spano says his reason for running to keep his seat representing District 59 and his hometown of Brandon in the Florida House of Representatives is simple.

“There’s more to do,” the Republican incumbent said.

Age: 50 Education: University of South Florida, Florida State University College of Law Occupation: Attorney, Managing Partner of Spano & Woody, P.A. Political Experience: Florida House of Representatives, 2012-present

Spano first ran for the seat in 2012, narrowly defeating Gail Gottlieb by just 1.6 percent of the vote. He said he listened to his father, a small-business owner, talk about government’s impact on business growing up and learned about its effects firsthand as an attorney and owner of a small law firm in Riverview. When the House seat opened a few weeks before the filing deadline in 2012, Spano decided elected office would be the most effective way to create change.

“Brandon is mostly small businesses,” Spano said. “Before I ran for office, I felt like, as a small business owner, no one was really watching out for me. I wanted to give a voice to small business.”

His efforts to help small businesses, such as the quarterly roundtables with small-business owners in the district and his fight to end the commercial lease sales tax, captured the attention of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed him for this election.

“Representative Ross Spano continues to work toward an environment where business owners can grow and thrive,” said Marian Johnson, the organization’s senior vice president of political strategy, in a statement on the chamber’s website.

Spano has also spearheaded efforts to combat human trafficking in Florida. Since his first term, he has helped pass bills that allow trafficking victims to vacate their criminal records if they can prove the crimes were committed under coercion from their traffickers, have increased punishment for both trafficking and solicitation and have outlawed prosecuting children for trafficking-related charges.

“We essentially stated that children in the sex industry should be treated as dependents and not delinquents,” Spano said regarding the most recent bill, which took effect Oct. 1.

According to Florida House records, Spano generally votes along the Republican party line, including voting for the open carry of guns on college campuses and voting against the expansion of Medicaid in the state. He also voted in favor of a bill that would ban most abortions earlier this year, one that Spano said he and his fellow legislators knew would not pass. On “fundamental issues” such as these, Spano said, he considers the political implications of his votes but ultimately sticks to his principles.

“Some people lick their finger and put it up in the air to see which direction the wind is blowing, and that’s the way they go,” he said. “That’s not how I’m made and how I’m wired.”

That stance extends to how he runs his campaigns. Spano said he has always been uncomfortable with the idea that candidates must be negative in order to be competitive. On Oct. 4, he said he sent his opponent, Democrat Rena Frazier, a text message asking her to agree to run negativity-free campaigns. Frazier responded only in a Florida Politics article, calling Spano’s message “a political game.”

“That was unfortunate,” Spano said. “In general, I think everyone is tired of the negativity. Let’s talk about the policies, let’s talk about what we want to do that is good for our area.”

Spano’s campaign has gathered more than $260,000 in campaign contributions as of Oct. 13; $32,000 of that came from the Republican Party of Florida, according to campaign finance documents.

Spano says true success means getting to serve another term in the Florida House.

“I enjoy having the opportunity to make decisions that affect those that I love,” he said. “If the good people of Brandon will allow me to continue to represent them and to help make those decisions, then I would be honored to do that.”

McKenna Kelley is a student journalist attending the University of South Florida Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications. This story was produced as part of the school’s Advanced Reporting or Public Affairs class this semester, under the leadership of instructors Wayne Garcia and Wendy Whitt.