Tom Lee Won’t Run For Hillsborough Clerk As He Exits Senate
With his wife, Laurel, serving as secretary of state in Tallahassee, outgoing Sen. Tom Lee said Monday he will not run for local office in Hillsborough County this year.
Lee, a former Senate president who announced May 29 that he will leave the Legislature two years before his term expires, said in a statement that he filed paperwork Friday to run for Hillsborough County clerk of court. But as qualifying started Monday for the November elections, he said he had changed his mind about running for the county post.
“While my head told me I wanted to continue representing the residents of this great county, ultimately, my heart told me that this was not the best way for me to serve my community at this time,” Lee said in the statement. “My wife, Laurel Lee, is currently serving as secretary of state, and she and my young daughter are in Tallahassee.”
Laurel Lee was a Hillsborough County circuit judge before being tapped by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January 2019 to become secretary of state.
Tom Lee, a longtime lawmaker who served as Senate president from 2004 to 2006, submitted his resignation from the Legislature last month, effective Nov. 3, which is Election Day.
His term for the District 20 seat, which covers parts of Hillsborough, Polk and Pasco counties, would ordinarily end in 2022.
A day after advising DeSantis about his plans to leave the Senate, Lee acknowledged serving as Hillsborough County clerk of courts would be a “good fit” for him. But he said the decision to end his legislative career had been on his mind for several years and wasn’t motivated by a run for any local office.
“I learned to govern in a different era, and, for whatever reason, the legislative process has changed,” Lee told The News Service of Florida on May 30.
At the time, he also noted that during the coronavirus shutdown, “I took the time to teach our daughter, Faith, 7, to ride her bike and it got me thinking about all I am missing by having to reside within my Senate district while they are in Tallahassee full time and to what end.”
Lee expressed similar sentiments in a news release Monday.
“My decision to leave the Florida Senate was born out of a desire to reunite my family. My wife and I have since concluded that this objective would not allow me to dedicate the necessary time to honor the legacy of my friend Pat Frank and fulfill the duties of the office,” Lee said. “My wonderful wife has stood by my side for many years supporting me in my public service, and now it is my turn to support her as she serves Governor DeSantis and the citizens of Florida. I will continue to serve as senator to District 20 through early November, ensuring that the individuals who have championed me throughout these many years remain represented as Florida faces these unprecedented and challenging times.”
Pat Frank, a former state legislator who has been the Hillsborough County clerk since 2004, has announced she will not seek re-election this year.
To replace Lee in a special election that will be held concurrent with the Nov. 3 general election, Republican leaders have lined up behind former Rep. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican who left the House last year to become executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Burgess and Wesley Chapel Democrat Kathy Lewis have filed paperwork to seek to replace Lee. Lewis lost by seven percentage points to Lee in 2018 for the Republican-leaning district.
Lee, a vice president of Sabal Homes of Florida, served in the Senate from 1996 to 2006 and returned in 2012. He flirted with runs for Congress and state chief financial officer before seeking re-election to the Senate in 2018. He ran for state chief financial officer in 2006, losing to Democrat Alex Sink.