After submitting his resignation to leave the Legislature with two years remaining in his term, Sen. Tom Lee acknowledged serving as Hillsborough County clerk of courts would be a “good fit” for him.
But in a text message over the weekend, the Thonotosassa Republican said the decision to end a long legislative career, which included a stint as Senate president, has been on his mind for several years and wasn’t motivated by a run for any local office.
Lee, a vice president of Sabal Homes of Florida who flirted with runs for Congress and state chief financial officer before seeking re-election to the Senate in 2018, said he considered resigning after his time as appropriations chairman under his friend, former Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, ended in 2016.
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“I learned to govern in a different era, and, for whatever reason, the legislative process has changed,” Lee said. “Simply put, the Florida Senate just isn't the best fit for me at this time in my life. For a while, I thought I might get a chance to reform the process, but that wasn't in the cards.”
As chairman of the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee the past two sessions, Lee has managed major pieces of legislation for President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, such as plans to build multi-use corridors, including toll roads, from Collier County to the Georgia border. But he has also occasionally been an outspoken critic of leaders and other members of his party on topics such as insurance and education.
Meanwhile, Lee also pointed to his family as a factor in Friday’s announcement that he will step down in November.
His wife, Laurel Lee, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge, serves as secretary of state for Gov. Ron DeSantis and resides in Tallahassee with their daughter.
“During the 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 said.
Lee submitted his resignation effective Nov. 3, which is Election Day. In the resignation letter, Lee said the move allows the state to hold an election for his seat this year. Otherwise, he didn’t state a reason for his action.
“It has been the greatest honor of my career serving as a Senator for a total of 18 years and, most recently, representing the citizens of District 20,” wrote Lee, 58, who was president from 2004 to 2006.
Florida Politics on Thursday reported that Lee was considering a run for Hillsborough County clerk of courts.
Lee said “there's a chance” he could run.
“I know the clerk’s job is open in Hillsborough,” Lee said. “The clerk's role at the county level bears some resemblance to the CFO’s job at the state level and a number of (people) have encouraged me to run. So, it would certainly be a good fit for me if I decide to continue in elected public service. It's also true that, prior to my resignation, I contacted another candidate in the race as a courtesy to let her know that I was considering a run for the office because I knew there would be this speculation and I wanted her to hear it from me.”
Qualifying for the Hillsborough County office begins June 8, and the state’s “resign-to-run” law requires elected officials seeking other posts to give notice in writing at least 10 days prior to the first day of qualifying. Missing the deadline would require an office holder to resign immediately.
Lee served in the Senate from 1996 to 2006 and returned in 2012. He was slated to face term limits in 2022. No one had opened an account to run for the Republican-leaning district, which is made up of parts of Hillsborough, Polk and Pasco counties.
Incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, have already backed former Rep. Danny Burgess, a Republican from Zephyrhills, to replace Lee in November.
Burgess left the House last year to become executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. He submitted his resignation Monday in advance of an anticipated run at Lee’s seat.