Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Meet Sara Johnson, one of the ’30 under 30′ rising stars of Florida politics

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

It’s been a busy year for Sara Johnson.

Since joining the anti-gambling expansion No Casinos team in early January, Johnson has spoken to more than 35 civic groups, radio shows and political clubs, along with a bevy of community leaders.

The 21-year-old got an early introduction to hectic paces. At 14, she attended her first TeenPact Leadership class and learned about the legislative process, later volunteering for her first campaign: The 2008 constitutional amendment on marriage, which passed with 62 percent of the vote.

Sara eventually interned for John Stemberger‘s Florida Family Policy Council and later became his assistant.

Last year, she worked on state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan‘s successful run for the Florida House – “Fun fact: Sara’s and Jennifer’s age combined was still younger than all of her opponents,” her bio says – and worked on U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster’s general election campaign.

Here’s Sara in her own words:

I am … 21 years old.

I live in … Orlando but I was born and raised in Tallahassee.

I got into politics … when I attended a TeenPact Leadership class during the 2010 Legislative Session and for the first time I became aware there are people who fight every day for my basic rights to pray in public and learn at home. (I was home-schooled.) This blew my mind and I knew right then I wanted to support those efforts. I was volunteering for the Florida Family Policy Council before the 2010 session ended.

One principle I always put above politics is … the importance of your reputation. My great-grandma, now over 90, once looked me in the eye, pointed her finger at me and said, “Your name is all you have. If you have nothing but that, ya still got something but if you got everything and don’t have that, ya got nothing. Your name is all you’ll ever have.” That has stuck with me ever since.

Person or people who gave me my first shotNathan Dunn, legislative communications director at Florida Family Policy Council, asked me if I was interested in interning. I was 16 and it didn’t cross my mind that was an option for me. Cheryl Adams, office manager at Johnson & Blanton, allowed me a 30-minute meeting with Jon Johnson just to meet him and ask questions. He opened the door for me to intern with [state] Sen. Aaron Bean after the 2012 Primary. John Stemberger, president of FFPC, asked me to be his legislative assistant when I was 19. I was apprehensive but he said, “Sara, we’re not considering you because of your education or experience. We’re considering you because of the passion you have for our issues.” Each of these individuals opened doors for me.

I’ve already worked for/on (campaign, issues, etc.) … I currently work with John Sowinski and Paul Seago at No Casinos. I’ve also worked for Daniel Webster’s campaign, Jennifer Sullivan’s campaign, Aaron Bean’s campaign, and John Stemberger and Florida Family Action/Policy Council.

When I begin a project or first work on a campaign, I look for … I select projects I believe in and can put my name on. I support candidates who are committed to winning. I want someone who believes in their message before they ask others to, who are willing to out work their competition, and address their weaknesses head on. That, to me, defines winnability.

I’ve been blessed to have these people as my mentors … John Stemberger: His passion drives him to work day and night for a cause he believes in. I’ll never understand the hours he keeps but I’m so grateful to have started my career with him. Daniel Webster: He addressed my first TeenPact class and his “Three Values for Young Christians” speech changed my life. He is humble, unassuming, and embodies statesmanship.

The people I most admire in politics are … Jennifer Sullivan: She never let her youth keep her from aspiring to leadership. I admire that. Frank Torres: He decided to write a political blog and became the second-most read online news source for all things political in Central Florida (second only to the Orlando Sentinel). He believed he could and he did it single-handedly.

One lesson I’ve already learned is … Honesty. Early in my political endeavors I was privy to white lies on a campaign trail. When recapping political experiences with my parents, my dad said, “It may be a little lie, but even a small lie is a step across the line of your integrity. It doesn’t matter how small the lie, it’s a big step.” That’s a tough lesson, but one I’m glad I learned early on, and I’m glad I had my parents’ guidance through those early political tests.

If I wasn’t working in politics, I’d be working … as a pastry chef. I love baking so much that even when I worked at FFPC during session, I worked at Treva’s Pastries on weekends. It’s the exact opposite of politics and maybe that’s why I like it so much.

In 10 years, you’ll read about me … making a difference and serving my community.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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