Who are the ’30 under 30′ rising stars of Florida politics?

in Uncategorized by

They say, “Be nice to people on your way up because you meet them on your way down.” For the 30 young men and women you will read about this week, this phrase is still meaningful — for each in their own way — as their careers in Florida’s political process rise.

From among the sea of interns, pages, volunteers and lookers-on of the political process, these are the folks who may have done the thankless work, booked the meetings, edited the late-night release — and who have been noticed by others for their energy, insights or acumen.  Sometimes, no thanks to their superiors; but usually, it seems, because of trusted mentors who clear the way.

It is no coincidence that the best, sometimes most damning stories to tell, are first witnessed by the driver, errand boy or intern — and sometimes, through having exhibited substantial loyalty or discernment, these same people gain responsibility in turn.

Other times, such as with Katie Betta — now communications director to Senate President Don Gaetz — it is a display of integrity and humility amid extraordinary work that does the trick.  Or for others, such as Anthony Glover — now on the public affairs team at Mosaic — broad skill sets and strong relationships lead a career from campaign volunteer to key staff in administrations, agencies, and elsewhere.

And then there are the young people whose last name you know, if not already their firsts — such as Jeb Bush, Jr., Katie Ballard or David Cardenas — whose family played a part in their initial experience in the political process but whose merits and ambition stand on their own.

SaintPetersBlog has received over 2,000  nominations from political veterans, lobbyists, public officials and others who they see as rising lights on Florida’s political scene.  Although being elected to state office in one’s 20’s is an automatic “watch me” signal, it is not a singular criteria.

The nominations were reduced to 30-plus up-and-comers under the age of 30 who include legislative aides, folks who left Florida for DC, and top communications staff from each area of the state.

So, without further ado, the reveal of the “30 under 30” for 2013 begins today at 10:00 a.m. We’ll reveal six or seven names each day, while updating this first post.


Twenty-six year old Katie Ballard, Parkland-native and Florida State University graduate, entered politics because she doesn’t “like to sit back and just watch things happen.” Instead, she aspires to make a difference and has made notable progress toward such in her few years on the political scene.  Katie’s first political job was with Congressman Tom Rooney, followed by work with State Rep. Bill Hager and various state House and Senate campaigns. She now works with the Florida Medical Association, the powerful statewide membership organization representing physicians’ interests, where she is trying her hand at political fundraising and lobbying.

“I have been very fortunate to have mentors that have helped to guide me throughout my career,” says Katie. “I am grateful for the advice and counsel that each of has provided throughout the years, and they know who they are.”

The lesson Katie has already learned? Hard work pays off. And work hard she does.  The people she admires most in politics are those that make up the grassroots efforts of a campaign — i.e. those who put their energies where their hearts are. People, it seems, who are like herself in that respect. Katie can’t imagine doing anything other than work in politics which means you’ll be hearing more about her in the years to come.

Last tweet from @KatieABallard: “Love that people are rocking old school cghs shirts at Epcot!”


Tim Baker has been called a ‘full-spectrum warrior’ by those that know him best because of his blend of ruthless campaign strategy/tactics, communications and policy acumen, as well as his ability to infuse an encyclopedic knowledge of election law in everything he does, explains Brian Hughes.

Baker, an attorney and junior partner in GOP consulting firm Data Targeting, cut his teeth in California politics before he moved to Florida to pursue his law degree at Florida State. He quickly went to work in the legal departments of the RPOF and Senate President Jeff Atwater’s office. He emerged as a go-to operative in managing Lizbeth Benacquisto’s improbable victory in 2010, flipping the majority Palm Beach based seat from blue to red.

Baker is known as a top opposition researcher for GOP campaigns and committees across the country and more recently he has emerged as a sought after general consultant, leading decisive victories by Congressman Ron DeSantis and Mike Hill in House District 2.


Dan Barrow at 26 has already worked for a strong political contingent: Rep. Fred Costello, The Fiorentino Group, Republican Party of Florida, Rep. Fred Costello, Fred Costello for Congress, Adam Hasner for US House, and Enwright Consulting. 

He entered the fray upon his father’s advice to “decide what I like to do, then find a way to make a living doing it.”   When looking for projects or campaigns, Dan seeks a good ground game and candidates who are willing to knock on a ton of doors.  Above politics, Dan values loyalty, and has learned the lesson that “your word is everything. People that aren’t trusted don’t last long in politics.” 

Last tweet from @DanBarrowFL: “@fineout Wah wah wah. Bill was the epitome of bad policy. FL Senate study (09?) shows there is no ROI on public dollars to stadiums.”


Google “Katie Betta”, formerly Gordon, and the mountain of search results reveals her wide breadth of skill and her steady rise within Florida’s political scene, despite (and perhaps thanks to) no lack of challenging circumstances surrounding her various posts. Betta, 29, lives in Tallahassee and graduated from Florida State, is an accomplished long-distance runner, and among the most respected communications professionals in the state. She entered politics “for the same reason I think everyone does – to make a difference.”  And on some level that response speaks a lot: to assume that most people share her positivity and good intentions would be a mistake, but her feeling so reflects her own credibility.

Katie’s first shot was given to her by Melissa Francisco Dempsey, Frank Terraferma and Jeff Sadosky; and she worked on Fred Thompson for President, the Governor’s Office, the Republican Party of Florida, the Florida House, and the Florida Senate, where she currently serves as the communications director to Senate President Don Gaetz.

“I think political work can easily become all consuming, so I really look up to people who have the right priorities,” writes Katie. “Randy Enwright, Rich Heffley and Andy Palmer are the best at what they do, but they are also great examples of people who put their faith and family above everything else.”

When Katie begins a projects or first work on a campaign she looks for a gut feeling that she is making the right choice.  Once there, she has learned the importance of speaking her mind, saying, “I have been lucky to work for people who have given me the opportunity to voice my opinion. I think you only compromise your principles if you don’t speak up when you have a chance to influence an outcome.”

Will we be reading about her in 10 years? According to Katie, perhaps not.  “If I’m doing my job well, hopefully I’m not the one you’ll be reading about!”


Samantha Bowden, 25, lives in Tampa and earned dual degrees at USF in international affairs and geography.  She entered politics for “an abiding rational and moral conscious to do what I can to improve the world we live in.” Not shy for words, Samantha describes herself as “blessed with intellect and the opportunity of having been born in the US, while other are born into squaller (here and abroad).”

Samantha is a registered Democrat but directs her energies toward issues not parties.  “As a prominent Occupy activist, and Millennial well acquainted with the devastating affects of ‘Citizens United’ and the growing hegemonic power of corporate finance since the 1980’s neoliberal shift, I’m very much party agnostic, and support candidates, and issues based on their qualifications as a progressive.”

She has volunteered with Rock the Vote, HRC, Awake the State, and Occupy Wall Street. She has worked with the Gulf Restoration Network, Florida Consumer Action Network, US Small Business Administration, Tucker/Hall, and the Florida Council on American Islamic Relations, where she currently works as the communications and outreach director.  Who does Samantha admire? Among a host of progressive leaders, she cites Rachel Maddow for “her wit, truth and fierce ‘existential angst'” with which she can relate.


Sarasota resident Vickie Brill, 25, was working campaigns from the time she was old enough to walk — as in door to door — with her father.  She interned for Senator Mel Martinez on Capitol Hill during college and then as a PAC fundraiser for congressional members with Hammond and Associates. She ran Rep. Jim Boyd’s campaign; helped fundraise for Congressman Vern Buchanan and Rep. Ray Pilon; and is currently a legislative aide to Sen. Bill Galvano. 

Vickie seeks leadership herself. She was elected President of the Sarasota County Young Republicans and is an active member of the Junior League and Sarasota Young Professionals Group. 

When she starts a project or campaign Vickie looks first for “a white board and Google calendar”, using the former to brainstorm and map out strategies.  

One thing that Vickie has learned is the potential for politics to strain relationships. “Friendships can be and will be tested multiple times during campaign season,” she writes.   Perhaps that is why Vickie puts benevolence above politics and values the ability to be able to listen to all involved parties about an issue.


28-year-old David Cardenas entered politics “with the understanding that public service was a noble cause, cherished principles required advocacy, and that one must engage to make an impact.”

But one principle he puts above politics is “respect for others, regardless of political differences, is a crucial component of functional and civil government.”

David’s first political internship was at Victory 2004, working in finance for President George W. Bush’s re-election effort under Ambassador Mercer Reynolds and Jack Oliver. He then interned on Capitol Hill for Senator Mel Martinez.  From there, David served as co-chairman for the Romney campaign in Miami-Dade and was the youngest member of Romney’s Florida finance committee.  He was one of 11 to serve on the National Advisory Board of Young Americans for Romney, and was named as a delegate to the 2012 RNC convention in Florida.  David co-founded SunPAC with Jeb Bush, Jr., an organization dedicated to Republican Hispanic Outreach.

David credits his father, Al Cardenas, as a mentor; and when beginning a project he looks to work with an individual that is “trustworthy, respectful, and shares certain core values.”

“Nothing worth fighting for is easy,” David reflects as a lesson he has already learned. “In yen years I will be continuing to advocate on behalf of issues and candidates devoted to strengthening our communities, our states, and our country.”


Kevin Cate: age 29, but “49 in campaign years”; Tennessee native; Tallahassee resident; Auburn and Florida State graduate. He entered politics to “make a change. At the time, it was mainly the war in Iraq.”

He was given his first shots by Rick Penberthy, Alison Morano, Steve Schale, Mark Bubriski and Wendy Riemann, in that order.  Kevin explains, “Rick hired me to run his campaign. Alison made Robert Becker hire me on another campaign and Steve Schale and Mark Bubriski were the only two politicos that made calls for me after the 2006 cycle to help me find work in Tallahassee. I didn’t get that job (with Alex Sink), but my cousin Anthony De Luise introduced me to Wendy Riemann, who hired me at the Department of Health. That eventually led me back to Alex Sink’s office about a year later. That’s a long first shot.”

Today Kevin heads up Kevin Cate Communications, an acclaimed Emmy®, Silver Anvil®, Telly® and Addy®-award winning PR firm. They take on “a handful of clients each year and we deliver big results”.  They were part of the team that helped pass the federal RESTORE Act following the BP oil spill; led efforts to pass the Florida Vaccine Access Act; and helped defeat numerous bills that threatened the housing recovery in Florida.  

Although he no longer keeps a list of all the politicians he’s staffed or flacked, Kevin seeks out a common denominator among them in principles: “There is nothing worse than working for a politician or client that is only driven by ego, power, or money. If I don’t believe you, I don’t want to work for you.”   He sees Florida’s political reporters and editors as the finest in the country, by far; and were he not working in politics, he’d aspire to join their ranks.


“The first time I met Eric was in 2008 while I was North Florida Field Director for the Obama campaign,” writes political consultant Jason Roth. “He was our UF Gators for Obama president and we had selected him introduce Michelle Obama for what turned out to be her largest individual event during the campaign. He was pretty nervous, but did a great job.”  

“A couple years later I hired him as my Deputy on the Perry McGriff for State Senate campaign. He was still pretty green and had an idealistic view about campaigns and politics, but over the months he learned what the difference was between an activist and an operative, and despite having very differing views, he worked very hard for a very conservative Democrat. With 2010 being what it was, we were happy with our 7.5% loss margin.” 

“He went on to run Susan Bottcher’s successful Gainesville City Commission race where they raised the bar for campaigns in Gainesville while he continued to learn the trade-craft of politics (money, mail, polling, etc.). He spent time with Kevin Cate during the 2012 session before joining the Obama campaign as Deputy Communications Director for North Florida, then got hired at FDP.”  

“There’s a lot of people who think because they knocked on a few doors, or attended some DEC meetings they know how a run a campaign. But there are very few Democratic operatives that really know how a political operation is put together, from moving money to placing a TV buy. Eric is one of them.” 

“He’s been involved in a good string of campaigns – not all of them winners, but most pretty significant. I wish he would stay in the political management and consulting side of things, but he is much more interested in the political press and communications – which tells me he’s got a lot more sense than I do.”


Lyndsey Cruley, 25, entered politics because it is “fast-paced, challenging and dynamic” and she wanted to be a part of that force for good.

Lyndsey worked as Leadership Press Secretary in the Florida House and as Communications Director in the Senate under former President Mike Haridopolous  before rejoining Bascom Communications & Consulting as a lead communications consultant, focusing on the firm’s public affairs and political communications practice. But she has “learned to stop planning for what’s next”, relying instead on her instincts and organic opportunities.

Like any good PR person, Lyndsey looks for “threats and opportunities” when beginning a project or campaign.  She credits Sarah Bascom as her mentor and “the best in the business” when it comes to political communications; and admires Katie Betta as someone she has looked up to since working with her in the House.  Outside the communications realm, Lyndsey gives a shout out to Gus Corbella: “He has always given me rock solid advice and a drink when I needed one!”  Outside of Tallahassee, Lyndsey sees Sen. John McCain, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher as political greats.

“Don’t take life too seriously,” Lyndsey says she has learned. “You’ll never get out alive.  Write that down.” Lyndsey hails from Bradenton and graduated from Florida State University.

Last tweet from @LyndseyCruley: “@krcd22 haha, I wish! I could have bought a DC-cay vacation house with those winnings!”


Ryan Duffy, 29, was just fours old when Ronald Reagan left office, but he remembers listening to his speeches and being inspired by Reagan’s “love of country, commitment to ‘peace through strength’ overseas and belief in the free market over government.”

Today, Ryan continues to share and generate these messages in his various political roles, most recently as Speaker Weatherford’s communications director. 

Ryan’s first shot was from Dave Bitner “who let me volunteer for his campaign for state representative when I was 13 years old and then gave me the opportunity to serve as a page in the Florida House when I was in 7th grade.”  His first “real job” came from Alia Faraj while in Governor Jeb Bush’s press office.

When beginning a project or campaign, Ryan’s gut check is whether the cause is something he can feel proud of, win or lose; and remembers the lesson, “always start with getting the facts.”

Ryan has worked for President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-elect as an intern; Governor Jeb Bush as press assistant and speechwriter; Senators Mel Martinez and George LeMieux as speechwriter; and gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum as deputy communications director.

In ten years you’ll be reading of Ryan on the “latest, greatest social network of 2023.” But for now, here’s the latest tweet from @RyanPDuffy: “#NorthAmerica is incredible. If you’re not watching, you should be.”


Dane Eagle started his political career as travel aide to then-gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, and seven years later, holds office himself as the 29-year-old state representative from Cape Coral.

Dane “genuinely loves” helping people on a daily basis and having the ability to make his community a better place.  Valuing honesty and loyalty, Dane looks for loyal, hard-working people when beginning a project or campaign, and demonstrated those qualities himself as he rose through the ranks of Crist’s administration. At the age of 24, Dane had been the youngest in Florida’s history to serve as deputy chief of staff to a governor.

Dane admires House Speaker Will Weatherford for how he treats people with kindness and respect and puts principle over politics; and looks to his grandfather, WWII veteran and small-business owner as a mentor.  “Learn everything you can from a member of the Greatest Generation before they’re all gone,” Dane wrote.

Last tweet from @DaneEagle: “I posted 15 photos on Facebook in the album here.


Adam Giery, 27, credits the Gubernatorial Fellows program for providing his first experience in public policy.

“This program fostered an environment that allowed me to explore state government while guiding me towards my first career,” Adam writes.   From there, Adam has worked for the Executive Office of the Governor, the  Division of Florida Colleges, and the University of Central Florida.  Today, Adam serves as the director of talent, education and quality of life for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Adam credits his mentors — Chris Hart, Fred Leonhardt, Mike Hightower, Marybeth Ehasz, Will Holcomb, and his father — for guiding his ascent and for embodying what he considers the most valuable principle: integrity.

Adam explains: “It has been my experience that those individuals who participate in the political process while maintaining their integrity and treating people with respect are those who are both personally and professionally successful.”

In ten years, we will be reading about Adam having started a nonprofit, teaching at the college level and owning his own business.

Last tweet from @AdamGiery: “Classic. I wish we could do a throw back phone day at the Capitol. pic.twitter.com/tw7CIIaIZH


Tony Glover, a 29-year-old attorney and current government relations manager for Mosaic, grew up around the world with his Air Force family but has a love for Florida that even state natives could envy. “Everybody should live here,” Tony writes,” But I am glad the rest of the country hasn’t caught on yet.”

Tony began college at Florida A&M assuming he would pursue a career in history education but “was quickly distracted by Tallahassee’s political scene” and the excitement surrounding the Bush-Brogan re-election campaign. He interned, volunteered, and served as president of the College Republicans.  “I can say this: leading the College Republicans at FAMU builds a lot of character,” Tony reports.  And character, he has.

Tony’s first political job was as a staff assistant in Gov. Bush’s office. He was one of the first staffers hired on the Crist gubernatorial campaign, and went on to be special assistant to the Secretary of the Department of Children and Families.  He left for law school at Washington & Lee, practiced commercial litigation with Carlton Fields in Tampa, and was ultimately brought back into the scene by Mosaic where he just completed his first legislative session on their public affairs team, loves his job, and hopes to work with them “indefinitely.”

Tony admires leaders who are willing to sometimes ignore their consultants and the polls to pursue good government; and credits Sara Struhs for giving him his first paying job in the process.

Latest tweet from @TonyGloverFLA: “RT @RattlerNews: Detroit Lions nab #FAMU‘s Brandon Hepburn; Padric Scott signs free-agent deal with Arizona”


Tallahassee-native Cory Guzzo, 26, graduated from Florida State and went to work for a Fortune 500 Insurance Company but soon decided that 14-hour days in a cubicle were not for him and set out to work in the process that he had grown up around, despite his father’s advice to “stay out of this business”.

He worked as an aide to Rep. Seth McKeel and Rep. Doug Holder, as RPOF field staff, and as fundraising and campaign director to Rep. Chris Dorworth.

When beginning a project or campaign, Cory looks first for compatibility. “Managing or working for a campaign for somebody you don’t get along with or don’t believe in, will probably not end well,” he writes. Cory values friendship as a key to survival in the competitive arena of politics, and believes that politics needs more philanthropically oriented events. 

Cory has learned some lessons as well. “When things go surprisingly awry, stay calm, don’t place blame on anybody, accept the circumstances and move forward,” he writes. “If people believe in you, you can recover just as quickly as everything can fall apart.”

Latest tweet from @coryguzzo: “Nice to be spending a couple days in Sarasota. @RepDougHolder always rolls out the red carpet.”


Tim Heberlein, 30, grew up “wherever the Army or Air Force told me was home” but has landed in Florida, entering politics after having worked for years in social work and counseling where he was motivated by what he saw as systematic problems with services, resources and socioeconomic conditions. 

“If we resolved these issues on the ‘front end’, we would have less people on public assistance and more people able to pull themselves out of poverty with support systems and safety nets to make sure they stay out of it,” Tim writes.

Bill Newton gave Tim his first shot and hired him as an organizer despite not having the typical political resume.  He has worked on legislative campaigns on the protection of Social Security and Medicaid, Senate Rules reform, Medicaid Expansion, and budget cuts; and now focuses his efforts on the Bay Area through amendment campaigns and local races.  He organized the Awake Tampa progressive table, including an Awake the State rally in Tampa which was the largest of such in the state 3 years running.

Tim looks first for data when beginning a project or campaign and then finds two key people: a spiritual or emotional heart that the team can rally behind, and a staffer who is willing to get the job done no matter what.  Armed with this winning recipe, we’ll be reading about Tim and his community advocacy for years to come.

Latest tweet from @timintampa: “Cool mix of ppl @ Barrio Latino Comm. in support of @TheRoosevelt2_0 mural. Great art creating a unique Tampa flavor pic.twitter.com/FYrd8mG0Zv


Gina Herron, 30, entered politics with the hope of helping people through policy.  She was given her first political jobs by Rep. Bryan Nelson and Sen. Andy Gardiner; and admires people in politics who aim to make lives better through compassion and hard work. 

Gina has learned “try not to take things personal”, and above politics values integrity.  If she weren’t working in politics, she’d be an event planner; and in ten years, she expects to be balancing a rewarding career with a wonderful family.


Tyler Hudson remembers thinking, at age 15, that politics was “an exciting, challenging profession where people worked hard each day to improve the lives of their fellow citizens.”

Twelve years later, Tyler continues following that dream, blending his University of Florida law degree with political action.  He has worked as a press intern for John Edwards for President 2004; as a speechwriter for the 2004 Democratic National Convention and Jim Davis for Governor 2006; has consulted in DC for Hilltop Public Solutions; was a Florida Deputy Field Director for Obama’s 2008 election; and will be joining the Tampa office of Holland & Knight in the Fall of 2013.

When beginning a project or campaign, Tyler looks for talent. “The success of any collaborative effort, whether a project or campaign, is determined by the human beings involved,” he writes. “Identifying talent is always step one.”

Tyler values “self-aware” people in politics who care more about solving problems than taking credits, and has learned (the hard way, it seems) to always “double-check the directions you get from the advance team” on campaign assignments.  Ten years from now, we’ll be reading Tyler’s op-ed’s, pressing the legislature to move from Tallahassee to Lakeland.

Latest tweet from @TylerJHudson: “Things more fun than studying for the Florida Bar: nearly everything imaginable”


Carolyn Johnson, 29, is a St. Pete native and graduate of the University of Central Florida who entered politics as “an accident.” 

“A passion turned into a job, which then turned into a career,” Carolyn writes. “I love not only knowing what’s going on in our government, but that I can make a difference. “

She has worked as a research assistant to UCF University Relations, in the offices of Rep. David Mealor and Rep. Chris Dorworth, was deputy campaign manager for the “yes on Amendment 4” campaign in 2012, and served as chairman of the Florida Federation of Young Republicans.  Currently, Carolyn works as policy director for business, economic development and innovation with the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Through this, Caroyln has learned that politics shouldn’t be personal and that she can still be friends with people on the “other side” of whatever issue she is working on.  Likewise, she admires people in politics who are in it for the right reasons and not because of their ego.  Be on the lookout for more to come from this rising star.


Victoria Kirby, 26, entered politics to do her part in keeping this nation ruled by an active citizenry, and sees grassroots organizing as a way to engage more Americans in the process.

Active within her own communities, including her alma mater at Howard University, Victoria looks for ways to collaborate with other young leaders wherever she goes.  She had been on the path to become a university president when she was selected with five other fellows to have a private lunch with President Obama. With his words in her head the following days, she left school and moved back to Florida to take on her first purely political job.  She served as the West Central Florida Regional Field Director for Organizing for America, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, and did her part to keep Pinellas in Obama’s column.  Victoria has been featured on CNN, the Today Show, and DC area stations; and was recognized as one of the top four LGBT young leaders in DC for her work at the Human Rights Campaign, the Center for Black Equity, and the National Black Justice Coalition.

“One lesson I’ve already learned is ‘you can win the impossible only if you never stop believing that it is indeed possible to win'”, Victoria writes. “We have to rethink and re-imagine the maps over and over again to see the potential hiding in each precinct, delegate, or state.”

Latest tweet from @VictoriaDKirby: “Driving to Lakeland to meet with @OFA_FL volunteers. I love driving through the rural and small towns in between. Our state is so beautiful.”


Matthew Leger, 28, entered politics because “it doesn’t feel like a job.” Loving what he does for the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches, Matthew enjoys helping people on a daily basis in addition to working with legislators and regulators to maintain a healthy business environment for the association and its clients.

Matthew worked on a presidential campaign in Manchester, New Hampshire, leading up to the 2008 primary, and was campaign manager for a successful state senate race that spanned five counties in South Florida.  He is active in municipal and issue campaigns, and admires political workers who operate behind the scenes, at all hours, making sure their candidate has the tools to succeed.

Matthew looks for structure when starting a project, and if there is none, he creates it. “Especially in political campaigns, structure and organization are essential,” he writes.

If Matthew weren’t working in politics, he would pursue a doctorate and become a professor of history.  But not so fast.  He has no intent to leave Palm Beach County, and a decade from now Matthew will be continuing to shape legislation and policy to make this region one of the best places to live.

Matthew has learned, “Don’t put too much stock in social media. Have healthy discussions and debates with friends, colleagues and fellow politicos.” That said, here is the latest tweet from @Leger711: “A flock of ravens flies under his command. Will we finally meet Coldhands? #GoT


Allison Liby-Schoonover, 28, thrives on the fast-paced dynamic of political business and has an insatiable desire to study policy.  Her first role in Tallahassee was through the Department of Lottery under Sec. Leo DeBenigno and Eli Nortelus. Allison has worked as a literature teacher at an inner-city high school in West Philly, a registered lobbyist, a Senate staffer, and a political fundraiser for the Republican Party of Florida. 

When beginning a project or campaign, Allison first does some homework. “Research the candidate, the campaign, the job, the project, the policy,” she writes. “Anything you can possibly get your hands on: READ.”

Crediting Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, Rich Heffley and Nick Iarossi as her mentors, Allison admires people in politics who “have the trifecta: a flourishing career, a rock-solid marriage, and pleasant children.” 

Allison’s vision of her own future? “Married to my best friend and superhunk–Chris Schoonover, being a mom, working in politics, and hopefully restoring a historic home.”

Tagline @LibySchoon: “Well bred. Well read. Well wed. Every day is black tie optional.”


Meghan Meehan-Draper, 24, spent her childhood writing letters to President Clinton, attending Lawton Chiles’ memorial service, and being “served politics for dinner” by both of her parents who are active in environmental and migrant worker policy.

With that, “I couldn’t NOT be involved in progressive politics,” writes Meghan.

Meghan’s first shot was with Cliff Thaell, former county commissioner in Leon County, where she interned as an 18-year old and then campaigned for when just out of college. From there Meghan worked in finance for Loranne Ausley, worked for the Florida-based campaign firm Salter>Mitchell, and has since been raising money for Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

When beginning a campaign, Meghan looks first for a candidate with similar ideals (“pro-choice is a must!”) and has learned to “never stop asking.” She looks forward to a future in which she is a top fundraiser for a woman President.

Latest tweet from @MegMeehanDraper: “Enjoyed meeting @GwenForCongress last night! Great event, great host committee! #WomenInCongress #JustSayNo to Steve Southerland.”


As for so many Americans, the attacks on 9/11 were a turning point for Caitlin Murray.

“I was motivated to enter politics as a high school sophomore. Watching the second of two airliners smash into the trade towers proved to be a life changing event for me,” Caitlin writes. “From that point on, I wanted to learn as much as I could about the world around me and, in particular, my country.”

Caitlin graduated from Florida State and has worked for Fowler White Boggs, the Republican Party of Florida, Senator JD Alexander, Dorothy Hukill for State Senate, and Sen. Jeff Brandes.  When beginning a project or campaign, Caitlin looks for a network or coalition to get the job done.  Although she is a strong advocate for team work, she also does not shy away from leadership.

“Throw off negative energy and comments while learning from both set-backs and successes,” Caitlin writes.  Admiring her many trusted mentors as well as Margaret Thatcher, Abigail Adams and Jeb Bush, Caitlin has learned that every experience is its own lesson, and that to survive in politics one needs to develop “thick skin”.

Last Facebook post from /caitlin.murray.547: “On my way to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to sing.”


Mitchell Norton, 30, entered politics “because after four years as a failed musician and a mediocre cell phone salesman, I went back to school and decided to study my passion.” Mitchell’s parents were always politically engaged and had impressed upon him the value of staying active.

His first big break came from Rep. Joe Saunders. Mitchell was just out of grad school and looking for work when Saunders took a chance on him and had Norton manage his campaign.

Since then, Mitchell has worked for Mike Byerly for Alachua County Commission (2008), Barack Obama for President (2008), Equality is Gainesville’s Business (2009), Craig Lowe for Gainesville Mayor (2010), Perry McGriff for State Senate (2010), Susan Bottcher for Gainesville City Commission (2011), Lauren Poe for Gainesville City Commission (2012), Joe Saunders for State House (2012), Kevin Cate Communications (2013), Equality Florida/Human Rights Campaign (Current) and WWD Strategies, which he co-founded.

Mitchell admires the countless interns and volunteers of the political fray who have “sacrificed their time and treasure for no pay in an effort to make Florida a better place”; and understands that good campaign managers manage their own time well enough to get a full night’s sleep (“until GOTV, of course”).

Latest tweet from @mitchellnorton: “Just watched Gangster Squad. I can’t begin to describe how awful it is. It wants so badly to be The Untouchables, and fails horribly.”


Celina Parker, 26, considers the ability to drive change as a calling. Originally from San Salvador, El Salvador, Celina attended Florida International for her bachelors and Florida State for her masters.

Celina’s first shot in the political process came from her mentor and colleague, Sarah Bascom. Through Bascom consulting, Celina has worked in crisis management, branding, and visibility campaigns; legislative outreach and issue advocacy; and various House and Senate campaigns.

One lesson Celina has learned through this is that “most of the time, success comes from knowing just as much about the challenges you face as you do about yourself. And, planning for the future only gets you so far… hard work, a sense of purpose and a BIG cup of coffee will actually do much more.”

Admiring Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill and Rudy Giuliani, Celina always looks for the “end goal and the target audiences” when beginning a project or campaign.

Twitter tagline @CelinaParker: “Communications Consultant, Bascom Communications & Consulting LLC, M.S., I.M.C., Florida State University. My personal views. And as always, Go Noles”


For Toby Philpot, 30, involvement in politics is a moral duty.

Quoting Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper to that effect, Toby believes that political battle is a calling, and for him this means the protection of constitutional fidelity.

Constitutional fidelity, to Toby, is “a principle that serves not only to preserve the Constitution’s meaning over time, but also to maintain its authority and legitimacy.”

Toby’s first break came from Alan Levine and Steve Madden, who hired him as a deputy communications director and special assistant to the secretary at AHCA after his graduation from the University of Florida.  From there Toby held roles as political director to Senate President Mike Haritopoulos, and deputy legislative affairs director for the Florida Department of Transportation.  Today, Toby serves as director of government relations for Health Management Associates.

Toby looks for people with shared values and goals when beginning a project or campaign, and admires ambition, motivation and purpose.


Tom Piccolo, 29, entered politics after coming to terms with the fact that his 40-yard dash was never under five seconds, thus eliminating professional sports as a viable option.  Tom has since worked for hundreds of candidates, companies and elected leaders across the US.

Tom’s first shot was with Randy Nielsen, Richard Johnston and Anthony Pedicini, where he learned the ropes on campaign consulting, and also “how to balance the hectic campaign seasons with important things in life, like faith and family.”

To that end, Tom places “pretty much all” principles above politics, and believes that there are good people on both sides of the aisle who work together to better their communities.

Tom admires people who are loyal; and has learned that “sometimes the best candidate doesn’t win.”


Zara Rahim, 22, entered politics with a passion for women’s issues, poverty and development — all of which were influenced by her family’s experience emigrating from Bangladesh in the 1980s.  As a high school senior in 2007, with presidential elections approaching, Zara was frustrated with what she had been seeing and longed to learn more about the issues to help bring about change.  She heard then-Sen. Barack Obama speak for the first time, got goose bumps, drove to a field office to volunteer, and the rest is history.

Zara credits the Obama for America team with giving her a start, and for instilling a passion in politics. Since then, Zara has worked on social business with Nobel Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and served as the Florida Digital Content Director for Obama for America in 2012. Currently, Zara works in digital and public affairs for Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Zara has already learned the lesson about the importance of balancing life and work, writing, “Don’t forget to take care of yourself and don’t forget the people who have helped you get where you are.”

Ashley Ross, 29, entered politics for a love of face-paced work and the feeling of changing lives for the better.

With a deep faith in God, Ashley places these values above politics, and although she is highly effective in her various political roles, Ashley prefers to “fly under the radar.”


Sydney Ridley, 25, entered politics by complete accident. A Tampa native, Sydney had been working for an investment bank in NYC after college and started volunteering in the interim summer on a congressional campaign. She fell in love and decided to stay in Florida and work in politics.

Her first shot was with Mike Prendergast during his 2010 congressional campaign where she started as a volunteer and ended up running the entire ground game.  Sydney has also worked for the Senate campaigns of Jeff Brandes and Dorothy Hukill, and credits her current “rock star” boss, Rep. Dana Young, as her biggest cheerleader and as someone that Sydney strives to be like some day.

Sydney’s first step when taking on a new project or campaign is to look at the numbers and demographics.

“Nothing excites me more than a detailed excel spreadsheet,” she writes, “Seriously!!”

Latest tweet from @sydneyridley88: “I love vacations but I hate packing!!”


Stephanie Rosendorf, 22, began working in politics during the 2008 election. Though barely old enough to vote, Stephanie became aware of the “various problems we faced in our country both economically and socially”, and set out to do something about it.

Her first break came from the Broward & Palm Beach Democratic Party. Stephanie has worked as a deputy campaign manager for school board candidate Nick Steffens, a deputy campaign manager for Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein, on the 2012 Obama Campaign as a Neighborhood Team Leader, as a canvasser in Wellington collecting petitions to stop over-development of the town, and with the Florida College Democrats as Director of Political Affairs.

When Stephanie begins a project she looks for ways to succeed in achieving goals while making the process as enjoyable as possible.  She credits politicians, such as Rep. Mark Pafford, for sticking with principles, and admires women who have grown up and succeeded in politics while also raising a family. Stephanie herself aspires for political office, where we may discover her to be ten years from now.


Ashley has worked for Gov. Jeb Bush, the PGA of America, and the Republican Party of Florida; and credits Jim Magill, Chris Flack, Joel Springer and Cameron Ulrich for giving her a first shot.

When beginning a project or campaign, Ashley believes in following, and tweaking, best practices. “It’s important not to try and reinvent the wheel,” she writes. “ I am a big believer in listening first, analyzing, and not approaching anything without a plan mapped out.” Nevertheless, Ashley has learned that despite such planning, things happen beyond one’s control and its essential to be adaptable and learn to make fast decisions. 

“It’s also important to maintain relationships and not burn bridges,” she writes.”The person who has you upset today is tomorrow’s ally.”


On September 11, 2001, Ryan Smith was 14 years old and had just started high school. From that day forward he realized the importance of being aware of what’s going on in the world and doing his part to make a difference. Above politics, Ryan holds high the Golden Rule and has learned to never “get too far ahead of yourself in trying to map out your career.”  Ryan continues, ” If you work hard and keep your head down, God will put you where you’re meant to be. Too many times, I’ve thought I was going in a certain direction, only to be pulled in another. Just go with the flow, and everything will work out.”

Ryan’s first political job came from Michael Ayers, who hired him as an RPOF intern in 2006. From there, Chip Case hired him to run Steve Crisafulli’s 2008 campaign, and then as his legislative assistant. Ryan has worked on Speaker Will Weatherford’s 2010 campaign, as a RPOF House liaison, and currently serves as deputy director of RPOF House campaigns. 

When Ryan starts on a project he looks for strengths and weaknesses in a district and candidate. Speaking of his mentors, Ryan admires Crisafulli and Weatherford, saying, “You can’t find two humbler, harder working leaders. They set an example everyone can follow, they honor their families and constituents, and they are in this process to truly make a difference.”  On his current mentor Frank Terraferma, Ryan expresses how no one has worked harder over the last 20 years for the Republican majority than he has.


Chris Spencer, 25, has worked for Rep. Clay Ingram, Sen. Jeff Brandes’ campaign and office, and Marco Pena for Florida House.  Though Chris has already learned the lesson “be careful who you trust”, he has been blessed by upstanding, loyal mentors in Jim Rimes, Nick Hansen and Mike Fisher.

Chris is a St. Pete native and graduate of Florida State who entered politics because, simply, it is what he wanted to do.  Chris begins projects by laying out tasks, expectations and a plan for meeting them, and admires elected officials that truly live by their principles.

Don’t be surprised if in ten years you read about Chris making his own run for office…  for Commodore of the St. Pete Yacht Club, that is.

Latest tweet from @ChrisSpencerFL: “@JackBPR @TheRickWilson Well, after all, no one likes a tattletale” 


Chris Sprowls, 29, entered politics believing that people deserve a good advocate. He feels that we are all at our best when given opportunities for education and work, and that governments should ensure these opportunities are accessible to all.

Chris’ first shot was when former Rep. Mike Bilirakis nominated him to be a US House Page when he was a high school junior.  He spent much of this year living and schooling on grounds.  From there he went on to create veterans legal clinics across the country designed to provide free legal access to veterans trying to navigate the federal process; and worked to create the Veterans Law Institute at Stetson Law School.

Chris has been blessed with many mentors. “It would be unfair to list one,” he writes. “I have been truly blessed that God has provided me with amazing mentors at the exact time I have needed them the most.”  That said, he admires Jeb Bush, Bernie McCabe, and Mike Fasano.

Chris has learned to start everything off with the question “is it the right thing to do?” and if he weren’t working in politics, Chris would be a prosecutor. 

“I’m not running for office because I think it is a better job- I’m doing it because everyone should have a representative who is willing and able to fight for them, even when it is unpleasant or unpopular,” Chris writes.


Herbie Thiele, 28, grew up living and breathing local politics through his father, Leon County Attorney, and became hooked on politics himself after attending his first legislative committee meeting while interning with Sachs Media Group.

Herbie credits Ron Sachs for hiring him, and Alia Faraj-Johnson for not firing him, in his first role at the acclaimed public relations firm, and considers both to be sage mentors.

Looking at new projects and campaigns from a public affairs standpoint, Herbie believes that it is important to first map out the supporters, opponents and third parties.  “Most important to the process is working closely with members of the media who have covered the issue,” he writes. “Before you win in the halls of power, you have to succeed in the court of public opinion.”

Herbie admires House Speaker Will Weatherford and Jeb Bush and hopes to run for office himself one day; but were he not working in politics, Herbie would be following in the footsteps of his other hero, Indiana Jones.


Justin York, 25, lives in Lake Mary and is preparing to graduate from law school at the University of Florida. He became interested in politics in 2000 as a 7th grader following a social studies assignment on election night. Watching news coverage to complete the homework, Justin became fascinated with discussions about the Electoral College, campaign issues, and candidates. He watched until the early hours of the morning that night, and still today.

As a senior in high school, Justin and a group of friends founded the Seminole High School Teenage Republicans Club, and he was elected president. He continued in leadership posts with the UCF College Republicans as chairman, and then as state chairman of the Florida Federation of College Republicans.  He interned for Sen. Lee Constantine, US Sen. Mel Martinez, the Senate campaign of Sen. George LeMieux, led student coalitions in Florida during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, and has volunteered for many more local and state candidates.

Justin puts family and friends above politics and knows that “nomatter what the result of an election is, you always can rely who are with you—win or lose—for strength and most importantly, perspective on what is important in life.”

One lesson Justin has learned is to “appreciate the team you work with.” Justin continues, “While success in most endeavors is not achieved alone, in politics this is especially true. Every time I recruited volunteers for a campaign walk or to call voters, I was grateful for every single volunteer and the time they committed.”


Skylar Zander, 22, entered politics with a natural interest in the process which only grew after he realized he could be a part of making changes that better fellow Floridians.

His first political job was with Rep. Charles Van Zant and former Senator and Education Commissioner Jim Horne; has worked for multiple local and statewide campaigns; and was elected chairman of the Clay County Young Professional Republicans at the age of 18. He now serves as Constitution and Bylaws Chairman for the Florida Federation of Young Republicans; and on the Clay County Soil and Water Management Board — in this role, he is the youngest elected official in the history of Clay County.  Within his own community, Skylar was elected president of the Green Cove Springs Civic Association and was vice-chairman of the City of Green Cove Springs Planning and Zoning Board.

Skylar looks first for integrity when beginning a project or campaign, and has learned, “don’t promise more than you know you can deliver.” Take that in mind when reading what Skylar envisions for his future: “Accomplishing something great within the political process.”


Christian Ziegler, 29, was continually forced into politics by his mother, who repeatedly brought him to political events — and it worked.  Some of Christian’s childhood encounters were with then Governor George W. Bush and a weekend on a campaign bus with House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He has been hooked on news, government and campaigns ever since.

Christian values intergity and honesty over politics, saying “It’s easy to get sucked into a culture of deceit built on personal cheap shots. I decided early on to only release material that I’m willing to claim credit for and to be selective about who I work for.”

Following an internship with the Florida House, Christian was recruited by Congressman Vern Buchanan to join his campaign team. Christian rose from knowing on doors as an intern to coordinating events to writing speeches as Deputy Political Director. That year, Christian joined Rep. Buchanan on Capitol Hill.

Today, Christian serves as the Executive Director of the Republican Party of Sarasota County, was elected to serve as Sarasota County’s State Committeeman, and has been involved with numerous campaigns where his first focus is on fundraising, followed by communications.

Christian admires successful business owners turned elected officials, who choose to serve despite being the easiest targets during a campaign.  Where will he be in ten years? “(Hopefully) retired before 40 and launching countless tech startups in the political world, just for fun.”

Latest tweet from @ChrisMZiegler: “For the same reason Congress needs to look outside of the beltway for ideas, Candidates should look outside of career consultants for help.”



Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.