Wilton Simpson, future Senate president, files for 2018 re-election

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Republican state Sen. Wilton Simpson made his 2018 intentions official last week, filing paperwork on Friday for a re-election bid in his rural central Florida Senate seat that takes in all or parts of Hernando, Pasco and Sumter counties.

Simpson’s move to open a campaign account comes days after Marc Caputo of POLITICO reported that the Senate’s “Chicken Man” from Trilby has “likely” garnered enough commitments from fellow senators to secure the chamber’s presidency in 2021-22.

His Division of Elections filing also comes some two weeks before the start of a Special Session that will bring lawmakers back to Tallahassee to pass a budget, the Legislature’s sole constitutional duty.

But according to the terms of the proclamation that defined the scope of the upcoming session gaveling in on June 1, Simpson will have an opportunity during the Special Session on another matter that, along with property insurance, has been his signature issue — water policy.

Simpson chairs the quietly powerful Community Affairs Committee, known since he took over in 2013 for an atmosphere even more collegial and genteel than the Senate writ large.

When and if the Legislature takes up issues related to Amendment 1 implementation — largely neglected in the second half of session amid the sound and fury over Low Income Pool funding and a “Florida solution” for Medicaid expansion — it will be considering a topic intimately familiar with Simpson since he passed his Everglades Restoration Act of 2013 as a freshman.

Simpson — whose ownership interest in both Simpson Environmental Services and a large Pasco County egg farm has made him a wealthy man, second in the Senate in net worth only to former President Don Gaetz — has proven a prolific fundraiser, collecting more than $450,000 for election to his second term in the Senate in 2014 after a two-year first term truncated due to state redistricting following the 2010 census.

According to the most recent available campaign finance documents, Simpson’s Jobs for Florida political committee held more than $1.1 million, despite the third-year lawmaker’s lack of significant electoral opposition.

U.S. Sugar Corp., Disney-related interests and former Speaker Will Weatherford‘s Committee for a Stronger Florida have all donated $35,000 each to Simpson’s PC, among other major donors.

Seen as especially thoughtful for a relative political novice and well-liked even by some natural enemies within environmental groups who often line up against him when it comes to agricultural or land-use issues, Simpson is unlikely to draw a Republican challenger in his bid for president before he is elected to “designate’ status following 2018 elections.

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Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.