HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. -- Eastern Hillsborough area State Senator Tom Lee stunned the Tampa Bay area political establishment Monday by announcing that he will not run for the Hillsborough Clerk of the Courts position.  The announcement comes ten days after he announced that he would step down from his Senate seat this year, although his term doesn’t end until 2022.

What You Need To Know

  • Senator Tom Lee to not run for Hillsborough Clerk of Court

  • Lee also announced he's stepping down from his Senate seat

  • Lee will continue to serve in the Senate through November

“Last Friday, I filed paperwork which would have allowed me to qualify at noon today for the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court,” he said in a written statement. “While my head told me I wanted to continue representing the interests 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 went on to say that he will continue to serve in the Senate seat through November. A special election has been announced to select his successor at that time.

Lee, 58, has represented parts of Hillsborough, Pasco, and Polk counties in Florida’s Senate District 20 seat since 2016.  

All told, he has served 18 years in the Senate, making him one of the elder statesmen of the GOP in Tallahassee.  He was first elected to the Senate in 1996 and served initially until 2006. That’s when he ran and lost a bid for Chief Financial Officer to Alex Sink.  He came back to the Senate in 2012.

Although he is one of the biggest names in Hillsborough Republican politics, Lee was not a sure thing in the Clerk of the Courts race, in which he would likely face one of two Democrats currently battling it out – School Board member Cindy Stuart or former County Commissioner Kevin Beckner.

That’s because Democrats have had major success in the last two election cycles.  The party currently has a majority on the county commission for the first time in more than a decade, and Democrats control all but two of the constitutional offices in the county (that being Sheriff and Tax Collector).

Lee is married to Laurel Lee, Florida’s Secretary of State, and he noted in his statement that she and his young daughter will continue to live in Tallahassee – and he didn’t want to abandon them.

“My decision to leave the Florida Senate was born out of a desire to reunite my family,” he writes. “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. 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.”

Frank, 90, is stepping down from the Clerk position in which she has served since 2004.  She defeated Beckner in a bitter Democratic primary for the clerk seat in 2016, and has endorsed Stuart in the 2020 election. 

GOP County Commissioner Sandy Murman is currently the leading fundraiser of any candidate listed currently as running for the clerk position, but she is not expected to officially run in the race when the period for candidates to qualify ends on Friday. D.C. Goutoufas is the only other Republican currently who has filed in the race.  He has raised $10,315.

Stuart entered the race in April, and has raised more than $22,000 in that time.

Beckner has been running since last fall, and has raised more than $117,000 in the race.

“I want to thank Senator Lee for his service to our great state of Florida,” Beckner said in a statement. “I wish him and his family the very best on their continued journey in life.”