The Florida Women Power 100
The most influential women in Florida politics and government.
For only the third time in history, a woman leads the Florida Senate, one leg in the Capitol’s power trifecta. This month’s special session on insurance was a fait accompli, so it remains to be seen how Kathleen Passidomo will put her signature on the 2023 regular legislative session. Casey DeSantis continues to wield influence as Florida’s first lady – and may one day be America’s first lady, should her husband decide to go for the brass ring of American politics. If he does, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez could end up as the state’s first woman – and thus first Latina – governor of Florida.
These women and many others make up City & State Florida’s inaugural Women Power 100. Elected officials and high-powered lobbyists are in the company of leaders from the worlds of business, nonprofits, media, social justice, conservative think tanks and what we call the “persuasion industry”: public relations, strategic messaging and fundraising. The list – researched and edited by City & State staff and written by journalists Hilary Jacquelynne Danaílova and Aaron Short – highlights so many women who are in the arena of Sunshine State politics and policy. We’re pleased to introduce the Women Power 100.
1. Casey DeSantis
First Lady Casey DeSantis believes her husband’s moment has arrived – after all, Gov. Ron DeSantis has led Florida through the coronavirus pandemic with an emphasis on keeping schools and businesses open, responded effectively to Hurricane Ian’s wrath, and resoundingly won reelection. She may be right, as Florida’s governor is already edging Donald Trump in several state polls. A former Jacksonville broadcast journalist, Casey DeSantis has been called the “secret force” behind the governor’s rise and is arguably his most-trusted adviser. She could play an even more forward-facing role next year after having her own office in the state Capitol and narrating some of his 2022 campaign ads.
2. Kathleen Passidomo
Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo ascended to her leadership post at the same time that she’s rebuilding her Naples home, which was deluged during Hurricane Ian. As only the third woman president in the chamber’s history, she says she’s willing to “let everybody … give opinions” on legislation, but – as our cover story notes – “her votes are almost always in line with the Republican Party.” Passidomo, whose caucus secured a supermajority this fall, voted for the current ban on abortions after 15 weeks, for example, even though she pushed unsuccessfully for rape and incest exceptions.
3. Ashley Moody
Ashley Moody’s professional partnership with Gov. Ron DeSantis is paying off. She teamed up with the governor to file a federal lawsuit in March challenging the COVID-19 mask mandates on airplanes. She also sought to enforce DeSantis’s new Stop WOKE Act and appealed a federal judge’s ruling that blocked the law in September. Moody’s support for her Texas counterpart’s lawsuit challenging the 2020 election didn’t hurt her standing with her base in Florida. In November, she cruised to victory over former Orange-Osceola prosecutor Aramis Ayala with 61% of the vote.
4. Jane Castor
Tom Brady might own the trademark to “Tompa Bay,” but Mayor Jane Castor is unlikely to face any serious threats to her incumbency in the coming months. Tampa’s Democratic mayor is running for reelection on a platform of attracting businesses, building more affordable housing, expanding mass transit throughout the region and making the city more resilient to dangerous weather systems. But first Castor will have to find a new police chief after Mary O’Connor resigned over flashing her badge to get out of a traffic stop in November.
5. Daniella Levine Cava
Miami-Dade has been trending red in recent years, but Democrat Daniella Levine Cava became the county’s first female mayor when she won in 2020. Levine Cava has sought to make Miami more resilient to climate emergencies while keeping residents informed about hurricane threats. She also vetoed a measure that would expand the Urban Development Boundary allowing developers to build in the Everglades, although county commissioners recently overrode the veto. In the meantime, Levine Cava is seeking to strip Miami-Dade’s arena contract with FTX after the crypto company went bankrupt.
6. Jeanette Nuñez
Jeanette Nuñez initially didn’t want to be a statewide candidate, but U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio persuaded her to become Ron DeSantis’s running mate. The former Miami state legislator delivered South Florida in an extremely close race four years ago and this year helped Republicans flip Miami-Dade County, a longtime Democratic stronghold, for the first time in two decades. If DeSantis launches a presidential bid, Nunez would become Florida’s first female governor, although Florida legislators are likely to change state law allowing DeSantis to run and keep his day job.
7. Renatha Francis & Jamie R. Grosshans
The judicial branch doesn’t always garner as much attention as the executive and legislative branches, but it certainly has plenty of power. The two women currently serving on the state’s highest court, the Florida Supreme Court, are Justices Jamie R. Grosshans and Renatha Francis. Both jurists were appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, marking a conservative shift as the current governor now has four picks – a majority – on the seven-member court. Francis, a Jamaican immigrant and former circuit court judge, joined the court this year. Grosshans, a former judge on the Fifth District Court of Appeal, was appointed by DeSantis in 2020.
8. Debbie Mayfield
One of Florida’s most influential state lawmakers, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield is moving from Senate majority leader to chair of the Rules Committee this session. The Republican, who represented Indian River and Brevard counties since 2017 and previously served four terms in the Florida House of Representatives, has served on the House Appropriations Committee as well as the chamber’s committees on health policy; environment and natural resources; and children, family and elder affairs. She has championed numerous bills relating to these issues, including legislation concerning drug prices, overdose prevention in schools, local waterways and medical regulation.
9. Tina Descovich & Tiffany Justice
From LGBTQ education to mask mandates, Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich are leading conservative parents in the fight against the policies fueling school culture wars. Justice and Descovich, former Indian River and Brevard County school board members, founded Moms for Liberty in early 2021, leading the grassroots political backlash against school closures and other hot-button pandemic measures. The suddenly high-profile pair now guides a nationwide network of chapters that, powered by parental energy, have moved beyond masks to target progressive viewpoints and books in schools.
10. Maria Elvira Salazar & Kat Cammack
With Republicans taking back the U.S. House of Representatives – albeit only narrowly – these two GOP incumbents from Florida are poised to see their power expand considerably in 2023.
Floridians are used to seeing Maria Elvira Salazar report news on TV – but since 2021, they've watched her take on a new role: U.S. congresswoman from Miami. After a 30-year, Emmy-winning career in Spanish-language broadcast journalism, the Cuban-American Republican commutes from Coral Gables to Washington, where she serves on the House Foreign Affairs and Small Business Committees. Salazar, who recently fended off a serious challenge from Democrat Annette Taddeo, crusades against socialism and has championed legislation supporting small businesses and statehood for Puerto Rico.
A self-described third-generation sandblaster, U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack represents Gainesville and the surrounding Northern Florida counties as the 117th Congress' youngest Republican woman. Cammack, who just won reelection handily and was previously the district’s longtime deputy chief of staff, is the ranking member on the House Homeland Security committee's subcommittee for emergency preparedness, response and recovery. She also co-chairs the House Pro-Life Caucus and serves on the House Agriculture Committee, where she brings the perspective of growing up on a cattle ranch to the state’s agricultural issues.
11. Laurel Lee & Anna Paulina Luna
These two congressional victors are heading to Washington, and will join a new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. In May, Laurel Lee left her position as Florida secretary of state, where she ran an efficient 2020 election, to seek a bid for a newly drawn congressional district in Central Florida. It was a risky move, but the former circuit judge won a contested Republican primary and then defeated Democrat Alan Cohn 59% to 41%.
Meanwhile, Anna Paulina Luna decided to give Congress another go after losing to Charlie Crist in 2020. This time the Trump-endorsed conservative commentator beat Democrat Eric Lynn to become Florida’s first Mexican-American congresswoman. She’s already being declared a rising star among the MAGA faithful.
12. Heather Turnbull
From Tallahassee to Miami, Heather Turnbull and her firm advocate for some of Florida's most influential clients before the state Legislature, the executive branch and government agencies. As managing partner of the top-10 lobbying shop since 2019, Turnbull has guided a recent expansion of its lobbying, fundraising and political consulting across major industries including health care, transportation and communications, while overseeing the firm’s four Florida offices. Turnbull, who served on Gov. Ron DeSantis' inauguration host committee, previously honed her skills as a legislative assistant in the Florida House and a civil litigation attorney.
13. Kelly Cohen and Rachel Cone
Lobbyist, attorney and fundraiser Kelly Cohen in 2005 opened the Orlando office of The Southern Group, which is currently ranked as the state’s top lobbying firm by revenue. Cohen has since guided strategy for the lobbying firm’s high-profile development projects, including a medical complex, a commuter rail system and the infrastructure around Orlando's nascent soccer leagues. Rachel Cone, who oversees The Southern Group’s Tallahassee office, joined the firm in 2017 after holding leadership roles at the Florida Department of Transportation, where as interim secretary she advocated for a record transportation budget. Her experience also includes serving as deputy chief of staff for Gov. Rick Scott and heading communications for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
14. Ana Cruz
Lauded as 2022’s Businesswoman of the Year by Tampa Bay Business Journal, Ana Cruz manages Ballard Partners’ office in Tampa, the city where she is also known as “Tampa’s 1st Lady” (her partner is Mayor Jane Castor). Thanks to high-powered executives like Cruz, the bipartisan firm is among Florida’s top-earning lobbying operations, taking in nearly $19 million in state-level revenue last year. A progressive who has served as executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, Cruz was a spokesperson for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 and 2016 presidential campaigns.
15. Heather Barker & Generra Peck
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ landslide reelection victory, which made national news and bolstered his increasingly likely bid for president, wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of these under-the-radar aides. Heather Barker's fundraising numbers speak for themselves: nearly $200 million in donations for DeSantis' reelection campaign, far more than the sum raised by Democrats or, for that matter, any previous Florida gubernatorial candidate. Barker, a Tallahassee political consultant who owns HMB Strategies, a Tallahassee-based firm, is the longtime top fundraiser for the Republican governor – whose record reelection haul leaves him with an estimated $60 million left over.
A veteran of governors' offices, strategic policy and advocacy campaigns, Generra Peck is riding high after serving as DeSantis' reelection campaign manager. The longtime Republican political consultant helped score a nearly 20-point victory for the popular incumbent in what only a few years ago was considered to be a swing state. She previously served as policy director for Ed Gillespie’s 2017 Virginia gubernatorial campaign and has also worked on policy and advocacy at Cardinal Group Policy, a domestic policy firm.
16. Taryn Fenske
As Gov. Ron DeSantis’ culture war-centered policies and dominant reelection campaign has garnered him daily national attention, Taryn Fenske has resolutely championed his leadership while driving the messaging strategy from his communications office. Whether it is defining what “woke” means in a lawsuit against her boss, or responding to pushback for the immigrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard, Fenske is one of the most commonly cited names in national and local media alike championing DeSantis’ vision for Florida – and beyond.
17. Erin Isaac
In the male-dominated world of campaign consulting, Erin Isaac is a trailblazer. She was part of the team that thrust the Florida Senate Republicans into the stratosphere, winning a more than two-thirds supermajority this year. Chief among her conquests was knocking out Democratic Sen. Loranne Ausley and crafting conservative messaging that helped elect Corey Simon to a north Florida seat once thought unattainable for the GOP. Those who know her credit her tenacity to never give up until she sees a path to victory.
18. Christina Pushaw
When Christina Pushaw got briefly suspended by Twitter for harassing an AP reporter last August, admiration only grew among fans of the pugilistic Ron DeSantis ally. Pushaw, a communications expert and strategist whose most recent role is rapid response director for DeSantis' reelection campaign, previously earned a reputation for social media moxie as the governor's press secretary. She's also a registered foreign agent who once worked in Tbilisi, Georgia for that nation's former president, Mikhail Saakashvili.
19. Monica Richardson & Mary Ellen Klas
Two years after becoming the first Black editor to lead the Miami Herald, Monica Richardson brought the city’s marquee paper a 2022 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news of the 2021 Surfside condo collapse. Richardson also serves as Florida regional editor for McClatchy, the Herald’s publisher, and oversees the paper’s Spanish-language edition, el Nuevo Herald, and the Bradenton Herald. Richardson’s top reporter in Tallahassee is Mary Ellen Klas, who as capital bureau chief – and author of the newsletter Politics and Policy in the Sunshine State – has covered high-profile stories including Gov. Ron DeSantis’ migrant flights to Martha’s Vineyard, election shenanigans and high-level pandemic hypocrisies.
20. Lauren Book
After surviving one of the ugliest primaries in recent memory, state Sen. Lauren Book returns to the state Capitol with her first tough-fought campaign victory notched in her belt. Unfortunately for her, the Broward Democrat is returning to head a caucus at its weakest point in a generation after ceding a supermajority to the Republicans. However, Book has shown a knack for working across the aisle. She has been able to pass legislation, like last session’s bill to combat revenge porn and deep fakes, despite her party not holding control.
21. Fentrice Driskell
Due to former state Rep. Ramon Alexander’s sex scandal, Fentrice Driskell is set to be Democratic leader for four years, something that hasn’t yet happened under modern legislative rules. She also decimated her Republican challenger in a cycle where so many Democrats were knocked off, while bringing in one of her party’s largest fundraising hauls. Now, she’s tasked with mounting whatever loyal opposition her party can muster against a House supermajority set to streamline Republican policy this legislative session.
22. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
After 18 years in office, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston is the senior Democrat in Florida’s congressional delegation. A champion of breast cancer awareness and a staunch defender of her party’s priorities – from abortion rights to immigration – she is often at odds with her Florida Republican colleagues, who are heading back to Washington as part of a slim majority. Yet her clout is undeniable, as evidenced by seats on the influential House Appropriations and Oversight committees. She recently convened a Capitol Hill hearing on antisemitism and has sponsored legislation around police accountability and crime victims’ rights.
23. Frederica Wilson
Nobody fails to recognize Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson: She’s the one with the large, colorful hats, featured recently in the Netflix docuseries “Worn Stories.” Wilson has represented northern Miami in Congress since 2011, and prior to that she served as a state lawmaker, school board member and elementary school principal. In Washington, she has backed initiatives like the 2013 American Jobs Act and the 2019 Student Loan Borrower Bill of Rights. She also founded the bipartisan Florida Ports Caucus, which successfully passed legislation resulting in billions of dollars for Miami-area capital projects.
24. Mary Mayhew
Having advocated for Florida’s hospitals through the challenges of COVID-19 and staffing shortages, Mary Mayhew is now tasked with helping her constituency find support to deal with the ramifications of hurricanes like Ian, which devastated coastal hospitals. During that Category 4 storm, Mayhew coordinated resources across her 200-some member institutions, from evacuations to infrastructure assistance. Emergency management will likely be a top issue on the agenda for this former DeSantis appointee, who represents a $128 billion industry with nearly one million employees statewide.
25. Lynda Bell
Lynda Bell heads the Florida branch of America’s largest anti-abortion organization, the National Right to Life Committee, which recently celebrated both the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court and Florida’s 15-week abortion ban. Bell, who also chairs the board of NRLC, is focused on marshaling resources to support pregnant women – and is now eyeing a potential six-week ban in the state, possibly with some exceptions. She is a longtime Republican presence in Miami-Dade politics, having served as a county commissioner and as mayor of Homestead.
26. Kelly Mallette & Rana Brown
Kelly Mallette heads the Capitol lobbying practice at Ronald L. Book, where she shapes legislation and guides advocacy for prominent clients across health care, business and industry. Mallette, an expert in state budgetary matters, is active in GOP politics, serving on the Miami-Dade County Republican Executive Committee, the board of the Miami-Dade Republican Party and as a delegate at several Republican National Conventions. A consultant with Ronald L. Book since 2008, Rana Brown guides strategy for the Florida Regional Councils' Association. Brown, who focuses on state and local legislative procedure, previously led advocacy for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, where she worked at the intersection of government affairs and the local business community.
27. Shevaun Harris
After nearly 20 years at the Agency for Health Care Administration – where she administered Florida's Medicaid program and helped coordinate the state’s Covid-19 response – Shevaun Harris last year became secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families. Harris oversees human services relating to children and families, domestic violence and abuse, first responders, people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations. Most recently, Harris helped First Lady Casey DeSantis launch Hope Florida, a program that engages communities in an effort to guide families toward economic self-sufficiency.
28. Lois Frankel
Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel recently bested her Republican opponent by more than 10 percentage points, winning a sixth term representing the Palm Beach area in Congress – although she’ll be returning to a chamber where Republicans have seized a narrow majority. Frankel, a former mayor of West Palm Beach who also served as minority leader in the Florida House, is known for her health care advocacy. She serves on the Labor, Health and Human Services Subcommittee, championing abortion rights and expanded access to telehealth, vaccines and other pandemic priorities.
29. Megan Fay, Ashley Kalifeh & Maicel Green
These three partners play key roles at Capital City Consulting, a top-three lobbying firm in Florida. Megan Fay is a former deputy chief of staff for Gov. Rick Scott, for whom she also directed legislative affairs and policy, overseeing Visit Florida and the Florida Lottery. Fay, who has also served as senior attorney for Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, uses that experience to advise clients on business and professional regulation, tourism, gaming, education and health care. Ashley Kalifeh, who was named Insurance Lobbyist of the Year by Influence Magazine in 2019 and 2021 for her work on insurance reforms, also specializes in banking, education and health care law. She previously worked in the Florida Senate and directed legislative affairs and policy at the Florida Department of Financial Services. Earlier this year, Maicel Green joined Capital City as its newest partner in the government affairs practice. Green, who has expertise in public relations, recruiting and crisis communication, previously coordinated media and external affairs coordinator for Talquin Electric Cooperative.
30. Simone Marstiller
Simone Marstiller – a onetime litigator focusing on government affairs, appellate consulting and elections – has an increasingly high profile in state-level politics. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed her to head the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice in January 2019; two years later, Marstiller was appointed secretary of the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees the state’s massive Medicaid program. Marstiller previously was of counsel in the Tallahassee and Tampa offices of Gunster, Yoakley, Stewart, P.A. Prior to that, Gov. Charlie Crist appointed her as a judge on the First District Court of Appeal. Marstiller, who’s departing the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration by the end of the year, still has plenty of sway in state politics, and could land in another influential (or lucrative) post in the months ahead.
31. Sarah Bascom
Through election cycle after election cycle, Sarah Bascom has handled communications for some of Florida’s highest-profile Republicans and numerous referendum campaigns. Bascom, who heads a Tallahassee consultancy, recently served as a campaign communications adviser for then-state House Speaker Chris Sprowls, then-state Senate President Bill Galvano, the House Republican Caucus and Gov. Ron DeSantis (in 2018). This cycle, she helped propel congressional candidates Laurel Lee and Aaron Bean to victory. Bascom learned the ropes directing communications for the Florida GOP and the Florida Senate and serving as press secretary for the Senate Majority Caucus.
32. Kathy Castor
Republicans had a banner midterm election throughout Florida – but Democrats like U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor held on. Castor, the first woman to represent Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in Congress, won a ninth term representing her redrawn Tampa Bay district. A longtime champion of affordable and accessible health care, she serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee and co-founded the Children's Health Care Caucus. Castor also chaired the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and drove numerous measures around environmental protection.
33. Lesa France Kennedy
Part of the fabled France family of NASCAR fame, Lesa France Kennedy has held numerous leadership positions with International Speedway Corporation, which merged with the racing outfit founded by her grandfather. Kennedy has guided projects including the Phoenix Raceway renovation and the $400 million Daytona Rising expansion of the Daytona International Speedway in her Florida hometown. NASCAR is alos embarking on its 75th race season in 2023, and Kennedy recently helped to kick off celebrations while recognizing her grandfather’s vision for stock car racing with a Founder’s Day celebration.
34. Carol Dover
After three decades as chief cheerleader for Florida’s $111 billion tourism industry, Carol Dover knows the Sunshine State gets its share of storms. Along with lobbying Tallahassee for support on behalf of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association’s 10,000 members, Dover recently announced the FRLA Disaster Relief Fund initiative, which provides $10,000 recovery grants to Hurricane Ian-battered hospitality venues. Having presided over a multi-year tourism boom as head of public affairs for Visit Florida, the state’s booster agency, Dover knows that despite the menaces of climate change, sunny days are always in Florida’s forecast.
35. Dana Young
With a record 118 million domestic visitors in 2021, Florida is a popular destination – and Dana Young is making sure it stays that way. Young heads Visit Florida, the public-private partnership that supports the state’s $97 billion tourism industry. A DeSantis appointee, Young previously represented Hillsborough County in the Florida Senate and served three terms in the Florida House of Representatives, where she was majority leader. Young also co-founded Maggie’s List, a PAC supporting conservative women candidates for federal public office.
36. Madeline Pumariega
Few college presidents arrive with as much institutional knowledge as Madeline Pumariega did when she became the first woman, and first alum, to head Miami Dade College last year. Pumeriega also worked at the college – one of the largest undergraduate institutions in the country, with more than 100,000 students – for over 20 years, becoming president of the Wolfson Campus. She then held leadership positions with Tallahassee Community College and the Florida College System, where she was the first female and Hispanic chancellor. At MDC, Pumeriega is working on strategic partnerships to prepare students for high-demand fields and a fast-evolving workforce.
37. Rhea Law
Shortly after attorney Rhea Law took the helm of the University of South Florida, she applauded major investments across three campuses of a university she knows well – having graduated from USF, worked there as a research associate and, later, founded and chaired USF’s board of trustees. Law, the first USF alum to serve as president, was confirmed earlier this year after leading the school in an interim capacity. She previously served as chair and CEO of Fowler White Boggs, where she led its merger with the national law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.
38. Mayanne Downs
Mayanne Downs specializes in shattering glass ceilings. Orlando's first woman to serve as city attorney was also the first female managing director at GrayRobinson, a national firm specializing in lobbying and regulatory services and government law. Downs is a high-stakes litigator whose clients count on her expertise in class action and professional liability defense cases, as well as marital and family matters (Downs won a $200 million divorce settlement, among the largest ever) and support at trials and appeals. The firm is a top-five lobbying operation in Florida.
39. Melissa Seixas
As Florida's population and energy needs have boomed, Melissa Seixas has helped manage that growth at Duke Energy, for whom she has worked since 1986 (when it was known as Florida Power). Seixas currently oversees the company's finances, along with its government and community relations in the state of Florida, where Duke provides retail electricity service for nearly 2 million customers. Known for her civic involvement, Seixas currently serves on the board of directors for the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise Florida.
40. Liz Dudek
Few Floridians can match the depth of Liz Dudek's health regulatory expertise. Dudek, who directs health care affairs for Greenberg Traurig’s Tallahassee office, has held numerous state-level health leadership positions, including as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, where she oversaw Florida's expansive Medicaid program and spearheaded its statewide Medicaid managed care rollout. Dudek, who has also served as Florida's deputy secretary for the state’s Division of Health Quality Assurance, is an authority on health care and insurance regulation, state licensure and procurement matters.
41. Amanda Bevis
From new state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo to Tampa General Hospital, some of Florida’s highest-profile people and organizations rely on Amanda Bevis to hone their messaging. At the Tallahassee-based Red Hills Strategies, she also works with such busy entities as the state Department of Economic Opportunity and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. Bevis’ deep familiarity with state-level agencies comes from nearly a decade overseeing communications and serving as deputy chief of staff for then-Department of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
42. Esther Byrd
Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Esther Byrd to the state Board of Education this past March, shortly before selecting her husband, the Republican former state Rep. Cord Byrd, to be Florida's secretary of state. Esther Byrd is a longtime employee in the legal office of her husband and a firearms law expert, and serves as president of the Republican Women's Club of Duval Federated. Controversial for her social media support of the Jan. 6 insurrection, Byrd is also a former Marine.
43. Grazie Pozo Christie
Mexico-born radiologist Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie recently brought her medical and religious perspectives to bear on the post-Roe v. Wade abortion debate, speaking and writing nationally in support of Florida's newly enacted 15-week abortion ban. As one of the state's foremost public voices of Catholicism – in both Spanish and English – Christie hosts the Conversations With Consequences podcast of The Catholic Association, where she is a senior fellow. Christie is also among Gov. Ron DeSantis’ newest appointees to the State Board of Education.
44. Monesia T. Brown
Monesia Brown handles government relations for America's largest company by revenue – Walmart, which earned an eye-popping $573 billion last year. Aside from representing Walmart and its affiliate stores, Sam's Club, before state and local governments, Brown has also spearheaded the company's COVID-19 response and manages community relations, including at the Walmart Foundation. Brown, an attorney who previously held several state-level government positions, currently serves on the Florida State Board of Education.
45. Allison Carter
The woman who will be House Speaker Paul Renner’s gatekeeper comes with a power résumé: Government affairs director for the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association. Chief process adviser for the House. Director of program management for former CFO Jeff Atwater. Staff director for the Senate Majority Office. She comes with a power Rolodex to boot, having forged relationships with major players inside and out of state government. Don’t expect to see her in front of the cameras, but rest assured she’s running things behind the scenes.
46. Melanie Griffin
Florida’s business owners have an ally in Melanie Griffin, the Tampa attorney and businesswoman appointed last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis to head the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Griffin brings plenty of perspective to the role, having founded Spread Your Sunshine, a company offering inspirational products and services, and having served as senior adviser for business-to-business relationship for Shumaker Advisors Florida. She’s also had a legal career at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.
47. Kathy Mears
Kathy Mears is a veteran of The Process, as Capitol insiders put it, whose résumé blows aways the competition: Chief of staff to then-Senate President Wilton Simpson. Chief Legislative Affairs Officer at Florida State University. Chief of staff to two Florida House speakers. Vice president of a woman-owned PR firm. And that’s just in recent years. Says longtime Florida NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer, Mears “is not only an icon in Florida politics, she has forgotten more than most of today's political players will ever know.”
48. Carolyn Johnson
Carolyn Johnson was an integral part of the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s legislative team for nearly a decade before getting bumped up to vice president in July. The St. Petersburg native is no stranger to Tallahassee, having opposed an overhaul of the state’s medical malpractice law and an amendment reducing insurers’ payments to the state’s hurricane catastrophe fund in January. Now Johnson is overseeing the chamber’s lobbying efforts, which includes repealing Florida’s one-way attorney fees statute, and new limits on claims lawsuits that have contributed to skyrocketing property insurance rates.
49. Kim Rivers
With cannabis restrictions evaporating as if from a vape pen, Kim Rivers is riding high as CEO of Florida’s fast-growing cannabis empire. Rivers, an attorney and entrepreneur, has been with Trulieve since its launch and oversees the ongoing expansion of its operation, to 11 states and counting. She also manages the company’s portfolio of brands and licensed dispensaries for medical marijuana and leads advocacy for recreational cannabis use. Rivers has also served as a longtime principal in Inkbridge, a Tallahassee investment company.
50. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick
U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick’s political career is a study in patience. She twice lost Democratic primaries for her South Florida district before winning this year's special election after the death of her former opponent, becoming the first Haitian-American Democrat elected to Congress. Cherfilus-McCormick, an attorney who previously served as CEO for Trinity Healthcare Services, is a progressive who has championed legislation around matters involving health care, veterans, youth and education, environmental protection and the Caribbean.
51. Tracy Mayernick
Tracy Mayernick and her husband, Frank, helm The Mayernick Group, a top-15 lobbying shop in Florida that raked in around $3 million in revenue last year. Tracy Mayernick, who helped launch the Tallahassee-based firm over a decade ago, has carved out a niche as one of the preeminent appropriations lobbyists in Florida, helping clients compete for and secure government funds. The firm has lobbied on behalf of such clients as the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, the PACE Center for Girls and the South Florida Automobile Dealers Association.
52. Teye Carmichael & Lisa Hurley
Attorney Teye Carmichael specializes in matters involving insurance and taxation as well as health care and financial services. Carmichael, a veteran of numerous statewide and grassroots advocacy campaigns, advocates regularly for her clients before state-level agencies and government bodies. County-level expert Lisa Hurley has practiced law with the Tallahassee government relations firm of Smith, Bryan & Myers since 2016. Hurley’s savvy comes from a background overseeing legislative advocacy for the Florida Association of Counties and providing legal counsel for the Gov. Jeb Bush administration, along with practicing at several global law firms.
53. Jennifer P. Ungru
Tallahassee-based Jenn Ungru heads government relations and lobbying strategy at Dean Mead. As she tailors advocacy to a variety of influential clients, Ungru draws on government experience that includes having served as deputy chief of staff for Gov. Rick Scott – where she oversaw nine agencies, including health care and public services – as well as chief of staff for the Agency for Health Care Administration during a period of Medicaid managed care transition. Ungru also worked in a variety of 2018-19 election and transition capacities for Gov. Ron DeSantis.
54. Yolanda Cash Jackson & Ellyn S. Bogdanoff
Attorneys Yolanda Cash Jackson and Ellyn Bogdanoff have considerable clout in Tallahassee, Washington and elsewhere as members of Becker’s marquee government law and lobbying practice. Jackson made history this year as the first Black chair of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s public-private partnership for economic development. At Becker, where she serves on the firm’s management committee, Jackson leverages longstanding relationships with Tallahassee policymakers in matters including state government appropriations. Bogdanoff joined Becker after eight years as a Republican representing South Florida in the state Legislature, including three terms in the House of Representatives. She counsels Becker’s clients in flooding and coastal issues as chair of the firm’s sea level advisory team, and co-leads the practice group devoted to early learning facilities.
55. Marva Johnson
Marva Johnson, a prominent appointee to various state positions under both the Scott and DeSantis administrations, is a telecommunications executive whose experience includes leadership and government relations roles at Charter Communications and, previously, at Bright House Networks. Johnson, who holds an MBA and a law degree, is a former chair of the Florida State Board of Education and served on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission. She helped organize the 2020 Republican National Committee in Jacksonville, and is currently an at-large board member of Enterprise Florida.
56. Susie Wiles & Ashley Walker
Susie Wiles is gearing up to take on the largest task of her career as a Republican consultant - help lead Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential bid. She was instrumental in helping deliver Florida to him in 2016 and 2020 when she worked as his senior Florida adviser. Now, her likely new role may pit her against Ron DeSantis, whom she worked for as a senior adviser until he ousted her. In 2024, she might get her chance at payback. However, her efforts assisting Trump’s vetting of candidates to endorse this year backfired, as many of them lost key races. Ashley Walker, the first female partner at the bipartisan, global public affairs firm, earned a reputation as a highly effective and well-connected Florida Democratic influencer after masterminding President Barack Obama's 2012 Florida victory. Walker commanded a $50 million budget as Obama’s state campaign director, having previously served as Florida deputy state director and guided the candidate to early primary successes in the 2008 presidential campaign. She has also held leadership roles with Organizing for America-Florida.
57. Meredith O'Rourke
GOP politicians hoping for success in Florida and beyond turn to powerhouse fundraiser Meredith O'Rourke. O'Rourke opened her eponymous firm in 1997 and, along with her other outfit, Forward Strategies, has been raising money for high-profile Republicans ever since. Her clients have included then-Gov. Rick Scott, for whom she raised a record $100 million for his 2014 reelection; then-Gov. (and then-Republican) Charlie Crist; and, more recently, President Donald Trump as well as his new super PAC, for which O'Rourke is reportedly running the finance team.
58. Jackie Lee
Against a rising Republican tide, Jackie Lee has led formidable Democratic pushback in Florida politics since 2006, when she came to direct field operations for the Florida Democratic Party. Since then, Lee successfully managed state amendment campaigns, turned out the state vote to elect and re-elect Barack Obama, and lent considerable energy to several progressive nonprofits. She helped mastermind President Biden's 2019-20 Iowa and Florida campaigns, and it's a safe bet she'll be involved in the 2024 election as well.
59. Anna V. Eskamani
In 2018, Orlando Democrat Anna Eskamani was elected Florida’s first Iranian-American state representative and has since emerged as a champion of health care, home rule, arts and culture funding and environmental protection, including helping Orange County pass a fertilizer ordinance to protect waterways. The daughter of immigrants, Eskamani previously led Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida and is completing a Ph.D. in public administration at the University of Central Florida. The high-profile progressive has also served as a strategic adviser for NEO Philanthropy.
60. Nancy Watkins
Behind every successful politician is a smart accountant. In Florida and beyond, that accountant is often Tampa-based Nancy Watkins, who over 30 years has built a reputation as one of the nation's foremost experts in campaign finance law. Watkins, whose firm has served as the state Republican Party’s outside compliance accounting consultant, has long been the go-to CPA for GOP pols looking to straighten out campaign finance audits, make sure their PPP loan paperwork withstands scrutiny, and stay on the right side of tax laws.
61. Kim Griffin-Hunter
Over nearly a quarter century at Deloitte, where she was the first Black partner in Florida, Kim Griffin-Hunter has championed diversity, equity and inclusivity. She now manages over 1,000 professionals in accounting, advisory, tax and consulting employees at the firm's office in her hometown of Miami, directing Deloitte’s strategy across booming South Florida as regional managing partner. Griffin-Hunter, a member of the Executive Leadership Council – a premier national organization of Black leaders – was also the first-ever recipient of the National Association for Black Accountants' Hidden Jewel Award.
62. Audrey S. Brown
For nearly a decade, the Jeb Bush administration alum has led the Florida Association of Health Plans, a trade organization that represents private health care companies as well as Medicare and Medicaid insurers. This year, Audrey Brown advocated for a measure restoring dental benefits for Medicaid users and keeping pharmacy benefit managers within the state’s Medicaid system. Medicaid expansion is a matter of some debate in Tallahassee after South Dakota voters approved the move in a ballot measure, although Florida’s elected GOP leadership remains opposed.
63. Allison Kinney
Reflecting her clout in Tallahassee, ace lobbyist Allison Kinney was recently appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the board of CareerSource Florida, and added by the state Legislature to the board of the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking. Kinney has led government relations at HCA Healthcare - Florida, the state's largest healthcare provider, since 2020. She previously headed Florida lobbying for Charter Communications and has a background in financial and banking advocacy, working for TD Bank and the Florida Bankers Association.
64. Karen D. Walker
Both in Tallahassee and in Washington, D.C., Karen Walker is known for her success in contract award cases, including a $1 billion Medicaid managed care matter and representation before local, state and federal courts nationwide. Walker, a partner at Holland & Knight, leads the government section for the firm, where she manages government affairs and clients' regulatory issues. A regular on Best Lawyers in America and Florida Super Lawyers lists, Walker is routinely consulted as an expert on government procurement.
65. Jennifer Green
Since founding Liberty Partners of Tallahassee with former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack in 2007, Jennifer Green has established a reputation for effective state-level advocacy focusing on corporations, industry associations, local governments and not-for-profits. Green, a former chair of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists, helped create its professional lobbyist credentialing program and was awarded its first-ever award for ethics in lobbying. The former lead lobbyist for the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Green currently serves on the Florida Chamber Political Institute Advisory Council.
66. Ava L. Parker
Shortly after becoming the first woman to head Palm Beach State College in 2015, Ava Parker presided over a new, fifth campus for the 40,000-student institution, which generates more than $1 billion in economic activity annually. Parker was previously executive vice president and chief operating officer at Florida Polytechnic University. Prior to that, she held numerous legal positions, including as assistant general counsel for the state Department of Transportation. She also served for over a decade on the state University System’s board of governors.
67. Christina Johnson
Christina Johnson’s extensive political experience informs her work at On 3 Public Relations, the Tallahassee strategic communications firm she launched in 2008. Her clients have included now-Florida Speaker of the House Paul Renner, the Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners and the Republican National Committee, for which Johnson worked early in her career. She has also directed the Central Florida Political Leadership Institute, served as deputy chief of staff for the Florida Department of State, and directed communications for several other state-level offices.
68. April Salter & Heidi Otway
April Salter and Heidi Otway oversee a Tallahassee strategic communications outfit that has advised the City of Mexico Beach on its post-hurricane rapid response, helped bolster Bank of America's reputation following a banking industry crisis, and advised Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, an HBCU, on positioning its medical marijuana education and research initiative as a cannabis authority. Prior to founding the firm, Salter oversaw communications for then-Gov. Lawton Chiles and for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Otway, who serves on a number of boards and is past chair of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.
69. Tiffani Lennon
Tiffani Lennon, an attorney and nonprofit executive, took the helm of the ACLU of Florida this past fall, as a rising Republican tide increasingly threatened progressive priorities such as abortion, voting access and LGBTQ rights. In her new role, Lennon will lead ACLU in the Sunshine State's crusade for civil liberties – a fight she knows well from her work at the Colorado Center for Law and Policy, where she was executive director, and Ray of Hope, a health equity foundation where she was CEO.
70. Nadine Smith
Nadine Smith wants you to say gay. Smith heads Florida’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, which is part of a coalition challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis’ so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law in court. Smith, who chairs the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Florida Advisory Committee, helped pioneer LGBTQ political action: She co-chaired the 1993 LGB March on Washington and served on President Barack Obama's National Finance Committee. At Equality Florida, Smith leads political advocacy around LGBTQ and trans issues and equitable access to health care, school and work.
71. Jasmine Burney-Clark
Political operative Jasmine Burney-Clark has spent a dozen years mobilizing the Black voice and vote throughout Florida – most recently as the founder of Equal Ground, a grassroots civic engagement nonprofit that aims to register, educate and turn out Black voters. Burney-Clark, who has worked on numerous Democratic campaigns, previously served as a senior advisor to the national NAACP and directed the Florida 501c3 Civic Engagement Table, advancing nuts-and-bolts voter mobilization as well as voter rights, election policy and issue advocacy.
72. Alexandra Mandado & Stephanie Fraim
With abortion now only available through the first 15 weeks of pregnancy – thanks to a 2022 state law enacted just after the fall of Roe v. Wade – Alexandra Mandado and Stephanie Fraim hope to protect reproductive rights and physicians’ autonomy across the Sunshine State. Currently CEOs of Planned Parenthood’s Florida regional chapters, Mandado and Fraim are both longtime leaders within the organization. Amid growing demand and a shifting legal framework, they coordinate services and lead advocacy, including fighting the Florida Legislature’s 15-week ban – and potentially stricter state limits ahead.
73. Ana Navarro-Cárdenas
Everything about Ana Navarro-Cárdenas is high-profile: her day job co-hosting ABC’s “The View” (for which she’s won two Emmys), the political takes she airs on CNN, her saucy Twitter account and her marriage, to fellow conservative commentator Al Cárdenas. Nicaraguan-born Navarro-Cárdenas has kept high-profile company, too, with national roles in campaigns for John McCain and Jon Huntsman Jr. and a spot on Jeb Bush’s gubernatorial transition team. Whether offering insights into the Hispanic electorate or swooning over a mariachi album, she knows her audience.
74. Ryan Wiggins
The 2022 midterm defeats of Trump-endorsed candidates were sweet vindication for Ryan Wiggins, chief of staff at the Lincoln Project – all the more so after the challenging year she’s had at the anti-Trump PAC, defending the organization against allegations of declining support and sexual harassment among its leadership. Wiggins is no stranger to crisis communications; it's her specialty at Full Contact Strategies, the Pensacola consulting firm she founded after handling communications for the Florida Department of Health and the Office of the Attorney General.
75. Melinda Miguel
Waste, fraud and abuse don’t have much of a chance around Florida's longtime inspector general, Melinda Miguel, who was first appointed to the law enforcement role in 2007 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Miguel, 28-year public servant, began her career as an auditor and investigator for the Florida Lottery Office of Inspector General and has since served as inspector general for various state agencies, as well as for several national government offices in Washington, D.C. Until recently, Miguel was national president of the Association of Inspectors General.
76. Ginger Delegal
Ginger Delegal is steeped in the needs and demands of local government in Florida, making her an effective leader of the Florida Association of Counties. Delegal, who joined the organization as general counsel nearly two decades ago, took over as its executive director in 2017. Delegal, whose organization represents close to 400 county commissioners across the state’s 67 counties, also heads up the Florida Association of County Attorneys and the Florida Association of County Managers.
77. Karen B. Moore
Numerous high-profile state agencies and associations turn to Karen Moore for strategy and representation. Moore, who founded her eponymous Tallahassee public relations agency 30 years ago, has a staff of nearly 50, a reputation for effective advocacy and the clients to prove it – from Florida's Departments of Education, Agriculture and Environmental Protection to the Florida Dental Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association. Moore is also the author of two books, "Behind the Red Door: Unlock Your Advocacy Influence and Success” and “Live Moore.”
78. Michelle Dennard
As head of CareerSource Florida since 2017, Michelle Dennard leads the governor's principal workforce policy and investment board. Dennard’s team makes sure Florida’s workforce – including half a million new workers since 2020 – aligns with its booming economy, up more than 1.1 million jobs in that timeframe, all of which have contributed to a 2.7% unemployment rate. Under Dennard’s leadership, the board is guiding $244.7 million in workforce investments for 2022-23. The CareerSource Florida network includes 24 local workforce development boards and 100 career centers statewide.
79. Lori E.H. Killinger
Lori Killinger is a Florida politics expert at Lewis Longman Walker, the law firm where she is an executive shareholder. Killinger chairs the legislative, lobbying and governmental affairs practice for LLW, which specializes in guiding clients through their interactions with local and federal laws. Her previous experience includes serving as chief attorney for the Florida House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary and overseeing government relations and legal matters for the Florida Manufactured Housing Association.
80. Candice Ericks
Five years ago, Candice Ericks joined Tripp Scott to launch its newest division, TSE Consulting, the law firm's government relations practice. Ericks learned the lobbying ropes alongside her father, Dave, whom she joined as a partner in South Florida-based Ericks Consultants. After spearheading that firm's growth in both geographical scope and influence, Ericks now represents clients throughout the governmental, corporate and nonprofit worlds and was the inaugural recipient of the Florida Association for Intergovernmental Relations' Theresa Lintz Memorial Award for legislative advocacy excellence.
81. Tina Vidal-Duart
Hurricanes, building collapses, and now COVID-19: Tina Vidal-Duart handles it all as CEO of CDR Health and executive vice president of CDR Maguire, an 80-year-old emergency management consulting firm specializing in disaster consulting for municipalities. Vidal-Duart most recently was contracted as head of Florida’s statewide COVID-19 field hospital system, overseeing health care facilities and personnel across the state. She implemented a call center, an online patient portal, vaccination protocol and other logistics to manage various stages of the crisis.
82. Sky Beard
From school meals to grocery benefits, Sky Beard works to connect children in Florida with the healthy food they need. As Florida Director of No Kid Hungry, a national non-profit, Beard spearheads partnerships with school districts, local community organizations and elected officials across the state to fight hunger through smart policy, strategic support and grant funding. Under her leadership, No Kid Hungry Florida has granted more than $10 million to expand and improve programs that ensure kids have healthy food every day. A native Floridian, Beard came to No Kid Hungry in 2019 after a dozen years of experience with early childhood education nonprofits, most recently heading the Early Learning Coalition of Brevard County.
83. Dawn Roberts
A veteran staffer in the state Legislature, Dawn Roberts has spent 12 years helming the Florida Senate’s Ethics and Elections Committee. Her career in Tallahassee politics goes back almost two decades, beginning in 2003 with her seven-year stint with the Florida Department of State. Her over a decade with the Florida Senate included a two-year stint from 2016-2018 where she was the body’s general counsel. She also served as interim secretary of state in Florida over a decade ago.
84. Alia Faraj-Johnson
Why do some of Florida's most influential clients trust their communications to Alia Faraj-Johnson? It helps that Gov. Jeb Bush did: Faraj-Johnson was his longest serving communications director, handling the role for 18 state agencies as well. Or maybe it's because she's won multiple Emmys as a TV news producer for the Capitol News Service. Faraj-Johnson, who was appointed twice to the Florida Elections Commission, oversaw public relations for several other firms before starting her own three years ago. The Arabic speaker became a U.S. citizen in 2004 while working for Bush.
85. Stephanie Smith
A veteran of the Bush and Crist gubernatorial administrations, Stephanie Smith recently joined Tampa Electric and Peoples Gas, where she oversees state and regional affairs and guides community outreach for a company providing energy to 800,000 West-Central Florida customers. Smith most recently headed government relations for Anthem, where she represented Florida Medicaid and Medicare plans; she has also held public affairs roles at Uber and AT&T. Smith is the Gov. Ron DeSantis-appointed chair of CareerSource Florida and a board member of Enterprise Florida.
86. Rebecca Fishman Lipsey
Since assuming leadership of The Miami Foundation in 2020, Rebecca Fishman Lipsey has grown the $400 million organization substantially, spearheading $100 million in investments in local nonprofits and prioritizing equity in South Florida grantmaking. Fishman Lipsey, a former public school teacher, previously served as the youngest member of the Florida Board of Education. She also founded Radical Partners, a Miami agency that supports social impact projects.
87. Kay Rawlins
Orlando's soccer scene, both professional and grassroots, owes an enormous debt to Kay Rawlins. She is a founder of both Orlando City – the Major League Soccer club that won the 2022 U.S. Open Cup – and Orlando Pride, the city's professional women's soccer team. Rawlins also heads the Orlando City Foundation, a nonprofit that brings free soccer programs, community gardens, and other sports, health and wellness programming to Orlando's underserved populations. The civic-minded Rawlins serves as a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
88. Rita Barreto
Rita Barreto grew up as one of 11 children – so it's hardly surprising that her human resources insights are in high demand at Top Tier leadership, the consulting firm she heads, and at speaking engagements throughout Palm Beach County and beyond. Barreto also chairs Discover the Palm Beaches, which promotes the county's $7 billion tourism industry, and has served in various political appointments over the years – including, currently, on the Florida Commission on the Status of Women, where she is a former chair.
89. Leslie Tomczak
The ever-expanding South Florida skyline owes a debt to Leslie Tomczak, a construction law specialist who oversees Akerman in Fort Lauderdale, one of the law firm’s 24 U.S. offices. Tomczak advises developers, contractors and other industry stakeholders across all aspects of real estate development and works on high-profile projects, such as a recent mixed-use development on Miami Beach's Collins Avenue. She is also a LEED-accredited professional who consults on green building projects.
90. Pamela Burch Fort
Pamela Burch Fort has been a respected Tallahassee voice for decades – most recently, as senior adviser to Democrat Charlie Crist's gubernatorial campaign. She has consulted for legions of political candidates and causes with The Commerce Group, her government affairs firm. An attorney by training, Burch Fort worked on a major tobacco industry lawsuit before sharpening her political skills over more than a dozen years at the Florida Senate, where she served as a legislative analyst and as a staff director for several committees.
91. Weesam Khoury
Weesam Khoury bolted out of obscurity from the press office at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to take over communications at the state’s Department of Health under Gov. Ron DeSantis. It didn’t hurt that she joined at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when all eyes were on her boss, state Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo. She still oversees communications at the agency, among her many other duties, and is regularly shortlisted to step up “to Plaza,” meaning the Executive Office of the Governor.
92. Merritt Martin
Three years ago, the Moffitt Cancer Center experienced a crisis when several executives resigned following China’s involvement in their research activities. Once its new CEO came aboard, Merritt Martin moved from the public affairs office in February 2021 to bring stability and political expertise as chief of staff. She has since helped Moffitt secure $706 million in state funding for its future 775-acre biotech campus in March and win a five-year $3.7 million grant to develop digital tools to reach patients of color in Tampa Bay.
93. Shamarial Roberson
As head of health and human services for Indelible Solutions, a consulting outfit with offices in Jacksonville and Tallahassee, Dr. Shamarial Roberson helps Florida's health organizations navigate public health and health equity in the post-pandemic era. Roberson, an expert in epidemiology and health disparities, assumed the role in 2021. She previously served as deputy secretary at the Florida Department of Health, where she spearheaded numerous health equity measures and oversaw community health, emergency preparedness and disease control during the COVID-19 outbreak.
94. Erika Donalds
Longtime education advocate and finance professional Erica Donalds founded OptimaEd in 2017 to provide a range of services for schools – from operations, finance, and human resources to accreditation and charter support. Donalds, who is married to U.S. Rep Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, previously served as commissioner of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission and is a former Collier County School Board member. Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Donalds to the board of trustees of Florida Gulf Coast University.
95. Patricia Levesque
Education policy specialist Patricia Levesque leads several school reform organizations responsible for charting Florida’s K-12 course – the Foundation for Florida's Future and its affiliates, ExcelinEd, a think tank founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, and the advocacy group ExcelinEd in Action. Levesque previously worked on education policy for the Florida Constitution Revision Commission as well as in Bush’s administration, where she was also deputy chief of staff, and in several staff positions in the Florida Legislature.
96. Nicole Washington
The high school-to-college-to-work pipeline is Nicole Washington's focus at Washington Education Strategies, the consultancy she founded. Washington advises policymakers, institutional leaders and foundations on facilitating access to strong post-secondary education and successful careers. Washington also serves as vice chair of the Miami Dade College District Board of Trustees and from 2017-18 was vice chair for the education subcommittee of Florida's Constitution Revision Commission, where she championed the Florida College System and its cherished affordability.
97. Adora Obi Nweze
Longtime activist and educator Adora Obi Nweze leads the Florida conference of the NAACP, for which she also serves on the national board of directors and has guided initiatives around education, policy and environmental justice. She recently led a NCAAP initiative challenging a proposed state law she argued would disenfranchise eligible voters. Nweze, who had a 39-year career in the Miami-Dade public schools, is a prominent advocate for state-level policy, spearheading NAACP partnerships with the Florida Departments of Education, Health, Corrections and Juvenile Justice.
98. Samantha Ferrin
Samantha Ferrin brings over a decade of government and policy experience to her new role as lead lobbyist at Simply Healthcare, an Elevance Health affiliate. Ferrin previously worked on health care as a director in the government law and policy team at Greenberg Traurig, the global law firm; prior to that, she served as chief of staff at the Florida Lottery. She has also served as a legislative analyst in the Florida House of Representatives and in the Florida Office of the Attorney General.
99. Val Demings
The Orlando congresswoman, who was once on President Joe Biden’s vice presidential shortlist, left a safe Democratic seat to challenge two-term Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Val Demings attracted national attention for her campaign to become the Senate’s only Black woman. She consistently outraised Rubio throughout the summer and only trailed in some polls by low single digits. But in the end, Demings lost to Rubio by a 16-point margin, or roughly 1.2 million votes, a sign that Florida’s days of being a reliable battleground state are over.
100. Nikki Fried
Florida agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried knew defeating Gov. Ron DeSantis would be an uphill battle, but she wouldn't back down. Defeated in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Fried turned her frustration – about Florida women losing abortion rights, and being the only Democrat elected statewide in a decade – into Won't Back Down, a new political committee. As she exits the commissioner's office, Fried is marshalling statewide grassroots support for Won’t Back Down and its goal: a constitutional amendment enshrining abortion rights.
Corrections: An earlier version of this feature incorrectly stated that Lesa France Kennedy's father founded NASCAR. It was founded by her grandfather. This feature has also been updated to clarify the structure of CareerSource Florida.
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