Albritton Readies to Become Next Florida Senate Leader
TALLAHASSEE — As a Senate committee in 2021 discussed backing away from a plan that included building a toll road from Polk County to Collier County, Sen. Ben Albritton spoke up.
Opponents had argued the plan would open the door to sprawling development in rural areas and harm the environment. But Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who thought the plan could provide opportunities for his area, cautioned people to be “very careful about speaking for rural Florida.”
“I hear people talk about protecting our rural agriculture, protecting all these resources that just happen to be in rural Florida,” Albritton, a fourth-generation citrus grower, said. “But let me ask you this, how many people do you know that struggle and worry about their children staying at home after they graduate high school because there’s no opportunity at home? I don’t remember the last time a valedictorian stayed in Hardee County, because there’s nothing there for them. I encourage everyone that’s hearing my voice to be very cautious about speaking for rural Florida. Rural Florida wants opportunities too.”
Albritton joined almost all other lawmakers in passing a bill that backed away from the road plan. But as he prepares to become Senate president after the 2024 elections, Albritton’s comments more than two years ago offered a glimpse into the focus he could put on rural Florida.
“The heartland is a very special place,” Albritton said Thursday during an interview with The News Service of Florida. “So I am blessed with the opportunity to be a citrus grower in the heartland of Florida.”
Senate Republicans on Tuesday will hold a ceremony to formally designate Albritton, 55, as the next Senate president. Currently the Senate majority leader, Albritton will succeed President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, in November 2024.
Albritton was elected to the Senate in 2018 after serving four terms in the House. He represents a largely rural district made up of Hardee, DeSoto, Charlotte and parts of Polk and Lee counties.
While Passidomo will continue to direct the Senate agenda for the next year, Albritton said Thursday he expects to focus during the 2025 and 2026 legislative sessions on issues involving agriculture and the child-protective system.
Albritton, for example, said he wants to boost research on new varieties of citrus that could better withstand deadly citrus greening disease, which has plagued groves and led to major drops in production.
“The food supply chain in Florida is incredibly important, not just economically, and more specifically not just economically for rural Florida, but for the DNA of Florida,” Albritton said. “My goal is going to be to help agriculture grow, to defend agriculture and to enhance agriculture.”
Albritton also said he and his wife, Missy, have done work in child advocacy and wants to focus on issues that involve protecting children and supporting families.
As president, Albritton will work closely with Rep. Daniel Perez, a Miami Republican who was designated last month as the next House speaker. Republicans are able to choose the Senate and House leaders because of their majorities in the legislative chambers.
During his designation ceremony, Perez, the son of Cuban immigrants, noted that he and Albritton have vastly different backgrounds.
“They said that opposites attract. … I don’t think there will be two presiding officers that would come from more different and diverse backgrounds than you and I,” Perez said as Albritton sat in the front row of the House chamber. “But there won’t be a challenge that comes between you and I, with you as Senate president right across the rotunda, that would break our bond (or) more importantly our friendship.”
During the interview Thursday, Albritton said he and Perez have “built a very durable, high-quality friendship.”
While Albritton will put an emphasis on rural issues, he pointed to different perspectives that lawmakers bring.
“Unless you come from rural Florida, you really can’t understand it in real terms,” Albritton said. “But in the same way, if you’re not from urban Florida, you can’t understand that either in real terms.”
— News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.
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