Former Polk County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson will challenge state Rep. Colleen Burton for the Republican Party nod in August’s primary in the newly refashioned Florida Senate District 12.
Wilkinson, 68, of Lakeland, initially filed a statement of candidacy for the District 22 seat now occupied by term-limited Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.
District 22, which spanned most of northern Polk County and a Lake County area, is now District 12 under the newly drawn post-Census state legislative district maps approved the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The new district no longer stretches into Lake County but dips further to the south and to the east along State Road 60.
Wilkinson joins Benny Valentin, 47, of Poinciana as underdogs in the Aug. 23 GOP primary against the heavily favored and well-financed, Burton, 63, who is term-limited after serving four stints in the House. No Democrat has yet entered the District 12 race.
Wilkinson was elected to the Polk County School Board in 1994 before serving three terms on the Polk County Commission, 1998-2010.
Although he flirted with running for the Lakeland City Commission in 2019, his 2022 state Senate campaign is his first attempted return to public office since a failed 2014 School Board campaign.
Wilkinson told LkldNow that he decided to run for state senate after surviving “one of those ‘your life flashing before you’ moments” during a near-fatal bout with COVID-19 at Lakeland Regional Medical Center.
“Lying there alone in that LRMC hospital bed, all I could think about was my children. That’s like parents everywhere, but especially parents with younger children like mine,” he said, noting he has a 15-year-old daughter, an 18-year-old daughter and a 29-year-old son “just coming into his own.”
Surviving COVID and the recent loss of a stepdaughter “are experiences that have forced me to examine myself and why God put me and others on this green Earth,” said Wilkinson, who is running as a Christian Conservative. “Life isn’t a simulation game. It matters what we do. I want to leave the world a better place than I found it, both for my children and yours. For me, politics is one important tool to make life better for everyone.”
Which he says he can do and Burton can’t because, Wilkinson claims, she is beholden to state GOP leaders and to the alleged “creeping, corrupting corporatocracy” of the Florida Legislature orchestrated “largely through contributions and PACs.”
“This corporatocracy is hamstringing and hog-tying legislators and having hideous effects on our children, the conservation and preservation of our beautiful state, of our colleges and universities, of our constitutional values and of the nature of compassion itself, especially in these troubled and needful times,” he said in a written statement announcing his candidacy.
Burton is backed by the state’s GOP establishment with endorsements from Stargel, outgoing Senate President Wilton Simpson and incoming Senate President Sen. Kathleen Passidomo. Burton’s campaign reported $334,520 in contributions to the state’s Division of Elections as of April 31.
Wilkson’s campaign reported $1,395 in contributions as of April 31. Valentin’s campaign reported no activity.
If Wilkinson has an edge in upsetting Burton, it would be tapping into his 12 years’ experience as a county commissioner and focusing his campaign on local issues, such as Lakeland’s crowded roads.
“The state development statutes and offices gutted between 2011-13 must be made whole quickly,” he said. “The unbridled growth in Polk County is the No. 1 concern of Polk citizens from all political stripes. Last year Lakeland took on as many residents as the total population of Mulberry and is No. 2 in the nation in growth.”
Burton has been in the House for eight years and did nothing to stiffen development statutes in the face of a growth tsunami, which is not surprising seeing who donates to her campaign, Wilkinson said.
He pointed to the controversial proposed 211-unit apartment complex near the Lake Miriam Shopping Center as an example that “exposes the 2011-13 statute revision” implications and costs that must be remedied in Tallahassee, not in county seats and city halls.
“As a county commissioner in 2000, we all voted down a Super Walmart proposal on land a friend and campaign supporter of mine owned,” Wilkinson said.
The parcel was on Schoolhouse Road near State Road 37.
“Walmart offered to pay $1 million-plus for a turn lane, but we didn’t budge. We couldn’t have done that under the 2011 rule changes without a big fight from Walmart,” Wilkinson said.
The refashioned District 12 includes much of northern Polk County and takes in no other counties.