The delegations representing Lakeland in the U.S. House and Tallahassee remain solidly Republican as a huge fund-raising advantage failed to propel Kristen Carlson to Congress and voters returned Sen. Kelly Stargel and Reps. Colleen Burton and Josie Tomkow to Tallahassee.

Likewise, the election of Martha Santiago keeps the entire Polk County Commission in the GOP camp.

In non-partisan School Board races, reformer Jennifer Sabin was unable to unseat 16-year incumbent Kay Fields, while reform-minded teacher Sarah Fortney decisively defeated Scott Jones, a Publix store manager.

Former prosecutor Melissa Gravitt becomes a judge, and Polk voters overwhelmingly extended the half-cent sales tax that funds school construction. Read on for election results:

U.S. House | Florida Senate | Florida House | Polk School Board | Polk County Commission | Circuit Judge | Other Local

ALSO: Polk results | Florida results

In Polk, 247,043 people voted, a turnout of 59.2 percent. Statewide, the turnout was 62 percent.

U.S. House


✓ Ross Spano, R: 151,063
Kristen Carlson, D: 133,686

The District 15 matchup between Carlson and Spano caught national attention as Democrats saw an opportunity to flip a reliably Republican seat after incumbent Dennis Ross of Lakeland announced he would retire.

The district is largely split between northwest Polk, including most of Lakeland, and east Hillsborough, with a small portion in south Lake County. (See a map.)

Carlson, who received support from Emily’s List and other political action funds, ran as a centrist. She raised $1.3 million, compared with $588,000 for Spano.

ALSO: Tampa Bay Times | The Ledger


✓ Greg Steybe, R: 193,013
Allen L. Ellison, D: 113,777

Parts of Lakeland south of County Road 540A and Shepherd Road are in U.S. House District 17, where incumbent Tom Rooney, a Republican, decided not to seek re-election.

Republican Greg Steube defeated Democrat Allen L. Ellison, who was chosen by the Florida Democratic Party to run for the seat just a month ago after the sudden death of April Freeman, who had won the nomination in the August primary.

ALSO: The Ledger

Florida Senate

District 22

✓ Kelli Stargel, R: 105,489
Bob Doyel, D: 94,168

Democrats saw in retired Circuit Judge Doyel a strong candidate with a compelling back story who might be able to wrest the District 22 seat (district map) from Stargel, who was elected to it six years ago after four years in the Florida House.

Stargel raised nearly $563,000, much of it from political action committees, while Doyel raised about $271,000. This is the last Senate term she is eligible for.

ALSO: Florida Politics | The Ledger

District 20

✓ Tom Lee, R: 100,812
Kathy Lewis, D: 87,595

While most of Lakeland is in District 22, some parts of the city north of I-4 are in District 20, a Hillsborough-dominated district (map) represented by Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican. He defeated Democrat Kathy Lewis.

Florida House

District 40

✓ Colleen Burton, R: 33,716
Shandale Terrell, D: 24,757

District 39

✓ Josie Tomkow, R: 38,848
Ricky Shirah, D: 27,536

District 56

✓ Melony Bell, R: 33,361
Jeff Mann, R: 11,401

Two races in Lakeland-area House districts bring a sense of deja vu:

  • District 40 candidates Colleen Burton, the incumbent, and Shandale Terrell faced each other in 2016.
  • In District 39, incumbent Josie Tomkow faced challenger Ricky Shirah in a special election earlier this year.

Most of Lakeland is part of Florida House of Representatives District 40 (map). Parts of north and east Lakeland are in the largely rural District 39 (map), and suburban neighborhoods south of Ewell Road and CR 540A are in the multi-county District 56 (map).

In the District 56 race, former County Commissioner Melony Bell defeated business owner Jeff Mann to replace Ben Albritton of Wauchula, who defeated Catherine Price of Lake Wales for a Florida Senate seat today after reaching term limits in the House.

ALSO: The Ledger

Polk School Board

District 3, non-partisan

✓ Sarah Fortney: 120,051
Scott Jones: 77,451

District 5, non-partisan

✓ Kay Fields: 105,006
Jennifer Sabin: 96,075

Fields, a 16-year incumbent, faced a challenge from Jennifer Sabin, a former classroom teacher who has been an outspoken critic of mandatory standardized testing. She promised to bring an activist approach to the School Board and portrayed Fields as reluctant to question administrators.

Likewise, candidate Sarah Fortney, a longtime Polk public school teacher, promised an activist style. Opponent Scott Jones, a Publix store manager, promised to bring business savvy and an ability to solve problems with a wide variety of personality types.

Both of those races were runoffs since no candidates in the initial August balloting won a majority. One School Board race that was settled in August was the District 7 seat, where former teacher and exceptional-eduction activist Lisa Miller won.

So score two new School Board seats for candidates who ran as reformers: Fortney and Miller.

School Board members represent a geographic district, but are elected in countywide, non-partisan voting.

ALSO: The Ledger

Polk County Commission

District 4

✓ Martha Santiago, R: 136,720
Karen Cooper Welzel, D: 97,748

In District 4, Republican Martha Santiago, provost at Polk State College, faced Democrat Karen Cooper Welzel to replace Todd Dantzler, who reached his maximum years on the commission. This was Santiago’s third run for a County Commission seat.

Rick Wilson won the District 2 seat in August. He assumed the seat early since Melony Bell resigned to focus her attention on her Florida House race.

While county commissioners represent a geographic district, they are elected in countywide balloting.

ALSO: The Ledger

Circuit Judge

Seat 10

✓ Melissa Gravitt: 152,733
Keith Merritt: 83,615

Former prosecutor Melissa Gravitt faced Keith Merritt, a former Lakeland city commissioner who practices civil law, for the Seat 10 spot on the three-county court.

ALSO: The Ledger

Other Local

Polk Soil and Water Conservation District, Group 2, non-partisan

✓ Joe Garrison: 101,082
Greg Williams: 85,634

Polk Soil and Water Conservation District, Group 3, non-partisan

✓ Kyle Carlton: 143,888
OnDrew Hartigan: 42,563

Half-Cent Sales Tax for School Construction

✓ Yes: 157,977
No: 72,722

ALSO: The Ledger

Polk County Efficiency Commission

Yes: 112,044
✓ No: 99,626 (60% needed to pass)

Term Limits

✓ Yes: 164,730
No: 58,696

Charter Review Reform

Yes: 105,860
✓ No: 108,265

ALSO: The Ledger


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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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