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Sayfie Review Featured Column



By Kathryn DePalo-Gould, PhD, Florida International University

And Alexander Anacki, BA, Florida International University



In 1992, Florida voters amended the state constitution to enact term limits, including on the state legislature. The “Eight is Enough” campaign limited state House and Senate members to eight years beginning in 2000. Nearly 77% of Florida’s voters supported the ballot initiative, making Florida one of fifteen states with voter-approved term limits.

Term limits took effect in Florida during a period of transition in Florida politics, as Tallahassee was pivoting from long-standing Democratic dominance to Republican control by the mid-to-late 1990s. Many veteran legislators began leaving office for other elective opportunities while others were voted out during the partisan shift. Those who remained and served a full 8 years (or more) were now forced out with the 2000 election.

In the two decades following implementation, term limits have successfully restricted the ability of Florida’s state legislators to remain in their own seats indefinitely and build a long-term career in the state legislature. Still, legislators remain politically ambitious. Where do these politicians go? We now have two decades of data in Florida to assess.


The Data

The dataset includes 494 members of the Florida legislature elected or re-elected between 1998 and 2018 who subsequently left office during this 20-year period beginning with the 2000 election through the 2020 general election. We followed their next career move(s), including      those who ran for either higher or local office following their tenure, those who accepted executive appointments, and finally, those who registered as lobbyists. A total of 82 of these members were successfully re-elected to the state legislature, mainly through election from the House to the Senate, and we count these as separate units, unless otherwise noted.

The intention in analyzing this data is to identify patterns in where and when members will run for political office when leaving the House and Senate chambers. We posit that members exiting the legislature will continue to run for other elected positions, both for higher office and local office. In addition, members will exit the legislature before they are term-limited to run for other elective opportunities. We also assess demographic differences among those who decide to first run for higher or local office and whether they are successful in winning these offices. Lastly, we examine members who make multiple runs for political office.




Table 1: Post-Legislative Career Decisions






# Members exited legislature post-term limits






Resigned to run for other elective office



Ran for higher office*



Ran for local office



Appointed to government office



Registered lobbyists



Ran for House again



Re-elected to House



Ran for Senate again



Re-elected to Senate



Average years of experience

6.5 years

8.5 years

Average tenure when resigned to run

4.7 years

5.8 years

*Sig. at .01 level.

According to Table 1, in both the House and the Senate, around half of legislators elected in 1998 or later completed their full terms in the legislature. In the House, this amounts to 48.5% of its ranks; in the Senate, it is 55.8 percent.

For those exiting the House of Representatives, our research found that a majority sought political office after their term with 47.8% running for higher office and 24.8% running for local office. A small percentage (8.6%) sought a return to the House, although just 43.6% were successful. In addition, 15.4% of former House members became registered lobbyists at some point in their post-House career, most at the state level, while 6.6% accepted governmental appointments. For most of these former members, the House — even with 8 years or less of service — provided an opportunity to develop one’s political network, fundraising capacity, and legislative background.

Also significant in the House data is the average tenure of legislators who resigned to run for another office at just 4.7 years, or around 2.5 terms out of the four possible. Legislators with continuing political ambition must remain privy to upcoming political opportunities, including open seats and vulnerable incumbents. If an option to run for a more desirable, secure, or stable position presents itself, legislators will leave the House.

For those exiting the Senate, members are term-limited at a higher rate than those in the House and consequently are less likely to resign to run for another office. Of those who sought political office after the Senate, 25.8% ran for local office and 33.6% ran for higher office. Only 5.8% sought a return to the Senate with a success rate of 57.1 percent. While a smaller percentage of ex-Senators seek a return to the Senate following loss, resignation, or term limits when compared to former House members, they are more successful in seeking their old office.

Additionally, Senate members have a similar rate of running for local office, but a much lower percentage of individuals who run for higher office. Those state Senators with ambition for higher office have less electoral opportunities at the statewide and federal level than former state House members who seek higher office in the state Senate. This is also the only statistically significant difference we find between members of both chambers. We do find more former Senators becoming lobbyists and taking government appointments than in the House at 19.2% and 10.4%, respectively.

One last comparison of consequence to the legislative process is the average tenure of House members with 6.5 years and Senate members with two additional years of experience within their own chamber at 8.5 years. Most Senate members also have House experience so the advantage to the “upper chamber” with institutional and procedural knowledge is certainly a factor here.


Figure 1: Candidacies and Winning Percentage for Higher Office

*Sig. at .000 level.


Higher office is often the goal for career-minded politicians. Figure 1 assesses those who decided to make their next run for higher political office. Among former House members who ran for higher office, most (71.6%) ran for state Senate and most (79.3%) ran immediately at the end of their term. This finding is not surprising given that open Senate seats are less common than the House with Senators serving 4-year terms instead of two. Given the similar job description, location, and policy interests, candidacy for the state Senate makes sense for Representatives in pursuit of upward career mobility. The next-most-popular option, running for U.S. House, was chosen by just 19.7% of exiting House members. Members of Congress are not subject to term limits and often get re-elected at high rates, so fewer opportunities present themselves in congress to those seeking to continue in elected office.

In terms of success, ex-Representatives were most successful when running for state Senate, with a success rate of 58.1 percent. The next-highest success rate is for the U.S. Senate at 33.3%, though only three former House members ran for the U.S. Senate and only one was successful (Marco Rubio, who was previously Speaker of the Florida House). Candidates for the U.S. House were successful less than a third of the time at 30.2% and candidates for statewide executive offices were successful only 25% of the time.

Among former Senators who ran for higher office, most (77.5%) ran immediately after leaving office. Running for the U.S. House was the most popular option at 45%, followed by 42.5% opting to run for statewide executive office. Lastly, returning to the state Senate was pursued by just 10% of ex-Senators. In order to run for the Senate again as their first campaign for political office following the Senate term, necessitates a waiting period and is not a more attractive option than running for any other elective position.

In terms of success, former Senators were most successful when running for the U.S. House, with a 55.6% success rate. Given that state Senate districts are closer in size to Florida’s U.S. House districts (compared to state House districts) this rate of success is not surprising. With the political experience and often-similar constituencies held by Senators, ascension to the U.S. House follows a natural progression, particularly given that most Senate members were previously state House members. Former senators were not successful in returning to the Senate, with only a 25% success rate. Because they had to wait to run again for the Senate, many find it difficult to recreate their campaign apparatus after a hiatus and be seen as a viable candidate. Much like their House counterparts, Senators have encountered difficulty in getting elected to statewide office.

We do find a significant difference between what political campaign for higher office House and Senate members choose next. House members overwhelmingly run for the state Senate while exiting Senate members do not have that ability unless they undertake a waiting period. Most members wish to run immediately for office when their term ends as Figure 1 demonstrates.


Table 2: Member Decisions to Run for Higher Elective Office by Demographics



Ran for Higher Office

Elected/Appointed to Higher Office













White (non-Hispanic)









Previous Local Office (before entering Legislature)



No Previous Local Office (before entering Legislature)



*Sig. at .05 level.

** Sig. at .01 level.


According to Table 2, we find statistically significant differences among those who ran for higher office upon leaving the Legislature by gender and whether they held previous local office before entering the Legislature. Women (54.7%) are more likely to run for higher office than men (43.5%). Those with no previous local office experience prior to their entry in the Legislature (51.1%) are more likely to run for higher office than those with previous elective experience (36.3%).  We did not find any statistically significant differences with respect to race and ethnicity in decisions to run for higher office and no difference in success rates.

In terms of candidacy for higher office following legislative service, we did not find statistically significant differences by party affiliation. However, we find that Republicans are more likely to win election to higher office than Democrats, which is statistically significant and may owe to the Republican tilt of Florida’s delegation to Congress, state executive offices, and the state Senate. Republicans have a success rate for winning higher office a majority of the time at 54.8% while Democrats tend to fall short with only a 38.5% success rate.



Figure 2: Candidacies and Winning Percentage for Local Office


While seeking higher office is attractive, attaining higher office is often more elusive with smaller numbers of positions to run for and more competition for these coveted seats. Local office is often higher paying, more powerful, and more stable when compared to the role of a state legislator. With these factors in mind, coming home to serve in local office can be a more attractive option.

According to Figure 2, among former representatives who ran for local office following their tenure in the House, running for County Commission was the most popular local option at 32.7%, followed by County Constitutional Officer at 22.1% (Property Appraiser, Supervisor of Elections, Tax Collector) and even a return to the state House (13.3%). Of these former House members running first for local office, 57.5% ran immediately, either resigning to run or in the first cycle possible upon being term-limited.

Former representatives have a success rate above 50% in all local elected positions analyzed except for those seeking a return to the state House, where their success rate is 40 percent. Former representatives were most successful as candidates for judicial positions (83.3% success rate), City Commission and City/County Mayor (66.7%), and County Constitutional Officer (64%).

Among former Senators seeking local office following their tenure in the Senate, running for County Commission was the most popular option at 35.5%, followed by County Constitutional Officer at 25.8%, and the state House at 19.4 percent. Of former Senators running for local office, 67.7% ran immediately after leaving office.

Former Senators have a success rate above 63.6% for all positions except for City/County Mayor, where they have a 0% success rate in getting elected. Former Senators were most successful as candidates for state House (80%), followed by County Constitutional Officer (66.7%) and County Commission (63.6%).

Given that the sample size of ex-Senators seeking local office is significantly smaller than ex-Representatives (31 versus 113) it is difficult to compare the two — for example, in 20 years just one former Senator each ran for City Commission, School Board/Superintendent, or a judicial position. However, there are still some notable pieces of data. Ex-Senators have a very high rate of success in candidacy for the Florida House — 80%, compared to 40% for ex-Representatives. While this percentage represents just five former Senators, their success is not difficult to fathom. The percentage of Senate members who previously served in the House was around 90% for much of the 2000s and 2010s. Consequently, former senators continued to have name recognition in their House districts, despite redistricting. The same does not hold for former House members who just have a 40% success rate in returning to the House. One possible reason that appeared repeatedly in our research was that former members who lost reelection or were term-limited in the House tended to run in different districts, either by choice or through redistricting, and did not have advantages such as name recognition or previous voter support in the “new” district. 


Table 3: Member Decisions to Run for Local Elective Office by Demographics




Ran for Local Office

Elected/Appointed to Local Office













White (non-Hispanic)









Previous Local Office (before entering Legislature)



No Previous Local Office (before entering Legislature)



*Sig. at .05 level.

**Sig. at .10 level.


         As evidenced in Table 3, in terms of those who decided to run for local office as their first election after the Legislature, we only find significant differences by political party and whether they held previous local office before entering the Legislature. Democrats are more likely to run for local office than Republicans, likely because Democrats have a more difficult track record at higher office than going home to “safer” Democratic local areas to continue their political careers in elected office. Also, those who held local office previously were more likely to return home and run for local office again. In terms of candidacy for local office during or following legislative service, we did not find statistically significant differences by gender or race/ethnicity. Additionally, we find that women are more likely to win local office than men, which is statistically significant, but not with any other demographic factor.


Table 4: Multiple Campaigns for Elective Office



Success Rate

Second Run



Local Office



State Legislature



Higher Office



Third Run



Fourth Run



Fifth Run



**Sig. at .10 level.


As displayed in Table 4, just over 26% ran for a second political office with a 46.5% success rate. We did find statistically significant differences in the type of office they ran for with a majority opting to run for local office. There are slightly smaller numbers of people who ran for elected office three times or more. Clearly, those exiting the Legislature over the last twenty years have continued to pursue political careers in this term-limited environment.


While these legislators were restricted from seeking immediate re-election to their seats, this does not necessarily signal that they were content with a permanent departure from political involvement — most were not. Some legislators chose to run for higher office, while others ran for local office; some became lobbyists, while others received gubernatorial or mayoral appointments. The next phase in a term-limited legislator’s career could come in the first cycle when they are no longer eligible to run for re-election. For some, it would come years later, perhaps after a series of fits and starts and unsuccessful campaigns. While our analysis includes those who recently left as of the 2020 election, it is entirely possible that a higher percentage will run for another political office in the future if they did not run for an office in 2020 immediately, and there are certainly signs pointing in that direction. Evidence from Florida shows that term limits have not ended the careers of elected officials, but have, instead, created a game of “musical chairs” where termed-out legislators run for both higher and local office.