Running for Speaker of the Florida House

Today’s St. Petersburg Times has a story about newly-elected State Representative Will Weatherford‘s (R-Wesley Chapel) internal campaign for speaker for the 2012-2014 biennium. Having met Will on several occasions, I can say that he will make a great speaker.

It may seem strange to be campaigning for a leadership position more than six years away; it is a product of both term limits and the system both parties use for elections. Consider this:

State Representatives are limited to eight years in office. [The actual language says that a representative’s name can not appear on the ballot “if, by the end of the current term of office, the person will have served (or, but for resignation, would have served) in that office for eight consecutive years.”]

Generally speaking, Representatives serve as Speaker in their fourth term.

Prior to that, they serve as Speaker-designate.  Speaker-designates are responsible for helping elect members of their party in the election year immediately preceding their term as Speaker. So for the two years during their third term as a represenative, the Speaker-designates coordinate fundraising, candidate recruitment, field operations, and other party support.

Thus, a representative technically has until the end of his or her second term in office to obtain the Speaker-desgination.  However, in the past, when there are two or more representatives seeking the desgination, they can work against each other during the primary election; they recruit candidates who will support their designation and oppose the designation of their opponents.  This has produced some interesting events in the past, but generally both parties seek to avoid such internal bitterness.

So, to prevent campaigns for speaker from spilling over into elections, it has become a tradition to obtain the designation as early as possible.  Preferable during the first term of those who seek to be Speaker.

The Times reported:

Current Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, claimed the job after four years in Tallahassee. His presumed successor, Ray Sansom of Destin, secured the votes within three years. And Orlando’s Dean Cannon, who is slated to take over in 2010, locked up the pledges after eight months.

Some may recall that Weatherford was selected by the Republican Party to replace former State Representative Ken Littlefield on the ballot. Prior to the general election, Littlefield had resigned his position and withdrew from re-election when former Governor Jeb Bush nominated him for a position on the Public Service Commission. Thus, Weatherford could be designated as speaker without his name ever appearing on the ballot.

Sometimes interesting things that happen behind the scenes in Tallahassee.

About Jim Johnson

Editor and publisher of The State of Sunshine.
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