While leadership positions come in many forms -- Committee Chairs, Majority Leader, Speaker Pro Tempore, etc. -- the most highly sought after position resides in the House of Representatives. Arguably the second most powerful position in the state, the Speaker of the House is a post that not only wields incredible power, it also serves as beacon that will guide the party's agenda for years to come.
From enacting legislation to determining whether or not a bill will see the light of day, the House Speaker is a vital role that can inevitably alter that ideological path the state is on. The position also serves as a launching pad, often promoting those in power to the national level of politics.
In many ways, who the incoming class selects to lead their party is as important as any election that gets covered by the mainstream news. Like Game of Thrones, there is an ongoing narrative revolving around occupying House Speakership that is being woven behind the scenes.
While the speakership is likely locked up for a few years to come, determining who the next prospect to lead conservatives is already underway. With that said, we take a look at the 2024 House Speaker race, and breakdown the long contest ahead.
The task of rising through Florida's political hierarchy is much easier said than done. For some, it takes a can-do attitude and a lot of elbow grease to climb to the top of Florida's food chain. A good example of this is Richard Corcorcan. Known as the Machiavelli of Tallahassee, Corcoran essentially played chess in the House, rising from Representative to Speaker in no time.
While Corcoran remains the anomaly for how to position oneself for a future leadership role, most incoming freshmen who rise to the top do so as a product of good timing.
Much like shares that can be bought and traded on the open market, political equity in Florida politics can be purchased -- especially if you have the trial lawyers on your side. While Republican leadership does a good job not getting involved in closed-door politics, one can make a convincing argument that winning a special election has its perks. More often than not, these off-year candidates in the Sunshine State are more likely to be put in a future leadership position.
This is mostly true on the House side, where the advantage of being a "redshirt freshman" -- elected during a special election -- comes into play. Redshirt Republicans have two important advantages: they assume office sooner, and are able to make connections faster. This edge is a game changer in terms of establishing political clout. These "early to the party" lawmakers have more time to spend in Tallahassee, which leads to more connections that can help them get their foot in the door. On top of that, these early relationships are malleable, which if leveraged correctly, can lead to an increase in fundraising that can be used to bankroll future endeavors.
This is where Rep. Daniel Perez comes in the picture. A redshirt elected during the 2017 special election, Perez is the stereotypical candidate to fill the desirable role in 2024. His special election victory on September 26th, 2017 gave him a massive head start over his colleagues who assumed office after winning in November of 2018.
Need proof on the advantage?
Aside from Corcoan , assuming nothing changes and Perez gets the votes, three of the last four legislators up for speakership would be redshirt freshmen -- Current House Speaker Rep. Jose Oliva, Future 2022 Speaker Rep. Paul Renner, and Perez (if he holds the slim lead).
With his special election victory, Perez had the luxury of benefiting from early fundraising. With more money in his coffer, Perez was able to get ahead, making him favorable to lobbyists looking to influence the next leader. To date, his PAC's contributions have totaled nearly $700,000.
On top of that, beefing up his war chest allowed Perez and his campaign to support other incoming freshmen candidates that were still running in 2018. On the expenditures page from his PAC, Perez donated to numerous freshmen legislators who will eventually cast a vote for either Robinson or Perez. The candidates receiving money from Perez: Rep. Mike Caruso, Rep. Nick DiCegile, Rep. Wyman Duggan, Rep. Anthony Rodriguez, Rep. Spencer Roach, Rep. Ardian Zika, and more. All of these contributions were made before the 2018 elections. According to members close to the vote, all six are in Perez's corner.
In a contest where the winner is separated by one vote, every little contribution counts.
A Republican from Bradenton, Rep. Will Robinson is looking to buck the trend and prove that hard work and conservative values can lead the state of Florida. Elected in 2018, Robinson came in with the rest of his conservative counterparts, and in a few short months, he quickly earned the respect and admiration from his fellow Republicans.
While most speaker races would already have a clear favorite at this juncture of the race, the race to lead in 2024 is just getting started. Robinson has a solid 12 members of his class on his side, and that number could rise (more on that soon). What's surprising about Robinson's support is not the actual number, but the fact that all 12 freshmen are committed to him. Reaching out to numerous lawmakers in his camp, it became evidently clear that none of them have any intention of breaking rank.
On top of earning the respect from his class, Robinson is also popular among other top-tier officials. He received endorsements during his 2018 campaign from Senate President Bill Galvano, Republican Party Chairman Joe Gruters, and former Florida House Representative Jim Boyd. In addition to the solid endorsements, Robinson received some credible praise from Gruters in an article by the Herald Tribune. According to the piece,
Gruters said Robinson would “be an incredible House speaker.”
“He has so many positive attributes across the board he’s like a straight-A student but he’s a straight-A individual in life,” Gruters told the Herald Tribune back in May.
Aside from public servants showing their support for Robinson, he is also highly respected by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, receiving an endorsement from the organization that advocates for private businesses.
With a solid conservative foundation under him, the Manatee County legislator is looking to bring his fiscal conservative approach to the monumental role. Robinson came in to the legislature last year with a wealth of experience under his belt. Serving as an attorney in the county he grew up in, Robinson stays involved in his local community. He currently serves on the the Manatee Chamber Board of Directors and formerly served as the Chair of Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee.
Robinson's experience and leadership is renown throughout his home county. Former Senate President John McKay spoke inclusively on the record, echoing other legislator's sentiments regarding Robinson's ability to protect Florida's conservative values.
"Will grew up with my oldest daughter, so I've known he is responsible and very well grounded. He has always shown a maturity beyond his years, and I'm sure he will serve the state well in whatever role he purses," McKay told RoundTable Politics.
Back in March, Florida Politics made a bold prediction: they labeled Perez as the "front-runner" for the 2024-2026 House Speakership, This premature article, in many ways, was less of a insider piece predicated on the inner workings behind-the-scenes, and more of a prediction piece used to prop up Perez before the actual race ever took shape.
The article outlined Perez and his chances of succeeding Rep. Paul Renner as Speaker of the House in 2024, going on-record to say "Perez has 13 members firmly in his corner and could have up to 15 backers." The votes are comprised of the 27 first-term Republicans in the House.
Surprisingly, that vote total was correct -- at the time. But as stated, this article was an early forecast, and those numbers have shifted within the last week.
Another gem came from Florida Politics last week, when they broke the story that Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez was “definitely considering” a run for the Senate District 39 seat when it opens in 2020. That seat, currently held by Sen. Antiere Flores, is term-limited.
SD 39 covers Monroe County and parts of Miami-Dade County. Like most South Florida seats, SD 39 is foreign real estate for conservatives. The area is typically considered a Democratic stronghold, and any GOP candidate running for the seat is already facing an uphill battle.
In order to combat this liberal safe haven, Republicans are tapping Rodriguez to succeed Flores, given her Cuban descent and political interest in South Florida. Her professional career includes a stint with the Doral City Council, where she served eight years. On top of that, she's been honored with multiple awards, including the Public Service Award by the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Humanitarian of the Year by the March of Dimes and the Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award.
Given her heritage, connections to South Florida and initial statement, it's safe to assume that Rodriguez is the favorite to run for the open seat. Right?
Most legislators we reached out to agree that Rodriguez running is inevitable. If that's the case, then her absence in the House will have a ripple effect that could influence a race that is currently ongoing underground.
And here lies the problem with the article put out last week by Florida Politics. While Peter Schorsch and company pride themselves on being Florida's insider news source, it's surprising that the "fact-based" outlet chose to omit the biggest story that stems from Rodriguez's potential Senate bid: how her departure from the House impacts the 2024 House Speaker race.
While most legislators speculate that Perez holds a 15 to 12 advantage over Robinson for the speakership, a Rodriguez exit throws a wrench into the process.
With Rodriguez gone, Perez's lead over Robinson shrinks to 14-12. In terms of close House Speaker races, this is as close as you get. While Perez and company will look to close this thing out by June 30th, a one vote lead as a redshirt is a scary position to be in. All it takes is one legislator flipping, and a domino effect could lead to a potential collapse for Perez and his supporters.
But why would anyone switch sides?
Unlike previous speakership elections, the 2024 vote has so much more at stake. Other than deciding who leads the Republican Party after the Trump phenomena comes to a close, those voting must side with the winner or risk losing out on a desirable leadership position. This is because incoming freshmen classes tend to be much smaller. As mentioned earlier, the 2018 class embroiled in this political process consists of 27 members. With such a large class, it'll be impossible to hand out leadership roles to members of voted for the other candidate.
In many ways, it's like going all-in after the turn with your odds being 5 or less.
To put it simply: side with the right guy, or condemn yourself to political purgatory.
The Swing Vote
Sources close to the race believe anyone could jump ship from Perez's camp. While any of the 14 could change their minds, most agree that Rep. James Buchanan may be the deciding vote.
Buchanan, who represents the state's 74th House District, is the son of U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan. He was elected in 2018, and was sworn in the same day as Robinson. Naturally, both Robinson and Buchanan are close, with both representing districts that include parts of Sarasota County.
Even with the overlap, insiders close to the process place Buchanan on team Perez. It's a startling inclusion for someone who shares similar interests with Robinson. In truth, it's unusual for local delegation to not support each other. Sharing similar agendas regarding the region they serve, one would assume that Buchanan would stand behind Robinson.
Buchanan not supporting Robinson surprised many, including the head of Florida's Republican Party.
“From a delegation standpoint we’re all major winners when we have a leader in the delegation,” Gruters said in the Herald Tribune article from this earlier this year.
The tug of war between Robinson and Perez on Buchanan's pivotal vote also surprised McKay, with the former Senate leader and Bradenton real estate investor saying he would be surprised if Buchanan didn't side with his own delegation.
"Yes, I would be very surprised. I know the Buchanan family, and know them to be wonderful people that are committed to the betterment of Southwest Florida," McKay said when asked if Buchanan siding with Perez would surprise him.
Those adjacent to the affair are convinced that Buchanan is the decisive vote, although the Sarasota Republican tells people that he's not. But with Rodriguez undoubtedly on the move, Buchanan's defense falls apart.
Without question, Buchanan can make or break this election. With so much on the line, all eyes will be watching to see if Buchanan sides with his teammate from the Sarasota area.
While none of the votes are officially set in stone, those we reached out to agree that the vote is razor-thin. So thin, in fact, that most agree that this election will not come to a close on the June 30th. For that reason, it is safe to assume that this short battle will function more as a long-lasting proxy war between Robinson's experienced team, and Perez's younger outfit.
With the proposed rules for the Republican Conference being vague, there is no official timetable for this contest to end. Robinson and Perez are years away from having to decide who will lead the Republican Party, so don't expect a resolution to come this year.
Furthermore, future Republican leaders are not speaker designated. Rep. Chris Sprowls and Renner are not officially confirmed, meaning anything could still happen.
It's asinine to think that Robinson and Perez are in a race against time. What seems like a race is really more like a marathon. Determining who will represent the interests of the Republican party in 2024 will be a Sisyphean task. With the tide turning in the race between Robinson and Perez, don't be surprised if this election goes the distance.