Rep. Paul Renner has won the support of his Republican classmates, grabbing the title of class leader and likely House Speaker beginning in 2022.
The GOP freshmen class met in Orlando on Friday to vote on their class leader. The much-anticipated election pitted Renner against Byron Donalds, Erin Grall and Jamie Grant, who was seen as Renner’s main competition.
Both Renner and Grant had been elected in a special election to a partial term before the general election last year. Renner was first elected in a special election in 2015.
Renner won on the first ballot of voting after nearly two hours of deliberations and speeches. The final tally was 16 votes for Renner — two more than needed to win — 9 for Grant, and one vote each for Donalds and Grall.
A retired commander in the U.S. Navy, Renner served in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm and in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
His redshirt status in the Legislature gives him a slight leg up over many of the other members of his class. And that experience came through during the 2017 Legislative Session, especially as he carried two bills that were top priorities for House leadership.
Renner sponsored legislation that would have eliminated Enterprise Florida and associated economic development programs. He also carried a bill that, among other things, put accountability measures in place at Visit Florida and slashed the tourism marketing agency’s budget. Both bills were top priorities for House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
If Republicans maintain a majority in the House through 2022, and Renner keeps his seat, he will most likely become speaker, following current Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes; Rep. Jose Oliva of Miami Lakes; and Rep. Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor.
Corcoran took to Twitter to praise his future successor: “Congratulations to @Paul_Renner. & 2 @JamesGrantFL , @ByronDonalds & @ErinGrall respect for entering the arena. U r all a credit 2 the House.”
Unlike traditional Speaker races, the class agreed to hold a vote by election, coordinated by Rep. Larry Metz and House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, by secret ballot.
The election was the first one under new rules aimed to end the front-loaded process in the House; candidates frequently campaigned for the position before they even won their House seats. The new rules, championed by Corcoran, prohibit lawmakers from getting support for the Speaker position until after a class has served its first session together.
The rules required all 27 members to participate in selecting a class leader, discouraged members from making election day declarations about who they supported, and prohibited discussion between members between the announcement of the eliminated candidate and the next vote.
Renner’s leading competitors in the race fell quickly in line behind their new leader.
“I am confident he will do an outstanding job in the role, and I look forward to working with him,” Donalds said in a statement Friday. “Now that this election is behind us, let’s look forward to working together to put conservative policies in place that will create jobs and a brighter future for all Floridians.”
Grant also tweeted his well-wishes. “I look forward to working with the class for the people of Florida!” he wrote.
Renner is the first speaker from Northeast Florida since John Thrasher of Jacksonville, who served after the 1998 elections.
Jim King was the last regional leader of either legislative chamber, who served as Senate president after the 2002 elections. King died in 2009.