The tumultuous, ultra-insider-y race to be speaker of the Florida House during the 2021-22 legislative sessions took another interesting turn Tuesday as Rep. Brad Drake confirmed to Florida Politics that he has withdrawn his pledge to support to Rep. Eric Eisnaugle.
In de-pledging to Eisnaugle, once the unanimous choice of his classmates in the House to lead them, Drake becomes the first Republican from North Florida — and not the Tampa Bay region where much of the resistance to Eisnaugle’s leadership originates — to take back his commitment to the Orlando-area Republican.
Drake, from the Panhandle town of Eucheeanna, said “there are a lot of people talking about reforming the process (by which a caucus selects its speaker and speaker designate) and I agree with them.”
Asked whether he has depledge to Eisnaugle, Drake replied, “Yes.”
Asked specifically what “reforming the process” entails, Drake said he thinks House members deserve more time when considering who will eventually lead them. The intraparty races to become speaker now begin well before candidates win their first election to the House. Those who hope to become speaker must travel the state to campaign for their future colleagues, all while raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to support their allies.
Eisnaugle was first identified as the likely speaker of his class when in the fall of 2014 several of his allies won primary elections over a slate of candidates reportedly aligned with Pinellas’ Chris Sprowls.
Eisnaugle is an Orlando lawyer who served the first time in the Florida House from 2008 to 2012. He resigned to avoid running against fellow Republican Steve Precourt after redistricting placed them in the same district.
Despite his experience — or, as some have suggested, because of it — Eisnaugle’s path to the rostrum took a wrong turn during the 2015 Legislative Session.
In April, while members were on the House floor, several legislators confronted Eisnaugle. A band of freshmen lawmakers — including Mike Hill, Danny Burgess, Blaise Ingoglia, Chris Latvala, Sprowls, Jennifer Sullivan, and Jay Trumbull — met with Eisnaugle and one of his lieutenants, Scott Plakon, to express their frustration with the process by which the caucus chooses its future leader.
By the end of the meeting, Eisnaugle’s support within the GOP caucus had been halved.
Eisnaugle supporters had been saying that he had the pledges of 17 or 18 of 19 of his fellow freshmen (Hill being the only member of the class who has not signed a pledge card, while its not clear whether Jay Fant actually signed a pledge card). With Drake, Bryan Avila, and the freshmen listed above, the faction not supporting Eisnaugle stands at nine members. Eisnaugle still also has nine commitments, probably 10 if you count the difficult-to-pin-down Fant.
If you are keeping score at home, its Eisnaugle 9, Not Eisnaugle 9, and unsure 1.
Eisnaugle’s supporters contend that not only is he still the leading candidate in his class, he has the majority of the class ahead of him and at least two out of three of the “redshirt freshmen,” including Paul Renner and Cyndi Stevenson.
Opponents of Eisnaugle say that just the fact that he is depending on the votes of the class ahead of him is proof that the system needs to be reformed.
“Everyone is just talk, talk, talk, talk,” Drake said. “Now is the time to do something.”