Secret balloting was cause of latest Speaker’s race rift
Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, answers questions on his Economic Programs bill which funds Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, on the floor of the House of Representatives Thursday, June 8, 2017 at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. (Photo by Phil Sears)

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With special session firmly in the rearview mirror, the 27 freshmen Republican members of the Florida House are quickly turning their attention to selecting one of their own to serve as Speaker, beginning in 2022.

Even during the special session — where the budget, key education policies and implementation of a medical marijuana amendment were decided — the question of who will hold the Speaker’s post was a hot topic.

All five of the announced candidates for the position – Rep. Byron Donalds, Randy Fine, Erin Grall, James W. Grant, Paul Renner – met Wednesday in Grant’s office to discuss the latest wrinkle roiling the internecine feud. At issue: whether the voting for Speaker, tentatively scheduled for June 30 (although even that has become an issue), would be conducted via secret ballot or not.

According to those present at the Wednesday meeting and subsequent emails within the freshman caucus, all five candidates agreed that secret balloting was the way to go.

However, enough happened Thursday and/or Friday that both Grant and Renner felt it necessary to email their colleagues Sunday to reiterate their commitment to secret balloting.

“Over the course of the last few days it seemed that we might not have a vote for speaker,” Rep. Ralph Massullo wrote to his colleagues Saturday evening, apparently in response to rumors swirling through the caucus that one candidate had locked up enough pledges so as to make voting, secret or otherwise, unnecessary.

Massullo, who along with Rep. Mike Grant has helped shepherd the rule-making process for this Speaker’s race, said he believed a “consensus” had developed within the class for a secret ballot “as the mechanism to elect our speaker.”

So what happened?

With the 27 members of the class all in one place at one time, undoubtedly some of the lieutenants from the various camps privately made the case for their captains to other unaligned members. Part of making that case is convincing a member that they could be left behind if they don’t join the winning side early enough.

An email from Grant confirms something was going on.

“When what is agreed to in front of the group and what happens in one-off or private conversations contradict, it obviously creates confusion and concern,” Grant wrote Sunday morning.

Grant’s team will tell you that Renner’s camp doesn’t want a secret ballot so that his allied consultants, fundraisers and lobbyists can exert pressure on undecided members.

Renner’s camp will tell you that Team Grant doesn’t want a secret ballot so that current House leadership — Speaker Richard Corcoran, Speaker-designate Jose Oliva, and Speaker-to-be Chris Sprowls — can exert pressure on undecided members.

Both Grant’s and Renner’s camps will tell you that Donalds and Grall want a secret ballot because they don’t want others knowing how few votes they receive on the first ballot.

What’s important is who DOES want a secret ballot. Foremost are the semi-independent members who don’t want to get caught up in a pledge card system.

And since winning these swing votes is key to winning the Speaker’s post, both Grant and Renner on Sunday wrote to their colleagues reiterating their commitment to a secret ballot.

“Each of the declared candidates met together during last week’s special session and reaffirmed our commitment to have a vote for our class leader through a secret ballot,” Renner wrote Sunday morning.

Grant wrote later, “Should you be told anything to the contrary and so that there is no confusion on my position, I wanted each of you to have, in writing, my continued commitment to support a vote by secret ballot.”

According to the inter-class emails, Massullo and Grant, “are going to secure a location in Orlando for June 30, 2017 where those who wish to attend can vote in person. Those who cannot attend will be able to cast their votes by some direct communication to either Larry Metz or Ray Rodrigues.”

Still left to be decided is how the class will “execute subsequent votes if one candidate fails to get a majority on the first round.”

As one member wrote in an email to their colleagues, “no one could ever say that serving in the FL House is easy.”

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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