For Paul Renner, the path to winning Friday’s 2022 Florida House Speaker election in Orlando — with 16 votes in the first round — was not a sure thing.
First of all, he lost his first election for the House — a three-vote defeat to Rep. Jay Fant, a current Attorney General candidate, in House District 15 on Jacksonville’s Westside.
Renner was undeterred; he moved to Palm Coast, took a safe seat there, and then figured out the House very quickly.
Renner was a chief lieutenant of Speaker Richard Corcoran this last term, burnishing his conservative credentials and policy chops, and as time progressed, the Speaker’s race gradually went his way.
And despite the slight re-location, Renner is still a Jacksonville fixture, an attorney with deep roots in the community — and it was the Jacksonville and Northeast Florida establishment that went his way and made a key difference down the stretch.
A major fundraiser earlier this spring saw Renner bring in over $250,000 from everyone who mattered in the Northeast Florida donor class.
That liquidity — whether people want to believe it or not — was also intended as a signal to those voting in the race, including a lot of local freshman legislators: there is a regional priority in this leadership race, a chance to get something that has eluded Jacksonville since John Thrasher in 1999. Before that, in 1969, Democrat Frederick Schultz held the gavel. The city had four speakers between 1913 and 1937.
Local and regional power players see it as Northeast Florida’s time. As Renner’s time.
And Friday’s election ensured that the man who lost a squeaker to Jay Fant will be in a unique position to respond and push forward the region’s priorities.
Smart local politicians were ready to reach out to Renner to offer congratulations; a rising tide lifts all boats.
And by 2022, Jacksonville will have a lot of boats to lift: a dredging project that likely will be midstream; a septic tank phase out, for which state money proved elusive in the just completed session; a desired renovation of the Hart Bridge offramps to route traffic onto Bay Street, by new capital investments such as the amphitheater and whatever Shad Khan has planned otherwise.
Local politicians and “stakeholders” have long agonized about Jacksonville’s identity crisis, and a big part of that crisis in recent years has been the city being relatively ill-positioned to score big wins.
This, to be clear, was a big one.
“It’s been a long time,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry told us Friday afternoon regarding the Renner victory and its significance for the city and the region.
Efforts in the past were not successful: this one was, Curry said, as the business community was all in for Renner, as well as many of Curry’s key supporters — especially Tom Petway and John Rood, who we are told particularly engaged in driving the effort.
“I engaged,” Curry said, “and my full political operation engaged.”
Central to that engagement: Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, the visionary architects of triumph after triumph in recent years. They parlayed relationships throughout the state to help broaden Renner’s draw.
There was some resistance to coalescence among certain voting members of the Duval Delegation. That was not an option for Curry.
“We expect our team to be aligned — Team Northeast Florida,” Curry said.
Rep. Clay Yarborough, the former Jacksonville City Council President who was one of those 16 Renner votes, noted that the outcome lined up with his count.
Yarborough saw “tremendous positives” for the region and the city both — positives that will be seen before 2022, as in the years leading up to Renner’s Speakership, he will be in “conversations with leadership,” and his “place at the table” will help him advocate for regional priorities.
The region, Yarborough said, can be “lining stuff up” that takes years to make happen — a generational opportunity for Northeast Florida.
Duval Delegation Republicans Yarborough, Cord Byrd, and Jason Fischer are all Renner’s contemporaries; meanwhile, there could be a new person in Rep. Fant’s seat soon also. This means, realistically, that long-range planning is uniquely possible for the GOP delegation locally and regionally.
Yarborough respects Renner’s “steady hand,” how he “weathered the storms of challenging issues during the Legislative Session.”
“Some thought he’d crash and burn,” Yarborough noted. However, Renner responded to the challenges, getting support “well beyond Duval County” and Northeast Florida.
Rep. Fischer was likewise optimistic about the “tremendous opportunity for Northeast Florida … the beginning of great things to come.”
Fischer also noted the importance went beyond the region: “We united as a class,” Fischer said, saying that today’s result is “great for the state.”
Indeed, Renner talked about the state to media Friday.
“I think one of the things I spoke about is that every member of the team is critical. That is something I learned in the military, from the first day of boot camp. You learn that you succeed or fail as a team,” Renner told FloridaPolitics.com’s Scott Powers.
“The focus I would like to have is we have a great class, we can do great things together, and I want to be the facilitator,” Renner said.
Indeed, the class is uniting: Rep. Jamie Grant and Renner were seen joking ahead of the conclave, and the appropriate statements of congratulations are coming from those who didn’t win this one.
“I want to congratulate my friend and colleague Paul Renner on his election as our 2016 Republican class leader. I am confident he will do an outstanding job in the role, and I look forward to working with him. I was honored to be a candidate, and I also congratulate Jamie Grant and Erin Grall on the fine races they ran. 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,” Rep. Byron Donalds asserted.
Former State Rep. Lake Ray, a veteran of eight years in the State House, described how that work — and Renner’s influence — would build over time.
Renner’s pull will really be significant when he is Speaker-Designate and going forward, Ray said.
As Speaker, Renner will have a number of prerogatives, Ray noted.
One key one: a direct impact on appropriations, especially regarding unencumbered money, which he and the Senate President will figure out how to allocate. Ultimately, Ray said, up to 30 percent of what could be anywhere from $250-$450M could find its way to regional projects.
Renner’s leadership team is also worth watching, in terms of commitments made down the stretch — and especially key, timely commitments. The posts to watch specifically: the chairs of Appropriations and Rules, which can serve a gatekeeper role in terms of killing any bills that may need to die for whatever reason.
An unsung hero of the effort outside of this class and Duval County: Rep. Travis Cummings.
As an extremely reliable source put it, Cummings was instrumental in the push for Renner, helping to steady some members who were prone to wobbling.