When it was announced that Senate President Wilton Simpson and Senate President-to-be Kathleen Passidomo were endorsing Clay Yarborough‘s bid for Senate District 4, Jason Fischer, Yarborough’s chief rival for the seat, was 2,000 miles away from Florida in Salt Lake City attending the annual conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
That Fischer was attending the ALEC conference, which offers conservative lawmakers not only ideas for fill-in-the-blanks legislation, but also guidance for networking and fundraising, is a testament to what kind of loyal Republican foot soldier the former Duval County School Board member has been during his time in the Legislature.
But neither party fealty nor Fischer’s prodigious fundraising (he has already raised nearly $1 million for his 2022 bid) was enough to keep Simpson and Passidomo from wading into a GOP Primary one year before any ballots are cast.
The harsh reality for Fischer is twofold. First, Fischer is thought to be a vote for Manny Diaz Jr. in the off-grid, but intense, race for the 2024-26 Senate presidency between Diaz and Ben Albritton. Second, Fischer just isn’t liked by Senate leadership and key staff members.
It’s difficult to quantify that second part, not without embarrassing Fischer, but it is the hard truth. There have been rumors and innuendo circulating about Fischer’s bad behavior for more than a year. But that never slowed down his ability to raise money. However, when more and more information made its way to Passidomo, a decision was made to attempt to end the race for District 4 before it began in earnest. Rep. Cord Byrd is also running for the seat, but as one consultant engaged in Senate campaigns explained, “no one’s worried about Cord.”
With her endorsement of Yarborough, a decidedly conservative, soft-spoken lawmaker who is doing his best to distance himself from previous politically incorrect positions, Passidomo is signaling that she intends to run her caucus with an iron fist inside a velvet glove, much the way Simpson has for the past half-decade. Simpson has been a force in the Senate from almost the moment he arrived; keep in mind, he was the Senator who negotiated an end to the Joe Negron versus Jack Latvala rivalry.
In fact, Passidomo appears to be willing to go even further than Simpson in shaping the Senate to her liking.
For all his faults, perceived or otherwise, Fischer is not Heather Fitzenhagen, the renegade House member who defied Simpson’s desire to see Ray Rodrigues elected to the Senate without a competitive Primary. Fischer would never get in bed with John Morgan. He would never accept help from the incoming Democratic leader in the Senate, as Fitzenhagen was (falsely?) rumored to have done. In his voting record, Fischer is more similar to Danny Burgess, a Simpson recruit, than Fitzenhagen.
But again, none of that matters.
Simpson and Passidomo want continuity of leadership. They want — Simpson probably more so than Passidomo, but not by much — Albritton to succeed them. (By the way, how uninformed, if not silly, does this piece from Jordan Kirkland of The Capitolist, in which Kirkland attempts to argue that Diaz has the inside track to win the Senate presidency, read? A reminder to Kirkland, et al., that leadership races are waged in the digital pages of Florida Politics and, maybe, POLITICO. That has been the case for 12 years and it’s not changing any time soon. At this point, with a state investigation underway into the 2020 campaign for Senate District 37 and redistricting still to happen, it’s premature to declare anyone the front-runner for the presidency.)
Two final takeaways
Again, with this flex, Passidomo is demonstrating to her colleagues and to the legislative establishment writ large that she is the second coming of Toni Jennings, the first and last Republican woman to hold the gavel.
Finally, it now has to be argued that Simpson will go down as one of, if not the most, consequential Florida lawmakers since Dean Cannon, (I have Cannon ahead of Richard Corcoran in my rankings because Cannon had to deal with more crises than Corcoran) based on his quarterbacking of an impressive campaign cycle, followed by a hugely consequential 2020 Legislative Session and the Gambling Compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, with another Session to come, plus redistricting.
That’s something Fischer and Byrd should keep in mind as they decide whether to stay in the race for Senate District 4: the seat isn’t drawn yet. But the people who are deciding on the lines just made a decision about what they would like to see happen in 2022.