Florida may soon (well, not too soon) see its first woman Florida House Speaker

"By April, we'll know."

The Florida House of Representatives has had a total of 87 Speakers since it was established in 1845.

Not one has been a woman.

That may change come November 2028, as two of the leading candidates to lead the Chamber after that year’s elections are women: Jessica Baker of Duval County and Jennifer Canady of Polk County.

Members of the Legislature select their future leaders years in advance. As it stands now, Daniel Perez of Miami-Dade will helm the Chamber from 2024-2026, while Duval’s Sam Garrison will take the gavel for the two years after that. This assumes, not wildly, that Republicans will continue to hold a majority in the House.

Both Perez and Garrison were selected by fellow members of their legislative class in a Byzantine process that has all the hallmarks of the College of Cardinals.

Current caucus rules bar House members who want to be Speaker from campaigning for support from their colleagues until after they served together. Support couldn’t be rounded up before a full class of lawmakers had gone through their first Session.

Candidates for Speaker are also barred from raising or spending money to influence GOP Primaries in an attempt to decide the leadership race.

Because House members are limited to four two-year terms, a group elected in the same year is generally referred to as a “class.” Each class selects the Republican candidate to serve as Speaker during their final term.

This process for selecting a Speaker-to-be came in 2016 after a series of leadership contests ended messily.

Former Speaker Ray Sansom resigned before his first full Session in 2009 after being hit with criminal charges for his conduct as budget Chair, though the case was eventually dismissed. Former Rep. Chris Dorworth, set to be Speaker from 2014-2016, lost a re-election bid in 2012.

What really prompted a change in the rules governing leadership races was when former Rep. Eric Eisnaugle appeared to be in line for the top spot but saw his support erode. Chris Sprowls supplanted him as his colleagues’ choice. That’s when the House GOP caucus changed the process at the direction of then-incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran and his successor, former Speaker José Oliva.

The new rules give members more time to evaluate their colleagues before deciding on a leader.

“If we’re going to have a 100-yard dash … everybody should start from the starting line at the same time at the same place,” Corcoran explained back then. “There’s nothing fair about having someone start at the 50-yard mark.”

Fast forward to today. Observers of the behind-the-scenes process that decides House Speakers say the reforms are working.

Both Perez and Garrison locked up their elections in a low-key fashion.

But just because the water is calm on the surface, that doesn’t mean some members aren’t quietly reciting a mental count of their backers.

Because of how often this crop of legislators are convening, whether in committee meetings or Special Sessions, there has been an unusually large amount of time for legislative classmates to feel each other out.

That said, here is the latest on the House Speaker’s race, as only Florida Politics can provide. For this story, FP interviewed more than a dozen House Republicans, as well as past legislative leaders and some of the political consultants involved in leadership races.

It’s also important to note FP’s unique understanding of these leadership races. This outlet has first forecast the eventual winner of House leadership races in each cycle since 2010, including when this writer was the only non-member present during Richard Corcoran’s legendary undoing of Matt Gaetz’s Speakership bid.

We were even able to supply an exact whip count of votes that saw Paul Renner hold off Jamie Grant for the race to be Speaker during the current term.

As for the Senate, Florida Politics was first to report on the wins by eventual Senate Presidents Andy Gardiner, Joe Negron, (Wilton Simpson was a gimme), current President Kathleen Passidomo, and future President Ben Albritton.

It’s difficult to say there is a race for Speaker because doing so would violate the original Corcoran-Oliva rules.

Here’s where we have to mention the cautionary tale of former Rep. Alex Miller, who was once seen as a rising star in the Legislature, but resigned early after it was rumored she was one the leaks responsible for a story doubting the eventual ascension of Paul Renner.

Still, members talk and from those talks it’s clear a few contenders are quietly emerging as favorites.

In alphabetical order, so as to imply no bias, Jessica Baker, a former Assistant State Attorney, is seen as one of three front-runners for the job. She was elected to represent Southern Duval’s HD 17 after securing landslide victories in August and November.

Baker has also proven to be a formidable fundraiser, raising well over $750,000 between her campaign account and political committee, Friends of Jessica Baker. To top it off, she is also the wife of Tim Baker, a leading political consultant in the Jacksonville region and at the state level.

Jennifer Canady is the second leading contender. The Lakeland Republican was elected to represent Polk County-based HD 50 after a 64%-36% rout in the Primary Election.

Like Baker, she also has a well-known spouse: Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady. Since she went unchallenged in the General Election, it’s difficult to make a one-to-one fundraising comparison against Baker. However, Canady did manage to collect about $450,000 through her campaign and political committee, Friends of Jennifer Canady.

And then there is Kevin Steele, who’s running a dark horse Speaker campaign, much the way Lawrence McClure tracked before Perez eventually won.

The Dade City lawmaker represents Pasco-based HD 55, and he was likewise elected with ease. His Primary campaign had the blessing of former Rep. Ardian Zika, who stood for the area for two terms before announcing he would not run for re-election. After dispatching two challengers in the Primary, Steele went on to win the General Election with more than three-quarters of the vote.

Steele’s fundraising isn’t on par with Baker or Canady. However, his campaign didn’t need to rely on donors. He provided about $250,000 of the $500,000 raised for his run and, according to campaign disclosure, he is by far the wealthiest member of the first-term class, with more than $400 million in assets, most of it in real estate.

There is a fourth contender in the mix, but he’s probably not at the same level as Baker, Canady or Steele. It’s Taylor Yarkosky of Montverde. Yarkosky won a tough GOP Primary and carries some scars from that race. But he also has long-standing ties to several current and previous legislative leaders.

Although there are three, maybe four, contenders for the Speakership, the race is really breaking down into two camps: Baker vs. #NeverBaker.

Baker, who has been unofficially campaigning the longest for the position and has off-the-charts political intelligence, is backed by many of her fellow North Florida colleagues, such as Dean Black. But Baker’s support extends beyond Northeast Florida, as she counts Berny Jacques (a client of Tim Baker’s) and Fabian Basabe as two of her backers (after publication of this story, Rep. Basabe contacted FP to say that he still wants to properly vet each of the candidates).

There is also a #NeverBaker trend line developing and it is seemingly due to at least two factors: how open Baker is about campaigning for the position (breaking the unofficial rules about not campaigning for the position) and because some fear the influence her highly influential strategist husband may have on the Florida House were Jessica Baker to be in line for leadership.

(As part of a marriage in which two people both, at one point, worked in The Process, I think it’s insulting to cast the sins of one spouse on another).

Still, the #NeverBaker talk is mentioned often and is probably why Baker has not been able to lock up the race while her opponents are divided.

Meanwhile, the extended Tampa Bay/Central/Southwest Florida delegation appears to be holding together behind either Canady or Steele.

“Eventually, Jennifer and Kevin will go into a room and one of them will convince the other to be their Appropriations Chair,” said a political consultant closely tracking the Speaker’s race.

“If Tampa Bay sticks together, it has the votes,” adds one Hillsborough lawmaker who has not decided which of the two Tampa Bay contenders they are supporting.

Another factor at work in the Speaker’s race, and it’s not clear how strong it is one way or the other, is the role a loose coalition of lawmakers associated with consultant Brett Doster will have on the negotiations. These members include a geographically diverse roster that runs from the Panhandle (Griff Griffitts) to South Florida (Vicki Lopez).

Doster, rightly, demurs when asked how much sway he has over his clients — “I work for them, not the other way around” — but his roster is five or six votes that are mostly still up for grabs (we hear there is at least one of these members distinctly in the #NeverBaker camp).

So when will the race reach its conclusion? The obvious answer is during the upcoming Session, but probably not too deep into Session.

“By April, we’ll know,” said a consultant working for one of the four leading contenders.


The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as 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. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


  • Nancy

    February 15, 2023 at 9:09 pm

    Baker might find herself intertwined with a criminal investigation very soon, courtesy of that low-life husband and a current supporter of hers. I sure hope it doesn’t hurt her chances of taking the gavel she’s been working so hard for.

    • Anonymous Never Baker

      February 16, 2023 at 12:20 am

      You and I either have a common experience, or a common friend. Hmmm…

Comments are closed.


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