Jennifer Canady, the director of a science-based program at a private Christian school in Polk County and the wife of a Florida Supreme Court Justice, has secured enough support of her fellow freshman Republican House legislators that she is now in line to be Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives after the 2028 elections.
Canady would be the first female to lead the Florida House.
Canady’s apparent victory comes at the end of the 2023 Legislative Session and an intense, behind-the-scenes competition between her, fellow Tampa Bay lawmaker Kevin Steele and northeast Florida’s Jessica Baker that had as many twists and turns as an episode of “Succession.”
Florida Politics’ assessment of the Speaker’s race is based on conversations with at least two dozen members of the Florida House, key legislative staffers, and several of the political consultants who advise many of the members.
It was only Thursday night when Baker was thought to be on the precipice of winning after Steele abandoned his own bid and threw in with the Duval Co. lawmaker.
But less than 48 hours later, Canady had locked up the backing of at least 16 of her freshman caucus classmates after several of those members who had been backing Steele did not follow his lead and decided to support Canady.
By Saturday, even Steele was back in Canady’s camp.
Adding to the final hours of intrigue was a concerted effort by the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, specifically Chief of Staff James Uthmeier, to whip votes in support of Canady.
According to those familiar with Uthmeier’s efforts, the Governor’s Office not only believes it is more ideologically compatible with Canady, but it viewed Baker’s candidacy as a stalking horse for former President Donald Trump, with whom Tim Baker, Jessica’s political consultant husband, is identified as being in close proximity.
Uthmeirer’s involvement in the race was first reported by Florida’s Voice’s Brendon Leslie, although sources close to the Governor’s Office insist Uthmeier never did “threaten” any member’s priorities as Leslie reported.
Because Leslie is perceived to be so close to the Baker camp — Leslie and his site are consistent, almost exclusive cheerleaders for Baker’s multiple clients in northeast Florida — DeSantis World took Leslie’s reporting as an effort by Baker’s camp to “shape a false narrative,” if not embarrass the Governor’s Office into staying out of the Speaker’s race.
In the end, that effort ended up backfiring.
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 Clay County’s Sam Garrison will take the gavel for the two years after that. This assumes, not wildly, Republicans continue to hold a majority in the House.
Current caucus rules bar House members who want to be Speaker from campaigning for support from their colleagues until after they served together. Technically, support can’t be rounded up before a full class of lawmakers has 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.
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,” Richard Corcoran explained back then. “There’s nothing fair about having someone start at the 50-yard mark.”
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 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.
While FP is confident there will eventually be a sign of white smoke emerging from the Sistine Chapel (in 2019 Rep. Will Robinson graciously conceded to Rep. Perez with a public statement), an official statement from Canady or Baker may not come soon.
A source late Sunday night texted FP to say the Florida Justice Association, thought to be supportive of Baker’s candidacy, was reaching out to members insisting the race for Speaker was not over.