Freshman House Republicans are inching closer to picking their leader, holding a weekend caucus meeting to hear from candidates.
A majority of GOP freshmen met this weekend at a Central Florida law firm to discuss the 2022 Speaker’s Race. The meeting, which was first reported by Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida, comes about a week after an attempt to adopt rules for the 2022 Speaker’s failed, seemingly throwing the leadership battle into chaos.
Held at Vose Law Firm in Winter Park, the meeting gave members in attendance a chance to hear from four likely candidates — Reps. Byron Donalds, Randy Fine, Jamie Grant, and Paul Renner — ahead of a June 30 vote to decide the class leader. The meeting, according to a House member present, was called by Rep. Bob Rommel, a Naples Republican, who wanted to have a candidate forum ahead.
Each candidate was given 15 minutes to speak, before the floor was opened up to questions from members.
Dixon reported that Reps. Frank White, Jayer Williamson, Alex Miller, Jackie Toledo, Erin Grall and Don Hanhfeldt were not in attendance.
Some members indicated Grant and White, who was believed to be considering a run for Speaker, could be in trouble because of what has become known in the caucus as “text-gate.”
Earlier this year, Rep. Alex Miller reportedly sent a text message that essentially said the race was narrowing to a choice between Rep. Ralph Massullo and Grant. That text message, and the impression that it violated House GOP rules, has apparently left a bad taste in several freshmen’s mouth, leaving many to wonder if Grant or White could get enough votes to pull out a win.
According to House Republican Conference Rules adopted last year, Speaker candidates can officially begin accepting pledges of support after June 30.
“The new conference rules were put in place to protect members from being pressured by special interest politics into making decisions on their future leaders before having the opportunity to see them lead,” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran said in a statement. “While I was not in Orlando, my expectation is that the members of the freshmen class conducted themselves in a manner consistent with the letter and spirit of our Republican Conference rules.”
The class agreed to vote by secret ballot, and a proposal to knock out the lowest vote-getters if more than two candidates are running, essentially survivor-style balloting, appears to still be under consideration, according to a House member in attendance.
One member, who asked to remain anonymous, said they believe a secret ballot could hurt Grant the most, since many of the smaller candidates who can score with a blind ballot — like White and Masullo — would come from Grant’s support group. An open race, meanwhile, would have two candidates battling it out.
Renner could also have a hard time at getting the necessary votes. The text-gate scandal was believed to be prompted by an anti-Renner mood.
The discourse between the Grant and Renner camps could prove beneficial to Fine, who made the case that he is could be a consensus candidate. The Brevard County Republican said that he would work with other Speaker hopefuls, and touted his business experience when discussing his qualifications, according to a House member familiar with Fine’s speech.
A vote will be held June 30, with Rep. Larry Metz counting the ballots.