Though not quite as protracted (and definitely not as written about), another leadership battle in the Legislature seems to have settled after days of arm-twisting, pledge-wrangling and nose-counting.
State Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, reportedly has swayed enough defectors from fellow Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, an Orlando Republican, to make Sprowls the likely Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives after the 2020 elections.
Call it the saga of the “deja-coup,” which comes a month after the Senate settled on Joe Negron as President-designate to succeed Andy Gardiner after what seemed like endless months of dueling with Jack Latvala over that chamber’s top job.
The move is a kick in the face to Eisnaugle, the presumed front-runner, who seemingly suffered defeat at the hands of a guerrilla movement out of the greater Tampa Bay delegation.
Indeed, the nail in the political sarcophagus came from Republican Shawn Harrison, who tenuously holds a Tampa swing district.
On Thursday, Harrison issued a statement saying he had changed his pledge to Sprowls after claiming an ironclad allegiance to Eisnaugle. Harrison said he switched to end a palace intrigue that contributed to what he called a “Washington, D.C. (style) dysfunction.”
Harrison’s flip gives Sprowls a narrow lead over Eisnaugle among the shared 2014 class of members. Customarily, succeeding classes support the candidate favored by the rising senior class.
The Eisnaugle camp, however, has always been insistent the campaign is one for a majority of the Republican caucus.
How firm those pledges are, however, especially in light of Harrison’s change of heart, is anyone’s guess. Speculation over Eisnaugle’s losing the Speakership has been swirling around for months, though.
The intrigue peaked in August, when Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia was rumored to be behind an effort to oust Eisnaugle as Speaker-to-be, penning a letter of “condemnation” in what some observers saw as an attempted coup.
Ingoglia later dismissed the rumors, saying that “some are using the party that we all love and work hard for as a political tool,” which he said wasn’t fair to the members, party staff, or the House.
Nevertheless, it sparked an angry give-and-take between Ingoglia and Orange County RPOF Chairman Lew Oliver, who argued that RPOF’s Tallahassee headquarters was “rudderless.”
Oliver blasted Ingoglia for trying to poach votes in the Speaker’s race and accused him of threatening to pull party support for Orange County Republicans if they refused to support his own bid for Speaker.
That was when Eisnaugle enjoyed support from GOP state Reps. Scott Plakon, Colleen Burton, Bob Cortes, Brad Drake, Fred Costello, Julio Gonzalez, Harrison, Mike Miller, Rene Plascenia and Paul Renner.
But with U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis running for Marco Rubio’s soon-to-be-vacant U.S. Senate seat, the possibility increased of some GOP House members making a run for Congress. In addition, Cortes, Harrison, Miller, and Plascenia could face legitimate challenges in the 2016 cycle, which is expected to slightly favor Democrats.
Whispers led to rumors that resulted in questions. In turn, they led to unanswered voice mails from a few, text-messaged denials about loyalty shifts from some, or weak shows of support on Twitter from still others.
Finally, the allegiances started falling in place behind Sprowls, a Pinellas County prosecutor and cancer survivor. Harrison provided the coup d’etat to Eisnaugle.
“Over the last year, we’ve witnessed on the state and federal level how just how harmful and counterproductive leadership battles can become to the legislative process,” he said, referring to the Florida Senate Presidency fight and battle for U.S. House Speaker that ousted John Boehner.
“They create acrimony among members and prevent legislators from serving the people they were elected to represent back home,” Harrison wrote. “Our chamber and class cannot fall victim to this form of corrosive politics.
“We need leaders who put the institution of the Florida House and serving the people above all else. That’s why I have decided to end this lengthy battle and unite around a single leader who can stop the Washington, D.C. dysfunction from seeping into our state government any further. While it is not an easy decision, it is my firm belief it is the right one for the future of our chamber and our state.”