Don’t put the Eric Eisnaugle before the cart

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It seems a fait accompli that Representative Steve Precourt will be named the next executive director of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, thereby allowing former state Representative Eric Eisnaugle to return to the Legislature by winning a special election for Precourt’s seat.

Aaron Deslatte of the Orlando Sentinel reports that this Tallahassee two-step may be an “orchestrated” move to give Eisnaugle an “early advantage” in the race to be Speaker of the  House for the 2021-22 legislative sessions. This early advantage would stem from the fact that Eisnaugle would be a ‘redshirt freshman’ — legislators able to serve part of a term before the clock limiting them to four terms starts ticking. As previously explained by Kevin Derby of Sunshine State News, this extra time can help ‘redshirt freshmen’ rise to prominence in Tallahassee. Redshirt freshmen, from Tom Feeney to Marco Rubio to Jose Olivia, have often proven some of the most prominent members of the Florida House.

Put aside the fact that Eisnaugle would be angling to be Speaker during the 2021-2022 legislative sessions, which is akin to Florida State naming an eleven-year-old on some Pop Warner team its starting QB eight years from now, and consider how premature it is to put the Eisnaugle before the cart. Especially when you consider the caliber of the incoming legislative class of which Eisnaugle would be a member.

Representative Mike Hill, himself a ‘redshirt freshman’, is already a member of this class. As will be Bill Gunter, if his lead holds in the special election in October for House District 36. Hill, already a star in conservative media circles, and Gunter, a close ally of Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran, may have something to say about Eisnaugle becoming Speaker.

As will Blaise Ignoglia, the charismatic vice chairman of the Florida GOP, who is on his way to a walk to replace Rep. Rob Schenck. Many already view Ignoglia, with his fundraising prowess and statewide contacts, as a sure bet for House leadership.

And what about Rep. Eisnaugle’s former colleagues in the House that are also trying to make their way back, such as former House members Brad Drake, Shawn Harrison and Scott Plakon? They are both experienced in the mysteries of Tallahassee. Undoubtedly, they too think of themselves as Speaker-worthy.

Someone who is certainly Speaker-worthy, in my estimation, is House District 65 candidate Chris Sprowls. Actually, Sprowls may be the most impressive figure in his class, at least in terms of potential. The Pinellas-Pasco state attorney has charisma to spare and would be an intellectual force in the House, if he can unseat Democrat Carl Zimmerman. 

And then there is Chris Latvala and Bill Young, scions of two of Tampa Bay’s most prominent political legacies. Sure, they are running in relatively tough districts, but, if they are to win, they will be entering the Legislature as ultra-connected first-termers whose upside is yet to be determined.

Of course there are several other capable candidates in this prospective class, such as Melissa Hagan and Daniel Diaz-Leyva, whose names are not yet being bantered about for leadership positions but have the sheer talent to fill the role. 

I guess that’s the point: the incoming freshman class of lawmakers is as impressive as any to enter the Legislature during the current Republican era.

Considering that, it would be a mistake to prematurely coronate Eisnaugle.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to 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.