A battle for power in the Florida House, years in advance

What will you be doing in November 2018?

While you ponder such an odd question, consider this: The race is already under way to choose the speaker of the Florida House in 2018, involving people who haven't been elected yet.

Bizarre, but true.

Without question, this is one of the most illogical and potentially dangerous side effects of term limits.

House candidates are limited to eight years — four, two-year terms. The instant they hit the campaign trail, they can hear the ticking of that term limits clock.

Consumed with ambition, they run for speaker without first showing the ability to lead.

This is the speed-dating version of running for class president, with much more serious consequences.

With Republicans firmly in control, the next three speakers have been designated by GOP members: Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel takes over this fall; Chris Dorworth of Lake Mary in 2014; and Richard Corcoran of Trinity in 2016.

But there's a scramble developing for six years out, with Rep. Jose Oliva of Miami Lakes leading the charge.

Oliva is building friendships with candidates the best way Tallahassee politicians know how: by raising money for them. Oliva, 39, a father of three, is CEO of his family's cigar business, and said he's not asking people to support him for speaker.

"Talking to people, understanding what they want and building those relationships," is how Oliva described it. "If I get the opportunity, I would like to be in leadership."

He's a "red-shirt freshman," elected in a 2011 special election (a half-term does not count against the eight-year term limit). That gives him an edge on incoming freshmen (38 of the 120 House seats are open in this year's elections).

Oliva recently held a fundraiser in Miami for termed-out Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. Fasano is running for a Pasco House seat and calls Oliva a "dear friend."

He sees nothing wrong with Oliva's early candidacy for speaker: "It's going to be up to the members anyway. It's a long way off."

But Fasano says Oliva did not press him to commit to a speakership candidacy, and he wouldn't anyway.

"Let me get elected first," Fasano said.

Oliva recently circulated a fundraising appeal among lobbyists on behalf of 11 Republican hopefuls, including Jake Raburn of Lithia and Joe Wicker of Riverview.

"Below is a group I am bringing to town," Oliva's email said.

Other candidates are appalled by the jockeying.

"It's compromising the process," says ex-Rep. Gus Barreiro of Miami.

"I don't want to commit. I need to get elected first," said Holly Raschein, who's seeking a House seat in the Keys. "It's too early."

Oliva himself has a Republican primary opponent, and he'll have lots of competition for speaker. But it's a race against time, and the clock is already ticking.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com.

A battle for power in the Florida House, years in advance 07/09/12 [Last modified: Monday, July 9, 2012 10:46pm]

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