TALLAHASSEE — Florida's next House speaker is an unassuming real estate agent and Vietnam War veteran from Ocala who is as little known in the halls of the Capitol as he is in the rest of the state.
Larry Cretul, 61, assumed the role Friday after Speaker Ray Sansom of Destin stepped aside to deal with an ongoing criminal investigation and ethics complaint.
Sansom had selected the soft-spoken Cretul to be his right-hand man last fall, naming Cretul the House's speaker pro tempore.
The two met when they were first elected to the House in 2002.
Both are former county commissioners, but Sansom was the one with the ambition to become speaker; Cretul was content with a background role.
Cretul (pronounced CREE-tl) would not respond to requests for comments but told senior House staffers that he was humbled by the opportunity and prepared to move the House forward.
Cretul was first elected in 2002 after he narrowly defeated Democratic incumbent Perry McGriff by 35 votes — after the district was redrawn to favor a Republican. He lists his sources of income as the Florida House and his real estate brokerage license, but he reported no income from real estate in 2008. His net worth is $529,000, according to his public financial disclosure reports.
A conservative who serves as a deacon in his Baptist church, Cretul is expected to continue the House's right-of-center approach to issues such as gambling and fiscal policy.
Cretul has championed many conservative issues over the years. He has sponsored legislation to prevent the government from keeping records of guns and gun owners. He has fought to increase penalties for assaulting sports officials. As the owner of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, he sponsored legislation to prevent restaurants from refusing service to people who ride motorcycles or wear biker attire. And he has filed legislation to ban colleges and universities from using state money to pay for benefits for domestic and same-sex partners.
Several legislators and lobbyists said that Cretul has engendered respect for his thoughtful and conciliatory approach to policymaking and his listen-before-you-speak approach to leadership.
"He's conservative, but he's conservative realistic," said Wilbur Brewton, a Tallahassee lobbyist who has known Cretul for more than a decade.
Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com