Friday, February 23, 2018
Politics

Would-be Florida House speaker loses seat

Chris Dorworth, the Lake Mary Republican who was supposed to take over as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives in just two years, has been defeated by Democratic challenger Mike Clelland.

A hand recount completed Monday afternoon confirmed that the final tally showed Clelland defeating Dorworth by 146 votes out of nearly 74,000 cast — 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent.

Clelland, a 48-year-old lawyer and former city of Longwood firefighter who sat through much of the marathon recount process, pronounced himself "relieved and happy, obviously."

"Right now, I just want to get up there (to Tallahassee), build some trust with the Republicans, find some common ground, and get to work," Clelland said.

The final count capped a stunning collapse for the 36-year-old Dorworth, who had been one of the most powerful figures in Florida politics. Incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, already had appointed Dorworth his majority leader for the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions, and Dorworth was expected to follow as speaker himself for two years.

Dorworth said he called Clelland to congratulate him.

"One tradition of America that makes this the greatest country in the world is the peaceful transfer of power after the voters speak," Dorworth said. "They have spoken, and I respect what they said. I wish him the best of luck in representing the district."

Minutes after the recount was completed, remaining Republicans in the Florida House announced that they had formally chosen Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, to replace Dorworth as House speaker for the 2015-16 term.

Clelland's victory was a huge symbolic win for the Florida Democratic Party, which has been marginalized to the point of irrelevance in the Legislature in recent years. The minority party, which spent $20,000 on last-minute television advertising for Clelland, gained five seats in the state House this election cycle and depriving Republicans of their total authority in the House.

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