TALLAHASSEE — Rep. Paul Renner formally became the next speaker of the Florida House on Tuesday, as the Palm Coast Republican prepares to move into one of the most-powerful positions in the state after the 2022 elections.
Renner, an attorney who retired from the U.S. Navy as a commander, will succeed House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.
Addressing House colleagues during a designation ceremony, Renner spoke of his time in the military and his religious upbringing as the son of a pastor and a school teacher. Renner emphasized that he wants to protect the Second Amendment and other freedoms and billed Florida Republicans as “the champions for ‘We the People.’”
Renner didn’t provide much detail during the speech about issues he might prioritize as speaker. Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, is slated Oct. 19 to be formally designated as the next Senate president.
“Two years ago, when I sat where you’re sitting now and the speaker was standing here, none of us could have imagined the existence or effects of COVID-19. I do not pretend to know what the world will look like in 14 months or what new challenges we might face,” Renner said.
But Renner offered more of a glimpse into his priorities while speaking later with reporters. In keeping with previous House Republican leaders, Renner promised to back school choice initiatives.
“I think choice is really about, not just the building you’re in, but about making sure that every child gets a customized education,” Renner said, adding that each student learns differently. “We need to make sure that we’re continuing to evaluate students every year and that we’re customizing their education to best suit their individual needs.”
Renner also fielded questions about choice in the era of COVID-19, as debate has raged across the country about vaccine and mask mandates.
“If we have a handful of people define what the public good is, then we descend into majoritarianism. And our country has always been about making sure that we’re pluralistic, that we respect people of different views,” Renner said. “When I served in the military, I served in part to be able to defend the right of people who hold my views in contempt, to have a right to say those views.”
Renner, who is currently chairman of the Rules Committee, said his view on respecting dissenting opinions extends to the minority party in the Republican-dominated House, saying it is “really important” for Democrats to have their voices heard.
With abortion legislation shaping up to be a closely-watched issue in the Legislature, Renner didn’t directly answer Tuesday whether he would support a ban on abortion.
“Look, I want to move in a pro-life direction. And I think we also have to balance …. differing views and where the state of Florida is, where are the residents of Florida. And I suspect that they’re somewhere in between, neither to (back) abortion for any reason any time, or an outright ban on abortion,” Renner said.
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Renner said the Florida House won’t seek to duplicate a new Texas law that prohibits abortions after the presence of a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur six weeks into a pregnancy.
“We’re not going to follow Texas’ lead necessarily, we’ll follow our own lead. And again, hear from all sides, have a real deep conversation about the balancing of interests on both sides and land in a place that I hope moves us in a direction towards a pro-life decision,” Renner told reporters.
Renner was first elected to the House in a 2015 special election in a district in Flagler, St. Johns and Volusia counties. That came after he lost a 2014 primary election for a Duval County House seat by two votes — out of more than 11,900 cast.
— By Ryan Dailey