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Florida House Democrats could tap Tampa’s Fentrice Driskell as next leader

The state representative would become the first Black woman to hold the position.
State Rep. Fentrice Driskell is seen at the site of the erased St. Joseph Aid Society Cemetery, also known as the Montana City Cemetery, on April 7 in Tampa.
State Rep. Fentrice Driskell is seen at the site of the erased St. Joseph Aid Society Cemetery, also known as the Montana City Cemetery, on April 7 in Tampa. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published May 19|Updated May 19

TALLAHASSEE — Florida House Democrats are poised to select a new incoming leader on Tuesday, after a would-be leader dropped his reelection bid amid a controversy involving sexual harassment allegations.

House Democrats will meet to make their selection when lawmakers are at the Capitol for a special legislative session on property insurance.

As of Wednesday, Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, was the only candidate for the leadership post, according to a spokesman for the House Democrats. Under Democratic caucus rules, potential candidates must submit letters of intent to the House clerk.

“No one else has sent that message in, so we have seen no other people file,” House Minority Office spokesman Jackson Peel said.

Driskell, an attorney who was first elected to the House in 2018, was slated to become leader of the Democratic caucus after the 2024 elections. But that timeframe could move up because of the announcement last week by Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, that he would not seek reelection to his House seat in November.

Related: Florida Democrats lose future leader amid sexual harassment allegations

Alexander had been slated to succeed outgoing Leader Evan Jenne, a Dania Beach Democrat who faces term limits, after the November elections. But Alexander will leave the Legislature after a report by the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper detailed accusations against him by a former employee of Florida A&M University.

The complaints, filed with the Florida Commission on Human Relations by Michael Johnson Jr., included allegations that Alexander groped him and sent sexually explicit text messages.

Alexander contended that the relationship with Johnson was consensual, which Johnson denied.

If Driskell is chosen to succeed Jenne for a two-year term, she would become the first Black woman to hold the position. She also will lead a Democratic caucus that is badly outnumbered by Republicans, who have chosen Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, to become House speaker this fall.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell
Rep. Fentrice Driskell [ Provided ]

Driskell represents Hillsborough County’s House District 63 and is widely viewed as a rising star in Democratic politics. She will run this year in House District 67 because of boundary changes that resulted from the once-a-decade reapportionment process.

Driskell announced Tuesday that she qualified by petition to run in District 67.

Related: Tampa lawmakers vow to push abandoned Black cemeteries bill in next session

Driskell is the third House Democrat, after Alexander and Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, to be considered as a successor to Jenne.

Diamond initially was in line to become leader in November before pivoting to run for Congress instead of seeking another term in the state House. Diamond last week suspended his campaign for a Tampa Bay-area congressional seat.

Alexander’s district includes Gadsden County and part of Leon County. After his announcement, five Democratic candidates have jumped into the District 8 race: Hubert Ross Brown, Trish Brown, Gallop Franklin, Delaitre Hollinger and Marie Rattigan.

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