TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP)— Still badly outnumbered in Florida’s Legislature, more Democrats will soon be at the Capitol following perhaps their most encouraging Election Day in some two decades.
Republican leaders may be looking over their shoulders after losing a super-majority in the Legislature and possibly their pick to be House speaker in two years.
State Rep. Chris Dorworth trailed Democratic challenger Mike Clelland by 37 votes on Wednesday, a day before Seminole County officials count provisional ballots. The result would then be sent to state officials, who determine whether a recount is needed. Dorworth’s departure would create a scramble among Republicans to replace him as speaker-designate.
“Regardless of the outcome, we will work with either candidate the voters of District 29 send to Tallahassee,” said incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who noted that he was hopeful Dorworth would prevail.
It would be the first time a speaker-designate has been defeated since 1988, when Sam Bell, an Ormond Beach Democrat, lost after his role in passing a short-lived services tax.
“It’s a great day to be a Democrat in Florida,” state party chairman Rod Smith said Wednesday. “This is the best night we’ve had in Florida … since I’ve been casting votes much less since I’ve been in politics.”
Smith, who served in the Senate from 2001 to 2006, said Tuesday was the first time in 30 years that Democrats had a net gain in the state Senate, where they added two seats in addition to possibly five in the House.
“We’re obviously going to look long and hard at how they (Democrats) did it and apply some of those lessons to our own model,” said Brian Burgess, communications director for the state Republican Party. “We lost some races we expected to win and any time that happens you have to look internally to identify things we could have done better.”
Republicans, however, still enjoy a 26-14 advantage in the Senate and will have a 76-44 edge in the House should Clelland survive the recount. By breaking the Republicans’ super-majority in both chambers, Democrats improved their position to negotiate with their legislative colleagues.
“With a commitment to bipartisanship and cooperation, I am hopeful that the Legislature will meet the public’s expectations,” said Rep. Perry Thurston, the House Democratic leader-designate.
Thurston, D-Plantation, will have some additional hands to help negotiate with the Republican majority in Carl Zimmerman, Karen Castor Dentel, Mark Danish, Jose Javier Rodriguez and maybe Clelland.
Zimmerman, Dentel and Danish ousted GOP Reps. Peter Nehr, Scott Plakon and Shawn Harrison, respectively.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, knocked off former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican who was trying to get back to Talllahassee in the House seat vacated by the resignation of former Rep. Richard Steinberg, a Democrat, after admitting he’d sent suggestive emails to a female federal prosecutor.
But Democrats couldn’t capitalize on another vacancy that also resulted from a sex scandal.
They’d hoped to claim a House seat that opened in September when Republican State Rep. Mike Horner of Kissimmee resigned abruptly after his named turned up on the client list of an Orange County prostitution ring. Democrat Eileen Game was instead opposed by Mike LaRosa, who was named by Republicans to replace Horner, although his name wasn’t even on the ballot. Any vote checked by Horner’s name was awarded to LaRosa under provisions of the state’s elections law.
Florida Democrats also made gains in Congress while re-electing U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and knocking back several ballot amendments put forth by Republicans.
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