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Charles McBurney Quiet, Solid Player in the House, but What About Later?

May 27, 2013 - 6:00pm

Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, certainly is a heavy favorite to win a fourth and final full term in 2014 -- but he faces an uncertain future after that.

McBurney probably got the most attention in his political career earlier this year when he complained about a police officer letting him skate on a speeding ticket. He hasn't always commanded attention, but he's made his own mark in Tallahassee.

Since he first was elected to the Florida House in a special election in 2007, McBurney, who turns 56 next month, has been rising through the ranks. He serves on some of the most prestigious committees in the Legislature -- Appropriations, Education, Judiciary, the Joint Legislative Budget Commission and the Select Committee on Gaming. McBurney chairs the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

Not a bad legislative career to be sure, but McBurney had a chance to go higher and follow in his stepfathers footsteps. McBurney is the stepson of William Chappell, who was one of the most prominent Florida politicians of the last century. After serving as a prosecutor in Ocala, Chappell was elected to the Florida House in 1954 and eventually moved up to speaker in 1961. After briefly leaving the House, Chappell returned and served in Tallahassee until 1968. He then successfully ran for Congress, where he served two decades before losing by the skin of his teeth in 1988 to Republican Craig James.

When Chris Dorworth, who was penciled in to be House speaker after the 2014 elections, lost in November, legislators from Northeast Florida made a push for one of them to wield the gavel. Eventually, McBurney became the First Coasts candidate. But Republicans quickly fell in line behind Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.

Nor does there appear to be an immediate opening for McBurney. Fellow Republican Aaron Bean represents the area in the Florida Senate, and he was just elected in 2012. Another First Coast Republican, Ander Crenshaw, holds the congressional seat and shows little signs of slowing down. Certainly McBurney could enter the primary once Crenshaw steps down, but other Republicans also have their eyes on the seat.

While he has been active in Jacksonville for three decades, McBurneys political campaigns have focused on Tallahassee. He could turn toward offering a challenge to Mayor Alvin Brown, but other Republicans have their eyes on that race as well. Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, who served as president of the City Council and now heads the Jacksonville City Council, appears a much more likely candidate in that role than McBurney.

Still, politicians from the First Coast have a knack for bouncing back. After being thrown out of office, former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Hazouri ended up on the School Board. Written off as a has-been after his term as Florida Senate president and a less-than-impressive bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 1994, Crenshaw came back to win a congressional seat hes now held for more than a decade. After 10 years out of office following his time as Florida House speaker, John Thrasher roared back to win a seat in the Florida Senate in 2009.

In the meantime, McBurney faces a challenge for a final term in 2014. David Walter Harwood filed to run with no party affiliation against McBurney in November, but has done little to advance his candidacy so far. McBurney filed to run in January and, between then and March 31, brought in $13,550 and spent less than $200. While Democrats are able to compete in Jacksonville, as Browns victory in 2011 shows, McBurney represents a fairly safe Republican seat.

As he heads into 2014 a heavy favorite, McBurney might not wield the gavel or have an immediate political opportunity to shoot for after his time in Tallahassee. But he remains one of the leading Republicans from Jacksonville and can expect to lead a major committee after the 2014 elections. Hes not down and out by any means, even if he failed to become speaker.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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