With the 2014 political cycle starting up, five former representatives in the Florida House are looking to get their old jobs back.
Three Republicans -- Brad Drake, Eric Eisnaugle and Scott Plakon --and two Democrats -- Evan Jenne and Philip Brutus, who previously served in the Florida House, have already filed their paperwork as they attempt to return to that chamber.
They look to join a host of familiar faces in the Florida House, because only 15 of the current 120 House members face term limits in 2014.
Drake has strong family ties to Florida politics, with his grandfather having served in the Florida House off and on during the 1930s though 1950s, and his cousin Pat Thomas serving almost three decades in the Florida Legislature, including a stint as Senate president in 1994. Closer to home, Drakes father served as superintendent of Walter County Schools in the late 1970s.
First elected to the Florida House in 2008, Drake chose not to run for a third term in 2012 when he would have faced Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, in a primary. With Coley, who is now House speaker pro tempore, facing term limits in 2014, Drake is looking to take the seat that represents Holmes, Jackson, Walton and Washington counties.
Right now, Drakes odds of returning to the Florida House look excellent. At the end of 2012, Drake had more than $45,000 in the bank and no other candidates have entered the race so far. While Democrats outnumber Republicans in HD 5, the district is one of the most conservative in the state, with Rick Scott taking 62 percent of the vote there in 2010, while Alex Sink only won 33 percent.
Like Drake, Eisnaugle was elected in 2008 and appeared on the fast track to leadership, including serving as vice chairman of the Economic Development Policy Committee in his second term. Eisnaugle was also a favorite of social conservatives. His wife, fellow attorney Carrie Eisnaugle, serves as president of Florida Right to Life.
But, again, like Drake, after redistricting, Eisnaugle stepped aside in 2012 in favor of a more senior Republican -- namely Steve Precourt, who currently serves as majority leader. With Precourt facing term limits, Eisnaugles chances of returning to the Florida House to represent parts of Orange County look very probable. With no opponents in the race so far and more than $110,000 in the bank at the end of 2012, he looks like the man to beat to win Republican-leaning District 44.
Plakon will face tougher odds than either Drake or Eisnaugle to return to the Florida House. Plakon, a businessman and publisher from Longwood, was first elected to the Florida House in 2008 to represent parts of Orange and Seminole counties. In 2012, Plakon chose to run in a swing district to ensure that fellow Republican Chris Dorworth, who was in line to be House speaker after the 2014 elections, could run in a more Republican district containing only parts of Seminole County.
The gambit paid off badly for both Republicans as they went down to defeat in 2012. Kathy Castor Dentel, the scion of a prominent Democratic family, took 53 percent of the vote in District 30, while Plakon followed with 47 percent. In District 29, Democrat Mike Clelland beat Dorworth in a close election that involved hand recounts.
Plakon is now aiming for Clelland, whose district appears to be more fertile ground for Republicans. While Republicans have a slight edge over Democrats in Dentels district, Sink beat Scott by 4 percent there in 2010. Clellands district leans more Republican. The GOP makes up 43 percent of it while only 33 percent are Democrats. In 2010, Scott won the district with 53 percent while Sink took 43 percent in it. Plakon is betting that voters turned against Dorworth due to numerous charges of ethics violations, and that the Republican brand is still valued in Seminole County. With Clelland already winning press with his calls for ethics reforms in Tallahassee, look for this contest to be one of the chief legislative battlegrounds in 2014.
Former Rep. Evan Jenne, who filed his paperwork in the last week, is also looking to return to the Florida House, hoping to replace fellow Democrat Joe Gibbons of Pembroke Park in HD 105. Gibbons faces term limits in 2014.
As he seeks to represent parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, Jenne is hoping to cash in on his family legacy. His father, Ken Jenne, was politically active for 30 years, serving on the Broward County Comission, two decades in the Florida Senate and another decade as Broward County sheriff.
Evan Jenne is no stranger to politics himself. While still in his late 20s, he won a Florida House seat in 2006, which he gave up in 2012 to seek a seat on the Broward County Commission. But he dropped out of that race, saying he wanted to go into the private sector. Less than a year later, hes running for office again. So far, Jenne is the only candidate in the race.
Brutus also faces a challenging road back to the Florida House, but he does have deep political ties to Miami-Dade County. The former husband of former Rep. Yolly Roberson, Brutus served on the Miami Community Council before winning a seat in the Florida House in 2000. After leaving the Florida House in 2006, Brutus has not been particularly successful in politics, with failed bids for Congress in 2010 and the Florida Senate in 2011.
Brutus has filed to run for the HD 107 seat currently held by Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, who represents parts of Miami-Dade. After redistricting in 2012, Watson was pitted against fellow Rep. John Patrick Julien in a Democratic primary that came down to the wire. With allegations of voter fraud and a protracted court case, Watson was declared the winner of the primary. Sink took 84 percent of the vote in the district which is a bastion of support for Democrats. So far, Watson has not filed to run again, nor are there any other candidates already in the race besides Brutus.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News.