Rising Generation of Republican Young Guns Fits Florida's History
Around the State
As the Legislature wrapped up its first week of the 2011 session, it became clear that a bold new generation of Republican leaders is helping drive the political process in the Sunshine State.
Look at the ages of the leadership in both the Senate and the House.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, is 42, making him older than most of the rest of the legislative leadership. Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, is 42. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, turns 41 on Tuesday. Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who was officially chosen Monday to take the gavel from Cannon after the 2012 elections, is 31. Speaker Pro Tempore John Legg, R-Port Richey, will turn 36 in the closing days of the session. House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, is 37.
This youthful leadership is fairly representative of their caucuses.
Two Republican senators -- Anitere Flores of Miami and Rene Garcia of Hialeah -- are still in their 30s. So are a host of Republican members of the House -- Frank Artiles of Miami, Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Jason Brodeur of Sanford, Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island, Daniel Davis of Jacksonville, Jose Felix Diaz of Miami, Chris Dorworth of Heathrow, Brad Drake of DeFuniak Springs, Eric Eisnaugle of Orlando, Erik Fresen of Miami, Clay Ingram of Pensacola, Seth McKeel of Lakeland, Jeanette Nunez of Miami, Jimmy Patronis of Panama City, Rob Schenck of Spring Hill, Greg Steube of Sarasota, and John Tobia and Ritch Workman, both of Melbourne.
There are even five Republicans in the House still in their 20s -- Rachel Burgin of Tampa, Matt Caldwell of Fort Myers, Matt Gaetz of Shalimar, James Grant of Tampa and Carlos Trujillo of Miami.
This extends throughout the state Republican leadership. Attorney General Pam Bondi is 45, and Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam is 36. While he is younger than all but two current members of the U.S. Senate, Haridopolos does not seem out of place among the possible Republican candidates looking to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2012. Former House Majority Leader Adam Hasner is 41. U.S. Rep. Connie Mack is 43. Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux is 41. That makes all of them older than fellow Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who turns 40 in May.
Some of these young Republican guns will want to stay around in office for decades -- and perhaps some of them will. But Florida has a pattern of voting in younger leaders and then casting them aside.
Not all of them, of course. Some Florida leaders who rose to prominence early were able to stay on the political stage for decades.
Park Trammell was elected mayor of Lakeland at 23 in 1899, rose to the House at 26, jumped to the Senate at 28, was elected attorney general at 33, governor at 36 and was in the U.S. Senate when he was 41. He served almost two decades in the Senate before dying at the age of 60.
Millard Fillmore Caldwell was in the House in 1929 when he was 32. In 1932, at the age of 35, Caldwell was elected to Congress and was still in his 40s when he was elected governor in 1944. Caldwell went on to serve in the Truman administration and later on the state Supreme Court, eventually becoming chief justice.
The legendary Claude Pepper was in the Florida House when he was in his 20s and was in the U.S. Senate when he was 36. While he would lose that Senate seat in a nasty race in 1950 and suffer defeat in a political comeback for the Senate in 1958, Pepper would bounce back to serve more than 25 years in the U.S. House.
Some rising political stars find their niche and stay there. In 1948, Jacksonville attorney Charles Bennett would win election to the U.S. House at the age of 38 and remain there until he decided not to run again in 1992. Bennett never tried to run for any other office, passing up chances to run for governor or the U.S. Senate.
But not all politicians who rise fast in Florida have done well -- and there are warnings to this generation of Republicans from the state‘s history that not all rising stars shine brightly.
Take John W. Martin for example. Martin, after whom Martin County was named, was in his early 30s when he was elected mayor of Jacksonville and only 40 when he became governor in 1924. While Martin pushed for education reform, he had the misfortune to lead the state during the Miami hurricane of 1926 and the Okeechobee hurricane of 1928 which killed more than 2,500 people in South Florida. Martin also presided over Florida as the land boom went bust. No wonder he crashed and burned in his future attempts to run for office: He fell flat when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1928 and for governor again in 1932.
Doyle Carlton, who was governor after Martin, was elected in 1928 at the age of 43. Like Martin, he had no luck in office as yet more hurricanes and the Great Depression started during his tenure. And, like Martin, when Carlton tried to make a political comeback in 1936 in a run for the U.S. Senate, he lost.
Next came David Sholtz, only 41 when he was elected in 1932. Sholtz had been an up-and-comer for more than a decade. He was elected to the Florida House in his late 20s and was a judge in his early 30s. While Sholtz helped reorganize government during his term as governor, he also failed in his bid for a comeback, losing a U.S. Senate race in 1938.
Fuller Warren may be the most striking example of a rising star in Florida who quickly burned out. Warren, for those of you who came in late, was an early riser in Florida politics. He was elected to the House when he was 21 and a student at the University of Florida. After graduating, he moved to Jacksonville where he served on the City Council and eventually returned to the Florida House at the age of 34. After serving in World War II, Warren was elected governor in 1948.
A charming stump speaker and a photogenic politician with a young family, Warren’s future seemed very bright -- indeed, he seemed ready to lead the Sunshine State in a new direction, pushing, for example, for laws to ensure cattle did not wander onto highways across Florida. Warren even wrote a book in 1949 called “How to Win in Politics.”
Yet, Warren’s tenure as governor did not prove successful. He came under criticism for everything from the state’s handling of the murder of civil rights leader Harry Moore to accusations about ethics and ties to organized crime. Warren failed in his attempt to wage a comeback for a second term in 1956.
After Warren came St. Lucie County's Dan McCarty. Elected governor in 1952 at the age of 40, McCarty had been an up and comer for more than 15 years. He was elected to the House when he was 25 and was wielding the gavel as speaker when he was only 29. While McCarty lost out to Warren in the 1948 gubernatorial race, he came back in 1952, only to suffer a heart attack in his opening weeks in office. Only 41, McCarty would pass away in September 1953, less than a year after winning election as governor.
Even two Floridians elected governor in their 40s who won second terms -- LeRoy Collins and Reubin Askew -- could not keep their popularity intact. Collins failed in his bid to win a U.S. Senate seat in 1968 and Askew, after foundering badly in his bid for the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination, scudded a bid to run for the U.S. Senate in 1988 due to fund-raising concerns.
Undoubtedly, some of the young Republicans in Tallahassee and across the state will serve for decades.
Starting in the 2012 primary to take on Nelson, some of them will square off against each other to move up the political ladder. Legislators working together in the 2011 session may have to face off down the road, come 2020 and 2026. It will be interesting to see which of the current crop of young Republicans will win statewide elections or head to Congress -- and which ones will be tossed into the dustbin of history.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.