Space Coast Republican Steve Crisafulli will find himself unexpectedly as the next in line to be House speaker after the GOP caucus unanimously chose him to replace the defeated Rep. Chris Dorworth in the line of succession.
Crisafulli, of Merritt Island, was chosen Monday by the caucus to be speaker-designate in the coming two years, which means he'll follow incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford in November of 2014, assuming Crisafulli remains in office and Republicans, as expected, keep control of the chamber.
Dorworth, a Republican from Lake Mary, had been slated to follow Weatherford, but was narrowly defeated in the race for his Seminole County seat in last week's election by Democrat Mike Clelland.
That race went to a recount, which wasn't completed until Monday. Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel said Monday that the final tally showed Clelland with a 146-vote win out of nearly 74,000 votes cast. Clelland is a retired firefighter and union lawyer.
Crisafulli's selection will surprise many observers he's generally had a low key term in the Legislature, remaining largely out of the limelight since being elected in 2008. He was heavily involved in redistricting, however, and was chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Crisafulli also made a mark as a fundraiser a key attribute for someone whose job it will be to help get Republicans elected to the Legislature. He was one of the top overall legislative fundraisers last year.
"I am deeply grateful to my colleagues for trusting me with the important role as their future leader in the Florida House," Crisafulli said in a statement sent out Monday. "I understand the weight of the responsibility that has been placed on my shoulders, and I know with the support of the House, we will set forth a bold agenda that honors Floridians over the next four years."
Dorworth's failure to win re-election is the second time Republicans have seen their plans for the speakership upset just in the last four years. In late 2008 a scandal over funding of a university building led to the eventual resignation of then-incoming speaker Ray Sansom. Republicans quickly made Speaker Pro-Tem Larry Cretul speaker then. Cretul was followed by Dean Cannon, who finished his two-year term last week.
In 1988, Sam Bell, a Democrat from Ormond Beach who was speaker-designate, lost his bid for re-election.
Crisafulli has a political pedigree. He is a cousin of former Gov. Doyle E. Carlson and the grandson of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Vassar B. Carlton.
He also may have at least the initial support of Democrats, who are unlikely to be able to take over the House anytime soon, with the GOP going into the coming session with a majority 76 Republicans and 44 Democrats. Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said last week that Crisafulli was respected on the other side of the aisle as well, and "an excellent choice."