Rep. Steve Crisafulli was officially tapped Monday to lead the House GOP in two years, a once-unexpected scenario that sets him up to be speaker of the House in the 2014-16 session.
The designation of Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, came after former Rep. Chris Dorworth was ousted in the November elections. Dorworth was scheduled to become speaker before he lost his House seat to Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary.
Those issues were largely overlooked during Monday' designation ceremony, which focused instead on the story of Crisafulli's family, which has been in Florida for nearly a century. While largely a formality, the event made it official that Crisafulli will become speaker -- as long as he wins re-election and House Republicans hold onto their majority, a scenario even Democrats concede is likely.
In a speech after the vote that at times flayed more liberal policies, Crisafulli made it clear that he would run a conservative House. But he also said that the GOP should strive to assure Floridians that its policies are fair and "work in the real world."
"If we can't answer those questions, our past successes will quickly fade away, and we'll lose the battle of ideas to those who peddle the false security of dependency, the false prosperity of an overregulated economy and the false fairness of a government that sees the redistribution of wealth as its primary goal," he said.
Despite the party's dominant position in the House specifically and Tallahassee generally, Crisafulli is set to inherit a party facing some of its strongest headwinds in almost 20 years of legislative control. Democrats gained seats on both sides of the Capitol in November, and Gov. Rick Scott's approval ratings are lagging so badly that some party leaders are rumored to be considering a primary challenge.
But Crisafulli said that successful work in the Capitol could help Republicans, and largely brushed off questions about the campaign that he will largely lead over the next two years.
"It's most important that we work on the issues that are important to Florida and focus on those issues solely at this point in time," he said. "I'm one of those that believes when you do the right things when you're here legislating, then ultimately elections take care of themselves."
Later in the afternoon, future House Democratic Leader Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, congratulated Crisafulli. Rouson is slated to head the Democratic caucus during Crisafulli's speakership.
"I look forward to working with him to address the priorities of Florida," Rouson said. "Representative Crisafulli is a proven passionate leader who cares about business and Florida families."