Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bloc May Decide Next House Leader

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bloc May Decide Next House Leader

Article excerpt

Since taking office more than a year ago, six Republican House members from the Jacksonville area have worked steadily, if unspectacularly.

They have ground out countless hours in committee meetings, passed bills and tried to position themselves for bigger roles in the future.

But now, in a behind-the-scenes contest that might look odd to outsiders, the Jacksonville-area Republicans have become a closely watched group.

They have decided to band together and vote as a bloc in a race between two House leaders who want to become speaker in 2004. And with the race close, the Jacksonville-area freshmen could determine who gets one of the most powerful jobs in the state.

"I think the way the race has shaped up, they will very likely be the ones who make the final decision about who will be speaker," said Rep. Gaston Cantens, a Sweetwater Republican who is competing with Panama City Republican Allan Bense for the job.

Rep. Mike Hogan, R-Jacksonville, said the group is unsure when it will decide which candidate to support. In the meantime, backers of both candidates have tried to line up their support.

"We've been lobbied hard by everybody -- other members, lobbyists," Hogan said. "You name it, people have lobbied us on behalf of the two candidates."

The race is part of the inner workings of the Legislature rarely seen by anyone other than lawmakers and lobbyists. Though Bense or Cantens will not take office until after the November 2004 elections, they have long worked to collect pledges of support from fellow Republicans.

The stakes are high for everyone involved. Speakers can largely control what bills get heard and have power over the state budget, while their supporters can receive plum committee chairmanships and assignments.

Republicans expect to be able to choose the speaker, as they now hold 77 of the 120 House seats. …

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