Photo via NSF
Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa
With elections just months away and after a shakeup caused by sexual-harassment allegations, House Democrats on Tuesday chose a new leader who said she hopes to bring stability to the caucus.
Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat who will become the first Black woman to lead House Democrats, told reporters she will aim to “build a sort of unity” in the caucus when she officially takes over as leader following the November elections.
Driskell had previously been in line to become leader in November 2024. Now, she is expected to serve a rare four-year term in the role.
“I think this is a great step forward for our caucus as well. What this means is that I have the opportunity to serve in this role for four years, as I was already elected to serve as leader-designate from 2024 through 2026. So it will be an unprecedented opportunity for our caucus to have some stability as we try to chart our pathway forward,” Driskell told reporters.
The shakeup came after Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, dropped his bid for re-election this year after he became embroiled in a controversy related to allegations of sexual harassment. Alexander had been slated to become Democratic leader in November.
“The general sentiment has been that our caucus, and myself included, wish my predecessor and his family the best,” Driskell said of Alexander. “It’s a very tough situation. But what I’ve also found is that members are excited and want to move forward.”
Before Alexander, Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, had been expected to succeed outgoing Leader Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, in November. But Diamond announced he would not run for re-election to the House, instead announcing a run for a Tampa-area congressional seat. Diamond has since suspended his congressional campaign.
Driskell, an attorney first elected to the House in 2018, will take over as badly outnumbered Democrats try to retain seats in the November elections.
“2022 is going to be a tough year for us. It’s going to be a tough year for Democrats across the board. Just any time the party that has the president in office, it’s a tough year in the midterms. But our plan is to focus really hard and make sure that we bring back each and every (Democratic) member, so success to us would look like holding,” Driskell said.
Standing alongside Driskell following Tuesday’s caucus election, Jenne said the transition to Driskell as incoming leader is “virtually seamless,” in part because of Driskell’s work with the Democrats’ campaign committee, Florida House Victory. Jenne will leave the House this year because of term limits.
Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said Driskell “made history” Tuesday by getting chosen to become the first Black woman to lead the caucus.
“But Leader Driskell is remarkable far beyond simply being the ‘first’ — her exemplary legal career, service to others and tenacity to do what’s right will continue to bolster not only our Democratic colleagues in the House, but our collective, efforts to defend Floridians’ rights and freedoms across both chambers,” Book said in a statement.
Driskell will take the helm at the same time as incoming House speaker, Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast. Renner will replace outgoing House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.
“Rep. Renner and I get along very well. We’ve served on committees together, particularly when I was a first-term legislator, he was chair of the Judiciary Committee. I think that’s where we best got to know one another. And I’m looking forward to his leadership and being his counterpart in the House Democratic caucus,” Driskell said.