Sen. Lauren Book, chosen to lead the Senate Democrats in upcoming legislative session, speaks in the Florida Senate Chamber on Nov. 21, 2022. Credit: screenshot/Florida Channel.
Florida Democrats in the Legislature face an uphill battle in the upcoming 2022‐2024 term, following a devastating general election this month that created a supermajority in the GOP House and Senate chambers.
State Sen. Lauren Book, of Broward County, will lead the Florida Senate Democratic Caucus, and State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, of Hillsborough County, will be the first Black Democratic leader in the Florida House of Representatives.
“The weight of this moment is not lost on me. The responsibility of this job, especially now, is extremely mighty,” Book said Monday afternoon during the Senate’s designation in the Capitol building. “And members, I intend not only to meet this moment, but to rise — because we may be down but we certainly are not out.”
She added: “And what matters now, my friends, is how we rise. The last several months, we’ve been at war. Battles that began inside of this chamber spilled out into Senate districts across the state, and although we fought hard to defend Floridians rights and freedoms to be a strong voice for working people, we have suffered great losses.”
She continued: “Losses which will force a fundamental shift in the way we operate on this very battlefield, and also in considering the way forward through the trenches on our collective path to a more fortified future, not only for this Democratic Caucus but for everyday people in this great state.”
The Senate Democrats’ designation Monday came one day before the Florida Legislature will convene for the 2022 organizational session stemming from the Nov. 8 election races. Driskell’s event in the House is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Others who attended Book’s designation included former Democratic Sen. Bill Montford, and Fred Guttenburg, widely known as the father of a victim during the 2018 Parkland shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and currently an advocate for gun control measures.
In addition, several Republicans attended, including in-coming Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and incoming Senate Republican Pro Tempore Dennis Baxley, and a handful of other GOP lawmakers.
Sen. Jason Pizzo, who represents part of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, was designated Monday as Pro Tempore for the Senate Democrats.
In his acceptance speech, he took a more combative approach in addressing the challenges that the Democrats face in the upcoming session.
“I just wanna say this: it’s time to get to work,” he told the Senate Democratic Caucus.
“For our Republican colleagues on the other side of the aisle: I know the decency and the compassion and the grace, the intelligence, the fortitude that you have for your constituents, your families or the sons and daughters of your own parents and their stories. And we will seek to extract all of that goodness out of you,” he said to the Republicans.
“And if we can’t, be prepared to fight,” Pizzo added.
Pizzo acknowledged another guest in the Senate gallery, a Broward woman named Romania Dukes, who’s 18-year-old son, De’Michael Dukes, was killed due to gun violence. Pizzo said that as a prosecutor, he worked on her case.
“The mothers and fathers of murdered children in the urban core — there are no marches for them. There are no rallies. There is no legislation that changes for Black children. But there should be. That’s why I’m here,” Pizzo said.
Other Senate Democratic leadership positions appointed Monday include: These are Democratic caucus chairs:
Rules Chair: Sen. Lori Berman (part of Palm Beach County);
Policy chair: Sen. Tina Polsky (part of Broward County);
Fiscal Policy Chair: Sen. Tracie Davis (part of Duval County).
Whips: Sen. Darryl Rouson (parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas counties), Sen. Shevrin Jones (part of Miami-Dade County), Sen. Linda Stewart (part of Orange County), and Sen. Victor Torres (part of Orange County).
In addition, Driskell, in the House, on Monday confirmed her leadership team.
Rep. Dotie Joseph, who represents part of Miami-Dade, will serve as the House Leader Pro Tempore. Rep. Kelli Skidmore, who represents part of Palm Beach County, will serve as the Policy Chair.
Rep. Michael Gottlieb will serve as the Floor leader. He represents part of Broward County. The Whip will be Rep. Christine Hunschofsky, who also serves part of Broward County.
“It is an honor and great pleasure to work with these individuals in this new capacity, and all of them are prepared to lead the caucus in the face of the challenges that lie ahead of us,” Driskell said in a written statement Monday ahead of the formal election of the House Democratic leader.
Phoenix reporter Issac Morgan contributed to this report.
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