State Politics

Speaker strips dissenter’s power

TALLAHASSEE — Rep. Larry Cretul has heard the jokes about his accidental status as speaker of the Florida House, but with a single act this week, he left no doubt who is in charge.

On Wednesday, Cretul stripped Miami Republican Julio Robaina as a committee chairman for undermining a bill that was a priority of the attorney general.

Cretul’s power play struck some as heavy-handed, while others said it was the right medicine.

“When you get tested, you must take action,” said Rep. Rich Glorioso, a Plant City Republican and retired Air Force colonel. “That’s the basic rule of leadership. Otherwise you lose control.”

But it was a surprising move from Cretul, R-Ocala, who quickly established himself as a calming force in a House where his predecessor had resigned.

Robaina blasted Cretul on Thursday on Univision Radio, calling him un dictador and asserted cultural discrimination.

The bill would limit contingency fees awarded to outside lawyers hired by the Attorney General’s Office. Robaina offered an amendment that provided more leeway.

On Tuesday, he successfully amended it during a meeting of the Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Council and the bill passed on a bipartisan 9-to-1 vote. Robaina said it is bad public policy to tie the hands of future attorneys general.

But Robaina was warned against doing so, and critics say he is doing the bidding of trial lawyers, with an eye toward fundraising in an upcoming state Senate run. Robaina denies that and blames Cretul’s actions on the man who delivered the message to back off: Miami Republican Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the House whip.

Even so, the situation served as a first test for Cretul, who has displayed a low-key management style. Cretul declined to comment Friday.

Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, thinks the action was less about Robaina than about sending a signal to the GOP caucus.

“They need their members to vote in lockstep on the budget and other issues,” he said, “and they wanted to show those consequences of failing to do so.”