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Would-be House Speaker Chris Dorworth's Fate Heads to Monday Manual Recount

November 10, 2012 - 6:00pm

After an all-afternoon machine recount that went deep into Sunday night, one-time future House speaker Chris Dorworth appears no closer to reversing his apparent Election Night defeat.

The Lake Mary Republican, who has already penned a farewell letter to members of the House Republican Caucus, now sits 140 votes behind Democrat Mike Clelland, 17 votes further away than when the recount began.

With Clelland holding tight to his wafer thin margin gleaned out of nearly 74,000 votes cast, the manual recount for the House District 29 seat was scheduled for Monday.

While Dorworth faced intense media scrutiny over his personal finances in the runup to the election and unease from a few party members, there is no better race demonstrating the power of President Obamas coattails as his get-out-the-vote shock troops swept across the I-4 corridor.

Dorworth won the Election Day voting (51 percent to 49 percent) and absentee ballots (55 percent to 45 percent).

But with Obamas ground game in full force throughout the Tampa to Orlando region, 9,000 more early votes were cast in the District 29 race in the week prior to Election Day than were submitted via absentee ballots. And Clelland landed a 55 percent to 45 percent advantage in the early votes.

But Clelland, an attorney and former firefighter, had his own local troops out, which helped him outdo Obama by nearly 300 votes. Dorworth underperformed Gov. Mitt Romney by about 2,700 votes.

A Clelland victory will put the House at 76 Republicans, 44 Democrats --a five-seat improvement for the Democrats.

The Republican majority hasnt wasted time reordering the deck.

Following House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and barring future election upsets or a change in party leadership, the House speaker lineup is now: Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, 2015-16; Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, 2017-18; and Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, 2019-2020.

Weatherford will become speaker during the Legislatures Nov. 20 organization session.

Dorworths Nov. 9 letter to the House Republican Caucus:

To my friends and colleagues in the Republican caucus of the Florida House:

Five years ago, I was given one of the greatest honors of my life when the voters of House District 34 elected me in a special election. Two and a half years later, my classmates in the class of 2008 chose me to serve as the leader of their class.

The faith and confidence of the voters, and the friendship and loyalty of our membership are things that I will never forget.

As you have no doubt read or heard, I wound up on the down side of a 37-vote deficit on Election Day. Yesterday, that deficit grew by 86, so it does not appear that I will be a member of the Florida House any more. The deficit is small -- around 123 votes out of 73,000+ cast, which is a deficit of 0.16 percent.

While there will be recounts, Ive been around long enough to know that they rarely result in a difference of meaningful numbers of votes. So while we will exercise our right to have these recounts, I do not anticipate that they will change the outcome of this race. That said, due to the extraordinarily close nature of the race, I believe it is worth the time and energy to undertake a further review of all ballots to make sure that everything went as we believe it did.

I am extraordinarily proud of the work we have done over my five years in the Legislature. Having reflected on my tenure there, I believe there are only two votes in five years that I really regret -- the tobacco tax vote of 2009 and our decision to increase fees on Floridians that same year. The thousands of others were votes that I believe were in the best interest of the state, and would take them again without hesitation or reservation, regardless of consequence.

I want to thank our speaker, Will Weatherford, and the other men that I have had the privilege of serving under in my tenure. Sen. Marco Rubio is the future of the Republican Party, and I hope to visit his home on Pennsylvania Avenue some day. Speaker Larry Cretul was a man of quiet and steely resolve who would jokingly refer to himself as an accidental speaker, but make no mistake about it his leadership was born of providence and carried us through a dark time in the house. Speaker Dean Cannon showed us what the House could do with discipline and strategy, and led us to unprecedented reform and change.

Will Weatherford has allowed me to ride shotgun throughout the reapportionment process and then through our re-election cycle. That I will not be there on a daily basis to see the skills of such a great man, a true Christian conservative, shape our state, is truly a regret of mine.

The men that will likely come later, my dear friends Richard Corcoran and Jose Oliva, have been refreshing examples of all that is right with government. If I was picking a team to go into battle with, they would be top draft choices.

I hope and pray that the members of the House will afford to my class, the class of 2008, the ability to elect a speaker from their own ranks. While I do not have a vote in that matter, I would vote for my friend Steve Crisafulli if I did. While he does not boast my good looks, I believe he has the perfect temperament and experience as a small-business man to guide the House with honor and integrity. From all that I have read and heard, things are progressing toward the caucus uniting around him, and I believe that happening would lead to the best possible environment for the Florida House to tackle the challenges that lay ahead.

When I shared with my children that I would not be re-elected, it was pretty obvious that they didnt feel a pang of disappointment. My9-year-old son, Christopher, had asked me a couple of weeks ago what I would have done as Speaker Weatherfords majority leader. I told him that I would help set the strategy for the House Republican Caucus. He pointed out to me yesterday that now that I am no longer in the Florida House, I will have much more time to help set strategy for his basketball and football teams. Amen to that, Christopher. Amen to that.

I am going to call all of you in the coming days to express my gratitude for your friendship and steadfast loyalty, often coming in the face of extreme scrutiny.

I have been blessed to have the best staff a member could ask for, and I will miss working with great people like Sharon Spratt, Carolyn Johnson, Chris Sileo and Kathy Gilland. Ive had the blessing of working with Sen. Don Rubottom and Eric Miller in rulemaking and regulation, and Sanjay Thompson, whos smiling face greeted me every day of committee weeks and session during the last two years in our suite.

I hope that all of you find your time in Tallahassee worthy of the sacrifice of the time away from your family, your career and your profession. I will pray for Speaker Weatherford and for all of you on a daily basis because I understand how formidable the challenges that lay ahead, and how severe that the sacrifices you make, really are.

The last thing you want or need is advice from me, but Ill tell you this -- what is right is not always what is popular and what is popular is not always right. The nature of legislative service is that you have been made a steward of our states government for a two-year period.

I accept the results of this election because where it mattered -- in the votes I took, in the bills I sponsored and in the legislation I steered as a committee chair -- I held true to the principles that, at my core, govern my beliefs. I hope that when your legislative career ends, you feel the same way. In my case, the voters have spoken, and assuming the recount confirms the outcome, I respect what they have said.

Thank you all, and may God bless the state of Florida and the Florida House of Representatives.

Chris Dorworth.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

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