« View from the 305: "Vultures" are circling the House | Main | In the House, a call for a GOP caucus »

Planas: Sansom's "temporary recusal" isn't legal

After being the first House Republican to publicly call on House Speaker Ray Sansom to step aside, Miami Republican Rep. J.C. Planas is now raising a new concern: Sansom's temporary recusal isn't permitted.

Sansom cited an inability to act as his reasons for his "recusal" The "inability" language is pulled straight from House rule 2.5 titled "Appointment of a Temporary Presiding Officer," which says the "Speaker pro tempore shall exercise the duties, powers, and prerogatives of the Speaker in the event of the Speaker's death, illness, removal or inability to act, until the Speaker's successor is elected."

But Planas said there's "nothing in the House rules that allow a speaker to have a temporary inability. There's nothing about a recusal, either." But then, nothing prohibits a temporary inability or recusal, either.

Planas also points to the first sentence of rule 2.5, which says the "Speaker may appoint any member to perform the duties of presiding officer for a temporary period of time not to extend beyond a single legislative day." But then, that likely applies to those presiding over floor votes, not the day-to-day running of the House.

So, Planas said, Sansom will have to re-appoint Speaker Pro Tem Larry Cretul every day. Planas said he has a better idea.

"We need to vote for a new speaker," Planas said. "It can be Larry Cretul. I'm fine with that. But we have to vote for him."

The Republican caucus can also vote to change the rule book, however. But Planas said that makes matters worse.

With an interim speaker, Planas said, it's unclear who will really be in charge. Who will Gov. Charlie Crist and Senate President Jeff Atwater negotiate with? Will Cretul work out of the speaker's office? Do the rules permit a temporary house speaker to be in charge for more than a day?

"Interim house speaker? Interim anything doesn't cut it right now. It's not taken seriously,'' Planas said. "I dont see how this lifts any cloud,'' Planas said. "This doesn't kill the story. This doesn't stop you guys from writing stories. This doesn't bring in the happy ending. This doesn't lift the cloud.''

But Rep. Erik Fresen said that the Republican caucus already decided that Cretul was Sansom's temporary replacement when it voted him in as Speaker Pro Tempore. "There's a reason the title exists,'' Fresen said. "I trust Larry Cretul and believe this provides the smoothest transition without us moving from one dramatic situation to another.''

Some Republicans have grumbled that Planas is trying to lead a coup for Rep. Bill Galvano of Bradenton, who lost out to Sansom for the job. But Planas said he hasn't spoken with Galvano. Galvano chairs the rules committee, so he'll be in charge of defining just what the rule book allows.  But the final decison will be made by the House Speaker - whoever that is.

Also, Galvano was the one who directed Cretul to appoint a special prosecutor to look into a House rules complaint against Sansom. Now, it's unclear who's supposed to do what.