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Unusual election could lead to longer term

It has been an unusually long and complicated election cycle for state Rep. Jamie Grant. A primary election scheduled for August didn’t happen until November, and even then, the results were thrown out.

But the strange circumstances could benefit the Tampa Republican.

Some elections experts say Grant, whose election is now set for Feb. 10, could be eligible to serve 14 years in the Florida House, despite a state law limiting lawmakers to eight years per chamber. And an elongated tenure could position Grant to become House speaker in 2022.

Grant told the Herald/Times he was not sure how many years he would be able to serve — or if he would want to stay in the Florida House any longer than eight years.

"My focus is on getting re-elected," he said Wednesday. "Anything else is a distraction."

Grant, the 32-year-old son of longtime state lawmaker John Grant, has served in the Florida House since 2010.

His most recent bid for re-election took an unforeseen turn in June, when the husband of Republican candidate Miriam Steinberg sued to have write-in candidate Daniel John Matthews removed from the race. A circuit court ruled that Matthews did not meet the requirements to run, and postponed the primary between Grant and Steinberg until November.

Grant won the election by a comfortable margin. But the Florida House voted to invalidate the results earlier this month because an appellate court found that Matthews had been wrongfully withdrawn from the contest.

For now, House District 64 has no state representative — a fact that could be key to Grant’s future.

Under the state Constitution, a candidate is eligible to run for a legislative seat unless he has already held the office for "eight consecutive years."

If Grant is re-elected on Feb. 10, he will have had a break between the Nov. 4 election and the special primary, Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron said. "It's not eight consecutive years," Herron said.

That would mean Grant could finish out what remains of the 2014-16 term — and seek up to an additional four terms.

Under those circumstances, he would be a likely pick for speaker. The House chooses its own leaders six years in advance, and those who have been in Tallahassee the longest often have the edge.

Still, a Grant speakership is still far from guaranteed. Elections lawyers say this is the first time the issue has surfaced. And some have a different take on the law.

"The term limit provision is based on consecutive times appearing on the ballot," said Miami attorney J.C. Planas, a former member of the Florida House. "It should not affect Jamie Grant’s term limits."

Daniel Nordby, a former general counsel to Florida House and Secretary of State, said it was hard to say which way the courts would decide the issue given the arguments that could be made on both sides.

"These unusual circumstances clearly weren't what the drafters of the term limits amendment had in mind," he said.

Even House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said he wasn't sure how many terms Grant could serve.

Grant did not rule anything out, but he told the Herald/Times he also has professional and personal ambitions outside the Legislature.

"It's a big decision," he said. "There are a lot of things I want to accomplish in the private sector."