Drama: chancellor talk swirls as Ray Rodrigues exits reelection campaign; replacement anointed

by | Jun 16, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — State Sen. Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican who is one of the chamber’s GOP leaders, said Wednesday will not seek reelection, and Gov. Ron DeSantis quickly backed another candidate who launched a bid for the Southwest Florida district.

DeSantis on Wednesday tweeted his endorsement of Lee County Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Martin, a personal injury attorney. Martin opened a campaign account Wednesday, according to the Florida Division of Elections website. DeSantis called Martin “a conservative fighter” and threw his support behind the local party official.

“I want to thank Senator Rodrigues … for his service to Florida. I wish him well in his future endeavors,” DeSantis tweeted. “Jonathan Martin is a conservative fighter for Southwest Florida. I am pleased to support him for Senate District 33. He will be a strong ally for our agenda.”

Martin also received backing from outgoing Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, as well as Simpson’s incoming replacement Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. Simpson and Passidomo released a joint statement along with Wauchula Republican Sen. Ben Albritton, who is expected to become Senate President in 2024.

“Jonathan Martin has been on the front lines in the fight for our shared conservative values for 20 years, from growing our party to standing up for our freedom,” the joint statement said.

The statement also appeared to provide a hint of what’s to come for Rodrigues, amid swirling speculation Wednesday about whether he will be tapped to take over as chancellor of the state’s university system.

“We are so pleased for the opportunity (Rodrigues) has to further ensure world class education opportunities for our students and look forward to his continued success,” the joint statement said.

Rodrigues did not respond to a question seeking confirmation that he is in the running to replace Marshall Criser, who currently is chancellor of the university system. Criser has held the position since 2014.

A spokeswoman for the state university system’s Board of Governors did not respond to questions about whether Criser plans to step down from the role.

Rodrigues, an Estero Republican who served in the House for eight years prior to his election to the Senate in 2020, was one of Simpson’s top lieutenants since joining the upper chamber.

Rodrigues has made an imprint on the state’s higher-education system through legislation he has pushed over the past few years.

For example, Rodrigues was the Senate sponsor of a 2021 measure, signed into law by DeSantis, that requires colleges and universities to conduct surveys gauging “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on campus.

During the 2022 legislative session, Rodrigues was a sponsor of a controversial higher-education measure (SB 7044) that allows the state university system’s Board of Governors to create a new system of reviewing professors’ tenure.

Another part of this year’s higher-education law will significantly alter the way state colleges and universities are accredited, by forcing the institutions to change accrediting agencies at the end of each accreditation cycle.

Both laws were opposed by the United Faculty of Florida, the statewide union representing college and university professors.

Rodrigues has taken on other high-profile tasks in the Legislature, including serving as chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee this year. In that role, Rodrigues oversaw the once-a-decade redistricting process.

During his time in the House, Rodrigues also was a key player in crafting Florida’s medical marijuana laws, advocating for strict regulation of the state’s cannabis industry.

Rodrigues on Wednesday also backed Martin as his potential replacement.

“Serving the people of SWFL in the Senate has been an absolute honor, and I look forward to what’s next,” Rodrigues said in a prepared statement. “Jonathan has the best interest of Florida families at heart, and I know he will continue to fight for our shared conservative values in the Florida Senate.”


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