Speaker Sansom quits for now; Cretul to fill post
Published: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 12:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 12:34 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom, who has been attacked for taking a job at a state college after getting it extra millions in funding, said Friday he's temporarily leaving the post to focus on his legal issues.
Sansom, R-Destin, said Rep. Larry Cretul, a 61-year-old Ocala Republican, would replace him. Cretul's district - District 22 - includes portions of Marion, Alachua and Levy counties.
Sansom is facing investigations by a grand jury and the state ethics commission after taking a $110,000-a-year job at Northwest Florida State College the same day he became speaker on Nov. 18. Critics charge Sansom was given the job as payback for channeling more than $25 million to the school.
He has also been accused of putting $6 million in the 2007 state budget for an aircraft hangar to benefit a political supporter.
Sansom, who has served in the Legislature since 2002, stepped down from the university job earlier this month and Friday conceded the controversies made it impossible to be effective in the speaker's job with the 2009 session convening in just over a month.
"The allegations and reports associated with these proceedings have caused my family grave pain," Sansom said in a statement to House members. "I expect positive outcomes and am confident that when the facts are known, my honesty and integrity will be confirmed."
Gov. Charlie Crist agreed in a statement from his office, noting "there is important work ahead of us" and that he was "eager to work with members of the House and Senate to address the challenges."
State Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican whose larger Senate district covers much of the same area, said Sansom didn't have much choice in view of his legal challenges.
"Our community is confused and hurt today," Gaetz said.
Former House Clerk John Phelps, now the curator of the Florida Historic Capitol, said he was aware of only two other cases when a speaker stepped aside, but neither for misconduct. Both occurred in the 19th century.
Sansom has hired former state prosecutor Pete Antonacci to help him in the grand jury investigation and Tallahassee attorney Richard Coates to assist with the ethics complaints.
Cretul, a Navy veteran and former Marion County commissioner, was named by Sansom last month to chair a committee reviewing a compact with the Seminole Indians that could provide the state with millions of dollars in exchange for an expansion of gambling at tribal casinos.
Associated Press Writers Bill Kaczor in Tallahassee and Melissa Nelson in Destin contributed to this report.
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