In a time of turmoil, Cretul finds himself at the top of the House


Published: Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 10:54 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE - As Florida lawmakers head toward one of their most difficult sessions in recent history, a likable, low-key lawmaker from Ocala has been catapulted from a largely ceremonial role into the high-pressure job as leader of the 120-member Florida House.

Although his assignment may only be temporary, lawmakers, lobbyists and friends say Larry Cretul, the House speaker pro tempore who was first elected to the Legislature in 2002, has the personality and experience to handle the task as the new House speaker as lawmakers prepare for their annual session that begins March 3.

"Larry Cretul is a person with a very steady hand, a good listener," said former state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who also served as a House speaker pro tem. "I think things are in good hands with him."

A former Marion County commissioner, Cretul, 61, has not cut a wide swath in the legislative arena.

His most visible assignment is his current role as the chairman of a House committee reviewing Gov. Charlie Crist's plan to allow the Seminole Tribe to expand its casino games.

One of Cretul's major accomplishments was passing legislation, along with Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, that could help Floridians by making it easier to donate organs and tissues.

Oelrich, the former sheriff of Alachua County, said Cretul and he became friends after Oelrich was invited to talk about the donor issue with Cretul's civic club in Ocala. Cretul later played a role in getting Oelrich to run for the state Senate.

"He's kind of low-key and quiet, an introspective kind of a guy," Oelrich said. "But certainly his integrity and honesty are established. I think he will do a good job as an interim (speaker)."

Baxley, who now heads the Christian Coalition of Florida, said one of Cretul's greatest strengths is his previous service as a county commissioner.

"He really has a grasp of the relationship between local issues, local government and state government," Baxley said.

Ron Book, a veteran lobbyist, called Cretul "one of the nice guys in process."

"He's even tempered, even mannered. He's open minded," Book said. "He's always willing to listen. I think that's the way he's been with members as well as constituents and interest group people."

Baxley said Cretul may have mixed feelings about rising from the role of speaker pro tem - an assignment he was given by former House Speaker Ray Sansom, R-Destin.

"I'm sure it's an awkward thing for him because you're part of a leadership team as you come in together," Baxley said. "You're certainly not joyful to be in that circumstance. But as pro temp, you accept the fact that you may be needed to deal with a crisis."

Cretul did not talk to reporters on Friday. But he issued a statement to newspapers, saying Floridians "can have every confidence that the House of Representatives will continue to effectively pursue what is best for our state." "Having a new presiding officer will do nothing to change the basic orientation of the Florida House," he said.

But Cretul also acknowledged the major challenges facing lawmakers in the next few months, including a record budget deficit that they will have to resolve.

"In the months ahead, Florida's elected leaders have a lot of big decisions to make," Cretul said. "The challenge will be to meet the state's basic obligations without unduly burdening the people, slowing our economic recovery or making short-sighted - but hard to reverse - changes to the role and scope of government."

Cretul said he was "committed to presiding over a legislative process that is orderly, fair and deliberative."

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