Newly designated House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell told colleagues Monday evening that the next two years will be challenging as Democrats in the 120-member House face the largest GOP majority in history.
“We may be the minority, but we will be a vocal and principled minority,” said Driskell, the first Black woman to lead the Democratic House Caucus. “We will call out injustice. We will hold them accountable. We will call for the truth. We will fight for transparency, and members, you are called for such a time as this. Called to be leaders in our party and leaders in our community.”
In the cavernous House chamber, Driskell spoke about photos of other Black female lawmakers adorning the House floor and made note to give thanks to former Tampa state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a pioneer who made history as the first Black female lawyer in Hillsborough and Polk counties.
“I understand on whose shoulders I stand,” Driskell said. “I understand the history that I’m walking into at this moment.”
She grew up in Polk County and attended Florida public schools before attending Harvard University, where she became the first Black female student to serve as president of the student government. She then went on to graduate from Georgetown Law School and became a partner at the Carlton Fields law firm.
Florida Republicans now hold 85 seats in the House, giving the chamber a supermajority (the Senate also will have a supermajority), which will only make it more difficult for Democrats – something that Driskell didn’t sugarcoat in her 16-minute address.
“I do want to acknowledge that this moment in Florida history feels dark for those of you who love freedom – and I’m talking about actual freedom, not the so-called freedom what the governor talks about,” she said in one of her few references to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
She said that Democrats are worried about ascent of more Republicans in the state Legislature in Florida, and how it could lead to “the further erosion of our rights.”
And she took note of the passage during the 2022 regular session of a bill that bans references to critical race theory in public schools.
“We’re worried about the full true history of our Black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian and other minority groups being erased, their full true history being erased from school textbooks,” Driskell said.
Also at Monday night’s ceremonies, Miami-Dade County Rep. Dotie Joseph was officially selected as the House Democratic leader pro tempore, and Boca Raton Rep. Kelly Skidmore will serve as policy chairwoman.