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Political rancor lies beneath sweetness and light

By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 23, 2002

On the surface it looked like a love-in.

Gov. Jeb Bush planted a big kiss on Rep. Lois Frankel, the outspoken Democrat from West Palm Beach who is among the candidates hoping to oppose him in November.

"You notice it was the right cheek, not the left cheek," Frankel joked later.

House Speaker Tom Feeney and Senate President John McKay spent a little time trying to convince everybody how much they like each other.

"President McKay is a good friend and a great Floridian," Feeney told House members as they gathered amid flowers, hugs and good wishes for the first day of this year's legislative session.

"The speaker is my good friend," McKay echoed as he stood before a joint session of the House and Senate awaiting the arrival of the governor. "We've been working together a long time. We worked together on vouchers before vouchers were cool."

Feeney returned the favor by describing McKay as "a great friend and the leader of the Senate."

Feeney predicted the coming session "will be a lot of fun" and told reporters he hopes everyone is getting paid by the word "because we're going to make lots of news."

"This is scary," Frankel said.

"I was thinking of moving the Capitol to Plant City," injected House Rules Chairman Johnnie Byrd, who is expected to replace Feeney as speaker next year.

Behind the pretty words and flowers, love was lost, especially among the folks who are squabbling over McKay's attempt to overhaul the state tax system and those watching the maps drawn for legislative and congressional districts.

Feeney said he would give McKay's tax proposal the scrutiny it deserves but later said a 10-minute meeting to discuss the tax would probably include "91/2" minutes of laughter and said he wasn't quite ready to predict the tax will die in the House.

The tax bill now has 22 sponsors in the Senate and 22 dozen lobbyists standing outside fighting it.

Some House members erupted in anger after seeing a new map that would string legislative districts from Broward County across the state to the Gulf Coast in Collier County. Several Broward Democrats would suddenly find themselves living in districts with a lot of out-of-county Republicans.

Pinellas County legislators weren't very happy, either, because the maps would eliminate one House seat and force north Pinellas into sharing two seats with western Pasco County. The Pinellas seat would shift to Orlando.

All around the building, members of Congress huddled with maps pleading for a good district.

U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Pembroke Pines, was meeting with Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, to persuade Latvala, chairman of congressional redistricting in the Senate, to give him a good district. U.S. Reps. Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach Garden; Adam Putnam, R-Bartow; and Dave Weldon, R-Melbourne, also were eyeing the maps.

"This is just a starting point," said Rep. Sandy Murman, R-Tampa, as she waited to push an amendment backed by the Hillsborough delegation.

A line drawn on a map this week is not likely to be around next week in the struggle to create districts that will win approval in court.

War also seems to have broken out between Tallahassee legislators and Byrd.

Byrd has filed a bill to rename the Apalachee Parkway in Tallahassee the Ronald Reagan Parkway. He says he believes something besides the Florida Turnpike should carry Reagan's name, so why not the street that dead-ends into the state Capitol?

Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, said a meeting he had with Byrd on Tuesday ended in a rather heated exchange.

"I told him he has no respect for us," Lawson said. "How would he like it if I put in an amendment to rename Alexander Street in Plant City Bill Clinton Avenue? If that's the way he wants to play, we'll fight."

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