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    Bush's education nominee approved

    The Senate committee splits along party lines in okaying Phil Handy as chairman of the state Board of Education.

    By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 13, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- By a one-vote margin along party lines, a Senate committee on Tuesday approved the confirmation of Phil Handy as Gov. Jeb Bush's choice to be chairman of the state Board of Education.

    The Senate Education Committee's 7-6 vote sends the nomination to the full Senate after weeks of delay caused by a combination of hardball politics and scheduling conflicts. All seven Republicans voted for, and all six Democrats against, Handy.

    "I'm happy to be here," a smiling Handy said later. "I've decided to stop predicting the legislative process. ... I don't take anything for granted anymore."

    Handy, 57, a Winter Park financier, offended some senators by supporting school vouchers and for his role in spearheading the Florida term limits movement a decade ago. Several senators who now sit in judgment of Handy's qualifications are being forced out of the Legislature.

    Senators on Tuesday questioned Handy on a House plan to expand school vouchers by offering to use tax dollars for tuition vouchers so any public school student -- not just those attending low-performing schools -- can go to private schools. It is a brainchild of Rep. Johnnie Byrd Jr., R-Plant City, the incoming speaker of the House. When Handy said he hadn't read the bill, Sen. Ron Klein, D-Delray Beach, said: "You're dancing a little bit."

    The initial vote on Handy's nomination was delayed because one Republican senator missed the meeting. Later votes were delayed over Bush's opposition to the Senate's plan to overhaul taxes and Handy's own recent comments on term limits and redistricting.

    Sens. Don Sullivan and Jim Sebesta, St. Petersburg Republicans, voted for Handy. Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa, voted no.

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