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Leaving the bully pulpit

At his last Cabinet meeting, the attorney general hears praise from the causes he championed.

By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2002


At his last Cabinet meeting, the attorney general hears praise from the causes he championed.

TALLAHASSEE -- Attorney General Bob Butterworth looked out over the environmental and consumer advocates who had cataloged the highlights of his 16 years in office and blinked, unsure of what to say.

"I told my staff, 'It looks like a short Cabinet meeting,' I was not expecting this," Butterworth said of the 20 minutes of praise he drew on Tuesday, his final Cabinet meeting.

"I'm hesitant about going upstairs and reading the Tallahassee Democrat obituary page to see if I'm in it," he added with a laugh.

Term limits are forcing Butterworth, 60, to step down as attorney general, a post he has held since 1986 and used as a bully pulpit against business and government. He also has served as Broward County sheriff and a judge.

From fighting Big Tobacco to refusing to back down before corporate giant Microsoft, from lobbying lawmakers to keep the state's shorelines in public hands to guaranteeing access to the Peace River, Butterworth has forged a reputation as one of the nation's most feared attorneys general.

On Tuesday, the groups that had pushed for the things he supported thanked him, and his fellow Cabinet members gave him good wishes in his uphill battle to win a Broward County seat in the state Senate. Broward is his home base.

"You were the safety net, general, when no one else could be. And thanks for the millions of people who don't know or couldn't know they were being exposed to toxins," said Dan Hendrickson of the Florida League of Conservation Voters.

"When the public health was at risk, you and your office did not hesitate to jump in."

When asked to name what people will remember him for, Butterworth's answer came easy: "Tobacco."

With former Gov. Lawton Chiles, Butterworth led the state's fight in the mid '90s to sue cigarettemakers to recoup money the state spends of caring for poor people made sick by smoking. At times controversial, the state ended up with a multibillion dollar settlement to use for health care in Florida, and an agreement from the tobacco companies to stop marketing to kids and tear down their billboards.

"That was when the Marlboro Man rode off into the sunset on Joe Camel," Butterworth said.

Environmentalists list as Butterworth's No. 1 accomplishment his successful efforts to kill a bill several years ago that would have handed some state submerged shorelines to private landowners.

Among the speakers lining up to praise Butterworth Tuesday was former Gov. Reubin Askew.

"Bob Butterworth has been as fine an attorney general as any state could have," Askew said.

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