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Legislators gain a bit more isolation

By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 2, 2002


If you travel around Florida very much, you are more than familiar with the little Haviland Dash-8 airplanes. You've probably complained about being stuffed into the equivalent of a sardine can with 30 or so strangers.

If you travel around Florida very much, you are more than familiar with the little Haviland Dash-8 airplanes. You've probably complained about being stuffed into the equivalent of a sardine can with 30 or so strangers.

We may soon look back on those experiences with affection.

Flights from Tampa to Tallahassee on the little planes ended this week because US Airways is pulling its flights, leaving us in the hands of AirTran, the airline formerly known as Valujet.

You might call this a case of political interference.

For years, the city of Tallahassee has tried to get better air service. After all, it is the state capital and it is so far north it is almost in Georgia. If you have to drive from the Tampa Bay area you are looking at a five-hour donation of time -- each way. Legislators, lobbyists and even ordinary citizens who dared to visit the Capitol during a legislative session often took to the air to avoid the long trips.

A couple of years ago, Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox persuaded city officials to subsidize AirTran in return for better service.

It worked for about a year. More airplanes took off for Tampa, Atlanta and other places, dramatically lowering the cost of tickets. But it also took business away from US Airways.

Then, in the wake of Sept. 11, US Airways decided to pull out. And AirTran wants more money from Tallahassee to stick around.

It's not that all the US Airways flights were empty. Many were overbooked and they frequently had to bump passengers. But they are leaving, and U.S. Airways plans to dramatically reduce the flights in and out of Tampa as well.

It's going to be a lot harder to get to the state capital and let legislators know how you feel about what they are doing. They'll probably write thank-you letters to US Airways.

Thank you, Mayor Maddox.

We can only hope that someone sees the light and decides to beef up service.

This comes at a bad time in Florida history. We are about to begin offering some rare entertainment in the Florida Senate.

Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, will become Senate president. He inherits a rather unusual Senate composed almost entirely of former House members.

They include a union official best known for staging a sit-in at the office of Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan and Rep. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon. She is likely to win a Senate seat next week and will no doubt be as independent as ever.

Last year, Argenziano ruffled the feathers of her own party leadership when she opposed them in a fight over a nursing home bill and later sent a 25-pound box of cow manure to a lobbyist.

Depending on what happens down in South Florida, King could be facing a Senate that includes a former attorney general. Bob Butterworth is locked in a tight battle with Rep. Jeff Atwater, R-Palm Beach Gardens. It's down to the wire and dirty. Opponents have accused Butterworth of favoring an income tax and he's had to spend a lot of time saying he doesn't.

King has a great sense of humor and has generally been quick with a joke, but he's changing as he assumes more responsibility.

It's a tough job and it may get tougher in a tight budget year. It's hard to deal with recalcitrant members when you can't offer them a bit of pork for the hometown.

Finally, a little election advice. Ignore all the commercials. If these people were half as bad as their opponents say they are, they'd be in jail.

This would be a good weekend to spend in a place without televisions or mail service.

I am praying for landslides in every race -- so we'll know who won before Christmas. Hopefully the folks in South Florida have learned to vote and count.

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