TALLAHASSEE - Johnnie Byrd got a subdued sendoff Thursday.
The House speaker from Plant City, whose 18-month reign has been one of the rockiest in memory, received a vintage guitar and other gifts at a low-key ceremony unveiling his official portrait that will hang in the House chamber for years to come.
The portrait shows a smiling, relaxed-looking Byrd in a dark suit, leaning forward over a chair, hands clasped together.
"Awesome," Byrd said as a black crepe was lifted from the portrait.
Noticeably absent were glowing farewell speeches for Byrd, a candidate for the U.S. Senate who has presided over an increasingly unhappy House. A group of 16 Republicans say Byrd torpedoed their projects or bills in retaliation for voting against his proposal to freeze phone rates. Others said his Senate ambitions dominated the 2004 agenda.
Not one House member rose to praise Byrd. The speaker pro-tem, Rep. Lindsay Harrington of Punta Gorda, and Rep. David Russell of Brooksville handled things.
By contrast, nearly every senator from both parties heaped praise on Senate President Jim King at his departure ceremony on Monday.
Byrd, a fan of classic rock, played guitar for a group called the Masterbeats in high school in Brewton, Ala. Besides a reissued 1950s Gibson Flying V guitar, he received a collector's edition of a Chuck Berry album as Berry's Johnny B. Goode played over the House sound system.
House Republicans were asked to chip in $50 each for Byrd's gifts. Some did, some didn't and some weren't asked. The state Republican Party was asked to help pay the costs.
Byrd gave House members limited-edition prints of Beyond the Seven-Mile Bridge, a mural by Tarpon Springs artist Christopher Still that hangs in the House chamber.
Byrd became speaker by successfully riding the impact of term limits and the growing influence of the Republican Party. He was elected to the House in 1996, the year the GOP gained a majority in the House for the first time. He was one of six House Republicans elected that year, an unusually small freshman class that had to anoint a leader.
He spoke of the value of friendship in politics.
"When you walk into the mist of history, the things you take from this Legislature are the friends that you make," Byrd told the House.
Two House members, Reps. Frank Attkisson of Kissimmee and Kevin Ambler of Lutz, said their bills have languished since they joined 14 other Republicans in voting against freezing phone rates.
One lost Ambler bill would provide at-home care to people who have broken necks or spinal cord injuries who do not want to live in nursing homes. Its leading advocate, Denny Wood, patrols the Capitol halls in a wheelchair, giving out fliers and cajoling lawmakers.
"All I know is, I see things occurring and I was passing bills before that vote," Ambler said. "I haven't been able to get anything moving since."
Posted on Byrd's Senate campaign Web site Thursday was a statement from Byrd saying the "people's business" is done in the 2004 legislative session and he has "stood up to the phone companies when they wanted to raise rates without competition."
- Times researcher Deirdre Morrow contributed to this report.