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Disrespect of felonious ex-speaker not popular

House members harrumph when a member suggests moving Bo Johnson's House portrait.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- The House of Representatives on Thursday almost made it through a discussion of an ethics bill aimed at repairing damage done by the conviction of former House Speaker Bo Johnson without mentioning Johnson's name.

That's when Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, no relation, stood up and suggested that Bo Johnson's portrait be removed from the House walls and put up in the post office in Winter Garden, a Central Florida town near Randy Johnson's home.

Bo Johnson, a Democrat, and his wife, Judi, are in federal prison for failing to report more than $500,000 they received from companies that do business with the state. Much of the money came during his final year in office.

When the details of Johnson's income surfaced during his trial last year, House Speaker John Thrasher pledged to pass a bill that would force outgoing public officials to disclose the income they receive during their final year in office. When Johnson left office in 1994, the state's ethics laws included no reporting requirement for that final year.

On Thursday, House Democrats started asking a lot of questions about the ethics bill, which was passing with the blessings of Republican leaders who are now in control. The bill had been closed to potential amendments to speed its passage.

Reps. Joe Arnall, R-Jacksonville, and Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, the sponsors, said they were trying to keep it from being decorated "like a Christmas tree with irrelevant amendments."

Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, objected to the bill, saying it should include a provision to block the use of soft money and pressures put on lobbyists to give to legislators.

"You're asking us to save you from yourself?" asked a puzzled Arnall. "Aren't you in charge of fundraising for your party?"

Thrasher ruled that the campaign issues would not be germane to the bill, saying other bills will deal with campaign financing.

That's when Johnson stood up to make his post office suggestion.

"Those who object to this bill would be defending a felon," Johnson said. "I would like to ask you to rehang the photo in this chamber in a post office in Winter Garden."

Outraged, House Democratic Leader Les Miller Jr. stood to respond, but Thrasher stopped the debate, saying "Let's don't go there," and promised he would deal with Randy Johnson later.

"Rep. Johnson and I will have a discussion about it," Thrasher added.

Without further debate, House members gave preliminary approval to the bill, which will be up for a final vote next week. In addition to forcing outgoing public officials to disclose their financial dealings, the bill also would apply to newly elected officials between the time they are elected and take office.

After several House members approached Randy Johnson on the floor, he stood to apologize for his comments.

"Some members have said they thought my remarks about the picture in the House were off base," Johnson said. "I didn't mean to be disrespectful. I apologize with respect to Bo Johnson's family, it was not directed at them. I do not apologize for Mr. Johnson."

Thrasher followed Johnson's final comment with a suggestion that members need to be cognizant of what they say and do on the floor.

"People who have served here are special people," Thrasher added. "I'll be very intolerant of remarks that are personal in nature."

After the House adjourned, Thrasher said he still intends to admonish Johnson privately because his comments were not appropriate.

Miller, the Democratic leader, said he does not believe Randy Johnson's apology was sufficient.

Shortly before the House took up the ethics bill, lawmakers quietly admonished Rep. Gustavo Barreiro, R-Miami Beach, for failing to disclose a $22,000 debt of unpaid child support and welfare payments to his ex-wife when he was a candidate two years ago.

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