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GOP puts lobbyists' loyalties to the test

Republican lawmakers press their advantage in Tallahassee.

By JO BECKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- As lawmakers enter the last days of the legislative session, Republicans and Democrats are engaged in spirited debate over everything from health care reform to tax cuts and gun control.

But behind the policy debates, lawmakers are engaged in a different kind of warfare that has little to do with intellectual differences and everything to do with which philosophy will prevail in November:

Both parties are trying to introduce their candidates to the lobbyists and power-brokers that can funnel money into campaigns. And lately, it has turned ugly.

When House Republicans heard that the Florida Association of Realtors was hosting an event to meet House Democratic candidates Thursday night, many were furious. That sentiment was conveyed to the Realtors.

"A lot of our members were unhappy -- they would tell me, "My challenger is up here and we do great things for the Realtors, so why are they doing this?' " said Rep. Tom Feeney, an Oviedo Republican expected to become the next House speaker.

Although Feeney said he wasn't bothered, he added, "With the House Democrats out there attacking business and tax cuts, we don't know why any business would want to help them, and we expressed that."

With Republicans firmly in control of the House and able to control legislation important to the real estate industry, such words carry weight.

Democrats were notified at the last minute that the Florida Association of Realtors would no longer make their building available for the event.

"I met with various interested parties," said Gene Adams, the association's lobbyist, when asked about the cancellation. "I made a decision in the best interests of my clients."

Adams added: "Also, they had an overflow crowd we didn't feel we could necessarily handle."

Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat who heads her party's House election efforts, managed to find one group willing to hold the event: the FTP/NEA teachers union. Still, she said she is tired of what she called the Republicans' strong-arm tactics.

"Lobbyists have been getting hammered with threats by them all year," Frankel said. "The arrogance of this Republican leadership is beyond comparison. They believe they can say and do and get away with anything."

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