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Capitol ringing with goodbyes

Sixty-two legislators are being turned out of office this year by term limits.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- With tears, jokes, a few memories, and some posturing for the future, the 62 legislators being chased out of office by term limits spent a lot of time saying goodbye this week.

Barring a special session before the November elections, many of them have served their last days in the plush blue carpeted chambers where Florida laws have been made since 1978.

Some political careers are ending with the annual 60-day session today. Others are moving on to other campaigns, seeking jobs in the Senate, on the state Cabinet and county commissions or as supervisors of elections back home.

The dean of the Legislature, Sen. W.D. Childers, R-Pensacola, came to Tallahassee in 1970 when Claude Kirk was nearing the end of his only term as governor and Richard Nixon was president.

When Childers was elected, the state's annual budget was $2.5-billion. One of his last acts as a senator was to join others in approving a nearly $51-billion budget. The state's population grew from 6.7-million to more than 15-million during the same period.

Childers is going home to Escambia County to run for the County Commission, but he hints of a possible return in a few years. Honored by his fellow senators with an endowed chair at the University of South Florida, Childers was reminded of the advice he has often given others: "If you want a friend in the Legislature, bring a dog."

Eight is Enough, the 1992 constitutional amendment that limited legislators to eight consecutive years in office, doesn't prevent a return after a break in service. It also allows election to another legislative office.

Childers isn't the only one going home to run for a local office. Sen. Jim Hargrett, D-Tampa, a legislator since 1982, is going back to run for the Hillsborough County Commission. Rep. John Morroni, R-Clearwater, is seeking a seat on the Pinellas County Commission.

The partisan bickering that has dominated this year's legislative session was put aside this week as term-limited members said goodbye.

With family members looking on, House members recalled the days when Democrats ran the Legislature. Republicans, in control of the Legislature since 1996, recalled days in cramped, basement offices when they were not allowed to pass bills.

"New legislators won't be able to build these kinds of friendships," noted Rep. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, as he talked about the eight-year limit on future terms.

Some hinted toward future elections.

"When I first came to the Legislature, I was asked to serve on the insurance committee," said Rep. John Cosgrove, D-Miami, a candidate for insurance commissioner. "I prayed on it. Then I thought maybe this was the reason that God might have put me here at this time."

Some apologized for some of the things they've done.

"I know I've had to toss some bombs," said Democratic Leader Les Miller Jr. "I apologize if I have hit some of y'all too hard."

Twenty-three members of the House have already filed paperwork to run for the Senate. Eighteen of them are running this year and five, including Jones, will wait and run for open Senate seats in 2002.

Only a few veteran legislators are likely to be working in the 120-member House. Term-limited out of the upper chamber, Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, is seeking his old House seat in a bid to have a substantial role in redistricting in 2002.

Two other House members seeking re-election also have prior experience: Reps. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and Jerry Melvin, R-Fort Walton Beach, won election to the House in 1994. Frankel previously served from 1986 to 1992 and Melvin had prior service from 1968 to 1978.

Term limits is ousting several Tampa Bay area lawmakers, including Sens. John Grant and Jim Hargrett, both of Tampa, and Reps. Les Miller Jr., D-Tampa; Victor Crist, R-Temple Terrace; John Morroni, R-Clearwater; Lars Hafner, D-St. Petersburg, and Jones.

Grant has taken a job heading up the new state guardianship program. Hargrett and Morroni are running for county commission seats in their respective counties, and Crist is running for Grant's Senate seat.

-- Staff writers Tim Nickens and Shelby Oppel contributed to this report.

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