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Switching party ties brings home bacon

By JO BECKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Switch to the Republican Party, and reap the rewards.

That about sums up Rep. Rudy Bradley's experience after he switched to the GOP last year, becoming only the second black Republican lawmaker in Florida since Reconstruction.

Bradley, a St. Petersburg Republican who is running for the state Senate, ranked fourth overall in the House in terms of his ability to bring home local projects.

He managed to budget more than $17-million for projects ranging from a minorities AIDS prevention project in St. Petersburg to the renovation of the Sanford Memorial Stadium, a 50-year-old Central Florida baseball stadium where the late Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1946.

Other lawmakers described Bradley's success as a sort of "thank you" for his party switch. Bradley doesn't disagree.

"Most certainly the change in parties changed my relationship with the leadership, and it was very beneficial to my district in terms of getting needs funded," he said.

Bradley said his district long has been underserved in winning state funding for local projects. He won money for one project he hopes will help urban communities like his, setting aside $1.4-million to help Florida A&M University's Institute on Urban Policy and Commerce promote development in poor communities.

"South-central St. Petersburg has not had the opportunity in the past to tap into the budget," Bradley said. "What's a turkey to one person is a necessity to another."

Other local lawmakers also won projects designed to benefit the community. Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, helped spearhead the effort to win $1.1-million to bring Smithsonian Institution exhibits to the Florida International Museum. Other local projects to win money include a local runaway shelter, a program for juvenile delinquents and an adult day care center in Largo.

Putting money in the budget for programs is one thing; surviving Gov. Jeb Bush's veto pen is another. The Florida International Museum project, for instance, has been dubbed a "budget turkey" by the conservative group Florida TaxWatch. It was vetoed last year.

Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, was surprised to learn that his project was dubbed a turkey by TaxWatch, while, for instance, an Orlando performing arts center pushed by Senate President Toni Jennings was not.

But Sebesta said he will wait to see what the governor does.

"If any museum-type project is funded this year, then certainly the International Museum should be funded," he said.

Rep. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, said that several of the projects he got funded are partnerships in which the state puts up some of the money but matching dollars are awarded by local governments or the private sector. He hopes that will make them less likely to be vetoed.

"I've always been a strong believer in local lawmakers having input," Jones said. "We're the ones in the trenches."

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