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For 2001 speaker, GOP picks Feeney

Republicans select Oviedo lawyer Tom Feeney to lead the House when John Thrasher's term ends in 2001.

By JULIE HAUSERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 6, 1999


TALLAHASSEE -- Conservative lawyer Tom Feeney, who said he waited patiently in the Legislature's "back bench" for years when Republicans were a minority in the statehouse, was picked by his colleagues Tuesday to be the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives in 2001.

A right-wing Christian from Oviedo who was Jeb Bush's running mate in the 1994 governor's race, Feeney was visibly moved by the thunderous applause he garnered from House Republicans during a ceremony at the old Capitol.

He recalled that when he first joined the Legislature in 1990, "most of us (Republicans) had offices deep in the bowels of the Capitol somewhere."

Feeney was one of the first lawmakers to push the idea of "school vouchers," which allow parents of public school students to get tax dollars to send their children to private schools.

As long as Republicans maintain a majority in the 120-seat House after the next election, Feeney will take over for the current speaker, John Thrasher of Orange Park, in 2001. Republicans have a 71-47 lead over Democrats in the House now, with two open seats to be filled by special elections later this year.

At 41, Feeney would become the third Republican to lead the state House since Reconstruction. The first was Daniel Webster, R-Orlando, who is now in the Senate. Both Webster and Feeney enjoy enthusiastic support from the Christian Coalition for their conservative views.

In 1991, Feeney filed a bill that would have set up a government information bank profiling every woman in Florida who had an abortion.

Tuesday, as Republican colleagues bowed their heads in the Capitol, Webster led a prayer for Feeney, ending it,"We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen."

Webster incensed Jewish lawmakers in 1997 when he allowed public prayers to Jesus in the Capitol. Legislative policy requires all prayers to be non-sectarian.

Also Tuesday, House Republicans officially welcomed Rep. Rudy Bradley of St. Petersburg into their fold.

Bradley, who recently switched to the Republican Party, is the only African-American in the House Republican caucus. Bradley received a standing ovation from his fellow Republicans.

Switching to the Republican party, Bradley told the crowd, "was the right decision for me, it was the right decision for my district, and it was the right decision for Florida."

Bradley said Feeney was "very supportive and welcomed me into the fold."

State Rep. Sandy Murman, a Tampa Republican, also rose to praise Feeney for what she called his "very strong family values."

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