St. Petersburg Times Online: Election 2000
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Capitol leaders predict less partisan session

Leaders in both houses predict more partnership, despite some GOP gains in numbers.


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's Legislature got a little more Republican this week, but the state's leaders say it will be less partisan and more inclusive.

And Democrats seem to agree.

After a hard-fought campaign that broke all spending records, the Republicans emerged with a net gain of two House members, giving them a 77-43 majority, and maintained their 25-15 majority in the Senate.

The gains came despite a record number of open seats up for grabs as a result of 62 lawmakers' being ousted by term limits. Democrats had hoped to capitalize on the fact that so many incumbents were being forced out of office.

Despite the numbers, House Democratic Leader Lois Frankel said she believes the minority party is stronger and will work hard on bipartisan issues.

"The last two cycles of Republican and Democratic leaders have been a little frosty to say the least," said Frankel, of West Palm Beach. "Tom Feeney (the incoming speaker from Oviedo) and I have had long conversations and are very determined to start off with a bipartisan effort to work together."

Next week Frankel said she will meet with Feeney and Republican Gov. Jeb Bush to discuss some of the things they can agree on to help solve the state's problems.

"The campaigns are over," Frankel said. "Citizens are sick and tired of one party slam-dunking the other and the other one screeching back."

Feeney and Bush also predicted a less partisan life in a Legislature that has been marred by serious bickering between Democrats and Republicans since the GOP gained a majority in both houses in 1996.

Bush says he plans to include minority leaders in the House and Senate in his meetings with Feeney and incoming Senate President John McKay, R-Bradenton.

Bush said he believes Republicans and Democrats can agree on the need to address environmental policies, nursing home legislation and other issues where there are no serious philosophical differences.

"I have made a very strong commitment to the governor and Tom that the Democrats are ready to roll up our sleeves and sit down at the table with them," said Frankel.

Only one incumbent legislator fell to defeat Tuesday night: Rep. Pat Patterson, a freshman Republican from DeLand who was defeated by Joyce Cusack, a black Democrat who is the daughter of a sharecropper.

Most of the 11 new senators elected Tuesday night have prior legislative service in the House, but most of the 65 new members of the House have no prior legislative experience. Only Sen. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, has served in both houses. Diaz-Balart served in the House in the 1980s before being elected to the Senate in 1992. Forced out by term limits, he decided on a return to the House.

With so many newcomers, the House plans on several weeks of member training before committee appointments are made in January.

That will give the Senate a head start. McKay said Wednesday that he will name committees shortly after the Nov. 21 organizational session.

McKay said he will consider making some Democrats committee chairmen and expects a much less partisan agenda in the coming two years.

"It takes more than 30 people actively involved to operate the Senate because of the work level," McKay said. "I know the process of getting elected is partisan, but the process of governing is not."

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