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    Jim King lines up votes to solidify quest for Senate president


    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published December 8, 2001

    TALLAHASSEE -- Senate Majority Leader Jim King has lined up the votes to become the next president of the Senate.

    In a bid for Republican unity, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said Friday he has given up his own effort to get the job and joined forces with King. That gives the often-quoted senator from Jacksonville a clear majority of the 25 Senate Republicans.

    King, 62, a moderate Republican who grew up in St. Petersburg, has frequently been the peacemaker in political disputes between the House and Senate and between legislators and governors. He was elected to the House in 1986 and moved to the Senate in 1999. Although a loyal Republican, King has frequently differed with the governor and can be expected to carry on the tradition of an independent Senate.

    "We've always been friends," King said of his relationship with Bush. "We don't always agree on how to get somewhere, but we can hug when it's over."

    King and Lee said it had become obvious that the internal conflict over who would succeed President John McKay was dividing the Senate at a time when it needed to focus on more serious problems.

    "We were in a stalemate," Lee said Friday. "I became increasingly concerned about the impact this was having on the collegiality of the caucus and our ability to work together on reapportionment and deal with other difficult issues we are facing."

    Lee's decision is likely to end a three-way race between King, Lee and former House Speaker Dan Webster, R-Ocoee. Lee had seven votes, King had eight votes and Webster had nine votes. Traditionally the Senate selects its new leader at least a year before he takes office.

    Webster, a staunch conservative, defeated King after a close race for the top spot in the House in 1996, and has not dropped out of the race. But Lee said he believes his supporters will shift to King. King said he advised Webster he would play a significant leadership role in the Senate if he likes and reminded Webster of a time when the shoe was on the other foot.

    After Webster defeated King in 1996 to become House speaker, King became his majority leader and worked hard to push Webster's agenda.

    Webster did not return a telephone call, but reportedly told King and Lee he wanted to think the situation over before deciding whether to remain in the race.

    Last spring, King led the effort to limit public access to autopsy photos in the wake of Dale Earnhardt's death.

    King's ready wit makes him one of the most frequently quoted legislators. Turn to him at the end of a rough day of lawmaking and he can summarize the situation.

    After a rather unruly day in the House a few years ago, King said, "If we were children, our mothers would have spanked us and sent us off to bed."

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