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A Field Guide to Local Legislators

By Michael Peltier March 1, 2011

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, Senate District 21

Bennett, 66, is a colorful Capitol firebrand who has gained a reputation for frank talk and the willingness to take on touchy subjects including, most recently, immigration. A developer by profession, the former U.S. Navy medic (he served four tours of duty in Vietnam) has been behind recent efforts to change the state’s growth management laws to make development easier and cheaper. As chairman of the Senate Community Affairs Committee, he is in the right spot to do just that. Bennett has been known to file bills just to see what happens, sometimes offering up proposals on offbeat issues (he has repeatedly filed an effort to fine slow drivers who won’t get out of the left lane on the interstate). A Republican loyalist with an independent streak, he’s as comfortable butting heads with fellow Republicans and leaders as he is toeing the party line.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, Senate District 23

Through an eight-year career in the House and now in the Senate since 2008, Detert has gained a reputation as a straight-talking (and wisecracking) moderate who is confident and experienced enough to go her own way on issues she cares about. And like her more expletive-prone Senate Republican colleague, Detert, 66, is also not afraid to step on a few toes. In January, for example, Detert, the chairman of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, voiced her concern that Jackson Labs may not bring the bang for the buck that supporters believe. Among those supporters is newly elected Gov. Rick Scott. Asked recently about other Scott initiatives and his ability to deliver on campaign promises, Detert was skeptical, saying it was not the Senate’s job to “carry water for the governor.” Among her priorities for the 2011 session: renewable energy and immigration issues.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner D St. Petersburg, Senate District 18

One of two Democrats in the local delegation, Joyner, a Tampa resident whose district pokes into north Manatee County, was elected to the Senate in 2006 after a six-year run in the House. With Democrats enjoying only a toehold in the Senate (Republicans now exceed the magic two-thirds majority), Joyner, 68, is the second-highest ranking Democrat in the chamber. She is expected to play the role of making a Democratic statement of opposition on bills that will inevitably become law in the Republican-dominated chamber.

Expect the eloquent attorney and former public school teacher to be a frequent participant during floor debates, especially on such issues as education and healthcare/human services, which both have programs on the chopping block as lawmakers try to fill an expected $3.5 billion hole. The long-time public servant has again filed legislation to curb human trafficking and notify communities about environmental contamination.

Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, House District 68

New to the delegation this year, Boyd is the CEO of Bradenton-based Boyd Insurance and Investment Services and president of the commercial real estate firm, The Boyd Group. That experience should suit him as lawmakers make changes to property and automobile insurance while debating ways to jumpstart a state economy that’s hamstrung by tight credit and a glut of homes on the market. Florida’s troubled construction and manufacturing sectors can only be restarted as credit eases and the unsold homes start to move.

During the campaign, Boyd, 54, proclaimed the need for jobs and economic development, a stance that should put him in good stead with House leadership, the governor’s office and just about every other member of the returning and freshman classes.

Boyd will be following a family tradition as he takes his place among state lawmakers. His grandfather, Hugh Boyd, served in the Florida House in 1941, while his uncle, Wilbur Boyd, had a legislative career that spanned 14 years.

Rep. Greg Steube, R-Parrish, House District 67

The “kid” of the local delegation, Greg Steube takes over for the affable and hard-working Ron Reagan, whose eight-year tenure ended. At 32, Steube is by far the youngest member of the delegation, some of whom are old enough to be his grandparents. But the U.S. Army veteran has some legislative experience. During the 1990s he was an intern to then-Rep. Adam Putnam, who, in his 20s at the time, was the legislature’s youngest member.

The eldest son of Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, Greg received the endorsement of Reagan and Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson during his campaign. He’s jumped right in, filing measures to re-enact portions of a growth management bill vetoed last summer by Gov. Charlie Crist. He has also filed a measure to better protect children who have been sexually abused by a parent.

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, House District 55

Few lawmakers have come to their positions by the route taken by this St. Petersburg attorney and former Pinellas County prosecutor, whose district stretches into Manatee and Sarasota counties. A recovering drug addict, Rouson, who was homeless at one point, is an articulate advocate for drug treatment and education efforts inside and outside the Florida prison system.

Rouson, 56, was one of five Democratic lawmakers to support Gov. Charlie Crist over Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek. A Democrat turned Republican (1999) turned Democrat (2007), Rouson has gained the support of Florida’s leading business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida.

Elected in 2008, Rouson is sponsoring bills this session to expand the list of offenders eligible to participate in the state’s drug court program and receive treatment support. He’s criticized the state’s class size requirements.

Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, House District 70

This affable real estate broker and rent-to-own franchise owner will be among the House leaders responsible for implementing, modifying or mothballing pro-business initiatives backed by newly elected Gov. Rick Scott and Legislative leaders. As chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee, Holder will be center stage in the House’s efforts to rein in unemployment compensation costs, which jumped dramatically Jan. 1 following a perfect storm of reduced collections and a prolonged recession.

Elected in 2006, Holder, now 40, was among a group of Southwest Florida Republicans to support oil drilling off Florida’s coast only to rescind such support following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Unlike others, Holder came clean and said he regretted his earlier support for drilling.

He’s been on an anti-texting-while-driving kick and has no concerns that police will use a texting law as an excuse to pull over drivers based on their races or ethnicity. He says that research shows a driver is six times more likely to have an accident while texting.

Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, House District 71

Not often can a 67-year-old candidate say he’s younger than most of his constituents, but that’s what Roberson said during his recent re-election bid, when he faced a 30-year-old former professional tennis player who played up Roberson’s age. Though reserved in demeanor, Roberson has waded into some pretty weighty issues since being elected in 2008 and promises again to raise some dust.

He easily won re-election in November to the District 71 seat and returns to Tallahassee with an agenda that includes teaming up with fellow delegate Sen. Mike Bennett on a bill to allow the Department of Corrections to deport illegal immigrants residing in Florida prisons. Backers say the initiative would save the state $100 million a year it costs to house criminals who are illegally in the United States.

Roberson, whose lifetime career has been founding, owning and operating funeral homes, is one of the chamber’s most affluent members, with a reported net worth north of $5 million.

Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, House District 69

Despite his freshman status, Rep. Ray Pilon, 66, has been to Tallahassee a time or two. As a lobbyist for the Peace River Water Authority from 2001 to 2005, Pilon (now the agency’s communications director) made frequent trips to Tallahassee for legislative sessions. The experience may prove valuable during his first term in office. Pilon defeated incumbent Sarasota Democrat Keith Fitzgerald as part of the Republican thrashing that took place both in Florida and across the country.

Like his Republican colleagues, Pilon has said his top priority is working to get the economy moving again, but as a former law enforcement officer he has also expressed interest in juvenile justice and corrections issues.

Among the first bills he’s filed as a lawmaker is legislation to enhance penalties for those who try to intimidate a judge. He also filed, and withdrew, a bill to set up an Arizona-style immigration law, one of a number of Republicans to file similar measures during the 2010 campaign season, during which immigration reform was a hot topic.

 

“Maverick”

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, Senate District 21

Has taken on immigration reform and an effort to fine slow drivers in the left lane.

 

“Straight Shooter”

Sen. Nancy Detert R-Sarasota, Senate District 23

“Declares it’s not the Senate’s job to “carry water for the governor.”

 

“Underdog Champ”

Sen. Arthenia Joyner D-St. Petersburg, Senate District 18

Will jump on education, healthcare and human services issues.

 

“Newbie”

Rep. Jim Boyd R-Bradenton, House District 68

Will be in the middle of auto and property insurance debates.

 

“The Kid”

Rep. Greg Steube R-Parrish, House District 67

The 32-year old filed measures to re-enact portions of growth management bill.

 

“Reformer”

Rep. Darryl Rouson D-St. Petersburg, House District 55

Advocates for drug treatment and education in Florida prison system.

 

“The Executive”

Rep. Doug Holder R-Sarasota, House District 70

Will be center stage in efforts to rein in unemployment compensation costs.

 

“Senior Guy”

Rep. Ken Roberson R-Port Charlotte, House District 71

Is backing Sen. Bennett’s bill to deport illegal immigrants in Florida prisons.

 

“The Sheriff”

Rep. Ray Pilon R-Sarasota, House District 69

Filed a bill to increase penalties for anyone intimidating a judge.

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