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Despite ethics complaints, Jim Norman snares chairmanship in state Senate

TALLAHASSEE — Senators from Tampa Bay were among the winners and losers Monday as the new Senate president completed his leadership team and found room for freshman Sen. Jim Norman of Tampa, a target of ethics complaints and an FBI probe over his financial dealings.

With Republicans holding a 28-12 Senate majority, incoming President Mike Haridopolos rewarded allies and sought to maximize senators' experience. He also left no doubt about who's in his corner and who isn't.

Norman didn't get a huge plum: He's chairman of the obscure Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, which deals with the effects of state agencies' bureaucratic decisions. But it was Haridopolos' way of standing by the man he supported through lingering questions about his ties to the late Ralph Hughes, a businessman who provided $500,000 for the purchase of an Arkansas home by Norman's wife.

"He was rightfully elected by the people of that district," Haridopolos said, noting Norman's 16 years as a Hillsborough County commissioner.

"I'm excited," Norman said in a telephone interview. "A lot of people didn't get chairs.''

The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee was one he sought, he said. ''There are some interesting oversight things that I thought I could bring some strength to, because of all the time I spent on the commission."

But Sen. Mike Fasano's six years as chairman of the budget committee overseeing Transportation and Economic Development fell by the wayside. The Pasco County veteran will shift to a budget panel for courts, prosecutors and public defenders.

"I'm not sure what to say," Fasano said. "I'm pleased that I received a chairmanship."

Haridopolos placed Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, in Fasano's old spot, saying he wanted to give Gaetz, who is the favorite to be the next Senate president, the ability to better understand the budget process and work with Gov.-elect Rick Scott.

"Obviously, the economy is the No. 1 issue for Florida," Gaetz said, "and I wanted more appropriations experience."

Gaetz also heads the Senate Reapportionment Committee.

Fasano remained a loyal supporter of Gov. Charlie Crist during his independent U.S. Senate campaign at a time when Crist was viewed with contempt by the Senate GOP leadership.

In his new post, Fasano will be at the center of an expected battle between Scott and the prison system. Fasano is a steadfast supporter of the Police Benevolent Association, the union for prison guards that opposes cuts in corrections spending.

Scott has promised to lop $1 billion out of the prison budget, and Fasano made it clear he will oppose any efforts to save money by privatizing more prisons.

Returning Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will chair the Senate Transportation Committee, which oversees the state's huge road-building agency — one place where Scott wants to trim the payroll of what he sees as excessive layers of middle management.

Norman said he also asked for a seat on Transportation, calling it one of the key assignments he sought in order to have "a voice" at the outset of his Senate term.

''The meat of where I'm going to serve is yet to be announced," he said. "I'm anxiously awaiting the other assignments."

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, whose district includes Hernando County, was the only Republican senator who did not receive a committee chairmanship. The highly public snub follows Dockery's vocal criticism of what she viewed as excessive insider dealing and special-interest influence in Tallahassee.

Even two Democrats snagged chairmanships over Dockery: Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando at Agriculture and Sen. Jeremy Ring of Margate as chairman of the Governmental Oversight Committee. Both have shown a willingness to vote with Republicans as needed.

Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, will remain chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who a little more than a year ago was a highly paid lobbyist, is now chairman of the agenda-setting Rules Committee.

Other Tampa Bay area senators and their key assignments include Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, as chairwoman of Children, Family & Elder Affairs; Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, at Regulated Industries; and Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, at Environmental Preservation and Conservation.

Times staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Despite ethics complaints, Jim Norman snares chairmanship in state Senate 11/15/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 15, 2010 11:18pm]
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