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Phil Lewis, former Florida Senate president, dies

TALLAHASSEE — Phil Lewis, a folksy and respected Democrat who served as president of the Florida Senate from 1978-1980, died Tuesday at his home in West Palm Beach. He was 82.

Mr. Lewis, who served in the Legislature from 1970 to 1980, helped to create the South Florida Water Management District, served on the Board of Regents for higher education and was a cofounder of Florida TaxWatch, a group that monitors state spending and tax policy.

"Florida has lost one of its true statesmen," TaxWatch chairman Marshall Criser III said Thursday. "Sen. Lewis long held the belief that government and business could work together to ensure that the citizens of Florida would be served in the most diligent and practical manner."

Mr. Lewis — a fiscal conservative, devout Catholic and father of nine children — was admired by legislators in both parties and was affectionately known as "Uncle Phil" in the state Capitol. He defeated Sen. Jack Gordon, a liberal Democrat from Miami Beach, for the Senate presidency.

He was Senate president during the first two years of Bob Graham's tenure as governor.

"Phil Lewis' life has stood the test of time," Graham told the Palm Beach Post. "He leaves us a proud legacy and a model of what 'good citizen' means in America."

A native of Omaha, Neb., and the wealthy president of a Riviera Beach real estate investment firm, Mr. Lewis gained notoriety in the mid-1970s. He defiantly refused to comply with Gov. Reubin Askew's so-called Sunshine Amendment to the state Constitution that required elected officials to fully disclose their income as a safeguard against conflicts of interest.

A lawsuit seeking to invalidate the amendment failed in the federal courts.

Mr. Lewis considered financial disclosure a serious invasion of personal privacy, but it did not lessen Askew's admiration for him.

"Phil Lewis is one of my dearest friends, a great guy, and he has strong feelings about that," Askew said in a 1998 interview with Florida State University.

Mr. Lewis is survived by his wife, Maryellen Howley, seven children and 13 grandchildren.

Services will be held from 2 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Quattlebaum Funeral Home in West Palm Beach, and a funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Julianna Catholic Church in West Palm Beach.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Phil Lewis, former Florida Senate president, dies 09/06/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 6, 2012 11:10pm]
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