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Rep. Ed Hooper already has a to-do list for the Legislature

CLEARWATER — Opposing oil drilling off Florida's coast. Stopping illegal immigrants. Funding Medicaid and smaller class sizes. Dealing with an unpredictable new governor. And much more.

Ed Hooper has quite a to-do list.

After winning re-election with a decisive 20 percentage point victory, he's looking forward to a third term in the Florida House.

Hooper, a Republican, won about 60 percent of the vote in his Clearwater-based district, which includes parts of Largo and Safety Harbor. His opponent, Democrat Shelly Leonard, took 40 percent.

Hooper, who's a deputy majority whip in the House, talked Wednesday about his goals for the next legislative session:

Offshore drilling: Back in 2009, in a break from Republican Party unity, Hooper and other Pinellas Republicans voted against a bill that would have legalized drilling in Florida waters. Republicans in the House passed it, but the Senate didn't.

In the wake of the BP oil spill, Hooper doesn't expect a similar push for offshore drilling next year.

"I cannot imagine somebody trying to open up the shoreline of any part of our state to oil drilling," he said. "If somebody tries, I'll be glad to tell them my vote will be no."

Criminal justice: Florida's new governor, Rick Scott, said during his campaign that he would cut $1 billion from the state Department of Corrections' $2.4 billion budget — a pledge that raised a lot of questions.

Hooper may become chair of the House's Public Safety and Domestic Security Committee. He doesn't see $1 billion in savings.

"Cutting a billion dollars is hard to do," he said. "We have to govern. We're not going to eliminate prisons. We'll have to deal with the criminal justice budget, and I'll be part of that discussion."

Illegal immigration: Hooper will co-sponsor a bill that would bring to Florida a modified version of Arizona's law that would allow police to check IDs of suspected illegal immigrants.

"If you or I get stopped for a traffic violation, the first thing they want to see is your registration and driver's license," he said. "If you can't prove you're in the country legally, you might need a ticket home."

He wants to widen the law to include port security: "Florida has a lot of ports. Arizona doesn't have any."

Long-term plans: Hooper plans to run for re-election in two years for what would be his fourth and final term in the House. Due to upcoming redistricting, he expects District 50 to migrate a bit to the north, toward Dunedin and the Countryside area.

At the end of his fourth term, he would be 67. He doesn't know what he would do then.

"You have to decide if you want to go play golf or see if an opportunity will present itself," he said. "In politics, timing is everything."

Meanwhile, his Democratic challenger, Shelly Leonard, said she might run for office again, although not necessarily for the House. She's going to take some time off from politics and think it over.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Rep. Ed Hooper already has a to-do list for the Legislature 11/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 9:17pm]
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