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Two political veterans offer useful insight for Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott could learn a thing or two from Bob Martinez.

The former Tampa mayor was a Republican governor who learned how tough it is to cut waste from the budget.

Martinez's single term was very rocky. He had titanic clashes with the Legislature, mostly over taxes, and his popularity bottomed out at 28 percent.

When he came into office in 1987, one of the freshmen in the House was a young Democrat from the Keys, Ron Saunders.

Martinez and Saunders shared their wisdom Thursday at a "Leadership in Tough Times" forum sponsored by Florida State University's LeRoy Collins Institute.

Both men offered useful insights into how Tallahassee really works.

Saunders rose quickly and became chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, building budgets that he proudly calls "turkey-free," meaning they were devoid of lawmakers' pet projects that are at times wasteful and unnecessary.

One reason they were free of projects is that there wasn't any extra money, just like now.

Saunders, 56, is somehow still in office, after being out from 1994 to 2006. In this era of term limits, he's a rarity: a House member with deep institutional knowledge.

He has been at the peak of power, but now sits in the back row as the House Democratic leader.

"Republicans are acting just like Democrats did when we were in charge," he said.

These days, Martinez, 76, is a thriving lobbyist for the Holland & Knight law firm. He hasn't changed: He still leavens his speech with technocratic verbiage like "enterprise funds" and "cost shifting."

Real accountability in spending, he said, was much easier in Tampa than it was in the Governor's Office, partly because the state bureaucracy is so big.

Like Scott, Martinez wasn't supposed to win. He was a Democrat-turned-Republican and a Hispanic who had never run statewide.

He came into office at a time when state revenue was sinking. He had to cut costs while also building tens of thousands of new prison beds to cope with a surge in violent crime.

Saunders, who met with Scott recently, said the new governor is "really learning on the job" and may be in for a rude awakening from his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature.

"He may realize the Legislature's not going to do what he asks," Saunders said.

Saunders grudgingly gave Republicans credit for nationalizing the midterm elections to maintain their hold on power, but he said such a strategy is bad for the state in the long run.

"When you come up here and talk about Washington, D.C., you're not fixing the problems of the state," he said.

Martinez had to deal with a Democrat-dominated House that disliked his policies, so he would "bide his time" and negotiate at the end of sessions with the more conservative Senate, then ruled by a bipartisan coalition.

"It's a give and take," he said.

Martinez dislikes the current hyper-partisan political climate fought out on Twitter, blogs and round-the-clock talk shows.

"Constant warfare," he said. "I'm glad I didn't campaign when there was Facebook, Twitter, e-mail or anything like that."

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

Two political veterans offer useful insight for Gov. Rick Scott 02/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 5, 2011 1:09pm]
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