Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Aubuchon — the Florida lawmaker who helped keep rail on track

In a few years, we can ditch the gas-guzzling Buick, step onto a plush rail car and zip from Tampa to Orlando in the time it takes to read this newspaper.

That was a glimpse of Florida's future as described this week by legislators who passed the most ambitious rail legislation in the state's history.

Gov. Charlie Crist will hit the road next week amid much fanfare on a multi-media-market bill-signing tour.

Is this a bold, progressive and long overdue vision?

Or is it a wildly expensive boondoggle — the ground transportation version of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal?

Time will tell. But if rail becomes a reality, one of the people who deserves a share of the credit is an obscure second-term state representative from Cape Coral named Gary Aubuchon.

In a state House that has endured its fair share of dysfunctional distractions in the past couple of years, Aubuchon is a symbol of what a conscientious legislator should be.

Well-informed and even-tempered, Aubuchon alone managed the rail bill to an 84-25 House vote. What little suspense surrounded the legislation was in the Senate.

In an era when term limits have ravaged the House of much of its institutional knowledge, Aubuchon encouraged his peers to look far beyond the horizon.

Asked how SunRail, the Central Florida commuter rail, could possibly help his gridlocked constituents 200 miles away, Aubuchon said mass transit will encourage smart, low-density growth — the kind his Sanibel Island constituents prefer.

"It doesn't mean we have to grow the way we have in the past," Aubuchon said.

In a time when shallowness and partisanship far too often substitute for substantive policy discussion, Aubuchon mastered the details.

A 47-year-old builder and father of three daughters, he was the Republican Party's surprise pick to replace Jeff Kottkamp when Crist chose him as his running mate in 2006.

The story of how Aubuchon became a Floridian doesn't involve rail transportation, however. It's about roads — I-75 to be specific.

It's reflective of a familiar migration pattern of mild-mannered and politically moderate Republicans who, beginning in the 1950s, followed Interstate 75 from the upper Midwest to Southwest Florida.

Aubuchon's father had retired to the area for health reasons and the son, while a junior at the University of Michigan, came south for spring break in 1983 and had what he calls "an epiphany."

"I fell in love with the area," Aubuchon recalled. "I decided to take a chance in real estate, figuring I would bring my Midwestern work ethic and apply it down here."

The work ethic was on display in the Capitol this week as Aubuchon put in long days, keeping the rail bill on track.

One of Aubuchon's mentors is J. Dudley Goodlette, a former House member and now House Speaker Larry Cretul's chief of staff.

"He built a niche in a subject he really liked — transportation," Goodlette said. "And he's prepared. He's not lacking in self-confidence, but he's not cocky."

Aubuchon's biggest shock was going to his Capitol office and seeing a blanket and pillow on the couch in the reception area. He discovered that a key staff member, working nearly round the clock, was sleeping on the couch during the session.

"What I had done was nothing to what she had done," he said.

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

Aubuchon — the Florida lawmaker who helped keep rail on track 12/11/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 11, 2009 9:47pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Video: Loggerhead sea turtle found in Islamorada resident's pool

    Wildlife

    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on Monday, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys.

    An adult female loggerhead sea turtle, discovered in an oceanside residential pool in Islamorada on June 22, 2017, has been rescued and released off the Florida Keys. [Photo from video]

  2. What Wilson Ramos will mean to the Rays lineup, pitching

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer was stumping for all-star votes for Corey Dickerson during a live interview Wednesday morning on the MLB Network when he lifted the right earpiece on his headset and said, "I hear a buffalo coming."

    Tampa Bay Rays catcher Wilson Ramos (40) waves to the crowd after being presented with the Silver Slugger Award before the start of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
  3. Deon Cain, Duke Dawson, Derrick Nnadi among SI's top 100 players

    Blogs

    Sports Illustrated's countdown of the top 100 players in college football continues with three more local players.

  4. She doesn't care if you accept her, as long as you respect her

    Human Interest

    Mary Jane Taylor finds strength walking quietly among the dead.

    Mary Jane Taylor,18, visits Oaklawn Cemetery in downtown Tampa when she is feeling low. "When I hit my low points in life I go the the graveyard," she says. "people are afraid of the graveyard. I love the graveyard." The transgender teen recently graduated from Jefferson High School. She is  enrolled in summer classes at Santa Fe College in Gainesville studying international business. She plans to transfer to the University of Florida, attend law school and become a civil rights lawyer. (JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times)
  5. Few new details in state investigation of Tarpon Springs officer-involved shooting of Nick Provenza

    Public Safety

    TARPON SPRINGS — An investigative report, released this week by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, into the officer-involved shooting that killed 25-year-old Nick Provenza included largely the same narrative prosecutors released this month that ruled the shooting a "justifiable homicide."

    Stopping while riding by on his bike Michael Prater, 15, hangs his head after looking at the memorial at Safford and Tarpon avenues for Nick Provenza, a 25-year-old who was shot and killed there during a car show Saturday by a Tarpon Springs police officer. Investigators said Provenza pulled a knife on the cop who shot him. Friends find it hard to believe a man they described as a peaceful vegan and musician would be capable of such an act. Prater didn't know the victim but was at the car show.