Sunday, June 24, 2018
Politics

Pasco's Rep. Amanda Murphy reflects on first year in House

NEW PORT RICHEY — Before taking her seat in the state Legislature, Amanda Murphy already had some notions about rough-and-tumble politics thanks to a class trip 25 years ago.

From the gallery, Murphy and a handful of classmates from Gulf High School in Port Richey watched entranced as a debate on the House floor erupted into a red-faced shouting match.

Then things got really heated.

"Someone said a bad word and they stopped it," Murphy said, chuckling at the memory. "It's not acceptable protocol on the floor."

Now 43, Murphy no longer sits in the gallery. She's navigating Florida's volatile political landscape as a newly minted Democratic lawmaker from District 36 in west Pasco County.

"I loved the honor of sitting on the floor," she said. "You realize that you're one of a small number of people who have the privilege to be there."

Now back in her district, Murphy has had time to reflect on the two-month legislative session that ended in April.

She credits Pasco Republicans — Rep. Richard Corcoran and House Speaker Will Weatherford, along with Senators John Legg and Wilton Simpson — with showing her the ropes and said the experience rubbing elbows with lawmakers, including those across the aisle, debunked some myths.

Politics is alive and well, she said, but the House's 74 Republicans and 46 Democrats regularly crossed party lines, and district priorities usually trumped ideological ones except on hot-button core issues like gun control and abortion.

"It's not as partisan as I thought," said Murphy, who describes herself as "very moderate."

One memento from the session adorns her sparse district office on Massachusetts Avenue in New Port Richey: a 3-foot wide panoramic photograph of the 2014 House members. Murphy is among 28 women.

Twice a week, she works at the district office, Mike Fasano's former digs before he resigned last summer to become Pasco's tax collector. Mondays through Wednesdays she's at her job as a financial adviser at Raymond James Financial in Tampa.

Murphy said she would have run sooner but she supported Fasano, even though he's a Republican. Fasano became the county's tax collector after longtime officeholder Mike Olson died.

A graduate of Florida State University, Murphy studied political science and toyed with the idea of becoming a lobbyist but was drawn to business and finance. She has worked at Raymond James for 15 years.

Still, politics intrigued her and during Douglas "Pete" Peterson's first run for Congress in 1990, Murphy helped schedule events for the Panhandle Democrat.

Two years ago, when her husband, Matt, ran unsuccessfully for county commission against Kathryn Starkey, Murphy handed out literature, wrote campaign flyers and appeared alongside him at campaign events.

She's generally upbeat, laughs easily and admits to being "a little Pollyanna" when it comes to politics.

Running last summer against Republican Bill Gunter offered a jarring reality check.

He outspent her 3-to-1, producing scores of attack ads. After the election, Murphy worried that the partisan rancor evident during the race would carry over into her relationship with Pasco's GOP delegation.

"I was really stressed out over that," she said.

But whatever hard feelings that lingered dissolved when she met her Republican colleagues.

"We're very genuine with each other and look for ideas amongst all of us," said Simpson, who often joked with Murphy.

At a delegation meeting two weeks ago in New Port Richey, Murphy responded to a question, saying the hardest part about being a lawmaker is seeing the Senate kill bills that House members work so diligently on. Of course, this gave Simpson an opening.

"I said it's really the House that kills the bills, even though Amanda will have a different story," he said, laughing.

The only female representative from Pasco, Murphy was also the delegation's lone Democrat, and in a Republican-controlled Legislature she learned that getting bills heard in committee often depended on whether she had GOP support, particularly from Weatherford and Corcoran.

"If you work with them they will work with you, is how I felt," she said. "It's all about relationships."

Corcoran proved especially helpful. Once, when Murphy tried to get a bill on a committee agenda she turned to the incoming speaker for advice. Corcoran is set to take the House reins in November 2016.

The bill, requested by St. Leo town officials, allowed for the de-annexation of Lake Jovita properties from St. Leo. The committee chairman Murphy was dealing with had little patience for the freshman lawmaker.

"I went to Richard and said I'm getting pushback (from the chairman) and asked 'what should I do?' And he said, 'let me see what I can do,' and that was it. The next week it was on the agenda so I could present it to the committee."

The bill passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law May 12.

"I think all of us recognize that we have to work with each other to achieve great things for Pasco County," Corcoran said.

Later, Murphy returned the favor. She helped Corcoran add an item to the state budget to lower an assessment on Heritage Lakes residents, even though Heritage Lakes is outside her district. Murphy spoke up for the item to win Democrats' support.

In another instance, she argued on the House floor on behalf of a Simpson bill after lawmakers speaking for private water utilities sought to undo some of the bill's consumer protections. The measure passed with bipartisan support.

But any good feelings Murphy got from working with Pasco Republicans might quickly fade. She's back in campaign mode and in November will face the winner of the Aug. 26 GOP primary, either Jim Mathieu or Chris Gregg.

"That's my least favorite part of the job," she said. "I'm already doing some fundraising."

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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