TALLAHASSEE — Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, the Florida House's self-proclaimed "Angel of Death," has been a bill-slayer for six years, but she wasn't about to let legislation important to her die without a fight.
Convinced that Rep. Janet Long had persuaded the Senate to hold one of her bills hostage, Bogdanoff stormed into Long's office last week and delivered a tongue-lashing in front of a knot of lawmakers. Long, a Democrat from Seminole, filed a complaint with the Speaker's Office that claimed Bogdanoff had made "threats of harm and retaliation."
"In the Florida House of Representatives you are not in an alley," said Long, D-Seminole. "We are supposed to be leaders. Our citizens sent us up here to look out for the business of the people, not to get in somebody else's face and threaten to hurt them."
Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said she was just doing her job.
"Here's the thing: I am who I am," Bogdanoff said. "And I've been extremely successful because of who I am. I get along with most people and I have a lot of friends. And, once in a while, you come across people that maybe lack self-confidence and are intimidated by you based on their own character and makeup, and I can't help that."
The scuffle illustrates the occasional alpha-dog politics used to advance legislation behind both closed and open doors within the Florida Capitol, where decorum and regimen usually rule.
In the House, Bogdanoff successfully negotiated more than $218 million in tax breaks and economic incentives designed to stimulate the Florida economy. She interrupted floor debate to denounce any potential amendments to her sweeping condo relief bill, agitating some in her delegation. The bill passed.
Meanwhile, to the surprise of many, she announced she had killed a bill that would have banned texting while driving, calling the legislation "intellectually dishonest." Senate Republicans unsuccessfully urged the House to rise against Bogdanoff and pass the texting bill.
"She can move mountains in Tallahassee," said Rep. Ari Porth, a Democrat from Coral Springs who counts Bogdanoff as an ally.
The fight with Long grew from Bogdanoff's refusal to schedule Long's bill to change the governance structure of the Pinellas Park Water Management District Authority. Bogdanoff said it was too controversial.
That prompted Long's co-sponsor in the Senate, Seminole Republican Dennis Jones, to stall Bogdanoff's bill that sought to establish a Broward County inspector general. It was a top priority for Broward lawmakers who asked Bogdanoff to carry the bill because of her influence.
Bogdanoff said Long made their exchange seem more confrontational than it was and defended her actions: "To have political retribution on a bill that is extremely important to my community, that is also being co-sponsored by two Democrats, is patently unfair."
A former political consultant with long ties to the Republican Party, Bogdanoff quickly rose through the ranks after she was elected to the House by 12 votes in 2004 to finish the term of Rep. Connie Mack IV, who resigned to run for Congress.
She served as the majority whip from 2006 to 2008, where she rallied votes for Republican causes under former House Speaker Marco Rubio. The moniker "Angel of Death" was originally a joke, she said.
"Speaker Rubio was up there and said, 'You know it's a good day in the Florida Legislature when you haven't been visited by Ellyn Bogdanoff, better known as the "Angel of Death,' " Bogdanoff recalled.
Bogdanoff remains a formidable opponent. She chairs the Finance and Tax Council and sits in the front row of the House, where she shares a jar of Jelly Belly candies with her seatmate, Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, the House's lieutenant speaker.
The mother of three children, Bogdanoff graduated from Nova Southeastern University's law school when she was 43.
Colleagues on both sides of the aisle call her smart, tenacious and sharp-tongued. They disagree, however, on whether those are admirable qualities.
"There are many times when she has reached across the aisle to work with Democrats and overall she has been very fair," said Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Davie. "I have nothing negative to say about her."
Minority Leader Franklin Sands, D-Weston, said his relationship with Bogdanoff has been tense since she vowed to kill a local earmark he pitched if he didn't withdraw his call for a recorded vote on a stem-cell measure. They were both freshman lawmakers at the time.
"I told her I was the worst person in the world that she should be trying to threaten because I just didn't give a damn," Sands said. "I guess that says you always have to stand up to a bully; otherwise they own you."
Bogdanoff could soon be ruffling new feathers. She is running for the seat being vacated by Senate President Jeff Atwater, who is leaving to run for chief financial officer. She has the support of incoming President Mike Haridopolos, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and U.S. Sen. John McCain, who she backed in the 2008 presidential election.
She said some people inflame her temper for "entertainment. … They start pushing my buttons and watch me go. Even (House Budget Chief) David Rivera said one time, 'I love to watch people push your buttons, because you bite every time.' And that's what I have to stop. When people do it on purpose, don't bite. I could get better at that. I take the bait. Every time."