U.S. Senate candidate Mike Haridopolos had said his campaign would rise or fall based on his performance as state Senate president. He did get two top priorities adopted — ballot initiatives to cap the rate of government spending and to repudiate the federal health care overhaul — but it's hard to call him a winner considering the session melted down at the end and Haridopolos was close to tears.
The Merritt Island Republican does have talking points to court conservative primary voters, from restricting lawsuits to cutting taxes and shrinking government. But even before the Florida Senate concluded the session after 3:30 a.m. Saturday, his Republican U.S. Senate rivals were taking shots at him for not passing tougher anti-immigration measures.
"Fla. Legislature's inability to pass meaningful immigration reform is a failure of leadership," George LeMieux tweeted Thursday.
Adam Hasner scoffed at Haridopolos' leadership while campaigning in Jacksonville. "The results from the Florida Senate looked like what you would expect from Harry Reid's Senate," he told the Florida Times-Union.
The Haridopolos campaign fired back: "Unlike Leader Hasner and Sen. LeMieux, who never raised a finger to support immigration reform during their tenures, Sen. Haridopolos has led and gotten a bill passed that gets tough on illegal immigration in Florida and implements E-Verify across many state programs," responded Haridopolos campaign spokesman Tim Baker. "It is incredibly dishonest for these candidates to now criticize Sen. Haridopolos for leading on an issue that was apparently not important enough for them to address while they were in office. I'm glad that Sen. Haridopolos' leadership has led Hasner and LeMieux to now consider the problem of illegal immigration worth addressing."
Hasner's campaign boasted that he once co-sponsored an immigration bill that went nowhere.
Winners and losers
Let's consider other winners and losers of the 2011 legislative session:
Loser: Barack Obama. Republicans passed an elections bill that cuts back early voting and makes it harder for people who move to vote. That clearly hurts Democrats. What's more, they passed a ballot initiative asking Floridians to repudiate the health care overhaul.
Loser: Dean Cannon. The House speaker sure looked like a winner heading into the final day of the session: the rare House speaker who seemed to consistently outmaneuver the Florida Senate. Cannon was as organized as the post-Ray Sansom years were chaotic, ending the session with a watered-down Supreme Court reform on the 2012 ballot, but with significant victories on some heavy policy changes in Medicaid and growth management. But then came the late-night meltdown Friday, where he looked less like a shrewd leader than like a petty jerk on a power trip.
Neither: Gov. Rick Scott was disengaged and invisible during most of the session, but he can still boast of having pushed the Legislature to cut taxes, even if it was a fraction of what he wanted. What's more, he was in bed at 1 a.m. Saturday, while Republican legislators were still bickering.
Winner: Jack Latvala. The shrewd state senator from Pinellas showed how important experience is as he outmaneuvered the Senate's conservative leadership team over and over in the final weeks of the session. If he and the coalition he built didn't want something passed, it didn't.
Losers: Eric Brody, brain damaged and paralyzed after a Broward deputy slammed into his car, and William Dillon, wrongly incarcerated for 27 years, were left uncompensated by the Legislature because Cannon was annoyed at the Florida Senate.
Winner: Florida Chamber of Commerce. From more lawsuit restrictions to corporate tax cuts and education reform, there were few priorities that the business group did not see passed.
Winner: Florida Medical Association. From shooting down efforts to let nondoctors like optometrists and nurse practitioners expand their practices to killing a measure that would have made it harder for doctors to get paid in personal injury protection claims, the organization saw plenty of success.
Loser: Trial lawyers. Lawmakers made it tougher to sue auto manufacturers and university doctors, and to use expert witnesses in medical malpractice trials.
Loser: State employees. Thousands will be laid off, they'll go yet another year without raises, and thousands will have to start paying into their retirement funds.
Winner: Pam Bondi. The attorney general managed to get her top priority, a bill cracking down on pill mills, through a dysfunctional Legislature.
Loser: Sunshine. So much for transparency and open debate. Lawmakers threw sweeping initiatives that often had little discussion into last-minute "conforming bills" few people had time to read.