Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Opinion

Legislature's freshman class is large and in charge

TALLAHASSEE

The youngest is 28, the oldest 66. They are teachers, real estate agents, attorneys, entrepreneurs and farmers. And in their spare time, they fly planes, play guitar, raise sheep, write screenplays and go to their kids' ball games.

These are the faces of the 59 new members of the Florida Legislature.

The freshman House class of 44 members is tied for the second-largest ever since term limits took effect in 2000. (There were also 44 new members in 2010 and 2008, and the record is 63 in 2000.)

The freshman Senate class of 15 members, meanwhile, ranks in size behind only the freshmen classes of 2002 and 2010.

In total, the new group of legislators includes nearly the same number of Democrats and Republicans, though 10 of the 15 new senators are Republican.

"We're a broad range of ages and backgrounds," said Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, who like the majority of new representatives is serving in elected office for the first time.

Pasco County egg farmer Wilton Simpson holds a special distinction: He was unchallenged in his first bid for Senate and was elected without a vote.

Rep. Mark Danish, D-Tampa, said his desire to serve derives from his role as a middle school science teacher. "I want to extend that and make a difference. There's a lengthy priority list," he said, citing a proposal to create a homeowner's bill of rights, to addressing local transportation issues.

Another new legislator, Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston, notes that he and likely other officials whose homes are hundreds of miles from Tallahassee "feel a little like college freshmen on their first semester away from home."

But there's much to keep this freshman class busy as they get up to speed on complex issues facing the Legislature this year. "We're eager to do the work," said Rep. Michael Clelland, D-Lake Mary. "We're not jaded by the process."

(Note: Net worth is as of July 2012.)

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