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Pinellas lawmaker endorsed for speaker

Rep. Peter Rudy Wallace of St. Petersburg won formal endorsement Thursday from Democratic colleagues in the House of Representatives, placing him in line to become the first House speaker from Pinellas County. Wallace, chairman of the powerful reapportionment committee, would become speaker in 1994, after T.K. Wetherell of Daytona Beach is succeeded by Rep. Bolley "Bo" Johnson of Milton.

Surrounded by applauding Democrats, the three men stood together on the House floor Thursday, shortly before the special session on the budget began. Wallace, a Harvard graduate, joked that although both Wetherell and Johnson are Florida State University (FSU) graduates, the tradition of FSU speakers wouldn't really be broken.

"I've always considered Harvard the FSU of the north," he quipped.

Wallace, 37, had hoped to succeed Wetherell as speaker, but was edged out by Johnson.

First elected in 1982, Wallace is a Democrat from a family that has been well-connected in Pinellas Republican politics for years.

At a time when the Legislature has been plagued by questions about members' ethics, Wallace has just about as squeaky clean a reputation as anyone could want. Indeed, some people said he's too nice to be an effective speaker.

"I think this job takes an ability to make compromises and bring people together," he said. "It doesn't require meanness, it requires firmness. I don't think I have a problem with that. If I do, I'll have a rough time."

Wallace said that in the time between now and when he takes over as speaker, he hopes to "get members thinking about an agenda," dealing most prominently with health care, education and the environment.