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"Good old boys' still rule Legislature

A state prosecutor's investigation into free trips legislators enjoyed with lobbyists shows that a "good old boy" network of white males is still a power in the Florida Capitol. Of the 17 current and former lawmakers charged with misdemeanors in the 18-month-old investigation, none are black, female or Hispanic, and for good reason.

They weren't invited.

"There may have been a situation where they didn't want women or people of color along," said Rep. Tim Jamerson, D-St. Petersburg, who is black. "I think lobbyists feel more comfortable with people they know."

The lobbyists, who tend to be white males, probably preferred to take in college football games, hunt quail in Georgia and elk in Colorado or tour France with legislators who liked to do the same things, Rep. Lois Frankel said.

"They get together and foster these relationships," said Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat first elected to the House in 1986. "When we talk about a good old boy network, that's what we mean. They pass the baton of power."

The legislators get to know each other and become friends through such excursions while talking about public policy with lobbyists who represent some of the state's most powerful interests, she said. That meant a significant number of lawmakers were left out of the loop.

One of those charged by State Attorney Willie Meggs with failing to report free trips as then required, Sen. Winston "Bud" Gardner, said he was invited to a 1988 outing at Foxfire Hunting Preserve in Georgia less than a month after his election to the Senate.

Lobbyists were paying the bills, but Gardner was asked to attend by the Senate president, the chairman of the Rules Committee and the chairman of the Finance and Taxation Committee _ all white men.

"I was the only newly elected senator invited to go," said Gardner, D-Titusville. "Do you think I'm going to turn down a chance to go and socialize with these guys? You build relationships by socializing with people."

Exactly, said Frankel.

"It's illustrative of how the power structure perpetuates the power structure," she said. "If you look at leadership and look at who the proteges are, they pick people like them."

In the House, House Speaker T.

K. Wetherell, D-Daytona Beach, and Appropriations Chairman Ron Saunders, D-Key West, both have been charged with misdemeanors. The speaker-designate for 1992, Rep. Bo Johnson of Milton, hasn't been charged but was asked by prosecutors to explain an Alabama hunting trip.

Gardner is chairman of the Appropriations Committee _ he was chosen by a woman _ and was a contender to become the next Senate president. He has vowed to fight the misdemeanor charges, believing the trips did not qualify as a lobbyist gift he was required to disclose.

Women have recently made major strides in the Florida Legislature: Gwen Margolis, a North Miami Beach Democrat, is Senate president; and Rep. Anne Mackenzie, D-Fort Lauderdale, recently was chosen as House majority leader. Two women will become speaker pro tempore and president pro tempore, respectively, in 1992.

In all, there are 29 women, 14 blacks and 11 Hispanics in the 140-member Legislature.

There are three fewer women, two more blacks and three more Hispanics than there were in 1986, and more minorities have been selected as committee leaders than ever before. Still, they have yet to reach the upper echelons of political power in either house.

"It clearly shows that there are unequals among equals," Jamerson said. "Hopefully things are going to get better. I think it will."

Lawmakers last year outlawed acceptance of gifts and trips worth more than $100 from lobbyists and political action committees, partly as a reaction to the Meggs investigation.

"There's still a long way to go for women and minorities breaking into the power structure," Frankel said. "We're playing important roles. But the leadership groom their friends _ usually people like them."