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Upstairs, downstairs: a world of difference

Downstairs, on the state Senate floor, Republicans and Democrats agreed Wednesday: It is, they said, a terrible thing that so many people are sour on politics.

Upstairs, in the nosebleed section, or what is so grandly called the public galleries, sat two Ocala men.

From their seats high above the Senate floor, Dan Wray, a hospital executive, and Kerry Crawford, a lieutenant in the Marion County Sheriff's Office, were watching history happen.

The Senate was debating possible changes in state election laws. The Senate is controlled by the Republicans, but the Democratic leader, Ken Jenne, rose from his fat leather chair and proposed to drain the mother's milk from Florida politics.

State law permits individuals, as well as PACs or businesses, to give a candidate $500 in each primary, runoff and general election. Jenne proposed reducing that to $100 by out-of-state contributors, or any PAC or business. This would have hurt the PACs run by labor unions, the tobacco industry, the gun lobby _ but mostly Jenne and his peers.

"This is not an incumbent-friendly amendment," he boomed. "If that's a sin, I'm a sinner on this floor."

As Jenne spoke, other senators meandered past, chatting with each other. Occasionally, one senator threw his arm around another or tossed back his head, reacting to what must have been a good joke.

The noise wafted upward toward Dan Wray and Kerry Crawford in the nosebleed section.

Downstairs, other senators _ most, but not all, Republicans _ rose one after another to express their deep offense at Jenne. Nobody made a peep about the big campaign money he was challenging. Instead, they cried that he was trying to keep friends and relatives from helping candidates.

"This is an example of government going too far," said St. Petersburg's Charlie Crist.

And speaking of going too far, Jenne's critics even invoked their moms. At least the moms who haven't retired to Florida but want to write a campaign check to their kids now and then. "I'd like to call this the Banish The Mothers amendment," said John Ostalkiewicz of Orlando.

And Charles Bronson of Satellite Beach said the only big spender in elections is the press that constantly writes bad and wrong things about him.

Upstairs, Dan Wray laughed.

Downstairs, the amendment came up for a voice vote.

Upstairs, the yeas sounded very loud, as loud, in fact, as the nos.

Downstairs, Senate President Toni Jennings declared Jenne's anti-incumbent amendment defeated.

Upstairs in the nosebleed section the disgust was real enough to serve up on a plate.

"You'd think they'd take a real vote," said Wray.

Wray and Crawford called themselves conservative Democrats. They are men who care enough to get involved in their communities. They took time from their jobs Wednesday to shepherd some Marion County high school juniors, with good grades and high hopes, around the Capitol.

They are men who you'd think would be the last to be what the senators say they don't want _ sour on politics.

But they are also not stupid.

Downstairs, the debate lasted 3{ hours. So did the meandering and schmoozing. Upstairs in the nosebleed section, the commotion was like so much white noise, a raggedy music to accompany the show.

Dan Wray and Kerry Crawford and their clean-cut young charges did not stay until the end. They left soon after Ken Jenne lost his attempt to drain the mother's milk from Florida politics.

"They're protecting their own interests," said Crawford just before he left. "'What they're talking about is government reform, but it's government that won't let it happen."

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