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Senate president may weigh job in Cabinet, Congress

(ran SS edition of Metro & State)

State Senate President Toni Jennings is leaning toward seeking a place on the Florida Cabinet despite an opening in the U.S. Senate, an adviser says.

"I would say right now that her thoughts are more at the Florida level rather than Washington," said Oscar Juarez, an Orlando lobbyist with close ties to the two-term Senate president.

Jennings' spokeswoman, Edie Ousley, said Friday that it will be several weeks before Jennings makes an announcement about her political plans.

"She's been pondering this for some time, and I think she's nearing a conclusion," Ousley said. "She plays her cards very smart, so it's hard to tell which one she is about to play."

Sen. Connie Mack, a Cape Coral Republican, announced in March that he would not seek a third term.

On the Republican side, U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum of Altamonte Springs is already in the race for Mack's seat and has raised more than $1-million for his campaign. Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher and Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan are mulling over entering the primary.

Gov. Jeb Bush said Thursday that he has done nothing to prod Brogan toward running. "I've given him brotherly advice _ which is to take his time," Bush said.

The leading Democratic candidate is Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson, a former congressman whose current job looks interesting to Jennings.

House Speaker John Thrasher, R-Orange Park, expects Jennings to run for the two-year term as insurance commissioner.

The Cabinet office is being eliminated in January 2003. It is being combined with the state comptroller's office to become the state's chief financial officer. Jennings would then have to run for the new office in 2002 to maintain a seat on the Cabinet.

"Based on what I know, that's what she seems to be steering toward doing," Thrasher said.

Jennings, 50, runs a family construction business in Orlando and is in her second two-year term as president of the Florida Senate. She is the first president in a century to serve more than once.