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Senate's new leader asks for bodyguard

Fearful that he might be harmed by those who won't like upcoming budget cuts, Senate President Jim King is traveling with an armed guard these days.

King asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to provide a plainclothes Capitol Police officer when he's in Tallahassee after he was threatened on Election Day as he stood on a Jacksonville roadway waving signs.

"A guy tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was Sen. King," he recalled Tuesday as he was about to be installed as president. He said the man said, "I ought to kill you where you stand. I ought to throw you off the overpass."

King said he initially shrugged off the threat and joked to others that they could put the guy "in the undecided column."

Later, King said, he realized he is heading into a legislative session that is bound to make a lot of people unhappy because the state faces serious financial problems and will likely have to do major surgery on the budget.

"We're making some pretty drastic moves that might not be overly joyous to citizenry," King said. "I'll feel better having a guy who is armed with me."

Security officers now pick King up at his Tallahassee home each morning, stick with him when he leaves the Capitol and take him home each night.

They drive a 2000 Ford Crown Victoria that the Senate already owned.

"It's a precaution," said Senate sergeant at arms Don Severance. "Especially after Sept. 11."

King said he expects this year's legislative session to be the toughest he's seen during his 17-year legislative career.

House Speaker Johnnie Byrd said he has no plan to request similar security.

"I don't feel threatened," Byrd said Tuesday after being sworn into office. "If I ever do it, you'll know there is a reason."

King requested the assignment of an officer under a new law passed this year that transferred the Capitol Police to the FDLE. One section authorized legislative leaders to request the assignment of an officer to protect any member.

In the past, state law enforcement officers have generally provided security for legislators only at critical moments when issues like abortion or the 2000 presidential election recount drew hundreds of protesters to the Capitol complex.

The FDLE provides security for the governor and his wife and the Florida Highway Patrol provides security for Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan.

Plainclothes FDLE officers have guarded every governor since taking over the duty from the Highway Patrol in the early 1970s while Reubin Askew was governor. Askew objected to having a uniformed officer accompany him everywhere and asked for the change.

Next year's Legislature will face tough decisions brought on by an expected a budget shortfall complicated by expensive constitutional amendments passed this year.