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Ex-House Speaker Wetherell asks to be FSU president

Former House Speaker T.K. Wetherell wants to be the next president of Florida State University and plans to formally apply today.

He's already alerted the chairman of FSU's Board of Trustees, who is his partner in one of the most influential lobbying firms in the capital.

That connection could stir controversy for Wetherell, who was a finalist for the post nine years ago when Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte got the job.

Wetherell, 56, is a former president of Tallahassee Community College, a position he left a year ago to become a lobbyist with Southern Strategy Group.

FSU trustees are conducting a nationwide search to replace D'Alemberte.

A wily politician, Wetherell is a conservative Democrat who supported Gov. Jeb Bush's re-election.

Wetherell has already won the support of Oswald P. Bronson Sr., president of Bethune Cookman College in Daytona Beach, and J. Scott Dailey, executive director of the FSU Institute of Government.

"No one fits Florida State and its special place in Florida's higher education system better than Dr. T.K. Wetherell," Bronson wrote in a letter nominating Wetherell for FSU president. Wetherell started his academic career as a professor at the historically black college in Daytona Beach.

FSU needs Wetherell because he has the ability to marshal support from the Legislature and the governor as well as local government and the community, Dailey wrote in supporting Wetherell.

FSU faculty have urged the trustees to seek someone with strong academic skills.

But Wetherell's political background and connections could help FSU in tough economic times.

"I think outside the box, I can raise money and I know how to hustle grants," Wetherell said. "If they want someone like Sandy, I'm the closest thing to him."

FSU faculty opposed D'Alemberte because they thought he lacked strong academic credentials. But D'Alemberte won them over with aggressive fundraising and a push to make the university a research facility on a par with its prowess on the football field.

Wetherell played wide receiver for FSU as an undergraduate in the 1960s. He obtained three degrees at FSU and steered millions of dollars toward the university in the Legislature.

"It's a lifetime deal," Wetherell said. "What I am doing is a result of what they did for me."

Wetherell said he told John Thrasher, chairman of the FSU board and his partner in Southern Strategy, that he wants to succeed D'Alemberte but said he does not plan to lobby for the post.

His business relationship with Thrasher "is definitely something that will have to be addressed," said Lee Hinkle, vice chairman of the FSU board. "I think he'll resign from Southern Strategy."

Hinkle said she and other members of the board are committed to a nationwide search and fairly reviewing all applicants.

Thrasher recently announced plans to speed up the search for a replacement so a decision can be reached by the end of December instead of the end of January as originally planned. Thrasher said he would like to see the selection made before a constitutional amendment approved by voters restores a statewide board of governors over the universities.

Thrasher did not return telephone calls Wednesday.

An educator for 30 years, Wetherell has a doctorate in education administration from FSUand has also been president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida and a vice president of planning and development at Daytona Beach Community College.