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House Republicans meet-and-greet each other in style

It's team building - and a few rounds of golf - in high style.

Nearly every Republican member of the Florida House is relaxing at the $250-a-night WaterColor resort in Santa Rosa Beach - all expenses paid by the Republican Party of Florida, with help from lobbyists.

"Our goal is after each election to give members a chance to get to know each other," said Rep. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, who will lead the House in two years.

The House has 79 Republican members, including 15 who took office last month. About 65 were able to attend the retreat, which began Wednesday night and runs through a Sunday morning church service.

"It's getting the team together to make sure we continue to focus on what's made us a strong majority," Republican Party spokesman Jeff Sadosky said Friday.

The lawmakers have spent time introducing themselves and their families (also invited to attend) while kayaking, bicycling, swimming and enjoying cookouts at WaterColor, owned by St. Joe Co.

Over breakfast Friday, they heard from Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of a bestselling book on Abraham Lincoln, and later got a visit from motivational guru John Maxwell.

Also on tap: several training sessions, including team building and how to deal with the media. While the retreat was not publicized, organizers did not attempt to keep reporters out.

"There's never been any exclusion at all," Sansom said.

Among it all, the Republicans are being greeted by a handful of lobbyists, some of whom helped foot the bill through donations to the party.

Lobbyists were not allowed into training sessions, Sansom said. He said lobbyists who lived in the area were invited.

Chip Case of the state Republican Party said lobbyists were contributing between roughly $5,000 and $20,000. It was unclear Friday which lobbyists contributed.

Rep. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, the leading Democrat in the House, said he did not have an issue with the getaway. Democrats hold them, too, he said, but usually stay in Tallahassee, and the affairs are not nearly as lavish.

"They tend to get the Bentley treatment, and we tend to get the Hyundai," Gelber said.

The Republican Party did not provide an estimated cost of the event, but four nights at the resort would cost $1,000 for each of the 65 representatives who attended - or $65,000.

Keynote speakers are not cheap, either. Goodwin charges between $25,000 and $40,000, according to the Washington Speakers Bureau.

Alex Leary can be reached at (850) 224-7263 or


Big-name speakers

Author Doris Kearns Goodwin, below, who wrote a bestselling book about Abraham Lincoln, and motivational guru John Maxwell were speakers at a retreat at WaterColor resort in Santa Rosa Beach for Republican members of the Florida House.