Tampa area state senator is “unchained,” rages against Florida’s strongarm politics

Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican from Thonotosassa, said Friday that the leadership in the Florida Legislature is running "this institution like a third-world country."
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa SCOTT KEELER | Times
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa SCOTT KEELER | Times
Published March 3, 2018|Updated March 3, 2018

State Sen. Tom Lee, a veteran of the Legislature and a friend of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's, railed against legislative leadership on Friday in a tirade that began on the floor and finished to a group of reporters after the Senate adjourned.

"I am just unchained. I'm done," he said. "I'm done with these people and the way they're running this institution like a third-world country."

The Thonotosassa Republican complained that leadership, which includes the Speaker and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has turned the Legislature into a "transactional" place where leaders pressure members into voting for package-style bills or else their budget items don't get funded. Lee was Senate President himself 2004-2006 but says the environment and morale have changed.

Just before Lee spokes to reporters, the Senate advanced HB 7055, a massive education package bill that among many other measures, would require teachers' unions to have 50 percent of all eligible union members to pay dues or risk decertification. Lee unsuccessfully tried to modify that language with an amendment.

"I have had several members, four or five call me asking for some advice on this bill and one by one, one project in the budget by one project in the budget, they were convinced to just vote for it," Lee said. "There's no way this bill would have ever passed if that budget had been completed before that bill was on the floor."

He added HB 7055 lacked transparency and pointed out that many changes were made last-minute.

Negron defended the changes that were made to the bill.

"First of all there's reality and then there's the narrative put out by other people," Negron said. "The reality is that 7055 … comes from many parts of Senate bills that have been included in that and even at the last minute there were compromises that were made in order to cater to what senators cared about."

It's true that many ideas for 7055 came from other Senate bills. However, some were never heard in any Senate committee.