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Barron's Power

Post# 258, Bob McKnight's Florida Commentary

A freshman Senator in vigorous debate on the floor paused and asked the President for a recess when he saw the tall, muscular man, with a full head of red hair walk into the chamber--"For What Reason Does the Senator from the 3rd Rise?"

As the 2023 Session of the Florida Legislature starts, Capitol watchers may ask the question, "Who will wield the greatest power? Like Barron did." The question makes sense when power in Florida politics is being considered, with the start of a new Legislature and Session.

This is the first Session of the new Senate and House generated by the 2022 election. It is heavily slanted right body, made up of a majority Republicans. They can still run both bodies if every Democrat votes against everything filed. So this Session will not have the side benefit of checks and balances to get the best of our lawmakers.

The reason the question about Senator Dempsey Barron makes so much sense is because the Dean of the Senate during the 50's-80's had legendary power to dominate the legislature. I served with him in the Senate and while I was in the House of Representatives. His power and influence was omnipresent--far more than any other legislator or even a Governor. What if there were a Dempsey Barron in and among the 2023 legislators? It is unlikely because:

1. Barron was smart, with a great memory, and learned basic lawmaking from the dominant Pork Chop Gang, even though he was not considered a part of them.

2. Among his personal mentors were Senators Wilson Carraway, William Shands, Fred Dickinson , Jack Matthews, Mallory Horne, Verle Pope, Randolph Hodges and Representatives like Billy Joe Rish, Don Tucker, Gus Craig, E.C. Rowell, Wayne Mixson, and Fred Schultz. These were some of Florida's most effective lawmakers then and Barron soaked up their work and influence like a sponge.

3. Barron relied on an aggressive and intrusive staff to monitor lawmaking on a real time basis. Among his most important staff were Howard Walton, Terri Jo Kennedy, Joe Brown, John Melton, and Senator Elmer Friday. Senator Barron typically knew of amendments to be filed before they were even filed.

4. Barron also was a master of using the lobbyists for obtaining sensitive information about Senators and Representatives, on politicas, social relationships, fund raising, and individual leverage. The lobbyists with great influence on Senator Barron were John Roberts, Jack Lee, Glenn Woodard, Emerson Allsworth, Harry Landrum, Wade Hopping, E.C. Rowell, Austin Foreman, Scotty Fraser, Guy Spearman, Jim Krog, Dick Jones, Ray Sittig and H.G. Cochran.

5. The senator was known to like alcoholic beverages during the day, and he was said to be at his most determined best while entertaining colleagues--both friend and foe over long lunches. He once put a full bottle of whiskey on his desk with lobbyists watching, and reportedly said, "Look at that bottle of Wild Turkey. It will be empty tonight when we have a new Senate President." Senator Dan Scarborough of Jacksonville lost the Presidency that night and Senator W. D. Childers won, with an empty bottle of Wild Turkey on Barron's desk.

I don't think Florida will ever see another Dempsey Barron in the Florida Legislature. I was just fortunate to serve with him and watch him weave his magic in what he once told Governor Askew was "his Florida Senate."



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