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My Maiden Speech

Post # 187, Bob McKnight's Florida Blog

We all know the expression, "You always remember your first of anything really important to you." Among mine was my first speech on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives in my first legislative session in April, 1975. I was a member of the House Select Committee on Water Management Districts, chaired by Bill Fulford (D., Orlando). The Bill was a big one--The Water Management Act. During the early '70's the growth in the state was projected to be so serious that there were real concerns about our carrying capacity to accommodate it. Some parts of the state had plenty or water to serve the growth, but some areas did not--like St. Petersburg and Clearwater in Pinellas County. Florida's water supply was managed by five regional water management districts, with the Board appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.

I represented the intensely populated area of Miami-South Dade County, and we were worried about protecting the quality of water source--the aquifers filled by water from Lake Okeechobee. With the growth came the burgeoning farm and dairy industry using free water from Lake O, agriculture turned out to be my district's foes.

So Chairman Fulford's side on the Water Management Act included the Speaker, Developers, Agriculture and the Cabinet. That side was heavily favored to win this fight. The opposing side represented by Governor Askew included the environmentalists, ecology planners, urban areas of the state, and you guessed it, me. My good new friend Representative Curt Kiser (R., Clearwater) came up with the idea of forming a bi-partisan coalition among the urban counties led by his Pinellas and my Miami-Dade County. This was a first for Florida--a bi-partisan coalition, and it became for the model for future legislative strategies.

So this landmark legislation became the subject of my maiden speech on the Floor about the water needs of my legislative district. I was told my speech was well received, but in truth, I was really attacked on the floor by Chairman Fulford. He had anticipated my speech and had researched some tricky and somewhat technical questions I found difficult to rebut. He had a reputation for playing hardball, and as a freshman member, I had a lot to learn about political debate at this level. I gave myself a C+ on my maiden speech, but was relieved to get it under my belt.

In the end, Governor Askew weighed in and with then Senator Bob Graham's help, we were able to pass a landmark water management bill for the benefit of all Floridians.


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