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Quorum Call for Chairman Billy Joe Rish (D., Port St. Joe)

Post # 296, Bob McKnight's Florida Commentary

Chairman Rish was tough as nails, but fair to all.

My Quorum Call for this month is a giant in Florida Legislative History. He is the late Billy Joe Rish of Port St. Joe. He was first elected in 1970, as serving as the City and County Attorney in the Panhandle. He was a proud Gator in both undergraduate and law schools.

He was one of then-Speaker Don Tucker's closest advisors, having served multiple terms as Chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee. Chairman Rish handled all judicial confirmations, as well as major legislation at the time like the Racketeering Influenced and Corruption Organization Act ("RICO"). He was a conservative but would listen to other points of view to earn the reputation of being, "tough, but fair."

I first met the Chairman at a pre-session prayer group he and later to beome U.S. Senator Bill Nelson organized. The group was bi-partisan and grew into a powerful group independent of sharing religious experiences. I remember he used to play tricks on me since I was a new, high-energy legislator from Miami. He once sent me a note saying that a bill was coming up that would harm our drinking water in South Florida. Reading the note and seeing it was from the distinguished Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I rushed to ask the Speaker for a point of order to check the calendar for the legislation Rish was talking about. The Clerk reviewed the complete calendar and said in the chamber there was no such bill. I looked back on the floor to see Rish just smiling at me. He got me good.

We were like family.

Life in the legislature then was enjoyable and rewarding. Much of that was because of legislators like Chairman Billy Joe Rish, my good friend.



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