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Sage Advice

Post #90, Bob McKnight's Florida Political Commentary

"Unless you are a Marshall Harris, just focus on two issues; but know more about those two issues than any other member of the legislature."

Senator Bob Graham, 1974

As I point out in my book, The Golden Years...The Florida Legislature, '70's and '80's. Reflections on Campaigns and Public Service; in 1974, I received very sage advice from then State Senator Bob Graham (D., Miami Lakes). The Senator was considered one of the outstanding members of the Legislature, having received legislative recognition from his colleagues in both the House of Representatives from 1966-70 and the Senate from 1970-78. I had just been elected to my first term in the Florida House and found myself bewildered after being named by Speaker Tucker to chair a subcommittee as a freshman (one of only 2 of the 52 new members of the House, the other being the future Speaker of the House, Lee Moffitt of Tampa). I needed some advice from someone who had been there and done that--particularly well.

Senator Graham, said that unless I had extraordinary skills, like his brilliant colleague Rep. Marshall Harris (D., Miami), I should limit my interest and work to no more than two issues. He said that new members typically pursue multiple issues often at the expense of credibility and thoroughness. Most senior members watch freshman legislators launch into issues, often without thorough due diligence on the subjects. It is often advised that new members refrain from talking on the floor and instead study the process and tradition of effective law making. That restraint was very hard for a new member to practice, especially after coming off the highs of an election to such an important position. Most of us thought, mistakenly, that we had a mandate from our constituents. Actually, it was a simple majority, which in my case was only 56% of those registered to vote in my South Miami-Dade County district. What about the other 44% that did not vote for me?

I decided to focus on Mental Health Issues and the Environment. Senator Graham said study the issues, both for and against them, so that no member would dare speak on the issues without first seeking my opinion. I thought that was extraordinary challenge for a new member, and the Senator said, 'but, that should be the objective.' I noticed the Senator had focused on Education and the Environment, and no member seemed to know as much about those two issues as Bob Graham.

The Senator was correct. I knew my two issues backward and forward. I went on to Chair the Mental Health Subcommittee in the House of Representatives, the Senate Health and Rehabilitative Services ("HRS") Committee, The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on HRS and Criminal Justice, and Vice Chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

Sage advice.



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