The Freshman Class: Florida's New Senators
The New Senators
Ten freshman Republicans and three Democrats were elected to the 40-member state Senate, including seven former House members and two —?Gwen Margolis (D) and Jack Latvala (R) — who have served in the Senate before.
Lizbeth Benacquisto (R), 43, Realtor, marketing and special events consultant
District 27 —?parts of Charlotte, Glades, Hendry, Lee and Palm Beach counties
Replaces: Sen. Dave Aronberg (D), who made an unsuccessful run for Attorney General
Net Worth: $373,940
Notable: Benacquisto's campaign made national news after a skirmish with her opponent, Rep. Kevin Rader (D-Delray Beach), over abortion. The controversy erupted when Rader ran a TV ad stating that Benacquisto "strongly opposes a woman's right of choice" and that her "allies would make choice illegal in all cases, including rape, incest, even to save a woman's life." Benacquisto fired back with an ad of her own, in which she disclosed that she was raped at age 19 and accused Rader of "exploiting this crime" by saying that she wouldn't stand up for others. While Benacquisto is anti-abortion, the former Wellington councilwoman says she does defend the right of women to choose in the cases of rape and incest. She will serve as chairwoman of the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee.
Ellyn Bogdanoff (R), 51, attorney
District 25 — parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties
Replaces: Sen. Jeff Atwater (R), former Senate president, now the state's CFO
Net Worth: $739,775
Notable: Voters promoted Bogdanoff from the House to the Senate, where she has vowed to foster job creation via local incentives, expedited permitting processes and "economic gardening." She served as majority whip under former House Speaker Marco Rubio from 2007-08 and will serve as chairwoman of the Budget Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.
Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R), 48,
District 36 — part of Miami-Dade County
Replaces: Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla (R)
Net Worth: $402,050
Notable: The former lobbyist takes
the place of his brother, who was term-limited out of office. The Miami Herald, which endorsed Miguel Diaz de la
Portilla, calls him a "policy wonk who
does his homework" and notes that education and environmental issues
top his agenda. He was named chairman
of the Rules Subcommittee on Ethics
Greg Evers (R), 55, farmer/small-businessman
District 2 — Holmes, Washington and parts of Bay, Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties
Replaces: Durell Peaden Jr. (R), his cousin who was term-limited out
Net Worth: $690,997
Notable: After serving in the House, Evers moves to the Senate, where he promises to fight to reduce taxes and provide incentives to small businesses. Evers has been a strong supporter of agriculture, sponsoring legislation that allows farmers to transfer equipment from field to field without
having to obtain government permits or
pay fees. In 2009, he also co-sponsored a bill that provided tax breaks and exemptions to six oil-producing companies in Florida, which allowed the reopening of the Jay oilfield in the Panhandle. He also introduced legislation last year similar to Arizona's controversial immigration law. He was named chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee.
Anitere Flores (R), 34, attorney/director of Community Partnerships, FIU, former Florida state representative
District 38 — part of Miami-Dade County
Replaces: Alex Villalobos (R), who was term-limited out
Net Worth: $163,000
Notable: Florida Senate President
Mike Haridopolos appointed the Miami lawmaker to be one of two Majority Whips. Haridopolos praised Flores for her "enthusiasm" and "strong grasp of policy issues" and said he believes she'll do "an outstanding job keeping majority senators informed on issues and ensuring we have the needed votes to pass legislation." The former state rep will be chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Rene Garcia (R), 36, vice president of community relations, Dade Medical College
District 40 — part of Miami-Dade County
Replaces: Rudy Garcia (R), who was term-limited
Net Worth: $89,000
Notable: The former House member returns to Tallahassee, where he'll focus on what he knows best — healthcare. He has been named chairman of the Health Regulation Committee.
Alan Hays (R), 65, retired dentist
District 20 — parts of Lake, Marion, Seminole, Sumter, and Volusia counties
Replaces: Carey Baker (R), term-limited out
Net Worth: $614,892
Notable: Hays served six years in the Florida House. His outspokenness has warranted an occasional reigning in by his leaders. He offended some Jewish lawmakers when he compared abortion to the Holocaust. Then-House Speaker Larry Cretul urged his colleagues to "keep it within bounds." Tempers also flared in 2009 during a debate over state-run Citizens Property Insurance in which Hays shouted "bull crap" several times at House Majority Leader Adam Hasner (R-Boca Raton). Hays will serve as chairman of the Budget Subcommittee on General Government Appropriations.
Jack Latvala (R), 59, political consultant; owner of Gulf Coast Imprinting in Largo and a self-service carwash in Steinhatchee in Taylor County
District 16 — parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas counties
Replaces: Charlie Justice (D), who was term-limited out
Net Worth: $5,224,434
Notable: Latvala, who served in the Senate from 1994-2002 and was Senate Majority Leader, gets high marks from the Florida Chamber of Commerce but says he'll stand firm in his opposition to oil drilling along the Florida coast. He has been named chairman of the Transportation Committee.
Gwen Margolis (D), 76, real estate broker/investor
District 35 — parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties
Replaces: Dan Gelber (D), who made an unsuccessful bid for Attorney General
Net Worth: $5,088,110
Background: Margolis returns to her old Miami Beach Senate seat for a third stint. She represented District 35 from 2003 until she was term-limited out in 2008 and also served in the Florida Senate in the 1990s, during which time she was Senate president.
Bill Montford (D), 63, former teacher, principal and school district superintendent
District 6 — Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty, Wakulla and parts of Bay, Jefferson, Leon and Madison counties
Replaces: Sen. Alfred Lawson (D), who was term-limited out
Net Worth: $1,755,878
Notable: A lifelong educator who
serves as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, Montford says he will fight attempts to
cut school funding. He also supports giving schools leeway to implement
the state's class-size amendment and believes the state must revise its
Jim Norman (R), 57, former Hillsborough County commissioner; previously served as community liaison for the Salvation Army
District 12 — parts of Hillsborough and Pasco counties
Replaces: Victor Crist (R), who was term-limited out
Net Worth: $901,785
Notable: Norman's path to the Senate was marred by controversy after his opponent in the GOP primary, Rep. Kevin Ambler, sued to have Norman removed from the ballot for failing to disclose an Arkansas property that he and his wife purchased with $500,000 from businessman Ralph Hughes, who died in 2008. A Leon County judge tossed Norman from the ballot, but an appeals court overturned that ruling and placed him back on.
Maria Lort Sachs (D), 62, attorney
District 30 — parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties
Replaces: Ted Deutch (D), who was elected to Congress
Net Worth: $714,931
Notable: The Delray Beach lawmaker created a stir when she endorsed former Gov. Charlie Crist for Senate, rather than her party's nominee, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek. She was banned from any speaking appearances at the Democratic Club of Greater Boynton Beach and also the Deerfield Beach Democratic Club.
David Simmons (R), 58, attorney
District 22 — parts of Orange and Seminole counties
Replaces: Sen. Lee Constantine (R)
Net Worth: $6,820,528
Notable: After serving eight years in the Florida House, Simmons sailed into the Senate unopposed. He will be Majority Whip in the Senate and serve as chairman of the Budget Subcommittee on PreK-12 Appropriations.