Florida Political and Governmental Newsmakers in 2011
These government and political leaders were exceptionally notable during the past year.
State Sen. J.D. Alexander saw to it that USF Polytechnic received $46 million for new construction at a time when most university construction projects were denied. [Photo: Josh Ritchie]
a Pet Project
At the close of the 2011 legislative session, Florida Republican Sen. J.D. Alexander, who chairs the powerful Senate Budget Committee, lamented "one of the most difficult budgets in Florida history." Cuts included $1.3 billion to public schools. Lawmakers sliced Medicaid support for hospitals 12% and 6.5% for nursing homes. State university funding was cut 5.7%. Most construction projects requested by the Board of Governors for the state universities were denied.
One campus, however, got the Legislature and governor to sign off on $46 million for new construction — more than twice as much as the Board of Governors had requested. It was also the only one whose construction funding was not vetoed later by Gov. Rick Scott: University of South Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland, a pet project Alexander has championed during his entire 14 years in the Legislature.
Poly's success during such a harsh budget year reflects Alexander's influence with lawmakers, the governor and others during his final term; Alexander is term-limited out at the end of 2012.
2011 appears to have clinched his legacy: In the fall, he sat in the front row as the Board of Governors debated a controversial proposal to split Polytechnic off from USF to create Florida's 12th university. Over strong objections from USF's president and others,
the board left the door open for Polytechnic to become a separate university provided a number of hurdles are cleared.
Meanwhile, on some other issues, Alexander proved more powerful than the governor, blocking in the Senate, for example, the "E-Verify" proposal that would have made it a crime to be in Florida without legal residency. Alexander, a farmer and developer, said the immigration proposal would have harmed Florida's farming, hotel and construction industries.
Alexander says he plans to concentrate full-time on his family's agricultural operations after he leaves office in 2012. "I never intended this to be a career. I wanted to make a difference in education in my region and in my state."
— Cynthia Barnett
Rendering of USF Polytechnic's futuristic campus