by Amy Keller
Updated 11 months ago
New House members sworn into office by Judge John Stargel: (from left) Rachel Burgin, John Wood, Marlene O'Toole, Eric Eisnaugle and Kelli Stargel [Photo: Florida House of Representatives]
Thanks to term limits, there are plenty of fresh faces in Tallahassee this year. The seven new state senators are all veterans of the Florida House of Representatives, but Florida voters elected 35 new lawmakers to the lower chamber.
The new House members include a funeral home director (Ken Roberson), a port security specialist (Joseph Abruzzo), two who work at Take Stock in Children, an organization that rewards low-income, at-risk children with merit-based and standards-based scholarships (Marlene O’Toole and Mike Weinstein), a political science professor (John Tobia) and an osteopathic physician (Ronald “Doc” Renuart).
The youngest new lawmaker in Tallahassee is 26-year-old Republican Rachel Burgin. Burgin doesn’t have a college degree — nor does she own a home — but she’s no stranger to politics. She has worked as a White House intern and more recently was an aide to Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair.
Several new lawmakers are related to former members. Republican Kelli Stargel of Lakeland won the seat that her husband, circuit Judge John Stargel, held until 2006, when he decided to run for a seat on the bench. Republican Deborah Mayfield of Vero Beach won the seat held by her late husband, former Rep. Stan Mayfield. Democrat Dwight Bullard of Miami won the seat that belonged to his father, Ed Bullard.
The New Reps
The 120-member Florida House has 35 new members — 21 Republicans and 14 Democrats.
» Joseph Abruzzo (D), 28, port security specialist for the U.S. Coast Guard; District 85 — part of Palm Beach
» Janet Adkins (R), 43, no outside employment; District 12 — Baker, Nassau, Union and parts of Bradford, Clay, Duval
» Leonard Bembry (D), 61, general manager, University Homes; District 10 — Hamilton, Madison, Taylor and parts of Alachua, Columbia, Dixie, Franklin, Jefferson, Levy, Wakulla
» Esteban Bovo Jr. (R), 46, director of public policy and external affairs for Miami Children’s Hospital; District 110 — part of Miami-Dade
» Dwight Bullard (D), 31, teacher; District 118 — part of Miami-Dade
» Rachel Burgin (R), 26, former legislative and county commission aide; District 56 — part of Hillsborough
» James Bush III (D), 53, teacher, former state representative; District 109 — part of Miami-Dade
» Gwyndolen “Gwyn” Clarke-Reed (D), 68, retired educator; District 92 — part of Broward
» Steve Crisafulli (R), 37, real estate broker, businessman; District 32 — parts of Brevard, Orange
» Brad Drake (R), 33, owner, Southern Marketing Co.; former legislative aide; District 5 — Holmes, Washington and parts of Jackson, Okaloosa, Walton
» Eric “E” Eisnaugle (R), 31, attorney; District 40 — part of Orange
» Adam Fetterman (D), 38, attorney/general counsel; District 81 — parts of Martin, St. Lucie
» Erik Fresen (R), 32, land-use consultant; District 111 — part of Miami-Dade
» Tom Grady (R), 50, attorney; District 76 — part of Collier
» Mike Horner (R), 41, president and CEO, Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce; District 79 — parts of Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Polk
» Mia Jones (D), 40, former member of the Jacksonville City Council; District 14 — part of Duval
» Debbie Mayfield (R), 52, mortgage broker; District 80 — parts of Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie
» H. Marlene O’Toole (R), 63, project director, Take Stock in Children; District 42 — parts of Lake, Marion, Sumter
» Mark Pafford (D), 42, director of leadership giving, The Lord’s Place; District 88 — part of Palm Beach
» Scott Plakon (R), 49, CEO, Nationwide Publishing Co.; District 37 — parts of Orange, Seminole
» Kevin Rader (D), 40, insurance agent/business owner; District 78 — parts of Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie
» Ronald “Doc” Renuart (R), 45, osteopathic physician; District 18 — parts of Duval,
» Kenneth “Ken” Roberson (R), 65, funeral director; District 71 — parts of Charlotte, Lee, Sarasota
» Hazelle “Haza” Rogers (D), 56, mortgage professional/loan officer; District 94 — part of Broward
» Kelli Stargel (R), 42, investment property manager; District 64 — part of Polk
» Richard Steinberg (D), 36, attorney; District 106 — part of Miami-Dade
» Dwayne Taylor (D), 41, writer/producer; District 27 — part of Volusia
» John Tobia (R), 31, college professor; District 31 — part of Brevard
» Charles E. Van Zant (R), 65, architect; District 21 — Putnam and parts of Bradford, Clay, Lake, Marion, Volusia
» Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D), 48, attorney/college professor; District 9 — parts of Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon
» Michael “Mike” Weinstein (R), 59, president, Take Stock in Children; District 19 — parts of Clay, Duval, St. Johns
» Alan Williams (D), 33, marketing and business consultant; District 8 — parts of Gadsden, Leon
» John Wood (R), 56, attorney, Realtor, CEO, John Wood Enterprises; District 65 — part
» Ritch Workman (R), 35, mortgage broker; District 30 — part of Brevard
The New Senators
Four freshmen Republicans and three Democrats were elected to the 40-member state Senate.
Thad Altman (R)
District 24 — parts of Brevard, Orange and Seminole counties
Occupation: Building contractor/consultant
Family: Wife, Mary Pat; children, Hunter, McKenzie, Sullivan
Replaces: Bill Posey (R) of Rockledge, who is now in the U.S. House of Representatives
Background: A five-year veteran of the Florida House, Altman defeated Rockledge attorney Kendall Moore (D) with 58.6% of the vote. The Space Coast Republican campaigned on a platform of lower taxes and reinvigorating the local aerospace industry as NASA prepares to retire the shuttle program in 2010. As a member of the board of Space Florida, Altman worked closely with the House leadership last year to secure $14.5 million to build a commercial launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Altman has been a strong proponent of the environment, co-sponsoring legislation in the House to regulate the disposal of waste from gambling ships and consistently supporting state funding for the Florida Forever Program and the preservation and restoration of the Florida Everglades. He also worked closely with the House leadership last year to help pass a comprehensive energy bill promoting the development of alternative energy sources and green jobs.
Nancy Detert (R)
District 23 — parts of Charlotte, Manatee, and Sarasota counties
Occupation: Marketing representative, Chapman and Associates
Family: Divorced; children, Mark, Bryan, Jamie
Replaces: Lisa Carlton (R), who was term-limited out of office
Background: Detert beat Democrat Morgan Bentley, a Sarasota lawyer, with 58.3% of the vote in one of the nastiest contests in the state. In campaign commercials, Detert called herself a “Jeb Bush Republican” who during her House career worked to lower taxes, cut waste and reform government — but the former mortgage broker also has an independent streak. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Detert “tangled” with Bush over his controversial school voucher plan in 1999 and opposed Republican efforts to extend the life of Terri Schiavo in 2005. Detert has said that education — alongside energy independence and the economy — are among her top priorities.
Andy Gardiner (R)
District 9 — parts of Orange, Osceola and Seminole
Occupation: Director of community and business relations, Orlando Health
Family: Wife, Camille Gardiner; children, Andrew Jr. and Joanna Lynn
Replaces: Daniel Webster (R), who was term-limited out of office
Background: Gardiner cruised into office with a 58.4%-to-41.6% victory over Darius Davis (D), an Orlando math teacher and political novice. Gardiner is a fiscal and social conservative. He has said his No. 1 priority will be getting the Legislature to support a controversial Orlando commuter rail project that will involve spending about $650 million in state money to buy 61 miles of CSX tracks. The former House majority leader has also emphasized the need to reform Citizens Property Insurance to lower costs for consumers.
Dan Gelber (D)
District 35 — part of Broward and Miami-Dade
Occupation: Partner, Akerman Senterfitt law firm
Home: Miami Beach
Family: Wife, Joan Silverstein; children, Sophie, Hannah, Max
Replaces: Gwen Margolis (D), who retired to run for Miami-Dade County property appraiser
Background: Serving as House minority leader from 2006-08, Gelber became one of the most visible figures in the Florida Democratic Party. Gelber pledges to continue working on such issues as property tax and insurance relief, expanded healthcare coverage and reforming the FCAT. He supports bringing Florida teacher salaries to at least the national average. Other priorities include expanding Florida Kidcare, the state’s children’s health insurance program for uninsured children under age 19. Gelber is touted as a 2010 contender for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Mel Martinez (R).
Garrett Richter (R)
District 37 — part of Collier and Lee
Family: Wife, Diana Richter; children, Melissa, Elizabeth, Robert
Replaces: Burt Sanders (R), who was term-limited out of office
Background: Richter ran unopposed in the heavily GOP district. In 1989, he co-founded First National Bank of Naples and 16 years later sold it to Fifth Third for $1.5 billion. He is a founder, director and president of First National Bank of the Gulf Coast, slated to open in Naples this month. In the Senate, the fiscal conservative has vowed to work on improving the environment, lowering property taxes and improving education.
Christopher “Chris” Smith (D)
District 29 — parts of Broward and Palm Beach
Occupation: Attorney with Johnson, Anselmo, Murdoch, Burke, Piper & Hochman
Home: Fort Lauderdale
Family: Wife, Desorae Giles-Smith; children, Christopher and Christian
Replaces: Mandy Dawson (D), who was term-limited out of office
Background: Smith faced only nominal opposition from a write-in candidate. He has vowed to fight attempts to weaken the class size amendment and promised to support additional funding for the voluntary pre-kindergarten program. He proposes expanding the KidCare healthcare program and supports expanding stem cell research. He supports reforming Florida’s CAT fund to provide hurricane insurance policies to every Floridian, up to $500,000.
Eleanor Sobel (D)
District 31 — part of Broward
Occupation: President, Emrelle Skin Care, civic activist, educator
Family: Husband, Stuart Sobel; children, Emily and Rachel
Succeeds: Steve Geller (D), who was term-limited out of office
Background: Sobel has said her priorities will include fighting for stronger and safer schools and better pay for teachers as well as focusing “on the basics,” such as children’s health activities and quality before- and after-school programs. She has also pledged to fight rising insurance rates and to support new incentives for “green-energy” solutions to rising fuel costs.