July 18, 2019
Toni Jennings is a 'Florida Icon'

Photo: Doug Scaletta

Toni Jennings

Florida Trend's 'Icon' Series

Toni Jennings is a 'Florida Icon'

Former lieutenant governor and legislator, chairman of Jack Jennings & Sons, Orlando; age 64

Lilly Rockwell | 5/7/2013

» There are not many places in central Florida that I can’t drive down a street and see a building we built at some point. We’re not real big. We have 25 employees. We used to have a lot of craftsmen who did the work themselves. Now we just manage and subcontract almost everything. This is our 65th year in business.

» My first campaign slogan, because I came from the construction industry, was: ‘Build government better, not bigger.’

» I have twin brothers.They are the ‘sons’ of Jack Jennings & Sons.  

» A couple people approached me and said, ‘Have you ever thought of running for office?’ Unbeknownst to me, they had approached my dad, too. I thought about it and said, ‘You know, you never know what you can do till you try.’ I was enamored with politics at the time. So I ended up running.

» If you had stopped me in high school and said ‘One day you will not only run for office, but be in the Legislature and be lieutenant governor,’ I would have thought you were crazy.

» My dad persuaded me to work with him. I started at the front desk answering the phone. I wasn’t a very good typist. It was wonderful to be able to work with your father and learn the principles of business and doing business.

» For a while, his office was in the garage of the house, and it was my play room.

» I went down to register to vote and came out as I was filling out the forms and she (Supervisor of Elections Dixie Barber) saw that I was registered as a Republican. I still remember her looking at me and saying, ‘Does your father know you’re doing this?’ My parents were Democrats, southern Democrats. But I got all my family in the end because, of course, I ran for office a few years later and I needed all the votes I could get.

» I was respected for what I knew about issues. I didn’t advance myself at the expense of others. Many in politics care a whole lot more about getting the credit than actually accomplishing something. I would rather get it done than have my name on the plaque. I don’t know that you get that anymore because you have term limits and people are in and out in eight years.

» I go to water aerobics every morning except Sunday. I love it. It’s what keeps my old bones moving. I never had a chance to do that before because I was always working. You had to be somewhere at 7 or 7:30 in the morning.

» When I went to the Legislature, I remember distinctly, I was very impressed with all these people who had all this knowledge about a bunch of different issues. What I figured out was if you stay there long enough, the same things keep coming back. You think you’ve solved it and 10 years later it’s back again.

» I had been approached in the past to run with a gubernatorial candidate, a couple of gubernatorial candidates as a matter of fact. And it wasn’t anything I just wanted to do. Jeb was pretty pointed and said, ‘I still have things to do and I need your help doing them.’ I said to him, ‘I’m not coming up here to cut ribbons. I want to be part of your team.’ He made me his point person for the Legislature.

» It’s hard to know what the Republicans stand for. Sometimes it’s hard to know what the Democrats stand for, too. As I look at the party, that is a tough thing. I’m still a Republican, and I’m going to be a Republican because you can accomplish more by being on the inside than throwing darts from the outside.

» The Legislature appears to be much more partisan now. I think that is interesting because Republicans are in control. When you are in control, you don’t have to be partisan. If you have got the votes, you can be a little more generous in how you approach things. I don’t understand the need to do it with the hammer instead of a softer approach.

» We would walk precincts. I’ve walked all of Orange County at one time or another.

» Prince Charming never showed up. I hope he’s still out there, but I’m really afraid his horse is gray and he’s gray and I’ll be gray when he shows up. It just never happened. I think somewhere along the way I might have been a little intimidating to some people. I worked and I was in the Legislature and I did a lot of things. I would have loved to have children and a family, but that didn’t work out. I didn’t feel like I had any less of a life because I hadn’t. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.

» When I entered office, they didn’t know quite what to make of me. Many times they would portray me as this right-wing, ultra conservative. I used to laugh because, you know, I never changed my position. It’s just the middle moved. What appeared to be so conservative in the ’70s and ’80s somehow looked very moderate by the time we got to the ’90s.

» Term limits have pushed people to advance their own particular interests as opposed to focusing on what is good for the citizens of Florida. Long-term goals aren’t nearly as prevalent now. If somebody knows they are going to be there eight years, they will fix something for today, and it may not be the long-term solution that really works for tomorrow.  

Tags: Florida Icon

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