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Leaving Tallahassee


Marco Rubio
House Speaker Marco Rubio (R-West Miami)

Florida's first Cuban-American Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Rubio, 36, led his chamber with energy. But sometimes Rubio led with a little too much youth, a little too much energy.

He proposed multiple property-tax-cut plans that led to three required extraordinary lawmaking sessions last year and estranged some state senators along the way. While he never quite got what he wanted out of the Legislature, a variant of his tax-swap idea was placed on November's ballot by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission.

The tax-swap was one of the concepts in Rubio's 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future initiative, which he pushed as a way to change the way the Legislature approaches governing.

Mercurial, funny, self-deprecating at times and often bold, Rubio tried to make the partisan House more bipartisan by giving Democrats better offices and more power on committees. Rubio clashed with Gov. Charlie Crist at times over taxes, but even that had a benefit for the young lawmaker, who saw his popularity jump in his home base of Miami-Dade.

Rubio's likeliest next move: A Miami state senate seat in 2010, rather than a run for Miami-Dade County mayor this year. But, as with most things with Rubio, it's hard to predict what he'll do.

Dan Gelber
House Minority Leader Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach)

For the first time in recent history, Gelber's party gained a net of eight seats in the Florida House. And that means the party finally gained power, rather than losing it. While the candidates get the ultimate credit, Gelber's strategic influence is undeniable.

Gelber led Democrats by being both quote-machine statesman, courtroom strategist and back-bench bomb-thrower. His biggest stunt this past session: grinding proceedings in the Florida House to a 16-hour trickle of parliamentary one-upsmanship just to show Republicans that Democrats felt they were being unfairly muzzled. Gelber's maneuver temporarily set him at odds with his friend, House Speaker Marco Rubio, who seemed betrayed and bewildered by the Democrats' power play.

Gelber paid the price for being the minority party's leader this election year -- nearly all of his bills were killed. But for a man accustomed to picking his battles, the losses came as no surprise and he'll try to turn the policy losses into political wins.

Gelber is running to replace Gwen Margolis in the state Senate in November.

Sen. Gwen Margolis
Sen. Gwen Margolis (D-Bay Harbor Island)

From one-time Senate President to silent elder stateswoman, Margolis' lawmaking career, which stretches back to 1974, has mirrored the rise and fall of the Democratic Party in Florida.

Margolis ran the Senate from 1990-92, just a few years before Democrats lost control of the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. When she returned to the chamber in 2002, Margolis sat in a back seat and said little.

But the imprint of the iron-willed women's-rights advocate left its mark. In a going-away speech, the de facto co-president of the Senate, Republican Lisa Carlton of Osprey, thanked Margolis for showing her and the state that a woman can run the legislative show.

Margolis is leaving office not due to term limits, but to run for Miami-Dade property appraiser.

Rep. Dorothy Bendross
Rep. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall (D-Miami)

Don't let the fun and flashy head wraps and garments fool you, this former Miami principal is all business on the House floor.

Bendross-Mindingall devoted years to the South Florida Democrats' effort to change the state's emphsasis on the FCAT exam, but in the end they had to accept a Republican plan that didn't go as far as they wanted.

She also retires from the House with two big pieces of legislation to her name: the expansion of the Jessie Trice Cancer Prevention project to stop lung cancer and the creation of Magic City Children's Zones, approved this year, to help inner-city kids with schooling.

Rep. Ed Bullard
Rep. Ed Bullard (D-Miami)

In eight years in the Florida House, Bullard took the opposite tack of his wife, the loquacious Sen. Larcenia Bullard. He said almost nothing. The Bullards garnered a measure of controversy this year when they backed an “I Believe'' license plate that had religious overtones many felt was too preachy.

Bullard moved into his House seat after his wife vacated it, and their son, Dwight Bullard, intends to succeed him.

Rep. Rene Garcia
Rep. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah)

Somehow in Miami-Dade's fractious and rough-and-tumble caucus, Garcia remained above the fray and as neutral as can be.

Garcia was a specialist in retail politics in Hialeah, getting the backing of the ultra-powerful senior citizens who appreciated his boyish looks and tireless efforts to bring state money back home.

Garcia played a key role on health issues, teaming up with House Speaker Marco Rubio and others to soften the blow of social services cuts to Miami-Dade. He tried repeatedly to improve KidCare health insurance for kids and fought behind the scenes in 2005 to keep a Medicaid reform project out of Miami-Dade for five years.

Garcia is planning to run for an open Senate seat in 2010.


Sen. Steve Geller
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Steve Geller (D-Cooper City)

The leader of the Democrats in the Senate is often fond of saying he's an expert in something or other, such as insurance or property taxes or gambling.

And he's often right.

His 20 years of legislative experience and the bipartisan sentiment in the clubby Senate gave him a disproportionate amount of power to shape tax and insurance policy, though Democrats are in the minority. Loud and funny, Geller often jokes about how loud and funny he is.

From spearheading safety regulations for carnival rides to overhauling property insurance, Geller leaves behind a trail of legislation bearing his imprint. His swan song: The Steven A. Geller Autism Coverage Act providing health insurance coverage to some children with the developmental disability.

Sen. Mandy Dawson
Sen. Mandy Dawson (D-Fort Lauderdale)

As senator for one of the poorest districts in South Florida, Dawson represented a population that few other legislators can imagine. She ascended the ranks of power to chair the Health Policy committee and was only the second African American woman in the Senate to chair a committee.

But her effectiveness and authority were undercut by perennial absences, arthritis and struggles with pain-killer addiction that led to an arrest for altering a prescription.

Dawson's absences helped derail an expansion of Kidcare health insurance subsidies for children last year, but this year she pushed the legislation more aggressively and made sure to join senators of both parties to fight to protect the poor and elderly.

Rep. Matt Meadows
Rep. Matt Meadows (D-Fort Lauderdale)

A tireless Democratic foot soldier, Meadows is known by many as among the friendliest and most loyal of the minority party's House caucus. Meadows heads home with the big-time respect of his colleagues, but not any big-time legislation attached to his name, though he did fight successfully for a small-manufacturer tax break that his constituents sought.

Meadows signature phrase: “One day.'' He appends it to the end of each pledge of allegiance, which he attends as religiously as he does most floor sessions. His star performance came in 2001 when he suffered from a 103 fever and made it the House floor anyway to ensure Democrats had enough votes to slow Republicans down.

Rep. Jack Seiler
Rep. Jack Seiler (D-Fort Lauderdale)

A ranking member on the Policy and Budget Council, Seiler formed half of the Democrats' dynamic duo with leader Dan Gelber.

Seiler's no-nonsense style and quick trial-lawyer cleverness helped hold Democrats together this year and keep Republicans at bay. He was a go-to guy for tough policy proposals, from a property-insurance overhaul last year to a bipartisan property tax-cut plan that ultimately failed to the restructuring of state courts under a constitutional mandate from voters.

One of the most well-respected Democrats in the House, Seiler was often consulted by top Republicans on legislation to make sure the policies -- if not the politics -- were right.