State Senate president mends fences with former rival, Villalobos

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald


Published November 14, 2008

In a peace offering designed to heal a 2-year-old political wound, incoming Senate President Jeff Atwater on Thursday named his former rival, Miami Sen. Alex Villalobos, to the powerful post of Senate rules chairman.

Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican, will be sworn in next week for the two-year term of Senate president. It was the job that Villalobos had been selected for when his fellow senators designated him in 2004 to be Senate president in 2008-2010.

But a series of votes by Villalobos that angered former Gov. Jeb Bush and other senators put Villalobos in the doghouse and Atwater was recruited in 2006 to snatch the job from him in a successful intra-party insurrection.

In announcing the appointment Thursday, Atwater commended Villalobos ''for his intellectual and disciplined legal mind'' and for his ''tradition of working in a bipartisan fashion.'' Villalobos had been chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee for the last two years.

''His integrity and dignity will ensure that the institution of the Senate is protected,'' Atwater said.

Villalobos, a lawyer who served in the House from 1992-2000 before he was elected to the Senate, faced his first election challenge in 2006 when Bush backers recruited and supported former Miami-Dade School Board member Frank Bolaņos to run against him. Villalobos won.

In the Senate, Villalobos never lost support of a group of veteran senators who often formed coalitions to block legislation he opposed such as expanding school vouchers, weakening class size legislation and some versions of the constitutional amendments on property taxes -- even though the legislation was sought by Senate President Ken Pruitt.

The appointment of Villalobos to the Senate's second most powerful job is not only a fence-mending move by both Atwater and Villalobos, it's a magnanimous gesture from Pruitt, the outgoing Senate president whose term expires in two more years.

Pruitt would have been a likely candidate for the powerful rules chairman job because of his stature as a former presiding officer. (Pruitt gave the job to former Senate President Jim King two years ago.) But in the interest of Senate decorum, Pruitt stepped aside.

Atwater also named Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey to be his Senate president pro tempore. He called Fasano ''one of the hardest working individuals in the Florida Senate'' and commended him for ``his disciplined study and tireless work on behalf of his constituents.''



Legislative Session