Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING
TALLAHASSEE - "A two-edged sword" is about to fall on Northeast Florida.
Seven of the area's 10 state representatives will leave the Legislature next year because of term limits, bringing the likely end of political careers that have put them into the upper echelons of decision-making in Tallahassee. The looming exodus has already sparked a looming crowd of candidates to replace them, from the ranks of the Jacksonville City Council to the Nassau County School Board.
But lawmakers are most immediately worried how the loss of influence will affect the region.
"It's going to be a sizable blow," said Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, one of the seven term-limited representatives. "Leadership makes 90 percent of the decisions in the House, so seniority really does make a huge difference. By having a seat at that table, right now we've got tremendous input on the budget. But, of course, you could argue that it was term limits that gave us the chance to serve at all."
The other soon-to-leave legislators are Don Davis, R-Jacksonville; Terry Fields, D-Jacksonville; Stan Jordan, R-Jacksonville; Dick Kravitz, R-Jacksonville; Mark Mahon, R-Jacksonville and Joe Pickens, R-Palatka. Any of the seven could potentially run for the state Senate, although no seat will be available until term limits force out Jim King in 2010. Bean, who already lives in King's district, said he is strongly considering it.
Florida's term limits rule was adopted by 77 percent of voters in 1992 as a constitutional amendment under the rallying cry "Eight is Enough." It was upheld by the state Supreme Court in 1999. Simply put, it bans legislators from serving more than eight years in either the House or Senate. But it applies to each chamber separately, so legislators often serve the maximum eight years in the House and then run for another eight years in the Senate.
Since their 2000 election, the seven retiring Northeast Florida representatives have reached various positions of seniority that give them considerable pull in state policy and budget decisions.
Fields was the leading Democrat on the Insurance Committee this year, for example, while Jordan chaired the Military & Veterans' Affairs Committee. Mahon and Kravitz also chaired committees, but ended up playing other prominent roles - Mahon helped win funding for the St. Johns River, while Kravitz played a key role in crafting property tax reform legislation.
Bean and Pickens may have the most pull. Bean chaired the House Healthcare Council, while Pickens led the Schools & Learning Council. …