Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Future Senate Leader a Politician, Too

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Future Senate Leader a Politician, Too

Article excerpt

Byline: Tia Mitchell

Incoming Senate President Joe Negron has been described by colleagues and supporters as a different kind of leader.

A libertarian Republican, Negron sometimes splits with the mainstream GOP on issues like criminal justice and personal liberties. He is a budget wonk and soft-spoken, not one to call a news conference just for the camera time.

Despite his independent spirit, however, Negron, R-Stuart, still is keenly aware of the political process and what it takes to play the game in Tallahassee. I was reminded of that during his designation ceremony Wednesday.

The ceremony itself was pretty routine. Negron's family and friends gathered in the Senate chamber to hear speeches that combined the personal with the political. Then senators officially elected him as their president-designate, and he will take over the top job once the 2016 session adjourns.

Anyone who has paid attention to the longtime legislator could have guessed some of the priorities Negron outlined in his acceptance speech. He wants to:

- Dedicate more state funding to cleaning up Lake Okeechobee, where pollution has harmed water resources in his nearby district.

- Spend more money on state universities that he has always championed (sometimes in ways that bothered state colleges), including another $1 billion for performance and pre-eminence funding.

- Reduce the number of juveniles who are involved with the criminal justice system, saying it too often creates long-term consequences for youthful indiscretions.

Those are the things Negron wanted to talk about, so he did. And it was a great speech. But something interesting happened after the ceremony, when Negron answered questions from reporters. That was when I was reminded that Negron is both the fearless leader and the seasoned politician.

He answered most of our questions with confidence and specificity. When I asked Negron whether he was as concerned about adults re-entering society after being charged with crimes as juveniles, he said he supported automatic restoration of rights for ex-felons in certain cases. Florida is one of only two states that permanently revokes the civil rights of people found guilty of felonies. Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to change that law.

"I think there are some crimes that are so severe that there should be a very extensive process before your civil rights are restored to make sure that you're not a danger to the community," Negron said. "I think that there are other crimes that do not fall into that category, and I think an automatic restoration of rights, which is how most states do it, would be appropriate."

Now compare that answer to the one he gave later when I noted that the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. …

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