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Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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Henderson: Tom Lee adjusts to speedier senate during second go-round

Tom Lee suspected things might be different when he returned to the state Senate this year for the first time since leaving the Legislature in 2006 after a 10-year run. He was right. For one thing, it was a lot quieter at night, thanks in part to lobbying reforms he helped push through then that cut down on the number of parties and socials. That's not all.
"Technology has certainly impacted the process from the first time I was up there," he said. "With the ability to stay in constant contact with people whether by text message, cell phone or email, lobbyists now can indirectly ask questions during debate on the floor. "You would see discussions going on and all these text messages were flying back and forth - 'Hey, ask him this.' Or maybe, 'Hey bring this up.'" It happens fast. One day, the appropriations committee dealt with 66 bills. These bills can run dozens of pages with hidden consequences throughout. "There is no way (for a legislator) to assimilate that much information," he said. "The pace is much faster now, dangerously faster. Anyone who tells you they're able to read everything they're voting on is lying." The session capped a whirlwind few months for Lee, a Brandon businessman known for speaking exactly what's on his mind even if it makes party bosses cringe. It started in May 2012 with a surprise phone call from Ronda Storms, with news she was giving up her state Senate seat and he should think about running. In short order, party leaders were calling to urge the same thing. "By the end of the day I was a candidate again," he said. He won the August primary comfortably over Rachel Burgin for the Republican nomination - essentially assuring overall victory in the heavily conservative district - but there wasn't much time to celebrate. He had to get up early the next morning with his wife, Laurel, as she gave birth to their daughter, Faith. A few months later, Lee left for Tallahassee and the 60-day legislative session. "My family has been managing a lot of change over the last few years," Lee said. "One thing is that we were adjusting to having an infant in the house while running a general election. Then I'm trying to hire staff for here and Tallahassee, then I have to leave to go up there." In Tallahassee, he had nine committee assignments and was chair of the judiciary committee. There was one bonus: Regan, his daughter by his first marriage, got to serve as his page in Tallahassee over part of her spring break from Bloomingdale High School. And he did get home to see basketball games with her and his youngest son, Brandon. Oh, and after the session ended, his wife was appointed a Hillsborough Circuit Court judge by Gov. Rick Scott. He might even be positioned before he leaves Tallahassee for good to become senate president for a second time. That would be rare. It will also be typical of this household - to have a member of the state Senate, a Circuit Court judge, and active family all on the go at the same time. "I guess we'll stay busy," Lee said, "but that's all right."
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