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Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Legg sees how Legislature imitates hockey

Four weeks after the ceremonial handkerchief drop that marked the end of this year's legislative session, first-term (and second-year) state Sen. John Legg still is getting acclimated to his civilian legs.

The process is complicated by the fact that a not-inconsequential portion of those weeks has been spent aboard hockey skates, on which he has served alternately as winger and defenseman to Jack, Legg's 6-year-old son and Art Ross Trophy aspirant.

The arrangement is not without its mishaps, as you might expect from a dad who, though eager to oblige, grew up in Hudson at a time when ice sports of any sort, let alone hockey, were barely rumors in Florida, and who also readily concedes that his athletic aspirations always have exceeded his capacity to execute.

So it was the other Saturday morning, during what they call a “parent skate-and-shoot” opportunity at Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar, the Nature Coast-reared GOP senator — whose evolving version of skating in reverse, a skill fundamental to playing defense, amounts to sprawling on his back — and his young Steven Stamkos wound up in a kinetic tangle that ended with Jack flattened between the ice and his old man.

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Despite tears and embarrassment, there was, happily, no real harm done. Still, having belatedly identified a clear and present danger, the junior partner laid down a fresh edict: “Stay away from me, OK? Just stay away.”

Thus does hockey imitate life in the state Senate, a roiling ocean where 40 alpha predators form shifting packs of convenience, you know your allies by their willingness to look you in the eye as they stab you through the heart, and “Stay away from me” might be the warmest advice you get all session.

Legg had an opportunity to reflect on that recently during an eight-hour deposition related to the ongoing trial in Tallahassee over the final configuration of Florida's 5th Congressional District, a snake that starts in east Jacksonville and ends just south of where Interstate 4 crosses Florida's Turnpike — a spectacle that endures, despite the Fair Districts Now amendment, in deference to the federal Voting Rights Act.

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The case hangs on whether the district, a 1992 majority-minority carve-out to which Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville, holds the deed, was sufficiently black at just over 48 percent, or a late shift that pushed it to just over 50 percent was necessary. Legg, who chaired the congressional redistricting committee for the House, recalls being asked “about 15 questions 200 different ways,” but the one that stuck out was this: Isn't it true you signed off on the “secret deal” as a favor to your friends in the Senate?

“You don't understand how the Legislature works,” Legg says he told the plaintiffs' attorney, resisting the urge to guffaw.

If he was happy, over refreshments at a Panera back home in his district, to wax slightly hyperbolic to describe the Senate's internal relationships, Legg would have found it nearly impossible, under oath, to exaggerate the grudging, fractious, fleeting nature of partnerships between the chambers.

This helps explain his generally upbeat regard for what was accomplished, especially regarding education in the recent session. The omnibus schools package was driven by the Senate committee he chairs, and it includes expansion of the state's high school “career academies,” whose graduates earn ready-for-employment certifications in a wide range of in-demand occupations; a recurring stream of $40 million for digital classrooms; an enlargement of the tax-credit scholarship program; and statewide implementation of collegiate high schools, where advanced upperclassmen can get started toward an associate's degree.

At work, Legg says, was the rare triumph of bicameral cooperation, a feat so complicated it makes learning to skate backward look easy.

Something to think about the next time young Jack challenges Dad to a little one-on-one.

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