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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Otto: Lawmakers’ handshakes leave uninsured shaking heads

Friday afternoon, in the House of Representatives on the last day of Florida’s legislative session: “The chair recognizes the gentleman from Yee Haw Junction.’’ “Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise to support the proposed budget and thank the Speaker for his leadership in ensuring that once again we have made it through another session without recognizing or doing anything of substance dealing with Florida’s more serious problems. Hey, at least we got that no texting thing while driving passed, didn’t we? And we did vote that money for those date palms on the highway in my colleague’s district.’’ There was more like that on Friday, hour after hour of self-congratulatory babble wrapped around the “debate’’ on the House’s version of a budget for Florida’s 19 million or so citizens. In all of the glow and glad-handing, you might have thought the Founding Fathers had retired to Florida and somehow been elected to the Legislature.
For the million or so uninsured in the state, for those trying understand what is going to happen to them in health care, education, transportation or almost anything other than the financing of sports arenas, about all anyone could do was shake their heads in wonder. A celebrity was born in the closing days of the session when “Mother Mary’’ made her appearance. “Mother Mary’’ is the name given to an auto-reader machine. It was brought out of the closet when Democrats in the House, angry that Republicans were preventing legislation from being considered, forced a vote requiring every bill up for consideration be read in its entirety and not just summarized. House Speaker Will Weatherford hauled out “Mother Mary’’ and turned her on a faster speed, so legislators for hours had to listen to her monotone voice at roughly one and a half times normal speed. You might remember all of this when you complain that the federal government is dysfunctional. Finally, on a more inspirational note, we asked readers the other day if they were around the day President John F. Kennedy came to town in 1963. Here’s a response from outstanding former legislator John Ryals. “Woodie Liles, a state representative from Plant City where I was born and raised, invited me to go with him to see President Kennedy the day he visited Tampa. We started out at Al Lopez Field with me seated in the audience and Woodie on stage with Sam Gibbons, congressman Claude Pepper and many others. After Kennedy’s speech, Woodie and I got into a car with congressman Pepper and rode in the parade to Fort Homer Hesterly Armory. I, along with Liles and Pepper, walked into the building through the back door and once inside asked for directions to the restroom. “I remember a blue curtain that separated the stage from the area behind it. I found the restroom and when I stepped out there stood President Kennedy. Our eyes met and he smiled at me and in the same moment stepped out through the curtain and made his speech. I stayed back and listened to the speech. Afterward we all went back to our cars and drove to the International Inn where he made another speech. “After that he went to MacDill with Sam (Gibbons), Woodie and others to take Air Force One back to Washington. I returned to Plant City, feeling like a kid who had spent the day in a candy shop. I was 30 years old and it was a day I will never forget. “I was inspired by that time and three years later in 1966 I ran for state representative from the Brandon area and won. It was a countywide race and I was re-elected several terms after. I served a total of 14 years and was speaker pro tem for four years and also speaker-elect. It was a day that changed my life forever.’’ – John Ryals
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