Retired state employee surprised by adjournment
TALLAHASSEE - Eileen Patrick has seen a lot of crazy times at the Florida Legislature, where she worked for 25 years. She witnessed coat hangers mailed in during a decades-ago controversy over abortion, along with photos of bloody fetuses. She remembered having to bring food and toilet paper to the Capitol in case anti-abortion protesters didn't allow state workers to leave the building. But she had never seen a scene like today's, where the Florida House adjourned its special session much to the chagrin of hundreds of anti-drilling supporters who had gathered. "Someone had a sign outside that said, 'The world is watching,' '' the 65-year-old retiree said as she stood outside the House chamber which had just convened. "I think they are."I think the world is going to see firsthand if the legislators are going to show leadership by saying 'no' to oil and the special interests.'' Shortly after she said that, the House adjourned, providing for her the answer to her question. Patrick had worked for once-powerful legislator Dempsey Barron in the past, not to mention former state senators Phil Lewis and W.D. Childers. She even worked for Gov. Lawton Chiles. During those times, she never got to get involved in politics as a state employee. But on Tuesday, she could. And she did.She held a sign that blasted lawmakers for their focus on special interests and the money that goes with it. "It's about campaign contributions, free airplane rides, bottles of expensive wine,'' Patrick said. "It's all about special interests.'' So much so, she said, that the main job of the sergeant at arms is to carry gifts to the cars of the legislators. This session, Patrick said, was important to her because the BP oil disaster will never be cleaned up in her lifetime. "It's about more than tourism, it's about more than economic recovery,'' she said. "Mother Nature is not partisan.'' There wre about 300 protesters are outside the Capitol chanting, ""Let the people vote." About an hour before the session started, Gov. Charlie Crist said much the same to protesters, as he called on the Legislature to "let the people decide." Republican leaders have not embraced Crist's call to pass a measure that would ask voters this fall to approve a constitutional amendment banning oil drilling in Florida waters. They say a state law already bans near-shore drilling. Kim Ross, founder of CrudeAwakening Tallahassee, said "I personally want a vote on this," she said. Lawmakers say it's not necessary because it's already banned in state law, but she noted that twice they tried to change that law. "It's time to put this in the constitution and put the question of oil drilling behind us," she said.
Reporter Lindsay Peterson can be reached at (813) 259-7834.