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Lee gets leadership post

Posted Nov 26, 2012 by William March

Updated Nov 26, 2012 at 06:32 PM

State Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon will be deputy majority leader and whip of the Senate in the coming session, an unusual position of prominence for someone who is technically a freshman.

Lee will join Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, named chairman of the Ethics and Elections Committee, in the inner circle of half a dozen or so members of the top Senate leadership, and the two most influential Senate leaders from the Tampa area.

Appointees to those positions were announced today by Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville.

Besides Lee and Latvala, other appointments Gaetz announced were Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Ft. Myers, as majority leader; Joe Negron, R-Palm City, as chairman of the Committee on Appropriations; and John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, as chairman of the Committee on Rules.

It would be highly unusual for a newly elected senator to be named to a post such as Lee’s.

Lee, however, “is no ordinary freshman,” noted Latvala. He previously served in the Senate from 1996-2006, and was Senate president his last two years.

Unlike Congress, the Florida Legislature provides no official perks or benefits for seniority, but experienced legislators get unofficial recognition, perks and consideration for appointment to powerful positions.

The appointment means Lee “will be sitting in the president’s office when big decisions are made,” said Latvala. “He’ll be a shaper of policy as well as an executor of policy.”

It also puts Lee in a good position to pursue a future return to the Senate president’s post if he chooses.

Latvala has been seeking support to win a future Senate presidency himself, but his hopes took a hit on election day Nov. 6, when several senators supporting him lost their seats.

His chairmanship means he’ll be in charge of Senate consideration of what’s likely to be one of the session’s hottest issues, election law reform.

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