TALLAHASSEE -- The end of the lawmaking session Saturday should have been Mike Haridopolos’ triumph -- a celebration of the Republican agenda that the Florida Senate president touts in his U.S. Senate race.
But Haridopolos was a model of dejection. It was late -- 3:35 a.m. -- and the session had unraveled in its final hours, with Republicans fighting Republicans, Senate vs. House.
“To end this way is a major disappointment to me personally,” he said at one point.
The man he called his “friend,” House Speaker Dean Cannon, helped put him in this predicament. The two are the Florida Legislature’s most powerful lawmakers. Legislating had given way to gamesmanship, settling scores and an embarrassing Republican Party family feud that overshadowed Gov. Rick Scott’s first session.
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“I just candidly never saw this coming,” said Haridopolos, who tried to accommodate Cannon all session. But Haridopolos’ concessions only sowed resentment with rank-and-file senators. They revolted ostensibly over seemingly obscure policy issues: regulating commercial interior designers and mold removers.
House members retaliated by killing Senate bills and stripping a gambling deal from a tax-cut bill that helped operators of amusement arcade games like Whac-A-Mole. That forced the Senate into the wee hours as bleary-eyed senators were rousted from bed, bars or their offices.
Cannon seemed to relish the spectacle. “Looking forward to watching the FL Senate pass $126 million in tax relief,” he said on Twitter, one of scores of House lawmakers who watched the conclusion of the political drama on their office televisions.
Two and half hours earlier, he suggested that Haridopolos had no control over his Senate and that he broke his word because the Senate rejected previously agreed-upon bills.
“In light of the Senate’s inability to meet that obligation,” Cannon said just after 2 a.m., “I’ve decided that our chamber would take the high road -- that we would live up to our agreement.”
Five minutes later, Cannon sent the House home, telling reporters that personality clashes Friday and Saturday were partly rooted in deep budget cuts. Still, Cannon said, the session was a “smashing success” and that the personality clash was a “hiccup.”
Haridopolos criticized the House for refusing to compensate Eric Brody and William Dillon. The former, a Broward County man, was paralyzed by a sheriff’s deputy. The latter, from Brevard County, was wrongly imprisoned for 27 years for a murder he didn’t commit.
Amid the finger-pointing, Democrats were amused. They control less than a third of the membership in the House and Senate. Some gloated at the chaotic scene as the two friends clashed.
Haridopolos, 41, and Cannon, 42, share secrets. The two helped pressure Jim Greer to quit as former Republican Party of Florida chairman by signing a contract, which gave him a generous severance and essentially cleared him of financial wrongdoing. Greer was later charged with ripping off party money -- a charge Greer says was politically motivated by Haridopolos, Cannon and their Republican allies.
The lingering bitterness between Haridopolos and Cannon could endure and complicate efforts in January when lawmakers redraw congressional and legislative seats to reflect population changes.
At the same time, Haridopolos is running for U.S. Senate in a crowded Republican primary, where he faces his most vociferous challenge from former state House Republican leader Adam Hasner, who enjoys the tacit support of many former colleagues.
“You have a Senate president running for higher office, and he’s much more limited in what he can do,” said Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth. “He needs to be aware of every step he takes because it can be used against him. There’s no doubt about it. Dean Cannon did that. He played Mike Haridopolos.”
With Attorney General Pam Bondi’s backing, Cannon forced the Senate to take a House pill-mill bill that bans many doctors from dispensing painkillers in their offices. He insisted the Senate take nearly all of his $22 billion Medicaid overhaul package. He refused to hear an immigration crackdown bill -- pressuring Haridopolos to put the divisive issue before his members.
In a pledge to conservatives, Haridopolos promised to pass a law requiring businesses to use the E-Verify computer system to see if an employee was a legal worker. But it failed in the Senate, which ultimately passed a watered-down immigration bill last week that the House dismissed without a vote.
That left Haridopolos with a campaign pledge unfulfilled. But he delivered on his promise to fight President Barack Obama’s health care plan at the ballot box and to ask voters to limit future government spending.
Haridopolos’ Senate was dominated by big personalities. They bristled at voting for secretly negotiated must-pass legislation that gave no time for serious debate. In all, lawmakers were to vote on 2,200 pages of final-day legislation -- one bill so large it was almost impossible to download off the Internet.
Senators targeted symbolic legislation, such as the House effort to deregulate commercial interior designers.
“We need to send a message back to the House: Don’t send us bills we’ve had no chance to discuss,” said Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, the dean of the Senate. “Don’t come around the back door and expect us to swallow it.”
The Senate killed the bill, then another concerning mold cleanup. Then it targeted a third before Haridopolos used a procedural move to stop the runaway emotions.
House members, already resentful at what they view as an arrogant, sanctimonious Senate, were livid and defeated a Senate insurance bill unanimously in an aggressive voice vote.
They pointed out Sen. John Thrasher wanted to help a Jacksonville gaming outfit with his amusement-arcade deal. Mustering a show of force, the House erased Thrasher’s language and hurled the legislation back across the Capitol.
The House adjourned. It pumped the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah as Republicans hugged and high-fived each other. Republican leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera had one word to describe the mood: “Euphoria.” It was over for the House at 2:07 a.m.
Some in the House chuckled that Haridopolos, a history and political science professor, was schooled in the art of legislative swordplay.
Haridopolos, who had pledged to sleep on his couch until the tax cut passed, referred to the tactics as “silly games.” He called the Senate back in session.
It reconvened at 3:01 a.m. Haridopolos’ allies went into damage control, seeking to spare their leader the humiliation of being outfoxed by the sarcastic Cannon.
“There are going to be people up there and out there talking about winners and losers,” said Thrasher, who has endorsed Haridopolos’ U.S. Senate bid. “Mr. President, you won.”
A somber, stoop-shouldered Haridopolos listened. “I’ve had far from a perfect session. I’ve learned a lot in the last 60 days. … I’ll try to do my best to do better next year,” he said. “Politics got in the way today, and I’m embarrassed for it.”
When Haridopolos asked for closing remarks, senators gave him a standing ovation. Haridopolos barely smiled and walked off the rostrum, head down.