Senate Paula Dockery’s Farewell Speech

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Senator Paula Dockery

As is customary of an outgoing senator, on March 2, 2012, Paula Dockery provided the following farewell speech to her Senate colleagues. In sharing your words, Florida Public Employees Partnership commends you Senator Dockery.  Your actions in honorably serving all Floridians and professionalism are a credit to you, your loved ones, and all who you serve. May others learn from your wisdom and lead in the example you leave behind.

You have earned our respect, admiration, and future support in any endeavor you seek.

Senate Paula Dockery’s Farewell Speech

Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you for the lovely video – that was very special. And I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts with you, my friends and colleagues. I guess it’s my turn to say farewell, and I do that today, not with sadness but with gratitude for having been a part of this wonderful institution.

I hope you’ll allow me to spend a few minutes reminiscing with you about what this process was like, when I entered in 1996. I think everybody probably feels their first two years, their first term in office, was most special. But I truly believe 1996, my first term in office, was a very special time. My first two years shaped my perspective of the process. You may recall the Florida House went Republican for the first time in 122 years. What they needed was five freshman republicans to come into the process to give us the Republican leadership. I was the first Republican to win Polk County’s District 64. And when I traveled door to door to 10,000 houses, because Republicans didn’t want to run in that district, a couple good things happened – I lost 28 pounds, and I had a heck of a tan. But a lot of people counted out District 64 as the district to get us one closer to the majority. When I went to those doors I promised one thing, to all of those voters in a heavy Democratic area, I promised to listen, to listen to them. I didn’t want to make promises I knew I couldn’t keep, but I knew I could keep that one.

The first day at the Capitol, I looked out my window – they put the five freshman Republicans, that was myself, Adam Putnam, Lindsay Harrington, Johnny Byrd and Nancy Argenziano, on the 12th floor of the Capitol – I looked out my window and I saw the Old Capitol, and I had a feeling I can’t even put into words. I had a feeling that I was part of something big, so important, and that my constituents had allowed me the great honor of coming up here and making decisions that would affect the lives of so many people. And that feeling was nervousness mixed with excitement. And I thought of all the men and woman who came before me that set the trail, that set the way we do business here at the State of Florida. And I hoped that I was able to live up to what they had done prior to me coming here.

My first speaker was Dan Webster and over here in the Senate Toni Jennings was the presiding officer. Those were tumultuous times. Republicans hadn’t been in control of the House in 122 years. Our majority was a very slim, 61-59. Then Speaker Webster said over and over something I thought was just so basic and just good common sense, but I’ve come to realize how meaningful those words were – he talked about flattening the pyramid of power. How many times did we hear Dan Webster say that we were going to flatten the pyramid of power. I strongly believed he was the right man, at the right time for that job. He strongly believed that every member’s voice counted.

While I sat there – keep in mind term limits had not hit yet, so a lot of the House members had been there a very long time – as I looked around and as a freshman, it’s not that you didn’t speak as much as you may now, it’s that it was a good learning opportunity to look at the people who had been there for long periods of time and to kind of see who could be a good role model. And one of the people I picked as my role model was Dave Bitner. We heard a wonderful tribute from Sen. Detert the other day about Dave. Dave Bitner was the type of man who didn’t get up to speak on every issue, but when he got up to speak the room went silent. He was a larger than life figure, and what he said he said succinctly and in a very articulate voice. And I wanted to be like him.

Another role model was Joe Arnall. Joe knew more about certain issues than anyone else on the floor. So when he rose to speak on those issues, people really gave him the credence that he deserved.

So then I wanted a strong female role model, and I picked kind of an unusual one. I picked Ann McKenzie, a Democrat. The reason I picked Ann was this: number one, Republicans had not been in control. We were not used to being the chairmen of committees. And what Ann did, in her first year not being in the party in power, is she was bold, and she was strong, and she was self confident. And whenever the Democrats didn’t like something that was going on, she held that microphone tall and stiff, and with confidence demanded to be heard and would call a point of order – as you probably remember all that well, Speaker Thrasher, as you were Rules chair at the time. And I just admired the fact she has so much self confidence, and she knew the rules, and she knew how to play the game. Because so many of us were learning the process, the House assigned us each a mentor, and I was assigned Senator, then Representative John Thrasher as my mentor – I’m not sure if you want to take credit for that or not, Senator – but he was a very busy man, as he was the Rules Chairman at a time when we had just taken over control and were learning things ourselves. And he taught me one very important lesson, and that is, you will do well in the process if you know and understand the rules, and know how and when to use them at the appropriate time. And I think that was a key factor in my learning process.

Jim King was the majority leader. When I was in the House I feared Jim King. Jim King was not the jolly person we know today, Jim King was the majority leader and he used the bubble much like a principal uses the principal’s office. So when one of the five freshman got out of line, we were called back to the bubble with Jim King, and those were not pleasant experiences. Despite the fact the Republican Party was learning its way the transition went very smoothly, and the chamber was united, whether you were Democrat or Republican. We knew the process but everyone treated each other with great respect, and Speaker Webster did in fact flatten the pyramid.

My second speaker was John Thrasher, and Toni Jennings was still the presiding officer over in the Senate, as her colleagues put her in for yet another term. Senator Thrasher, then speaker, had some issues that were unique to his leadership: Number one, term limits had taken effect, so there was a huge turnover in membership and a loss of experience and institutional knowledge. There was a large freshman class. Senator Thrasher took it upon himself to appoint me as chairman of the environmental protection committee. And at the time I knew absolutely zero about the environment. And I went up to him, and I said, “I know this is a top tier committee, I really appreciate you putting your faith in me, but please move me somewhere where I know something, because I don’t want to embarrass you, I don’t want to embarrass me, I don’t want to embarrass the institution.” And he said something to me that I remember to this day, if not the exact words, he said, “You have a talent for bringing diverse interests together. So I want you to form consensus between the environmental community, the development community, and agriculture.” And I thought that was quite a charge and I said, “Okay, I understand you. You’re not switching my chairmanship. Thanks, I’ll do my best.” And off I went. And I think in retrospect he did me a greater favor than I ever realized at the time, because that did become my passion. Because I truly believe you can achieve balance between those diverse interests – Don’t you believe you can achieve that, Senator Bennett?

My third and final speaker, Tom Feeney – he shared the leadership role with John McKay over here in the Senate – and he had some unique opportunities. It was a redistricting year when he was the speaker. Our majority had grown to over two-thirds of the body in the House. There were a lot of mouths to feed. He had lots of chairmanships. We went into the council process. And he had a large freshman class that needed to be introduced to the process. He asked me to chair General Government Appropriations. That was a fun time; we actually had money back then. And we did great things with that money. We restored water bodies, and we didn’t waste the money because we had it, we put a lot of it into reserves, which have served us well over these years. We had some great freshman at that time, four in particular, who allowed me the great honor of being their somewhat mentor: Dennis Ross, Don Brown, Joe Negron and Holly Benson. And we referred to ourselves as the “Fab Five,” and we had so many good times together. Back in the House we did more socializing, members knew each other, and relationships were formed.

A historically significant event that happened during that time was the Bush/Gore presidential recount. All eyes were on Florida. I have never seen so much media in all my life. And Representative Fasano, at the time, became the media star. You could not turn on CNN or Fox News without seeing Representative Fasano.

In 2002, I came to the Senate, and the Senate was a very different place. It was much more independent than the House; it was much more collegial than the house; but each member was kind of an island, we didn’t have the same kind of relationships that we had in the House. Leadership races became very divisive – now you had term limits, now you had new members – and a deal was cut over in the Senate, where Senator King would be president, then Senator Lee, then Senator Pruitt. President King, who I feared in the House, I now loved in the Senate. He understood the need for camaraderie. And after 9/11/01 occurred, he created a committee – I had another interesting committee assignment – he created a committee called Home Defense, Public Security and Ports. Being one of the senators with a completely inland district, I was probably one of the only senators who didn’t have a port in my district. And I was told that my job was to go to Washington, D.C., and beg for money. Another odd assignment, but an assignment that really served me well, and that I really enjoyed. And it was there that I had staff director Susan Skelton, one of the finest staff directors that ever worked in the Florida Senate. She’s no longer in the Senate, but I thank her for her expertise.

As my time is coming to an end, I look around the chamber and I think of so many, so many, great memories.

I see Senator Negron. I can’t hear ABBA on the radio without thinking of you. You impressed me when I first met you in the House, as somebody who was so eager and enthusiastic to learn, and you have turned into such an intelligent and articulate member of the Senate. And I’m glad to have known you in your early years and to have served with you.

Senator Bennett, I can’t even go into all the stories, but suffice to say, I’ll fondly remember our dancing at the bowling alley, and our session tradition is really important to me, and I hope we get that in this year.

Senator Wise, I visited you in Jacksonville, and I’ll never forget your excitement for your Prius – and how you told me you were able to get a full-sized refrigerator into the back of it. And I thought, ‘I love this guy. I just love this guy.’

Senator Joyner, we share a love for Lakeland. We’ve shared many a battle on the floor of the Senate. You’re like a sister to me. I thank you for joining me on so many important issues to our part of the state. You are truly an amazing woman.

Senator Rich, an unlikely friendship, I don’t know how we started to form our bond. I know we spent a lot of time at Gator games, and I truly enjoyed our long discussions we’ve had over the years. And I wish you well in your future endeavors. You’ve been a real trooper. You took over as minority leader and didn’t catch a lucky break – in fact, you caught a very unlucky break, and traveled around up with your little wheel cart, and I just felt so sorry for you, that you had so much to do and were immobilized. But you’ve done a great job and I’m very proud of your efforts.

Senators Smith, Margolis, Evers and Dean, never was there a better Criminal Justice Committee, than when the five of us were on that together. We did not let a bill get out of committee that wasn’t properly, vetted, amended, or held up until we could make it the kind of bill it should be. We hoped that we never stepped on anyone’s toes doing that, but we were very proud of that. We thought that committee was working precisely like a committee was suppose to work.

Senator Smith, whenever you show up in your bowtie, I’m thrilled because I know it’s going to be a fun day on the floor. I’ll never forget all the happy memories we shared at Committee Room H.

Senator Detert, not only a colleague but a friend, your humor and wit is beyond any I have seen. Your mastery of the quick response is incredible. I’ve enjoyed being your vice-chair, and I know when I leave this chamber you and I will remain friends.

Senator Diaz de la Portilla, you are a very talented individual. You have been an incredible surprise, and I know that the future holds great things for you. When you give your word, you stick to it – I appreciate that.

Senator Storms, they said we wouldn’t get along. I don’t understand why they thought that. You have been the biggest legislative surprise in my career. Going to battle with you is like nothing else. I know that we’ve made a few people nervous in our time together here, but I have such tremendous respect for you. You are an incredibly intelligent woman. And you share the trait that Jim King did – that is that you can take complex issues and boil them down to the point that anyone can understand, and that is a true talent. And I expect that very good things will come out of you during the rest of your tenure, here.

Senator Altman, thank you, thank you, thank you, for being the person that cares about the environment. I leave knowing that somebody is going to try to continue, hopefully, my legacy, of striking that balance between protecting our resources and growing our state. So thank you for carrying that banner.

Senator Bullard, you are one of the kindest individuals that I have ever met. You have been in the process even longer than me, so my entire time here, you’ve been here. Your levity has been so appreciated. And I’ve enjoyed all those committees we’ve served on together, that you sat next to me. At one time, you made the comment, “Thank you for explaining that to me,” and your saying that to me, meant more to me than anything that I could have done for you, so thank you very much for your kindnesses.

Senator Simmons, you are so smart, so smart. In fact, I need to study just to have a conversation with you. What impresses me the most is that you always want to have an amendment to be a compromise. So I’m going to name you, “The Great Compromiser.”

Senator Sachs, my Italian buddy. You are so full of life. You have made being around you, being around this process, so fun. I will miss you terribly.

Senators Sobel, Gibson and Braynon, you have been great neighbors to me on the second floor. And your staff have been such great neighbors to my staff. Thank you very much.

Senator Fasano, WOW, have you grown in this process. I remember back to a time when you did a bill on the floor and you’d read off a little index card. Now you can debate with the best of them. I think all those appearances on Fox and CNN really served you well. And I just want to let you know that even though you didn’t have a very good sense of humor when the Italian caucus removed your “O,” by taking blue duct tape and covering up your “O” on the floor – and every time we’d tape it on, you’d pull it off – Senator Sachs has agreed that we are now reinstating your “O.”

Senator Jones, I don’t even know where to start – probably my best friend in this process. Kindred spirit over our love for Senator Jim King. All the wonderful times playing hearts in the majority office, sharing vitamins, sharing stories, letting me pick your brain. I know that as we both leave this process together, you’ll spend a lot of time at the river, and hopefully we’ll get to spend a lot of time outside of the process, with you and your beautiful wife.

Senator Oelrich, thank you for your strong stances on issues. When you say you’re with somebody, you stick with them. I appreciate that.

Senator Gaetz and Gardner, after I leave this process, you’ll be taking over. Best of luck, and please, please, try and unit the body like Senator Jim King and Senator Dennis Jones have done.

Senator Alexander, I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed your farewell speech, yesterday. I saw that kinder, gentler side of you, that I enjoyed so much in the House.

Senator Latvala, Jack certainly is back. And you care about the process – thank you. I feel like you will do what you can to have the body act as it did many years ago when you were a senator.

Senators Norman, Benacquisto, what I’ve been impressed with, is that you may be new to the process but you’re not shy, you’ve jumped right in and you’ve become very effective legislators.

Senator Bogdanoff, we may not always agree but I am impressed with your fighting spirit. I loved working with you to “free the grapes.”

Senator Lynn, we’ve had so many heart to heart conversations. It’s fitting that we leave at the same time. Thank you for all you’ve done for the children of the State of Florida. And thank you for doing homework, reading the bills, and bringing up issues that some of us have missed.

Senator Thrasher, you were my mentor and you taught me a lot. Your putting me in environmental protection was the best thing that happened to me, and thank you for that.

Senator Garcia, my secret valentine: although I’ve heard from some other ladies in the chamber that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t the only one.

Senator Montford, I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. And I’ve appreciated being in committee with you, and your expertise on education issues.

Senator Ring, thank you for taking up my ethics bill. I wish we could have made it all the way through the process, but you certainly did your part and I’m truly thankful.

Senator Flores, Senator Hayes and Senator Richter, we don’t serve on many committees together, so I haven’t gotten the opportunity to know you as well, but it certainly has been my pleasure serving with you.

And Senator Siplin, thank you for your hard work on the Sunrail issue. You were a real trooper and I appreciate that.

Lastly, my thank you to the press. We don’t thank the press enough for what you do. But when I was working on my masters degree in journalism at the University of Florida, one thing we learned was that the press was responsible for being watch dogs over the legislative process to keep us honest, so you serve a great purpose in this process. And for those of you who don’t return media calls, shame on you, because it’s really giving you an opportunity to get your side of the story out. So to the press, thank you for what you do, to keep this process honest.

And to all my lobbyist friends out there, I can’t always be with you but I appreciate the role that you’re doing in this process.

To committee staff, all Senate staff past and present, thank you so much, for your endless work on behalf of the citizens of Florida.

To the Sergeant, I will miss you terribly. You keep us safe, you keep us organized, and you have been a tremendous asset and a good friend. Thank you.

To the committee staff that I worked with, EP – Wayne, Kim, Karen, thank you for all you have done; Domestic Security – Susan Skelton, one of the finest individuals I’ve ever met in the Legislature. Susan knows where the bodies are buried and her depth of knowledge is immense. Criminal Justice staff – the best staff in the Florida Senate – Amanda, Connie, Donna, Mike, Scott and Sue. Thank you so much for all you do for Senate members to ensure we pass the best legislation possible.

To all my legislative staff past and present, thank you – particularly, with me today, Rachel, one of the finest legislative assistants that ever existed. She goes beyond what the job requires. She’s underemployed, because she’s a truly brilliant individual. And I know that your life holds great things for you. And you’re like a daughter to me, and I’m truly going to miss you.

Laura, and Kim and Anne back in the district. Laura’s like another daughter to me, she has been with me for many, many years, and keeps the office running smoothly. These wonderful ladies truly care about our constituents and help them in many ways.

Matt – who’s serving with me as OPS during this year’s Session, is a tremendously bright young man and a Gator graduate– I hope that life holds great things for you. His research and writing skills are extraordinary.

My parents – as all of you know, your parents are the two individuals, who no matter what you do, will always be proud of you. Thank you for your love and support.

My husband, a patient, patient man, who is very anxious for me to come home. When I talked about having role models, my husband is my life’s role model. Here’s a man who truly embodies what an entrepreneur is – born into poverty, made something of himself, created thousands and thousands of jobs, created wealth for other individuals, and never took anything from the government to do it. Doc did all that while being the most ethical individual I’ve ever seen in the business community, and I try to live up to his great example.

But mostly to my constituents, thank you so much for the honor and privilege of serving you in the legislature. I hope you feel that I have kept my promise of always listening to you.

I’ve taken on a lot of battles in the last few years, and I hope I did so in a respectful manner. To those who helped me along the way, a very heartfelt thank you – I know it wasn’t always easy. To anyone I may have offended along the way, I offer my sincere apologies, it was certainly not my intent.

In the spirit of friendship, I leave you the following advice for your consideration:

* First – the collective wisdom of 40 senators is much more powerful and beneficial than that of just a few.
* Second – Foster the camaraderie and collegiality that used to define the senate that Jim King and Dennis Jones fostered.
* Third – Always remember who sent you here and make their voices the one you hear the loudest.
* And fourth – don’t take things personally; your fiercest opponent on one bill may be your strongest ally on another. Open debate is a good thing.

So this is good bye, but if you miss me, tweet me.

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