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State Senate Has Four Presidents From PB County

Q: How many Florida Senate presidents have come from Palm Beach County?
A: From the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, the leadership of the House was shared by three childhood friends: Jerry Thomas, Phil Lewis and Harry Johnston.
Thomas, born and raised in West Palm Beach, was in the Florida Senate from 1965 to 1972 and was president from 1971 to 1972. The banker-turned-politician wrote or co-sponsored hundreds of laws, including the Florida Sunshine Law, which keeps many meetings open and documents available to the public. He was also known as Mr. Conservation because he helped stop the dumping of untreated sewage into Lake Worth. In 1970, he launched the campaign to complete Palm Beach County’s last stretch of Interstate 95. He served on dozens of education boards, including the Board of Regents. He was also U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury under President Gerald Ford. Thomas died of cancer at 51 in 1980. The bridge from the Riviera Beach mainland to Singer Island and a Jupiter elementary school are named for him.
Lewis, 72, a Riviera Beach real estate executive, was in the Senate from 1970 to 1980 and was president from 1979 to 1980. He studied a formula for school financing and helped create the water management districts. He also served on about 20 public boards, including the Board of Regents and the Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability. A technology building at Palm Beach Community College’s north campus is named for him.
Johnston, 70, was in the Senate from 1974 to 1986 and was president from 1985 to 1986. He sponsored legislation to start the first Children’s Services Council in the state. As a fifth-generation Floridian, he championed growth management, and during his Senate presidency, the Growth Management Act passed. He was a U.S. congressman from 1989 to 1997. In August 1999, President Clinton named him special envoy to the Sudan.
The only other Senate president from Palm Beach County: John R. Beacham in 1941. An oddity: Palm Beach County has never produced a speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.
Florida Legislative Information Division: (800) 342-1827 or (850) 488-4371.
On the web: http://www.leg.state.fl.us.
Read More: Florida Handbook, by Allen Morris

Posted in Eliot Kleinberg July 3, 2002 at 11:12 am.

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