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Bob Graham returns to Legislature: opines on campaign money, universities, service

Photo (2)Former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham returned to the Florida Capitol Tuesday and, seated in front of Gov. Rick Scott, attended his first governor’s State of the State speech in years. 

Having watched many partisan speeches in the U.S. Senate, he noted that he was not surprised at the fact Democrats stood and applauded as Scott announced his support for the expansion of Medicaid while Republicans remained silent. 

“If you’ve attending many State of the Unions, you’re used to this half the audience applauding and the other half sitting on their hands,'' he said. "Actually, the fact that it only occurred a couple of times today was a positive sign." 

(Herald Photo: Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar, after asking House photographer to take his picture with Graham.)

Graham, who was first elected to the state House in 1966, said he is currently working on a book about his father and his father's eight years in the state Senate.

“I love my days in the Florida Legislature. In fact there’s a book I want to write, entitled ‘Everything I learned about politics I learned as a freshmen in the Florida Legislature.’”

He said the direction of the state is “in flux, as we saw in the presidential election. One of the reasons it is in flux is who are Floridians is changing with particularly more minorities and those minorities have become politically energized and made the difference in November, in the presidential election, and will be an increasing force in the years ahead.”

On the House proposal to raise campaign finance limits from $500 to $10,000, Graham is not a fan. 

“I think we ought to be looking for ways to reduce the influence of money in politics,’’ he said. “Increasing from our current level to $10,000 seems to be going in the wrong direction.”

House Speaker Will Weatherford’s suggestion to identify "pre-eminent" universities is not a decision for the Legislature, he said. “Those decisions ought to be made by the Board of Governors. The people of Florida in 2002 gave to a constitutional board of citizens the responsibility to manage the state university system and that is where the leadership should come from.”

Graham’s daughter, Gwen Graham, is preparing to announce her candidacy against U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland for Congress in the second district. She currently works for the Leon County School Board and would run as a Democrat based in Tallahassee.

“I believe in good people in politics and I know she’d be an outstanding member of Congress and she is getting prepared to make a decision on that,’’ he said.