Atwater picked as next president of Florida Senate

Dec 14, 2007

Palm Beach Post, 12/14/2007

TALLAHASSEE North Palm Beach banker Jeff Atwater took the next-to-last step toward the Senate presidency this evening, winning the formal support of his Republican caucus.
Assuming voters return Atwater to the Senate next November and his party retains control of the chamber, he would assume the job two weeks after the 2008 election, succeeding the outgoing president: Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie.

After accepting the nomination, which came with a unanimous vote of the Senate Republicans at about 5:40 p.m., Atwater said lawmakers should focus on the ‘unfinished business’ of property insurance and property taxes.

‘For many, this is a time of great uncertainty,’ Atwater said. ‘The price of sustaining the American Dream here in Florida is becoming increasingly important to many of our most vulnerable citizens.’

Atwater may face opposition in his re-election from former Democratic Sen. Skip Campbell, who lost a bid for attorney general last year. But Campbell, of Fort Lauderdale, said he will not decide whether to run until next year.

Atwater, 49, had originally been vying for the 2010-12 term, but with the backing of others who wanted that slot for themselves pulled off a ‘palace coup’ in early 2006, outmaneuvering Miami Sen. Alex Villalobos for the 2008-2010 term. Villalobos would have been the first Cuban-American Senate president.

Atwater appeared to have collected the necessary pledges that spring, but the question was not completely settled because of the possibility that Democrats might have picked up seats in the November, 2006, election and teamed up with Republicans still loyal to Villalobos to take control of the chamber.

That did not happen. Democrats picked up one seat, but lost one, for no net change. And Pruitt abandoned a highly partisan tack and instead made peace with the minority party, giving chairmanships to a few and giving Democratic Leader Steve Geller input on most major decisions.

Atwater is a great-grandson of Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, the governor of Florida from 1905-1909 who is well known for draining much of the Everglades to open South Florida for development.

Atwater served in the House from 2000-2002, but then Senate leaders redrew the Senate seat held by Fort Lauderdale Republican Debby Sanderson re-drawn for Atwater because Sanderson refused to back their favored candidates for the presidency.

He drew opposition from Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who had to leave office because of term limits, but defeated him with considerable help from independent political groups led by the Florida Home Builders.

Butterworth a year ago returned to public life as Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s secretary of Children and Families.

Staff writer Michael C. Bender contributed to this story.