UF Law “Gator Greats” in Politics

Published: November 10th, 2003

Category: News Briefs

Literally hundreds of political “movers and shakers” got their start at the University of Florida College of Law, including Florida Governors Spessard Holland (UF JD 16), Reubin Askew (UF JD 56), Lawton Chiles (UF JD 55) and Kenneth H. “Buddy” MacKay (UF JD 61). For decades, UF’s law school has produced distinguished elected officials in federal, state and local arenas. To place the spotlight on just a few:

• Congressman Mike Bilirakis (UF JD 63) — first elected in 1983 and still serving — was named one of the most “legislatively productive” congressmen and has served on numerous prestigious committees. His key issues include healthcare and veteran’s affairs.

• First elected in 1996, Congressman Jim Davis (UF JD 82) has worked on numerous committees and also was a Florida House member (elected 1988), where he served on the Appropriations Committee and, in his final term, as majority leader. He wrote, “My experience at the UF College of Law, both inside and outside the classroom, helped me develop the tools needed to succeed as an attorney, as well as a legislator. My time at the University of Florida also contributed to my desire to serve the broader community outside the law office and courtroom.”

• Congressman Ander Crenshaw (UF JD 70) was elected in 2000 and serves on the Appropriations Committee and as a deputy majority whip. He also spent six years in Florida’s House and eight years in Florida’s Senate. • Rod Smith (UF JD 74) was elected to the Florida Senate in 2000 after serving as state attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit, and now teaches at the UF College of Law as an adjunct. In reference to his law school experience, Smith said, “Whether working to resolve the debate surrounding the Presidential Election in 2000 or ironing out a compromise on the recent medical malpractice reform issues, my legal experience has certainly been a factor in gaining the confidence of the legislative leadership.”

• State Senator Walter “Skip” Campbell (UF JD 73) was elected in 1996 and is now the Democratic Caucus chair. He has served on numerous key committees, including Judiciary, Finance and Taxation, Banking and Insurance, and Everglades Oversight. Florida’s House of Representatives includes six UF College of Law alumni: • First elected in 1998, Dudley Goodlette (UF JD 72) values his law school experience. “Looking back on my years at the UF College of Law, I see tremendous value not only in the quality of the legal education but also in the relationships cultivated both in law school and in 30 years of active practice.”

• State Rep. Tim Ryan (UF JD 81), first elected in 1998, wrote, “As a Florida legislator, being a UF College of Law alumnus is invaluable. What I learned in the classroom has given me both the technical expertise and critical thinking skills I need to help craft solid public policy. And, the contacts I made outside the classroom are a tremendous resource when it comes to negotiating the political barriers a legislator often faces.”

• Rep. Jeff Kottkamp (UF JD 87), first elected in 2000, wrote, “My legal education prepared me not only to practice law, but also to serve in the legislature. The analytical and advocacy skills I developed in law school have been extremely beneficial during my service in the Florida House of Representatives. My advice to law students is to learn to love the law and always treat it as a profession — not a business.”

• Anna “Holly” Benson (UF JD 96), elected in 2000, found value in extracurricular activities as well as class work. “While at the College of Law, I served as attorney general of the Honor Court and led the drafting and enactment of the Honor Code. We drafted the language, built a coalition of students, faculty and administrators, and put it on the ballot as part of the fall election. It passed. Our language eventually became part of the Florida Administrative Code. It was excellent training for my current position.”

Other UF law graduates now serving in the Florida House — both elected in 2000 — are Dan Gelber (UF JD 85) and Joe Pickens (UF JD 83). The list of alumni who have served as Florida legislators includes more than 175 former representatives and 55 senators.

Among them is UF Levin College of Law Dean Emeritus and Professor Jon Mills (UF JD 72), director and founder of the Center for Governmental Responsibility. Mills was elected speaker of the Florida House in 1987-88, after being designated the “Most Effective Member of the House.” He was on Moot Court and associate editor of Florida Law Review at the UF College of Law, and graduated fifth in his class.

“Throughout the history of Florida government and politics, our law graduates have been there: governors, supreme court justices, house speakers, senate presidents,” Mills said. “Legal training gave me a tremendous advantage, because legislators write laws and often have to rely on staff attorneys for writing and interpretation.”

UF’s law school also has launched numerous local officials, including current Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer (UF JD 87), who served in Florida’s Senate from 1992-2000. As a student here in 1987, Dyer was Florida Law Review editor-in-chief.

“For me, the first-class legal education I received at the UF College of Law has proven invaluable during my years in public service, both in Tallahassee and now in Orlando’s City Hall. And, of course, I’ll never forget my first-year Civil Procedure class, where I met my wife, Karen,” said Dyer.

Joanne Fanizza (UF JD 87), who served from 1998-2002 on the City Council of Wilton Manors, offered her advice to current students and future political leaders, “Serving with JMBA helped me learn how to work with diverse individuals and help them come together for the common good. If any UF law students plan a career in politics, service with JMBA or the main campus student body is extremely helpful. Getting involved in local politicians’ political campaigns is also important — you’ll learn how campaigns work and you’ll make important contacts.”

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