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Byrd, first of two ex-Speakers looking to take flight this season

Monday, August 13th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Plenty of political careers will be shaped by Tuesday’s vote.

But one storyline unfolding in Hillsborough County is whether former House Speaker Johnnie Byrd can make a comeback as a candidate for judge. The always controversial Byrd was last seen on a political stage in 2004, when he finished a distant fourth in a six-person field for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

On Tuesday, Byrd is challenging incumbent Circuit Judge Mark Wolfe.

Heading into Tuesday’s election, Wolfe has far outraised Byrd, with the incumbent collecting $163,837 to the challenger’s $34,670.

Byrd’s weak bid for Senate came after two tumultuous years as speaker. The Plant City Republican had few strong allies in the House, forced lawmakers into some tough votes on social issues and even phone rates. And he departed without many in the Legislature or lobbying corps holding him in the usual misty-eyed esteem achieved by Florida leaders.

Tuesday will decide whether a Republican ex-speaker can make a comeback. But it may also presage another attempted political return by a former Democratic House speaker. Former Fort Lauderdale Rep. Tom Gustafson is running in November against Boca Raton Republican Rep. Bill Hager.

Gustafson was chosen last month by the Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee to replace Pamela Goodman on the ballot, after she withdrew to care for her ailing husband.

Former House Speaker Tom Gustafson to replace Goodman in state House run against Hager

Friday, July 27th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Palm Beach County Democrats will pick former House Speaker Tom Gustafson to run for state House District 89 race incumbent against state Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, according to Palm Beach County Democratic party leader Mark Alan Siegel.

Gustafson, who represented Broward County in the House for more than a decade, will replace Pamela Goodman, who ended her campaign earlier this week because of her husband’s health problems.

The county Democratic Party executive committee will meet on Tuesday to officially make the selection, Siegel said.

Gustafson, a Wellington resident and the godfather of Tri-Rail, currently does not live in the Palm Beach County coastal district but said he’s had his Wellington house on the market for six months and had planned to move to the Boca Raton area before deciding to join the race.

Gustafson, 62, was elected to the Florida House in 1976 and served as speaker from 1988-1990 when Democrats controlled the legislature. His resume includes lengthy stints as a politician, lawyer and academic. Gustafson now serves as the director of research programs in the Finance and Administration Department at Florida International University but is retiring Tuesday, he said.

Gustafson specializes in community planning and transportation issues and was instrumental in the creation of Tri-Rail, which serves Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Gustafson said he wants to bring his multi-disciplinary expertise to Tallahassee again to help make the state a better place to live.

“The issues don’t change very much. They get updated. Things become more important one year than the next. But the rhythm stays the same,” Gustafson said. “The parties come and go in terms of who’s the majority. It changed before. It will change again. What is important is we have a state that needs attention. Politics is in the details. If you can work through the details with a focus and, in my case experience not only in politics but in the practice of law and academia, you can come up with good answers. And that’s what I hope to do.”

Democrats have targeted the District 89 race as one of their state priorities and were disappointed by the departure of Goodman, a former vice-president of the Florida League of Women Voters who had nearly universal support within the county.

Gustafson has been out of office for more than two decades and never represented Palm Beach County. Democratic operatives predicted Gustafson, who’s lived in Wellington for a decade but is well-known throughout the state, will be able to tap into resources far beyond the county to help fund the race against Hager, who has collected more than $100,000 for his reelection.

“I don’t think anyone except political aficionados will remember him but remember campaigns are about sharing and providing information,” Siegel said. “This is somebody who’s ready to hit the ground running.”

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