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Politics / Issues

Retiring Senators From Tampa Bay Area Earned Respect

When Florida’s legislative session reaches its final days, senators honor retiring colleagues with videos and floor speeches. Some of the accolades are more heartfelt than others.

This year, as they saluted Democrat Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Republican Nancy Detert of Sarasota, it was clear that the sincerity was real.

"My mother always said, 'You can't be a leader unless you've been a follower, and I have followed you, and I'll follow you into the fire if I have to," Miami Gardens Democrat Oscar Braynon said of Joyner.

His Republican colleague, Hialeah’s Rene Garcia, was equally effusive about Detert:

"You really have been that voice, the voice for those individuals, those children who society has sometimes written off -- but you haven't, and you stood up and fought for them," he said.

This kind of recognition feels rare in a political environment where all 40 districts seats are up this year and a new Florida Senate is in the making. Some observers say that the retirement of Joyner and Detert, two independent-minded senators, could change the Senate most of all.

Detert is nationally known as a trail-blazer for children in foster care. She's passed an unusually high number of bills each year, including this year's protecting elders from guardianship abuse and reforming adoption law.

Joyner -- the first black woman to serve as Senate Minority Leader -- also was the first black woman lawyer in Hillsborough County. Senator Dwight Bullard, a Democrat from Cutler Bay, recalled that Joyner as a Florida A&M University student helped lead the fight to desegregate downtown Tallahassee.

"It's still humbling and amazing to me that I get to serve each and every day in this chamber with somebody that I had the privilege of learning about when I was in college," he said.

Detert, a moderate Republican who grew up a Democrat in Chicago, syas she was watching those struggles from afar.

"And watching the civil-rights movement on television, we were horrified as Northerners,” she said. “We were horrified that you thought it was okay for black people to sit in the balcony at a movie theater. And it just didn't seem like America."

She says she and Joyner -- both in their early 70s -- "come from a protest era."

"We come from an era when you admired people who stood up…JFK, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr….people with an independent idea who stood up and really inspired people to be their greater self. That's not fashionable today, apparently," she said.

But idealism isn't all Detert and Joyner share. Both have a ferocious work ethic, that has been the envy of some other senators.

"I've always been amazed at how well-prepared you are when you come into the chamber," Senator Jack Latvala, Republican of Clearwater, said of Joyner.

"And I remember asking you one time how you read all those bills. How do you know all that stuff? Because when I try to read a staff analysis or a bill at night, I go to sleep. And you told me that you stood up to read at night so you wouldn't go to sleep."

The biggest thing Detert and Joyner have in common? Independent thinking. Senators told story after story about the two refusing to bow to political pressure -- from anyone of either party.

Joyner, who will use her retirement to read, travel and work for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, said her constituents didn’t want her to be passive.

"We weren't sent up here to go along to get along. We were sent up here to represent the people and do what we thought was best for the citizens, which might be contrary to what the leadership in either party wants," she said.

Detert, who is running for a seat on the Sarasota County Commission, said that’s why she and Joyner should be proud of what they’ve accomplished during their time in Tallahassee.

"I think Senator Joyner and I shared a very good work ethic. We're on different sides of the aisle on issues,” she said. “And I think we both put our whole heart into it, and I think we're both leaving with our head held high."

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