TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Generally, college rivalries are played out on some kind of sports platform.
It’s another kind of rivalry that sometimes plays itself out in Tallahassee. But instead of a football field, the arena is the Florida Legislature.
Heading into the 2017 legislative session, Florida State University can claim educational ties to 26 members of the House and Senate, while 24 lawmakers have links with the University of Florida.
Less than a third of the 160 lawmakers can be claimed by the two universities designated as “pre-eminent” institutions by the state.
Overall, 85 lawmakers have attended or earned degrees from Florida’s 12 public universities, according to biographical data listed by the House and Senate.
Some members are counted twice because they attended more than one school. For instance, House Public Integrity & Ethics Chairman Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, has an undergraduate degree from UF and a law degree from FSU.
Behind FSU and UF are the University of Central Florida, with ties to nine lawmakers and the University of South Florida with six members.
Florida A&M University, Florida International University and the University of North Florida each have ties to five members.
The University of West Florida and Florida Gulf Coast University each have ties to two members. Florida Atlantic University has one.
No members cited educational ties to New College of Florida or Florida Polytechnic University.
Alumni ties can help elevate a university’s profile and priorities in the Legislature, with the biggest boost coming from lawmakers in key committee chairmanships or leadership posts.
But the two leaders at the top for the next two years have no direct educational ties to Florida’s public universities.
Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who is promoting a series of policy and funding issues aimed at improving the university system, holds an undergraduate degree from Stetson University, a law degree from Emory University and a master’s degree from Harvard.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, has an undergraduate degree from St. Leo University in Pasco County and a law degree from Regent University in Virginia.
In other key positions, Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Miami Republican and FSU law graduate, leads the House Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Elizabeth Porter, a Lake City Republican and FSU graduate, leads the House Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee, which will handle higher-education policy bills.
In the Senate, Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who has an undergraduate degree from UF and a law degree from the University of Miami, is chairman of the Senate budget subcommittee that oversees university funding.
Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and Stetson graduate, is the Senate budget chairman, while Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who has an undergraduate degree from Florida International University and law degree from UF, is the panel’s vice-chairwoman.
Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican who has undergraduate and law degrees from UF, will play a key role during the session as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which is expected to be involved in legislation that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on campuses. Most university leaders oppose the “campus carry” legislation.
Florida State University President John Thrasher, a former House speaker, said ties to lawmakers are important to the schools, noting the role he and former Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, played in advancing FSU’s agenda, including the creation of a medical school.
“It’s extraordinarily important,” Thrasher said, adding he is pleased by FSU’s contingent of 18 House members and eight senators in the 2017 session.
But Thrasher, who also served as a state senator, said the influence of alumni tends to even out over time.
“Everybody has had their turn,” Thrasher said. “But you know what, higher education is the ultimate thing. And I think everybody in the House and Senate leadership care about higher education, so we feel like we’re going to do fine.”
Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who has undergraduate and law degrees from UF, has been a staunch supporter of Florida.
“Certainly, I want to see the University of Florida succeed,” Bradley said. “I’m a third-generation alumnus and proud Gator.”
Bradley said promoting the interests of a school like UF helps not only students but the state as a whole as the institution has a positive impact on Florida’s economy.
“I think a great University of Florida leads to a great state,” Bradley said.
Another higher-education perspective in the session will come from the youngest House member, Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, a 21-year-old who is four classes short of her political-science degree from the University of Central Florida.
Mariano, who will serve on committees involved with university funding and policy legislation, said she can offer an informed view on issues like financial aid and Bright Futures scholarships.
“I have first-hand knowledge about what these numbers look like and how they are applicable to students,” Mariano said.
Mariano, who plans to finish her degree by taking online classes, said her views as a student are representative of university students across the state.
“Whatever affects me at UCF also affects people at UF and FSU,” she said. “My perspective comes from UCF, but Bright Futures is the same all across the state and the same with most of the other issues.”
Rep. Ramon Alexander, a Tallahassee Democrat who also serves on key House higher-education committees, said as a Florida A&M University graduate and former student body president, he can offer a perspective for schools that have more unique or nontraditional roles.
“I don’t believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to higher education in Florida or education in general,” said Alexander, whose district includes the FAMU campus and a portion of FSU. “I think New College has a very unique mission and serves a very specific role and Florida A&M University has a very unique mission.
“We need to work towards that spirit. And when we do that, we embrace the unique nature and makeup of Florida.”
The News Service of Florida’s Lloyd Dunkelberger contributed to this report.
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