The Final Word | Florida Senate President Joe Negron

5/1/2017

STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE | may 2017

A Florida native, attorney Joe Negron won a House seat in 2000 and a Senate seat in 2009. He was elected Senate president in 2016. A graduate of Stetson University and Emory University Law School, he earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University.

Florida Senate President Joe NegronWhat did growing up with six younger brothers teach you about working in a legislature?

The importance of organization and compromise, and the value of competition when it is tempered with good will and graciousness. I come from a family modest in means but bountiful in love and opportunity. When you grow up in a big family, you learn that success is more about the group achieving its goals rather than one person trying to be the superstar.

Describe your leadership philosophy.

One of my key guiding principles is that I believe in the supremacy of the individual. When I look at proposed legislation, I do so with an essential wariness and skepticism about government even though I’m now part of the government. I think it’s important for people in positions of public service to acknowledge the proneness of government to overreach and to intrude into individuals’ personal sovereignty.

What’s your advice for navigating the differences between members and chambers?

I like to tell people that we’re in the persuasion business, not the hectoring and lecturing business. I find that if you approach an issue with a clear point of view but are willing to listen to objections and try to overcome them, that ultimately you’ll be able to build a coalition to get things done.

You are an avid sports fan.

What do you like to play? If there’s a ball and they keep score, the Negron boys were interested. I like to play many different sports, although I’m mediocre at some and less than average at most. But if I had an opportunity to play something tonight, I would rank them in this order: basketball, golf, tennis, ping pong, softball.

What do you do to stay at the top of your game?

I find that meeting with groups of senators informally throughout the day is a good way to unwind and hear what’s going on. I also try to get to Orange Theory gym at least four or five times a week.

Who do you look up to as a role model?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor involved in the resistance against Hitler in Germany—and who ultimately was executed—for his bravery and courage in difficult circumstances. Speaker Allan Bense had a quiet dignity about him and delegated authority. I’ve always admired Governor Jeb Bush because he knew what he believed in and thought the details of governing were important. When you would go to meet with him, you would prepare a little longer and pack a sandwich, because you knew he had studied the issue and was well-versed in the details. I always respected that about him.

What book is on your night stand?

One of the fun parts of this job is going to the archives to pick out some historical photographs to put in the president’s office. I chose the actual writ of habeas corpus that Clarence Gideon filed from prison in Florida to the Supreme Court asking for a right to have counsel. And then someone just gave me “Gideon’s Trumpet” by Anthony Lewis. It discusses how that filing led to a historic Supreme Court decision that people had a right to counsel if the government was going to try to put you in prison.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I joke with my dad that the reason I decided to be a lawyer at an early age was the complete lack of due process in my family growing up, because you can imagine that with seven boys, my dad ran a very tight ship. I’ve been interested in government since I was a teenager. I have a picture in my office of me, when I was 14 years old, talking to Nancy Reagan, and then I had the opportunity to meet President Reagan and shake hands with President Ford. As a young person, I tended to read biographies about political figures or people in government, whether it was Alexander the Great, Winston Churchill, Robert Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey or Barry Goldwater.

What would surprise people most to learn about you?

Probably that I know almost all of the dialogue from “Animal House” and that I’m a huge Chris Rock fan.

What final words would you like to share?

One of the best things we can do to improve the economy of any state is to have a strong university system where young women and men have an opportunity to prepare to compete for their dreams. I think there is a direct nexus between a strong, prominent university system and long-term economic growth and prosperity.

PHOTO: DARRYL JARMON, SENATE PHOTOGRAPHER

Jane Carroll Andrade, a contributing editor to the magazine, conducted this interview, which has been edited for length.


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