Future House leader touts UF as flagship

Published: Thursday, January 11, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 10, 2007 at 11:50 p.m.

The Legislature should recognize the University of Florida as the state's flagship school, deal with rising insurance rates and promote high-tech economic development, a future speaker of the Florida House of Representatives told UF and Gainesville officials Wednesday.

Two-time UF graduate Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, also called for a search for best practices in government that was not hindered by partisan considerations as he spoke to an audience of several dozen people at a breakfast meeting at the Hilton hotel.

"We need to make debate more about intelligent discourse and less about rhetoric," said Cannon, a 38-year-old lawyer. Both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature are guilty of attacking ideas rather than proposing solutions, he said.

Described by UF President Bernie Machen Wednesday as a "real dynamo in Tallahassee and a force of good for this state," Cannon is slated to take over as the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives in 2011 and 2012. Cannon's fellow representatives tapped him for the post just seven months after he took office in 2005.

Among the ideas promoted by Cannon during the meeting, part of UF's Community Campus Council Breakfast series, was using UF to lead the state university system as an engine of economic growth.

"We've been talking about making one of our universities the flagship and the University of Florida is that university as far as I'm concerned," Cannon said, sparking a round of applause from the audience.

More important than the title, however, is making sure the university receives the funding it needs, Cannon said.

"The university and its leadership team have to set the course and tell us what they need to achieve their goals," he said after the meeting. "Then its up to us to provide them those tools."

Former Democratic State Rep. Perry McGriff, a Gainesville resident, said he worried that the influx of non-UF graduates into the Legislature had weakened the sway of an institution that once counted more than half the state's lawmakers among its alumni.

But Cannon said whatever their college affiliation, lawmakers recognized the importance of UF in high-tech research and economic development.

Cannon said one of the most important discussions of the next year would happen during the special legislative session on property insurance that starts next week. Recounting his own difficulties recovering from Hurricane Charley two years ago — his family is still rebuilding — he said the Legislature would likely have to cherry-pick pieces of the ideas suggested during the recent campaign to find a good policies.

"Hopefully, the end product will have the best of everyone's ideas," Cannon said.

Jeff Adelson can be reached at 352-374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com

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