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State Lawmakers Pay Respects to Senator Jim King

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Legislative friends, political foes and a chamber chock full of Tallahassee colleagues paid their respects to former Senate President Jim King on Tuesday during a memorial service filled with serious accolades and humorous anecdotes.

Serving and former state officials, including Gov. Charlie Crist, Lt. Governor Jeff Kottkamp and a half dozen former Senate presidents and House speakers and their spouses, celebrated a life that several remarked was well-lived. King lost a battle with pancreatic cancer and died July 25 at age 69.

Beloved for his compassion and relished for his child-like mischievousness offset by wisdom, the Jacksonville Republican was lauded for his willingness to take on serious issues without wallowing in his own self-importance, an occupational hazard King tried to avoid.

“If today were open mike day, there would be a Jim King story from everyone in this chamber, everyone in the audience…,” said former state Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua. “Think about it. Those would just be the stories that were beyond the statute of limitations and within the bounds appropriate for these august proceedings.”

King’s political legacy includes his successful efforts to enact death with dignity legislation that allows ailing residents to decide what life saving steps will be called upon in the event they’re incapacitated. It also includes steps forward in state-supported biomedical research – a passion fueled by King’s parents’ deaths.

King’s political independence often put him at odds with many in his own party, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, with whom he repeatedly butted heads.

King argued against Bush and further legislative interference in the Terry Schiavo case. He also opposed medical malpractice legislation supported by Bush and other GOP leaders, telling an angry crowd of expletive spewing physicians in 2003 that he would not take their side on a highly emotional malpractice bill while he was Senate President.

But speakers called on to remember King on Tuesday focused more on his gregarious demeanor, his love of camaraderie, and fondness for good food and a stiff “adult beverage.”

One such story, recounted by perhaps King’s closest legislative friend, Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, tells of their stint in the House when Jones, King and former Rep Doug Jamerson, D-Tampa, mistakenly walked in on a late night House session while hoisting a boom box and singing the Clarence Carter classic “Strokin.’”

“A plain, unembellished goodbye would not do for our colleague, my best friend,” Jones said Tuesday.

King was elected to the House in 1986 and was chaired the House’s budget committee as well as serving as majority leader. In 1999, he was elected to the Senate in a special election, replacing Sen. Bill Bankhead who resigned to become Gov. Jeb Bush’s secretary of juvenile justice. King served as Senate president from 2002 to 2004.

Following a military ceremony in which King’s widow, Linda, was presented with an American flag in honor of his Coast Guard service, King’s ashes were retired to the Senate chambers where family members greeted guests.

“He was a character - who had great character,” Smith concluded. “What a great combination.”

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