GOP gains two-thirds majority in Florida Legislature

— Republicans gained two additional seats Tuesday in the Florida Senate and possibly a half dozen more in the state House, putting the Legislature clearly in the drivers' seat on making policy for at least the next two years.

The two-thirds majority in each chamber leaves the GOP in position of being able to override any veto Florida's new governor might issue if they are united. Late Tuesday, that race was still too close to call between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink.

It was, quite simply, a great night for the Florida GOP in the Legislature from the top leaders right on down. Republicans now have a 28-12 majority in the Senate, their most since Reconstruction and at least 81 seats in the 120-member House.

"This is the best opportunity we've ever had," said incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, who was re-elected without opposition while presumptive House Speaker Dean Cannon and Sen. John Thrasher, who doubles up as the state Republican Party chairman, won in impressive fashion.

"We want to put a big 'open for business' sign in front of Florida," a jubilant Haridopolos told The Associated Press. "Florida's open for business. People will know there are not going to be new taxes or new regulations that would hamper business."

With 93 percent of the expected vote counted, Thrasher had 60 percent to Deborah Gianoulis 40 percent while Cannon took almost 59 percent of the vote in his central Florida victory over Democrat Amy Mercado.

Thrasher, 66, repelled the bid of Gianoulis, a vivacious former television news anchor making her first political race. Democrats hoped she could defeat the former House speaker and Vietnam veteran. Gianoulis, who is well known in the northeastern Florida Senate district after two dozen years as a popular TV newswoman, needed to pull a lot of Republican votes to pull off the upset in a heavily Republican district.

Thrasher was elected to the District 8 seat in a special election last year after the death of former Senate President Jim King. Thrasher subsequently moved from Orange Park to St. Augustine to have a residence in the district.

Former state Sen. Jack Latvala won a Tampa Bay area seat previously held by Democrat Charlie Justice and Lizbeth Benacquisto defeated state Rep. Kevin Rader to bring that South Florida seat back into GOP hands. It had been held by Dave Aronberg.

In South Florida, state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale defeated Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton to keep the seat in GOP hands previously held by outgoing Senate President Jeff Atwater, who was elected Florida's chief financial officer Tuesday.

Five incumbent House Democrats were defeated on Tuesday: Debbie Boyd, Janet Long, Dave Heller, Keith FitzGerald and Adam Fetterman.

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