When the legislative session ended in early March, senators were asked to pack their Tallahassee offices and ship personal effects back to their district offices. This happens every two years as senators are moved from office to office depending on their seniority or standing with leadership. This also allows for the arrival of new members, as half of the Senate is up for election every two years.
A few senators keep a staff member in Tallahassee year-round. This is the case with me and my small office on the second floor of the Senate Office Building. As one of the most senior members, I should have had an office on the fourth floor, with other senior Republican members who were term-limited this year. But such is the price for not blindly following the Senate president's wishes. A small office among my Democrat colleagues is a small price to pay for my independence.
When I left the Florida House in 2002 after six years, I moved out all my personal belongings. But after 10 years in the Senate, I have accumulated a voluminous collection of items.
Where to begin?
I psyched myself up to be a discarder, not a hoarder, so we brought in the industrial-size trash can. I could have filled a few dozen recycling bins, but having seen them emptied into the trash bins, we cut out the middleman. We put together four boxes of stuff I just couldn't part with, and my legislative assistant offered to host an office "garage sale" with some of the rest. On seeing the rummage-sale posting, a friend said he didn’t “know whether to laugh or cry,” sorry to see me leave because of term limits, but happy to get some good stuff at term-limited prices.
What does one find after 10 years of hoarding? The usual: business cards, letters, notes, speeches, committee packets, research materials, calendars, bill information, vote sheets, delegation information, pens and paper clips -- lots and lots of paper clips. Where did all these darn paper clips come from?
If you're a lady senator, you might also find some personal items: lipstick, curling iron, hairbrush, toothbrush, nail polish, a guitar and, of course, pantyhose.
It was a little surprising to find autographed hats (Billy Donovan) and footballs (Tim Tebow) and a baseball glove from good friend and now Congressman Dennis Ross that I’d forgotten I had. I found shot glasses, an ice bucket, bottle openers, coozies, everglades seasoning and slap yo momma seasoning, a checkerboard, DVDs, CDs, VCR tapes and several gavels.
And files, so many files. Of course, I had to read what was in the files to make an informed decision on their worthiness. Since I'm not planning to open the Paula Dockery Library, we decided to throw out prior-year issues. Rachel, my legislative assistant, claimed the public records and ethics information. I packed the files on High Speed Rail, SunRail, USF Poly, Prison Privatization and Water. But redistricting maps, budget spreadsheets and gambling propaganda were disposed of with great flourish.
Up until now, there was nothing emotional about the task. Then we found the bowling scores that reminded me of the camaraderie I enjoyed with my fellow senators, representatives, aides and lobbyists. After taking a picture of this memento and posting it to my Facebook page, it was back to work.
Next we found thank-you notes, letters, newspaper clippings, awards, plaques and photos. We found the poster of my dearly departed golden retriever, Charley, in his successful campaign for Caucus Canine. Now it was getting nostalgic. We packed these without further examination, to be sorted in private, where the memories could soak in.
All that remained were items for the office garage sale: TV, refrigerator, microwave, vases, books, clocks, lamps, floor plants and, of course, the artwork, which will be the last of the personal items to leave 224 SOB.
On the way to the parking garage, a Senate staffer looked at our box-filled trolley, then at me, and said, "This must be bittersweet for you." While driving home to Lakeland, I thought, in November when my 16 years in the Legislature come to an official end, I get to do this again on a much larger scale. That truly will be bittersweet.
Paula Dockery is a term-limited Republican senator from Lakeland who is chronicling her final year in the Florida Senate. She can be reached at email@example.com.
© Florida Voices