Bright-eyed Anitere Flores -- with that arresting smile, the bounce in her step and so much time, it seemed, to hear out all comers -- entered the Republican Senate in 2010 with as much promise as I'd ever seen in a freshman.
She was a breath of fresh air.
Fast-forward to 2017 and so many are asking themselves, what happened?
The promise is gone, say senators throughout her caucus. It's been soured by ... what? Ambition? Opportunity? A change of allegiance to principles perhaps she held all along but didn't realize or reveal?
They plain don't like what they see anymore.
Flores, 41, is Senate President Joe Negron's No. 2. She is president pro tempore, one of the chief water carriers for her boss -- the senator Negron heralded last November as a "loyal friend and trusted ally."
Maybe it's only jealousy on the part of senators left behind.
Then again, maybe the heaped-on praise went to her head, who knows?
The point is, when I ask GOP senators where Flores goes from here, when Negron's gavel isn't propping her up -- I usually get a wry smile or a shrug or worse: an answer.
It's as if the senator from Miami, first Republican Hispanic woman to serve in both the Florida House and Senate since 1986, is poised on the edge of a black hole. What happens when Negron isn't there to keep her from the edge?
Already this session her party has gonged her twice.
The first time came early in the 2017 session when Flores, previously a gun-rights proponent, declared war on the majority of gun bills before the Legislature.
On March 8, Marion Hammer, NRA lobbyist and past president, issued a Florida Alert to all NRA members that Flores had come out against the Second Amendment by publicly stating her intent to kill several pro-gun bills. How? By joining Democrats and not allowing the bills out of her committee. She unleashed the full ire of the pro-gun lobby, winning the nickname "Madame DLP". The DLP is a reference to Miguel De La Portilla who lost re-election after obstructing pro-gun bills in the same committee.
The latest notice that Flores' horizon has darkened came from the Wall Street Journal a week ago ("Category 5 Flores: A Florida Republican Keeps a Trial Bar Payday Going for Another Year"). International attention from a conservative newspaper generally kind to Republicans.
They weren't to Flores.
"Florida homeowners might want to remember the name Anitere Flores when they open their next insurance bill," the WSJ editorial begins. "The South Florida Republican this week blocked an effort to stop a plaintiffs attorney scheme that’s endangering the state’s taxpayer-backed catastrophic insurer and sending premiums skyrocketing."
The opinion regales the story of Flores' failure to allow the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, of which she is chairman, to hear Republican Sens. Dorothy Hukill and Kathleen Passidomo's bill that finally would stop "assignment of benefits" abuse by ending attorney fee paydays, among other reforms.
Bills that don't get a hearing die, plain and simple.
Instead, says the editorial, Flores -- who, like Negron, is an attorney -- "placed two bills on her committee’s agenda sponsored by Democrat Gary Farmer, who used to run Florida’s trial-bar lobby. Mr. Farmer’s bills would keep the attorney fee game going, among other bad ideas. Floridians had better hope a Category 5 hurricane doesn’t hit the state this year ..."
So, let's see. Lining up sides, what groups besides the trial bar and the Democrats favor Farmer's bill? None that I can find.
Flores had her reasons for doing what she did, I guess -- though most Republicans still don't get it. But she never told the Wall Street Journal what they were.
She can't find an answer for the Wall Street Journal?
I understand her not returning my call -- but I ask you: Who doesn't call back the Wall Street Journal?
Senators were questioning Flores' governing style long before I approached them. One lawmaker told me, "Anitere is always late. She keeps people waiting. Maybe she doesn't think it matters. She says she's going to do something but doesn't. I believe she's bitten off more than she can chew."
Said another, "She's either drunk with power or she can't say no to Joe (Negron)."
Flores is chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services; chair of Banking and Insurance; vice chair of Appropriations; and she sits on the Education, Judiciary and Rules committees -- plus the Joint Legislative Budget Commission.
Busy lady. But in two years, you have to ask yourself, what will be left of the young legislator with so much promise? Stand back, Senator, don't look down.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith