In a recent interview, Dean Saunders sat down with The Land Journal to discuss how he helped create Florida's Bright Futures program. This is the third article in a series.
Since 1985, Dean has specialized in Florida land and conservation easements. He served in the US Senate as Agricultural Liaison, Special Assistant, and Director of External Affairs to US Senator Lawton Chiles, then Governor Chiles (D-FL).
From 1992 to 1996 he served in the Florida House of Representatives, where his strong passion for supporting landowner property rights and conserving the integrity of a property’s natural resources culminated in his authorship of groundbreaking conservation legislation.
He comes from an eighth-generation Florida agricultural family, earned a BSA from the University of Florida in Fruit Crops, Food and Resource Economics, and is a recognized Florida land and conservation easement authority.
In the third part of the interview, Saunders began by telling the story of how he convinced Governor Chiles not to veto the Bright Futures bill in 1996.
While Governor Chiles declined to sign the bill at that time, he also did not veto it, which allowed the bill to be made into law. Saunders had set aside $15 million to begin the program, but other leaders in the Florida Legislature knew that it would take more time to plan and execute.
"It's 1997 now, and now everybody's lining up to support the Bright Futures scholarship. I didn't have many of these people back when I was doing the authorization. It was sluggin', it was hard to get it done."
That year, the Bright Futures bill was signed into law and was both popular and successful. Though Dean Saunders was no longer in the Florida Legislature, his work was paying off for Floridians.
Saunders finished the interview by fondly recalling the story of how he attended the eventual signing of the bill by Governor Chiles in 1997, a ceremony that began years of the Bright Futures program that has now benefited Floridians for decades.
"I was going to Tallahassee for some business up there, and I called the governor's office because I used to work for him when he was in the senate and when he was governor. And so I told the receptionist that I would like to come by and see the boss if I can. She said 'I'm sure he's love to see you. He's signing the Bright Futures bill today.' She told me it was at an elementary school, and I remember driving up and all my fellow legislators and friends were there. They said 'Dean, you stand here right behind the governor. And Lawton signed it and handed me the pen. It was pretty cool little story. But that's how Bright Futures got started. It's been a great success."
Though Saunders described the battle to get Bright Futures passed as a hard one, he steadfastly believes that the rewards reaped by Floridians were well worth his efforts.
Watch the third and final part of the interview below: