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End of an era

By Staff | Nov 10, 2008

MICHAEL PISTELLA Former Florida State Sen. Burt Saunders stands on a pier at The Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples. Saunders says he’s proud of the work he’s done for the environment in southwest Florida.

After more than two decades of public service, Burt Saunders is stepping out of the public eye.

The former Florida state representative and Collier County commissioner was term-limited this year as a Florida state senator. An unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Congressional seat in Florida’s 14th District that ended Tuesday means Saunders will return to practicing law.

Saunders, who celebrated his 60th birthday Friday, finished third in voting behind incumbent Republican Connie Mack and Democrat Robert Neeld. He attributed his poor showing to his decision to run with no party affiliation. A life-long Republican, Saunders chose to run with no party affiliation because he thought he would have a better shot at unseating Mack in the general election than in the primary.

“I think this proves it really is impossible to run with no party affiliation. You’ve got a very strong two-party system. Even though I’m a Republican, what people saw on the ballot next to my name was NPA,” Saunders said.

District-wide, Saunders received 54,575 votes while Mack and Neeld received 223,495 and 93,042 votes, respectively. Jeff George, who also ran under no party affiliation, had 4,922 votes.

Saunders said his campaign was not without impact “especially on issues like health care, immigration reform and energy independence — these are critical issues.”

Besides returning to practicing law at the Gray & Robinson law firm in Naples, Saunders also serves on the boards of various corporations and will be involved in nonprofits and charitable organizations.

Garrett Richter, a Naples banker and former Florida state representative, replaces Saunders, taking his District 76 seat in the Florida Senate. Saunders said he leaves his post in good hands.

“Garrett will do a wonderful job, he’s very committed to Southwest Florida,” Saunders said.

During his 10 years in the Senate, Saunders points to his efforts on environmental and health care issues as his major accomplishments. He was named a Steward of the Everglades by the Florida Audubon Society for his efforts to restore the Everglades, and passed legislation to make sure HMOs paid their network of providers promptly.

“A lot of these major early battles were with health organizations. We made sure these HMOs were treating patients fairly,” he said.

Saunders said he has few regrets, if any.

“The way I always governed was to do things I thought were in the best interests of the people of Southwest Florida. There are very few things I would do over,” he said.

“Serving Southwest Florida in the Senate certainly was the high point in my public life, and it was an honor to serve this area.”