A cry could be heard in the voice of Father Pat O’Neil as he spoke of the love Ken Plante generated in his work in his community and throughout the state of Florida.
O’Neil, the director of the Miami Diocese’s Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, celebrated a Mass in Tallahassee Friday for his friend, a former Senate Minority Leader, adviser to a governor, founder of a think tank and a professional association, as well as a prominent lobbyist.
Plante battled ALS for three years, passing away Sunday at the age of 75. Plante was a familiar sight around the state Capitol for parts of six decades.
Plante’s friendship with O’Neil began during Plante’s first Senate campaign for a Winter Park seat in 1967, before Disney defined the region, O’Neil recalled. After he won election, O’Neil said he asked who was showing Plante the ropes in the legislative process, mentoring him. Plante said veteran lawmaker Phil Lewis had taken him under his wings.
“He said memorize the rules. Know every rule of the Senate, every statute, every procedure, whatever and interrupt everybody” O’Neil said Plante told him that was the advice Lewis had given him.
“He said they’re all nice guys (the Senate) but not many of them are very bright,” recalled O’Neil, filling the church with laughter.
Plante served in the Senate until 1978, rising to minority leader, and then embarked on a successful lobbying career. Dale Patchett eulogized the Orlando native, telling about when Plante called him to say newly elected Gov. Jeb Bush offered him the position of legislative director in the administration.
“He said I can’t do this job unless you take over my business for me. ‘I said sure, Kenny, how bad can it be.’ I had 10 of my own clients and he had 22. That was the most work I have ever done in any legislative session and he just said ‘thank you very much,’” said Patchett.
“And when Gov. Bush vetoed one of my items, I called Kenny and said what happened. He said, ‘It’s not my job,’” said Patchett to the enjoyment of the lobbyists and lawmakers in attendance.
Many credited the success of Bush’s agenda with Plante’s understanding of the process and his relationships at the Capitol. Bush had filled his administration with many young staffers and Plante’s experience and reputation were invaluable tools for Bush’s first administration.
Planted decline to run for re-election in 1978 because he believed a financial disclosure law was an invasion of privacy. Until his diagnosis with ALS, he was involved in efforts to reduce the influence of money in politics, referring to an “obscene” system where people make money from raising money and make money by spending money.
Plante also was a founding member of Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists.
Four generations of Plantes attended Friday services at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Tallahassee. Ken and Sandy Plante had been married for 56 years; the two met as eighth-graders in Orlando.
Ken Plante is survived by Sandy and seven children, 14 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.