April 15, 2005
The reprimand is one in a long string of troubles for the veteran politician, who was first elected to the Florida House in 1992 and then to the Senate in 1998. She was chastised in 2000 for missing an excessive number of votes and in 2002 was arrested on a charge of altering a painkiller prescription to receive more pills. She avoided a felony charge after completing a yearlong, court-sponsored drug-rehabilitation program.An investigation by the Miami Herald a month ago revealed that Dawson had sent a letter to a number of lobbyists asking for $2500 to fund an economic development trip to South Africa. In the letter, according to the Herald, Dawson asked that the monies be sent to the Florida's Legislative Black Caucus. Two people sent donations.
Thursday's proceeding took about five minutes, with Dawson looking down while the charges against her were read. She then got up and gave a rambling speech, where she talked about a dog she once adopted and how she ran for office to help babies born to cocaine-addicted moms and to deal with AIDS.
One aspect lacking in her remarks: a clear statement of contrition.
Instead, Dawson qualified her one mea culpa with an ``if.''
''I hope you will accept my humble and sincere apology if my actions have in any way compromised the integrity of this body,'' Dawson said. ''Please know I hold sacred and respect the integrity of the Senate and its rules.'' Referencing the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, Dawson pledged ''reconciliation'' with the Senate and the citizens of Florida. But she suggested that she won't suffer any further political trouble.
''I truly believe in my heart of hearts that although my path into this body is different, my constituents see my values and continue to support me. And for that I am eternally grateful,'' she said, closing with a Zulu phrase that she said translated as ''great happy day'' and ``go in happiness.''
The Legislative Black Caucus paid for Dawson and a male companion to go on the ten-day trip. Seven other Florida state legislators also went on the trip, but those officials paid for their trips either from unused campaign dollars or out of their own pockets.
A subsequent Senate investigation found that Dawson violated state law by accepting a gift in excess of $100, and by soliciting monies from lobbyists. She also violated Senate rules by failure to "maintain the integrity of the office."
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