Lawmaker Hukill dies after cancer battle

FILE PHOTO: Dorothy Hukill debates the deregulation bill during session on Friday, May 6, 2011 in Tallahassee, Fla.(AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
FILE PHOTO: Dorothy Hukill debates the deregulation bill during session on Friday, May 6, 2011 in Tallahassee, Fla.(AP Photo/Steve Cannon) (Associated Press)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Sen. Dorothy Hukill, who was a teacher before becoming an attorney and later went from being mayor of Port Orange to one of the Senate’s point people on tax breaks and education, died Tuesday. She was 72.

Hukill, a Republican, announced Friday on Facebook she was ending her re-election bid due to an “aggressive recurrence" of cervical cancer and that she was entering hospice. Hukill, who represented southern Volusia and northern Brevard counties, was forced to watch the 2017 legislative session from home because of her battle with cancer.

Jonathan Hukill posted on Facebook that his mother “passed away peacefully in hospice care surrounded by her family.”

“One of her favorite sayings was ‘this too shall pass,’ ” Jonathan Hukill wrote. “She would want us to remember her for the life she lived rather than the pain that her passing has caused.”

A private, invitation-only family service will be held, with public services to be announced at a later date, the post said.

“Whether as a schoolteacher helping young children, a legal advocate for those who needed help, or a public servant fighting on behalf of her constituents' causes, she threw herself completely into serving others,” Jonathan Hukill wrote. “But beyond the work itself, she treasured the personal relationships and friendships made along the way. She loved staying in touch with people in her community, hearing about their lives, sharing their joys and sorrows. Every trip to the grocery store or the post office was a new opportunity to connect with her neighbors and friends.”

Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who has known Hukill since she first ran for the state House in 2004, recalled Hukill in a statement as “amazingly charismatic,” “passionate,” and a “quick wit.”

“She was as fierce as she was loving,” Galvano wrote. “You could see Dorothy across the room and know in an instant whether she approved or disapproved of the issue at hand.”

He added that Hukill “demonstrated grace” in her fight against cancer.

“I will personally never forget the words of her prayer at my (president) designation ceremony, one year ago this month,” Galvano wrote. “Dorothy eloquently spoke of the honor and privilege of public service, the sacrifice made by the families of those who serve, and the aspirational goal of servant leadership. She prayed fervently for blessings and protection for our families and that God would instill wisdom, understanding, and grace on all who serve the Florida Senate. While those words were so meaningful at the time, they are even more special now and serve as a lasting memory of Dorothy’s love for those she served with here in the Senate.”

Sen. Audrey Gibson, the incoming Democratic leader from Jacksonville, said her “heart is aching” over the death of her good friend.

“We shared our thoughts, our passions on issues, and never-ending conversations,” Gibson said in a statement. “From passing little trinkets to each other, to our love of Chinese food, her loss is profound and I will miss her dearly.”

Hukill, a New York native who attended St. John’s University School of Law, served as Port Orange mayor for four years before joining the state House in 2004. She served in the House until her election to the Senate in 2012.

Hukill chaired the Senate Education Committee and was one of four Republicans who this year voted against a wide-ranging measure (HB 7055) that included controversial changes such as creation of the voucher-like “Hope” scholarship program.

She also was a leading Senate advocate of tax cuts, such as reducing taxes on commercial rental property and manufacturing equipment, as well as a backer of measures to assist Daytona International Speedway.

Hukill started treatment for cervical cancer shortly after her November 2016 re-election. The treatment caused her to miss the 2017 legislative session and a special session that followed. But in an interview with The News Service of Florida last year, she said she was glued to her computer --- and her iPad --- throughout both sessions.

She maintained weekly conference calls with her Education Committee staff, set the agenda, reviewed bills and watched meetings on The Florida Channel, "which I thought was just fantastic," she said.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who announced Hukill’s death to members of the Senate on Tuesday, called her “a strong and passionate advocate for her community.” Negron noted that even as a member of the Legislature, “many constituents still warmly called her ‘Mayor.’ ”

“She worked closely with Sen. Galvano, myself, and many others on the Senate’s legislation to expand the Bright Futures Scholarship,” Negron wrote in a statement, alluding to one of his higher-education priorities. “We all remember her commitment and dedication to teaching financial literacy in Florida schools.”

Gov. Rick Scott called Hukill a “true leader” in the Senate and noted in a statement that Florida flags will be lowered in her honor.

The Florida Democratic Party praised Hukill in a tweet shortly after the announcement of her death.

“Senator Hukill took pride in her work serving the people of Florida,” the Democratic Party said. “We thank her for her years of dedication as an educator and a public servant.”

Republicans have not named a replacement candidate for Hukill in the Nov. 6 election in Senate District 14. She was running against Democrat Melissa “Mel” Martin, a former judge advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Republican replacement will have to run with Hukill’s name still on the ballot, as vote-by-mail ballots have started to go out.

Among the names that have been mentioned, according to Florida Today, include former Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, state Rep. Tom Goodson, Brevard County Property Appraiser Dana Blickley, Brevard County Tax Collector Lisa Cullen, Titusville City Councilman Matt Barringer and Canaveral Port Authority Chairman Wayne Justice.