Meet Okaloosa County’s Patt Maney: An Uncommon Freshman Legislator

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By Kenneth Books

Florida state representatives call one another “Rep.” But Okaloosa County’s newest legislator presented sitting representatives with a quandary. What do you call a man who is a retired brigadier general, a retired circuit judge and now a state representative?
They solved the problem, Patt Maney said, by referring to him as “GJR.”

“There are a good number of veterans in the (Florida House of Representatives) freshman class,” he said. “But veterans generally call me general. Lawyers call me judge. They couldn’t figure out what to call me.”

Patt, 73, a Kentucky native who has lived in Florida since 1975, challenged three other candidates for an open seat on the Florida House of Representatives in 2020, besting them in the Republican Party primary in August and defeating Democrat John Plante and write-in candidate Lance Lawrence to succeed current Okaloosa County Commissioner Mel Ponder. He took the oath of office on Nov. 4, the day after the election.

“Not surprisingly, I’m the oldest freshman in the class,” Patt said with a chuckle. “The youngest was 26. They call us the bookends.”

Patt move to Okaloosa County in 1975, where he practiced law for 15 years before his appointment as a judge with Florida’s First Judicial Circuit in 1989. An Army reservist, he sustained wounds during a tour of duty in Afghanistan. After his recovery, he tentatively resumed his post on the bench. On Jan. 31, 2016, he became the longest-serving county or circuit judge to preside within the First Judicial Circuit. He retired from the bench in May 2018, the same month he turned seventy, Florida’s mandatory retirement age for judges. He retired from the Army Reserve in 2007 with the rank of brigadier general.

Early in his term in the House, Patt had a plan. “I focused first on policy issues, then moved to appropriations,” he said. And, he added, he got plenty of help from old hands. “Chris Sprowls, the Speaker of the House, and his leadership team put on a great program to get freshmen a common base of knowledge,” Patt said. “The staff has been very friendly and responsive.”

He said Sprowls is also gifted at keeping civil. “He told the whole house this isn’t like Washington and we’re not going to have the same atmosphere. We’re going to debate policy and try to pass laws that are beneficial to the entire state. He keeps people on the subject and I appreciate that. He’s reached across the aisle to treat the (Democratic) minority party fairly.”

Not that his early service in the House hasn’t been without hitches. “I was surprised that being a freshman in the House is largely like being a freshman in high school,” he said. “You don’t know where you’re going, but you don’t want to be late. And the upperclassmen tend to tease or prank freshmen.”

For example, Patt was presenting a bill to a committee and referred to the chair as “ranking member.” A senior legislator chimed in with “Don’t you know her first name?”

Another time, he said, a freshman representative was talking about an education bill by acronym. A senior committee member asked him what the acronym stood for and he drew a blank. “They pounced on him,” Patt said, noting that the banter is good natured rather than malicious. “Most people don’t expect to know that legislators harass each other,” he said.

Right now, Patt is awaiting his committee assignments for the upcoming session. “I’m really interested in education, workforce development and infrastructure,” he said. “And not surprisingly in veteran’s affairs and judicial issues.”

Patt said his concept of infrastructure is not limited to bricks and mortar, but includes quality of life issues such as the environment. “I’ve sponsored several water projects,” he said. “You’ve got to have clean water to survive and for our communities to grow.”
Patt and his wife, Caroline, have been married 50 years and have raised two daughters, Lindsay and Sarah, who have given them six grandchildren. He’s determined to be a force for good in his adopted Okaloosa County. “My goal is to be a very effective freshman legislator in representing the people of Okaloosa County and improving life for the state at large,” he said.