Ray Sansom strode past the Choctaw High cheerleaders and his noisy admirers, a humble hometown hero glowing amid all the accolades. It was Nov.
They wore "Congratulations Ray! They ate barbecue and banana pudding. The scene, captured in a Northwest Florida Daily News video, conveys deep warmth and great expectations.
Ray Sansom was, in every sense, a man in full. But the celebration contained elements of his undoing. There's a glimpse of Sansom embracing a joyous Bob Richburg, the president of Northwest Florida State College, who hired Sansom to a controversial six-figure womne on the same day he became speaker.
Two months later, the cheers have turned to silence and Sansom's political career is in jeopardy. He stepped aside from the position Friday to deal with a grand jury investigation and ethics inquiries.
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He insists he did nothing wrong. The controversy has left a permanent mark, and nowhere does it hurt Sansom more than in Okaloosa County. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, a longtime ally who spoke with Sansom on Friday and described him as apologetic.
This is our friend. He grew up as the youngest of six children, the son of a Baptist minister who also sold furniture. He is a native of rural Alabama who attended one of the area's few integrated schools in the late s.
He spent the rest of his childhood in Fort Walton Beach. His family did not have much money and lived in a rented home, according to a recent profile in Emerald Coast magazine. Sansom met his future wife, Tricia, in the fourth grade.
Do you like me? Check yes or no,'" he recounted in a March speech. He said she checked yes and sent the note back, adding: "'P.
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But I like a challenge. We eventually got together in the 10th grade, and we've been together ever since. They displayed a map of Florida depicting the Panhandle as much larger than the rest of the state, a jab at those who view the region as a stepchild.
A Baptist, Sansom, 46, does not drink and has discouraged the sseking of alcohol at Republican functions. He has a long history of political activism.
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He served as a legislative aide in the late s and was a member of the Okaloosa County Commission from to Sansom first ran for the Legislature in against longtime Republican incumbent Jerry Melvin, and lost by 53 votes. Two of his first political contributors were Gaetz afrifan Odom.
Two years later, Sansom won. He had proven his mettle working seeklng a complicated school funding formula and simply locked in more support than the others.
The promise of that unlikely quest for an unassuming Panhandle politician was realized on a Monday afternoon in March The House chamber was filled with enthusiasm and hope as Sansom's Republican colleagues formally deated him as speaker for the term. Sansom's wife and daughters, Jessica, Carlee and Julia, americcan on along with Gov.
Charlie Crist and senators as speaker after speaker showered Sansom with praise. The speaker-to-be sat at a front-row aisle seat as his colleagues spoke glowingly about him, even if they did occasionally mispronounce his name as "Sampson.
Staff writer Alex Leary can be reached at aleary sptimes.