Gardiner: I’m it in ’14. Thrasher: It ain’t over ’til it’s over.by Dara Kam | February 23rd, 2012
A GOP leadership pact that emerged after three days of closed-door wheeling, dealing and cajoling proves that politics makes strange bedfellows.
Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner – a die-hard conservative and anti-abortion stalwart – and veteran lawmaker Jack Latvala – a veteran lawmaker and campaign consultant far to Gardiner’s left on social issues – joined forces in a presidency pact preserving Gardiner’s 2014-16 presidency.
Latvala allegedly abandoned his challenge against Gardiner and instead agreed to take the gavel after Gardiner’s term ends.
Latvala and a coalition of moderates and conservatives helped Gardiner beat back a presidency challenge by former House Speaker John Thrasher and Stuart’s Joe Negron, who tried to usurp the throne from their opponents on Wednesday.
Negotiations dragged on over three days, and on Thursday the leadership battle played out in the Senate chambers as the members debated the state’s proposed $70.7 billion budget.
At the end of the day, a weary Gardiner told reporters he had secured the pledges to assume the helm after Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. Gaetz is in line to take over after current Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ tenure ends after the November elections, in which a dozen new senators will enter the chamber. Eight term-limited Republicans are leaving, and another is running for Congress.
“There’s been a lot of speculation. I am confirming that I have enough signatures of the sitting members and the returning members for the Senate presidency in ‘14. It’s extremely, extremely humbling,” Gardiner said.
Gardiner denied that he and Latvala had struck a deal – “I can assure you there were no deals” – but said his former foe is a candidate for the 2016 presidency.
But Thrasher, rushing to leave the Senate after the session ended near 7:30 to attend a Florida State University basketball game, insisted the political game was still afoot.
He said the discussions about the future presidencies will continue throughout the summer as he tries to get more conservatives elected.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Thrasher, who had hoped to become the second lawmaker to serve as leader of both chambers.
And the elder statesman needled Gardiner without naming him.
“It’s something I’m not going to discuss in the press. I think anybody else who does…that’s their choice,” Thrasher went on.
But he did say the race is not yet over.
“I don’t think anybody has pledges until the day they get designated. In a year like this, when we have a big summer with a lot of elections, a lot of things can change,” Thrasher said.
But in what could be a blow to the Treasure Coast, Negron’s probable future as powerful budget chief under Gaetz is now in question.
Negron is clearly in Thrasher’s corner, at least for now.
“All of us who want the opportunity to serve in any leadership capacity, will support candidates that share our political perspective,” he said.
One-time foes Latvala – a portly, hot-headed, political powerhouse – and Gardiner – a soft-spoken, laid-back, triathlete – put an end to speculation about their challenge, at least temporarily.
But the unlikely union raises questions about which direction the Senate will take, after Haridopolos crowed that he had successfully moved the chamber farther to the right.
Roping in moderates seems an unlikely maneuver for Gardiner, an Orlando hospital executive.
And holding hands with conservative’s conservative seems an odd strategy for Latvala, a Clearwater political consultant who made his fortune in the direct-mail business.
But politics makes strange bedfellows.