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It’s a king thing: Thrasher drops out of Senate prez race, backs Negron

Friday, June 15th, 2012 by Dara Kam

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart

Uniting to shape the Florida Senate, John Thrasher has dropped out of a race for president in 2016 and is now backing Stuart Republican Joe Negron.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine

Former House Speaker Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, spilled the beans about the leadership race to his hometown paper, The Jacksonville Times-Union, this morning.

Thrasher, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, and Negron led a botched coup this spring in an attempt to displace Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, slated to succeed incoming president Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, in two years.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a veteran lawmaker and wily campaign strategist, put down the mutiny with the aid of a bloc of Republican senators, many of whom are leaving office this year due to term limits.

The Senate leadership battle is playing out in the Senate campaigns this summer between the more moderate Latvala, who helped kill a number of priority leadership issues including a prison privatization effort, and conservatives Thrasher and Negron.

“This election cycle will go a long way toward determining the future of the Senate, including the Senate presidency in 2016,” Negron said, echoing Latvala’s sentiments about the summer campaigns.

One of those key races is Jacksonville’s District 4 seat, where Thrasher, Gardiner and Negron are backing Aaron Bean, a former House representative with whom Negron served before his election to the Senate in 2009.

Latvala is supporting Mike Weinstein, also a former House member and a prosecutor with the Jacksonville state attorney’s office.

“Sen. Gardiner has made it one of his top priorities for Aaron Bean to win. So we’re working together…We’re all in for Aaron Bean,” Negron said from Washington, D.C., where he is part of a multi-state group of lawmakers huddling about Medicaid costs.

The leadership race “transcends any individual competitor,” Negron said.

“For me it’s about two things. Making sure every senator has an opportunity to have a platform for his or her views to be heard and considered. Two, is my goal is to continue the Senate in the direction of pursuing a pro-business, pro-growth agenda,” he said.

It’s a king thing: Senate presidents-in-waiting like predecessor Tom Lee in District 24 race

Friday, June 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican in the running to be his successor, are backing former Senate President Tom Lee in a GOP primary to replace Sen. Ronda Storms.

Lee, R-Brandon, served as Senate president in 2005-2006 and prompted the much-hated gift ban that bars lawmakers from accepting gifts, including food and drinks, from lobbyists.

Gaetz issued a “statement of support” for Lee, who’s facing off against state Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, in the primary. Storms announced last week she was walking away from her last two years in the Senate would instead run against the GOP incumbent Hillsborough County property appraiser.

The endorsements of Gaetz and Gardiner could boost Lee’s conservative creds in a race against Burgin, another conservative who sponsored some extreme anti-abortion legislation over the past two years. And the backing of the incoming Senate president could give Lee a campaign cash boost as well.

Gardiner’s statement emphasized Lee’s right-leaning history in the chamber.

“During his Senate Presidency, Tom brought to the floor and sent to Governor Bush legislation to permanently repeal the intangibles tax, a tax that punished seniors and savers who sought a better quality of life in Florida. In over ten years in the Senate, Tom personally sponsored Florida’s original parental consent amendment when no one else would, Florida’s ‘Choose Life’ License Plate law, and passed Florida’s landmark parental notification bill as Senate President,” Gardiner said.

And Gaetz lauded Lee as the “strong leader” needed to replace Storms, who got on the wrong side of Senate leaders including Gaetz on a variety of issues, including prison privatization, this year.

“As a former senator and former Senate president, Tom brings solid experience and a track record of real accomplishments to Tallahassee. He will hit the ground running at full speed with the knowledge and skill to help build Florida’s future. Tom Lee will be a leader in the Florida Senate the moment he walks on the floor,” Gaetz said. “Personally, I look forward to working closely with Senator Lee and relying on him for guidance and advice during my years as Senate President.”

Gardiner: I’m it in ’14. Thrasher: It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012 by Dara Kam

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.

Senate GOP leadership scramble

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Former House Speaker and powerful Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher may have tipped his hand too soon in a bid to make history as the second lawmaker to serve as leader of both chambers.

Thrasher is embroiled in a fight with Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner over the 2014 Senate presidency. Gardiner had already assembled the pledges to assume the leadership role after incoming Senate President Don Gaetz. But Sen. Jack Latvala, a political mastermind who returned to the Senate last year, launched a play for the 2014 top spot.

The drama played out in the Senate Office Building late Tuesday evening. Talk around the Capitol had Gardiner handing over his presumed presidency to Thrasher, who would be followed in 2016 by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

But a tired-looking Thrasher left the Senate Office Building around 7 p.m., and more than an hour later, Gardiner was still holed up in his office.

“I am very humbled and very happy. It’s been a real eye-opening thing for me,” Gardiner, R-Orlando, said, emerging from his office for a bathroom break. “I’m a happy warrior.”

Gardiner credited Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, with helping gird his support, calling Simmons “a rock star.”

Thrasher apparently was unable to convince enough of Gardiner’s pledges to switch over. But before going home, the veteran legislator – who also served as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida – did not exactly concede.

“If I got enough votes, I guess I would be” Senate president in 2014, the St. Augustine Republican said. “I don’t know. We’re going to wait and see what happens. I think it’s premature to talk about that right now.”

Negron called the “leadership discussions” normal.

“There have been discussions today as there were yesterday and will be tomorrow and next month and next year among the family caucus on how we want to proceed,” the Stuart Republican said. He said the future presidency was still up in the air. “We’re talking about that.”

And he said he’s been “quietly been gaining support” for his 2016 bid.

“We’ll have to see how the rest of it plays out,” he said.

Thrasher played down what may have been a tide-turning loss Tuesday.

“I’m taking over the last three weeks and throwing Mike Haridopolos out and then I’m taking over from Gaetz and all that,” he joked.

Partisan scuffle over privatization and tax breaks yields hot air and jerked knees

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 by Dara Kam

Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich got the last word in a partisan flame war with Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner over firing prison workers vs. closing a corporate tax loophole.

Rich launched the skirmish when she fired off a statement accusing Senate President Mike Haridopolos of ignoring her proposal that would net $500 million a year by putting an end to the “water’s edge” tax break multi-state corporations receive but companies based only in Florida do not.

“If the Senate President is serious about reportedly fighting ‘like hell to try to find some savings,’ he needs to redirect the Senate’s aim to where the confirmed savings can be found,” Rich, D-Weston, said.

Senate budget chief JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, estimates the state could save at least $16.5 million a year with a prison privatization measure that would outsource Department of Corrections operations in an 18-county region in southern Florida. The embattled proposal is now on hold in the Senate and prompted Haridopolos to eject Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, as chairman of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee for his public vilification of the plan.

Gardiner accused Rich of employing a “knee-jerk, Democratic reaction” of raising taxes on already struggling Florida families and businesses. The Orlando Republican said the savings from the outsourcing would be better spent on education or health care in a time when lawmakers are fighting to close a $1.4 billion budget hole.

“It is irresponsible to trivialize a significant, multimillion-dollar savings,” Gardiner shot back in a statement. “It is my hope that we will soon see more solution-oriented language from the senator and less hot air.”

Rich didn’t leave it at that. She blamed her GOP counterpart of more “of the strong-armed tactics the Republican leadership is currently deploying to ram through” the privatization proposal.

“When a member of the Republican leadership deliberately distorts my words advocating for corporations to finally pull their own weight as a “knee jerk reaction” of “raising taxes” on Floridians, his so-called ‘response’ is not only wrong, but patently false. He’s correct, we ‘don’t need bills that raise taxes,’” Rich responded.

Rich’s proposal (SB 1590), which has not yet been heard in committee, levels the playing field for in and out-of-state businesses, she argued.

“Given the events Floridians have watched unfold this week – the inability to muster the votes to layoff thousands of corrections officers from their jobs, the punishment of a Republican Senator rightly critical of the prison privatization scheme, and now the accusation that Democrats want to raise taxes because the GOP so fears my legislation that could spare Floridians from the additional loss of critical services already cut to the bone – Senator Gardiner would do well to admit the real agenda behind their ‘teachers versus corrections officers’ privatization drive,” Rich said.

After scolding, second anti-abortion bill headed to governor

Thursday, May 5th, 2011 by Dara Kam

After being scolded by two Republicans, the Florida Senate sent to Gov. Rick Scott a second abortion bill this morning that would require women to have an ultrasound before they get an abortion.

Sen. Evelyn Lynn harshly rebuked her colleagues for wasting time with emotional issues and failing to do enough to create jobs and boost the economy.

“I didn’t come up here to come and tell you what you must do with your bodies,” Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, said. “I don’t want to have to continually talk about these issues on this floor when I have people pleading with me to help me please find money to keep my lights on…I will vote for every one of those bills. That’s not why I came up here. And I will vote no not only on this bill but every other bill we have on abortion. It is the wrong thing for us to be discussing and taking endless amounts of time on.”

Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican, said she resented having to vote on the issue.

“I personally resent writing legislation that acts like I’m too stupid to confer with my own doctor on what I should do. This is not what we were sent up here to do. I have no intention of telling you my faith, my personal problems, and I frankly don’t want to hear yours either,” Detert said.

The ultrasound bill (HB 1127) is one of four measures making it harder for women to get abortions lawmakers have passed during the legislative session making it more difficult for women to get abortions. Last year, Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a measure similar to the ultrasound bill the Senate approved by a 24-15 vote, with three other Republicans joining Lynn in opposition. Gov. Rick Scott has said he would have signed the measure into law.

Senate plans to strip Cannon’s court overhaul, send it back

Monday, May 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate may “the most conservative Senate ever,” as President Mike Haridopolos boasted at the onset of the legislative session.

But it’s apparently not conservative enough to pass House Speaker Dean Cannon’s sweeping overhaul of the Supreme Court that would, among other things, split the court in two.

As the clock winds down until lawmakers sine die on Friday, the Senate plan today is to remove at least that part of the proposed constitutional amendment, keep the provision allowing the legislature to have control over the court’s rules and send it back to the House for another vote.

“Our members have felt pretty strongly about splitting up the Supreme Court,” Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said. “What you’re going to see is an option sent back to the House.”

Senate GOP leaders (who have a 28-12 majority) won’t say out loud that they don’t have the 24 votes needed to pass the proposed constitutional amendment.

But Gardiner, whose job is to count votes and corral the GOP caucus, conceded the speaker’s priority measure wouldn’t pass as is.

“You never count out votes until you sine die but I do think there’s a strong sense amongst our members about the Supreme Court piece,” Gardiner said.

Scott’s dinner with top Senators has his office rethinking get-togethers

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Gov. Rick Scott, a few of his closest aides and three of the Senate’s most powerful lawmakers broke bread at the governor’s mansion last night, covering a variety of topics ranging from Ironman triathlons to Scott’s $65 billion budget. The dinner took place just a few hours after Scott released his first-ever budget to the public earlier in the day.

But questions about whether the dinner violated the spirit of Florida’s open government laws – if not the laws themselves – have Scott’s office reconsidering future soirees.

Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander and Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner and Sen. Don Gaetz – two probable future senate presidents – also discussed major league baseball and the use of psychotropic drugs on children at the hour-long dinner with Scott, his wife Ann, and Scott’s chief of staff Mike Prendergast, special advisor Mary Ann “Mac” Carter, special counsel Hayden Dempsey and communications director Brian Burgess. Two reporters also attended at Scott’s invitation.

The governor and Senate trio discussed in broad terms his request that lawmakers give him $800 million to attract new businesses to the state and help existing ones expand. Scott said he was told that the current process – requiring approval from a legislative committee before the economic development grants or tax credits can be spent – is too lengthy and has caused the state to lose some deals because other states swooped in.

Whether the lawmakers’ chat was a violation of state Sunshine Laws is unclear.


Haridopolos names pro tem, majority leader

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos tapped Sen. Mike Bennett to serve as president pro tempore and Sen. Andy Gardiner as Senate Majority Leader.

Gardiner, R-Orlando, sponsored a controversial anti-abortion measure vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist that would have required pregnant women to view a sonogram of the fetus and listen to a description of it before having an abortion. He was elected in 2008.

Bennett, R-Bradenton, is a moderate Republican elected in 2002.

Senate passes abortion bill requiring ultrasounds

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

The Florida Senate approved possibly one of the most restrictive abortion measures in the nation that would require women to have an ultrasound before getting an abortion.

Pregnant women could opt out of viewing the image of the fetus by signing a form but must have the ultrasound and pay for it.

The bill (1143) passed by a 23-16 vote after an at-times emotional debate.
If you don’t ovulate, keep out of the debate.

Sen. Mike Bennett said that the measure, shot down on a tie-vote two years ago, was intended to make women seeking abortions feel worse.

“You want them to feel more miserable on this tough choice that they’re going to make in their lives,” Bennett, R-Bradenton, said.

But even supporters of the measure indicated its purpose was to dissuade women from having the procedure.

“We are not making abortion illegal. We are giving women one more chance to make an informed decision,” said Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami.

The bill sponsor said women could opt out of looking at the sonogram if they want to.

“All this bill says, is give us the opportunity to view an ultrasound. That’s it. You can decline it. You don’t have to see it. But after you’ve been informed of all the anomalies., all the potential problems, maybe it’ll have an impact on your decision, you’ll see the heartbeat and you’ll realize this is about making the most important decision of your life,” said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

House Democrats held up passage of some bills over the abortion bill. They don’t want GOP House leaders to take up the measure.

Senate GOP leaders won’t back down from abortion vote

Thursday, April 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate Republican leaders are moving forward with a vote on a controversial abortion bill that is shutting down business in the House today.

Sen. Andy Gardiner, the sponsor of an amendment that would require every woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound, said the Senate will pass the bill shortly and send it to the House for a vote.

“We are going to vote on this bill. We’re going to send it to them. After that they can do what they want to do,” said Gardiner, R-Orlando.

House Democrats, who make up slightly more than one-third of the chamber, are blocking bills from being voted on because of the 11th-hour measure tacked onto a nursing home bill late yesterday. The Dems say they won’t back down unless GOP House leaders refuse to let the abortion bill be heard.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill and pass it shortly.

UPDATE: Dems cry foul over sneaky Senate abortion amendment

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: The Senate approved the abortion amendment by a 22-17 vote.

Florida GOP Senate leader Andy Gardiner tacked a controversial anti-abortion amendment onto a health care bill on the floor this morning, an identical measure that died on a 20-20 vote two years ago.

The proposal would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound in the first trimester, already required for pregnant women in the second trimester. The women would also have to look at the ultrasound unless she has proof that she has been raped or is a domestic violence victim.

The decidedly more conservative Senate will likely approve the contentious amendment this time around.

Moderate Republican Jim King, who voted on the winning “no” side, passed away last summer and was replaced by conservative John Thrasher.

Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat who also helped kill the bill, is now in Congress.

And Republicans have easily shot down a number of amendments offered by Democrats trying to water down the Gardiner proposal, indicating the bill would pass.

But they may not take a full vote on the measure (HB 1143) today, and the House would have to approve the changes for it to pass and head to Gov. Charlie Crist.

Sen. Dan Gelber, who was in the House two years ago, objected that no committee had fully vetted the proposal before it arose today on the floor.

Gelber, who is running for attorney general, gave a heated argument against the amendment after offering several of his own that failed.

“You are go to put in Florida law a provision that requires a victim of a rape to actually tell someone she was raped, to get proof of the rape before she can be excused by the state of Florida from getting an ultrasound. How wrong is that,” said Gelber, D-Miami Beach. “Shame on the state of Florida.”

Storms: Hold on the train! We’re moving too fast!

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Sen. Ronda Storms complained repeatedly about the rushed special session schedule and what she said is not enough time in a three-hour committee meeting held today to vet a 49-page bill dealing with a variety of rail issues.

She said she’s spent more time shopping for a computer than was devoted to the bill during the three-hour “workshop.”

“As a professional I want the chair to know that I object to the lack of time that we’ve been given,” Storms, R-Valrico, began her line of questions.

Storms likened the omnibus package to the federal bank bail-out package that was pushed through, she said, at the 11th hour and failed to result in the economic boost it promised.

She then launched into an attack on bill sponsor Sen. Jeremy Ring’s contention that the 15,000 who use Tri-Rail every day – two thirds of whom take it to work – will lose their jobs without the Tri-Rail fix included in the measure.

“Suddenly they’ll just be flopping around out there without transportation? That does not speak to me,” Storms said.

Storms prefaced each of her questions with gripes about the rushed scheduled slammed up against the Christmas holidays.

Transportation Committee Chairman and SunRail supporter Andy Gardiner had enough.

“Sen. Storms, I’ve heard the comment. We’re familiar with your position on this. The summary of this bill was sent out on Monday. This is a workshop…there is time over the weekend to review this,” Gardiner, R-Orlando. “I’ve heard ya. And I understand that. But please understand this is just the first opportunity.”

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill on Tuesday.

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