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Don Gaetz, Will Weatherford Offer Joint Agenda for 2013 Legislature

November 19, 2012 - 6:00pm

Election reform, along with jobs, education and ethics were listed as high priorities on a joint 2013 agenda released Tuesday when Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, were formally elected to run their respective chambers.

Floridians shouldnt be embarrassed that while most counties in our state run flawless elections, some counties keep running flawed elections, Gaetz said in his acceptance speech during the Legislatures organizational meeting.

This isnt a third-world country. America shouldnt have to wait for five days after the polls close to find out how Florida voted.

Well probe. Well listen. If we need to change laws, well change them. But I wont be satisfied and neither should you unless the 2014 elections in Florida are a model for America.

Both expressed criticism of both President Obama and Congress for allowing the nation to stand on the verge of an economic fiscal cliff. Weatherford urged everyone to adjust their politicized thinking, that hoping for the president or Congress to fail is unacceptable.

Senator Gaetzs remarks:

Gov. Scott, Lt. Gov. Carroll, Mr. President, Mr. Chief Justice, fellow senators and fellow citizens.

Thank you, Sen. Detert and Sen. Montford, for your generous remarks and your nomination. Thank you to my fellow senators for your trust, a trust I know must be earned and re-earned in the days and years ahead.

Yesterday I joined his family and friends and Senate colleagues in celebrating Sen. Chris Smith as the new minority leader of the Senate. I want Sen. Smith to know that I have worked extra hard for two years to ensure that he would be the minority leader, so this is a good day for both of us.

I ask the Senate to join me in congratulating my friend and our minority leader, the Honorable Chris Smith.

If I have had any success in business or politics or marriage, its been because I chose partners better than me. The Senate has made sure of that for the next two years. Thank you for approving my selection of Sen. Garrett Richter as president pro tempore.

Look across this floor today. Family is all important. Family is the heart of my life. A few years ago, I was in the middle of a tough, bitter, nasty campaign and I knew that the next morning my opponent would hit me hard, really hard, in the newspaper. So I gathered our family around the kitchen table to prepare them, to apologize for dragging them into politics, trying to reassure them. I said, I promise. Ill carry you through this.

My daughter, Erin, hugged me and said, Daddy, dont you know. Weve been carrying you.

Erin and Matt, thank you for always carrying me.

And Vicky, youre really going to like Vicky. She is the rock of our family and the love of my life. The first lady of the Senate, Vicky Gaetz.

Today 40 of us, 40 chosen by 19 million, begin a rite of passage as old as Florida. Today we take up the ancient duty of citizen legislators to be the living tissue that connects the folks back home with a government of their own making and of their own choosing.

Lifted up by our communities, surrounded by our families, today we celebrate the peaceful transfer of the peoples power.

From the prayer by Sen. Galvanos father-in-law to the thrilling performance of our national anthem by Sen. Leggs daughter to the sweet inspiration of Sen. Thompsons granddaughters to the Pledge of Allegiance led by all the Senate children, the stars of the show today are our 15 new senators and their families. Nearly 40 percent of the Senate has come fresh from the grassroots of Florida. They are the grassroots of Florida.

Diana and Garrett, Desorae and Chris and Vicky and I -- all of us -- welcome you, each of you, to your new extended family the Senate family.

We came today as 40 different people -- a nurse, a strawberry grower, a dentist, four educators, a printer, a banker, a dad with a 3-month-old daughter, a mom whose daughter was just wounded in combat halfway across the world, a singer-songwriter, an auctioneer with a putt-putt golf course, a guy who spent part of the summer figuring out how to get Turkish olive oil to Miami, a farmer with a million chickens and hes named each one of them. Theres the usual posse of lawyers and the rest of us.

Forty lives fully lived, each distinct, each different.

But by the oaths we swore today we became senators. In spite of differences, in spite of ourselves, starting now we share one identity -- the Senate.

There is a reason the Senate is collegial. There are only 40 of us. Sometimes on a Senate committee there are only five of us.

The bill some lobbyist has asked you to kill this morning is sponsored by a senator chairing the committee hearing your bill this afternoon. We are lashed together like two people in a three-legged race. I cannot pass my priority until I earn your support and you cannot advance your cause unless I help you.

I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that in the Senate your colleagues cant make you but they can surely break you.

But the Senate is about more than mutual need. In these committee rooms and on this floor and during these years you will come to cherish your friends and admire your opponents. And you may find that those you thought were your opponents become your friends. I know I have.

Of course there will be partisanship. In case anyone missed it, we just had an election. Elections can be tough. Primaries can be tougher. Theyre supposed to be. Its in the hot, fierce clash of campaigns that political results are forged.

But the difference between Tallahassee and Washington is that here, unlike there, the campaign is over. Here, unlike there, we will actually produce a budget, we will face uncomfortable facts and make hard choices instead of borrowing a first-class ticket to ride a runaway train toward a fiscal cliff.

You want to know who lost the 2012 election. Congress. Congress, both parties, has an approval rating of 11 percent. Moammar Gadhafi had an approval rating of 14 percent and his people killed him.

The floor in this chamber is not divided by a partisan aisle that freezes us into gridlock on separate sides of every issue. This isnt Washington and were not going to operate like Washington.

Today is not the day for detailing every priority or plan. That day will come as our committees sift through and refine the proposals each of us will make in the next two months. But perhaps today is a time to share how we will go about the peoples business.

I cannot go home to Niceville with the excuse that I did nothing about job growth and blame the Democrats.

If my neighbors children come home from college or university with $30,000 in debt and a degree that doesnt qualify them for a real job, I wont get by pointing fingers at the governor.

In my medium-sized North Florida county, a commissioner was just removed for official misconduct, the TDC director committed suicide after he stole bed tax

and BP money, the speaker of the House was forced to resign, the tax collector was run out of office, our college president was fired and our sheriff is in federal prison. Thats just my county.

The people whose doors I knocked on to get elected wont buy it if I say we couldnt pass ethics reform because of the House of Representatives. They think Senate and House, governor and Legislature are hyphenated words and they hold us responsible together.

The people who sent me here, the people who sent you here want solutions, not excuses.

Thats why Speaker Weatherford and I worked together on a joint agenda:

To make Florida a better place for moms and dads to keep their jobs or get better jobs.

To lash higher education to the realities and opportunities of the economy so Floridas sons and daughters will be prepared with college and university degrees that lead to high pay, high-demand jobs.

To raise the standard of ethical conduct in local and state government.

And there is at least one other priority that Speaker Weatherford and I share --

Floridians should never again have to stand in lines for six and seven hours to vote.

Floridians should never again have to wonder if their ballots were miscoded or misprinted or miscounted.

Floridians shouldnt be embarrassed that while most counties in our state run flawless elections, some counties keep running flawed elections.

This isnt a third-world country. America shouldnt have to wait for five days after the polls close to find out how Florida voted.

Well probe. Well listen. If we need to change laws, well change them. But I wont be satisfied and neither should you unless the 2014 elections in Florida are a model for America.

Our constitutional duty is to fashion a budget. Consider this: If the state budget would have continued to grow in the last six years by the same rate as it grew in the preceding six years, the budget this year would be $120 billion. Instead, its $70 billion, $50 billion less.

Were not spending less because the critical needs of our state are less. Our needs have actually increased as hundreds of thousands of our neighbors have lost their jobs, lost their health care, lost their homes.

Were spending less because we have less. I look around this chamber and see women and men who have struggled hard with the tough choices required to balance resources and needs.

We have learned lessons in the hard times we cannot forget as times get better; lessons about how to be better stewards of the peoples money.

In the book of Joel, the Lord said, I will restore unto you the years the locusts have eaten.

But were still far from the days of milk and honey.

Its true, Florida has achieved 27 months of positive job growth. Florida has the largest drop in unemployment of any state in the nation; unemployment among veterans has been cut by more than half; consumer confidence is at a five-year high.

But its also true that either the retirement litigation currently before the state Supreme Court or the fiscal cliff that the Congress and president have brought on themselves could force Florida down into billions of dollars of red ink.

Consequently, I will ask our appropriations committees to undertake a much more intensive budget review than ever before.

And, different from past Senate practice, I will be asking every senator to serve on two appropriations committees to take advantage of everyones insights, everyones skills, to make sure the maximum value is squeezed from every dollar extracted from the pockets of our taxpayers and the cash registers of our businesses.

You and I will be judged by whether we have helped or hurt or been irrelevant to the slow, steady, permanent recovery of Floridas economy.

You and I will be judged by whether it is more or less likely that a high school or college or university graduate can count on his education as the passport to a job.

You and I will be judged, in spite of ourselves, not by what we say but by what we do to reform the way we run elections and raise the standards of ethical conduct from the courthouse to the state house.

Let us go forward together to lead the land we love. And so bear ourselves that we can look our communities, our constituents, our children straight in the eye and say, When I was there, when I was a senator, we built a better Florida.

Weatherford's remarks

In speeches like this, people often say, we are living in unprecedented times. Perhaps thats true. Its not something we can judge, but rather history judges for us.

What I do know is that we are living in a time when the people of Florida expect us to act. Despite our efforts, more than 8 percent of Floridians still cannot find a job. Half of Floridas homeowners are underwater on their mortgages. More than t3.5 million Floridians are on food stamps. One third of all Florida high school students do not graduate.

These are problems that are often avoided because they seem insurmountable. Yet, these are problems that we cannot afford to ignore. Florida must take the reins and determine our own destiny.

So many of us were watching the national elections that just ended two weeks ago. Both sides were pinning a great deal of hope for the outcome. Whether you were happy or disappointed with the results, the truth is, the election is over. We have a president. To those who wish him to fail or the Congress to fail, you are wishing for America to fail.

While we long for Washington, D.C., to put away the pettiness and end the gridlock, we cannot wait for them to figure it out. We cannot expect them to solve our problems. Florida has an opportunity to lead. More importantly, we have an obligation to lead.

We must fulfill the original intent of our federal system of government; letting states like Florida serve as laboratories of our democracy. We will do all we can to find innovative and lasting solutions that can be a model for our nation. Florida should be the haven where hard work is valued, ingenuity is welcomed, and success is widely achievable.

Today is not a day to lay out specific policy plans. Members, rest assured that day will come. We will have a clearly defined legislative agenda.

Over the next two years, there will be many issues that are presented to this legislative body. We will prepare to the best of our ability approaches that will be based on the principles of the majority and the legitimate concerns of the minority. We will define success by the degree in which the solution genuinely matches the problem not on the chamber or leader that initiated the idea. Not who gets the credit or the blame. Not the score between the House and Senate.

Because whether we realize it or not, we sometimes lose sight of what really matters. On an individual level and on an institutional level we need to have greater grasp of our purpose, our mission, and our reason for serving. We must have a clear understanding of why were here and how our actions will impact our communities and our state.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: We are not here to serve as passive brokers for the special interest groups. We are here to be the chamber of ideas and solutions. We are also here to lead, to govern and to offer bold, transformational ideas. Every member of this chamber has a personal responsibility to learn, to know and to understand these issues so that we may be knowledgeable brokers of lasting solutions.

We should do this in a way that respects this institution and all those who have been chosen to serve by Floridians from every walk of life and across every geographic boundary --boundaries that frankly, after two years of redistricting meetings, I am painfully familiar with.

Also, we must work together. As I stand before you today, I do not have to make a bold statement or a new commitment to work in a bipartisan manner with the minority party. On this matter, you can expect my future actions to match my prior years of bipartisanship. What I can commit to is that you will always be treated with fairness and respect no matter which party you represent.

Today, you have elected me speaker of this House. Not just the speaker of the Republican majority, but of the entire House Republicans and Democrats.And I plan to embrace that role.

But let me be clear: Bipartisanship is a two-way street. There is an opportunity for the loyal opposition. My colleagues on the back row, you have the discretion on how you will engage in this process. Will you use your power and position to surprise and embarrass the majority in order to grab a good headline? Will you challenge us on the policy or politics?

The choice is yours and I have faith you.

I welcome and value the spirited debate and the clash of ideas. It is good and healthy for this process and it produces better solutions. What we all have to understand is that our enemies are not sitting in this chamber or down the hall across the rotunda.

Our enemies are real and they are worthy of the fight. Our enemies are unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, broken systems, broken government and burdensome regulation. These are the enemies that are wreaking havoc on our people and on our state.

I believe that government is not the answer to each of these problems, but our actions can be helpful or hurtful to the individuals who are fighting to achieve the American dream.

It is up to us to choose how we will act. We will define our time. We will determine whether we are going to be big enough for the moment. We will shrink or we will rise.

This term of two years goes by so fast. Today, the gavel was passed to me by Speaker Allan Bense. In the blink of the eye, I will pass it on to another speaker.

Two years is so short, and the task is so daunting. You may ask yourself, what can we really do in two years? My friends, we can do a lot. Consider this: the U.S. Constitution was written in 116 days. The Empire State Building was built in one year and 45 days. The Apple iPhone was designed in under two years. The code for Facebook was written in 42 days. Perhaps one of the greatest speeches of all time was written in under two days. No, it wasnt this speech, it was the Gettysburg Address.

We have no excuse. We will need a clear focus, a collaborative purpose and a leadership of conscience that is willing to do what is right.

As you probably noticed, in each of your offices, I gave you a countdown clock. The date is set for Election Day in 2014. It is a digital reminder of the sands of time that are falling on our service here. The voters gave us two years. Not four, not eight, two.

Our time is short. The clock is ticking. Let us make the most of every single second.

There are people who are counting on us. I am counting on you. So that when that clock runs out may it be said of us that we were bold, we served with a purpose and we fulfilled our promise to Florida.

I am so honored to be your speaker. Thank you.God bless you and God bless our Florida.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

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