Gaetz crowned next Senate president in Capitol ceremony
Republican Sen. Don Gaetz of Niceville was formally designated the next Senate president Monday in ceremonies in the Senate chamber attended by several hundred proud friends and supporters from the Panhandle's Okaloosa County.
Before a packed Senate visitors' gallery, Gaetz's life was showcased in a 17-minute video that traced his life -- from his rural roots in tiny Rugby, N.D. to building the nation's largest hospice network in Miami to settling in Northwest Florida, and winning election as the county superintendent of schools in 2000. (The film, which featured glowing praise of Gaetz from former Gov. Jeb Bush, was produced by Tampa political consultant Adam Goodman).
He will lead the Senate through a rough-and-tumble reapportionment cycle and a presidential election.
Gaetz, 63, is a gifted speaker and tenacious debater with fiercely held opinions and a sharp sense of humor, and who unlike a lot of political figures, doesn't take himself too seriously. Of the nominating speeches by Sens. John Thrasher and Joe Negron, Gaetz said: "Thank you, for your eloquence, your generosity and your selective memory."
With characteristic bluntness, he confronted the reality that not a single Fortune 500 company is headquartered in Florida, and said it is time to grapple with that fact, as Gov. Rick Scott listened intently from a front-row seat. "There's no place worse than second place," said Gaetz, who led his college debating team to an upset of Harvard in 1964. "Florida must become the cradle of common-sense solutions."
He called for a massive transformation of Florida's higher education system to make it prepare more of tomorrow's graduates for the needs of a high-tech work force.