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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

'Soul-searching' Gardiner may let full Senate set Armstrong's fate



Senate President Andy Gardiner is changing his tune on Dr. John Armstrong, the state surgeon general whose confirmation is stuck in a Senate panel assigned to vet his performance for the job.

"The reality is he's one vote short, and everybody can count," Gardiner told reporters Wednesday, referring to Armstrong's failure to win a majority in the 10-member Ethics and Elections Committee.

Leading Senate Republicans have stood by Armstrong even as some of their members joined ranks with Democrats to block the confirmation of the surgeon general, an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, who has to be approved by next Friday.

Gardiner can choose to skip over Ethics and Elections, bringing Armstrong to a vote by the entire 40-member body, but it would be an unusual move.

And it would be a dramatic shift from a Senate president who earlier this session said he would not bend the rules for any of Scott's appointees. "They will have to go through Ethics and Elections," he said then.

"I try to be consistent," Gardiner said Wednesday. "I've stood here before you guys and said I would not pull somebody out of Ethics and Elections, and I've got some real soul-searching to do to decide, should the entire Senate have a say on Dr. Armstrong? I may be coming back to you guys and saying, 'I changed my mind.' I just don't know yet."

Gardiner says he does not know what the vote in the full Senate would be, but it appears Armstrong could be confirmed. There are 26 Republicans in the Florida Senate, and it would take 20 votes to confirm the surgeon general. Only one Republican has voted against him and two have voiced concerns in the committee process but ultimatley supported Armstrong.

The confirmation process has been a tough road for Armstrong, even as other gubernatorial appointees were swiftly confirmed. He has been criticized for Department of Health policies that cut 9,000 kids from the Children's Medical Services program, eliminated quality standards for children's heart surgery, slowed the rollout of medical marijuana and led to cutbacks in county health clinics.

His department has also been blamed for not doing more to combat HIV, which is growing faster in this state than any other in the country and particularly in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, which lead the nation for infection rates.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2016 9:15am]


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