Friday, December 15, 2017
Opinion

As omens go, Sen. Don Gaetz's dance with the facts is a bad sign

Consider this a coming attraction. Or maybe an early warning system.

By this time next year, the Florida Senate will have a new president. Fellow by the name of Don Gaetz, from the panhandle town of Niceville.

My hope is he will be a terrific leader in the Senate. Maybe one day we'll even celebrate the moment he was caucused into our lives.

For now, however, there might be reason for skepticism.

I do not presume to be an expert on Sen. Gaetz's political career or personal philosophies. I can say I've read a little about his background, and he seems a decent enough guy.

The cause of this nagging apprehension is an impromptu speech Gaetz gave on the Senate floor last week.

The issue was University of South Florida Polytechnic's split from the main campus, but that's not important. Gaetz was arguing in favor of the split, but that's not relevant either.

The issue is the way Gaetz argued. Forcefully. Authoritatively. And apparently without regard for truth or reality.

Now perhaps I'm reading too much into a tiny snapshot of his work, but it seems a bad sign for the next leader of the Senate to trample honesty so cavalierly. As if facts are nagging interruptions to a desired narrative.

Consider the wide path of mistruth blazed in a five-minute speech:

"The Board of Governors already voted to establish the 12th university. By constitution, it's the Board of Governors that governs our university system.''

(So far, so good. He understands how the law is supposed to work.)

"Now what we have before us is a pending amendment that would simply affirm what the Board of Governors had determined to do.''

(Yeah, not really. The Board of Governors expressly stated that certain conditions had to be met before independence should be granted. The pending legislation actually flies in the face of what the Board of Governors wanted to do.)

"This is not a vote of confidence or no confidence in the University of South Florida or President (Judy) Genshaft.''

(About 90 seconds earlier Sen. JD Alexander, standing a few feet away, said: "I have to tell you I have no confidence in the University of South Florida's leadership.'' I've heard votes of no confidence before, and that's exactly what they sound like.)

"This is a way to make sure that we have an accountable body.''

(So USF is a rogue university? Testing, grading and pep rallying with impunity? Current USF leadership isn't accountable to the Board of Governors or the Legislature?)

"I believe that Sen. Alexander has been more than fair.''

(After brazenly attempting to bankrupt USF.)

Gaetz, a Republican elected in 2006, went on several times to say this is what the Board of Governors wanted to do, even though the entire reason for the bill was to circumvent the board's desire.

Now am I nitpicking here? I don't really think so.

Every debate has two sides, and even the most reasonable of people can fail to find common ground.

But if you have to twist and mangle the truth to make your point, then your point is not worth fighting for. And, in this case, Gaetz was jumping into the middle of someone else's fight. To me, that's a bad sign for the future.

I might even call it a vote of no confidence.

John Romano can be reached at [email protected]

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