Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Speech: Gaetz vows to fix voting problems, make hard choices

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is expected to deliver the following remarks in Tallahassee today. Fellow lawmakers this morning elected him president of the Florida Senate.

Governor Scott, Lt. Governor Carroll, Mr. President, Mr. Chief Justice, fellow Senators and fellow citizens.

Thank you, Senator Detert and Senator 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 Senator Chris Smith as the new Minority Leader of the Senate. I want Senator 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 it's 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 Senator 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. I'll carry you through this."

My daughter, Erin, hugged me and said, "Daddy, don't you know. We've been carrying you."

Erin and Matt, thank you for always carrying me.

And Vicky, you're 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 forty of us, forty 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 people's power.

From the prayer by Senator Galvano's father-in-law to the thrilling performance of our National Anthem by Senator Legg's daughter to the sweet inspiration of Senator Thompson's granddaughters to the Pledge of Allegiance led by all the Senate children, the stars of the show today are our fifteen 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 forty different people – a nurse, a strawberry grower, a dentist, four educators, a printer, a banker, a dad with a three 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 he's named each one of them. There's 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 forty 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 can't 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. They're supposed to be. It's 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. Muammar Gaddafi 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 isn't Washington and we're 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 people's 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 doesn't qualify them for a real job, I won't 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. That's just my county.

The people whose doors I knocked on to get elected won't buy it if I say we couldn't 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.

That's why Speaker Weatherford and I working 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 Florida's 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 shouldn't be embarrassed that while most counties in our state run flawless elections, some counties keep running flawed elections.

This isn't a third world country. America shouldn't have to wait for five days after the polls close to find out how Florida voted.

We'll probe. We'll listen. If we need to change laws, we'll change them. But I won't 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, it's $70 billion. $50 billion less.

We're 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.

We're 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 people's money.

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

But we're still far from the days of milk and honey.

It's 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 it's 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 everyone's insights, everyone's 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 Florida's 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."