Senate President Don Gaetz knows his history

Published Feb. 26, 2013

Florida has no choice. It must implement the federal law known as Obamacare, Senate President Don Gaetz says.

The handwriting is literally on the wall.

That would be the cursive and angry script that flowed from the hand of former Gov. LeRoy Collins one day in 1957, and it holds a prominent place on the wall of Gaetz's cavernous Capitol office.

To Gaetz, the current Medicaid debate is not unlike what happened that year in Tallahassee — when the issue wasn't access to health care.

It was race.

An all-white, rigidly segregationist, unrepresentative Legislature, controlled by rural "pork choppers," passed a resolution that said Florida would not integrate its schools "with all deliberate speed" in accordance with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Brown vs. Board of Education.

Fast forward to a few days ago, when Gov. Rick Scott endorsed a three-year expansion of Medicaid, subject to the Legislature's approval. With the lawmaking session one week away, Gaetz appears much more willing to expand Medi­caid than his House counterpart, Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

"The law's the law," Gaetz said, "and a lot of my constituents and a lot of my friends don't want to believe that. They believe that we can nullify Obamacare or we can pretend that it didn't pass, or we can pretend that we didn't lose the presidential election in 2012."

To amplify his point, Gaetz pointed to the wall where he displays a framed copy of House Concurrent Resolution 174, tapped out on a manual typewriter as copied from the state archives. It was known as a resolution of interposition, rooted in the flawed belief that states had the right to nullify decisions of the U.S. government.

Collins was a Democrat who became a moderate on race relations at a time when it was not popular. But he did not have the legal authority to veto a legislative resolution, so he wrote in longhand what he thought of it, saying he did so "to advise the student of government" who would see the document years later.

That student was Gaetz.

Collins wrote that the interposition resolution amounted to "anarchy and rebellion against the nation which must remain 'indivisible, under God' if it is to survive."

Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville, went into the musty state archives, had the document copied and framed and inscribed with the caption "Response to the Nullifiers." The inscription below states: "By standing for the rule of law and against the nullifiers, Gov. Collins martyred his political career but carved for himself a heroic place in the pantheon of great Floridians."

Senate presidents don't stay around, and they typically adorn their offices with personal memorabilia such as family photos, plaques and sports jerseys.

It's refreshing that Gaetz made his office a shrine to this state's undeniable history. All he has to do now is convince the House that he's right.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

Correction: Florida has a choice about whether to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law. An earlier version of this column was incorrect.