TALLAHASSEE -- Senate President Don Gaetz calls her the Margaret Thatcher of the Florida Senate — “tough, principled, independent and absolutely fearless.” Valerie Guenther, chairman of the Charlotte County Democratic Party, notes she’s a “tough target” because she doesn’t just vote the party line. And Sen. Tom Lee says, “She looks you in the eye and tells you what she needs. What you see is what you get with Nancy Detert.”
This session, what voters and colleagues got with Detert was a legislator on fire. The hard-charging, 68-year-old grandmother championed the passage of three legacy bills — a texting-while-driving ban and two bills, one named in her honor, expected to improve the lives of foster care children.
She also helped defeat the controversial “parent-trigger” bill, and brought money back to her district for a few projects, including $5 million for a rowing center in Sarasota.
“I think this was Sen. Detert’s best session in the Legislature,” said Sen. Joe Negron, chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, who has served with her in the House and Senate for more than a decade.
While Detert was at the center of plenty of drama during the 60-day lawmaking session, the Venice Republican is now eager to spend time with her nine grandchildren, play a little golf, work at her consulting business — Primitive Creative Solutions — and see Gov. Rick Scott sign her bills.
After four years of trying, getting a basic ban that makes texting while driving a secondary offense was “like climbing up a mountain,” Detert said. She admits she had a “temporary snit” when the House added a last-minute amendment making it tougher for law enforcement to obtain violators’ cellphone records.
But Detert is too pragmatic and experienced, her peers say, to let a last-minute roadblock get in her way.
“It was clear she had the wisdom, the maturity and the experience in the process to understand this was an extraordinary victory and not get mired in the details and lose the big picture,” said Lee, R-Brandon.
Scott said he will sign the bill, SB 52, Tuesday in Miami. “As a father and a grandfather, texting while driving is something that concerns me when my loved ones are on the road,” Scott said.
Detert passed 12 of the 30 bills she sponsored this year; among those that failed were a bill that froze credit reports for minors who might be a victim of identity fraud and another on taxing Internet sales.
When Detert takes a position on an issue, “she can usually bring a group of senators with her,” Gaetz said.
Such was the case with the parent-trigger legislation, which would let parents demand major changes at failing public schools, including having the school transformed into a charter school.
A former member of the Sarasota County School Board, Detert withdrew eight amendments to the bill on the Senate floor April 30, tersely saying, “My intention is, at this point, to not even attempt to fix this bill, I consider it so hopelessly bad.”
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said he changed his vote “partially because of the arguments she made.” He was one of six Republicans who with Detert joined the 14 Senate Democrats in defeating the bill.