“She is just a bulldog when she gets on an issue, whether she’s with you or against you,” Latvala said. “I’ve been on both sides.”
Observers might have expected the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, to resent Detert’s thrashing of the bill, but Stargel insists that is not the case.
“Some may think her approach is harsh. But she said what she thinks, and I respect that,” Stargel said. “We have similar personalities in a lot of ways. We’re both passionate, and we both speak our minds.”
Detert said she later teased Stargel that they were the “drama queens” of the day. “I will battle, but I’m not attacking anyone personally,” Detert said. “I’m pretty straightforward.”
One of five kids growing up in an Irish Catholic family in northwest Chicago, Detert never expected to get into politics — though she does have public service in her blood. Detert, formerly Nancy Carroll, is a descendant of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Married at 20, she and her husband moved to Indiana where they owned a pizzeria and a small resort. Detert, while raising three boys, wrote a humor column called “Constant Comment” published in a small chain of Indiana newspapers.
The family moved to Florida in 1978, but it would be 10 years, she said, before a “group of soccer moms” persuaded Detert to run for school board. She served on the board from 1988 to 1992, then lost a bid for reelection. Detert, who divorced in 2001, said she took heat as an incumbent when voters were upset about school budget cuts during an economic downturn.
“I thought I was totally done with politics,” she said, but in 1998 she was recruited to run for a seat in the House, where she served until 2006.
From the start, Detert said, “I decided to vote my conscious. I wasn’t going to carry water for anyone else.”
She lost a run for Congress in 2006 but was elected to the state Senate two years later. She was reelected without opposition in 2012, and because of redistricting, will be on the ballot again in 2014.
Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Democrat from Broward County, said Detert isn’t governed by partisan politics. “It’s just about the issue,” said Sobel, who calls Detert “likeable,” “fun” and “courageous.”
Gaetz, R-Niceville, thinks so highly of Detert that when he decided to run for Senate president, he asked her to give his nominating speech.
“When she rises to speak, she instantly has the attention and respect of the Senate,” he said. “She’s an experienced legislator, but she is always grounded in common sense and compassion.”
Which is why Gaetz amended SB 1036 to name the foster care measure the “Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independent Living Act.” The bill helps foster children transition into adulthood.
“I was speechless,” Detert said.
A second foster care bill, SB 164, which already has been signed into law, will ease regulations for foster children and their foster parents.
Detert testified about Florida’s foster care programs before a U.S. House committee in Washington this month.