The Republican hegemony of the Florida Legislature continued Tuesday with the formal elections of the next leaders of the House and Senate, two like-minded Central Florida lawmakers who vowed to capitalize on the mandate given to them by voters.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, won unanimous approval to lead the two chambers, both of which are overwhelmingly Republican, for the next two years.
Crisafulli will lead the far more conservative House. Presiding over a chamber that has 17 new Republicans and an 81-39 edge over Democrats by the time legislative session begins in March, Crisafulli vowed to lead his majority forcefully and unapologetically.
“Across this nation, voters rejected failed big government policies that overpromise and under-deliver,” Crisafulli told House members. “Yes, the voters have spoken, and they told us they want leaders who understand what it takes to get our economy going again. They expect competency from their government. They expect us to get the job done.”
Crisafulli succeeds Wesley Chapel’s Will Weatherford, who avoided public showdowns with the Senate while pushing a more conservative agenda like pension reform and the refusal to expand Medicaid. Crisafulli plans to follow that example.
A 43-year-old vice president of his family’s cattle, citrus, real estate and construction business, Crisafulli wants to further reduce regulations on business and cut taxes, though he hasn’t identified where exactly he’d make those cuts.
Crisafulli has made water his No. 1 issue but hasn’t identified how he’ll make sure Florida has “a clean and abundant water source” for agriculture, residents and visitors while making future growth possible.
He congratulated Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, in his opening remarks and said he looked forward to working with the newly elected Democratic minority leader, even if that meant engaging in a “robust” debate.
Paffford promised there would be such a debate.
“You may say our caucus is a minority of members, but those are members who represent six million Floridians,” Pafford told members. “We look forward to airing our differences with passion and respect.”
Gardiner, 45, takes over from Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, as head of the 40-member chamber that includes 26 Republicans.
The vice president of external affairs and community relations at Orlando Health, Gardiner promised to let committee chairs drive the Senate agenda.
He refrained from announcing what he would like to see on that agenda but did warn that tradeoffs were necessary because of voter approval of Amendment 1, which dedicates one-third of the revenue from the state’s mortgage transaction tax — the doc stamp — to land and water conservation programs.
“The challenge facing this Senate is the impact Amendment 1 will have on transportation, affordable housing, and economic development, and other priorities which also receive doc stamp funding,” he said. “In this new reality, as we work to apply this new portion of our Constitution and faithfully implement the will of the voters, there is going to be some pain.”
Senate Democrats on Monday named Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa attorney, to be their leader. During her swearing-in, Joyner spoke passionately about the inequities facing many Floridians from minimum wage to health care, rigid criminal sentencing and environmental destruction.
Like Crisafulli, Gardiner was cordial but non-committal when asked about the agenda of his Democratic counterpart.
”My discussion with Leader Joyner is let’s put these issues forward,’’ he said. “They should be heard in committee ... and we’ll see what comes up.”
Florida 2014 Elections: By the numbers
Florida’s 2014 election results were certified Tuesday and Republican Gov. Rick Scott defeated Democrat Charlie Crist by 64,145 votes, a margin of 1.07 percent. More than 75,000 voters skipped the race for governor, a sign of the widespread disapproval of both candidates. Despite a mediocre statewide turnout of 50.5 percent, this was Florida’s first midterm election in which more than 6 million voters cast ballots. Here is a closer look at the numbers:
Number of votes for Rick Scott: 2,865,343
Number of votes for Democrat Charlie Crist: 2,801,198
Scott’s margin of victory in 2014: 64,145
Scott’s margin of victory in 2010: 61,550 votes.
Scott’s winning percentage: 48.14. It is the smallest in a governor’s race since 1916, when Sidney Catts won as the Prohibition Party candidate with 47.7 percent.
Number of counties Scott won: 54. Two more than in 2010.
Winning percentage in Scott’s best county: 75.5 percent (Okaloosa)
Crist’s best county: 70.6 percent (Gadsden)
Bellwether county: Pasco, where the result most closely matched the state. Scott got 46.8 percent; Crist 45 percent.
Ballots cast: 6,026,802, 50.5 percent turnout.
Highest turnout: Union County, 72.05 percent.
Lowest turnout: Miami-Dade County, 40.75 percent.
Source: Florida Division of Elections