TALLAHASSEE -- Orlando Republican Andy Gardiner was formally elected as his party's designate for Senate president in a ceremony on the Senate floor Tuesday.
"Andy Gardiner is young, with 1,000 victories ahead of him. He is tested by life, tempered by experience. ... Andy Gardiner is the face of the new Florida," current Senate President Don Gaetz said after the unanimous vote by the Senate GOP caucus.
In an 80-minute procession of flowery speeches, attended by most of the state's top GOP brass, Gardiner recounted his entrance to politics in the 2000 elections when he ran for the House -- the first class where term-limits were in effect, leading to the election of 63 freshmen.
"Neither of us were supposed to win according to the Tallahassee smart people, the press and the punditry," said Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican who was part of that 2000 class (the two ran the New York City marathon together).
Gardiner recalled when GOP political strategist David Johnson visited him in his home that year, and told him "'whatever you do, don't buy magnets.'"
"There were 15,000 magnets sitting behind me in boxes," Gardiner said.
Gardiner, nonetheless, emerged from a primary. In the Legislature, he quickly rose to House Majority Leader under then-Speaker Marco Rubio, and brandished his conservative image by backing Tom Gallagher in the GOP gubernatorial primary against Charlie Crist. In the Senate, he rose to the same leadership position, and has been an advocate for children with special-needs and pushed to reform economic incentive deals last spring.
Gardiner will officially inherit the job after the 2014 general election, assuming Republicans hold onto the majority in the chamber where they currently hold a 26-14 edge.
But it almost didn't happen. In 2012, a handful of fellow Republicans tried to oust Gardiner from the job, forcing him and his closest supporters to scramble to regain enough pledges to keep it.
Gardiner, 44, is a vice president of external affairs at Orlando Health.
He is lifelong Orlando resident and graduate of Stetson University, where he met his wife, Camille. They have three children. And Gardiner's term as president will coincide with that of another Central Florida Republican in the chamber Tuesday -- House Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island.
Gardiner said he wanted the chamber under his watch to focus on the economy, growing employment, and targeting tax cuts for businesses.
"We are going in the right direction, and we have the right governor to lead us in that direction," he said giving a nod to Gov. Rick Scott in the audience.
He also said he wants a statewide policy for protecting natural resources, which could tie natural spaces to eco-tourism. Gardiner has been lobbying the governor for $50 million for a massive connection of bike trails through the state, including in Orange and Seminole counties -- a project he vetoed earlier this year.
"We're all known for our theme parks, but we should be known for our lakes and our bike trails."
His third objective would be to "expand education opportunities," specifically degrees for special-needs students. He said afterward the idea was to get universities to start partnering to help students who earn special diplomas find jobs after school.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun