Andy Gardiner will officially be named the next president of the Florida Senate in 2014 on Tuesday as he readies to replace Don Gaetz after the 2014 elections.
Gardiner is only 44 so its easy to overlook the fact that he is a veteran of the Legislature. He was first elected to the Florida House in 2000 and served a full eight years before facing term limits and running for the Florida Senate.
In both chambers of the Legislature, Gardiner has served in the Republican leadership so some of his duties shouldnt be too new or overwhelming. He was the GOPs leader in the House from 2004 until 2006. That service helped Gardiner move quickly through the Senate. After winning his seat in 2008, Gardiner was GOP whip and, two years later, moved up to majority leader.
Gardiner knows the Senate can be something of a snake pit. Despite setting his eyes on the Senate presidency pretty early, Gardiner faced opposition from the current Senate leadership, including Gaetz, against his aspirations. Gardiner kept enough of his supporters in line and reached out to rival Jack Latvala for support. After cutting a deal, Gardiner will head up the Senate in 2014 while Latvala hopes to take over the chamber in 2016.
Despite his agreement with Latvala, who is generally seen as the leading Republican moderate in the Legislature especially now that Mike Fasano is back in Pasco County, Gardiner has not been shy in playing up his conservative side on both fiscal and social issues. Gardiner has received awards and accolades from the pro-life community and business leaders for his various positions.
The Florida Senate has come off as unmanageable in recent years and more than a few Republican leaders have fallen in their attempts to lead the chamber. But with his background in leadership in both the House and the Senate and his ability to work with both conservatives and moderates in his caucus, Gardiner is well-positioned to manage the chamber.
Gardiner has a few other advantages as he prepares to take over the Senate. By the time he becomes Senate president, Gardiner should know all of his fellow senators well. None of them are term-limited in 2014 and, so far, most of them can expect easy elections next year. Gardiner should face a host of familiar and mostly friendly faces when he takes over the Florida Senate.
Despite his youth, Gardiner should not be underestimated. He survived an attack from the GOP Senate leadership and has spent years leading Republicans in the House and the Senate. He is not a lightweight by any means. The Senate could also be in solid shape when matched against the House since Steve Crisafulli, the next House speaker, only knew he would be taking over in 2014 after Chris Dorworth went down in 2012.
Gardiner is young and ambitious -- but thats not always a good thing in his new assignment. The Senate presidency is not always the best launching pad for higher office. Ander Crenshaw, Toni Jennings and Jeff Atwater advanced their careers after leading the Senate, while the political careers of Mike Haridopolos, who was around Gardiner's age when he took over, and Tom Lee stalled after their time in charge of the chamber. Gardiner is relatively young but he sits on a crowded bench of other up-and-coming Republicans. A successful Senate presidency can help Gardiner move on as he weighs his options on what to do when he faces term limits.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.