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Don Gaetz, Will Weatherford Envision Session of Amicable Tension

February 21, 2013 - 6:00pm

As legislators have in the past, expect disagreements to continue between the House and Senate as the 2013 regular session progresses.

Both chambers appear to be heading in the same direction on issues ranging from election and ethics reform, policy changes to Citizens Insurance Property Corp., to manufacturing incentives, higher education funding and teacher pay.

As with Gov. Rick Scotts proposal to accept for three years the Affordable Care Act expansion of Medicaid, as long as the federal government fulfills its 100 percent funding promise, the only certainty between what legislators have been saying and what they will do, is that any action must be done by May 3, the scheduled end of the 60-day session.

However, unlike in past sessions, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, believe they will be able to offer a more congenial front when the anticipated annual discord and bill wrangling gets underway.

I can assure you the Senate president and I, once we get in the session, there will be some things we disagree on, either publicly or privately, Weatherford said.

There are a lot of members in our chamber that are going to disagree. But its tone. Its how you disagree. Its not allowing one issue that you disagree on to bleed into others.

They may not try to appear as friends as former House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos tried to portray.

But Gaetz believes the trial by fire they underwent in 2010 and 2011 as they both directed their chambers' redistricting efforts and time spent traveling together as they jointly hosted public meetings across the state on the new maps, mean they will have policy disagreements but there wont be personal animus.

You learn a lot about somebody in a situation that could be that volatile and you have to trust each other and I trust him explicitly. Gaetz said.

More importantly, Gaetz sees them as future political allies, in the form of his supporting a future run by Weatherford for governor or other high office.

Were not competitors, were not going to run against each other for anything; were not naive enough to think our wives are best friends and go on vacation together," Gaetz said.

Both of us have modest expectations of each other and the process, because we know constitutionally ... there is supposed to be tension between the Senate and the House and the Legislature and the governor and judiciary.

Both are the product of political families.

Gaetz, 65, a former school superintendent from Okaloosa County who co-founded VITAS Healthcare Corp., is a North Dakota native, where his first job out of college was as an editor for a weekly.

His father was a state legislator in North Dakota, his son serves in the Florida House, Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, under Weatherford.

Weatherford, 33, worked as legislative assistant to his future father-in-law, former House Speaker Allen Bense, before first running for office in 2006.

I think the culture weve created is inclusive of everybody no matter what party you represent or where you come from, Weatherford said. I think long-term thats going to build for better policy. At least, I hope it does. Call me in 90 days and Ill let you know.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

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