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Five Questions for Andy Gardiner

November 17, 2014 - 6:00pm

Orlando Republican Andy Gardiner has steadily moved up through the Florida House and Senate, serving as majority leader in both chambers. On Tuesday, he will take over one of the most powerful jobs in the state as he becomes Senate president.

Gardiner represents parts of Orange and Brevard counties. He was first elected to the House in 2000 and to the Senate in 2008. Vice president of external affairs at Orlando Health, he earned his bachelor's degree at Stetson University. Gardiner and his wife, Camille, have three children, Andrew, Joanna and Kathryn. Andrew has Down syndrome and is a driving force behind the family's work to improve education for children with disabilities.

The News Service of Florida has five questions for Andy Gardiner:

Q: What issues are your priorities, and what would you like to see accomplished under your leadership?

GARDINER: Well, for a Senate president -- for me -- it's a two-year opportunity. And we hope that the senators will bring forward a lot of great ideas on water policy, springs. Implementation of Amendment 1 will be a big issue.

I also think it's important that, for my two years, we have really set some goals when it comes to individuals with disabilities, or as we like to say, "unique abilities." And we hope the House and the Senate and the governor will all work together, that when I leave here, there will be a roadmap for families that face this challenge. And that'll be a priority of mine, and we look forward to working with everybody to implement that.

One of the things -- and it's really the last couple of years -- Speaker (John) Thrasher, who has gone on to bigger and better things (as the new president of Florida State University), we have worked on, No. 1, empowering parents through the IEP process, the Individualized Education Plan. And the second was eliminating the special diploma. Now these individuals with unique abilities will have to be on a diploma track, designed specifically for them, so that when they leave the system, they have the opportunity to be gainfully employed (and) live independently. The third piece of that is post-secondary options. We have the University of North Florida, (Florida International University), and hopefully (the University of Central Florida) will have programs for individuals to live on campus, actually be able to interact.

And I have to give credit to Gov. (Lawton) Chiles, Gov. (Jeb) Bush really putting money into early intervention and speech therapy. And occupational therapy under Gov. Bush was probably the highest amount. And Gov. (Rick) Scott has continued that, with cutting down the (Agency for Persons with Disabilities) waiting list.

But what we've found is, now those individuals are 18,19, 20 years old. And they want to know "what my options are. Where am I going to go? I want to go with my peers to a college or vocational training." And we think we're well-positioned to do that. (Senate) President (Don) Gaetz was very good to us last year. I anticipate President Gaetz being the lead on a lot of that, working with Sen. (Kelli) Stargel and others to continue this journey.

Q: What message did you get from the voters via the easy passage of Amendment 1? What are your guidelines for implementing it?

GARDINER: Well, certainly the voters have spoken on Amendment 1, and made it very clear that the environment -- not just the purchasing of property, but restoring springs bike trails -- really a comprehensive approach. The Senate's going to have a plan, obviously the House will as well, and the governor and of course (Agriculture) Commissioner (Adam) Putnam. I think our job as legislators is to bring everybody together and try to come up with a long-term solution for restoration of springs and what we need to do on the environment.

(It seems supporters of Amendment 1 are already bracing themselves for the possibility that lawmakers will funnel the money to projects other than Florida Forever, Everglades restoration ) Well, you know, the Constitution's pretty clear, and each member will be sworn in and will swear to uphold the Constitution. So I think what everybody needs to understand is, once you take 33 percent of doc(umentary) stamps out of the process, there's going to be some pain. As I've said, money doesn't grow on trees -- it's taxpayer dollars. And I think everybody needs to see that. They need to see that, when you get up to that 700-something-million (dollars in dedicated state revenue under the amendment) over 20 years, those are dollars that you're potentially taking out of affordable housing, out of transportation, potentially out of education.

And I think we need to have that dialogue. We look forward to talking with the supporters of Amendment 1 and seeing if we can come up with a plan that everybody can be happy with.

Q: The gambling compact with the Seminole Indians is coming up. That's mostly an issue for the governor, but where is the Legislature on this, and what would you like to see happen?

GARDINER: I think it's important for everybody to understand: The entire compact is not up. It's a specific portion of the compact, and I think there is this view that we have to renew that. I'm one that says, "You know, it may be $50 million or $60 million -- that's big money, don't get me wrong -- but as our economy has come back, I don't feel the pressure to necessarily renew that compact."

Obviously, the governor will lead the negotiations, but I think everybody needs to take a step back and not assume that this has to be done. I think we have to take a comprehensive look. The Senate started that last year, with Sen. (Garrett) Richter really looking at gaming in the state as a whole. And we're open for the discussion, but we'll have to wait and see how that pans out.

Q: The House and Senate have gotten along pretty well for two years, but they've also clashed on occasion, such as over pension reform. What do you see happening in your relations with the House, and what do you see as the biggest impediment to getting along?

GARDINER: Certainly there are going to be disagreements. There always are. There'll be disagreements with our governor and our Cabinet members -- that's just part of the process. I think what is very helpful is a lot of members of the Senate are former House members. The speaker-designate (Steve Crisafulli) and I have been friends for a long time, even before this process. And communication's key, you know, being able to speak openly about where we are and what we're able to do.

We look forward to working with the House. We know they're going to have some very strong views. And we want to give them every right and a hearing here, and we hope they do the same on that side. And then as we get near the end of session, you try to pull it all together so you can get out of here on time.

Q: Now that Gov. Scott has been re-elected, will he have more difficulty getting his way with the Legislature as a lame duck?

GARDINER: Well, no governor should get his way with the Legislature. We were all duly elected, and we all come here with very strong views. But as I have said, there is no lame duck when you have a veto pen. And this governor has proven that -- in his first four years, he came in with some very specific things he wanted to get accomplished. I think that's why he got re-elected.

We look forward to working with him. I've become pretty good friends with him. And Camille, my wife, enjoys spending time with Ann (Scott). I think that's important. We'll have some disagreements, but we'll do everything we can.

But there's no lame duck when you have the ability to veto everything we send to you.

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