What Sets Don Gaetz and Will Weatherford Apart
Around the State
At the end of their terms, it's unlikely that Senate President Don Gaetz and Speaker of the House Will Weatherford will be defined by their Obamacare response or their stewardship of the environment or their leadership on changes to Florida firearms laws.
Certainly they will deal with bills on all of those issues and more -- especially the budget.
But their signature accomplishment will be a top-to-bottom ethics reform of government in the state of Florida -- the likes of which has not been attempted in the Legislature in more than four decades.
Why is success so sure? Because by all accounts, Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, share a commitment to the mission, a will developed long before the day they were sworn in. Over many months they worked together, chairing their chambers' redistricting committees. They respect and value each other's points of view. In fact, they genuinely like each other.
What they've done is to consciously dedicate themselves to rebuilding trust and confidence in public officials through ethics and campaign finance reform, and improving the fiscal accountability and transparency of public sector pension plans.
"These two aren't like (former Senate President) Mike Haridopolos and (former House Speaker) Dean Cannon," said Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson. "Hari and Cannon came on like they were going to hang together, but they lacked these guys' joint commitment, and at the end, they were ripping each other apart. That's simply not going to happen with Gaetz and Weatherford."
Speaking to reporters and editors at the annual AP pre-session meeting Wednesday at the Capitol, Gaetz said of Weatherford, "We have a solid framework of agreement on issues of key importance."
Gaetz and Weatherford stood together to announce their priorities for their joint agenda for 2013. Three points on their 5-point "Work Plan Florida" were all about cleaning up corruption and making government transparent in Florida.
Giving Gaetz the credit for initiating ethics reform, Weatherford introduced the Senate president saying, "There are issues that we have to deal with -- the budget, for example. But there are issues like ethics reform, that if we aren't proactive about them, nothing will ever get done."
Gaetz -- former newspaper editor, former superintendent of schools -- put the need for reform in perspective, describing corruption as "unfortunately, part of the cost of doing business, something we don't think should be so."
"In the county I come from, Okaloosa County, all in the last three years," he said, "we've had a county commissioner removed by a governor, a community college president forced from office because of ethical lapses, a speaker of the House resigning on ethical grounds, we've had a Tourist Development Council director steal money and then commit suicide, and our sheriff is in prison.
"And this is just a medium-sized Florida county. We're not at the epicenter (of corruption), we just happen to be an example."
These are the Gaetz-Weatherford 2013 session priorities distributed to AP editors on Wednesday:
Ethics Reform. Holding elected officials to a higher standard by addressing a number of reported ethical concerns, including strengthening abstention and disclosure requirements for conflicts of interest and making the process surrounding financial disclosure more transparent and accountable.
Campaign Finance Reform. Increasing accountability in Florida's election system by ensuring more dollars are spent to directly influence elections, and increasing transparency through more frequent campaign finance reporting.
Pension Reform. Ensuring long-term fiscal predictability for Florida taxpayers and retirees. Increasing transparency by standardizing accounting standards and recording requirements across local public sector plans.
Gaetz and Weatherford's other top priorities, in their words, are these:
Higher Education Reform. Initiating high-quality, affordable options that will keep Florida's higher education system responsive to the realities of a post-recession digital economy through an expansion of online higher education and continued incentive support for college and university programs that produce high-skill, high-wage and high-demand occupations.
Elections Review. Comprehensively reviewing Florida's election law to provide local elections supervisors the flexibility needed to reduce wait times and ensure accurate and timely counting and reporting.
"It's putting in place serious laws to stop enabling and encouraging corruption," Henderson said. "If Gaetz and Weatherford can pull it off, it's the stuff legacies are made of."
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.