The man of the hour smiled as his colleagues told stories and reminisced about his time in the Florida Legislature.
They spoke of his commitment to his family, his dedication to his community, and his calm demeanor when dealing with the tough issues the state has faced in recent years.
“He is the George Bailey from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ in our state,” Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean said of Senate President Andy Gardiner. “He’s truly the richest man in the Florida Senate.”
For nearly two hours Monday, lawmakers paid tribute to Gardiner, who’s wrapping up his term as Senate President. The Senate unveiled the official portrait of the 47-year-old Orlando Republican, and colleagues from both sides of the aisle praised him for his nearly two decades in office.
“There has not been a time where I’ve shown up to this office that I don’t look forward to being here,” Gardiner said. “It is an incredible opportunity.”
First elected to the Florida House in 2000, Gardiner served as the House Republican leader from 2004 until 2006. He was elected to the Senate in 2008, where he was the Majority Whip for two years, before becoming the Majority Leader in 2010. He has spent the past two years as the Senate President.
Gardiner – whose son, Andrew, has Down syndrome – has made improving the quality of life for people with unique abilities a priority during his time in office. Gardiner spent much of the past two years pushing legislation to create a path to economic independence for people with unique abilities.
This year the Legislature approved a bill (HB 7003) that expanded the personal learning scholarship account, now known as the Gardiner Scholarship Program, to more students; creates employment options for people with unique abilities, and creates a financial-literacy program for individuals with disabilities. Gov. Rick Scott has already signed the bill into law.
“The greatest accomplishment is bringing folks and families out of the shadows, making it known and expected that we will give them the best opportunities,” said Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican. “If we did nothing else, we changed the culture.”
Gardiner’s wife, Camille, and three children — 12-year-old Andrew, 8-year-old Joanna Lynn and 5-year-old Kathryn Lucille — attended the ceremony Monday. His parents, in-laws and several friends and former legislators — including former House Speaker Dean Cannon and former Senate President and CFO Jeff Atwater — also attended the event. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran were also on hand.
“Thank you for embracing the Gardiner family on this journey,” he said.
Gardiner used his speech to thank his staff, family and friends for their support during his time in the Legislature. He became emotional as he spoke to his colleagues, encouraging them to continue to advocate for their communities.
“There is no doubt in my mind that God has a plan for each and every one of us,” he said.