Andy Gardiner in jeopardy of making a bad first impression

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Contrary to readers of political blogs like this one, the overwhelming majority of Floridians do not know much about Andy Gardiner, president of the Florida Senate.

Ninety-seven percent of Floridians do not live in Gardiner’s district and it was his colleagues in the upper chamber who made him their leader. Still, Gardiner is one of the three most powerful people in state government.

By almost all accounts, Gardiner is a genuinely decent individual. And not in that fake, aw-shucks way that some politicians turn off and on depending on the environment. Gardiner is one of the good guys. Staunchly, but not fiercely, conservative, intelligent, amicable, conscientious … that’s the book on Senate President Andy Gardiner.

Yet, Gardiner is about to get off on the wrong foot with the Florida media and, by extension, with the general public over a tangential matter.

A claims bill to fulfill a $5 million settlement to the brother of a South Florida girl whose decomposing body was found in her father’s pesticide truck will not be heard in the upcoming legislative session.

The Miami Herald reports that the state agreed last year to settle with Victor Barahona, who had severe chemical burns when he was found with his twin sister alongside Interstate 95 in 2011.

Victor received $1.25 million, but the rest was to come from the Legislature in a claims bill.

A Senate staff attorney says the bill will be held while lawsuits filed by other children adopted by the twins’ parents are pending.

Victor’s attorney says there’s no legislative requirement to halt a claims bill while related lawsuits are pending.

Unfortunately, Gardiner told Mary Ellen Klas of the Herald/Times on Monday that he stands by the recommendation of his general counsel George Levesque, who, along with DCF, wants the settlement payments put on indefinite hold.

Even though the state agreed to not interfere with the legislation as part of the settlement, the lawyers now argue that passage of legislation could hurt the state’s attempt to fight two other child abuse lawsuits by two other Barahona children, Klas notes.

In other words, in the first high-profile issue since he was officially made Senate president, Gardiner has agreed to deny justice to someone who spent their entire life in the state’s child welfare system, yet was sexually abused, starved, and made to sleep in a bathtub.

Gardiner says the decision to delay the payment is “a sound legal recommendation.’’

Floridians do not yet know much about Gardiner, but those who read the Barahona story about one of the most horrific child abuse cases in state history and then read that Gardiner is doing something to deny  justice to the survivor of the case will not view it as “a sound legal recommendation.”

Klas reports that a bipartisan coalition of state senators, including Anitere Flores, are pledging to “not rest” until Victor Barahona and his new parents get the $3.75 million they are owed — money now on hold because Senate rules require the payment to be postponed because there are other lawsuits pending.

Even if that technicality must be enforced, Gardiner should be on the steps of the Capitol promising that on the first day of the 2015 legislative session, he will ask his colleagues to waive the rules and pass the Barahona claims bill.

Anything short of such bold action and Gardiner risks making a very bad first impression with millions of Floridians.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.