Florida Senate President Don Gaetz has recommended that Sen. John Thrasher — his friend and occasional opponent — as the next head of Florida State University.
In a letter to the FSU search committee headed by R. William Funk & Associates, Gaetz said that Thrasher’s political leadership, intellectual rigor and “vibrant curiosity” makes him the “obvious President to lead Florida State University.”
Gaetz added that although Thrasher, whom he considers a friend, would be an “unconventional” choice for FSU, somewhat similar to the selection of Judy Bense to lead the University of West Florida, he would – like Bense — be a “far, far better president.”
“He has devoted his professional life to public service and the law,” Gaetz writes. “But if that were a disqualifier, then America’s greatest public university, the University of Virginia, could not have been founded and managed by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.
“And, arguably, FSU’s strongest position ever was reached under President Sandy D’Alemberte and President T.K. Wetherell, who both made their bones in public service, lawmaking and, famously in the case of President D’Alemberte, lawyering,” he added.
Among Thrasher’s qualifications, Gaetz noted that it is his record and career that provides ample evidence that John Thrasher is the right person for the job, including expertly managing vast, complex organizations in the private and public sectors.
As a “great listener,” Thrasher excelled in convening both brilliant and ordinary people to “meld their agendas into the service of a common cause” and then give them the credit when the cause is successful.
Even though, the two lawmakers found themselves on opposite sides of the controversial issue of in-state tuition for undocumented students as it made way through the Legislature in 2014 — Gaetz remained staunchly against the proposal — the Senate president praised Thrasher’s skill at resolving conflict.
“The fact is that it was John Thrasher who crafted the parliamentary solution that allowed the in-state tuition bill to come to the Senate floor, allowing both sides of the issue to be beard fairly and respectfully,” he says. “While others took the credit, he took the responsibility.”
Gaetz also expressed sympathy for the challenging process facing the FSU board.
“No process will be uncritically praised unless the choice is to the critics’ liking. No choice will be universally popular. You can hope that the person you choose, four or five years hence, will have been so effective that you’ll be proud to put on your resume that you helped select him.”
An influential figure in state Republican politics, Thrasher served as House Speaker between 1998 and 2000 and later as Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. He currently leads Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election effort.