Lawmakers elect Steve Crisafulli and Andy Gardiner as leaders; Committee meetings set for January

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Two Central Florida lawmakers have taken control of the Florida Legislature.

Brevard County Rep. Steve Crisafulli was elected speaker of the Florida House and Orange County Sen. Andy Gardiner was elected president of the Florida Senate. The two will lead their respective chambers for the next two legislative sessions, and the GOP will govern with a super-majority in the House, a 12-vote majority in the Senate and with newly re-elected Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Gardiner said his colleagues’ support was humbling and promised to lead in a bipartisan fashion.

“The Senate is only as strong as the influence and the power of the minority,” said Gardiner, addressing Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner from the podium. “We look forward to working with you and the members of the Democratic Caucus as we shape the future of Florida.”

Gardiner, speaking to reporters later, said he had told Joyner that it’s fine with him if she wants to bring forward issues like expanding Medicaid coverage and increasing the minimum wage.

“Let them be debated and they should be heard in committee and we will see what’ll come up,” said Gardiner.

“It’s not me who should be dictating to the senators what we’re going to do,” said Gardiner. “If I can leave here in two years and the members said, ‘you know what? I had every chance to be successful, had every chance to debate the issues (and) be heard. If they leave here saying that, I’ll think it is a successful presidency.”

Newly-elected Speaker Steve Crisafulli may have intended to strike the same tone in the Florida House but his remarks also sounded a bit like the drawing of a line in the sand.

“I absolutely welcome robust debate of the issues between the majority and the minority parties but I expect honesty and respectful discourse,” said Crisafulli. “Let’s not play games to score political points; let’s just get the job done for our constituents.”

Democrats and Republicans have different constituents or as House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford explained, “he has his audience.”

“The debate over the role of government has been fiercely contested from time immemorial. In my judgment, it is often the case that the complex problems facing our society are often compounded by government interference,” said Crisafulli, who explained that the voters have spoken, “not only in Florida, but across the nation.”

Crisafulli’s priorities include a plan addressing the state’s water needs and protecting the environment. His small government/fewer regulations agenda also creates an obstacle to the Democrats’ agenda to expand Medicaid coverage and raise the minimum wage. Joyner had compared the GOP’s refusal to move on the issues to the Berlin Wall.

“Water is something Republicans, Democrats, Independents all enjoy using,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, explaining that the minority party will reach across the aisle whenever “we can work together.”

“Yes, the voters have spoken – to allow us to make things happen in this chamber. We are the embodiment of 155,000 people in each district throughout this state,” said Pafford. “I think we can pass some really great things that voters would like – including health care.  . . . All we want is a free and open vote.”

Lawmakers completed their one-day organizational session in fewer than four hours. Committee meetings for the 2015 session will begin in January.