Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Departing Sen. Gaetz Shares His Lessons, Regrets

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Departing Sen. Gaetz Shares His Lessons, Regrets

Article excerpt

Byline: Tia Mitchell

Former Senate president Don Gaetz is known for his loquacious flair. His speeches on the Senate floor are often full of historical references and big words. So I was eager to read the goodbye message he emailed to constituents last weekend.

Gaetz, who is leaving the Legislature because of term limits, also served as an elected superintendent of schools and school board member in Northwest Florida. He described his time in public office as more good than bad.

"I cherish the smashmouth fights over matters of principle," Gaetz, R-Niceville, wrote. "I richly earned my opponents, giving, I hope, as good as I got. Politics can be thrilling and noble, just as it can be base and disgusting. Contrary to the fashionable lament, there is good, useful work that gets done by people in public office, by leaders confident enough in themselves to reach across the boundaries of ego, party and geography."

Didn't I tell you he has a way with words?

What stuck out to me most was this passage toward the end: "I made some bad votes. I really regret six of them."

I knew that the freedom that comes from no longer holding office would allow Gaetz to be candid about those six votes, and when I called him up to chat, he didn't disappoint.

On Tuesday, dozens of people will become newly elected state lawmakers. Maybe there are some lessons that can be learned from what Gaetz believes are his mistakes. If nothing else, let's relish this opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes perspective on the political process.

LESSON 1: DON'T LET THEM REPEAL YOUR GOOD WORK

Early in his Senate tenure, Gaetz passed a bill that required chief executives of property insurance companies to sign off on paperwork guaranteeing rate increases were based on solid methodology. Then he agreed years later to a comprehensive insurance package that repealed the provision. He regrets not pushing to keep it in law by proposing an amendment. "I should have fought like a tiger," he said.

LESSON 2: DON'T BACK DOWN FROM A GOOD FIGHT

During Gaetz's first year as Senate president in 2013, his chamber pushed to repeal a law that gave insurance companies a sizable tax cut. One of the main beneficiaries is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, based in Jacksonville. The House refused to accept the change, and an impasse would have held up the state budget so the Senate dropped the issue. "I think that I should have and could have and would have pressed the House harder. Instead of voting for the budget that kept the special tax cut for Blue Cross Blue Shield in place, perhaps we should have risked not passing a budget until we were able to get the House to reconsider that position."

LESSON 3: SOMETIMES A COLLEAGUE'S WORD ISN'T ENOUGH

This is the regret that Gaetz has talked about most often. …

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