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Sen. Gaetz: I made a mistake in chatting with coup plotters

Soon-to-be Florida Senate President Don Gaetz is inheriting a mess of a chamber riven by factionalism, personality clashes and policy differences.

At the center of it all: The failed coup against Gaetz’s likely successor, Sen. Andy Gardiner. Gaetz was in the meetings with Gardiner’s one-time allies, sens Joe Negron and John Thrasher, when they plotted to topple him – in part because they felt he couldn’t beat his top opponent, Sen. Jack Latvala. Now Latvala and Thrasher are slugging it out in a proxy war that makes simple votes turn into uncertain dramas.

The fact that Gaetz, who deservedly has a smartest-guy-in-the-room reputation, made such a dumb move hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Capitol. He knows that an incoming Senate President should let everyone else fight it out and collect their pledges.

In hindsight, did Gaetz make a mistake?

Gaetz: “Yes. Yeah. I think the mistake I made was that I asked to be in the meeting where these guys discussed relative strengths and weaknesses. And the reason I did was because all of these individuals are members of the team that we’ve put together. They’ve all been out working shoulder to shoulder, helping to recruit good candidates, find good candidates, work on policy options. And if I made a mistake at all it was asking to be in the room when the discussions were held.”

So it was a problem of optics?

Gaetz: “If there was an error of judgment it was an error on my part in inviting myself into the room and in fact insisting on being in the room ‘cause I wanted to make sure it was a straight forward and honest conversation. And sometimes, circumstantial evidence is that if you’re at the scene of an accident, some people think you might have had something to do with causing it.”

What happened?

Gaetz: “I was in a 15 minute meeting and I asked to be in the meting because I wanted to make sure that the discussions being held about future senate leadership were held face to face. I don’t like hallway conversation about things like that. So I’m probably not a very good pol. I wanted to make sure there was a person to person face to face conversation and I asked to be in that conversation because I wanted to make sure it was held in the proper way.”

“That was the extent of my involvement. I didn’t ask anybody to sign a pledge card for or against anybody else. That’s none of my business.”

The Senate is a pretty unhappy place. What do you think of it?

Gaetz: “My understanding from former senators who were here in times when the No 1 budget question was ‘what do we do with the extra $1 billion to $2 billion from a growing economy?’ is that the green poultice heals all wounds. There hasn’t been a green poultice to spread on those wounds and that creates a tension. The other thing is just a question of style and approach. Everyone has their own style and approach. And we’ll find out if mine works.”