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Andy Gardiner becomes FL Senate’s president-designate


He survived a coup attempt and is now officially in line to take over the Senate presidency in fall 2014.

Andy Gardiner, the 44-year-old Orlando Republican, was the focus of a personal, yet pomp-and-circumstance filled ceremony this afternoon where the Senate GOP unanimously approved him as its next leader.

Gov. Rick Scott, Cabinet members, former senators and current House leaders all were in attendance. The invitations to the ceremony were addressed by hand by Gardiner’s mother, a calligrapher. And his three children -- Andy Jr., Joanna and Kathryn -- lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

But Gardiner also got down to business in his acceptance speech, outlining three points of focus for his two-year term: the economy and jobs; the environment and ecotourism; and expanding education and employment opportunities.

“It should be a goal of our caucus to continue to look for areas where we can improve the business climate for businesses here in the state of Florida, what opportunities there are for targeted tax cuts that we can bring more businesses to the state of Florida,” Gardiner said.

He mentioned several conservation efforts championed by Senate colleagues and pointed out that he backed a coast-to-coast bike trail. Gardiner didn’t mention that Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the bike trail funding this year.

To reach his education goals, Gardiner said he has three ideas: eliminate or alter the special diploma for high school students, expand the trade-focused programs found at the University of North Florida and Florida International University, and create business incentives to encourage job opportunities.

Gardiner joined the Legislature in 2000, part of record number of House freshman made possible by the creation of term limits. He was elected to the Senate in 2008 and most recently served as majority leader. In this new post, Gardiner is charged with fundraising for the caucus and ensuring they remain in the majority after the 2014 general election.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, was among several members who spoke during the program to greet members of Gardiner’s family and other invited guests. Thrasher said his participation in a failed attempt earlier  this year to oust Gardiner as president-designate was not about a lack of confidence in his leadership.

“Some people misinterpreted that, but I have every confidence in Andy Gardiner,” Thrasher said. “He’s going to be a great Senate president, and I look forward to working with him and doing whatever I can to help him.”