The Florida Senate returned Tuesday with all but one of the same members as two years ago and elected Orlando Sen. Andy Gardiner as its new leader, adding a younger face to the chamber controlled by conservative, white Republican men.
Gardiner, 45, takes over from Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, as head of the 40-member chamber that includes 26 Republicans. A graduate of Stetson University and the father of three, Gardiner is the vice-president of external affairs and community relations at Orlando Health. He was first elected to the Florida House in 2002. He was elected to the Senate in 2008.
Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Miami, who helped Gardiner beat back a challenge to his presidency two years ago organized by Gaetz and outgoing Sen. John Thrasher, told the chamber: "I will take a bullet for this man."
Thrasher has resigned to become president of Florida State University and a special election will be held for his replacement -- who will be the only newcomer to the chamber in two years.
Garcia introduced a biographical video of Gardiner that included interviews of his sixth grade teacher, his former baseball coach and two long-time friends.
"The State of Florida is in incredible hands because Sen. Gardiner will put families first before politics,'' Garcia said.
Gardiner called it a "humbling moment" and noted that his wife, Camille, asked him that morning if he was nervous. "I said, 'No. I'm not nervous,'" but he later realized he forgot to shave.