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Don Gaetz names Senate leaders, key committee chairs

Senate President Don Gaetz has selected his leadership team for the upcoming session, showing who among the Republican-led Senate has made it into the inner circle.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, will seve as majority leader. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, is deputy leader and whip. 

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will chair the newly formed committee on ethics and elections. 

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, will keep his position as chairman of the powerful Rules Committee. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, will become Appropriations Committee chairman after leading the health care appropriations subcommittee last year.

One notable name absent from the list: Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who is slated to become Senate president in 2014 but whose leadership ability was openly questioned last year. Gardiner successfully withstood a challenge from Thrasher for that position.

Here is the full text of Gaetz's release:

TallahasseeFlorida Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) today announced key members of his leadership team. President Gaetz named Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Ft. Myers) as Majority Leader and Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon) as Deputy Leader and Whip. President Gaetz named Senator Jack Latvala (R-St. Petersburg) as the Chair of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections, Senator Joe Negron (R-Palm City) as Chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, and Senator John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) as Chair of the Senate Committee on Rules.  

Senator Benacquisto, Majority Leader  

“As Majority Leader, Senator Benacquisto will be responsible for working with members of the Republican Caucus to ensure the Florida Senate advances an agenda that keeps taxes low, removes burdens to private sector job creation, and works to further bind investments in education to the realities of today’s economy,” said President Gaetz. “Her previous experiences in local government and in the private sector, as well as her reputation for building consensus in the Florida Senate, make Senator Benacquisto a natural choice for this important position.” 

Senator Benacquisto was elected to the Senate in 2010 and reelected subsequently. She served as Deputy Majority Leader from 2011-2012 and as a councilwoman for the Village of Wellington from 2002-2010.

Senator Lee, Deputy Leader and Whip

“Tom Lee steps back onto the Senate floor with the credibility and unparalleled experience that comes from a distinguished Senate career,” said President Gaetz of the man who served as Senate President from 2004 to 2006.   “The position of Deputy Leader will be substantive and active over the next two years.  Senator Lee knows how the legislative process works and how to help Senators and Members of the House move their good bills to enactment.  He also has the benefit of looking at public policy through the lens of someone who signs the front side of paychecks.”

Senator Lee was first elected to the Florida Senate in 1996. He served for ten years, including two as Senate President. In 2012, the voters of his community again overwhelmingly selected Senator Lee to represent them in Tallahassee.  

 Senator Negron, Chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations

“In the coming years, Florida will continue to face many tough decisions when balancing our state’s budget,” said President Gaetz. “We need the foresight and knowledge of a strong leader who knows the ins and outs of Florida’s fiscal landscape, and I am confident Senator Negron is the best man for the task.  No one understands the budget better than Joe Negron."

During his three-term stint in the House of Representatives, Senator Negron served as the Chair of the House Appropriations Committee from 2005 to 2006. He was elected to the Senate in 2009 and reelected subsequently. While serving in the Senate, he has held a number of leadership positions including Vice Chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Chair of the Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services Appropriations and Chair of the Select Committee on Protecting Florida’s Children. 

Senator Latvala, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections

“I recognize the multitude of challenges associated with crafting and passing broad-based ethics and elections reform and believe Senator Latvala is uniquely qualified to lead the Senate towards this important goal,” said President Gaetz. “Jack Latvala has been a master of the elections process for decades and one of the Senate's strongest proponents of ethics reform.  Both Speaker Weatherford and I are committed to meaningful reform as a top leadership priority, and I am grateful Senator Latvala has agreed to join the Senate leadership team to advance this integral component of our agenda.” 

Senator Latvala is a well respected business owner and community leader with a long and distinguished career in the Florida Senate. He served in the Senate from 1994-2002. Most recently, he was elected to the Senate in 2010 and reelected in 2012.

Senator Thrasher, Chair of the Senate Committee on Rules

“John Thrasher is the lion of the Senate,” said President Gaetz. “He is well regarded on both sides of the aisle as a strong, fair leader with unquestionable judgment and timeless principles.  I believe in a strong Rules Chair who can interpret our rules and manage the referencing of bills with the full confidence of the Senate.  No one is more respected than John Thrasher.”

Senator Thrasher served as Chair of the Committee on Rules for the 2010-2012 Legislative Term. He was first elected to the Senate in 2009 and reelected subsequently. He served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1992-2000, including a term as Speaker of the Florida House from 1998-2000, and also served a term as Chair of the Republican Party of Florida. Senator Thrasher is a decorated veteran of the United States Army, having earned two bronze stars in Vietnam.

President Gaetz previously announced the selection of Senator Garrett Richter (R-Naples) as President Pro Tempore. This selection was unanimously approved by the Florida Senate during last week’s organization session.

Remaining leadership positions, as well as committee assignments, will be announced in the coming days.