Senate President Joe Negron named eight Republicans and one Democrat to the powerful Constitution Revision Commission Wednesday that he said each have a "tireless work ethic" and a commitment to revising the state constitution to reform state education laws.
"The appointees are strong advocates for school choice opportunities that celebrate the power of the parents to determine what form of education is best for their child,'' Negron said in a statement.
Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran each have nine appointments to the 37-member commission that meets every 20 years to put constitutional amendments directly on the 2018 ballot.
Gov. Rick Scott has 15 appointments to the panel, and will name its chair, and Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga made his three appointments to the panel last week. Attorney General Pam Bondi is also automatically a member of the commission.
Negron made his selections from a list of 100 applicants and among those he rejected were two sitting senators, Dana Young, R-Tampa and Greg Steube, R-Sarasota.
Negron and Corcoran have both indicated they will choose applications to the panel who are committed to education reform and increasing school choice options for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Corcoran has said he wants the panel to recommend disabling the "Blaine Amendment," which prohibits state money from going into religious education programs, and both have been vigorous defenders of Florida's school voucher programs and the state's expansion of charter schools.
Negron sponsored the tax credit scholarship bill as a freshman House member and the education savings account bill as a freshman senator.
"The most serious and important issue for me, and a common thread among our Senate appointees, is a fervent commitment to individual liberty and personal freedom guaranteed by our state and federal constitutions,'' Negron said. "The Senate appointees are all women and men of good judgment.”
"I applaud him in wanting to see if we can make some changes that will benefit parents and kids through the CRC,'' said Patricia Levesque, director of the Foundation for Excellence in Education whom Negron appointed to the commission.
She said she hopes the commission will "blend the ability of parents to make incredible decisions for their kids and make sure we keep a high emphasis on public institutions which are core."
- Don Gaetz, a former state senator and Niceville Republican, was co-founder of a for-profit hospice care business. He is a former school board member and superintendent in Okaloosa County and served as Senate president from 2012-14, when the Florida Senate reapportioned itself in violation of the Fair Districts amendments approved by voters. Challengers to the map produced evidence that Gaetz privately conducted secret briefings with individual senators, some via video conference, in which they discussed possible alterations to the map, to avoid the public meeting requirements of the Florida Senate. Gaetz touted the process as “the most transparent” redistricting in Florida history at a series of public hearings across the state and on the floor of the Senate.
- Anna Marie Hernandez Gamez, a litigation and real estate attorney in Holland & Knight's Miami office. A Republican, she is the daughter of Cuban immigrants and is the past president of the Cuban American Bar Association where she focused on increasing diversity in the judiciary and legal community. Hernandez Gamez has served as a Take Stock in Children mentor.
- Patricia Levesque, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) and executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future and former staff advisor to Gov. Jeb Bush. A registered Republican, she is one of the state's most active advocates for school choice reforms, including a stint on the Tax and Budget Reform Commission which voted to put an amendment, written by Levesque, on the 2008 ballot that would have eliminated the constitutional ban in Florida against sending state tax money to religious institutions. The measure was taken off the ballot by the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled the panel overstepped its authority with the proposal.
- Sherry Plymale, a long-time Negron supporter from Martin County and a Republican, has served as chair of the State Board of Community Colleges and as chief of staff to Former Education Commissioner Frank Brogan. She has been a trustee of Florida Atlantic University and St. Leo University, and as a board member of the Martin County School Readiness Coalition. She has also served as the chair of the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees. She is also a member of the Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. Ms. Plymale earned an undergraduate degree from St. Leo University.
- William “Bill” Schifino, Jr., is the current president of The Florida Bar for the 2016-2017 term, and Tampa managing partner at Burr Forman. A Republican, he has indicated that his goal for the CRC includes pursuing the Bar's opposition to term limits for appellate judges and promoting adequate funding for the courts and protecting the independence of the judicial branch.
- Chris Smith, a former Democratic state senator from Broward County, served as the Democratic Leader in both the House and the Senate when Negron was Appropriations Chair in the House and Senate. He is a partner in the Fort Lauderdale law firm of Anselmo Johnson. Smith voted for voucher expansion while in the Senate.
- Bob Solari, a retired financial planner, is a Republican Indian River County Commissioner, whom Negron describes as a "strong advocate for Indian River County taxpayers and a zealous defender of individual rights."
- Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, a retired middle school and high school teacher who now works in real estate, who most recently served as a city commissioner and as mayor for the town of Sewall’s Point, in Negron's home county. A Republican, she has worked to advocate for reforms to halt environmental damage to the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, a key priority of Negron's.
- Carolyn Timmann, Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller of Martin County, is a former legislative assistant to Republican State Rep. Tom Warner and former executive deputy chief of staff to former Gov. Charlie Crist. She managed public records and projects to provide statewide electronic information.
Photo courtesy of the Florida Memory Project.