Although lawmakers are never pleased when their projects are vetoed out of the state budget, Don Gaetz says the way Gov. Rick Scott handled those vetoes last month still rankles him.
“I’ve always had vetoes of projects that I was interested in,” the Niceville senator said of bills axed by Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. “But you always expect consistency. We didn’t have that this year. You expect to have some sort of theme, that there are certain things that the governor just doesn’t like and doesn’t want in the budget and he gives a reason, and this year, there was no theme because in some parts of the budget there were items vetoed that in other parts of the budget we’re approved.”
Scott vetoed $461 million out of the state’s $78 billion budget in late June, just a few days after the Legislature approved the budget in Special Session. The vetoes of certain projects angered a number of GOP state senators who later spoke out, including Senate President Andy Gardiner, Clearwater’s Jack Latvala, Bill Galvano from Manatee County and Gaetz, who previously criticized vetoing $1 million for Project FOIL, an economic development project of the Pensacola Escambia Economic Development Commission.
“I think what we have here is just a confusion on the part of many people around the state as to what the governor really means. You build relationships based on reliability and trust – not agreement,” Gaetz told Florida Politics Thursday. “I’ve had plenty of disagreements with governors, but you build relationships based on knowing where that person stands, that they have principals that you can rely upon, and when they give their word they mean it, and that’s an area where I think Governor Scott has some work to do.”
Gaetz was in Tampa last week to join Attorney General Pam Bondi as she announced the $2 billion settlement of Florida’s economic damages claims against BP regarding the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Seventy-five percent of that money will become an endowment to diversify the economy of coastal Northwest Florida in many of the counties of Gaetz’s constituency.
Gaetz was among those on the donor list released last week by Bush’s nonprofit education foundation, The Foundation for Excellence in Education, dating to its founding in 2007. Gaetz donated between $5,000 and $10,00 in 2010 and 2012.
“I’ve been a Jeb Bush acolyte from before he was governor,” said Gaetz, who was prominently featured during Bush’s official announcement last month as a presidential candidate. “And as a superintendent of schools in Okaloosa County, an elected superintendent and a strong supporter of the Bush reforms and also as a private citizen I’ve contributed and supported what the Jeb Bush Foundation has tried to do. I’ve not always agreed with everything they wanted to do, but in the main, they are the provocateurs to get us moving forward towards more school choice, and more education reforms.”
Gaetz made national headlines this spring when he spoke out against a “conscious provision” amendment brought forward in the state Senate. It would have allowed state-funded adoption agencies to turn away couples based on religious or moral convictions.
It evolved after the Florida House had attached an amendment repealing the ban on same-sex adoption to a larger adoption bill that would give incentive payments to help better care for children who have been adopted or in foster care. Asked whether he received pressure from social conservatives in batting down “conscious provision,” Gaetz said that indeed, he had certainly heard from people in and outside his Panhandle district about the legislation.
“I’m sorry that it got hijacked by people who were emotional on both sides of that issue. I wanted to get the adoption bill passed, and we did,” he said succinctly.
Asked about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month to allow same-sex marriage, he offered no opinion other than to say the court has the last word on the issue. In other words, you won’t be hearing him talk about a constitutional amendment to try to overturn it.
“I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and so I will obey its laws,” he said. “There are things that the Supreme Court has done over the years, that I found to be confusing or frustrating or troubling. There are Supreme Court decisions that if we go back in history I think we’d all find that were actually repellant, when we look at them over our shoulder through the lens of the history, but the Supreme Court has ruled, the Supreme Court is ruled the Supreme Court because they are the final arbiters of what is constitutional and legal, and I’ll follow the law.”
Gates said he is considering a run for Congress in Florida’s 1st Congressional District, which encompasses Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton, Escambia and part of Holmes counties. The seat is held by Republican Jeff Miller, who may leave it to run for U.S. Senate next year.