The Cabinet members endorsed DeSantis’ pick during a brief conference call in which they also accepted the resignation of Glenn Sutphin, who was paid $151,000 a year. Sutphin had been executive director since August 2016.
Burgess, a Captain and Judge Advocate in the U.S. Army Reserve, intends to push for a number of veteran-related measures that he supported as a lawmaker, such as streamlining the occupational- licensing process for veterans and addressing homeless veterans.
“I also really believe that we need to work on helping our veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress and brain injury,” Burgess said. “We have a lot of combat veterans that need some help and we need to be there for them. So, I want to look at different ways we can get creative there and focus in on evidence-based, scientific-based therapies that will really help them overcome what they’re dealing with.”
The governor, who began picking agency heads before he was sworn into office Jan. 8, acknowledged he didn’t know Burgess well before making the Department of Veterans’ Affairs recommendation in December.
“I had not really known him that well,” DeSantis said after the vote, held during a conference call. “When you meet him, he’s just a good guy with a great heart. Great work ethic, a lot of energy. I think he’s going to do a really good job for Florida’s veterans.
“I thank my fellow members of the Florida Cabinet for approving Danny to lead the Department of Veterans’ Affairs,” DeSantis said in a statement released after the vote. “His unwavering commitment to our nation and support for our veterans during his time in the Legislature make him the right man for the job and I could not be more excited to see what all he accomplishes for our veteran community in this new role.”
In a separate statement, Attorney General Ashley Moody called Burgess a “great leader.”
“I know firsthand Rep. Burgess’s passionate commitment to our veterans,” she said. “During his time in the Legislature, (he) was a strong advocate for our veterans and I know he will approach leadership of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs with the same enthusiasm.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried added: “Rep. Burgess is an excellent choice to work on behalf of our state’s veterans, and I was pleased to vote in favor of his appointment. I’m glad that the public had the opportunity to participate in this important decision coming before Florida’s Cabinet.”
DeSantis has the power to appoint leaders of most state departments, but the veterans’ agency is under the governor and Cabinet, with the executive director appointed by the governor with approval by the Cabinet members. Fried, Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis make up the Cabinet.
DeSantis also has appointed former Monticello Rep. Halsey Beshears to serve as secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and former Coral Springs Rep. Jared Moskowitz to serve as director of the state Division of Emergency Management.
Burgess said after the meeting that he will quickly submit his resignation from the House. He was first elected to represent eastern Pasco County in the Florida House in 2014. He was re-elected in 2016 and 2018. Before joining the House, the Zephyrhills Republican was on the City Council and was Mayor of Zephyrhills. He got his undergraduate degree from the University of South Florida and his law degree from Barry University.
A special election will have to be called to replace him in House District 38. His farewell letter to his constituents is below.
Kathy Lynn Lewis, a Democrat from Wesley Chapel, and Randy Maggard, a Republican from Dade City, have already opened campaign accounts to try to replace Burgess in the House. Former Tampa Rep. Shawn Harrison is also rumored to have an interest in the seat.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.