State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo secured the votes last week to become Senate President in 2022, presuming Republicans hold the chamber. It brought to a close a quiet but serious battle for leadership.
Passidomo consciously avoided talking about her leadership campaign — “The process is supposed to be an internal Senate thing,” she said. But with the campaign done, she spoke with Florida Politics for her plans once she holds that gavel.
Florida Politics: What will be your top priorities once you actually preside over the Senate?
Passidomo: Right now, I’m not really focusing on that job because there’s only one Senate President and that’s Bill Galvano. As Majority Leader, I have another Session to get through with my caucus. I want to make sure the caucus is successful and its priorities are accomplished, and I will help President Galvano do that. So that’s No. 1 for me. Once Session is over, I will be helping Sen. Wilton Simpson with elections for 2020 in somewhat of an official capacity.
FP: Every Senate seat is up before you are set to be President. Half of them twice. So what needs to happen to make sure the GOP keeps its majority?
Passidomo: I will do whatever I can to get members reelected and keep a Republican majority in the Senate. I want to make sure Sen. Simpson has a presidency as well. Those are the immediate, important issues. In the meantime. when I am not spending 24 hours a day on the election, it’s getting together with my caucus, a team of 23 people, to start thinking what priorities we have. If we do not remain as a Republican majority, I won’t be Senate President. So it’s important. It’s so far out but there are things already being worked on.
FP: You are in line to be the third consecutive Senate President representing Florida’s Gulf Coast. What are the priorities for the region?
Passidomo: The water issues are so important for Southwest Florida. First of all, I think caring about water quality and water issues is not just a Southwest Florida issue, because it is a statewide issue from our springs in North Florida to the Everglades to Lake Okeechobee. It’s all interconnected. No matter who is in this position, it would be important. Now I have lived in Naples for 40 years and seen the changes that have occurred with red tide and blue-green algae over the last four years, and periodically we have certainly had outbreaks but it’s never been this bad, and the reasons need to be addressed. I have seen it firsthand and remember when I first moved here to now. Maybe that historical background for me personally will help. I want to make sure we get done with projects. Of course, I’m always interested in mental health; the Senate has been working and will continue to work on that. The affordable housing crisis is huge in my district, and I’ve got some ideas. The bottom line for me is we have to step back and look at it differently and more creatively. It’s not the same old build housing for ownership and for the workforce allot what you don’t want to own. We have to be more creative with rentals and complexes. I have every year been interested in protection of the elderly, who in my opinion are the most vulnerable. Our population is aging and becoming targets for scams. All my colleagues are interested in that. Lastly, I want to see what my Republican members want to pursue, and what is important to their communities. I’m looking at the four years hereafter to be about collaboration and cooperation.
FP: You are in line to be only the third female Senate President in state history. What significance does that hold for you?
I know. Toni Jennings was the last, 25 years ago. For me, it’s more important for the younger women coming behind me, so they see this is something they can attain. I practiced law 40 years in the area, and when I started there were three women attorneys in Naples. Now there are hundreds. But I think of myself as an attorney first, not a woman attorney. I feel the same way, that I’m not a female Senator, I’m a Senator. I don’t add that additional layer. But I will say I did get a number of emails from younger women saying it was so exciting a woman has attained this position, so that’s something. Someone said they have a 5-year-old daughter, and that I am now a role model. It’s an honor for me, but it also is a responsibility to make sure a role model is one people are going to want to look up to. I’m prepared for that. But again I’m a Senator first.
FP: Anything else you want to add about your plans?
I certainly want to emphasize this is not going to occur for four more years. My number one focus is to make sure this upcoming Session for everyone is successful, and that President Galvano’s policies and initiatives are successful. I love the statement he says often, “You have got to play the hole you are on.” That’s where I am right now. And Sen. Simpson is next so his time should be successful, and I’m 100 percent confident it will be. I know we have an important message that we can deliver to our voters, that the state of Florida is the go-to place because of policies we have put in place. We have a terrific economic climate, which is why people are moving to the state in droves. We have a very robust job climate and Florida is the place to be, and the reason it is is because of the things we are doing. When see a problem, we address it.