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Gaetz Named Senate-President-Designate

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Sen. Don Gaetz, a former school superintendent and hospice executive from the Panhandle, was formally recognized as the Senate president-in-waiting on Monday.

Gaetz, a Republican from Niceville, was honored in a Senate floor ceremony in front of family and friends, including his son, state Rep. Matt Gaetz. R-Fort Walton Beach.

Gaetz will succeed Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, for the 2013 session and preside for two terms, assuming Republicans maintain a majority in the chamber. They currently hold a 28-12 majority in the Senate.

The vote by Senate Republicans was unanimous, and expected.

Gaetz said the economy will be the focus of his time in charge.

"Unemployment is the ill wind that parches the souls of our families," said Gaetz, adding that for too long officials have looked to Washington to solve problems. He said he would reject that, looking to Florida lawmakers to solve Florida problems.

Gaetz harkened to a sign above a door at his high school that said "No place worse than second place," in saying that he wants the state to be first in the country in attracting jobs.

Gaetz also pledged to take up the Republican mantra that "sprawling expensive government has failed," and that the state shouldn't leave policy to "bureaucrats" whose "absurd rules stifle innovation."

"Florida must become the cradle of common sense solutions," Gaetz said. "Florida must be the state that's known for fair play and rational regulations."

Gaetz also pledged to make education a top priority, and particularly higher education. He listed a long line of problems in the state's efforts to attract jobs that he said were rooted in a lack of well trained college graduates in the sciences. Florida can't afford for colleges to focus on things that don't make it stronger in the sciences, he said.

The guests in the ceremony technically a Republican caucus meeting watched a video of Gaetz' life, from his early life on the prairie in Rugby, N.D., where his father was mayor of the town that Gaetz said was a bitter wind-swept place near the Canadian border.

The video went through Gaetz' high school debate triumphs and his time at Concordia College, where Gaetz said he fought for the rights of women students to smoke like the male students could at the conservative school. Since then, he noted, he has ironically spent a lot of time helping make people comfortable at the end of life when they were sometimes being killed by smoking.

The video also highlighted Gaetz' first foray into professional politics, lobbying in Washington to get hospice care covered by Medicare.

Gaetz ran for school board and then superintendent of schools in Okaloosa County. He was praised in the Republican-led chamber for cutting about $8 million from the school system after he took over and putting the money into a scholarship program.

"That's an example of the way he can get things done," said Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who nominated Gaetz.

Gaetz is the first Senate president from Okaloosa County since President Newman Brackin in 1949.