TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, were formally elected Tuesday to serve as Senate president and House speaker, moving into two of the most-powerful jobs in the state.
Galvano and Oliva had long been positioned to move into the roles, with Tuesday’s election coming during an organization session.
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, and Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, also moved into their roles as Senate and House minority leaders for the next two years.
The one-day session also included swearing in senators and House members elected Nov. 6.
New Senate president promises ‘civility, transparency’
When Galvano became president of the Florida Senate on Tuesday, he promised to leave a contentious election behind and to promote a more civil discussion of issues facing the nation’s third-largest state.
Galvano, a 52-year-old Republican lawyer from Bradenton, told the 40-member Senate there is little he can do “to stem the tide of modern-day incivility that has become so pervasive in an era of social media and the 24-hour news cycle.”
“But I can tell you that while I am serving as Senate president, the Florida Senate will have civility, transparency, candor and opportunity, including an opportunity for the people of Florida to be heard,” Galvano said.
Galvano was unanimously elected president during a one-day organization session that included putting in place new House and Senate leaders and swearing in lawmakers. Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, was also elected Tuesday to serve as House speaker.
Galvano brings a wealth of legislative experience to his presidency. As a House member, he served as a rules committee chairman, oversaw the investigation of a House speaker and helped negotiate a complicated gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
In the Senate, Galvano has handled the education budget and shepherded a major higher-education package through the Legislature.
But in contrast to outgoing President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who made the higher-education package a top priority, Galvano outlined a series of issues where he expects to see legislative initiatives but said he would leave the details to individual senators to develop.
“A presiding officer, in my opinion, should be somewhat of a traffic cop, directing the traffic that comes from the members,” Galvano told reporters after the organization session ended. “I’m not going to dictate to them. They’re going to tell me the direction in which to go.”
Citing Florida’s low unemployment rate and the strength of state budget reserves, Galvano said the Senate over the next two years will “build on our past decisions to keep taxes low, regulations reasonable and to set aside ample reserves, while making smart investments in essential government services.”
Galvano said the state’s ability to expand its economy, allowing it to attract technology as well as tourists, will be “tied to the strength of our infrastructure.” He said that would include investments and support for transportation, communications, water projects and power sources.
Galvano also said he wanted to “maximize” the state’s technical schools and state colleges, helping them focus on graduating students who can move on to higher-paying, skilled jobs.
He said the Senate agenda would include efforts to “provide economic opportunities to our rural communities that make up the spine of our state,” including support for the state’s vast agriculture industry.
But having served 14 years in the Legislature, Galvano warned members that they are likely to face major issues that “have yet to reveal themselves.”
“Last session was certainly no exception,” he said, referring to the Legislature’s response to the mass shooting at a Broward County high school that left 17 students and staff members dead on Feb. 14.
The Legislature, which begins its annual 60-day session on March 5, is already dealing with an issue that was unanticipated when lawmakers ended their 2018 session last March.
Lawmakers will be facing the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, which devastated portions of the Panhandle in October. Galvano said it may represent a $1 billion-plus challenge “that will impact our budgetary and policy decisions out of the gate.”
The Republicans hold a 23-17 seat edge in the Senate.
Senate Democrats unanimously elected Gibson to lead their caucus over the next two years in a vote on Monday night.
Oliva urges civility, reducing regulations
Oliva called for civility among lawmakers as he vowed to continue his party’s push for limited government after being formally elected Tuesday to serve as House speaker for the next two years.
Oliva, the first speaker from Miami-Dade County since now-U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio held the post for the 2007 and 2008 sessions, maintained that after this year’s contentious elections, ideas and ideology outweigh party label.
“I stand before you as a Hispanic speaker of the Florida House,” Oliva told reporters. “I know what our party represents, and during my entire time in the Florida House I have not abided by the type of partisanship that sets one person against the other because of what jersey they are wearing. I decide if I’m with someone based on their ideas and ideology.”
Oliva was formally elected as speaker during a one-day organization session in which Galvano also became Senate president. They will hold the powerful posts during the 2019 and 2020 legislative session.
Speaking to lawmakers, Oliva briefly outlined goals for the House that include continuing to open school choice for parents, protecting natural resources such as water and wildlife and reducing state and local regulations, which he said will help raise wages and lower housing costs.
“If affordable housing is important in your part of the state, speak out against costly planning and zoning decisions and the arbitrary use of impact fees for revenue,” Oliva said. “If we are truly committed to raising wages, we must challenge the endless taking of hard-earned wages through taxes, fees, surcharges, assessments and the like. If you want people to have more, begin by taking less.”
He noted lawmakers should expect to see a $90 billion budget out of the House in 2019, of which health care will consume about half. Oliva said adding more money won’t help. Meanwhile, he indicated a desire to maintain and build the state’s roads, public works and infrastructure.
While Oliva gave broad outlines, the new House minority leader was more pointed Tuesday about issues for the 2019 legislative session, which will begin March 5.
McGhee said, in part, lawmakers should push to expand Medicaid for about 800,000 people in Florida; teacher salaries should be “at least be $50,000 per year;” and the state needs a workforce act that protects members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. McGhee also claimed the diversity label for his party, noting the House Democratic caucus includes 23 women, 21 African-Americans, and three openly gay members.
“We will push Florida forward,” McGhee said. “We will demand accountability on this floor.”
Oliva takes over a House in which the Republicans hold a 73-47 advantage, despite Democrats gaining a net six seats since the 2016 elections.
Oliva’s ascension, years in coming, came about two hours after the state Elections Canvassing Commission certified the results of the Nov. 6 elections. Oliva described the election cycle as “spirited and contentious.”
After the organization session, Oliva said the House needs to look at the state’s election laws, primarily because Palm Beach and Broward counties “damaged” the trust of voters.
Oliva, a 46-year-old cigar-company executive, was first elected to the House in a 2011 special election. His parents fled Cuba in 1964.
Monday night, when formally chosen by Republicans as their nominee to become speaker, Oliva noted he’s the second non-white person to hold the post, joining Rubio. Oliva marks that distinction as a sign of diversity for the party of Lincoln.
“Our party gets painted with a brush that is just inaccurate,” Oliva said. “You hear that we’re not an inclusive party. You hear that we’re a party of old white men. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. But if you repeat something long enough people tend to believe it.”
Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican who nominated Oliva for speaker on Tuesday, described Oliva as having a steady hand in helping guide the family cigar business, while appearing as a mix of actors Desi Arnaz and Cary Grant. He said that could have made Oliva the first Cuban-American James Bond.
“Jose, you may never be a world-renowned super spy, but you are the embodiment of the American dream,” Sprowls said.