In both life and politics, the only thing that’s constant is change. While elections give voters a view of the future, it also provides some retiring politicians a chance to look back.
As two influential Florida lawmakers say their goodbyes — former Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli — they reflect on changes, and legislative successes, during their respective careers in Tallahassee.
Crisafulli — the first Speaker from Brevard County — gives his final thank you to Floridians in a Florida Today op-ed, talking about how the state rebounded from the Great Recession.
“The last eight years could be described as a tale of two Floridas,” the Merritt Island Republican writes. “From 2008 through 2011, the recession ravaged our economy, with unemployment over 12 percent, budget shortfalls, and the end of the space shuttle program.”
Getting through the recession, Crisafulli says, required difficult decisions, including the Legislature’s efforts to “cut taxes and red tape, balance the budget and shrink government” — all of which resulted in a financially and economically stronger Florida, with a budget surplus and an unemployment rate below the national average.
“We are a national leader in job creation, with over 1.1 million new private sector jobs,” he notes. “Tourism records have been smashed, with over 105 million visitors in 2015. Commercial space is on the rise. Port Canaveral is flourishing .… Taxes were slashed over $1 billion in the last two years .… Our schools have record funding.”
In addition, Florida has begun to address issues critical to the state’s water resources.
“We passed a comprehensive water policy bill this year that addresses our state’s water quality and supply challenges in a statewide manner through the use of scientifically sound, responsible solutions,” Crisafulli says.
As for his post-political career, Crisafulli looks forward to time with his family, and vows to continue engaging in the community.
“Florida is the state where not even the sky is the limit,” he says.
In his farewell, posted on Rick Outzen’s blog, Gaetz counters the comparison some make between politics and football: “You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.”
“After four years of football and 22 years in politics,” he says. “I’m inclined to think the comparison is unfair to football. In football, you step out of bounds and the play is dead, targeting earns rejection, playing time depends on performance, coaches who don’t win get fired, and referees don’t wear the same color jerseys as your opponents. Well, mostly they don’t. In politics, it’s the alternate universe.”
Politics and football does have one similarity — “both are organized violence punctuated by committee meetings and ending with hugs.”
Looking back on his tenure in politics, Gaetz believes it was “way more good than bad.”
“I cherish the smash-mouth fights over matters of principle,” he says. “I richly earned my opponents, giving, I hope, as good as I got. Politics can be thrilling and noble, just as it can be base and disgusting. Contrary to the fashionable lament, there is good, useful work that gets done by people in public office, by leaders confident enough in themselves to reach across the boundaries of ego, party, and geography.”
Gaetz even jokes about the lessons learned along the way, and how not to take himself too seriously.
“After my first election,” he says, “at my first school board meeting, a reporter asked me, ‘Gaetz, so you’re the one not taking a salary?’ Before I could do my riff about selfless public service, one of the older board members said in a stage whisper, ‘One thing about Gaetz. He knows what he’s worth.’
“People who sniff at the gritty business of electioneering or moan that public service is a sacrifice haven’t lived my life,” he continues. “I love to campaign and I was grateful and thrilled every day I stepped onto the Senate floor or into a school board meeting. But I support term limits and wish Congress had them, too.”
Gaetz says he canceled his Governor’s Club membership, trading it for a membership to Sam’s Club.
“I want to come home and live under the laws I’ve passed and enjoy the elbow room created by the rules I repealed,” he adds.
Now that he is leaving Tallahassee, Gaetz promises to “walk and talk a little slower,” enjoying “unhurried friendships and love.”
But when he gets “riled up,” Gaetz intends to write “that new congressman” — his son, former state Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is likely to succeed Jeff Miller in Florida’s 1st Congressional District.
“I have it on good authority he’s smart enough both to understand the game and think it’s important,” he concludes.