TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida's new legislative leaders on Tuesday pledged to fix the state's troubled elections system, and promised a new era of cooperation in the wake of a string of Election Day defeats that surprised many top Republicans.
The GOP still firmly controls the Florida Legislature, but the tone struck by new Senate President Don Gaetz and new House Speaker Will Weatherford was a stark turnaround from the past two years.
Weatherford stressed the need for Democrats and Republicans to work together, while Gaetz said that voters don't want finger-pointing over why things can't get done.
"What I can commit to is that you always will be treated with fairness and respect, no matter which party you represent," said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, after he was sworn in.
Gaetz told his colleagues after his swearing-in that "I cannot go home to Niceville with the excuse that I did nothing about job growth and blame the Democrats. ... The people who sent you here want solutions, not excuses."
After the 2010 elections, then-Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Republican, proclaimed that the Senate was the most conservative ever in the history of the state. In tandem with Gov. Rick Scott, lawmakers approved a long list of contentious proposals, including a measure that cut the number of days available for early voting.
Lawmakers overrode objections by Democrats as they forced public employees to start paying for their pensions and put on the ballot a number of proposed constitutional amendments including measures dealing with abortion, the federal health care overhaul and private-school vouchers.
Most of the amendments, however, were soundly rejected by voters. Democrats picked up seats in the Florida Senate for the first time in 30 years while the Republican in line to become speaker in two years was defeated.