Florida State Sen. Don Gaetz, a former school superintendent from Northwest Florida, was chosen by Senate Republicans on Monday to serve as the next Senate President.
Republicans hold a significant 28-12 edge in the state Senate, meaning that Gaetz is all but assured of assuming the post after next year's elections. Gaetz will hold one of the most powerful spots in state government for two years.
Gaetz would succeed Senate President Mike Haridopolos in November 2012.
Gaetz, 63, was first elected to the state Senate in 2006. Gaetz, who helped start a successful hospice company, began his political career on the Okaloosa County school board and was also elected school superintendent in that county. His father was a mayor from North Dakota who died unexpectedly during the state GOP convention in 1964.
During his remarks, Gaetz said unemployment and reviving the state's moribund economy will guide his agenda during his stint as Senate president. He said the state was not doing enough to attract Fortune 500 companies to move here.
Gaetz, who gave his remarks in front of a packed Senate chamber that featured friends, family and politicians such as Gov. Rick Scott, also took aim at the state's university system.
Gaetz charged that Florida's universities are not producing the right type of graduates needed to fill jobs in emerging science and technology fields. He complained that Florida's colleges are turning out students who know how to use their Facebook pages but lack the technical skills demanded in the 21st Century.
"It is time to inject urgency and relevancy into our universities," Gaetz said.
Gaetz did not give any specifics on his plans to change the state university system. But he also stressed the need to make government more trustworthy and ethical. State lawmakers in recent years have rejected calls to bolster the state's ethics laws.
Scott said that he agrees with Gaetz that more needs to be done to attract companies to Florida by making changes to the state's higher education system. Scott has shared his interest in Texas' higher education reform plan with Florida university officials recently, which includes proposals such as a merit-pay system for professors and weakening tenure.
"It's going to be a key to getting companies to move here," Scott said. "'I'm real excited about having someone as Senate president who has that focus."