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Politics / Issues

Nancy Detert to Leave Senate Early for County Commission Bid

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Nancy Detert

State Sen. Nancy Detert will end her legislative career in 2016 --- two years before term limits would have forced her to step down --- and run for the Sarasota County Commission.

The widely anticipated move, announced Thursday, came on the eve of a special legislative session next month to draw a new map for Florida's Senate districts, and Detert, R-Venice, said the timing of her announcement was deliberate.

"I got to thinking, 'I would like to put it behind me and put it to rest once and for all, but probably it's a good idea to do that before we start drawing maps,' " she told The News Service of Florida. "Because then, I would have had more questions about whether I'm drawing a map to benefit myself --- everyone will know the answer is no." She laughed. "That helps."

Her plans have been closely monitored because of their potential impact on the bitter race to become Senate president after the 2016 elections. The race pits Detert's longtime ally, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, against Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

But Detert said she didn't expect her departure to change the outcome. "Hopefully, my replacement will also support Senator Latvala," she said.

There's no guarantee. Former state Rep. Doug Holder, R-Venice, and former Sarasota mayor Nora Patterson, also a Republican, have opened campaign accounts to run in 2018 for Detert's District 28 seat, which represents Sarasota County and part of Charlotte County. They will be able to shift to the 2016 race to replace Detert, and Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, also is expected to run.

"People are vying for that seat," Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said. "But remember, we are going to go into a special session next month, and there is a possibility that the district she now represents will not look the same."

Detert was first elected to the Florida House in 1998, served four terms and was elected to the Senate in 2008. She was re-elected without opposition in 2012 and in 2014. While senators typically have four-year terms, redistricting in 2012 caused Detert to have a two-year term and then to run again. That also made her eligible to serve 10 years in the Senate, rather than the standard eight.

A moderate Republican, she supports abortion rights and has opposed school vouchers. A mortgage broker, she chairs the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee and sits on the board of the economic-development agency Enterprise Florida.

Detert has been heavily involved in children's issues, especially two laws passed in 2013. One was the so-called "normalcy bill," which gave foster parents more decision-making power over their kids' activities. The other was a measure that gave foster youths the option of staying in state care until age 21.

"Her efforts to ensure foster children have a better opportunity to participate in the normal day-to-day activities children enjoy, like getting a driver's license, going on a field trip, or spending the afternoon at a friend's house, will have a lasting impact on children throughout our state long after her career in the Senate comes to an end,” Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said.

Detert is also identified with a 2013 ban on texting while driving, which passed in the fifth year she sponsored it.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, called Detert "no-nonsense Nancy."

"She is a study in legislative contrast," Gaetz, a former Senate president, said. "On what you would call 'hard' issues --- business, economic development --- she is one of the toughest-minded legislators in the modern history of our state. When it comes to children's issues, whether it's foster care or education, she is not just soft-hearted but deeply compassionate."

Despite her successes, Detert said the time is coming when an independent streak like hers will be a greater liability in the Legislature.

"I've been able to do a lot of great things thanks to the leadership I've had in the Senate," she said. "But when I look to the future, I don't see an atmosphere I could flourish in. …I think we have leadership coming in that is intolerant, inflexible and too rigid."

Moreover, she's already focused on a project she hopes to develop as a member of the Sarasota County Commission: Little Salt Spring, an archeological dig in Northport, which she described as the "least prosperous area of the county." She said she envisions the dig as also being a magnet for eco-tourism and a scientific education center.

"I understand what she wants to accomplish locally," said Galvano, who represents neighboring District 26. "But Nancy Detert is one of the most effective, hard-working lawmakers I've ever encountered. … I'm going to miss serving with her."