[UPDATE] Scott Not the Only Millionaire Coming to Capitol

By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida Email
By: John Kennedy, The News Service of Florida Email

Tallahassee, FL - With multi-millionaire Republican Rick Scott heading into the governor’s office, Florida voters also are turning to a Legislature packed with millionaires to lead the state out of its long and deep economic trench.

A News Service of Florida review of financial disclosure reports filed by lawmakers shows that almost half of the Florida Senate and more than one-third of state House members have a net worth topping $1 million.

But perhaps more reflective of a state with a million people out of work and home foreclosures among the worst in the nation, another half-dozen lawmakers are reporting negative net worth, with more liabilities than assets. Such signs of red ink are rare among state elected officials but in most cases, the current roster involves lawmakers heavily mortgaged on homes with plummeting values.

“You see it all in this state, in this economy, so I guess you’d see it in the Legislature, too,” said Sean Snaith, a University of Central Florida economist.

“For the wealthier legislators, maybe they’re able to win saying they can transfer a set of skills from business to politics,” he added. “We’ve already heard Scott say you can run state government like a business.

And what of those whose finances have been buffeted by the tough economy? Snaith says they may legislative differently.

“For legislators financially underwater, you’d think these guys come in feeling empathetic to those out of work or facing foreclosure,” he said.

The wealthiest lawmakers in the Senate and House, respectively, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, both made millions from business sales in recent years.

Florida’s wealthiest official with a reported net worth of $21.4 million, Gaetz in 2004 sold his interest in a hospice services company that he started and owned for 21 years. Brandes, who is worth $11.7 million, benefited from the sale of his family’s lumber company four years ago.

Both men now have extensive real estate and investment holdings.

For his part, Gaetz has plenty of wealthy company in the Senate, where 18 of the current 39 members are millionaires.

In the 120-member House, 34 have a net worth in excess of $1 million -- with half of the House millionaires, like Brandes, part of the chamber’s freshman class swept into office earlier this month. Some, however, like new Reps. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, and Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, are returning to the Legislature after being out of office a few years.

Unlike Scott, who spent $73 million from his own pocket on his own campaign, none of the Legislature’s millionaires spent heavily in their races. But like Scott, who as a candidate pointed to his business success as proof that he could turn around a state staggered by nearly 12 percent unemployment, wealthier representatives and senators may have carried a certain aura with voters this campaign season when the economy took center stage.

Gaetz, however, said his bankbook had little to do with his political popularity.

“I don’t believe the people of Northwest Florida elected me to the Senate because of my wealth,” said Gaetz, elected without opposition to a second, four-year term. “They elected me because we shared the same values.”

Gaetz also said he doesn’t think his wealth shields him from understanding difficulties faced by Floridians in a down economy. He chaired a Senate select committee on the economy the past two years and is now playing a central role in legislative efforts to rein-in Medicaid spending.

“The greatest danger for losing touch with the needs and aspirations of the people is not that someone is successful, but it’s a politician who begins to breath totally his own carbon dioxide,” Gaetz said. “I’ve seen elected officials of very modest means get very full of themselves.”

Brandes said the Legislature’s concentration of wealthier Floridians is a product of the time-consuming task of being a lawmaker.

“The demands of the job are full-time, but the pay is part-time,” Brandes said. “You have to be successful and relatively comfortable to run for office. That’s not necessarily right, but it is what it is.”

But several House members’ belie Brandes’ theory. Reps. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, James Grant, R-Tampa, Matt Caldwell, R-Fort Myers, Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, Matt Hudson, R-Naples, and Jose Diaz, R-Miami, all reported a negative net worth cause generally by mortgage or student-loan debt.

Caldwell, newly elected from economically battered Lee County, said he feels very representative of his constituents in a county that has led the nation with the highest rates of foreclosures.

“We bought a home in 2005 and got a $150,000 mortgage, and the house is now worth $35,000,” said Caldwell, a real estate appraiser, whose liabilities outstrip his assets and other holdings by $94,326, making him the poorest state legislator.

“Our area is the epicenter of underwater, and I certainly have an appreciation for what people are going through,” Caldwell added. “But it’s also shown me what an effect property taxes can have. If you can reduce people’s carrying costs, then maybe we’re able to start selling and getting some of these homes off the market.”

Lawmakers frequently enact policies with a “ripped from the headlines” perspective that seems heavily influenced by their own experiences. But Karen Woodall, who has long lobbied for low-income Floridians and now works with the liberal-leaning Florida Center on Fiscal and Economic Policy, said it may be hard to predict how the Legislature’s millionaires will rule.

“We’ve seen wealthy legislators who were very progressive and caring to those in need,” Woodall said. “Other times, we’ve had legislators who came up from nothing, but seem to think everybody ought to be able to do what they did.

“All we can do now is watch how they vote,” Woodall said. “We’ll know more about the effect of all these millionaires following the (spring) session.”

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Close to half of the Florida Senate and almost one-third of state House members are millionaires, with this month’s elections sweeping a number of wealthier lawmakers into office, state financial disclosure reports show.

Here is a look at Florida’s wealthiest senators and representatives.

Senator Net Worth

Sen. Don Gaetz $21.4 million
R-Niceville

Sen. Jeremy Ring $18.6 million
D-Margate

Sen. J.D. Alexander $8.9 million
R-Winter Haven

Sen. Eleanor Sobel $7.2 million
D-Hollywood

Sen. John Thrasher $7 million
R-St. Augustine

Sen. David Simmons $6.8 million
R-Altamonte Springs

Sen. Garrett Richter $5.3 million
R-Naples

Sen. Jack Latvala $5.2 million
R-Palm Harbor

Sen. Gwen Margolis $5.1 million
D-Miami Beach

Sen. Mike Bennett $3.1 million
R-Bradenton

Representative Net Worth

Rep. Jeff Brandes $11.7 million
R-St. Petersburg

Rep. Irv Slosberg $7.7 million
D-Boca Raton

Rep. Dennis Baxley $6.8 million
R-Ocala

Rep. Bill Hager $6.6 million
R-Boca Raton

Rep. Paige Kreegel $6.1 million
R-Punta Gorda

Rep. Scott Plakon $5.4 million
R-Longwood

Rep. Jimmy Patronis $5.3 million
R-Panama City

Rep. Ken Roberson $5.1 million
R-Port Charlotte

Rep. John Wood $4.8 million
R-Haines City

Rep. Tom Goodson $4.1 million
R-Titusville


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by joe Location: tallahassee on Mar 21, 2011 at 08:04 PM
    explain how the Bush family ruined the economy? You have to be kidding. Read the news..Mission Accomplished.
  • by JM on Nov 24, 2010 at 03:26 PM
    Danno, I don't know how you arrive at your conclusion that wealthy Democrats care more about the poor than wealthy Republicans - actually I do know - but nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, wealthy Democrats care about perpetuating, among the poor and politically naive, a dependence on the government and a belief that one must have help from the government to succeed. They care about putting in place a large web of goverment aid that will come to be thought of as a right, and creating an entitlement mentality amongst their consitutents that will automatically frame anyone as a villain who dares suggest a lesser role for government and a greater focus on self reliance. Why do they do this? Because it portrays them as heroes to the less educated, less politically savvy voters who don't see through their devious, "say anything, do anything" strategy for retaining politial power. In short, it assures them a perpetual voting block.
  • by ERNIE Location: poorville on Nov 24, 2010 at 01:47 PM
    my unemployment will run out next week. merry xmas, u peoplw with jobs.
  • by gov scott Location: capital on Nov 24, 2010 at 11:57 AM
    you people need to go to work instead of complaining about no jobs out there. I know people will take any job if they get hungry enough. merry xmas.
  • by terri Location: fla on Nov 24, 2010 at 11:33 AM
    the voters in america are so blind.
  • by Pokey Location: Florida on Nov 24, 2010 at 10:54 AM
    Old adage question so true... "How can you tell when a politician is lieing?" SIMPLE, Their lips are moving. And for those making good salaries, I make about $12,000 a year working. You think it is easy to live on that when many welfare recipients are getting twice that amount in cash and benefits.
  • by tally Location: Tallahassee on Nov 24, 2010 at 10:26 AM
    I don't think anyone is anti-wealth. I think working people are frustrated that the top 1% of this country in income doesn't seem to care about the other 99% (with exceptions of course), which of course is their right; just don't expect any sympathy when the government comes knocking for its share. As for Rick Scott, a man who stole money from taxpayers, who just recently retired to Naples less than 10 years ago, whose children were not educated here, who has no real stake in the future of this state...I'm sure he'll do a great job for the citizens of Florida.
  • by Government of the people? on Nov 24, 2010 at 09:46 AM
    Government of the people for the people? That is long gone and dead. You have to have mucho $$$ to get elected. Rich get richer then take over government to tell now the working class should live.
  • by will Location: ga on Nov 24, 2010 at 06:59 AM
    enjoy your crooked governer. tax the rich.
  • by @Anonymous on Nov 24, 2010 at 08:38 AM on Nov 24, 2010 at 06:09 AM
    I earn over 60K annually myself, and I work hard, long hours to earn that money. I started saving and investing in my mid 30's. I am now 44, and I do not see that I will enjoy a $M or more in assets by the time I am in my late 50's or early 60's, much less retirement age. For the past two and a half years, my 401(k) has lost about as much money as I've put into it, with the exception of maybe a couple of quarters. One of my savings accounts used to provide 3.5% APR, now it's down to 1.1% APR. I have nothing against the wealthy - many of them worked hard to get where they are; and I work hard for what I do have. However, when CEOs and members of the Board make up to 550 times the compensation & benefits of the people who perform the hard work/make the products, there is a problem. When less than 1% of the population control over 50% of the money, there is a problem. There are problems with the distribution of wealth in this country, that need to be addressed in a fair manner.
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