Nancy Detert, an authentic public servant

May 30, 2013 

Florida finally saw the wisdom in making our streets and highways safer by banning the irresponsible and reckless practice of texting and reading messages on cell phones while driving.

When Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law on Tuesday, he provided a long overdue victory to Sen. Nancy Detert, the Venice Republican who fought for the past five years to outlaw texting. Her sponsorship of this legislation gained renown as she debated her stubborn GOP colleagues time and time again over a sensible measure that should have passed years ago.

Detert, whose Senate district included a portion of Manatee County until the boundaries were redraw last year and she ran in another district, enjoyed a remarkable session in the Legislature.

The highest compliments of her success came from none other than Senate President Don Gaetz, who described her as "tough, principled, independent and absolutely fearless."

That she is, especially in bucking her own party the past two years in arguing against the controversial "parent-trigger" bill. This year she convinced six fellow Republicans to vote against this attempt to allow a majority of parents to convert a public school into a charter. But she only won by the narrowest of margins, both years on 20-20 votes on the Senate floor.

Even the parent-trigger bill's sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, paid tribute to Detert's tenacity and character, stating: "But she said what she thinks, and I respect that."

Detert flashed her sense of humor in response, calling her and Stargel "drama queens" while noting, "I will do battle, but I'm not attacking anyone personally. I'm pretty straightforward."

The 68-year-old Detert won the day on 12 of her 30 bills this past session, a strong record that includes two measures designed to improve the lives of foster care children -- one as they transition into adulthood. Gaetz renamed that latter bill to the "Nancy C. Detert Common Sense and Compassion Independence Living Act" out of his deep admiration for her.

"I was speechless," Detert told the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau in a Sunday report on her success this session.

She's been a public servant on and off since 1988, serving in the Florida House from 1998-2006 and in the Senate since 2008.

Her pragmatic side is reflected in her decision not to fight an amendment to her texting-while-driving bill that made the infraction a secondary offense, which means law enforcement cannot stop drivers on that basis alone.

But it's still a very positive development and could lead to a similar fate as Florida's seatbelt law, which also started as a secondary offense until morphing into a primary one.

A big salute to Nancy Detert. Her standing among her colleagues speaks volumes. Florida needs more elected officials with such a strong sense of public service instead of party politics.

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