There were signs in 2009 that then-Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom had used his power several years earlier to funnel tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, including $6 million for an airport building that a private developer wanted to use for his corporate jet business.
Although Sansom insisted he had acted properly, the man who was then chairman of the House’s Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct did not agree and was relentless in moving the rule and ethics violation allegations forward.
He will be looking out for the people of the state. He will not give Manatee County everything it wants because it is Manatee. If it’s correct, if it’s the right thing to do, he will do it. I do expect some considerations but he is not going up there just for Manatee County.
Michael Bennett on Bill Galvano
That chairman was a lawyer from Bradenton named Bill Galvano.
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Galvano will replace Joe Negron as Florida Senate president in 2018 and become the person who sets the agenda and priorities for the Senate, appoints committee chairs, references all the bills and negotiates with the federal government.
His colleagues and community leaders believe he fits the bill.
“Bill picked up the ball and did the stuff Ray couldn’t do,” former state Sen. Pat Neal of Bradenton said Monday. “As rules chairman, Bill handled it and did a great job. He was conscientious, stable, calm and, overall, he was effective because he was respected by members of the House.”
Said Negron: “Sen. Galvano is known for his thorough preparation and mastery of details on any project he takes on. He has a track record of tackling complex issues in a fair and responsible manner.”
It was the ability of then-Rep. Galvano, R-Bradenton, to galvanize opinion in the House that Sansom’s conduct was unethical, inexcusable and couldn’t be ignored, which ultimately led to Sansom’s abrupt resignation as speaker in February 2010, said Neal, a Manatee County real estate developer.
Neal and other Manatee community leaders are not surprised that Galvano, who has been a state senator since 2012 after serving in the House from 2002 to 2010, has acquired the backing he needs from his colleagues to be named president-designate of the Florida Senate during a ceremony Tuesday in Tallahassee.
It’s a remarkable ascension for the partner at the Bradenton law firm of Grimes Goebel Grimes Hawkins Gladfelter & Galvano.
“Bill Galvano will be the No. 2 guy in state government,” Neal said. “He will do a lot of good for our state and our community. He is very well qualified to do the job. He has a desire to serve the people of our state.”
The eve of his designation ceremony was a busy one in Tallahassee, Galvano said Monday. A reception with his colleagues and the number of community leaders who have traveled from Manatee County “inspired” him.
The time between now and when he takes the helm will be an opportunity to show his peers what kind of leader he wants to be.
“I want to empower my fellow senators, maximize their contribution to the process and will convey that message (Tuesday) when I speak,” Galvano said.
He noted some issues to address, such as infrastructure in the wake of Hurricane Irma that had pounded southwest Florida, agriculture and the citrus industry, as well as security for ports, schools, neighborhoods and online.
“I’m looking for innovative new ideas,” he said.
Manatee County is Galvano’s home and has provided him with a strong foundation for working with community leaders, he said.
“This next step just means that I will listen even more and work with our government and community leaders to truly prioritize what is important, not just our county but our region,” he said.
Galvano helped Turning Points
Adell Erozer, executive director of Turning Points at the Bill Galvano One Stop Center in Bradenton, is among those excited at Galvano’s ascension — from a tall and skinny lad who used to relish playing President Abe Lincoln at Manatee Community College, to the second-most powerful politician in the state behind Gov. Rick Scott.
In the mid-2000s, Turning Points, which helps those who are homeless or in danger of being homeless, signed a contract to buy a building at 701 17th Ave. W., that had been empty for years after stints as a grocery store and a furniture store.
“We had a small down payment and a big debt,” Erozer said. “We were working on faith.”
Bill Galvano will be the No. 2 guy in state government. He is very well qualified to do the job. He has a desire to serve the people of our state.
Turning Points wrote grants through the city of Bradenton and the state to get funding to help pay off the not-for-profit’s building debt.
“Bill was instrumental in helping get the funding part from the state to purchase the building,” Erozer said, noting that private contributions and government grants eventually wiped out about $1.2 million in debt.
“Bill was sponsoring the legislation and pushing it through,” Erozer said. “He was asking for special project money.”
To recognize his contribution, the One Stop Center was named for Galvano.
Galvano’s effectiveness in the case of Turning Points left Erozer with the notion that he has a knack for getting things done at high levels.
“That’s his forte,” Erozer said. “He has the ability to put aside egos and the political issues and get down to what is the best for the constituents. He keeps his focus on what is best for the people, not necessarily what is best for his party. When you approach it that way, you are able to bring people together.
“He has a very cool and deliberate manner,” Erozer said. “He doesn’t get excited about things. He gets all the information and makes a decision. He listens to all sides. He is a real leader.”
On Facebook, Galvano says his mentors are his father, golf innovator Phil Galvano, who passed away in 1996; and Bradenton’s John McKay, a real estate executive who himself was Senate president 2000 through 2002.
“We are friends,” McKay said of his relationship with Galvano. “Saying he is my protege would be misrepresenting it.”
McKay can relate to the challenges
Perhaps more than anyone else, McKay understands what challenges are ahead for Galvano.
“Looking at history, maybe some of the challenges Bill will face will be some of the same ones I faced,” McKay said. “Worker’s compensation, medical malpractice, funding the education system properly and the needs of the disabled. Those are challenges the state constantly faces.”
Galvano will have to decide how to spread a finite amount of money among an infinite amount of needs, McKay noted.
But, he added, Galvano has the tools to do it.
“Bill is calm, cool and collected,” McKay said. “When you have people coming at you from multiple directions, which happens in that position, it is beneficial to the Senate and state to have those characteristics. If you are a hothead or impetuous, which Bill is not, it doesn’t work.”
Don’t expect a free ride
Former state Sen. Michael Bennett, now the supervisor of elections in Manatee County, on Monday cautioned Manatee residents that Galvano won’t be a pushover for the county’s interests, even though Galvano has had a love affair with Manatee County that started early.
“He will be looking out for the people of the state,” Bennett said. “He will not give Manatee County everything it wants because it is Manatee. If it’s correct, if it’s the right thing to do, he will do it. I do expect some considerations, but he is not going up there just for Manatee County.”
McKay echoed that sentiment.
“He is not the Senate president for Manatee County,” he said. “But he also has a district here that he represents and, with his additional influence, that has to have significant benefit to Manatee County.”
Galvano was a member of the Manatee County Young Republicans when he was just starting out in the business world locally and, before that, in the early 1980s, he was a member of Youth for Reagan.
Galvano’s love for Lincoln, whose Gettysburg Address he used to recite, and for Reagan, led him to first run for office in 2002, coming up victorious on his first try for a seat in the Florida House.
“Bill has a huge history with the Republican Party,” Neal said. “My first experience with him was at Manatee Community College where he would portray Abe Lincoln. He was tall and skinny and wore a big top hat. He was 19. He knew all of Abe’s speeches.”
Bennett is unabashed in his predictions for Galvano.
“I’m really excited,” Bennett said. “He will be a great president. He’s not afraid to take on tough issues. He is very, very calculating. He processes things before he acts. He’s going to do a wonderful job.”
Washington in his future?
Smart. Hardworking. Likable. These are all the qualities that Dan Miller thinks make a good leader, and he sees them in Galvano.
Dan Miller, who served as a U.S. representative in the 1990s and early 2000s before Katherine Harris, has known Galvano since 1992, when he worked on Miller’s first congressional campaign.
“He was an up and comer,” he said. “He was a lawyer with ambition, and he worked his way up.”
Galvano will term out his time in the Florida Senate on a high note.
Miller said Galvano has never had a scandal — save for leading a walkout over disagreements with redistricting in 2015 and rejecting an “out of order” amendment that would have restored $222.5 million to the Florida Forever fund in 2016 because the Senate budget would not be balanced.
The last person to represent Manatee County as Senate president was John McKay from 2001-02. Miller said there’s a sort of pull a Senate leader could have for their home community.
“When Ralph Haben was speaker of the House, he got us a civic center,” he said. “When John McKay was president of the Senate, he got Ringling to be absorbed by FSU, and Ringling was struggling back then.”
So far in the current Legislature, Galvano has sponsored a bill called the “Florida Excellence in Higher Education Act of 2018,” which could open up the allowable period for college students to use Bright Futures scholarships in the summer and make universities seek out internship opportunities for high-demand fields.
“When we put focus on higher ed and expand programs like Bright Futures, while at the same time increasing need-based aid, we’re creating opportunities for Floridians,” Galvano said of his bill, adding the importance of attracting and keeping the best in state.
Galvano is also an honorary trustee on Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium’s board of trustees.
“They’re influential in whatever they set as their goals,” Miller said. “They’re the ones making the decisions up there.”
Miller said he could even see Galvano in Washington, D.C., someday.
“He’d be a good one to succeed (Rep.) Vern (Buchanan) when Vern retires,” he said.