Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo to lead Florida Senate
Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo was formally selected Tuesday to become the next president of the Florida Senate --- and only the third woman to hold one of the most-powerful positions in the state.
After being designated by Republican senators to become president after the 2022 elections, Passidomo, 68, praised the efforts of state leaders to put Florida “well on our way to recovery” as it endures a second year of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
But she said work remains and drew comparisons with California, a frequent target of many Florida Republicans.
“We must keep energy affordable and reliable. We must support our farmers, for they produce the food we eat and the nutrients we drink,” Passidomo said during a Republican caucus meeting in the Senate chamber. “We must demand affordable housing so that our workforce has a safe place to rest at night and care for their families. We must ensure that our health care system can care for the sick and injured. We must protect the vulnerable from bad actors who prey on them. And we must do all of this while protecting and preserving what makes Florida so special --- its beauty, its land, its water and its wildlife.”
Passidomo pointed to a July article in The Atlantic by Conor Friedersdorf titled, “The California Dream is Dying.”
“This is the tale of two states. Both offered natural beauty, plentiful food and the promise of great opportunities. For 100 years, people flocked to these two states to find a better life, to build a better career and to provide a better future for their children,” Passidomo said. “But in California, something went terribly wrong. No one fought to protect the California dream. No one balanced the priorities of the state and worked to meet the needs of its residents, while preserving and protecting what made it special. Here in Florida, the Florida dream is alive and well. But we cannot take that for granted.”
Asked after the meeting about plans to protect Florida from rising insurance and housing costs and about its economic reliance on tourism, Passidomo said lawmakers “will come up with creative solutions and ideas.”
“Part of the problem with government is we tend to get into a box,” Passidomo told reporters. “I’ve got a lot of members on my Senate team that are doing a lot of thinking. … We’re going to come up with a joint work plan. I've been talking about affordable housing for 40 years. Now, I’ll have an opportunity to try to do something about it.”
An attorney, Passidomo was elected to the state House in 2010 and moved to the Senate in 2016. She will preside over the Senate during the 2023 and 2024 legislative sessions. Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, will continue to hold the gavel during the upcoming 2022 session.
Tuesday’s meeting was largely ceremonial, as Passidomo had long nailed down the support of Senate Republicans to become the next president.
During the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield, R-Indialantic, talked of Passidomo mixing a love for cooking, particularly meatballs and lasagna, with bringing lawmakers together.
“During our first term in the Senate. I remember she prepared a big Italian feast in the lounge behind this chamber. In between debate votes, we stepped behind this wall to enjoy her food and fellowship. And doing so we came together, we strengthened our relationships with one another,” Mayfield said. “Kathleen continues to cook for us every session making us a strong family year after year. It's obvious to me that Kathleen will travel great distances for the people she loves. And clearly she has the recipe for success.”
Simpson, who is running for state agriculture commissioner in 2022, talked about Passidomo’s work ethic. She served as majority leader from 2018 to 2020 and now chairs the powerful Rules Committee.
Simpson, also a former majority leader, said that in the role, “You have to learn which senators you can call at 2 a.m., 1 a.m. And which ones do you start calling at 5 a.m. to get something completed. When I was majority leader, you can call Kathleen on either end of that spectrum. She works tirelessly, daylight to dark. Way beyond dark. Way before daylight.”
Passidomo said she was “humbled” to follow the two previous women Senate presidents: the late Miami-Dade County Democrat Gwen Margolis, who was president in the 1991 and 1992 sessions, and Orlando Republican Toni Jennings, who presided over the Senate for two terms from 1996 to 2000 and later served as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Jeb Bush.
“I’m proud to honor President Jennings and join the ranks of the women leaders who have worn this symbol before me,” Passidomo said, noting that a Liberty Eagle pin she was wearing Tuesday was the one Jennings wore in a portrait that hangs in the Senate chamber.
But Passidomo said later she doesn’t think of herself as the third woman president.
“I feel like I’m a legislator,” Passidomo told reporters.
“I practiced law for 40-some odd years now,” Passidomo continued. “And when I first started practicing, I was the only woman in the room. My goal was I either join them or get locked out. So, I worked with my male colleagues and was able to have a successful career. And I anticipate doing the same thing here in the Senate. I talked to President Jennings, and she's feisty as can be. And gave me some really good ideas. And I, I'm looking forward to working with everybody, but I'm not doing it just because I'm a woman.”
However, Passidomo acknowledged she hopes to be considered a role model so she can pass along the Liberty Eagle pin.
House Republicans have selected Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, to become House speaker after the 2022 elections. In her address Tuesday, Passidomo told Renner, who was seated in the front row, that House and Senate members say they will make a great team.
“Of that I am confident,” Passidomo said. “We share the same values and political philosophy. Your quiet wisdom will serve us well as we face as yet unknown challenges in the years ahead. Together, we’re going to accomplish great things for the state we know and love.”
Passidomo also thanked her family, including her father, Alfonse Cinotti, who will be 99 in three months and was seated in the chamber.
“Dad is the most vibrant, creative person I know,” Passidomo said. “He taught me that the keys to success are working hard and giving back to our community. Both he and my mom, after whom I was named, taught me at an early age that the most important assets I would ever have are my reputation and my integrity … and that I must always keep my sense of humor. Those are the principles I live by and will continue to honor during my Senate presidency.”
The New Jersey native settled in Southwest Florida in 1976, around the time she earned a law degree at Stetson University College of Law.