Sen. Thrasher Chosen As New FSU President

By  //  September 25, 2014

Sen.  John Thrasher
Sen. John Thrasher

TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — A day after his selection as the 15th president of Florida State University, Sen. John Thrasher spent Wednesday hearing from well-wishers and education leaders offering advice.

Thrasher took care of one piece of business when he resigned as chairman of Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign. But he still has a Senate re-election campaign to run as he waits for approval of his appointment from the university system’s Board of Governors. He also has a six-figure contract to negotiate before becoming president.

And the 70-year-old former state House speaker, who received his undergraduate and law degrees at the Tallahassee school, said he is looking forward to attending a Seminoles home football game, having stayed away from the team while the presidential selection process was underway.

“I’d love to come back towards the end of next week and maybe go to the football game,” Thrasher told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview. “I haven’t been to one this year, and I’d like to do that.”

The powerful St. Augustine Republican, whose selection was greeted with derision by members of the campus faculty and students who wanted someone with an academic background, said he’s already making plans to meet with university officials and doesn’t expect any difficulties with upcoming talks on a contract that could start around $400,000.

“I won’t be a hard negotiator,” Thrasher said.

The contract is expected to be mostly complete before the university system’s Board of Governors meets in November.

wescott-building-sliderFSU Trustees Chairman Allan Bense, a former state House speaker whom Thrasher considers “a good friend,” was directed to handle the contract talks for the school. 

Thrasher, whose net worth as of June 10 was $6.6 million and whose key selling point for the presidency was a history of fundraising, said he wouldn’t have a problem with a contract that includes incentives.

The contract for former President Eric Barron, who left earlier this year to become president of Penn State University, included a bonus of $100,000 for each $100 million in fundraising.

Thrasher intends to meet Thursday with FSU Provost Garnett Stokes, who has served as interim president. Thrasher also intends to set up meetings with leaders on campus, including Faculty Senate President Gary Tyson, one of two trustees who voted against his selectionTuesday.

“We talked some last night, I certainly want to meet with many of his folks,” Thrasher said.

Before the trustees’ vote, Tyson expressed concern that Thrasher might cause many members of the Barron leadership team to seek new employment.

“This is the scary choice, not the safe choice,” Tyson said Tuesday.

Thrasher said his priorities include looking to improve faculty salaries and moving forward with a capital campaign. The school has set a fundraising goal of $1 billion.

“I’m reaching out to anybody who wants to help us,” Thrasher said. 

While planning to set up his on-campus office, Thrasher, who talked Tuesday night with Scott at the Governor’s Club in Tallahassee, also isn’t giving up his legislative position just yet. 

Since the Board of Governors isn’t expected to review the contract until a day after the Nov. 4 election, Thrasher intends to run for re-election for his Northeast Florida seat, where he is being challenged by lightly funded Democrat Kathleen Trued of St. Augustine and independent Greg Feldman of Palm Coast.

Rather than let local Republican Party leaders select a replacement who would run under his name, Thrasher said he’d prefer the next senator to be chosen by voters.

“I think I probably ought to prevail in the campaign, and then if I’m successful the day after with the Board of Governors, then I can submit my resignation and allow the governor to call a special election,” Thrasher said. “That way the person, whoever it is, can be vetted by the voters. This is for a four-year term in the Florida Senate. It’s a big deal in my opinion.”