In his first TV ad of the campaign, state Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, assumed the persona of a math teacher. First, he was shown working feverishly at his desk. Then, after writing a series of numbers on a white board, he turned to the camera and said, “When government does the math, it never adds up.”
A moment later, he declared: “It’s time to make the numbers work for us.”
The portrayal is real. Hager, who represents District 89 in the Florida House, used to be a middle school math teacher. And he prides himself on balancing budgets and supporting cutbacks in state spending that have slashed potential deficits while still delivering constituent services.
“Two years ago, when it appeared the state would have a $4 billion shortfall, we didn’t call on China. We cut another $4 billion,” he said. “Last year, when it appeared we’d have a $2 billion shortfall, we didn’t call on China. We cut another $2 billion. We are dead serious about being prudent and responsible.
“The very day the federal government’s bond rating was decreased, Florida’s rating was upgraded to AAA. We have done our homework and balanced budgets.”
Florida is coming back from the depths of recession, Hager said.
“It has the fifth lowest taxes in the U.S., the lowest ratio of state workers to residents, a balanced budget and an AAA bond rating,” he said. “It is well governed.”
Hager said he is also “serious about stopping job-killing regulations.” Since he arrived, he said, lawmakers have dropped 4,100 of the obstacles, some as silly as a 19-page rule on the transport of frozen desserts.
Looking back, “I’ve enjoyed the first two years,” said Hager, who won the House seat in 2010, succeeding term-limited Republican Adam Hasner. The 65-year-old lawmaker had just finished serving seven years on the Boca Raton City Council when the post opened.
Both on the council and in the House, the father of two adult daughters is known for supporting children’s protection issues. As a councilman, he sponsored an ordinance that kept predators away from schools. He also filed Boca Raton’s first ethics ordinance and is an outspoken advocate for transparency in government.
When elected, Hager represented what was then District 87 before it was redrawn through redistricting. The incumbent said his turf hasn’t changed a lot, though the Broward County section was lopped off. District 89 is wholly in Palm Beach County.
In the House, Hager quickly got his political sea legs and drafted a bill that gained national attention. “Caylee’s Law,” passed in the Florida Legislature after the controversial Casey Anthony child-murder case drew widespread outrage, makes it a felony for parents not to report a missing child.
“I feel this is an important bill,” Hager said, adding he was not disputing Casey Anthony’s acquittal, but was merely addressing a concern raised at trial.
The measure won the Florida legislator praise from TV commentator Bill O’Reilly.
Hager was also responsible for a law that bans the use of tobacco products by anyone on school district property. Previously, only minors were not allowed to smoke. The legislation expanded the prohibition to all tobacco use on any district property.
He also co-sponsored a bill to reform Florida’s no-fault auto insurance program by revising the personal injury protection mandate.
A bill aimed at early detection of autism is back on Hager’s top-do list for the 2013 session, having failed to pass last spring.
Hager won the House seat two years ago by defeating a little-known Democratic challenger, Hava Holzhauer. This year, a more seasoned veteran from the political trenches, Tom Gustafson, is looking for a Democratic takeover in District 89.
But he’s a newcomer to the race. The Palm Beach County Democratic Executive Committee selected Gustafson, a former House speaker, to oppose Hager after declared candidate Pamela Goodman withdrew because of concerns about her husband’s health.
The reserved and rarely critical Hager took a parting shot at his opponent, saying Gustafson “is clearly a carpetbagger.”
“He lives in Wellington, 50 miles from the district, and has been out of politics for a quarter-century,” Hager said.