Born in 1953, I became a part of the Baby Boom generation as WWII ended and the United States was enjoying tremendous growth and prosperity. Everyone knew that if you worked hard anything was possible. My parents were no exception. My dad, a veteran of WWII and the Korean War, was an eye doctor and my mother a nurse. Their parents came to the United States from Italy and Ireland through Ellis Island in the 1920’s. My dad’s father worked on the Erie Lakawanna Railroad and my mom’s dad was a fireman in Brooklyn. They worked hard to give their children the American Dream and from those humble beginnings my parents were able to make sure their children got a good education and knew the meaning of hard work and community.
My parents were goal-oriented and determined to make a better life for their children. From a very young age, I was taught that the key to success is working hard, giving back to your community and that the most important assets you will ever have are your reputation and your integrity. Those simple principles have lead me well and guided all of my decisions over the years.
I graduated in 1975 from Trinity College (now University) in Washington, D.C. My college years (the Nixon White House years) in our Nation’s Capital were characterized by long hours in the library followed by marathon discussions about politics, the Vietnam War and an emerging awareness of conservative values focused on limited government, strong national defense and family values which form the core of my political philosophy today.
After graduating from college, I spent eight months backpacking in Southeast Asia, trekking in Nepal, hiking in Thailand and was almost swept away by a Tsunami in Malaysia!
I received my law degree from Stetson University College of Law in December, 1978 and married my husband, John, the following September. We moved to Naples the day after our wedding. Our honeymoon consisted of driving from New Jersey to Florida in my old Mercury Capri with all my worldly possessions crammed into a U-Haul.
Those early years were not easy. We were new in town and it was difficult to make ends meet, but we worked long hours and saved our money. There were weeks where we didn’t eat much as we each struggled to build successful law practices from the ground up. John specialized in Zoning and Land Use Law and I built my practice around Real Estate and Business law.
My profession is important to me and I worked hard at it. I was in the first group of attorneys in the State who obtained Board Certification in Real Estate Law. I was also honored to be elected by my peers to serve as President of the Collier County Bar Association and of the Collier County Women’s Bar Association.
As my career progressed I was mindful of my parents’ teaching to give back to the community, and I did just that over the past 36 years by using my background and legal skills to help almost 100 business, civic and charitable organizations with their corporate documents and governance structure. From creating the Collier County Juvenile Justice Council to serving as Co-Chair of the Community Engagement Initiative of the Education Foundation of Collier County-Champions for Learning (“Connect Now”); as President of the Southwest Florida Land Preservation Trust to chairing the Board of The United Way of Collier County, I had the opportunity to work with citizens from all over Southwest Florida with a common goal of making our community a better place to live, work and raise a family.
To further immerse myself in the community I participated in Leadership Florida Class XII, Leadership Collier Class of 1991 and Leadership Marco Island Class of 2014 and served on the Leadership Collier Foundation Board for many years.
Through these leadership positions and volunteer opportunities I have worked with a diverse and wide ranging group of citizens who have helped me to appreciate and understand the community of Southwest Florida-its rich and vibrant history and its path to the future.
Along the way John and I had three daughters, Catarina, Francesca and Gabriella. All three of them were into soccer and track and played on some pretty good teams at Naples High. Needless to say, almost every weekend we spent driving all over the state to soccer games or track meets. Catarina and her husband now live in Oxford, Mississippi where she teaches at the University of Mississippi and runs ragged after the new love of my life, my grandson William. Francesca graduated from UF Law and also obtained a Masters of Science in Real Estate. She has returned to Naples and is practicing law with one of the best firms in town.Gabriella recently graduated from UF and is now attending Washington & Lee University College of Law in Lexington, Virginia. I am so very proud of my children and their accomplishments and am looking forward to seeing them make their own way in the world.
I have always had the desire to run for public office to take what I’ve learned at the local level to serve my community at the state level but didn’t feel the timing was right until 2010. At that point my two oldest were out of the house and well on their way and my youngest daughter had just finished high school and was off to college….I became an “empty nester.” My law practice which had been hectic, fast-paced and non-stop for 30 years began to slow down during the economic downturn and nearing age 60 I thought maybe it was time to start thinking about retirement….But I ran for office instead and it was the best move I could have made. I was elected to the Florida House in 2010 and haven’t looked back.
As a member of the Florida House of Representatives I focused on issues and legislation that are important to my community and were brought to me by friends, neighbors and colleagues from Southwest Florida. One such piece of signature legislation was the Foreclosure reform bill that grew out of a partnership I helped form of community, civic and governmental organizations to provide pro bono advice and assistance to people living in Collier County facing foreclosure. Another community partnership in which I became involved, the Identity Theft Task Force came about as a result of the burgeoning incidents of Identity Theft in our community. With the help of the Task Force, I sponsored a bill which passed this Session unanimously and provides significant changes to the Florida fraud statutes, helping protect the identities of individuals and business entities and enabling them to restore their rights after the theft has occurred.
Passionate about protecting our elderly population, I sponsored two bills to provide greater oversight of guardians appointed to manage the affairs of these citizens. Throughout the State of Florida some of our most vulnerable citizens are being victimized by the very individuals appointed to protect their interests. The courts will now be able to fully audit guardianship accounts to confirm that expenditures are proper and lawful. This bill reflects a cooperative effort with the Clerks of Courts to provide additional scrutiny over guardians appointed to manage the affairs of vulnerable citizens. Legislation I sponsored this year sets standards for appointment of guardians and clarifies the duties and obligations guardians have to their wards. During the 2014 Session I sponsored legislation to put in place greater penalties for those who financially exploit our vulnerable citizens. Elder financial exploitation, the so-called “Crime of the 21st Century”, is a serious issue facing Florida and the nation and is increasing as the population ages. The new law closes loopholes that scammers had used to avoid prosecution and provides comprehensive protection from these thieves.
I also sponsored a number of business-friendly bills, including much-needed changes to Florida law regarding construction defects, title insurance and lawsuits that cost businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars.
After having been elected to the State Senate in 2016, I’m excited and energized to continue bringing meaningful reforms to Florida citizens. I’ve already made clear my commitment to keep taxes low and protect vulnerable citizens through my first legislative actions as a Senator, and I look forward to continuing that fight. You can support my efforts in the State Senate by clicking here.
There’s a lot of work to be done, but I couldn’t be more proud to represent Southwest Florida in the State Senate.