Guest Author, Author at Florida Politics

Guest Author

Christian Cámara: No, white supremacists at Charlottesville were not ‘good people’

Christian Cámara

There is much emotion on both sides of the current debate over race relations, even among people of goodwill. There are contentious questions to address, such as: Should we remove Confederate statues? Should we allow racists to protest in public spaces? Are our elected leaders to blame for escalating tensions? Is one side more at fault for recent violence?

I think these are all fair questions that good people might disagree on without necessarily making them “Fake News-Loving Commies” or “Nazi-Sympathizing Racists.” Thankfully, those two groups represent a tiny fraction of the population, but they, unfortunately, generate most of the coverage.

Although I agree with much of the president’s response to Charlottesville, I fundamentally disagree with him on at least one statement: That there were good people on both sides.

I believe there are many decent, non-racists who oppose the removal of Confederate monuments, and some might have very well attended to protest the removal of the Lee statue. However, it is hard to believe that any good person would have stuck around more than five minutes after noticing that an innocent event to protest the removal of a statue was actually a grotesque gathering of Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists and other malcontents. Therefore, I would take issue with the president’s assertion that there were “good people on both sides” that day. Good people on both sides of the issue? Yes. Present that day? No.

I do, however, agree with him that elements inside the counter protest indeed included bad people looking to cause trouble: Antifa and other communist groups that likely instigated violence. Of course, the diabolical terrorist act of plowing a car into a crowd falls squarely on the driver, and whoever else might have helped him.

So as we look to address this escalating racial tension, decent Americans on all sides of this issue should agree to uphold certain principles.

First, we must reject any assault on free speech. As detestable as these racist groups are, they have a constitutionally protected right to express their views — and yes, even their hate — so long as their actions don’t trample on other people’s rights through violence or other means. If they choose to live life hating others and expressing their hate, their right to do so trumps our sensibilities and our justified reaction to be offended by them. Indeed, I may not agree with one iota of what they’re saying, but I’ll defend their right to say and think it.

However, with rights come responsibilities, and with responsibilities come consequences. They must also understand that, although we support their right to think and speak what they think, we regular Americans can and will exercise our right to condemn them for their vile views. That may include exposing and ostracizing them, though I do caution that we should be careful not to misidentify the innocent. But those who are accurately identified may be subject to public ridicule and contempt, and the repercussions thereof.

Secondly, our elected officials, including President Donald Trump, need to exercise some moral clarity. There is no moral equivalence between a bunch of racist, Nazi-sympathizing white nationalists and those who protest them. Indeed, there were violent troublemakers within the counter protesters’ ranks. But to equate the entire diverse group of counter protesters to the overwhelmingly racist other side is just plain wrong.

Likewise, Democrats and others on the left need to come down as hard on the violent communists as they do on the violent racists. In short, all sides need to come down hard on violence. No more sugarcoating or excusing why one side can be violent and the other side shouldn’t be.

Finally, we all must adhere to the rule of law. Emotions cannot compel us to break the law. As much as some detest the existence of Confederate monuments and what they represent, we law-abiding Americans cannot and should not endorse or tolerate an angry mob destroying or vandalizing any property, much less physically assaulting people. Neither a constitutional republic nor its civil society can survive if the rule of law is replaced with mob rule.

Debates can be had about what to do with Confederate memorials, and legislative bodies may elect to keep, remove or relocate them through normal deliberative processes. But to support or encourage angry mobs to enter and destroy property undermines the most basic tenets of a representative democracy governed by laws — not to mention that it would likely instigate the opposing side to retaliate unlawfully, thus escalating violence on all sides.

As much as I utterly loathe racism, racists have a right to be racist, albeit peacefully and in such a way as it does not trample on other people’s rights. If we use the power of government — or worse, mob rule — to silence or crush undesirable thoughts, then we ourselves risk becoming just a different brand of fascists, but fascists nonetheless.

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Christian Cámara is Southeast Regional Director of the R Street Institute.

Richard Corcoran: Why community redevelopment agencies have to go

A mayor who received $84,529 from a side job paid for by taxpayers. A grand jury report stating that government officials were “spending large amounts of taxpayer dollars on what appeared to be pet projects of elected officials.” An inspector general’s report finding over $2 million in questionable expenditures and political cronyism involving a city commissioner. And finally, millions of taxpayer dollars spent and a new FBI investigation under way.

If all of this sounds like a John Grisham novel waiting to happen, you’d be right. But unfortunately all of the above is not fiction. It’s all true and sadly, I believe, just the tip of the iceberg.

Have you ever heard of Community Redevelopment Agencies, or CRAs?

Wait! Before you stop reading, hear me out.

I’ll bet you didn’t know — and why would you — that there are more than 1,600 local agencies, boards and special districts that have the power to incur debt and operate under very little scrutiny whatsoever. Of the 1,682 such groups, 224 of those are CRAs.

So first — and quickly — what exactly is a CRA?

The Community Redevelopment Act authorized counties and municipalities to create community redevelopment agencies as a means of redeveloping “slums” and “blighted areas.” By definition, these areas must have at least two factors to qualify. Some of these factors include unsanitary conditions; defective street layout, roadways or bridges; higher fire and emergency calls; and a host of other problems.

Attempting to remove blight and rescue slums are admirable goals, for sure. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And if that road to hell is within the boundaries of the CRA, chances are it wouldn’t get paved unless you happen to be friends with a board member.

Seem far-fetched? Unfortunately, it isn’t.

A Miami-Dade grand jury report in 2016 said that the CRA appears to be a fund for pet projects for elected officials and is flirting with “slush fund” status.

Head north to Brevard County where Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, and former Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne Beach, exposed a scandal so brazen it put to rest any lingering doubts about the wisdom of eliminating CRAs. Records indicate the mayor of Palm Shores hired herself to administer a local CRA for over 5 years — collecting $84,529. Of course, paid for by the taxpayer.

And what political scandal would be complete without a capital city connection. In Tallahassee, the CRA and local developers have come under investigation by the FBI.

What makes it all the more ridiculous is that the CRAs are usually miniature versions of county or city commissions.

As a matter of fact, 76 percent of CRAs are governed by a board that mirrors or is very similar to the local government that oversees the CRA. Shockingly, in a recent survey, 72 percent of CRAs indicated they are exclusively staffed by local elected officials and only 27 percent of CRA’s have private citizens on their board.

Like “Mini Me” from the Austin Powers movies, the offspring magnifies any tendencies of the creator. But the composition of the boards represent just one of the problems.

Statewide, in 2015 CRAs reported almost $600 million in revenue, $605 million in expenditures and $715 million in debt. Also, between 2005 and 2016, CRAs issued $1.35 billion in bonds. We literally cannot afford CRAs.

Fortunately, the Florida House attacked the problem last session with HB 13 and will take it on again this session. We sincerely hope the Florida Senate will join us this time.

The legislation is pure common sense. It requires board members to undergo ethics training, CRAs to use the same procurement and purchasing processes as the county or municipality, expansion of the annual reporting requirement to include audit information and performance data, introduction of oversight into the budget process, and finally that CRA data be included in the county and municipality annual financial report — just to name a few.

It also would have prohibited the creation of any new CRAs after October and phased out nearly all CRAs by 2037.

Many will undoubtedly say that this is just part and parcel of an attack on local government.

That’s just government blame shifting. What it is instead is part and parcel of an attack on corruption and on those who would pass the buck with one hand and pass the plate with the other.

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Richard Corcoran is Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

Duane Henderson: Joe McClash’s quest to squash Aqua by the Bay

Duane Henderson

In Bradenton, Florida, the Aqua by the Bay neighborhood is up for approval, with the potential to transform the forgotten Western part of Manatee County.

The neighborhood — a Medallion Home project by Carlos Beruff — incorporates the concepts smart-growth Floridians like to see: environmental preservation, a mixed-use design and revitalization in the form of new jobs and tax dollars for an area that has continued to struggle since the recession.

But a read of the Joe McClash-owned Bradenton Times would have you falsely thinking this project is out to slash and burn what’s left of Sarasota Bay’s natural resources.

So why is former Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash on this misinformation mission? Sour grapes, retaliation, frustration, compensation, embarrassment …? You tell me. He’s a spoilsport after losing his seat and looking to harm anyone who did not support him. Joe all but names Beruff as the reason for his loss on his campaign website, AKA “displaced aggression.”

Joe, it’s time to give it up, man up and stop your “crusade.” You lost, pal. Go write a book or something — but just “let it go.” Don’t you think this country has had enough sore losers that can’t accept election results?

Joe’s loss could have been about his consistently being out of touch with the business community and its impact on our local economy. He stopped representing us. My whole family voted for Joe McClash at one time, but those days are over. We didn’t change. He did, transitioning from a public servant to yet another self-serving politician.

Joe moved here from New York and made a lot of money from our community in very low-income housing rentals as a “slumlord,” excellent at getting code violations (accruing violations from Code Enforcement and calls for service from the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office). I worked the zone where most of his rentals are located during my law enforcement days and can tell you his properties/tenants give the SWAT and Narcotics teams lots of practice. What is really interesting are the records from eviction filings that show handwritten letters to the court describing the bad living conditions and accusing Joe of not doing anything about them.

If Joe really cared about our environment, he would address the issues with his own properties and give the code enforcement folks and his tenants a break. What he is doing is substituting the “environmental cause” with a vendetta against Medallion Home, masking improvement as “overdevelopment.”

Joe has fed his readers a boatload of bunk and false news. Now it’s time he be called out for his motives and his history of poor judgment, bad ethics and bad policy. The truth is Joe has been wading through conflicts of interest at least as far back as 1999.

Somewhere around 1998 or 1999, he took a $10,500 taxpayer financed grant from Palmetto’s Community Redevelopment Agency. Joe apparently had no conflict in a taxpayer paid county official taking taxpayer money from a city agency within our County.

In the summer of 2002, Joe apparently couldn’t see the conflict of interest in using his position as a County Commissioner to revise a federal block grant to redirect taxpayer dollars into installing streetlights in “Duplex City” where he owned rental units. The value of his properties would be enhanced.

A 2006 Sarasota Herald-Tribune article reported that Joe was able to vote on spending taxpayer funds in a redevelopment zone that included more than 50 of his properties. He was able to vote on that spending because his holdings were just barely under the legal threshold.

In 2008, Joe started a prefabricated building company with visions of making millions on the backs of us county taxpayers, and he had the gall to claim it was not yet another conflict of interest.

In 2011, Joe wanted to sell advertising space in his internet newspaper to the county. Joe asked the County Attorney’s office if it would be OK. After citing a lot of legal and other precedents, the common-sense answer thankfully came back: “No.”

In front of us, we have an opportunity for a carefully and thoughtfully planned neighborhood with the potential to help West Bradenton thrive — the plan and the numbers make sense. Maybe Joe would be happier if Aqua by the Bay included some abandoned automobiles throughout as some sort of “public art” like those around his properties.

Readers should be wary of Joe’s motives to squash this improvement and look past the misinformation being spread, so a project with the potential to revitalize West Bradenton and benefit Manatee County doesn’t get sunk by his bad blood and personal agenda.

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Duane Henderson is a Manatee County business owner, Realtor and former deputy sheriff of Manatee County.

 

Dominic Calabro, Bob Ward: Without state workers, there is no Florida

Ask the average Floridian on the street, “Who does the business of state government?” and you’ll likely hear responses such as the governor or the name of a local senator or representative.

Though these are figures the media covers on a daily basis, in reality, it is the thousands of government employees that make up our public workforce, many of whom are unsung heroes of service and dedication, working each and every day for all of us.

Many Floridians only hear about a government employee when something has gone wrong at an agency. What is often missed are the thousands of hardworking individuals that make sacrifices daily to better the lives of some of the most vulnerable of our citizens. This includes teachers, law enforcement officers, corrections officers, the state park service, health care workers, and firefighters just to name a few. While a “state job” may seem like an easy task from the outside, without state workers, there is no Florida. From processing applications for permits, to ensuring that necessary benefits get to the right people, to rooting out cases of fraud, the best state employees make our lives a little bit better and a little bit easier. It is often an unrecognized contribution despite the impact that it has on our lives and sometimes directly on theirs.

Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Council of 100 recognize this, and for the last 29 years, have thanked innovative state employees who are truly embodying their role as workers of the taxpayers through the Prudential Productivity Awards program. Winners of the Prudential Productivity Awards are excellent role models for their colleagues and are true fiscal stewards of the hard-earned tax dollars of Floridians.

Prudential Productivity Award winners are encouraged to work with other agencies to implement their cost savings ideas across state government. Since 1989, thousands of individuals, teams, work units and partnerships have produced nearly $10 billion worth of added value as a direct result of award winners’ achievements and the replication of those achievements.

Collectively, we are thankful for the efforts of all our Prudential Productivity Award winners. Over the course of five ceremonies all over the state, the program has bestowed 203 awards to hundreds of innovative individuals and teams for their hard work and dedication to their jobs, colleagues and the Sunshine State.

Even better, these extraordinary public servants were being recognized in Tallahassee on the same day that Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a raise for state employees. State workers should feel proud of the work they do and it is pleasing to see lawmakers take notice and give them a much-needed and deserved raise. Florida TaxWatch has been proud to have undertaken a leadership role in this effort for nearly three decades.

The efforts of state employees often go unnoticed, but it is safe to say that they are the glue that holds the state together. Think about it — without them, normal everyday functions of government that we don’t pay attention to would fail, leading to significant problems across the state. So, if you see or know a state employee, shake their hand and thank them. They will appreciate the well-deserved recognition.

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Dominic Calabro is president and CEO of Florida. Bob Ward is president and CEO of the Florida Council of 100.

Adam Putnam: Time to honor our Purple Heart recipients 

The Purple Heart, created by General George Washington on August 7, 1782, and first known as the Badge of Military Merit, is one of the most respected and well-recognized medals one can receive. On Purple Heart Day, we’re called to remember and celebrate America’s wartime heroes who have been injured or killed while serving our country.

For the first time, I’m holding a Purple Heart Day event through our Operation Outdoor Freedom program in Lake Wales, Florida.

Purple Heart recipients and their families will enjoy barbecue and airboat and swamp buggy rides at no cost, thanks to the generosity of our private donors who make Operation Outdoor Freedom possible. The event will be held at Camp Prairie, a first-of-its-kind camp that has bunkhouses and every other feature anyone could possibly need to enjoy an overnight stay in the wilderness.

Since 2011, Operation Outdoor Freedom has provided more than 3,000 wounded veterans with healing and uplifting events that could only happen in Florida’s great outdoors alongside others with similar experiences. Some of the best therapy comes from kayaking down the Chipola River, gator hunting in Ocklawaha or reeling in a redfish along the coast. Having joined some of these trips, the stories that unfold among veterans around a crackling campfire under Spanish moss-draped Live Oaks are once-in-a-lifetime moments that will forever be cherished.

This Purple Heart Day, let’s all be grateful for those who have sacrificed their safety and lives for our freedom. While Operation Outdoor Freedom is only one small way we can give back to those who have given so much for us, these experiences can last a lifetime.

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Adam Putnam is the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.

Rick Scott: We will not give up until Venezuela is free

Just one day following the conclusion of the shameful Constituent Assembly aimed to empower Nicolas Maduro’s regime, the dictator and his gang of thugs have struck again. This time, during a cowardly overnight raid to seize two members of the opposition party, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma.

The world saw the devastating images from Venezuela over the weekend. Maduro’s continued brutalization of the Venezuelan people with violence and a total lack of democracy is atrocious.

His brazen efforts to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution under the guise of democracy is an insult to freedom, and taking power away from his citizens against their will is completely reprehensible.

Now, with his latest move— to remove two prominent freedom fighters from their homes just hours after further U.S. sanctions—  Maduro has sent a clear message to the world: the freedom and lives of the people of Venezuela are disposable in favor of empowering his totalitarian regime.

Over the last several weeks, I have continued to applaud the Trump administration’s swift actions against the Maduro regime which has endangered the lives of millions of Venezuelans.  Just this week, Nicolas Maduro himself was added to the U.S. Treasury’s list of Specially Designated Nationals, thereby formally defining Maduro as the dictator he has proven himself to be. This important distinction follows the “election” of the Constituent Assembly on July 30 that was designed to favor pro-Maduro candidates on the ballot.  Despite the efforts to thwart this brutal regime, over 100 innocent lives have been lost. Nicolas Maduro must step down now, and we must not stop until this dictatorship is no more.

The Venezuelan people have shown their strength and resilience in the face of oppression. It is incumbent upon the United States and the rest of the free world to stand with them. We must continue to make it clear to the people of Venezuela fighting for freedom that we will not give up. We owe that to the brave men and women who stand for democracy at the ultimate cost.

We will not tolerate Maduro’s assault on freedom and democracy and must continue to find ways to advocate for human rights in Venezuela. That is at the very core of why I am proposing to officially prohibit the Florida State Board of Administration from making investments that support the Maduro regime. This is a step in the right direction, and I look forward to working with our state legislature and federal partners to take further action against the dictatorship. True freedom and democracy is the only acceptable outcome for the people of Venezuela.

We cannot accept anything short of the complete release of all political prisoners and for Maduro and his gang of thugs to step down. The time is now to make room for real democratic leadership that respects the will and rights of everyone in Venezuela.

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 Rick Scott is the 45th Governor of Florida.

 

Francisco Gonzalez: #ComingTogether, the movement to make America united again

Make no mistake. Our country is divided. There is anger. It is palpable. No one side is fully to blame. The anger exists on all sides. Sadly, the most divisive areas of American life today are now in politics and religion. But it doesn’t stop there. We now live in an age where we can choose almost everything — the neighborhood we want to live in, the television shows & cable news shows we watch, who we follow on Twitter and what news we want to (or don’t want to) see in our Facebook newsfeed. When we divide along these lines, we are culturally segregating ourselves, often by choice.

Many times, even the thought or sight of seeing or hearing from someone with an opinion we don’t share, perhaps one we vehemently oppose, makes us so sick we can’t be in their presence. So, we isolate ourselves. We congregate among those we feel “safe” with. Many of us laugh at those who need “safe spaces,” but let’s face it: most of us cling to our safe spaces these days.

The battle lines were formed decades ago and have only gotten worse. We have become tribal. When “our guy” is in office, we’ll defend whatever he or she does. When a person on the “other” side is in office, we’re quicker to attack whatever he or she does. And then we fight with our friends, family and neighbors about it. We can’t even stand to be near one another. And what’s worse? If we dare to sit down or be friends with someone who we disagree with, some of our friends, family, or neighbors question what we are doing: How dare you associate with that person?

On some college campuses, some speakers are not invited, shouted down, protested against, or in some cases violence has even broken out. Just for having another opinion. This madness seems to be getting worse. Recently I read an article by my colleague at National Review Institute, David French, that details all that I am getting at here. His article, “We’re Not in a Civil War, but We Are Drifting Toward Cultural Divorce,” demonstrates how we are sorting ourselves apart, rather than tolerating the differences we might have.

Since reading this article a few months ago (and having the privilege to hear David talk about this issue many times over) I have been thinking a lot about this. As he points out, the very idea of America is built on free speech and free association. We have the First Amendment to protect speech we don’t agree with. And the government can protect that speech all day long (as the courts pretty much always do). But what happens when social pressure makes people conform to stay quiet? What happens when we just avoid people we disagree with? Or avoid uncomfortable conversations because we just don’t want to start an argument?

What happens is this: we interact with people with other viewpoints less and thus, over time, we lose an understanding of one another. And I believe that’s what’s happened in this country. It’s easy to demonize someone you don’t actually know. Or to put down an opinion when you don’t actually understand why someone might hold it.

In his 2012 book, Coming Apart, Charles Murray details a similar phenomenon of America’s coming apart in a different way: more along economic lines. His book details the recent formation of American classes that are different from anything we’ve ever known in this country and specifically documents the creation of a very narrow elite that has diverged so far from the rest of the American mainstream, they rarely have any shared values or understanding of one another. And because that elite is typically wealthier, more educated and yes, more liberal (but not always so), they tend to look down on the rest of America, like snobs. But they have no reason to do so. They don’t even have any interaction with where most people live and work and the cultural activities they take part in. And, on the flip side, sometimes the poor and economically impoverished participate in a “group think” mentality as well.

So … with all this being said, I think it’s time that we, as Americans, take up a movement that finally says: we can all get along. We don’t have to agree with one another, but we can tolerate one another.

Recently, I got together with someone I disagree with. I’m a conservative. She’s a progressive. We are both very passionate about what we believe. I’m pro-life. She works for Planned Parenthood. We actually met through a leadership program we were both a part of this year called Connect Florida (a program of Leadership Florida). It brings people of all different backgrounds together. Our class represents a very diverse group of Floridians among many ethnicities, geographic regions, political opinions and professions. It’s not a blue-collar group. It’s a group of under-40 leaders of companies, nonprofits, and people who work in government, public policy, and engage in other entrepreneurial and philanthropic activities. Through a highly contentious election year, we were able to have fruitful conversations to advance ideas and networks with a shared passion to make the future of our state better.

Through some of our experiences, we didn’t always agree. And that’s where one of my classmates and I decided to recently meet up over a morning beverage to discuss the very thing we disagreed about. We never debated. We had a conversation. I asked her why she believed the way she did on the issue. And when she was done, I explained why I felt the way I did. We disagree on many issues, you can be sure. But we came there together to discuss one issue. We left knowing that both of us actually had very good, thoughtful reasons to hold the opinion we had. I don’t think either of us came there trying to persuade the other on the issue.

After we were done, I told her: In such a divided country if someone from National Review Institute and Planned Parenthood can come together to have a peaceful, thoughtful, friendly discussion about a contentious issue like this that we are both very passionate about, there’s no reason everyone in the country can’t do the same. She agreed. I then said to her: I believe you and I are in a unique position to foster such a movement if we do so together. She then said something to me I won’t forget: “Sometimes even just admitting that you won’t agree on everything is very powerful.” I couldn’t agree more. It is. She’s not the first friend I disagree with that I’ve sat down with on an issue (as I do this more often than even I realize), but it was the first time I’ve had the ideas of David French and Charles Murray in my head. Six months into Trump’s America, there’s a lot of anger on all sides. And yet, here we were, coming together to have a civil conversation about something we disagree about.

So … I took to social media and posted a photo of she and I after we met. I posted the #ComingTogether with a bold statement: “I want to encourage everyone to start a trend. Have a civil conversation with someone you disagree with and post it with #ComingTogether tag.” Within 24 hours, I saw dozens of people use the tag after they sat down with someone they disagreed with.

But I want this to take off even more. So, below are my suggested guidelines. Wouldn’t it be cool if this reached the same level that the #IceBucketChallenge did a few years ago? If it did, I think we’d have a real movement and this country would really start #ComingTogether again, to show the world that in a free society, we can live peacefully with those we disagree with. No matter what you think about the Constitution, abortion, gay marriage, how high our taxes should be, who should provide health care, or which lives matter more than others, the truly unique thing about America is that we can tolerate those with other opinions. That’s part of our unalienable rights. And that’s the very thing we need to restore in this country: the ability to disagree and be OK with that.

#ComingTogether — Suggested Guidelines

— Invite someone you disagree with to have a civil conversation about something you disagree about. I suggest doing this over a beverage or meal.

— At the beginning of the conversation, come to an early understanding that you are not there to persuade or debate. Admitting that you won’t agree on everything is very powerful.

— Allow one person to ask the other why they feel the way they do on the issue at hand. Feel free to ask questions for further understanding. They can be challenging questions, but should be asked with a view toward understanding not toward being disagreeable. Once they have completed sharing their full viewpoint, the other person should then explain why they feel the way they do. And then the conversation should continue.

— You’ll know when the time is right to bring the conversation in for a landing. It’s important to not dive off into many different subjects, even though some issues might understandably involve multiple subjects, but try to stay focused on a singular topic as much as possible.

— When the conversation is over, take a photo together and share it on social media with the #ComingTogether tag and tag your conversation partner.

— Afterward, spend some time reflecting on your conversation. What did you learn? Do you have a different feeling or perspective toward that person? Toward their viewpoint? Maybe you do. Maybe you don’t. But the final question you should ask is: Can I live with the fact that they have a different view? And, do I value their freedom to have that view?

— Finally, after you take the challenge, tag at least 3 friends to take the challenge!

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Francisco Gonzalez is Director of Philanthropy of the National Review Institute.

 

Ed Davis: Opting in to FirstNet is best choice for Florida. public safety professionals

Ed Davis

So far, seven states have opted-in to the FirstNet network. It is my hope that Governor Rick Scott will soon have Florida join them and give the members of the public safety community access to advanced tools available to protect our cities and towns.

FirstNet is the long overdue result of the communications barrier first responders experienced September 11, 2001. Following the attacks, Congress observed — as we all did — that public safety needed a network dedicated to their communications. This need continues today. For the past 16 years, public safety has continued to face the same communication issues as they did on 9/11.

When a tragedy strikes, public networks are often overworked with the high volume of calls, texts and data from people trying to contact their loved ones or emergency services. This increase of traffic can overwhelm wireless networks and disrupt communications to and from emergency responders. In a worst-case scenario, this could result in a delay in emergency responders receiving important information from other public safety operatives.

FirstNet’s high-speed network will allow public safety responders to send and receive critical voice, text, data and video information during a crisis. It addresses the communications barrier our emergency responders face all too often and gives them a much-needed reliable, interoperable network that is dedicated to their use when they need it. And, public safety officials will be able to avoid bandwidth shortages on consumer wireless networks to more effectively and efficiently coordinate across different agencies and jurisdictions. This network will truly transform public safety communications across the state.

For 35 years, I served as a member of the law enforcement community. From 2006 until 2013, I was the Police Commissioner of the City of Boston, and during that time Boston suffered its most tragic incident in recent memory. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, it was my duty to lead my department’s response to an attack that injured many and took lives. As a first responder, it is times like that when you make decisions knowing lives are at stake. You can only hope that you will have the tools you need at your disposal. This is why I believe that acceptance of the FirstNet state plan is the best decision for Florida and our public safety community. FirstNet will help our first responders be better prepared by giving them access to the necessary tools and the ability to connect with other emergency responders when needed.

If Governor Scott elects to opt-in, I am confident that FirstNet will be welcomed by first responders across Florida. With the FirstNet network, Florida can pave the way for our law enforcement, firefighters, EMS and other emergency responders to have the modern technology they need to effectively do their jobs and better protect our communities.

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Ed Davis is the former Police Commissioner of the City of Boston. Ed. Note: Davis is a paid adviser to AT&T.

 

David Barnes: To lower college tuition; get the government out of the way

Few issues resonated more with young people during last year’s presidential election than the idea of “free college.” After all, with tuition costs at an all-time high and many recent college graduates saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt, millennials are looking for a financial lifeline.

What to do? Well, according to some, the problem is stingy state governments. The less the state chips in, the more expensive college becomes. Known as “state disinvestment,” it’s a theory that has a number of high profile supporters and seems very logical at first glance.

Unfortunately for big government proponents, it’s not that simple.

New research from the American Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank, found scant evidence for the idea that in-state public colleges and universities give students a break on tuition when government increases their funding. The study explained, “colleges largely plow that money into higher spending rather than return it to students through lower tuition.”

When colleges and universities have confidence that the federal and state government will continue subsidizing tuition costs for cash-strapped college students, they have little incentive to reduce prices. Another study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that well-meaning but misguided plans to provide “low-interest” loans for students and parents to pay for higher education actually contributed to the rise in college tuition from 1987 to 2010.

Of course, when students take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to finance higher education they leave school saddled with large monthly payments they will carry for a big chunk of their lifetimes. These debts make it difficult—and in some cases impossible—for young adults to save, invest, buy a home or start a family. Millennials are picked on for living with their parents after college, but for many, there is no other choice.

All of us at Generation Opportunity, a grassroots movement of young Americans promoting individual liberty and entrepreneurship, are alarmed by government’s outsized and damaging role in the cost of higher education.

If lawmakers truly want to help young Americans better afford higher education, they should start by introducing real choice and competition into the system, instead of more subsidies. Reforming the accreditation process, which discourages innovation and crowds out newer, smaller institutions that can’t afford the costly and burdensome process, will bring less costly alternatives that give better value than a four-year degree.

A better solution to the accreditation process would also include empowering state governments with more flexibility instead of allowing the Department of Education to call all the shots. Smooth talking politicians who continue promising lower costs for college students through more government intervention and higher taxes on working Americans are modern day traveling salesmen, selling powerful elixirs with dubious results. Their misguided and often empty promises are driving-up college costs and student debt.

Becoming an adult means learning to accept some hard truths. Pouring more money into the higher-ed system has not worked over the past decades, and it’s never going to work. The time has come for state colleges and universities and the politicians sounding the alarm about “state disinvestment” to take this lesson to heart.

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David Barnes is the policy director for Generation Opportunity.

Jeremy Ring: Restore voting rights to those who’ve paid their debt

Can you imagine facing a debt that you could never pay off — one that never goes away, regardless of how many times you try to pay?

Well, unfortunately, for hundreds of thousands of nonviolent felons across Florida, this is their reality.

When nonviolent offenders break the law, they’re rightly forced to pay their debt to society through years in jail, countless dollars worth of fines and penalties, and the social burden of being labeled a felon for the rest of their lives.

They broke the law. They paid the price. That should be the end of it, right?

In our state, nonviolent offenders who have paid their debt to society are stripped of their voting rights, and it’s an onerous procedure to get those rights restored.

Here’s the worst part: Florida’s voter disenfranchisement isn’t just poor policy, it also disproportionately affects communities of color and the poor, many of whom received a felony just for minor offenses.

As a candidate for Florida chief financial officer, and as a Floridian and American concerned with the cause of economic equality and equity, I believe this is a disgrace — and it needs to stop.

If I have the honor of being elected as chief financial officer next year, I would have an active role as a member of the Cabinet in advocating for policy initiatives that would seek to correct this fundamental injustice in our current state laws. And if the Florida Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative [Initiative #14-01] also gets on the ballot in the November 2018 election, we will get a head start in bending that proverbial arc back toward justice.

Together, we can ensure that all Floridians who have paid their debt to society are treated fairly. We can ensure that our great state sets a positive example to the rest of the country — and to the world — in combating one of the most fundamental threats to the health of our democracy.

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Former state Sen. Jeremy Ring from Parkland is a candidate for Florida chief financial officer.

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