Opinions Archives - Florida Politics

Thomas Halfaker: Catholic school resurgence uplifting thousands of low-income families — and me

I was raised as a public school kid. After graduating college, I spent 22 years as a teacher and administrator in the Miami-Dade school district, the fourth-largest in the country. I was a high school principal of a small city, 3,000 students. I wasn’t surviving, I was thriving.

How did I end up here, principal of a preK-8 parochial school? Because God has a wicked sense of humor.

I loved public education, and I was good at it. But there comes a point when you realize a very important piece is missing. A key, if you will.

In the five years I was a high school principal, I attended seven funerals of students, none of whom died by natural causes. Yes, we had tragedies, but we also had wild successes: Kids going to Ivy League schools. Kids from families who spent their lives following the crops up and down the East Coast.

I was able to give these kids good advice. But there was a line I could not cross: I could not talk to them about their ultimate purpose and why they were here.

I could not explain to them that they were on the third rock from the sun for a specific reason. I could not tell them there was a God bigger and badder than any problem they might have.

That all changed in 2001, when my pastor asked me to sit on the search committee for a new principal for the Catholic school my children attended. That’s when the wicked sense of humor kicked in. Twelve years later, God and I are still laughing.

My immersion in Catholic education happens to coincide with a resurgence in Catholic education in Florida. All over America, Catholic schools are still disappearing, despite the high-quality education they’ve delivered for generations to students from all walks of life. But not in Florida.

Thanks to school choice scholarship programs, Catholic schools in Florida have rebounded, and even started growing again. This fall, 240 of them will serve 86,000 students – which would make them the 10th largest school district in Florida if they were under one administration.

Parents turn to us because they appreciate the academic rigor, character education and positive outcomes – from college enrollment and persistence to self-discipline and good citizenship – that solid research shows Catholic schools deliver. School choice makes schools like ours accessible to students of modest means. And we know our state is benefiting as much as our students from their success.

My awakening didn’t start with a burning bush, or a lightning bolt out of the blue. It started the way God usually starts, with that still small voice in the pit of your stomach or heart. I could exchange my profession for a vocation. I would have the freedom to help develop healthy minds, bodies, and spirits.

I still work with kids who live at or below the poverty level. Not all, but a good number of my 500 students participate in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, a program that last year served 107,000 low-income and working-class students, including 16,000 in Catholic schools. Their average family income last year was about $25,000.

The students in our school come from over 25 different countries. We don’t celebrate any specific heritage; rather, we have a Heritage Celebration every October where we celebrate our differences. It is our differences that make us stronger.

Part of the mission of the church is to educate ALL. For years the church has provided some of the best education in the United States, from primary grades to the Golden Dome of Notre Dame, regardless of the socioeconomic class the child comes from.

We are proud of that mission. We are also proud to live in a state that allows parents to choose from so many options.

I know school choice is sometimes the focus of heated debate. But as an educator, I know that not every learning environment is right for every child. And as a parent, I know nothing is more important than having a say in where and how your child is educated.

Tom Halfaker is principal at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish School in Miami.

Joe Henderson: What’s reasonable? ‘Stand your ground’ trial may provide answer

It’s not surprising that Pinellas County prosecutors decided not to buy the “stand your ground” argument and charged Michael Drejka with manslaughter Monday in the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton after an argument over a parking space.

This story had gotten much publicity, most of it negative, after Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri initially declined to arrest Drejka because he said the shooting was protected under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Politics being what they are, something had to give.

I wrote then that I agreed with Gualtieri’s interpretation, and I believe prosecutors will have a hard time making their case that Drejka didn’t feel threatened when he fired the fatal shot.

Proving that the world was turning upside, that earned me a rebuke from Florida’s Mama Gun herself, Marion Hammer. In a comment under that column, she asked if I had actually read the law – implying that it didn’t say what Gualtieri and I believed it did. 

I had read it, by the way.

But I read it again, and here’s the part of that law that will really on trial when Drejka faces a jury of his peers.

Under the heading “justifiable use of force,” it says deadly force is permissible if a person “reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”

But state Sen. Dennis Baxley, a long-time champion of gun rights and the NRA, told Politico, the law uses a “reasonable-person standard. It’s not that you were just afraid.”

I imagine Drejka’s attorney will have a different take.

Video of the shooting shows McGlockton pushing Drejka violently to the ground during the argument. McGlockton takes a couple of steps back after Drejka aims a gun at him, but it was too late. He was shot in the chest and died.

Mind you, I’m not excusing the actions of either man in that confrontation.

McGlockton’s shove turned an argument into an out-of-control situation.

Drejka sent it over the edge when he pulled a gun.

It wasn’t the first time he had been involved in a dangerous confrontation either. The Tampa Bay Times reported that he had four road rage incidents since 2012 and had pulled a gun at least twice.

But in this case, Baxley’s “reasonable-person standard” will be open to interpretation. Who’s to say what is “reasonable” when you’ve been shoved to the ground with as much violence as Drejka was?

That’s what opponents to this part of the bill warned about. Gualtieri had called the interpretation “subjective” – which is the problem.

A “reasonable person” might conclude Drejka was scared out of his wits. And the twist to SYG now is that prosecutors will have to prove that wasn’t true, no matter what the video shows or seems to show. That is exactly what backers of that law had in mind when they pushed it through the Legislature in 2017.

One of the most ardent supporters of that bill?

Dennis Baxley.

He said on the Senate floor during deliberations, “I think of all the people who will be saved because we did this right and put the burden of proof where it belongs.”

A “reasonable person” might disagree.

Melissa Howard HD 73

Joe Henderson: For Melissa Howard, truth should matter more than degree

I grew up about 40 minutes from Miami University. It is a picturesque place, tucked way off the beaten path in the rolling southwest Ohio hills and home to one of the most beautiful campuses you will ever see. I did not attend school there, but many of my friends did.

I did spend a few nights at the long-gone pubs there known as the Purity and Boar’s Head Inn, knocking back 3.2 beer. But that’s another story.

Students and alumni have been known to call it the Harvard of the Midwest.

Perhaps coincidentally, it is located in the quaint village of Oxford. If you were looking to skate through four years at No Challenge U, then Miami probably wasn’t the place to enroll. Its graduates, which it sounds like do not include Republican Florida House candidate Melissa Howard of Sarasota, are a fiercely proud lot. Earning a degree from Miami is a worthy accomplishment and something to protect.

So why would Howard apparently fib that she is a proud MU graduate, and then double-down with what a school spokesman said was a doctored photo that she posted while trying to defend the indefensible?

It’s too soon to tell if the apparent gaffe will end her political pursuits, but when you’ve got this kind of explaining to do, let’s just say it doesn’t help.

She already had strong endorsements, including Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The polls had her ahead in deeply red House District 73, but who knows if that still holds after Florida News Online reported that her claim to hold a bachelor’s degree in 1994 from Miami didn’t hold up under scrutiny.

She did, indeed, attend MU from 1990-94, but the school later confirmed she did not complete requirements for her degree.

That was bad.

What followed was worse.

A picture posted on her Facebook page purported to show her degree in marketing as well as her college transcript, but that was quickly debunked when Miami general counsel Robin Parker said (paraphrasing here) “nope, she didn’t graduate.”

And, um …. Miami doesn’t offer a degree in marketing.

This is not the first time someone tried to fudge their college credentials, but the lesson to be learned by anyone eyeing public office is that this should be the last. It’s just too easy to check these things, and while newspaper staffs have shrunk and now lack the resources to do comprehensive background checks, there are new sites popping up with professional reporters to fill the void.

I mean, you’re gonna get unmasked – if not immediately, then eventually.

It’s no shame to not graduate from college, either. Stuff happens. Sometimes money runs low. Sometimes other opportunities arise. Sometimes people just need to do something besides grind through to get a degree.

And for what it’s worth, a degree isn’t required to serve in the Florida House. Common sense would be a much more important thing for a candidate to tout. After all, geeze, Howard is said to be a savvy businesswoman.

Play that up, and if anyone asks about college, just tell the truth.

You can always tell them you’re a few credits shy and plan to make it up with some online classes.

Howard’s campaign people tried the ol’ “fake news” ploy, but it is a fact that the photo of alleged degree and transcript disappeared from her Facebook page.

It won’t be a surprise if her campaign soon disappears as well. Good judgment is a critical asset for a candidate to sell to voters, and let’s just say it looks like she didn’t pass that, either.

Blake Dowling: Elections are here. Who has class — and who doesn’t

Elections are upon us. Arguments are bound to spring up, especially in our highly charged 2018 world of politics.

We are presented with a good opportunity to see who has class — and who doesn’t.

The worst (in my opinion) are negative ads. It reminds me of an old quote about college football recruiting: You can either sell your school (and the program) or you can slam the opposition, not talking about how good you are, but how awful someone else is.

You see it all over, in fraternity-sorority rushing or in business. I would always rather see someone take the “we are the best” approach, versus the tactic of “someone else is a crook/awful, etc.”

Despite what I think some coaches say negative recruiting works. Sounds like old Jimbo might have engaged in the practice.

Consider this quote: “Recruiting is recruiting. People say and do things that sometimes they wish they probably didn’t do when it’s over with. That always happens.” — former FSU coach Jimbo Fisher.

So, to that end, I suppose you could make the argument that negative ads are effective.

Why don’t we check our good friends in the world of science? What do they think?

Donald Green, a political-science professor at Columbia (via Scientific American) says the results are inconclusive: “People were no less likely to turn out to the polls or to decide against voting for a candidate who was attacked in the ad.”

So much for science. Despite no real facts, the battle of the negative ads continued. You can read the full article here.

I can tell you one ad that will make you want to run for the storm shelter. Oh man, I could only watch a couple of seconds before pressing pause and looking for some wine.

This is from 2017. Dan Helmer versus Barbara Comstock for Virginia’s 10th Congressional District. Dan is a veteran (and I appreciate his service to our country), but if he could have discussed that only; instead, he produced this Top Gun-based rodeo of awfulness:

For the record, Dan lost. The Helmer Zone requested a flyby, but the pattern was full (as the movie says).

YEE HAH! Great Balls of Fire!

Back to Florida, as all eyes in our nation are looking to see what is happening with our elections.

“What happens in Florida will most likely happen nationwide,” says Al Cardenas on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Of course, there are the negative ads in our state where the public doesn’t know who paid for them. These are all over. If a group does not spend more than 50 percent of its money on political activities, they are not required to disclose their donors, according to POLITICO Florida, which references the group National Liberty Foundation.

And another example of an anonymous group comes from WFTV Orlando …

Dark money groups are on all sides of the political fence, raising unlimited dollars without having to disclose donors, making large contributions to a political committee — with said dark money group often the only donor — to run negative ads. And donors to the group remain unknown.

As the battle gets more heated, we will soon see who continues to throw mud and who does not.

And in the category of “what not to do,” just look at Brian in Tampa.

This week, Brian got into a heated Facebook dispute, which led him to shoot the man he was arguing with … in the buttocks.

Please, don’t be like Brian.

Personally, I enjoy coaches and politicians who talk about accomplishments over the failures of opponents, but that’s just me.

Buckle up; it’s happening now, and Florida has a front-row seat for all the action.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Jack Levine: With integrity and compassion, Mike Carroll will be hard to replace

Serving as Secretary of the Department of Children and Families is the second most challenging job in Florida government.

Day or night, you never know what agonizing tragedy will confront your staff and community partners.

Public servants of Mike Carroll’s high integrity, breadth of knowledge and deep compassion are difficult to replace.

We are about to experience the most sweeping government transition in Florida’s history.

Even over the four-month period before the inauguration of a new Governor, no matter who she or he may be, Mike Carroll will be missed.

I hope the leaders of the new administration will identify someone who matches Mike’s smarts and sensitivity, talents and tenacity, honesty and humility.

The children and families of our diverse state desperately need and definitely deserve no less.


Jack Levine is the founder of the 4Generations Institute in Tallahassee.

Jeremy Ring: Setting the record straight on business background

Jeremy Ring

Appointed Chief Financial Officer and seafood restaurateur Jimmy Patronis lied about using taxpayer resources for his campaign — POLITICO even caught him red-handed — and now he’s lying about my business background. Let’s set the record straight.

I’m an entrepreneur. My opponent isn’t. I’ve started businesses. He hasn’t.

I’ve helped to pioneer industry. I’ve started organizations, grown organizations, and led organizations.

I’ve dealt with personnel challenges, written business plans, worked in mergers and acquisitions, raised capital, invested my own capital, and had shareholder responsibility.

I’ve been held to strong corporate governance standards, negotiated countless deals with countless clients.

I’ve held significant roles in publicly traded companies and private companies; large companies and small companies.

Jimmy Patronis, if he ever started a business, would know what all of that truly means. He doesn’t and hasn’t.

Jimmy Patronis inherited a seafood restaurant. He dropped out of a race for state Senate in favor of a plum position with the Public Service Commission, for which he was hand-selected by Rick Scott for his unique ability to do the Governor’s bidding.

After CFO Jeff Atwater resigned, Scott quickly appointed Jimmy to the role of Chief Financial Officer for the remainder of his term — for the very same reason he was selected for the Public Service Commission. In short, Jimmy is the CFO because he is friends with the Governor, not because he is qualified.

At 25, I opened the first East Coast office of internet company Yahoo! out of my apartment in New York City and over the next five years I helped to turn it into a multibillion-dollar tech leader.

I served in the Florida Senate, where I crafted major bipartisan legislation establishing an innovation economy to help Florida’s entrepreneurs build their ideas and grow jobs right here in Florida.

I created the largest technology incubator in the state, the Gainesville based “Florida Institute of Commercialization,” which in turn has helped start and grow over 75 technology businesses in Florida with over $1 billion in economic impact and an average salary of over $75,000.

I created the Florida Opportunity Fund, a $100 million institutional venture capital fund for Florida companies; last, I was the creator of the Florida Growth Fund, a $1 billion late-stage venture capital fund for technology company’s across the Florida that has returned over 10 percent capital to the beneficiaries of the Florida Retirement System.

In addition to those successes, I also started or invested in a number of businesses here in Florida, companies that Jimmy falsely paints as flops.

Jimmy points to my company Convizion as a prime example of my business failures, and as a reason as to why I cannot be trusted with the State’s finances.

He says that I readily admit to it being a “failure,” even citing an article. The only problem is that the next sentence after the one he cites completely contradicts his argument. It reads, “It was only by being open to new opportunities that he (Ring) and his partners were able to create a success out of their apparent loss.”

And, success there was.

In fact, Convizion shareholders made between two and four times their initial investment. Only someone with zero real business experience would consider that a failure.

Jimmy also points to Strategic Baseball Ventures and Ring Entertainment as “flops” and further proof of me losing money for shareholders. But here again, he is either lying or doesn’t understand basic business — neither is a good quality for the person in charge of Florida’s finances.

Strategic Baseball Ventures was set up in the early 2000s when a partner of mine wanted to investigate buying minor league baseball franchises. We looked at a few deals, didn’t find one we liked and moved on. No one lost any money.

Ring Entertainment was a small endeavor between my brother and I that was a fun family project. It had zero outside capital invested and minimal family capital.

Not everyone is handed a business and not everyone is handed a position to oversee the state treasury. Qualifications matter, as does honesty.

Right now, I am questioning both for the current appointed CFO.


Jeremy Ring is a former state Senator and tech startup executive. He is a Democrat running for Florida Chief Financial Officer.

Jean Gonzalez Wingo, Lisa Murano: Everyone wants to help greyhounds

At a time when we can’t seem to agree on anything, there is still an issue that unites Democrats and Republicans: protecting dogs. We are proud to join the many community leaders across the state who support Amendment 13, a humane proposal to phase out greyhound racing.

As a state, we have a proud tradition of leading on animal welfare issues. Our first anti-cruelty law was adopted more than a century ago in 1889, but today we are lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to cruelty inflicted on greyhounds. Commercial dog racing is illegal in 40 states but continues at 11 racetracks across Florida.

At these racetracks, thousands of greyhounds endure lives of confinement, kept in rows of stacked metal cages. They are caged for 20 to 23 hours a day, with only carpet remnants or shredded paper for bedding. When let out of their cages to race, the dogs run the risk of serious injury and death. According to state records, 483 greyhounds have died at Florida tracks since officials began maintaining death data in 2013. These are young dogs that die unnecessarily for a money-losing industry that only exists because of a state mandate that other types of gambling must be coupled with dog racing.

Floridians have already voted with their pocketbooks, and clearly want greyhound racing to end. Gambling on dog races has fallen dramatically in recent years, and racetracks are collectively losing more than $30 million annually on this Depression-era relic. Taxpayers are also getting the short end of the stick. According to a report done for the legislature by Spectrum Gaming, the state is losing as much as $3.3 million annually on dog racing because regulatory costs exceed revenues.

Yet thousands of dogs continue to live in cages in this moribund industry. They die on the track and test positive for serious drugs, including cocaine, all so a handful of greyhound breeders can benefit from a state mandate that puts profits ahead of animal welfare.

This isn’t a complicated issue. Dogs are members of our families, and the racing industry treats greyhounds in a way we should never treat our best friends. Tolerating this cruelty not only causes harm to gentle greyhounds, it also reflects on us. We’re better than that, and it’s time for dog racing to be relegated to the history books.

One ray of hope is the diverse coalition fighting to help greyhounds. Amendment 13 has been endorsed by a vast cross-section of our state’s civic life, including animal welfare groups, animal shelters, animal rescue and adoption groups, veterinarians, dog clubs, current and former elected officials, candidates for office, editorial boards and news organizations, civic organizations, local businesses, environmental groups and churches. Every day, new community leaders join this chorus of support.

No other active issue is supported by the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, the Florida Federation of Republican Women, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Democratic State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Let’s celebrate this common ground by coming together to vote yes for the dogs on Amendment 13. With our vote, we can help thousands of greyhounds, and once again take the lead on animal welfare.


Jean Gonzalez Wingo is first vice president of the Florida Federation of Republican Women. Lisa Murano is secretary of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida.

Joe Henderson: Memo to Al Sharpton — you missed the target

Memo to Al Sharpton.

Bug out, dude.

The decision by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri not to immediately arrest the shooter in the latest “stand your ground” case in our state has nothing to do with his reluctance to prosecute a crime.

If you want to blame someone for this fiasco, blame the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature. And while you’re at it, kick Florida Democrats upside their frequently self-righteous backsides for their role in for the state’s lopsided gun laws.

They got their tails outflanked as Republicans took complete control of state government over the last 20 years. While the GOP pressed for education “reform,” pro-growth, anti-regulation, anti-public education and tax-schmax laws, nowhere have the state felt the impact of Republican rule more than in gun laws.

Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association became better-known as a policy manipulator than anyone the Democrats had to offer as a counterbalance. And so we have “stand your ground” rewritten as essentially a license to kill because now a shooter can claim they felt threatened enough in a confrontation to use lethal force.

That nuance of law led Gualtieri to decline to arrest Michael Drejka for fatally shooting Markeis McGlockton in an argument over a parking violation that spiraled out of control.

At a rally in Clearwater, Sharpton said Gualtieri should “give up his badge” for not immediately arresting Drejka, who is white, for shooting McGlockton, who is black, to death.


The better argument is whether, regardless of color, Drejka felt empowered on some level by the state’s idiotic interpretation of SYG to use lethal force in what should have been a relatively minor scuffle, if that.

A lot of people, including me, warned this type of confrontation was coming once state Republican lawmakers rammed this SYG modification through. I asked Gualtieri on Tuesday night if he would have thought differently about arresting Drejka under the old standard of SYG.

“This is an extremely complicated case,” he told me. “The state statute as I understand it says you can’t arrest without probable cause.”

I believe his interpretation is correct. It’s what GOP lawmakers had in mind when they pushed through the NRA-backed enhancements to SYG. And that, folks, is what Gualtieri is required to enforce.

If outsiders like Al Sharpton really want to make a difference here more than a headline, stop blaming law enforcement officers on the front line for enforcing what legislators forced upon them.

They should stop pretending this is solely a black-white issue. It’s a red issue, as in the blood that is being spilled when lawmakers decide that it’s legal to shoot first and justify later.

That’s what the protest should be about.

Joe Henderson: A warning to the GOP: Parkland isn’t going away

The Parkland kids and their determination to change the culture in Florida is the biggest X-factor in the primaries this month and in the November general election.

That much has become increasingly evident as the campaigns have wound their ways toward the citizens’ right to determine what kind of state we want to be. Parkland’s influence can be seen in the latest ads by Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Philip Levine

It showcased the endorsements the former Miami Beach Mayor received from the parents of Joaquin Oliver and Jaime Guttenberg — students who lost their lives during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

That’s after Democrat Jeff Greene also invoked Parkland in a recent ad, while Democratic front-runner Gwen Graham has promised to issue an executive order as Governor that would ban the sale of assault-style weapons like the one used at Parkland.

Democratic candidates Chris King and Andrew Gillum have made similar gun-control pitches as part of their basic platforms. 

At this point, it should be clear to Republicans and their NRA supporters that just shouting “Second Amendment rights” might not cut it this time. The memory of 17 funerals at Parkland, including 14 students, remains fresh and raw.

The backlash put Adam Putnam into full retreat in the Republican gubernatorial race as he sought to distance himself from the dreadful “proud NRA sellout” line. And Ron DeSantis, the current GOP front-runner, has embraced the expansive gun rights agenda championed by the NRA.

While the Second Amendment isn’t on the ballot in November, the emphasis it will be given by state government really is front and center.

Some Republicans, regrettably, have trashed Parkland survivors who spoke out for stronger gun laws in the wake of the slaughter. None were worse than state Rep. Elizabeth Porter of Lake City, who dismissed them as ill-prepared children who should trust the, ahem, “wisdom” of the adults in Tallahassee.

“We’ve been told that we need to listen to the children and do what the children ask,” she said on the state house floor. “Are there any children on this floor? Are there any children making laws?

“Do we allow the children to tell us that we should pass a law that says ’no homework’? Or you finish high school at the age of 12 just because they want it so? No.”

And then, oh dear, she went on to say. “The adults make the laws because we have the age, we have the wisdom, and we have the experience.”

Tell you what, Ms. Porter. These “children” as you so blithely dismiss them have the “experience” and “wisdom” of living through a horrific experience no person should ever have to endure.

They have the “experience” and “wisdom” of attending funerals of their high-school classmates while you slurped at the trough of the NRA.

But it was exactly that kind of “oh child” back-of-the-hand dismissal of the Parkland kids that has led to this showdown. It has been nearly six months since Parkland, and, sadly, in many other events of mass killing that has been more than enough time for the memory to fade from the public consciousness.

Don’t think it’s gonna happen this time, though.

Those kids aren’t going away.

Parkland isn’t going away.

Joe Henderson: Andrew Learned knows about the extra mile

Andrew Learned took time off Sunday from his campaign represent Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Instead of hanging out or lounging around the house though, Learned competed in the Siesta Key Triathlon. He finished 13th overall.

Supporters shouldn’t fret though. He was back on the trail by midafternoon, tweeting his disdain for President Trump and other political matters.

I mention this because he is a Democrat and the district he wants to represent covers largely conservative parts of eastern Hillsborough and Polk counties and has generally regarded as reliably Republican.

Conventional wisdom says that a Democrat can’t win there.

If politics has shown us nothing else in the last couple of years though, that seems to matter less and less.

For the last year he has been essentially going door-to-door throughout the district, accepting every invitation to meet with civic groups, attending house parties, and building relationships the old-fashioned way — making time, listening, and when asked a question choosing direct answers over talking points.

He is personable, just 32 years old, confident, he has a compelling personal story, too.

He grew up in Valrico and graduated from the University of Tampa, and later interned for a pair of Hillsborough County Commissioners — Republican Mark Sharpe and Democrat Kevin Beckner.

“The first time I met him, I was really impressed,” Sharpe said. “He is a very sharp young man, and I’m not the least bit surprised that he is running for Congress. I’ve been really impressed with him. He has run a very smart campaign. I definitely think he can win.”

Learned was a Republican as a student majoring in economics and political science, but converted because, he said, “the Republican Party left me a long time ago” by its policies on public education, health care, women’s issues, immigration and tax policies that he says hurts the middle class and makes rich guys richer.

“All that money is flying off to the Caymans,” he said.

On his website, he addresses immigration like this:

”Besides the obvious policy of deporting Donald Trump and Stephen Miller, we need a new generation of leaders capable of adding some sanity and common sense to our country’s immigration policy.

“Ripping children from the arms of their parents as a deterrent is abhorrent. We should be striving to keep families together, welcoming our new neighbors, and helping them get on their feet so we can get them to work in our high-demand labor economy.”

That stance might make the hair stand up on the back of the necks of immigration hawks but Learned doesn’t care. If they want to accuse him of being soft on that subject, they should first understand that he is a Navy veteran who had three deployments to the Middle East.

While there, he led small teams on confrontations with Somali pirates. He was the Navy’s surface planner in Bahrain. And as he wryly notes, “It will be hard to beat me because I’m the only person with military experience in this race.”

And as he said to me with a big smile when we met recently at a Valrico Starbucks, “I got an F-rating from the NRA!”

He also has the support of several Democratic Party officials, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who has helped him in fundraising.

Even so, winning the nomination in the Aug. 28 primary won’t be easy.

Lakeland attorney Kristen Carlson jumped into the race just before the filing deadline in May. She has been endorsed by EMILY’S List, a group pushing for women to be elected to Congress and state legislatures, and that helped her jump into the fundraising lead. The Cook Political Report has tabbed her as the favorite among Democrats.

And while it said the district could go blue this fall, the report said it is still leaning Republican.

But Learned is not deterred.

He talks about his army of volunteers, contacting each eligible voter in the primary to tell his story. While we were talking, people were stopping by the outdoor table where we sat to shake his hand and just say hello.

Will it be enough?

We won’t know that until Aug. 28.

Here’s what we do know though. Even in a district that has been represented by Republican Dennis Ross, skeptics better beware before jumping to conclusions and thinking things can’t change.

Learned is in this race to win, and he knows something about going the extra mile.

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