Opinions Archives - Page 2 of 267 - Florida Politics

Darryl Paulson: President Oprah Winfrey?

Is Oprah Winfrey seriously considering a run for the presidency in 2020?

If so, will Americans support another celebrity politician with no political experience after the disaster known as Donald Trump?

If you ask me whether I would prefer having Trump or Oprah as a neighbor or a dinner companion, it is clearly Oprah. Ask me which one I would prefer having as president, the answer is neither.

I opposed Trump as president because I found him neither to be a Republican or a conservative. Most importantly, I found Trump to be uniquely unqualified to be president. Nothing has happened in his first year in office to change my opinion.

I would oppose Oprah Winfrey for the same reasons. She is extraordinarily successful; so was Trump. She is a billionaire; so is Trump. She has no political experience; neither did Trump.

Politics may be the only career where experience is considered a weakness. I hope you don’t choose your heart surgeon using the same criteria.

For those who argue that Oprah could not do any worse than Trump, I would argue that it is a low standard on which to judge a candidate. In addition, we won’t know if Oprah would be better or worse than Trump until she holds the position.

Supporters of Oprah argue that she is far more likable than Trump. She has consistently been rated among the most admired women in America. So was Hillary Clinton, and that did not help her in her presidential campaign.

Although Winfrey has no formal political experience, she did help secure passage of what is known as the “Oprah bill,” or the National Child Protection Act, which set up a national database of convicted child abusers.

Winfrey has given away tens of millions to support various causes, including the construction of 60 schools in 13 nations. One of those schools was the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

Winfrey has strong ties to two critical Democratic constituency groups, women and African-Americans. This could be an asset in a presidential race.

Even many Republicans see Winfrey as a strong candidate. Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, stated that Oprah is “more sensible on economics than Bernie Sanders, understands middle-class Americans better than Elizabeth Warren, is younger than Joe Biden and nicer than Andrew Cuomo.”

Oprah Winfrey’s negatives are long. Will American support another celebrity candidate with no political experience, or will they see her as a left-wing version of Trump?

Voters often select someone who is the opposite of the person occupying the White House. Will Oprah be seen as more of the same?

As a longtime media personality, every statement Winfrey has ever made will be reviewed and analyzed. How many times will we hear: “And you win a car. Everyone wins a car?”

A recent piece by Robert Tracinski described Winfrey as “our nation’s premier snake oil salesman.” Gwyneth Paltrow pushed her coffee enemas, Suzanne Somers offered her hormone therapy and vitamin treatments, and Jenny McCarthy attacked vaccinations for children on Oprah’s show.

Oprah created Mehmet Oz as “America’s Doctor.” Dr. Oz has recommended so many controversial cures that his colleagues at Columbia University wrote an op-ed saying that over half of his recommendations lacked scientific underpinnings. “Many of us are spending a significant amount of our clinical time debunking Oz-isms regarding metabolism game changers.”

Oprah is a successful person who has been a voice for the voiceless. Is that enough to qualify her as a presidential candidate?

Oprah’s elevation as a presidential candidate may simply signal the weakness of the Democratic Party and its pool of presidential candidates, just as Trump’s candidacy signaled the debacle that is now the Republican Party.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.

Herschel Vinyard: CRC should reject Proposal 23

The sanctity of Florida’s Constitution is violated when we seek to fill it with “feel good” amendments that are often vague, duplicative, and trigger unintended consequences. Such amendments are why we have a Florida Constitution addressing pigs, high-speed trains, funding for radios, and the taxation of boat storage facilities.

Certainly, all of these topics are important, but they do not belong in a constitution.

For this reason, the CRC should reject Proposal 23, which promotes additional, and potentially frivolous, environmental litigation.

As a former Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, I had the privilege of working with the sponsor of CRC Proposal 23 to identify restoration projects designed to reduce harmful algal blooms and freshwater discharges in Martin County. She was a terrific partner and her efforts to improve Florida’s environment are genuine and appreciated.

However, this proposed amendment to allow an individual to disregard our environmental laws and place environmental decision making in Florida’s courts (which were named last month as the No. 1 “judicial hellhole” in the country) is not the answer.

Current law already allows affected citizens to be involved in development permits and to take legal action to stop any person or company from “violating any laws, rules, or regulations for the protection of the air, water, and other natural resources of the state.” A constitutional amendment creating another right to sue is not the purpose of a constitution and would add to the litany of vague and duplicative amendments in our constitution.

Environmental restoration could also be jeopardized by this proposed amendment and would certainly be an unintended consequence. For example, communities served by septic tanks along the Indian River Lagoon and our springs have recognized that septic tanks are contributing to the degradation of those water bodies. Many of those communities are now investing in new or expanded central wastewater treatment systems to improve our springs and important watersheds. But, those new wastewater treatment systems are a source of “pollution.”

Regretfully, this proposed amendment gives a disgruntled homeowner not wanting to give up his or her septic tank another litigation avenue to block a new wastewater treatment system.

Restoration, not litigation, should be our rallying cry.

The last time the CRC convened in 1997-98, they too considered a similar proposal regarding vague environmental rights, and appropriately decided not to advance the proposal.

The CRC committee now considering Proposal 23 would be wise to follow suit.

Florida’s Constitution is a sacred document and is no place for feel-good amendments like CRC Proposal 23.

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Herschel Vinyard is an environmental lawyer for Foley & Lardner LLP. He served for four years as Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Mona Mangat: Marco Rubio, you failed Florida kids once. Here’s your chance to make amends.

Just recently, in the midst of cold and flu season, a young asthmatic patient of mine who works in the fast food industry walked into my office barely able to breathe. She couldn’t speak. We quickly worked to open up her airways, and the story she then shared was chilling. She had stopped her maintenance asthma medications two months earlier because the out-of-pocket cost was too high, and she prioritized her child’s medications over her own.

She had been sick for two days but willed herself to go to work where, upon entering a freezer, her lungs immediately seized up.

Children, families and parents like my patient are caught in the crosshairs of the Republican tax and budget overhaul that will shift trillions in tax breaks to the rich and corporations while forcing health care cuts and higher taxes on working families. At the same time, the health care of millions of children hangs in the balance as their families wait to see if Congress will provide long-term stability to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

After letting funding dwindle for months since its expiration in October, congressional Republicans relied on their standard answer for issues like this; they kicked the can down the road by only funding the program through March. But children and their families need full funding soon. They cannot spend several more months like they spent the last few — wondering if their children will get the care they needed.

And they need a real champion in Washington, D.C. — not just someone who pays lip service only to turn his back when families need him the most. Sen. Marco Rubio recently tried to claim the title of children’s champion, making headlines when he demanded improvements to the tax bill’s Children’s Tax Credit (CTC) in exchange for his vote. But that was grandstanding with little substance.

With just minor tweaks, Rubio voted for the Senate bill despite the fact that 26 million families would get only a token share of the credit and 4 million immigrant children of taxpaying parents would face new restrictions.

Recently, Rubio admitted that the deal he agreed to was lackluster, “probably” helps corporations too much, and won’t result in significant economic growth. This isn’t the first time Rubio has been caught showboating and pretending to be a fighter for families, and unfortunately, it’s hard to say that it will be the last.

But now Senator Rubio has an opportunity to stand up for many of the same kids the CTC leaves behind by becoming a vocal champion for CHIP and demanding that the same senators who pressured him into voting for the tax package provide families with certainty and ensure their kids will have the health care coverage they need.

Without CHIP reauthorization, 215,000 kids in Florida will be kicked off the insurance rolls. Failing to champion the reauthorization of CHIP is morally reprehensible, and Florida won’t forgive Rubio if he fails families again.

For me, this isn’t about a win for any particular party, it’s about taking care of my patients. Patients should never have to choose between purchasing their medications or their kids.’ Doctors like me stood up to speak out against this tax bill because we know it will hurt our patients, and we are demanding that CHIP be reauthorized because we know they can’t get the care they need without it.

It would have been refreshing to see Sen. Rubio stand up for his constituents during the tax debate but instead, he folded like he too often does. Florida voters won’t forget this latest publicity stunt from Rubio or his many votes to take away our health care, but agreeing to move CHIP forward would be a step in the right direction.

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Dr. Mona Mangat is an allergist and immunologist in St. Petersburg and former Board Chair of Doctors for America.

Heather Fitzenhagen: Level the playing field for Florida franchise operators

It’s safe to say that a large part of Florida’s thriving economy is fueled by franchised businesses, which provide some of our most common services — fast food, auto repairs, haircuts, and so on. Without committed business owners, who take on the responsibility of growing small local businesses associated with big national chains, we would miss out on countless staples of everyday life.

Even though their business signs carry the names of global brands, they are actually local operations owned by friends and neighbors who have invested their time and money in pursuit of their dreams. They operate in good faith in cooperation with the national brands, yet they’re not always treated with the same kind of good faith in return.

To operate a franchise business, owners devote hundreds of thousands of dollars on the franchise agreement, equipment and supplies, employees, advertising, and so much more. Right now, Florida provides few legal safeguards for the small-business men and businesswomen who choose to invest their hard-earned personal resources in a franchise business opportunity. I hope to change that.

Through my position as a member of the Florida Legislature, I have filed legislation promoting fair business relations between franchisors and franchisees, which will ultimately result in new business development and job creation for our state. The Small Business Parity Act is designed to help achieve a more level playing field for those who invest their personal time, money, and energy to build local businesses. It will bring important new reforms to the 40,000 small franchise operations in Florida who provide more than 400,000 jobs for our state’s residents.

Currently, a corporation can terminate its franchise agreement — and effectively drive the operator out of business — with the snap of a finger. They don’t even need to have a valid cause. They can do it simply because it’s better for them, regardless of the consequences on the hometown business owner. That is grossly unfair and imposes a tremendous burden on a well-intended entrepreneur. My legislation would help these franchise owners protect their growing businesses, providing a more even balance in the franchise relationship.

Along with providing this balance, the legislation has numerous provisions to ensure that local Florida businesses are treated fairly. It would stop a corporation from refusing to renew a franchise agreement unless the operator fails to substantially comply with the franchise agreement; it allows operators to sell or transfer their franchise to a qualified person; and it permits Florida franchise operators the right to pursue legal disputes with their franchisor in a Florida court and under Florida law.

My proposed legislation defends small-business owners and their dreams, without burdening the large corporations when they act in good faith. These are common-sense approaches that embody reasonable business practices. Florida business owners should be able to safeguard their investment and their livelihood. We may not notice the work put into these businesses behind the scenes, but we should step to the front now to shield them and their ability to continue providing jobs and fueling Florida’s economy.

Almost half of all states in the country have enacted similar measures to balance the partnership between small-business owners and their corporate brands. Florida should join the growing list of states doing the right thing by passing the Small Business Parity Act.

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Florida state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen is a Republican representing the Fort Myers area. She is sponsoring HB 1219, the Small Business Parity Act.

Tim Canova: Let the voters decide

Floridians have never been closer to putting an open primaries referendum on the 2018 ballot than we are today.

A proposal to amend our primary system was submitted by Commissioner Bill Schifino of the Florida Constitutional Commission (CRC). Schifino’s open primary proposal is now one of six being considered by the full Commission, out of more than 2000 original proposals.

Florida needs this political reform. In 2016, independent voters who wanted to vote in the presidential primaries were presented with two bad options: register with a political party they refused to join or stay home. The Schifino proposal will allow 3.4 million independent voters — 26 percent of all voters in Florida — to cast their ballots in either the Democratic or Republican primary elections without being forced to join a party.

All the CRC has to do is put the measure before the voters for approval. I hope they listen to the people and do just that.

I’m a passionate advocate on many policy issues, and sometimes people ask me why I devote time and energy advocating for opening our primary system. For me, being a progressive means advocating for a system that is fair to all voters, including people who disagree with me. That’s the kind of leadership that is so lacking in Congress today. Closed primaries are part of a political culture that allows party insiders to thrive at the expense of the people.

In a poll co-conducted by my organization Progress for All, Florida Fair and Open Primaries and Open Primaries, 73 percent of Floridians-including majorities of Republicans and Democrats as well as independents- supported putting an open primaries measure before the voters in November 2018.

Demographics in our state and in our country are changing rapidly. Independents are the fastest growing segment of voters in Florida, and some surveys suggest more than 70 percent of millennials are independents. We risk losing an entire generation of voters if we don’t embrace them. Democrats can’t win elections without independent voters. Right now we’re saying to them, “You’re not wanted in the primary process, but join us in the general election.” We simply can’t have it both ways.

I was disappointed in the recent decision of the Unity Reform Commission, a body created by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) at the 2016 National Convention, to not recommend that the Democratic Party enact a 50-state open primaries rule for the 2020 presidential contest. Regardless of state election law, both political parties could, if they wanted, write rules to give every voter in every state the right to cast a ballot in the 2020 presidential primaries. It was a missed opportunity for Democrats to open our doors to independents.

Effective political change requires more than replacing individual politicians. Our political system itself is reinforcing partisanship at ever-increasing rates. If we want to transform politics, we have to elect better leaders and change how they get elected.

Which brings me back to the Constitution Revision Commission and their opportunity to now do right by the people of Florida.

The Commission held nine public hearings in early 2017, from Miami to the Florida Panhandle, to hear firsthand what issues are most important to citizens. Thousands of Floridians spoke out at the hearings, signed petitions, sent emails and made calls to CRC members to support an open primaries referendum. Inspired by this demand, Commissioner Bill Schifino introduced his proposal.

Now as the Commission moves proposals forward — including a vote on the open primaries proposal — we need to make our voices heard as we did so strongly last year. The CRC will be holding a second set of public hearings starting Feb. 12. I hope everyone will join me in attending one or more of these hearing and urge the CRC to adopt Commissioner Schifino’s recommendation and put an open primaries referendum on the 2018 ballot for the voters to approve.

The message is simple: Let the voters decide. That’s a progressive value that all Floridians can get behind.

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Tim Canova is the Chair of Progress for All, a grassroots political and community action group based in Hollywood, Florida that supports progressive candidates and causes. He is challenging Debbie Wasserman Schultz for the Democratic Party nomination in South Florida’s 23rd Congressional District.

Melba Pearson, Shalini Goel Agarwal: Keep Florida from falling further behind; adopt meaningful criminal justice reform

Florida is falling behind on criminal justice reform.

While a majority of states – including Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas – have adopted comprehensive criminal justice reforms over the last several years with bipartisan support, Florida has done little to evaluate its existing policies and create a more effective system. Other states are reducing incarceration levels while simultaneously lowering crime rates and saving millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, Florida spends more than $2.3 billion a year to incarcerate nearly 100,000 people in prison. From 1970 to 2014, our population has roughly tripled; but the number of people in prison increased by more than 1,000 percent. Between 1990 and 2009, the length of sentences increased by 166 percent – more than any other state.

It’s clear that Florida is sending too many people to prison for too long, and in doing so, wasting our tax dollars. It’s time that our legislators do something to stop as well as reverse Florida’s ineffective reliance on mass incarceration.

Florida’s failure to overhaul its system has nothing to do with lack of opportunity or popular support. Year after year, our lawmakers fail to move forward proposals that would undoubtedly improve the criminal justice system. They cannot shift their complacency onto the backs of constituents, claiming voters want “tough-on-crime” politicians. Floridians are ready for change. A poll recently released by Right on Crime – a conservative advocacy group – found that registered Florida voters, including Republicans, back criminal justice reforms that are being proposed in the 2018 legislative session.

For starters, lawmakers should allow judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences when they find that level of punishment is not justified. Right now, judges’ hands are tied by laws meant to target drug kingpins. Instead, people facing nonviolent, and often first-time, drug offenses are now captured in a system with long sentences and no rehabilitation. Imprisonment is not appropriate for people who suffer from addiction or mental health issues. Treatment is the more effective path in the short and long-term, and the less expensive option. Two-thirds of Florida voters believe judges should have the discretion to depart from these sentences when appropriate. Legislators should support two bills in this legislative session, SB 694 and HB 481, as these bills will allow a judge the discretion to impose an appropriate sentence that fits the crime.

Further, we should also raise the monetary value threshold at which theft becomes a felony. The amount hasn’t been updated – even for inflation – since 1986. At $300, we have one of the lowest thresholds in the country; in Georgia, it’s $1,500 and in Texas, it’s $2,500. This outdated law burdens people charged with theft of items like bicycles, an article of clothing, or small electronics with lifelong consequences that don’t fit the crime. Each conviction could end up costing Florida taxpayers up to $100,000 – the average amount it costs to house someone in a state prison for five years. SB 928 and HB 713 would raise the monetary threshold to $1,500, which a majority of Floridians support. While that amount is still lower than some other southern states, passing this legislation would be a much-needed step in the right direction.

Lastly, we should encourage pre-arrest diversion programs that keep people from cycling into the criminal justice system in the first place and save money. A majority of arrests in Florida are for misdemeanor offenses. We shouldn’t be sending so many people to jail for low-level crimes and burdening taxpayers with the cost of housing, meals, health care and supervision. Nearly three in four Florida voters believe counties should be encouraged to create civil citation programs that would provide law enforcement officers an alternative to arrest.

Fortunately, several leading legislators have proposed these reforms and are taking to heart that Floridians say the primary purpose of the criminal justice system should be to rehabilitate, not punish. Now is the time for the entire legislature to support their effort. It is time for our leaders to adopt smart policies that will prevent crime and reduce recidivism, while saving taxpayer dollars and keeping us safe.

No more excuses. It is time we had better justice in Florida.

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Shalini Goel Agarwal is managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center. Melba Pearson is deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and immediate past president of The National Black Prosecutors Association.

Marleny Olivo: Palm Beach School Board should stop attacking charter school students

This week I asked to join litigation against the Palm Beach County School Board. As a working mother of two young sons, this is not a battle I wanted to fight.

But I have little choice. The school board is mistreating charter school students, including my younger son.

Board members have filed a lawsuit against House Bill 7069, which the Florida Legislature adopted last Session. This bill requires all education dollars to be spent on public school students equally, including charter students. But the board doesn’t want to comply.

It is ridiculous for the board to think district school students deserve more money than those in charter schools.

Charter schools, after all, are public schools. They are funded by public dollars, though managed privately. They must meet strict standards, and they’re closed if they receive failing grades or don’t meet parents’ expectations.

Yet the school board wants to disregard its obligation to the county’s charter students.

This is why I have joined the Academy for Positive Learning, which my 10-year-old son attends, in filing a motion to intervene in the school board’s lawsuit.

The board’s opposition to equalizing education funding is only the latest of its efforts to undermine charter schools. It consistently has rejected charter school applications, denying all the applications it received in 2014-2015.

When its rejection of one charter was overturned on appeal by the Florida Department of Education, the school board litigated all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, where it lost in September.

This animosity toward charter schools hurts children. Tens of thousands of charter school parents in Palm Beach County, like me, know first-hand what the charter option can mean to a child.

My 13-year-old attends a district school and has always done well. But my younger son had trouble at a district school, particularly with bullying. The state’s charter school option allowed me to enroll him in the Academy for Positive Learning, where he is safe and knows any bullying will be addressed immediately.

At the district school, he was distracted and his grades were inconsistent. With fewer students per class at the Academy, he now makes mostly A’s.

Opponents sometimes characterize charter schools as “cherry-picking” the “best” students. But more than 85 percent of Academy students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and a quarter of its students are English-language learners. Yet the Academy is an “A” school.

Like school board members, I want strong district schools, which do a fine job for most students, such as my older son. But not all students learn in the same manner or at the same pace. Charter schools can offer programs designed for students who struggle in the typical classroom setting.

A study released by the state Department of Education this year found charter students, particularly minority students, are making significant academic gains and frequently outperform their peers in district schools.

So why would the school board oppose these alternatives?

The school board has argued the state’s charter policies take education decisions “out of the hands of local voters.” But in fighting charter schools, the board is taking education decisions out of the hands of parents.

As a parent, I love school choice, but fair funding for charters is necessary to make that choice meaningful.

The Palm Beach County School Board should stop pitting district students against charter students and focus on giving all our children the best education possible.

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Marleny Olivo lives in West Palm Beach.

Marion Hammer: An open letter to Senator Jack Latvala

Dear Senator Latvala,

In view of the massive amount of campaign funds in your possession, which can be disbursed for qualified charitable purposes at your discretion, I ask for your consideration on behalf of children with learning disabilities.

Financial contributions to improve educational opportunities for children with learning disabilities, specifically dyslexia, is critically important to families of these children.

The community of families of children with learning disabilities has a triple load. Raising a child in today’s society is difficult. Raising a child with learning disabilities is even more difficult because of their special needs and the special individualized attention required. Even more challenging is the difficulty in funding the educational needs of these children.

The financial burden of trying to meet the needs of these children can be suffocating. Scholarships are the lifeline for parents in this community of special children.

Through my volunteer work with Dyslexia Research Institute, Inc. and its laboratory school, Woodland Hall Academy, I have found that one of the greatest disabilities children with dyslexia suffer is being stuck in a public-school system that cannot serve the needs of these children.

Children with dyslexia need and deserve a chance to achieve success. That’s why I am asking you to donate $1,000,000 to Dyslexia Research Institute’s scholarship fund dedicated to helping pay tuition for children with dyslexia and associated learning disabilities.

I am not asking for money for bicycles, Nintendo Switch or PS4 game consoles. Nor am I asking for iPhones, dolls, clothes or gift cards.

I’m asking for money to buy the gift of reading, the gift of writing, and the gift of math — those lasting and enduring gifts that can only be given through the generosity of those who care.

You can make a profound difference in the lives of many children by making a substantial contribution to Dyslexia Research Institute, Inc., a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.

Dyslexia is not a disease or disorder, it is an alternate configuration of the nervous system. In simple terms, the brains of dyslexic children are wired differently.  And, although the overwhelming majority of these children are exceptionally bright, they cannot be taught to read, write and learn through traditional methods. They need different methods of instruction. Instruction that helps create paths to knowledge through what effectively amounts to rerouting the wiring of the brain, much like the way the body adapts to compensate for a physical injury.

Dyslexia only minimally discriminates. It appears in both sexes, in all religions, all ethnic groups and nationalities and all professions. In short, dyslexia, occurs in all walks of life. However, the most common thread generally found in children with dyslexia is the high level of intelligence that is locked inside the brains of these children. The struggle for dyslexic children to learn and decode information is frustrating and laborious and takes an extraordinary amount of work and attention.

It has been my experience that in Florida’s public schools, children with dyslexia are treated like square pegs that must be pounded into round holes. They are shuffled in and out of classes and into remedial reading, remedial math and special programs that do nothing effective in teaching these children.

In order for these children to realize their full potential, the only real hope is through private schools that focus on the educational requirements of these children. Unfortunately, most parents cannot afford the costs of these private schools and rely on scholarship assistance.

At Dyslexia Research’s Woodland Hall Academy, scholarships are based on financial need. Parents pay based on their ability to pay and then scholarship funding provides the balance.

Think for a moment of looking into the precious face of a child who is eager to learn and go to a school where everybody (teachers, administrators, other kids and other parents) all understand what he or she is going through. A school where there is no bullying, no taunting, no laughing or teasing because everybody knows how hard it is to learn. A school where other kids don’t call you “stupid” or “dummy” because you have difficulty learning to read. Think of all of this, and know that you can make this happen. All it takes is a selfless act of generosity.

You can make a difference. You can have a positive impact on the lives of many of these children. A gift of $1,000,000 will change lives. You can give a bright future and a whole new world to children who only need for you to open the door.

The difference you make is not just for today, it will last tomorrow and forever.

A check should be payable to “Dyslexia Research Institute, Inc.” and mailed to 5246 Centerville Road, Tallahassee, Florida 32309. You may call them at 850-893-2216 and they will provide you with the tax-exempt documents you may need.

Most sincerely,

Marion P. Hammer

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Marion Hammer is the National Rifle Association’s first female president, and has been Florida’s NRA lobbyist since the late 1970s.

Chris Hudson: This Legislative Session, Floridians have much to be enthusiastic about

As we kick off 2018, a message to Florida lawmakers: Don’t quit while you’re ahead.

Last year, our legislators kept many New Year’s resolutions: trimming the fat from the state budget, making sure taxpayers kept more of their hard-earned money and expanding educational opportunity for children across the state. This Session, there are several legislative proposals that would maintain the steady momentum toward a more efficient and effective state government.

At the top of the list are measures, introduced by Republican state Rep. Bryan Avila and Sens. Rene Garcia and Tom Lee to continue ridding our state of corporate welfare handouts for a few favored industries at the expense of hardworking taxpayers. These bills seek to end giveaways to professional sports franchises and make sure ordinary Floridians no longer bear the cost when wealthy teams want to build new stadiums or renovate their arenas. Lawmakers should pass them right away.

Next up, slashing red tape that restricts our state’s economic growth.

Common-sense regulatory reform bills introduced by Republican Rep. Manny Diaz and Sen. Keith Perry would require the state to review regulations annually and get rid of any that are redundant, overly burdensome or that disproportionately harm small businesses. This is a practical way to make it easier for businesses and entrepreneurs to do what they do best: grow our economy and create jobs.

And, while they have their scissors out, lawmakers should also slice through our state’s convoluted certificate of need laws that force health care providers to get a government permission slip before expanding or building new facilities, offering additional services or buying equipment. These restrictive mandates decrease the number of health care facilities and the variety of services available, ultimately making health care more expensive and limiting options for patients. Getting rid of the certificate of need and pursuing additional reforms to laws governing ambulatory surgical centers and other facilities will empower patients and improve our health care choices.

Alongside reforms such as these, lawmakers can also give a leg up to workers and students in our state.

A union recertification bill would increase transparency and ensure that public employee unions remain accountable to the Florida workers they are supposed to represent.

Rep. Rob Rommel and Sen. Dennis Baxley’s campus free speech bills would do away with so-called “free speech zones” that restrict students’ First Amendment rights to small, designated spaces, instead re-establishing the right to free expression everywhere on the campuses of the state’s public universities. The measure would stimulate our institutions of higher learning to become a marketplace of ideas where students are exposed to diverse viewpoints and learn the value of civil discourse — skills critical to success in our complex world.

There’s something for everyone in these proposals and Floridians from the Panhandle to the Keys have much to be enthusiastic about.

By building on past success, our lawmakers can make the Sunshine State an even better place to live, work and raise a family.

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Chris Hudson is Americans for Prosperity’s Florida state director.

Darryl Paulson: Democratic tsunami is coming

Forget the talk about Democrats picking up Congressional seats in 2018. If Democrats don’t take control of the House, it will prove that Democrats are either inept, or God has intervened for the Republicans.

Almost every political indicator going into the 2018 election favors the Democrats.

Midterms: The party occupying the White House has lost seats in the House in all but three elections over the past century. The average midterm loss is 33 seats. Democrats need to flip only 24 seats to take control of the House

President’s Approval Rating: Unpopular presidents stir the passion of voters to turn out in larger than normal numbers. President Barack Obama had only a -3 rating (46 percent approval, 49 percent disapproval) in 2010, but Democrats lost 63 seats primarily due to negative reaction to Obamacare without a single Republican vote. Many see parallels in the 2018 midterm with voters upset about the tax reform passage without a single Democratic vote. President George W. Bush was at a -16 rating (39 percent approval, 55 percent disapproval) and Republicans lost 31 seats. President Donald Trump is at a historic low in approval at -22 — just 36 percent approval.

Generic Congressional Vote: The Democrats had been leading in the generic congressional vote by 7 percent during much of 2017. That lead has now grown to anywhere between 12 to 18 points according to three surveys. Each would be the largest lead in the generic vote in congressional election history. There are currently 58 Republican seats with a partisan lean of 12 points or less and 103 seats with a partisan lean of 18 points or less. If these numbers hold, Democrats could pick up far more than the 63 seats that Republicans won in 2010.

Special Elections: There have been 70 special elections for state and federal legislative seats in 2017. Democrats have outperformed the partisan lean in 74 percent of those elections. The Democratic margins have exceeded the lean by 12 percent. In April, a special election was held in Kansas to replace Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo, who resigned to become director of the CIA in the Trump administration.

Trump carried the district by 27 points.  The Republican candidate won by only 7 points, a shift of 20 points to the Democrat. A 21 point rout by Trump in Montana was followed by a mere 6 point win for the Republican candidate in a May special election. A 19 point Trump victory in South Carolina’s 5th District turned into a 3 point squeaker for the Republican candidate in a June special election. In a state senate race in Miami, Annette Taddeo, who had lost multiple races for office, defeated a well-known and well-financed Republican to win a low-turnout special election.

Democrats had a long record of losing such races.

Democrats easily won gubernatorial contests in New Jersey and Virginia and picked up scores of seats in the Virginia legislature. Finally, a 28 point Trump victory in Alabama turned into an embarrassing Republican loss in a special election to replace Senator Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become Trump’s Attorney General. Democrats had not won a Senate race in Alabama since 1992. It was so bad that only 41 percent of Alabama Republicans had a favorable impression of Republican Roy Moore, while 51% had a favorable impression of Democrat Doug Jones.

Republican hopes rest on the belief that circumstances will change between now and election day. They could change, but that also means circumstances could get even worse for Republicans. For example, many Republicans hope the recently passed tax bill will benefit them politically when many voters see extra dollars in their paychecks. However, the economy has steadily improved during Trump’s first year, and he has received virtually no benefit from that.

Second, Republicans hope that we are in a different political environment. They point to the fact that Trump’s approval numbers were lower than Hillary Clinton’s, but voters still elected Trump.  They are hoping that Trump’s low approval numbers will not have an adverse impact on Republican congressional candidates.

Finally, Republicans hope that Democrats will continue to blow political opportunities, just as they blew the 2016 presidential election. Democrats have often pulled defeat from the jaws of victory.

As Ed O’Keefe and Dave Weigel recently wrote in the Washington Post: Democrats “can’t agree on what the party stands for. From immigration to banking reform to taxes to sexual harassment, many in the party say it does not have a unified message to spread around the country.”

Will Democrats push too hard on the Trump impeachment?  Will the party come up with a unified vision of the future? Finally, who will be the face and spokesperson for the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton is out, but are Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders any better?

Democratic hopes for 2018 may depend on Republicans being more inept than Democrats. It should be a great battle.

Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and Elections.

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