Opinions Archives - Page 5 of 229 - Florida Politics

Joe Henderson: Bob Buckhorn made the right call not to run for Governor

Bob Buckhorn is a gregarious, ambitious and determined man, and I think he would have made a fine governor for the state of Florida. He certainly ranks among the best mayors the city of Tampa has ever had.

But I also believe he made the right call when he announced in an email to supporters Thursday morning that “I am not planning to be a candidate for Governor in 2018.”

Now, saying “I am not planning …” does leave a little wiggle room in case Democrats come storming to his door, but that is not likely to happen. There could be several viable options for Dems in 2018, including Orlando attorney John Morgan, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham.

But Buckhorn wasn’t kidding in that email when he said, “I have a job I love.” In his case, that was not the usual politician-speak for “I’ve sized up the field and decided I have no chance.”

Tampa has had some fine mayors dating back more than 40 years — people like Dick Greco, Bill Poe, Sandy Freedman, Bob Martinez, Pam Iorio — and none of them wanted the job more than Buckhorn. He loved saying that Tampa had its “swagger” back. Trust me on this; no one has more swagger than he does.

And Buckhorn came along at the right time, too. When he assumed office in 2011, the city’s knees were buckling from the Great Recession (Iorio deserves credit for how she guided Tampa during that time). But Buckhorn moved ahead with an ambitious plan to reshape downtown from a dead place where the streets didn’t wait until 5 p.m. to roll up.

There are so many things going on now that the biggest downtown problem is a lack of parking.

That’s not to say the mayor hasn’t had issues. Not everyone approved of the military-style security Buckhorn championed that turned downtown into a fenced-off encampment during the 2012 Republican National Convention. And when Buckhorn decides he wants something, he tends to bulldoze any opposition that raises a peep of protest.

He didn’t make a lot of friends in the African-American community, either, when a Tampa Bay Times report about the disproportionate number of black bicyclists stopped by local police led to a U.S. Department of Justice investigation. Buckhorn defiantly supported the police on that issue.

When you’re in a job like this one, though, you’ll be judged on your overall score. On his watch, the long process of building Tampa’s Riverwalk finally went from concept to reality. It already is the signature landmark in the city.

He streamlined much of the bureaucracy on things like the permitting process. That helped speed his vision for transforming downtown into an urban dwelling center rather than just a place where people went to work.

He once famously quipped that infrastructure was the most important thing for city mayors, so while things like new firehouses and stormwater drainage improvements didn’t make headlines, those projects did make life better for citizens. He has been a champion for public spaces, and the Water Works park on the north side of downtown is a jewel.

He was an out-front supporter of Hillary Clinton for president, so there was speculation that he would have been off to Washington had she won. We’ll never know that for sure, just as we’ll never know if as governor he could have successfully worked with what likely will remain a Republican legislative majority in Tallahassee.

Here is what we can say, though. This decision not to run clears a lot of things off his plate and allows him to concentrate on the city he loves. I would imagine development on the west side of the Hillsborough River will be one of his priorities in the two years he has left in office.

And barring something unforeseen that can’t be controlled, he will hand the next mayor a city that has changed for the better. Not a bad legacy, eh?

Florida doesn’t need an elected Secretary of State, or Agriculture Commissioner

It would tax the imagination to come up with anything that Florida needs less than to elect a secretary of state once again. Why would the Legislature even consider that?

Sen. Aaron Bean, the sponsor, explained it the other day. As reported by FloridaPolitics.com, the Fernandina Beach Republican told the Senate ethics committee that in the main he wants a fifth position on the Cabinet to avoid tie votes that require the governor to be on the prevailing side or the motion fails.

Actually, he and nearly everyone else are incorrect when they refer to that group of four as “the Cabinet.” Article IV Section 4 of the Constitution provides for the Cabinet to consist of an attorney general, a chief financial officer, and a commissioner of agriculture. The governor is NOT — I repeat, NOT — a member of the Cabinet.

And because they are elected, it’s not “his” Cabinet even though the members too often vote as if it were. They oversee 12 agencies in their collective role as — to put it accurately — “the governor and Cabinet.”

To the extent that the tie vote issue is a problem, there’s a simpler and less expensive way to deal with it than the creation of yet another statewide pooh-bah with yet another six-figure salary.

That’s to get rid of the elected agriculture commissioner. Let the governor appoint the position, as does now with the secretary of state. Or have the governor and the remaining two Cabinet members jointly select someone in the same manner as the head of the office of financial regulation.

But avoiding a tie vote situation strikes me as the lamest possible pretext to elect the secretary, which Florida last did in 1998.

The more important issue is how best to oversee elections, which is the function of the office that the public cares most about. The record-keeping, the corporations’ division, the arts, library and archives are less about policy than professional management. You don’t need to elect anyone for those.

But electing a secretary of state doesn’t guarantee that the duty will be carried out in a bipartisan, nonpolitical and professional manner. The present secretary, Ken Detzner, has been accused of doing what the governor wants to discourage rather than encourage voting. The last elected secretary, Katherine Harris, is best remembered for the infamous 2000 campaign in which she was first a co-chair of George W. Bush’s campaign and then made critical decisions in his favor.

Harris’s predecessor, Sandra Mortham, spoke at the committee hearing and referred to the dicey position of governor-appointed secretaries as “very, very, very difficult” for them. She also noted that local elected supervisors of election would be better off with a popularly elected state leader than with one named by the governor.

Those are better points, to be sure, than the tie vote issue. Harris’ tenure, though, was hardly a shining example of political independence.

Though nearly half the states have elected sectaries to state to manage elections, nine have appointed boards or commissions that are bipartisan, at least in theory. One of them is in North Carolina, where despite fierce efforts by a Republican and legislature to suppress voting, the GOP-dominated board acted respectably last year. Florida should consider that method of governance.

“I think there is no magic bullet,” says Ion Sancho, Leon County’s recently retired election supervisor, who is a nationally recognized figure in the field. “It doesn’t matter a darn bit if you elect the person if they have to follow the rigged election laws passed by the Florida Legislature.

He sees no point, however, in enlarging the elected Cabinet.

There used to be six Cabinet members, plus the governor, each with their own departments, in charge of an array of agencies they governed collectively. That system was created in the aftermath of post-Civil War Reconstruction to deliberately keep the governors weak. Trouble was, with everyone supposedly watching the store no one actually did. In modern times, two of Florida’s best governors, LeRoy Collins and Reubin Askew, tried unsuccessfully to be rid of the system.

Twenty years ago, the Constitution Revision Commission set out to trim the Cabinet to the only two offices that truly need to be independently elected: the attorney general and the chief financial officer. But agricultural lobbies threatened to defeat the entire reform at the polls if it didn’t retain the agriculture commissioner. Finding themselves with four voting officers instead of the intended three, the Commission came up with the curious tie-breaking rule. Eliminating the elected agriculture commissioner would dispose of that.

Agriculture is still one of the pillars of Florida’s economy, but it’s difficult to see why it needs its own surrogate governor any more than tourism or construction do. Rick Scott’s well-advertised faults as governor don’t mean that his successor shouldn’t be trusted with agriculture to the same extent as education, which once had its own elected Cabinet member too.

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Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Repeal and replace — The end of traditional conservatism

As a lifelong Republican and a former Fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, I have always preferred voting for the Republican and conservative candidate.

Preferably, the candidate is both Republican and conservative, although that is not always the case.

For only the second time in my life, I did not vote for the Republican presidential nominee:  I found him neither Republican nor conservative. I know there are different strands of conservatism: classical, neo-cons, libertarians, religious and economic conservatives. I found Donald Trump to be none of the above.

Trump did appeal to conservatives by supporting regulatory reform, lower taxes, unleashing the private sector and rolling back the administrative state. At the same time, Trump supported existing entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, which he called untouchable, and backed new entitlements like a paid family leave program.

Until the election of Trump, Republicans venerated Ronald Reagan and his brand of conservatism. This included support for free trade, a centerpiece of conservative economic policy. Trump has denounced free trade by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership which conservatives uniformly backed. Trump also plans to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which Republicans helped to pass.

Another litmus test for modern conservatism was for America to play a major role in world affairs. Reagan addressed the first Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting in 1974 and argued that America “cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so.”

Reagan cited Pope Pius XII’s remarks after World War II that “Into the hands of America, God has placed the destinies of mankind.” Under Trump, American First has become the guiding philosophy.

Republicans and conservatives have generally opposed entitlements and big government. Trump has made Social Security and Medicare untouchable, even though most conservatives believe these programs are not sustainable given the demographic changes in American society.

Trump has called for a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, in addition to an expansive family leave policy. How do you pay for these entitlements and increase defense spending while cutting taxes?

Shortly after being elected president, Trump helped negotiate a deal with Carrier in Indiana that promised government benefits to Carrier in exchange for keeping jobs in Indiana. That deal struck many conservatives as another example of “crony capitalism.”

The government picks and chooses winners and losers instead of letting market forces work their will.

Where most presidents have had a shaky relationship with the press, Trump is the first to call the press “enemies of the American public.” Where Reagan called the Soviets the “evil empire,” Trump has praised Vladimir Putin and asserted the moral equivalency between American and Soviet policy.

Trump clearly has flip-flopped back and forth between the Democratic and Republican Party, but has actually spent more time as a Democrat. He only registered as a Republican a couple of years before announcing his candidacy. Trump may or not be a lifetime member of the GOP, but has he held consistent conservative values?  Let’s look at his own words and actions.

At the 2016 CPAC meeting, delegates threatened to walk out if Trump appeared. He was viewed as a false prophet of conservatism and he eventually withdrew as a speaker.

At the 2017 CPAC meeting, Trump was hailed as the conquering hero. A full 86 percent of the delegates approved of Trump’s job performance and 80 percent believed Trump was “realigning the conservative movement.” As presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway observed, “well, I think by tomorrow this might be TPAC.”

During his 48-minute address to the 2017 CPAC delegates, Trump no mention of Reagan, who has been the face of the modern conservative movement for four decades.

Trump made no mention of “liberty” or the “constitution.” Trump made no reference to keeping government small and limited, and only once uttered the word “conservative,” which seemed odd for an audience of conservatives. Trump said: “Our victory was a victory. . . for conservative values.”

The one common thread between Reagan and Trump was their appeal to working-class Americans. In 1977, Reagan told CPAC: “The New Republican Party I am speaking about is going to have room for the man and the woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat.”

In his 2017 CPAC address, Trump said: “The GOP will be, from now on, the Party of the American worker. … We will not answer to donors or lobbyists or special interests.” (Although, being a billionaire will be considered an asset for all cabinet nominees.)

One congressional staffer, after hearing Trump’s CPAC speech, called him “a moderate disguised as a conservative.” Conservative radio host John Ziegler described Trump’s CPAC speech as having the tone “it was written from a liberal perspective, in that greater government involvement was the foundational answer for nearly every problem.”

Another delegate described Trump as “a fairly liberal conservative,” whatever that may mean.

If CPAC is any indication, Trump is reshaping the conservative movement at breathtaking speed. Ideology is conforming to an individual, and not vice versa.

“Repeal and Replace” was the centerpiece of Trumpism. We all thought he was referring to “Obamacare.” Now we know that “repeal and replace” referred to conservatism in America.

Traditional conservative values have been abandoned and replaced by whatever Trump happens to say today.

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Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.

Jason Fischer: Florida needs to say yes to American energy independence, no to proposed fracking ban

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen much-needed economic legislation put on hold out of fear of how it’d affect the environment.

Ditto for the mounds of environmental priorities placed on the back burner because of apprehensions about what they might do to the economy.

At one point, this all made sense. The technology wasn’t quite there. Energy and environment was an either-or proposition. One side was going to lose, when we wanted both to win.

But those times have passed. Thanks to technological advancements and remarkable improvements in extraction techniques, we no longer have to choose between having a stable and affordable supply of energy resources and being good stewards of the environment, no matter what the naysayers suggest.

And record-setting upticks and enhancements in hydraulic fracturing is the biggest reason why.

Just look at the numbers, economically and environmentally.

Per reports, shale gas production and its accompanying lower natural gas prices contributed $156 billion to real disposable income in 2015 — meaning the average American family kept an extra $1,337 in their pocket. Another analysis, from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), said that fracking improved the average cost of living for most Americans by nearly $750 per year since 2008.

Carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generations, meanwhile, are down to their lowest levels in decades, the EIA reports, and monthly carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector are the lowest they’ve been in more than a quarter century. Perhaps a Forbes headline from last year said it best: “U.S. natural gas rises as America’s CO2 emissions drop.”

It’s not a coincidence. The two go together.

Yet come the next legislative session, Florida lawmakers will again take another look at a regulatory curveball they’re better off not swinging at.

Earlier this year, legislation was filed, SB 442, that closely mirrors a piece of legislation that was proposed last year before going nowhere — banning the possibility of any future fracking in Florida. It’s core mission, supporters say, is protecting Florida’s pristine environment, regardless of its obvious economic advantages.

It’s that outdated one-or-the-other thing rearing its ugly head again.

It’s time to get with the times. We finally have an administration in Washington that understands the grave importance of continuing America’s energy revolution, extending the infrastructure that safely delivers it and the fiscal and environmental benefits that both produce. We also have the statistical analyses to support it.

Now we just need the state House and Senate to oppose any attempts to impose a statewide fracking ban and vote for an energy plan that balances consumers, businesses and re-emerging manufacturing with the environment as local demand grows and resources tighten.

Florida is one of the largest energy consuming states in the country. Its population, per the University of Florida, is expected to rise to about 29 million in 2040. That increase, the Florida Reliability Coordinating Council projects, will increase electricity demand by more than 10 gigawatts by 2035 — and a one gigawatt can power about 750,000 homes.

And renewables, which account for just a sliver of Florida’s current energy makeup, can’t do it alone, and most of the petroleum we get is imported from adjacent states or other countries, via overseas tankers and barges to marine terminals. We also get most of our natural gas from neighboring Gulf Coast states through pipeline or tanker shipments offloaded in Georgia and piped to Florida.

We don’t make much of our own energy. Closing the door to the possible future development will only heighten this dependency. A ban would also infringe on Floridian’s property rights and in the long term, drive up energy prices on residents and businesses who call or want to call Florida home.

And that’s not a message I want to send to the rest of America.

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Rep. Jason Fischer represents District 16 in the Florida House of Representatives and is a member of the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee and the House Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee.

Just imagine huge can of worms opened by religious liberty bill

The Hillsborough County public school district has straightforward rules in its student handbook about religion.

It says students can talk about religion, practice their religion, can be excused to observe a religious holiday, and – most important for the context of our discussion today – decide for themselves whether they want to participate in things such as student-led prayer or other practices.

The basic rule is this: If students lead the religious activity – fine. If teachers or administrators take part – not fine.

Districts in Miami-Dade and Orlando have basically the same policy.

Apparently, that’s not good enough for the state Senate Education Committee, which Monday approved SB-436. It’s a measure designed to protect religious liberty, except that such liberty already exists. The 5-2 vote was along party lines, of course; five Republicans said yea, two Democrats were naysayers.

A statement released by Senate President Joe Negron after the education committee did its work, was a clear indication of what he has in mind.

The statement said: “Freedom of Religion is a central right protected by our Constitution. This legislation makes it clear that the State of Florida stands for religious liberty and will take the steps necessary to protect the free speech rights of public school students, parents, teachers and school administrators.”

A statement released by state Sen. Dennis Baxley was even more to the point.

“We should be encouraging, rather than preventing our students from expressing their religious convictions,” Baxley said. “This legislation safeguards Freedom of Religion by protecting our students from being discriminated against based on the free expression of their religious ideals in spoken word or prayer, attire, school assignments and extracurricular activities.”

I can see worms crawling out of that just-opened can by the thousands – assuming this bill passes. Let’s play a game called “just imagine.”

Just imagine the bill passes and a teacher or administrator decides freedom of speech includes preaching the gospel in class or over the school public address system. What gospel would that be?

What happens when a Muslim student takes offense and demands classroom time to offer prayers to Allah along with equal time at the microphone?

Just imagine a Jewish kid goes, “Hey, wait a minute …”

Let’s get really absurd and just imagine a Satanist wants the same freedom. Can’t happen, you say? It already has – in 2014 at the state capitol, not far from where this current bill was being fast-tracked through committee.

Satanists demanded to erect their own holiday display to counter a Nativity scene by a Christian group.

So why do this at all? It seems like obvious pandering to me.

There is nothing already on the books that says kids and teachers can’t pray in public schools. I imagine many of them already do as the SAT tests are passed out. They can read the Bible during breaks. I have heard from parents, though, who say that even these student-led actions can put a lot of pressure on their kids to conform.

Don’t believe it? Try sitting out a “voluntary” public prayer sometime and see the looks you get. But they’re going ahead with this bill and I wouldn’t be shocked if it became law – at least until it is overturned in the courts.

This has been touted as bill that will protect Christians from alleged persecution. Baloney.

Real persecution is what Christians face in places like Cuba, China and many Middle East nations. Real persecution is being dragged from your home and flogged or executed for your belief.

The stuff these lawmakers are talking about doesn’t qualify.

Joe Henderson: This Legislative Session has the chance to be one of the most significant in Florida’s history

We already know the 2017 Legislative Session that opens Tuesday in Tallahassee is likely to be contentious, but aren’t they all? Big-league politics is a contact sport.

No one will deny the battle between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran over spending priorities makes for good political theater (not to mention headlines). When the two most powerful Republicans in the state engage in public spats the way these two have, it does tend to attract attention.

There is a bigger story brewing, though. If lawmakers pass most of what has been proposed, it could become one of the most significant sessions in Florida’s history.

Corcoran’s ambitious package of legislative and lobbying reforms could fundamentally change the way business is done in Tallahassee. Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron worked out a budget compromise Friday that makes a good start on what Corcoran has vowed to accomplish.

Corcoran scored big with a rule requiring all projects added to the budget must be paid for with one-time money. That ends the practice of annually recurring expenses on the base budget, which Corcoran complained hamstrung future legislatures.

This likely will end that time-honored House and Senate tradition of flooding the budget with last-minute additions that can add hundreds of millions in costs. Now, no projects can be added to the final budget that weren’t included in the original plans by the House and Senate – although we can be certain some legislators will try to find ways around that.

Negron released a statement after the compromise praising Corcoran lauding the enhanced “accountability and transparency” in budgeting.

That new policy alone would make this an especially significant session, but there are additional measures that could fundamentally change everyday life for Floridians more directly.

There are bills that, if passed, would greatly expand the number of public places where Floridians with concealed weapons permits could legally carry their guns.

The ongoing fight in Washington over the Affordable Care Act could have big implications here, especially if Congress turns Medicaid into a block grant program where states would receive a set amount of money.

Lawmakers are going after the state Supreme Court after justices issued rulings they didn’t like. That could lead to the imposition of term limits and blur the line of separation between legislators and the judiciary. Corcoran’s fingerprints are all over this one, having vowed to “reign in” the court for “legislating from the bench.”

There is a push to issue civil citations to juveniles who commit minor offenses, allowing them to avoid a police record. Others are getting on the bus for mandatory free-form play time in elementary schools (we used to call that recess back in the day). Another bill would take aim at cities like Tampa, where Democratic Mayor Bob Buckhorn hasn’t embraced the aggressive tactics to corral undocumented immigrants.

Yeah, the Scott-Corcoran public feud over the governor’s love for business incentives and promotional spending for tourism has been entertaining. It also has deflected attention away from other items on the agenda that arguably are more important.

That changes Tuesday when the session officially opens and lawmakers get busy on a 60-day reshape on Florida. This is the main event.

Game on.

Bad nursing homes benefit from AHCA’s passive-aggressive war on #transparency

Somebody please give Shelisha Coleman a big fat raise.

The Agency for Health Care Administration’s (AHCA) high profile flack works hard duty playing hardball with some of Florida’s best reporters, but makes tens of thousands of dollars less than men paid by taxpayers to tell tall tales about #Transparency.

Coleman had to drop a whopping load of horsefeathers on the Orlando Sentinel last week in a laughable effort to justify AHCA’s unlawful redactions to public records.

Taking up the cause of families who love their grandparents, reporter Kate Santich asked AHCA to explain why inspection reports are being scrubbed of “dates, places and pivotal words” that make it possible to gauge the quality and safety of Florida’s nursing homes.

People who pay attention to Transparency and Accountability (T&A) in Florida had no trouble believing the attorney who told Santich “I’ve been looking at these reports for 20 years, and I know what they used to look like and what they look like now. It has become arbitrary and inconsistent what they redact — but I think it’s all part of a bigger purpose to confuse people and make the reports useless.”

Like a lamb to the slaughter, Coleman was dispatched by her better-paid bosses to tell the Sentinel that state officials are merely trying to “provide additional protection of personal health information” as required by federal privacy laws.

After she stopped laughing, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen pointed out the holes in the rationalizations, prevarications and passive aggressive sandbagging served up by Coleman to justify AHCA’s “new redaction process.”

That new redaction process is good news for bad nursing homes. We can hope Santich’s story will embarrass the legislature into doing something about it. But don’t bet Grandpa’s life on it.

Jackie Pons to taxpayers: DROP dead, part 2

Jackie Pons is still the kind of public official who gave Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) a very bad name.

To refresh our recollection on a pol best-forgotten, if he’d only go away, Pons lost his bid for re-election November as Leon County’s Superintendent of Schools.  As a DROP-enrollee since 2014, he was entitled a $6778 monthly pension check and a one-time payment of just under $200,000.

Most folks would call that a comfortable retirement. But behind Door No. 2 at the Florida Department of Welfare for the Rich was the promise of a $400,000 DROP payday if he remains at some public trough or other until 2019, plus a few hundred dollars more monthly walkin’ around money.

With a little help from his friends and a little saber-rattling from his lawyers, Pons is on track to suck every last nickel out of DROP. He’s already made some otherwise serious people look like buffoons. First, it was David Coburn, Chief of Staff to Florida State University President John Thrasher. who managed to keep a straight face while telling the Tallahassee Democrat that in Pons’ capacity as a $50,000 a year “business analyst” with FSU’s admissions office, Pons was “working on a project to recruit students from underserved areas of the Panhandle.

We don’t know how that project went, but we do know that Pons resigned from FSU just three weeks after he was hired.  Last week, Pons resurfaced at Florida A & M University’s Developmental Research School. As the K-12 school’s “development officer,” he will “provide information to meet (school) goals and objectives” and “develop a fundraising plan.”

As we’ve noted here before, it’s been 10 years since Lucy Morgan double-dipped her Pulitzer Prize-winning plumb line into the murky waters of DROP and its myriad opportunities for mischief. Her reporting resulted in reforms that closed off the dark alleys of the Florida Retirement System, where the most extreme examples of taxpayer abuse occurred.

For most state workers, the system operates to provide a modest return on investment in a lifetime of exemplary public service.

For people who don’t mind being simultaneously shameful and shameless, it’s a big pile of money for nothin.’

Blake Dowling: The road, fast food and Session — all aboard!

Session is here in the Capital City, beginning with a Monday bash at Associated Industries to welcome those from all over the state.

The Legislative Session kickoff has been on my calendar for a decade now; it is a great event and a nice chance to reflect on the past year and the one coming just ahead.

Mayor Andrew Gillum wants to run for governor, legal pot is everywhere, POTUS can give a good speech. What else? Charlie Christ switched back to the GOP, got a divorce or something like that. It’s hard to keep tabs on Chuckles.

For those traveling from out of town make sure to stay away from fast food. It is hard on the system, makes you fat and decreases your life span.

Wendy’s is making it hard to avoid fast food, as they are leading the pack with devious innovative ways to get a double cheeseburger in your hand (where are they square, by the way).

What are they doing? Self-service kiosks for one thing. I wrote in an earlier column that the model Amazon’s new cashier less smart self-serve store would be appealing to big business looking to save money from a higher minimum wage. The head burger honchos came to the same conclusion. How do they stay highly profitable? Get rid of employees.

So, those are elected officials that always want to raise taxes and the minimum wage.

Stop. I was talking to John Londot from Greenberg Traurig about a minute ago about AI (we are collaborating on something for Leon County next week), and it’s not just minimum wage workers that should be on alert.

We must all be mindful of what sort of impact AI could have on the world. We could have an autonomous utopia on our hands or a scorched wasteland.

I prefer to think positive on the subject and I know John does too. We must not fear innovation but that is not to say we should not walk carefully.

“Technology can play a great role in creating a better customer experience, unlocking productivity, driving throughput and ultimately saving some labor to help us to continue to have a strong economic model,” said Todd Penegor, Wendy’s CEO.

Wendy’s has created a lab — called 90 Degrees — with a team of developers and engineers to work on self-serving kiosks, its website and mobile app.

They want you using smart pay, and who do you think they are targeting? Youth. Millennials. They want to make the Clown and the King as irrelevant as the compact disc.

They are well on their way, plus they are rolling out a standardized POS (point of sale, not the other acronym you were thinking of) to all stores. They are making a massive investment in innovation and expect them to crush the competition, except Chick-fil-A. Can’t touch the master.

Wendy’s want you ordering from the app, from kiosks and have an agile and nimble digital experience with their brand. And they are half way there.

Da da da da da … I’m McLoving it.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and writes for several organizations. He can be reached here: dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

John Sowinski: Finally, a sensible gambling plan for Florida’s future

There are two things we can count on in Florida. In any given body of water, eventually the alligators will show up. And in any given meeting of the Florida Legislature, the same applies to gambling lobbyists.

Feed either and they only become more insatiable.

With regard to the gambling interests, unfortunately, the Florida Senate is setting up a buffet of glutinous proportions. Proposed legislation calls for the biggest expansion of gambling in Florida’s history.

It literally would recreate our state in Nevada’s image, with casinos popping up in communities from the far reaches of the Panhandle to the end of the Everglades.

There would be two new Las Vegas-style casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade, a region already suffering from a glut of casinos. There would be a massive increase in gambling supply there, without a corresponding increase in gamblers, creating a dynamic in which the casinos could only survive by cannibalizing each other’s customers. Even the gambling industry’s own financial experts predict that 95 percent of the patrons would be locals, not tourists.

This type of gambling over-saturation is what brought the industry crashing down in Atlantic City, but not before it eviscerated existing local jobs and businesses from restaurants to retail stores.

But the Senate bill does not stop with more gambling in South Florida. Initially, casinos would spread to eight other counties. That only would be for starters because under Senate Bill 8, every horse track, dog track or jai alai fronton could become a casino.

Getting back to the alligator analogy, what the Senate is proposing is akin to taking 500 bags of marshmallows out into the middle of Lake Okeechobee at midnight and tossing them in the water.

Even worse, the regulators now have allowed banked games in pari-mutuel card rooms despite state law that bans them, a clear violation of Florida’s gambling agreement with the Seminoles that has embroiled the state in expensive litigation and halted the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars of tribal payments to the state. The Senate bill addresses this in the usual Tallahassee manner — rather than shutting down this illegal gambling, it legalizes it.

For years, lawmakers have talked about comprehensive legislation that would establish a permanent framework for the future of gambling in Florida. The Senate bill makes Florida’s future look like Atlantic City’s current train wreck.

Understanding this, leaders in the Florida House have taken a different tack. They have put forth a bill that fixes weaknesses in existing gambling law, closes loopholes that gambling lawyers continually exploit, stops the proliferation of slot machines throughout Florida, honors Florida’s constitutional restrictions on gambling, and respects the will of the people of Florida, who have consistently rejected statewide expansions of gambling. Finally, it provides for an agreement with the Seminole tribe that would achieve the stated intent of the original Seminole compact — holding the line on gambling and creating a firewall to stop the spread of casinos throughout Florida.

There are many reasons to oppose the expansion of gambling in Florida. The legislature’s own economists have repeatedly said in presentations that, “some or all of the jobs, wages and tax revenues attributed to gambling enterprises may be simply transferred from elsewhere.” This means that money spent in a casino merely cannibalizes existing jobs and businesses.  It puts our multibillion-dollar family-friendly tourism brand at risk, and it spreads addiction and dependency that destroys lives and families, at a huge cost to society and taxpayers.

For Florida Legislators, the choice is clear. They can either keep feeding the alligators by going with the Senate plan, or follow the lead of the Florida House bill by advancing a sensible strategy to control the spread of gambling in our state.

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John Sowinski is president of NoCasinos.

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