Clay County’s legislative delegation contains just three people: Sen. Rob Bradley and Reps. Travis Cummings and Charles Van Zant.
At a Clay County Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Orange Park Tuesday, the three men celebrated successes across the board, both in terms of their performance during the Session and the county’s emergence as a force in its own right.
During his portion of the presentation, Bradley said Clay’s delegation members “consistently punch above our weight,” working as a team, “fiercely fighting to return taxpayer dollars to Clay County.”
When it comes to jobs, said Bradley, the county is “out-kicking the coverage,” with an unemployment rate of 4.3 percent.
Those jobs are important, Bradley added, in light of Clay’s population growth from 30,000 in 1990 to 200,000 people now.
With Clay’s growth comes new amenities, such as the reopening of Orange Park Medical Center’s trauma center, which Bradley noted “makes the difference between life and death” for locals who need urgent treatment more quickly than they can get to UF Health campuses in Gainesville or Jacksonville.
“Clay County should be a health care leader in the region for years to come,” Bradley said.
Among the specific successes Bradley celebrated: the First Coast Expressway project, which will connect Interstates 10 and 95, and be a “linchpin” for Clay County development.
Cummings presented in a unique way. He prefaced his remarks with trivia questions, with successful answers scoring gift cards. His delivery was the staccato rhythmic patter of an auctioneer, with an old school Northeast Florida accent.
That style was no distraction from the substance of his remarks, delivered with an accompanying PowerPoint, a device which got him some razzing from his colleagues.
No matter: there were many details to present, such as support for veterans, the Legacy Florida initiative, and education funding.
While he said he was happy with the Session, one setback stood out to Cummings: HB 139, the vetoed Dental Care bill, which he described as a “Dental Student Loans” measure.
“I don’t know why the governor vetoed it,” Cummings said about the measure that would “allow folks to settle in communities and set up practices.”
In rural communities, Cummings said, many people are prohibitively far away from dentists.
Otherwise, he said, “I don’t know if Sen. Bradley and I could have been treated any better. Gov. Scott was good to us.”
Cummings and Van Zant discussed the Discretionary Sales Surtax bill.
Cummings said that the bill, which allows Jacksonville to hold a referendum extending a current half-cent sales tax to pay off its $2.7 billion unfunded pension liability, was vital for regional economic stability.
And vital to that win were the tireless efforts of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who was “up there in Tallahassee more than any mayor I’ve ever seen, much less a mayor from Jacksonville.”
The effort in Tallahassee, helmed by Cummings and Bradley on the House and Senate sides, gives Curry a window to “advocate” for the measure and to “educate voters.”
“I’m proud to have been part of it,” Cummings said.
Van Zant, a co-sponsor of the surtax bill, did not discount Clay’s role in getting it through both houses.
“It was a good neighbor bill for us. Jacksonville turned to us to pass the bill,” Van Zant said, and the “three of us spearheaded the initiative.”