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Tigers still

PETER O’CONNOR
Guest Columnist
opinion@lbknews.com

It was a hot day in early June as I traveled to our big city, Sarasota, for the Tiger Bay luncheon. As is my want I try to attend these almost-monthly affairs to keep up on what is going on in the larger venue, to see who else is about and frankly to support our colleague and friend, Dr. Hal Lenobel. Tiger Bay has long been Hal’s baby.

I must say again that the crowd was good, the food again only fair. The food doesn’t matter. The agenda for this almost-summer day was a review of the latest legislative session in Tallahassee. The moderator was Jeremy Wallace, the political writer for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. He questioned, well I might add, a panel of four local state legislators. These were Sen. Nancy Detert, Sen. Mike Bennett, Rep. Doug Holder and Rep. Ray Pilon.

After I had drafted this piece I learned that long-time Tiger Bay member and my friend Bob Siekmann was leaving town. Bob has sold his house here on the key. He and Mimi will be moving west to Portland, Ore., this summer. We wish them well in their new northwest adventure.

As I wrote a few months ago after another one of these Tiger gatherings, the subject and the guests were of interest. This observer of the local scene was looking for something else, as I was in March. Then I wrote of the heavy presence of Longboat Key luminaries. That spring day I saw 12 of note. The story then was the heavy attendance from Longboat Key. Later, in June, I counted 12 again. These included (in no particular order) Hal Lenobel, Phill Younger, Vince DeLisi, Jim Whitman, B.J. Webb, David Brenner, Jim Brown, George Spoll, Jack Duncan, Jeremy Whatmough and Michael Welly. I made 12, although I am not a luminary. There may have been others; I didn’t take roll. Maybe somebody does. In March I suggested that the word was out: It’s important to be a Tiger. I see that it still is.

That’s good. The consolidation of the power base continues; Duncan was a new guest. The Tiger Bay president, Attorney John Patterson, noted this fine showing from our town. So it does matter. My contention that our key needs to be more involved in larger community events might be on target. I’m glad they were there anyway. It is always good to be able to break bread with friends.

The day’s moderator guided the discussion, always difficult with four politicians. He opened several topics, all the subjects of recent legislative action. One or more panel members opined on these, with only limited input from the floor. The Tigers are usually less restrained. More on that later.

Wallace had chosen four topics (by my count): property insurance, education, elections and growth management. Speakers from the floor added the subject of women’s reproductive rights. Wallace chose the panelists to respond to each. He started by saying that the legislature was business-friendly, focused on job creation. I didn’t hear that quite so loudly, as the day progressed.

Our moderator asked his panel what happened in the legislature on insurance. How did its action create jobs? Bennett answered first; that action will take time — not create jobs immediately — it will create a stronger business environment. He said, off topic, that “the growth management bill will not create jobs.” He added that they “had to create a healthier insurance market. Insurance rates are artificially low — raising rates can help Floridians — most insurance companies will survive.”

Sen. Detert noted that she had voted against the reinsurance provisions in the bill. She noted that homeowners insurance is a consumer issue. I thought she dodged questions here. Politicians are good at this.

Wallace asks about the role of Citizens, the state-run insurer of last resort. Rep. Holder talked about windstorm insurance, the economic downturn. He thinks the “market is unfair.” Citizens is much less expensive than private — so fix. He notes that “the bill failed, the business community failed.”

Rep. Pilon asks, “Can Florida have a strong enough Citizens? Companies must be competitive.” He says that in high-risk areas Citizens cannot cover. He says Citizens must be the insurer of last resort.

I heard a rather weak discussion of insurance. All four couched this subject as a limited government issue. I’m not so sure.

The discussion of education was framed in light of the $4 billion budget shortfall the legislature had to deal with. They cut $1 billion from education. Several noted that how education is funded long-term helps to encourage business here. Detert notes that cuts are not ‘draconian.’ She adds that cuts are not as bad as in other states, e.g., California. “Best we could do,” Nancy says.

Wallace asks about charter schools and school vouchers. Pilon says that the emphasis is to allow more choice for parents — charter schools, home schooling, etc. Pilon thinks parents should have choice; he reserves his opinion at this time. Holder thinks that Sarasota schools are ‘great.’ He is non-committal on charter schools.

Bennett notes that he hears no complaints on schools from rural areas — Miami-Dade complains. He says that school districts must manage their money better. He points to Sarasota Military Academy in the old St. Martha’s building as a success. Mike says that, “we cannot continue to continue a system, which the taxpayers will not sustain.”

Detert sees a trend toward the new; the old is past. She says that this trend is toward student achievement, not about dollars per student. My sister and my daughter, both teachers, might disagree. “We need to produce a workforce,” Detert says, citing Sarasota Poly-Tech as an example.

Wallace tried to engage his panel on the elections bill. This notably cut early voting and tightened registration requirements. I didn’t hear much in the way of cogent responses on this topic. Bennett thinks voting is a ‘privilege.’ I guess that it is, but it certainly is also a ‘right.’ Detert says she liked voting Tuesday. No quarrel there.

On growth management Jeremy Wallace asks Mike Bennett, noting that this bill is undoing rules, taking DCA (Department of Community Affairs) out of the mix — “What did we do that will create jobs?” Mike says companies will go to other states because Florida has ‘too much review.’ He adds that local communities are better placed to make decisions. He says that he is to cut down the cost of government. The growth management bill (this one he adds) is to correct what he calls ‘mission creep.’ Bennett thinks that Sarasota County does a good job; does not need Tallahassee.

Pilon sees a need for local control; thinks there is still control. Pilon says, “Put pro-growth folks in office in pro-growth communities!” Obviously.

You did just that here on LBK.

Strange that no one mentioned the elimination of the 30-day rental rule prohibition, which had already been passed — and now has been signed by the governor. Fortunately Longboat Key had such a prohibition already in place.

Finally, it was noted from the floor that the legislature just passed five bills against reproductive freedom. From the floor came challenges to the individual panel members. Rep. Pilon seemed to draw the principal ire of the questioners. He defended himself well, I thought. He drew little support from his fellows, none from the crowd.

This is obviously a hot-button issue in Sarasota, and here in town.

Candidates be advised.

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