Affordable, accessible public education is foundational to our economy and the future of Florida and our nation. I come from a family of teachers. Growing up in poverty in West Virginia my mother understood that getting a good education was her best opportunity to build a better life. She was a well-loved elementary school teacher when I was growing up. My brothers and I have all been teachers at various levels. Our children need to have every opportunity to learn, grow, develop their interests and pursue their dreams. They need to learn how to think independently and solve problems with confidence and creativity. Florida is one of the bottom 10 states in the nation for per capita spending on students and considering the resources of our great state this is inexcusable.
In west Pasco we need better access to career and technical education (CTE), formerly known as vocational training. CTE prepares youth and adults for a wide range of the high-wage, high-skill jobs which will be increasingly in demand in the future. This kind of training energizes students (81% of high school dropouts say relevant, real-world learning opportunities would have kept them in school) and would also boost our local economy, as skilled trades are the hardest jobs to fill and having a prepared work force would draw more businesses to our area.
I believe we need to increase funding to public schools to pay teachers a fair salary and attract top talent with job security for highly effective teachers, guaranteed protection for the Florida Retirement System and programs for student success built with input from teachers. The last thing Florida schools need is the truly awful House Bill 7069 which was recently rushed through the state legislature in a special session with no public hearings and little debate and subsequently signed by our Governor. It sets aside $140 million of public money to subsidize privately owned charter schools and strips tens of millions of dollars out of the capital budget of public schools. Public money should not be paying for buildings the public doesn’t own. We’re not going to improve education in Florida by taking money from public schools to make huge payouts to the unregulated and often irresponsible for-profit charter school industry. The Florida Department of Education has no authority over private schools, accreditation is not required and seniors can graduate without passing achievement tests. Additionally many hardworking families can’t afford pricey private schools (even with vouchers) and I don’t support a two-tiered education system for the wealthy and the rest of us. Children shouldn’t be denied a quality public education just because they are poor and public funds should not be paying for private schools.
I am passionate about protecting our environment and encouraged by some of the changes happening in our area. We’re expanding our recycling program and encouraging solar generation, but we still have a long way to go!
Renewable energy (wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric and biomass) is the wave of the future and critical to a strong independent America. Investing in renewable energy benefits our climate, our health, our economy and even our national security.
Generating electricity from renewable energy rather than fossil fuels offers significant public health benefits. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy has been found to reduce premature mortality and lost workdays and it reduces overall healthcare costs. The renewable energy industry is more labor intensive than the fossil fuel industry and more jobs are created for each unit of electricity from renewable sources than from fossil fuels. In addition to new jobs created, investment in renewable energy could save Florida billions of dollars annually. In 2012 Florida relied on imported coal for 20% of its in-state electricity generation, paying nearly $1.3 billion to get coal from as far away as Illinois and Columbia. As a result, Florida recently ranked fifth nationally for money spent on coal imports. Though the state is attempting to switch to more natural gas production, a better solution would be investing in homegrown renewable energy and keeping more money in our local economies.
Estimates are that renewable energy sources in our country have the technical potential to supply 118 times the amount of electricity our nation currently consumes. Beneath our spacious skies wind, sun, heat and water are a vast and inexhaustible energy supply. The more we develop new technologies and get them up and running the less we need to be dependent on other countries for America’s energy. The threat of other nations raising prices or cutting our supply is eliminated when we become self-sufficient with renewable sources. We need to make investments in renewable energy now to secure our nation’s future and protect the welfare of the planet. I will do everything I can in the Florida House to support such initiatives.
Comprehensive health care should be affordable and accessible for all Americans. Civilized democratic societies take care of their citizens. The Affordable Care Act provides coverage for millions of previously uninsured Americans and has saved many lives but in my opinion it has some flaws and has been severely damaged by years of partisan Republican politics. Current GOP plans (which they’ve had years to ponder) are horrific, stripping coverage from millions, raising premiums for almost everyone, abandoning our most vulnerable populations (including raising rates by up to 5x on the elderly and taking away protections for those with pre-existing conditions) and shifting resources from the poor and middle class to the super rich. Here in Pasco County we have more than 90,000 people receiving Medicaid and can’t afford the deepest cuts to Medicaid in the 52-year history of the program along with the loss of funding for mental health services, prescription drugs, maternity care and opioid addiction programs. Addiction is rampant in our neighborhoods and resources are already insufficient to meet the needs of our citizens. If current GOP healthcare proposals become law we need to follow successful examples from other legislatures around the country who are working hard at the state level to put protections in place to try to offset the damage.
We should be bolstering the health care system we already have in place until a truly improved and viable bipartisan plan is established so no one loses coverage or goes bankrupt because of political bickering. I support the single payer concept which is now being tested in California and is successfully running (with variations) in 32 developed countries around the world. I am strongly opposed to privatizing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. The greatest nation on earth should have the greatest health care on earth and current Republican plans would take us backward, not forward. We can do better!
Flooding is a huge problem in west Pasco and we are all tired of our legislators making promises they don’t keep. In a heavy rainstorm (not even a hurricane!) most of my neighborhood goes under two feet of water. We live in a modern society where trained professionals know how to solve these problems but our state continues to refuse to fund any improvements. It’s time to stop making excuses, fight for our neighborhoods and get something done!
The Ridge Road Extension project is a classic example of money wasted which could have been spent improving our communities. As a lifelong environmentalist it is difficult for me to understand why the Pasco County Commission and others have thrown away nearly $20 million since 1998 trying to force through an extension of Ridge Road across the Serenova Tract of the Starkey Wilderness Preserve. They claim it is to improve evacuation routes for west Pasco residents in the event of a hurricane, which is either a brazen lie or an indication that they can’t read a map. For one thing, we haven’t needed an evacuation from the area in the past hundred years and most residents are encouraged to fortify their homes and shelter in place. The proposed road actually goes nowhere except into other potential bottlenecks. Construction would destroy 205 acres of land, of which nearly 30 acres are aquifer recharging wetlands which help reduce pollution and protect our drinking supply. We promised to protect the Serenova as mitigation for construction of the Suncoast Parkway, but now that the federal government is less concerned about protecting our environment and the Army Corps of Engineers less concerned about regulations the push is on again to build this ridiculous road. Make no mistake, it has nothing to do with protecting west Pasco citizens – in fact it would make flooding in the area worse, put more residents into flood zones and cost taxpayers an estimated additional $134 million – just so we can take this beautiful land away from the wildlife, destroy a nature preserve, pave it over and build businesses. Think what $134 million could do to improve drainage in our neighborhoods, repair the infrastructure of our existing roads and protect our homes and water supply. We need to invest money wisely in ways that actually benefit west Pasco residents!
We need better paying jobs in west Pasco and better job training to prepare for a changing economy. Career and technical training should be more widely available. We’ve been bringing dynamic new businesses into the New Port Richey area in the past few years and I will work to continue this progress.
I support equal pay for equal work and will support bipartisan ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Women make 87 cents to every dollar a man makes in Florida for having the same qualifications and doing the same job, which is clearly discrimination. This isn’t just a “women’s” issue, it affects all of us – hardworking families, young adults, single moms and many others in our diverse workforce.
Raising the minimum wage should be done sensibly and in cooperation with business owners. It should be tied to the cost of living in our area (not an arbitrary flat rate imposed across the nation) and introduced gradually to give businesses time to adjust. Raising the wage to a livable standard would be good for all of us and the economy as a whole, especially here in Pasco where we have the highest percentage of low-income earners of any county in Florida. We deserve better!
Pro-life vs. Pro-choice
I believe in protecting human life and also support a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. As a Christian I believe we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God (Psalm 139:14), human life is sacred and we are deeply loved. As a medical professional who has studied biology I understand that it is impossible to scientifically determine exactly when in the process of pregnancy we change from a clump of nonspecific cells to a sentient being with a soul. Some think this happens when sperm meets egg, others think it happens months later when the baby is born or somewhere in between. This debate will never be resolved. No matter how I feel about this issue personally I believe it is unjust to impose laws on women (such as making abortion illegal) based on theories about when we become “human” which can’t be proven.
I am pro-life in that I want abortion to be as rare as possible and babies to be born healthy into loving, stable homes where they are wanted. I also believe that all of us have personal responsibility for our own bodies. I can’t make decisions for someone else nor would I judge anyone for the difficult choices they make on this controversial subject. As Americans we value personal freedom and responsibility and our laws should reflect this. In countries where women have access to quality health care, affordable contraception, educational and economic opportunity the rates of abortion are actually very low. In countries where women are oppressed and abortion is illegal the rates are much higher. It is hypocritical to say we are “pro-life” if we support legislation that cuts women off from healthcare services (cancer screenings, counseling, birth control, etc.) offered by Planned Parenthood and other providers. Blocking services for women actually puts more lives at risk. We could all work together to help women and children in this country rather than spending so much energy fighting one another on this issue. Ultimately every decent person cares about human life!