Eye on the Prize: The PCREC Prepares for 2012
Jay Beyrouti, Chairman of the Pinellas County Executive Committee (PCREC) is not satisfied.
He is not content that the PCREC’s fundraising efforts have been immensely successful. He is not ready to relax given that that Republicans occupy the majority of elected positions in Pinellas County, and dominate the county board of commissioners and the state legislative delegation. The fact that a Republican occupies the Governor’s mansion does not make him complacent.
A believer in the Republican message of smaller government, lower taxes, and more individual freedom, Beyrouti points to the facts that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by about 19,000 in Pinellas County, and that the county is home to 150,000 registered Independents. Beyrouti thinks the vast majority of the adult inhabitants of Pinellas County are conservative in their political and social views, that the Republican message resonates with a lot of people who are not members of any party as well as many who are members of the Democratic Party, and that the radicalization of the Democratic Party is a source of ongoing concern for these people. He thinks this is so because, as a longstanding businessman in the community, he deals with such people on a daily basis, and he knows that many of them are ripe to be brought over to the Republican fold with the right approach.
Beyrouti’s goal is the defeat of President Barack Obama and Senator Bill Nelson in the 2012 elections. He points out that Obama carried Pinellas County by 30,000 votes in 2008, and he does not want to see that repeated in 2012. To accomplish this, he has begun a new Republican voter registration initiative, and has placed responsibility for its implementation squarely on the hundreds of precinct officers, club presidents, and other activists who make up the soul of the PCREC.
As he has done previously, Beyrouti brought this message to the PCREC membership when he addressed them at their May 2011 meeting. Beyrouti told the nearly 200 people assembled in a ballroom of the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater Hotel that he wanted two things of them: First, to work together as a family, while keeping an eye on the goal of defeating Obama and Nelson in 2012, and strive to register new Republican voters and get the voters out on Election Day; and, second, to contribute volunteer time to offset the expected manpower advantage the Democrats will have in terms of support of the unions, trial attorneys, and paid staff.
The Chairman reminded his audience that the responsibility on their shoulders was greater than any one of them.
(Video courtesy PCREC)
Following the Chairman’s remarks, four members of the Pinellas County state house legislative delegation spoke with the PCREC membership for an unprecedented 48 minutes about the recently-adjourned legislative session, what was accomplished and what was not accomplished, and stood for questions from the membership given to them by a moderator.Rep. Jim Frishe, Republican Majority Whip, began by telling the members that, notwithstanding the criticism leveled by the editors and staff of the St. Petersburg Times, “We are on the right track” for the people of Florida.
Rep. Larry Ahern told the members that, as for public education reform, teacher’s pay is now based on student performance, there is no more tenure, and there has been an expansion of charter schools with school vouchers. As for taxes, Ahern told his audience that there has been a reduction in the corporate business tax for some small businesses, a reduction in non-homestead property taxes, and unemployment benefits are now on a sliding scale based on the current unemployment rate with a maximum of 23 weeks — saving small businesses on the corporate rates they pay for unemployment. Regarding Jobs and the economy, Ahern reported that the House passed a bill that would have deregulated about two dozen industries, but that bill died in the Senate. On the subject of health care, Ahern said that reform of the State’s Medicaid program means that the State is now in will pay managed care networks rather than a fee for service system. Ahern also reported that the legislature passed a constitutional amendment bill that would prohibit the government from forcing someone to buy health insurance, a measure the Florida Supreme Court had removed from the ballot last year.
Reporting on public employee pension reform, Ahern told the audience that public employees are now going to be required to put “a little skin in the game” by contributing 3% of their salaries toward their pensions. Regarding pill mills, he told those in attendance that the legislature passed a bill that limits the abilities of doctors to dispense prescription drugs and increases the penalties for illegal distribution. As for Second Amendment rights, Ahern said that the legislature passed a bill that prohibits local governments from regulating firearms, so that a concealed weapons permit holder who accidentally shows a firearm can no longer be fined. He also reported that five of six pro-life bills were passed by the legislature, including the requirement for a mother seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound before undergoing the procedure, the requirement of parental notification before a minor can undergo an abortion, and a measure to ensure that the “Choose Life” license plate money will be properly distributed to the people who need it most to facilitate adoptions and help pregnant women take their babies to term. The final accomplishment of the legislative session addressed by Ahern was the repeal of growth management laws and the return of this power to the local municipalities.
Rep. Peter Nehr expressed disappointment that a bill outlawing red light cameras was passed by the House but was never taken up by the Senate, and praised Rep. Ahern for passage of a bill that would reduce accidents by extending the duration of yellow lights. Nehr also said that he was disappointed when the alternative energy bill that passed through the House could not get through the Senate. He also touted his role in helping to get the initiative “to get rid of Obamacare” on the ballot for 2012. Nehr also told the attendees about his role as co-chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee in redistricting congressional and state legislative districts in Florida and outlined a process by which people will be able to submit their ideas of what these districts should look like to the Committee. Finally, Nehr expressed his support of the ultrasound bill passed by the legislature, which he said “will give children who are not born a chance to live.”
Rep. Ed Hooper told the attendees that the only obligation the Florida Legislature has is to pass a balanced budget, and because this obligation was met the citizens of Florida are not in debt one penny due to legislative action this year. Hooper went on to say that the Republicans this year eliminated 4,475 positions in state government and have tackled tough issues concerning health and human services and education, two categories of government that each take up about one-third of the state budget. Hooper pointed out that, contrary to the bad press the legislature has gotten this year, “the Republicans have decided that you can’t fix something by throwing money at it every year,” and Florida schools are now ranked #5 nationally, up from a ranking of #36 before the Republicans went to work on the problem. Hooper also told the audience that, as a result of such sound government measures, Florida is now well-poised to get out of the recession.
Rep. Jim Frishe then gave his own summary, starting off by addressing one particular red herring concerning Medicaid that has been used in criticism of the Republican legislative record. Frishe told the audience:
You will see [in the media] where we are forcing people into things. We don’t force anyone in Medicaid to do anything. Medicaid is a gift we give to the people of Florida, and if you don’t want it you don’t have to take it,
adding that the federal requirements are eating the state alive financially. Rep. Frishe went on to tell the attendees about the Republican strategy of far-ranging reforms that will protect the neediest citizens, such as the profoundly disabled children and adults looked after by the Agency for Persons With Disabilities, without breaking the state’s budget. He also told the PCREC members that legislation prohibiting doctors from distributing prescription drugs will end Florida’s status of being the pill mill capital of the country, he told them that there will be a back-to-school sales tax holiday next August, and that legislative reforms regarding affiliated party funds of the type made infamous in the scandal caused by former Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chairman Jim Greer will make the process more transparent, bring in oversight by the House and Senate leadership, and ensure that the funds are spent as they were intended, without changing any of the fundraising guidelines in Chapter 106 of the Florida Statutes.
After Rep. Frishe’s presentation, the legislators were asked several questions drawn from the audience.
The first question was “What was the toughest vote you made?”
Nehr, Hooper, and Ahern each said it was the vote on the budget, because so many things they wanted had to be kept out in order to balance it. Frishe said that it was saying “no” to people, but that the votes were pretty easy on leadership issues.
The second question asked was “How would you rate Governor Scott’s performance during his first legislative session”
Each of the legislators praised Scott. Frishe told the audience that Scott was forthright and had allowed the legislature to fulfill its role. He characterized Scott as having done an outstanding job, and predicted good things to come. Nehr said that he liked Scott a lot and thinks that things will work out well for Scott. Hooper amused the audience by telling them that Scott will never get chapped lips from wetting his finger to see which way the wind is blowing, and praised Scott for being very consistent with his message and never changing it. Ahern described Scott as “the real deal” and remarked that Scott has set one of the highest standards any governor has set in the worst case scenario and has surpassed even his (Scott’s) own standards. Ahern concluded by saying
I think he’s courageous. I think that he’s motivated and focused. I think that he is going to be, at the end of the day, one of the best governors the state has ever seen.
The next question, addressed to rep. Ahern, was “With a majority [of Republicans] in both houses and in the governor’s office, why in the world didn’t an immigration policy get done?”
Ahern’s answer was that a good bill was passed by the House, which was watered down in the Senate and died due to “strong forces at work in Tallahassee,” implying that the Chamber of Commerce was among these forces, and asserting that he and other supporters of the immigration bill will be ready for them next year.
The next question, addressed to all of the legislators, was “What about drug testing the recipients of government assistance?”
Rep. Nehr informed the audience that this bill passed the legislature and, when signed into law, anyone who gets welfare will have to undergo drug testing before they get their check. Rep. Hooper further explained that, under the new law, a welfare recipient who undergoes drug testing has to pay for it; if that person tests negative they get their check and are reimbursed for the cost of the drug test; if that person tests positive, they do not get reimbursed and do not get their check.
The next question was “What ever happened to jobs, jobs, jobs?”
Rep. Frishe fielded an answer which was that the best welfare check in the world is a paycheck, and that the legislature passed a balanced budget with no new taxes so that the businesses in the state — who are the job creators — would have a measure of predictability and stability so that they can invest in jobs that will put Floridians back to work.
The next question asked was “What was your biggest regret this legislative session?”
Rep. Hooper said his biggest regret was how, on the last day of the session, the two houses went off the tracks and into the ditch and never recovered, referring to the chaos of that final day. Rep. Ahern expounded on these comments by explaining that everything is supposed to culminate on the 60th day of the session, and when it does not a lot of good pieces of legislation are left on the table and never come to fruition. For Ahern, it was a bit of a disappointment to see these bills brought past the point of no return “and then crash and burn at the end.” Rep. Nehr said that his biggest disappointment was failure of a meaningful immigration bill to pass. Rep. Frishe told the audience that the process is full of little disappointments, but he was proud to represent Pinellas County and had no regrets and no remorse.
The final question, directed at Rep. Nehr and making reference to a recent controversy he was involved in, was “How do you feel about internet casinos?”
Rep. Nehr answered by saying that he really did not know much about internet casinos but did know about retail stores and that there are 1,000 stores in Florida selling telephone time and other things, and he knew that there are some gray areas in the law. He concluded by saying that he plans to get together with the Sheriff to see if they can work out something “appropriate,” stressing that “it is important that we do the right thing for the citizens of Florida.”
The entire 48 minutes of the lawmakers’ comments can be seen in the following video:
(Video courtesy PCREC)