Atwater, who has served on Florida's Cabinet since being elected CFO in 2010 and is currently seeking re-election to the post, began his luncheon address by praising the Central Florida region as one of Florida's leading "economic engines" and touted its importance in Florida's recovery and in keeping its economy strong.
Aided by a dramatic PowerPoint to illustrate his presentation, Atwater reviewed several critical public policy decisions Florida made between 2004 and 2012 which resulted in Florida not experiencing the devastating financial crises many other states faced during that period. According to Atwater, the critical policy decisions on taxing and spending made by Florida's leaders during that period attracted capital rather than drove it away and have now made Florida's gross domestic product (GDP) the fourth largest in the U.S and the 19th largest in the world.
Turning to education, the Chief Financial Officer pointed to extensive research which indicated that how Florida is deploying its dollars in educational spending is making a difference and he refuted those who maintain "spending more will get us more." To back it up, Atwater pointed to Florida's impressive 4th grade reading scores and indicated that while Florida is 38th in spending it is 8th in test scores and contrasted it with other states that spend much more but whose test scores are much lower.
In a question and answer session following his address, Atwater fielded a range of questions from luncheon attendees which included the controversial medical marijuana referendum and the planned All Aboard Florida train. Atwater indicated his opposition to medical marijuana citing the potential for many unintended consequences, including higher workmen's compensation costs to businesses. On the proposed train, Atwater noted the serious opposition to it on the Treasure Coast but expressed his hope that all parties could be brought together to successfully work through the areas of concern.
Prior to Atwater's luncheon appearance, Central Florida Partnership President Jacob Stuart provided him with a private briefing on the work to date on "Sources of Capital," one of the top regional priorities of the Partnership, and encouraged Atwater's participation in a Regional Leadership Forum on the topic slated for early 2015.
Pre-Primary Luncheon Rally
With the Aug. 26th primary election just days away and early voting already underway, BusinessForce, the political action arm of the Central Florida Partnership, held a pre-primary election luncheon rally on Aug. 15th showcasing several of its endorsed candidates in several "high priority, must win- races" that will appear on the primary ballot. The special luncheon was hosted by the BusinessForce Board of Directors and sponsored by AT&T, along with supporting sponsors Bright House Networks, Clear Channel Outdoor, CenturyLink, Duke Energy and Publix Super Markets.
On hand for the luncheon rally were BusinessForce-endorsed candidates Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando), Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (R-Gotha), Rep. Tom Goodson (R-Titusville), Rep. Bryan Nelson (R-Apopka) and Orange County Commissioner Jennifer Thompson. Following the luncheon, the candidates were invited to the stage by BusinessForce Chair Linda Landman Gonzalez of the Orlando Magic for a wide ranging panel discussion on the status of their races and the important issues arising in their campaigns.
Thompson is seeking re-election to a second term and faces a former senator in the Democratic primary before tackling a Republican candidate to be selected in the Republican primary. The senator indicated she was encouraged by the breadth of her support and reported frequently hearing from her constituents that they now feel someone is actually representing them in Tallahassee. She attributed her success in representing them to the relationships she has established enabling her as a member of the minority party to work across party lines.
Eisnaugle, who returned to the legislature in a spring special election after a two year absence, will take on GOP primary opponent and then an independent candidate in the general election for the southwest Orange County seat. Representing a very conservative district, Eisnaugle reported his constituents "want smaller government and to be left alone by government." Widely seen as a possible future speaker of the House, Eisnaugle indicated that for now the key to that possibility would be first maintaining a Republican majority and then winning the support of fellow house members elected in his class.
Goodson also faces a Republican primary opponent as his only obstacle in his re-election quest for the seat which covers east Orange and northern Brevard Counties. Named a Distinguished Advocate in the 2014 legislative session by the Florida Chamber, Goodson discussed his key role in warding off damaging amendments and steering to passage the mammoth Dept. of Transportation bill. He also provided his insights on the leadership style of his Brevard County colleague, Central Florida Legislative Delegation Chair and House Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli.
Nelson, who is term limited in his legislative seat, is campaigning to succeed retiring Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer in the northwest Orange County-based commission seat and will face four opponents in the Aug. 26th primary. In his quest for the seat Nelson reported he has knocked on 12,000 doors in the diverse district and learned improving infrastructure in the district were uppermost on voters' minds with completion of the Wekiva Parkway and funding for additional Lynx buses and the Orange Blossom Express frequently mentioned. A key goal for him while serving on the Orange County Commission will be "to protect tourism at all costs."
Running hard for re-election to her southeast-based Orange County Commission seat, Thompson has attracted two opponents in the primary. Already Thompson has made 10,000 personal calls to voters to tout her top accomplishments in her first term. Among those she cited were much needed parks and recreational opportunities along with nurturing Innovation Way and the High-tech Corridor. Looking ahead to a second commission term, Thompson indicated a top priority would be identifying a dedicated funding source for SunRail and other transportation needs.
Concluding the program BusinessForce President Mike Ketchum recounted the yearlong 2014 BusinessForce endorsement process to identify the best men and women to serve in important state and local offices and stressed the importance to the business community of supporting the entire slate of BusinessForce slate of endorsed candidates at the Aug 26th primary and in the Nov. 4th general election.
"Let's Find Waste and Undo It" says Cong. Dan Webster
Home from our nation's capital for a scheduled District Work Period, Cong. Daniel Webster (R-Winter Garden) appeared before BusinessForce, the political action arm of the Central Florida Partnership, at its Feb. 24th "Insider's Briefing" The private luncheon was hosted by the BusinessForce Board of Directors and sponsored by AT&T, along with supporting sponsors Duke Energy, Clear Channel Outdoor, Bright House Networks, Century Link and Publix Supermarkets.
The two term Winter Garden congressman began his luncheon remarks by indicating he serves in two primary roles: first, going to Washington and vote on legislation and second, serve the people here in the community. Webster termed the community service rendered by congressional staff in his local district offices as "aggressive" in helping individuals navigate through the "difficult" federal government.
While in Washington, the congressman indicated he has been recently spending considerable time on passing the "Water Bill" with 6 of its 23 projects located in Florida. The important legislation will fund key dredging projects in certain Florida ports and encourage additional port traffic from the widened Panama Canal.
Throughout his political career Webster indicated he has prided himself on adhering to important principles. One of them is to root out waste in government which he indicated is often "rewarded" with no real incentive to save money. "We don't have to always spend what is appropriated to us. I want to find waste and undo it,' said Webster who cited numerous examples of congressional waste and contrasted it with the return by his congressional office to the federal treasury of over $1.2 million in unspent office appropriations recently.
During the question and answer period following his remarks Webster touted a tax reform bill to be shortly introduced designed to close certain tax loopholes and lower tax rates along with a measure to replace Obamacare. Webster stated attempts to address the troubled health plan had previously been "forbidden territory" due to the President's steadfast refusal to get help from Congress in ironing out its many problem areas. The congressman also shared the results of his ongoing efforts with Cong. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Ft. Lauderdale), who also serves as Chair of the Democratic national Committee, to find areas of bipartisan agreement on legislation.
Bondi Talks Medical Marijuana
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi made her first appearance before BusinessForce, the political action arm of the Central Florida Partnership, at its Jan. 27th "Insider's Briefing" The private luncheon was hosted by the BusinessForce Board of Directors and sponsored by AT&T, along with supporting sponsors Duke Energy, Clear Channel Outdoor, Bright House Networks, Century Link and Publix Supermarkets.
With the Florida Supreme Court just having given its final approval for placement of the controversial Medical Marijuana legalization question on the November general election ballot, Bondi wasted no time in attacking the proposed constitutional amendment. Still maintaining its wording was misleading and deceptive as strongly held in an opinion by three of the seven Florida Supreme Court justices, Bondi charged its consequences would open the door to legalization of marijuana and could even permit minors to obtain marijuana without their parent's knowledge. Now that the matter is up to the voters, Bondi strongly encouraged voters "read the full amendment in order to understand the impact it could have on Floridians."
During the reminder of her luncheon remarks before the audience of business and community leaders Bondi reflected on her career as Hillsborough County prosecutor in the State Attorney's office prior to being elected Florida Attorney General and the state's chief legal officer in 2010. She went on to discuss a number of important initiatives her office has undertaken to "keep Florida safe." Among those she cited was a new initiative, in partnership with the business community and with its prototype here in Orange County, to halt human trafficking in Florida where it ranks third in the nation. Bondi predicted further legislation during the 2014 legislative session on curtailing human trafficking and sexual predators. The Attorney General also pointed to the enhanced monitoring through a call center of the increasing "business to business" scams oftentimes designed to fund drug and gang activity. The Attorney General also reviewed the strong actions her office is taking to address pill mills, the spread of synthetic drugs, Medicaid fraud and ensuring proper compensation is obtained from the BP oil spill in 2010.
Record Crowd Hears Mayor Jacobs
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs was the special guest speaker at the Nov. 22nd BusinessForce "Insider's Briefing" luncheon with a record-setting crowd on hand to hear from Jacobs who was formally endorsed last week for re-election in 2014 by BusinessForce, the political action arm of the Central Florida Partnership. The invitation only luncheon was hosted by BusinessForce and sponsored by AT&T, along with supporting sponsors Bright House Networks, Duke Energy, Clear Channel Outdoor, CenturyLink and Publix Supermarkets. Also recognized in the audience and on hand during the luncheon was Orange County Commissioner Jennifer Thompson who was similarly endorsed by BusinessForce for re-election last week and 2014 Florida Senate President-designate Sen. Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando).
Before a SOLD OUT lunch crowd of over 140, the largest attendance to date of any BusinessForce Insider's Briefing, BusinessForce Chair Linda Landman Gonzalez announced the endorsement of Mayor Jacobs and Commissioner Thompson.
In her remarks to the BusinessForce audience following her introduction by BusinessForce Chair Linda Landman Gonzalez of the Orlando Magic, Jacobs recalled that following her 2010 election she entered the Mayor's office with real anticipation over not being able to meet the county's needs due to the significantly declining revenues from a struggling economy but observed things actually turned out much better over time. She attributed this to several factors: the Orange County Commission being non-partisan, a strong county culture of partnership and the efforts of myregion.org, an initiative of the Central Florida Partnership. She also singled out for praise her colleagues on the Orange County Commission who she strongly engaged in her governance efforts by changing the way the board interacted and encouraging and empowering them to have a full debate as public policy is being made for the county.
The audience also learned her desire for empowerment also extended to her personal staff with the Mayor stating, "I don't need yes men" and indicating she valued highly the diversity of opinion among her "young, energetic and diverse staff."
The Orange County Mayor showed the "human side' of being Orange County's top elected official by regaling her audience with several humorous recollections of some "behind the scenes" mayoral experiences shared by her and her staff. She also revealed the high value she places on the strong relationship with her "husband and four grown kids."
In concluding her remarks, Jacobs foresaw an even brighter future and termed the last three years for Orange County "phenomenal years" that have made us "the "envy of the state." She cited as evidence the thriving tourism and the "incredible partnerships" that have led to making SunRail, Medical City and Major League Soccer a reality along with the planning for the completion of the Wekiva Parkway, Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center and the Citrus Bowl renovation.
House Speaker Designate Crisafulli
Future Florida House Speaker Rep. Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) and current Chairman of the Central Florida Legislative Delegation made his first BusinessForce "Insider's Briefing" appearance on July 18th before a packed room of BusinessForce investors and their invited business and community leader guests. The invitation only luncheon which officially kicked off the 2013-14 "Insider's Briefing" series was hosted by BusinessForce, the political action arm of the Central Florida Partnership, and was sponsored by AT&T along with supporting sponsors Bright House Networks, Clear Channel Outdoor, Duke Energy, Century Link and Publix Supermarkets.
Introduced by BusinessForce Chair Linda Landman Gonzalez, Crisafulli began his remarks by saluting the distinguished legislative service of House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Precourt (R-Orlando) who was present and has been a valued mentor to Crisafulli as he prepares to become House Speaker in 2014. The future House Speaker also provided insights on the daily challenges of properly balancing his family and agricultural business interests with the pressures of public service and his desire as a legislator to "bring real life experiences" particularly to governmental regulatory agencies which he stated are often "an impediment" to economic development.
Crisafulli, a staunch advocate for regionalism, focused on two major regional themes during his appearance – space and the port – both of which are embraced by the Central Florida Partnership as top regional priorities.
Reflecting on the loss of 18,000 space industry jobs since 2008 and a county unemployment rate that once topped 12%, Crisafulli saw potential opportunities for Brevard County in a 150,000 acre wildlife refuge at the Kennedy Space Center and a new space center. With respect to the port at Port Canaveral, Crisafulli characterized the impact of the cruise industry as "huge" for Brevard County by mentioning the "day stops" for cruise ships as the "new big thing" which is increasingly boosting tourism and driving the local economy and the possibility in the future for acquiring yet more cargo shipping.
With his strong family roots in agriculture, Crisafulli called it "still the foundation of Florida's economy" and emphasized the importance of formulating a state water policy to ensure the industry remains viable in the future.
Touching on the current Tallahassee political climate, Crisafulli telegraphed he was not a fan of the "R and D politics" prevalent in Tallahassee and would work to encourage the avoidance of highly partisan politics during his tenure as House Speaker.
As the Chairman of the Central Florida Legislative Delegation, Crisafulli will convene and host its annual meeting on Nov. 19th at a site to be announced shortly in Brevard County. Watch Every Monday in the coming weeks for further details on the meeting.
BusinessForce Boosts House Candidates In Top Priority Races
BusinessForce, the political action arm of the Central Florida Partnership, hosted a special BusinessForce "Insider's Briefing" luncheon on Oct. 25 th boosting the legislative candidacies of Dr. Bob Brooks, Marco Pena and Rep. Scott Plakon. All are seeking seats in the Central Florida Legislative Delegation in newly drawn, highly competitive districts that have been targeted by BusinessForce as "high priority, must win" races in 2012.
Introducing and presenting the three candidates to BusinessForce members and their invited guests was BusinessForce Chair Jay Galbraith who praised the qualifications and credentials of each to hold public office. Each candidate expressed their gratitude for the outpouring of strong support for their campaigns from the business community and then provided an update on the current status and outlook for their respective races which are among the tightest and most hotly contested in the state.
BusinessForce President Mike Ketchum concluded the luncheon by stressing the importance of electing the three candidates in order to keep our legislative delegation a pro-business one and encouraged those present to redouble their efforts in the community between now and Election Day to insure that Brooks, Pena and Plakon are elected. He went on to remind attendees of their opponent's position on the proposed paid sick leave mandate in Orange County vehemently opposed by the Central Florida Partnership and the business community stating, "Their opponents, who are being supported by Occupy Orlando leaders and their paid sick leave advocate allies, either supported this costly new governmental mandate or supported holding a vote on the proposed referendum despite its containing ballot language which the referendum proponents openly admitted was inaccurate, misleading and deceptive."
"I Get Things Done In Washington," Mica Tells BusinessForce
Stepping off the campaign trail from his grueling Aug. 14th Republican primary battle with Congresswoman Sandy Adams (R-Oviedo), Cong. John Mica (R-Winter Park) was the special guest speaker at the July 16th BusinessForce "Insider's Briefing" luncheon presented by host sponsor AT&T along with supporting sponsors Bright House Networks, Duke Energy Corporation, Century Link and Publix Super Markets.
The powerful Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, accompanied by two key committee staffers, began his remarks to BusinessForce investors and their invited guests by recounting that his initial ambition was to go to Congress "to be a leader" and to "think in terms of the nation, not the district." He recognized early on it would be necessary to for him to become a committee chair to get things done and in order to do so, Mica revealed that he had to successfully overcome the initial opposition of current House Speaker John Boehner.
Once assuming the committee chairmanship, Mica discovered he had "inherited a mess" during his efforts to reauthorize the FAA and went on to share the "hardball politics" he played with Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) to expose a $3,720 subsidy per ticket for certain Nevada airports which forced the U.S. Senate to compromise on the FAA legislation. More recently, Mica has steered to passage a bipartisan Transportation Bill re-authorization which had not been accomplished since 2005.
Looking ahead, the veteran congressman foresaw opportunities for the region to become a center for air traffic control and to improve our infrastructure to better support the needs of our tourism industry. He was excited about the possibility pursuing of rail connections to Orlando International Airport and the recent proposal by Florida East Coast Railroad to connect Miami with an Orlando high speed rail route. With respect to the region's growing modeling and simulation industry where upcoming federal budget cuts could severely threaten its future, Mica strongly urged business leaders to organize now to save what we have and even seek ways to expand it.
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Cong. Mack Tells BusinessForce "I Want To Be Your Partner In Washington"
Cong. Connie Mack (R-Ft. Myers), the front running candidate in the Aug. 14th Republican Primary for the U. S. Senate nomination to take on veteran Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in the November general election was the special guest at the May 30th BusinessForce "Insider's Briefing" luncheon presented by host sponsor AT&T and supporting sponsors Progress Energy, Bright House Networks, Century Link and Publix Super Markets.
Taking direct aim at an "out of control" Washington that seeks "to divide us, not unite us" and the burdensome regulations that often plague businesses, Mack charged we have a "federal government that doesn't believe in you" and oftentimes "destroys what we are trying to save or protect." As an example, he cited the 31 permits and fees a boatyard in his congressional district recently faced in order to expand. Also cited by Mack as detriments to the business climate were the passage of Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial industry regulation. He went on to call for their repeal and asked his audience of BusinessForce members and their invited guests to "judge me on what I can repeal because I want to bring government, laws and regulations back to the people. I want to be your partner in Washington."
The Ft. Myers congressman took to task both the Republican and Democratic Parties on their continuing failure to solve the deficit problem by blasting Senate Democrats for not passing a budget in 3 years and House Republicans for passing a budget that does not come into balance for 28 years. "We can do better," he said calling the huge federal deficit "a national security problem." He went on to tout as a remedy the "One Cent Solution" plan which would largely require the government to cut one cent out of every dollar of its total spending each year for 6 years. Mack added, "Right now we are on the road to Greece. I want us on the road to prosperity instead."
Turning to his upcoming campaign against Nelson, Mack revealed he was encouraged by his running evenly in current polls against the two term incumbent who has held various public offices in Florida 36 of the last 40 years. He criticized Nelson's recent priority of controlling pythons in the Everglades along with his key votes supporting several controversial Obama Administration initiatives and indicated he would defend himself against the expected Nelson attacks against him on social security and Medicare by asking him "What is your plan to save social security and Medicare?"
Cong. Adams Calls Washington "Broken"
The freshman congressman, who was first elected in the 2010 Republican sweep by ousting incumbent Cong. Suzanne Kosmas (D-New Smyrna Beach), called her first 18 months in office "interesting" and confirmed for her audience of BusinessForce investors and their guests that "Washington is broken - it's true." Adams described President Obama as having been "in a full re-election mode" throughout her term in office and only interested in playing partisan politics with legislation. As evidence, she cited White House opposition to her leadership on re-enacting the "Violence Against Women Act."
The inability of the U. S. Senate to pass a budget in over three years also came under fire by Adams who praised the efforts of the U. S. House to not only pass a real budget addressing the deficit and entitlements but approve as well numerous measures to get the economy back on track and create jobs only to see them die in the Senate.
Cong. Adams went on to report on the 24 Town Hall meetings she has held in her congressional district since taking office. During these meetings she has emphasized the need for Congress "to make the hard decisions" to solve the looming fiscal crisis facing the United States before it heads down the same road as other countries. "We got put in this situation by both parties but the question now is how will we go forward?" Adams said and urged as the solution "changing the people who are in charge of how Washington works."
Commenting on her grueling Aug. 14th Republican primary campaign which already has drawn national attention and pits her against veteran Cong. John Mica (R-Winter Park) in the new Congressional District 7, Adams called it the "unnecessary primary." Brandishing a map of the new district, she cited figures showing she currently represents over 50% of the district she has chosen to run in while Mica currently represents 72% of new Congressional District 6 where he could have chosen to run. She categorically denied rumors that she would bow out of the race stating "I have to do what is right" and it would be wrong to run somewhere "just to have a seat in Congress."
During the question and answer period Adams responded to an inquiry on the status of the new Veterans Hospital at Lake Nona which has been plagued by what she called a "disconnect and little oversight by the VA." Adams predicted an opening by the end of 2013.
Batchelor, Perez Mix It Up
Two of the state's premier political strategists and commentators, Democrat Dick Batchelor and Republican Tico Perez, took the stage on April 13th as BusinessForce, the political action arm of the Central Florida Partnership, kicked off its 2012 series of "Insider's Briefings" hosted by AT&T along with supporting sponsors Progress Energy, Bright House Networks, Century Link and Publix Super Markets.
Batchelor, a former state legislator from Orlando, heads the Dick Batchelor Management Group, a business consulting firm, while Perez is a local attorney and the founder of Edge Public Affairs. Both are highly respected community leaders and political observers who are often sought out for their political expertise and regularly appear as political commentators in the local media.
Both speakers began their special election year appearance by taking a close look at the upcoming presidential election with Batchelor maintaining the outcome of the U. S. Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, Romney's weakness in the GOP base as well as with the female vote would be key factors on whether Pres. Obama is re-elected. He also suggested possible events in Iran or further gas price increases could be key additional factors. Perez saw the race as one that will be overshadowed by themes and messages and stated "Obama can't win but the Republicans could lose." He panned Obama's 2008 campaign slogan of "Yes, We Can" by charging it now had become "Why We Couldn't." With respect to Obamacare, Perez confidently predicted it "would fall before the Supreme Court."
There was also some speculation over Romney's Vice Presidential pick with Perez suggesting Sen. Marco Rubio and Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno as leading contenders and Batchelor clearly hoping for Newt Gingrich.
Turning to state politics and with the upcoming 2014 governor's race just ahead, Batchelor saw as potential Democratic candidates 2010 nominee Alex Sink, current party chair Rod Smith, former Gov. Charlie Crist and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. He added that should Gov. Scott's poll numbers remain weak, Chief Financial Office Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi or Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam may jump in the race on the Republican side. Perez countered that Scott's poll numbers were on the uptick and potential opponents would be deterred by Scott's considerable financial resources.
With the favorite to become Senate President in 2014, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) sitting in the BusinessForce audience, Perez and Batchelor agreed on the importance of having a "hometown" Senate President who "understands community issues."
Both speakers offered their perspectives on the controversial creation of a 12th state university by separating the USF Polytech campus in Lakeland from USF and also on potential university student tuition hikes. On school funding issues, strong differences emerged with Batchelor criticizing what he characterized as deep cuts to education and Perez lauding the $1 billion increase in educational funding this legislative session while maintaining the cuts were really nothing more than a decrease in the rate of spending growth.
Sen. Gardiner Previews Legislative Session
Florida Senate Majority Leader Sen. Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) was the special guest at the Dec. 2nd BusinessForce "Insider's Briefing" luncheon presented by host sponsor AT&T and supporting sponsors Progress Energy, Bright House Networks and Tucker Hall.
With the 2012 legislative session kicking off on January 10th, Gardiner focused during his remarks on the three "mega-issues" which will likely dominate the upcoming session - redistricting, gambling and the state budget.
Redistricting required every 10 years is always a contentious process among legislators and Gardiner expects this year it will be no exception. He predicted congressional redistricting will be the most difficult to accomplish while the Senate and House will likely accept the redistricting proposals of the other body. He added there is a strong likelihood of lawsuits by those who feel the requirements of Amendments 5 and 6 to the Florida Constitution which were approved in 2010 by Florida voters were not followed.
Upon their arrival in Tallahassee, Gardiner reported legislators will face a budget shortfall in excess of $2 billion dollars as the Florida economy continues to struggle in the midst of a brutal recession. In view of that, he went on to project Central Florida will come out of the recession earlier and stronger than other areas in the state.
In a wide ranging question and answer period following his prepared remarks, the Orlando Republican fielded questions on such topics as closing the internet tax loophole, immigration, space and further pension reform.
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