Weekly Interview – Holly Merrill Raschein

Weekly Interview – Holly Merrill Raschein

Holly Merrill Raschein is a rising political star in Monroe County. She serves on the Republican Executive Committee but is also the senior legislative aide for House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders. Politics, family and religion play an important role in her life, but she is much more than “work, church and home.” As a board member for numerous civic and community organizations including the Upper Keys BPW, Healthy Start, Leadership Monroe and AHEC, the barely 30-something FSU alum is almost always immediately elected “chair” or “president.” Her wedding was the first ever at the Murray Nelson Government and Cultural Center in Key Largo, and she spearheaded a movement to bring Monroe County leaders to the State’s capital for Florida Keys Day. The 2011 event is scheduled for March 29.

Monroe County has little representation at the state level due to a small population of residents and voters. You were instrumental in establishing Florida Keys Day in Tallahassee, so we could bring our issues right to the doorstep of our state legislators. Why is it so important that we get involved this year after the huge success of last year?

There is a completely new team in Tallahassee. New cabinet, new governor, 45 new house members and a handful of new senators. Everyone knows about the Florida Keys, but they don’t really “know” about the Florida Keys. We are more than Margaritaville. I don’t think they see the Florida Keys as a place with housing needs and sewer problems. Legislators need to know what a treasure the Keys are and that we bring a lot of money into this state. The bottom line is always money.

 

Florida’s leadership is asking for a 15 percent cut across the state budget. How do you feel about this new measure to achieve a balanced budget?

Across the board budget cuts punish the good agencies as well as the bad. Our schools cannot afford to take a cut of $700 per pupil. That would be a huge slash.  Environmentally, they are talking about downsizing the Department of Community Affairs. However, the DCA has helped keep the Keys from becoming Miami Beach. Controlled development is a good thing. There is talk of combining the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection. Hello! Two totally different scopes of work – not a good idea in my opinion. There is a lot of government waste out there, but the difficult part is identifying it. 

The state capital in Tallahassee is 640 miles from the Harvey Government Center in Key West. The trip to Florida Keys Day is expensive and time consuming, but the effects of just one day of lobbying can really make a difference. How can people help out if they are unable to make the trip?

Yes, the inaccessibility to our state’s capitol is tragic.  However, if community members want to support the event, they can become a sponsor by donating money or an in-kind contribution. People should be encouraged to send in their questions and comments on any particular subject regarding they Keys, and we will make sure that the issue is addressed. We are looking for input from all areas of the Keys, so please visit http://www.floridakeysday.com for more information and to be added to the e-mail list. Just because you can’t make the trip doesn’t mean you can’t be a fundamental part of the event; just put yourself out there!

Government is a crazy world and places like Tallahassee are just as hard to spell as they are to navigate. What is the most difficult place to find in Tallahassee, and what is the most confusing piece of legislation to come across your desk? Hmm, many places are difficult to find in Tallahassee, but I would have to say the Department of Environmental Protection. Just where is 3900 Commonwealth Boulevard? As with any location and an address on Capitol Circle, you can never tell which way you are going on that road, and it is NOT a circle.

Every single year, there is legislation that somehow makes it through the process and if you don’t have a Juris Doctorate, you might as well be reading Greek. Most recently, in the 2010 Session, there was a massive bill passed having to do with all things water related – Senate Bill 550. It was a 171-page bill with a host of water issues in it. There was actually some wastewater language with respect to the Keys in it as well, but you wouldn’t know unless you read it in its entirety.

On a funny side note, there was a bill that made it illegal for students to wear their pants so low that their under garments were exposed, but it didn’t pass. It was House Bill 1255 – Code of Student Conduct. You can sponsor a bill regarding pretty much anything under the sun. If you want to make it illegal to wear purple on Tuesdays, you can sponsor a bill; but, that doesn’t mean it will pass though. 

As residents of Monroe County, we often have rules thrust upon us like sewer mandates and fishing regulations, while the bulk of our insurance premiums and taxes fund other parts of the state. Other than fishing, education, public works and tourism, what other Florida Keys industries would benefit from lobbying efforts in Tallahassee?

Doctors need to go. Access to health care in the Keys is horrific, and there is not much of an incentive for doctors to set up down here. They can go to Miami and make twice as much money without the hassle. There is no place for a radiologist or a specialist in the Keys, which is why you see many residents seek medical care hours from their home. This year, we were extremely fortunate to have Mariner’s Hospital join us as a sponsor.

In 2010, sponsorship funded a massive party in the capital courtyard where legislators and their staff sampled Keys fare while participating in a record-setting conch shell blowing concert. What will be served this year, and how does the party help the residents of Monroe County?

Key Largo Fisheries is a major sponsor again this year, so the menu will consist of dolphin, conch fritters and stone crab chowder. Kermit’s Key Lime Pie will be served along with Key West Sunset Ale, Rum Punch and select labels from the Key West Winery. The purpose of the party is to provide participants an intimate atmosphere to engage with legislators and other state leaders. The day is packed with meetings, briefings and other stuffy Capitol happenings, so the party is a chance to mingle and let your hair down. Legislators and lobbyists alike need a break from the chaos of Session, and we, being the fabulous Florida Keys, can provide that much needed respite with a dash of rum and a bite of Mahi Mahi. 

 

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