Gov. Ron DeSantis gets in for a picture with Rep. Holly Raschein and her son, Drake, Audra Wallace and daughter, Quinn, and Erin Muir and daughter, Violet, during last year’s Florida Keys Day. KRISTEN LIVENGOOD/Contributed

Tallahassee, a large Keys contingent is on the way. And they’re ready to talk environment, wind insurance, vacation rentals and many other Keys-related items.

Florida Keys Day is set for Feb. 3-5 as leaders from various sectors in the Keys meet with state legislators, department heads and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ cabinet. Along with the meetings, seminars and side bars, there will be a little Keys flavor in Tally with rum punch, stone crab and music.

The annual pilgrimage to the state capital began more than 10 years ago thanks to Leadership Monroe Class 17 and class member Rep. Holly Raschein. What started out as a small group grew exponentially over the years to 100-plus. With Raschein and state Sen. Anitere Flores in their final year, the gathering is bound to be one to remember.

With the trip fast approaching, the Keys Weekly asked a few leaders what they’re looking to get out of this year’s Florida Keys Day. Here’s what they had to say.

 

KEVIN G. WILSON
Monroe County assistant county administrator

How many times have you been to Florida Keys Day? Eight to nine times.

What are you most looking forward to during the visit? The chance to hold face-to-face discussions with state colleagues with whom we normally correspond.

What’s a big question you’re looking to get answered? What is the state doing to support our efforts to protect the environment?

If you could bring any one item to a legislator who’s never been to the Keys, what would it be? How important the environment is to everyone who lives here or visits.

If you have a chance to share a word with the governor, what would you say? Continue to focus on the requirements of near shore water quality and sustainable development.

 

 

MARGIE SMITH
Business consultant at Florida Small Business Development Center at Florida International University

How many times have you been to Florida Keys Day? I think three, but it’s been a few years.
What are you most looking forward to during the visit? Visits with agency leadership, and while we are there, the League of Women Voters is also having their League Lobby Days on Feb. 4-5.
What’s the biggest issue that you’re hoping to hear about? There are many — protection of our coral reef and the Everglades, which I think everyone in the Keys understands, and as a parent I would like to see a more coherent strategy on how we fund schools and ancillary programs for students. There should be a link between workforce needs and education, but we need to foster programs, including in higher ed, that don’t prioritize just the tracks that need to be filled right now. I’d like to see more linkages between engineering and business in the state of Florida because we need both to walk boldly into the future.

What’s a big question you’re looking to get answered? Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was just in Tallahassee. Florida is an outlier when it comes to gun control and it has become the petri dish where lobbyists like Marion Hammer have been outrageously successful in subverting even the most common sense gun control, and capturing this legislature. So what has been the result of the consciousness raising on this led by teenagers on our state legislators? While we are at it, how about ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment at last?

If you could bring any one item to a legislator who’s never been to the Keys, what would it be? That the growth in $15 an hour jobs all over the state is a start but it’s not enough to live on (see high intellectual capital jobs above) and we should consider both tax incentives for owners to rent second homes year-round for workforce housing as well as provide more assistance to families to obtain affordable child care. Too many of our lawmakers, both state and federal, are barely aware of the struggles to raise children and hold demanding jobs at the same time.

If you have a chance to share a word with the governor, what would you say? I’d like to see more economic development resources to help existing and new launch businesses grow in the Keys, I would suggest that conditions vary so widely in this state you have to allow a great degree of home rule, and the state must pay their fair share of taking lawsuits for the Area of Critical State Concern development caps coming in 2023 .

 

JONATHAN ‘Dr. G’ GUEVERRA
president, College of the Florida Keys

How many times have you been to Florida Keys Day? This will be my sixth year attending.

What are you most looking forward to? Meeting with colleagues from across the county and with legislators and their staff to share our progress, raise concerns and discuss solutions.

What’s the biggest issue you’re hoping to hear about? How the legislature is preparing to support funding for our under-resourced college and for education in general.

What’s one question you’d like answered? Can Monroe County be treated as a sub-region for workforce purposes without being lost in a region that includes Miami-Dade County?

What one item/topic would you bring to the attention of a legislator who’s never been to the Keys? The deterioration of the affordable housing market while there seems to be a rise in the number of businesses.

If you have a chance to share a word with the governor, what would you say? Spend more time listening to folks in the trenches.

 

SCOTT ATWELL
executive vice president, Key West Chamber of Commerce

How many times have you been to Florida Keys Day, or is this your first? I lived in Tallahassee for 35 years, so I’ve been at the state Capitol when the big Key Lime pie was being served, but this one will be different. This may be the first time I’ve had to book a hotel room in Tallahassee.

What are you most looking forward to on this visit? Networking with the people who have a shared interest in the success of the Keys.

What issue are you most interested in hearing about? How the Key West Chamber can be helpful, and meeting the people who want to partner in that effort.

If you could bring any one item/issue to the attention of a legislator who’s never been to the Keys, what would it be? Because the governor has proposed an increase in starting salaries for teachers, I’ve heard some people singling out the Keys for leading the state in this category. Don’t forget there’s a reason for that.

If you have a chance to share a word with the governor, what would you say? Take a hard look at what’s being proposed by NOAA.

 

ANDY NEWMAN
president, Newman PR.

How many times have you been to Florida Keys Days? I think I’ve been to all but maybe two or three. But a little history here: I remember, before Florida Keys Days, back in the ‘80s, there was an event in Tallahassee called Conch Day. I believe it was spearheaded by Sandy Higgs, Ed Swift, Bob Bernreuter and a few others. Bob Graham was governor and Key lime pie was always the centerpiece.

What are you most looking forward to during the visit? Everyone has different goals. For me it’s a good opportunity to see what we can do to support state Rep. Holly Raschein. I’ll attend some Visit Florida meetings. And since state officials can sometimes be a revolving door, I’ll put faces with names as much as possible.

What’s the biggest issue that you’re hoping to hear about? My two primary goals are to talk with the folks at Visit Florida and at the Department of Emergency Management. I want the state to know about the relationship the Monroe County Tourist Development Council has with Emergency Management. We pioneered a program to keep visitors informed about storms and hurricanes.

What’s a big question you’re looking to get answered? In past years we’ve needed financial help with wastewater funding, but that’s pretty much resolved now. I think now, and this is just Andy Newman speaking personally for myself, I think it’s about water quality issues in the Everglades that can impact our marine ecosystem. That’s certainly one of the spokes in the wheel when it comes to protecting our coral reef.

If you could bring any one item to a legislator who’s never been to the Keys, what would it be? I’d want them to know how important it is for them to come down and visit the Florida Keys. It must be hard to visualize and understand the issues we describe when you’ve never been here. And while I think the state of Florida in general is doing better at remembering that the Keys are down here, I’d sincerely invite the legislator to come see us.

If you have a chance to share a word with the governor, what would you say? At the last Florida Keys Days, shortly after DeSantis was elected governor, everyone from the Keys was with the governor for five minutes or so while we were arranging a group photo. Well, I maneuvered my way over to be next to him, and I told him I truly appreciated what he’s doing with the South Florida Water Management District. If I get the chance again this year, that’ll be my message again because water quality is so critical for us down here.

 

JOHN W. DENEALE
mayor of Key Colony Beach

How many times have you been to Florida Keys Day? Three.

What are you most looking forward to during the visit? Meeting with our delegation and key administration officials to discuss issues and seek funding for our continued recovery from Irma and our ability to improve water quality.

What’s the biggest issue that you’re hoping to hear about? I want to know if we are making headway on killing the vacation rental bills that will severely harm the character and lifestyle of the Keys.

What’s a big question you’re looking to get answered? Will we prevail against AirBnB and VRBO to keep our local vacation rental ordinances?

If you could bring any one item to a legislator who’s never been to the Keys, what would it be? An aerial photo of our reef on a sunny and clear blue water day.

If you have a chance to share a word with the governor, what would you say? I would thank him for his efforts to clean our state waters and ask him to provide the leadership to release the FEMA/FDEM funds for Hurricane Irma.

 

STEVE COOK
mayor of Marathon

How many times have you been to Florida Keys Day? This will be my fourth trip, I think.

What are you most looking forward to during the visit? Connecting with our voices in Tallahassee — Sen. Flores and Rep. Raschein. I also look forward to face-to-face time with our “local” lobbyists and the governor’s cabinet members and time to coordinate with other municipalities and the county on what we need on a common, or uncommon level.

What’s the biggest issue that you’re hoping to hear about? Where’s our money? Also, the Property Rights Bill, and the state’s possible pre-emption of our home rule (short-term rentals bill). Oh, yes, when do we see our Irma reimbursements?

What’s a big question you’re looking to get answered? Of the $90 million the state says it has in its “back pocket,” why haven’t any funds been released as a part of CDBG/DR? Re-Build Florida was a great idea … right up to the time the state spent money elsewhere, but not in the Keys. When do we count?

If you could bring any one item to a legislator who’s never been to the Keys, what would it be? A satellite photo of the Keys on Sept. 11, 2017.

If you have a chance to share a word with the governor, what would you say? I will share with Gov. DeSantis how much we in the Keys appreciate his commitments to water quality improvement, Everglades restoration, and reforming the reimbursements process given the changes made to the cities impacted by Hurricanes Michael and Dorian. Now we need to put a bow on it and finish up here in the Keys. I would also thank him for his work getting teachers more money for the hard work they do.

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