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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017 2 months ago

Q&A: Meet the Republican candidates for Florida House District 44

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Meet the Republicans vying for Florida House District 44's seat in October's special election.
by: Gabby Baquero Staff Writer

ORANGE COUNTY – Included on the ballot for the Florida House of Representatives District 44 Republican primary on August 15 will be Bobby Olszewski, Bruno Portigliatti, John Newstreet, and Dr. Usha Jain.

All four candidates, along with the sole Democrat candidate Paul Chandler, are in the running to fill former Florida State Rep. Eric Eisnaugle’s now-vacant seat. Eisnaugle rescinded his candidacy once he was nominated for a job as a judge on the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Daytona Beach.

As the sole Democrat, Chandler will advance to the Oct. 10 special election, but Olszewski Portigliatti, Newstreet and Dr. Jain will need to garner enough votes to advance to October’s election.

The winner will serve as the District 44 House Representative until Nov. 6, 2018, when all 120 House seats are again up for election. District 44 encompasses Southwest Orange County and includes Windermere and Winter Garden.

JOHN NEWSTREET

Why are you running for the state Legislature, and what are your long-term political goals?

Throughout my life, I have answered a call to serve, starting in childhood when my family became a foster family even when there were already ten children in our family.  After school, I served our country in the U.S. Coast Guard.  Years later, I began my work on behalf of Florida’s veterans as State Director of The American Legion.  Now, in my role at a Central Florida chamber of commerce, I’m proudly helping small businesses grow and helping with pro-job growth economic policies at the local level. 

John Newstreet.

When this seat came open, many business leaders in the community encouraged me to run because they believe I have the right conservative values, the right background and a track record of getting things done.  That’s why I decided to run, to strengthen our community and our state.  I have no long-term political goals.  Simply stated, I believe we all have a purpose in life and that if we each follow it, we all benefit.

What are the two most pressing issues facing District 44?

Aside from fiscally conservative budgeting and low taxes, I believe traffic and growth is hindering our quality of life. For instance, when Volcano Bay opened, my commute to work significantly increased. If elected, I will work with other legislators, local governments and the Department of Transportation to ensure District 44 is adequately funded for its transportation needs. 

Another pressing issue is crime, both in our neighborhoods and in the tourism corridor. To protect the industry that provides the most jobs in our area, it’s critical that law enforcement has every tool they need to protect the residents and the millions of visitors who come to our region every year. Aside from the lives and property lost to crime, a high-profile crime in the tourism corridor could also adversely impact the jobs of our residents.

What are the three most important changes you want to make?

  • Ethics Reform. Specifically, I would re-implement a ban on legislators being employed by a lobbying firm while they’re in office.  Serving in the legislature is a privilege, not a right.  Additionally, I would prohibit lobbying firms from hiring any family member(s) of a legislator while the legislator is in office.  Lastly, I would require legislators to publicly disclose if their spouse or child is hired after their election to the legislature by a corporation that spends more than $10,000 a year in lobbying.  Employment before their election would be exempt.
  • I would improve and strengthen our education system and reduce unnecessary testing. My mother and sister are both educators. Teachers need to have the ability to teach and parents need to be able to choose the best educational path for their children.  We also need to pave the way for more affordable options for college and technical training.
  • I want to help free up the entrepreneurs and job creators in Florida by ending unnecessary barriers and government regulations that inhibit economic and job growth.  Many of those barriers will require legal reform as well, which is why the trial lawyers have been funding the negative attacks against my candidacy.

According to some elected officials, an alarming number of state bills that threaten Home Rule were proposed this past legislative session. What are your thoughts on Home Rule?

I believe strongly in protecting home rule and defending against unfunded mandates.  Because the legislature is responsible for the entire state of Florida, there are some cases where regulations need to be consistent across municipalities. For instance, laws restricting wages should be throughout Florida to ensure a level playing field.

The issue with several of the bills in the last legislative session arose because they were not written in partnership with local governments. As someone who has had to build a consensus of large groups, it is my belief that we should be working with local governments on any legislation that might affect them to find the best solution for the most people.

Do you agree with state-mandated term limits on locally elected officials?

In general, I support term limits, especially for Congress.  I also support citizens’ rights to make that decision for their own city or municipality.  Just last year, the voters of Longwood passed a measure that enacted term limits on their commissioners. It passed overwhelmingly.  In other cities, like Winter Garden, no commissioner since 2010, which includes one of my opponents, has offered legislation promoting term limits in Winter Garden.   

Again, I support term limits along with the will of the citizenry to make that decision.  However, a Miami legislator should not be forcing his “one size fits all” idea on every community throughout the state, whether it has to do with election dates, term limits or whether each community should have a strong mayor form of government or not.  Let the people who are affected make the decision. 

Several municipal governments believe recent legislation on medical marijuana limits local decision-makers. What are your suggestions on how to best regulate the medical marijuana industry?

In 2012, several cities in Florida passed a moratorium on medical marijuana in their communities. Orlando passed theirs in July 2016 and Winter Garden passed theirs in August 2016.While the constitutional amendment passed by voters left more questions than answers, the legislature clearly stated in law that whatever regulations a municipality applies to a marijuana distributor the same regulations would apply to pharmacies.  So, a city may regulate marijuana as long as they are willing to regulate pharmacies in the same manner. As with any new industry, it will take a period of time to sort through the complexities of that industry; medical marijuana is no different. 

What would you suggest to improve Florida’s public education system?

My mother and sister are both educators, so a quality education was always emphasized in my home growing up.  We all know education is the doorway to success.  That’s why we must strive to ensure Florida’s schools are always improving and are preparing our children for a successful career.

Improving education is complex in Florida and the legislature must address issues that affect children throughout the state. But, while one area, like West Orange County, may have great schools, other areas simply do not. In Pinellas County, the Tampa Bay Times highlighted four “Failure Factories,” where children are failing simply because of where they live. 

As a legislator, I will consider any proposal that ensures success for our children, but we must provide choices for parents and ensure great teachers can teach for success, not for a test. We must provide accountability and reward those schools that overachieve while searching for different directions for those that don’t. And, we must ensure that education is a priority for our legislature.

ROBERT "BOBBY" OLSZEWSKI

Why are you running for the state Legislature, and what are your long-term political goals?

I am only running in this race to represent District 44 in the Florida State House of Representatives because it is my hometown and the community I love. I want to serve our community with passion each and every day because it has been my home since 1980 where my wife Allison and I are now raising our 11-month old daughter Reagan. 

Robert "Bobby" Olszewski.

I am running with a true and genuine servant’s heart to represent the people of our community. I was blessed to have been elected to two terms as a Winter Garden Commissioner in District 44 where I have already been tested as a public servant. I worked with my constituents to ensure all voices were heard. I have walked and visited with every community multiple times within District 44 and know what makes each neighborhood uniquely special. I am running to serve a community that I have invested my blood, sweat, and tears, as I have no other interests or motivations in becoming a State Representative, except to serve our hometown.

What are the two most pressing issues facing District 44?

What we need from the Legislature is sound public policy that allows our community to meet its challenges head on and continue to grow in a way that meets the many needs of our residents, businesses, and communities. That starts first and foremost with great

schools so that our families can have access to great classrooms and teachers in our neighborhoods. It is also imperative to have a business climate that encourages job creation and sets up small businesses to succeed. That means we need secure communities where residents feel safe and their rights are protected. I will advocate for a low tax environment where burdensome regulations are fought, rather than protected by politicians.  I will be our community’s advocate in Tallahassee because we need our state legislative leaders to understand what it will take to protect what makes our community so great, and that is accomplished by having a legislative representative who knows our community forwards and backwards and will advocate exclusively for our community’s success.

What are the three most important changes you want to make?

First, a low tax environment is a key to a healthy and growing Florida economy.  I will fight any efforts to raise taxes and fees on Floridians and will support efforts that help reduce taxes and put more money back into your pocket. I would like to see homeowners be able to deduct their Home Owner’s Association (H.O.A.) fees from their property taxes, and I also believe Florida's tax on offices leases should be eliminated to help lower the cost of brick and mortar storefront and office properties for small businesses.

Next, as a principle, government does NOT create jobs, but it creates a regulatory and tax environment that attracts and helps privately owned businesses grow through transparent legislation.  I will be a voice for our local business community to help instill transparency where businesses can expand, wages can rise, and our local community can flourish. We accomplish this through transparency by eliminating secret government contracts and voting on legislator’s projects one by one and not lumping them all into one bill.

Lastly, Florida must always get a return on their taxpayer’s investments.  When I was a Winter Garden Commissioner, about 99% of our votes were unanimous because we all shared the vision for a common goal of what our community could become.  In my last two years on the Commission, Winter Garden had the highest property value increase in all of Orange County which everyone benefited from our city’s investments and resources. It starts with government creating conditions where all businesses and residents can flourish and not picking selected winners or losers and that is what we should expect from our legislators in Tallahassee ensuring citizens are getting a return on investment of their tax dollars.

According to some elected officials, an alarming number of state bills that threaten Home Rule were proposed this past legislative session. What are your thoughts on Home Rule?

Without any hesitation, I absolutely support Home Rule being a former Winter Garden Commissioner and now as a Florida House of Representatives candidate. 

Do you agree with state-mandated term limits on locally elected officials?

I firmly believe elected officials should be subject to Term Limits, but because I support Home Rule, it would be up to the municipalities to decide for themselves.  However, I will not sell out my beliefs or conservative principles for an endorsement. I am seeking to go to Tallahassee to represent the will of the people, not the priorities of politicians.

Several municipal governments believe recent legislation on medical marijuana limits local decision-makers. What are your suggestions on how to best regulate the medical marijuana industry?

This is an issue that I already faced as a Winter Garden Commissioner when Knox Nursery was named one of the dispensaries of cannabis for the purpose of medical marijuana by the state of Florida.  I do not support the use of recreational marijuana, but the voters in Florida have passed that medical marijuana is law in our state.  The Legislature needs to ensure that the law is being upheld as passed by the voters while keeping our communities safe and following Federal law.  However, because I support Home Rule, I feel that municipalities and counties need to do what is best to meet the standards of their unique communities much like what was recently passed by the city commission a few weeks ago in Winter Garden.

What would you suggest to improve Florida’s public education system?

As the son of a retired Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) teacher and the husband of a current OCPS teacher, as well as being an adjunct college professor myself, I know firsthand one of the main responsibilities of our state government is to provide a world-class education for our children.  This can be done through an all of the above approach. Investments in traditional public schools and holding both students and teachers accountable for results, but also rewarding great teachers and schools for positive results.  Parents need to be empowered to make the best decisions for their children and their unique educational situations and requirements.

The Legislature needs to ensure all the standards are the same for public, private, charter, and home-schools to improve accountability in education across the board while empowering our teachers in the classroom.  However, there are over 55,000 students statewide that are in habitually failing public schools.  We must allow for innovative services so a public school can either improve for those students, or allow a charter school with a proven track record of success come in and turn around that school. Additionally, we need to invest in vocational schools so children can get technical skills today that can equip them for the jobs of tomorrow.

BRUNO PORTIGLIATTI

Why are you running for the state Legislature, and what are your long-term political goals?

Bruno Portigliatti.

I’m running for the state Legislature because our community deserves a fresh face and new voice fighting for us in government. I will always look to the community for guidance in our Legislature, not special interests’ donors and lobbyists. Representing the community I love and call home would be a tremendous honor, and I look forward to working with local residents to find ways to make Central Florida an even better place to live, work and raise a family.

What are the two most pressing issues facing House District 44?

As the representative of District 44, I plan to use my real- world business experience as executive vice president of Florida Christian University and CEO of Excellence Senior Living to bring conservative solutions to our community (such as) fixing roads and reducing traffic, eliminating needless regulations for small businesses, incentivizing the best and brightest teachers to come to Florida, and protecting our shared conservative values.

According to some elected officials, an alarming number of state bills that threaten Home Rule were proposed this past legislative session. What are your thoughts on Home Rule?

I believe that Home Rule is an integral aspect of our democracy, and the government closest to the people is in the best position to address that constituency’s specific needs. As a legislator, I will always keep this in mind as I work to balance the needs of the entire state with our local needs.

Do you agree with state-mandated term limits on locally elected officials?

The voters of Florida enacted term limits at the state level, and I believe it’s been useful to make sure that the people drafting the laws are also living according to them.

DR. USHA JAIN

Why are you running for the State Legislature, and what are your long-term political goals? 

Dr. Usha Jain.

 I'm running for the same reasons that I became a Physician,  I have a passion to help the sick...and I have that same passion to help the citizens of my District.  

What do you view as the two most pressing issue facing District 44 and what will you do about it? 

 I believe education and job opportunities are the most pressing issues facing our district. Towards that end,  I would strengthen our school system and support vocational training so that our young people can compete in the job market.   

What are the three most important changes you want to make?

  • Expand educational and vocational training opportunities
  • Strengthen access to health care services
  • Support our first responders by recognizing their importance to the safety of our community 

According to some elected officials, an alarming number of state bills that threaten home rule were proposed this past legislative session. What are your thoughts on home rule?

I support home rule and self-governing and control.

Do you believe state-mandated term limits on local elected officials and election days set by Tallahassee are a good idea? Why or why not?

I support state-mandated term limits, it sends a message to our citizens that we don't support "career politicians."  Election days set by Tallahassee are acceptable...it imposes uniformity across the state.

Several municipal governments believe recent legislation on medical marijuana really ties their hands. What are your suggestions on how to best regulate the medical marijuana industry?

I support Physicians and their oath to first "Do No Harm".  I believe each Physician will have to make that choice for their practice and their patient's welfare. 

What would you suggest to improve Florida’s public education system?

That's a very easy question … offer more vocational training so that students can leave high school with specific job training.  

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Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]

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