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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 30, 2012 8 years ago

Capitol Chatter: March 30

Developer Pat Neal ponders a return to public office.
by: Rod Thomson Staff Writer

Pat Neal ponders
a return to public office

Long-time Manatee County homebuilder and former state senator Pat Neal wants to get back in the game.

“I hope someday to be involved in public service,” Neal told the Business Review Monday. And he said the Florida Senate would be the perfect place.

Manatee and Sarasota counties are covered mostly by two Senate seats. When the original legislative maps were approved by the Senate in February as part of the census redistricting, a third Senate seat was proposed that included Lakewood Ranch in eastern Manatee County, where Neal is a major homebuilder. Neal, who was in the Florida Senate from 1978 to 1986 and has always been active in Republican politics, gave serious consideration to running in the third district.

But the Florida Supreme Court overturned the Senate maps and the Legislature went into special session to redraw them. The new map, which is again going before the Florida Supreme Court for approval, does not put Lakewood Ranch in a third Senate district.

Neal said he would not run against Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who is in the district encompassing Lakewood Ranch, or Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, whose district covers much of Sarasota County.

As whether he would look at other forms of public service, other elected seats or appointments, he said: “I wouldn't want to rule anything out.”

Controversial ObamaCare
gets its day in court

Three days of hearings on the controversial Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- aka ObamaCare — were held this week at the U.S. Supreme Court.

And other than agreeing that the law was within the purview of the court and not a tax requiring the high court to wait for its enactment in 2015, it was not clear that the justices would agree on much else.

There is a clear left-of-center/right-of-center split on the court with a justice or two who can swing. The split often centers on the power, authority and role of the federal government in people's lives. The ObamaCare law and its legal challenge falls directly on that fault line.

The main challenge to the law is over the mandate that everyone must buy health insurance. Proponents say the mandate is legally justifiable under the interstate commerce clause in the Constitution that allows the federal government to regulate commerce conducted across state lines.

Opponents say this would be the first time the American government compelled all citizens to buy something from private providers, and there is no constitutional authority for it to do that. They also say there would be no interstate commerce if there was not a mandate, so the mandate does not fall under the commerce clause.

Justices questions during oral arguments represented both sides. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative, said the feds have a “very heavy burden of justification” to show where the Constitution authorizes Congress to redefine the relationship between citizens and the government. Liberal justices questioned if anything was being redefined because people already were buying health insurance.

Getting back
the giveaways

Just last year the state of Florida and Bay County chose to spend $750,000 to lure health-tech firm Redpine Healthcare Technologies Inc. to the state.

Now the two governments are in Leon County Circuit Court spending taxpayer money on legal fees to get back as much of the money as they can.

Redpine took the incentives, promising to create 410 jobs in Bay County and move its headquarters from Spokane, Wash. to Bay County. But in December, the software firm said it would not be able to fulfill its contracts and closed its Panama City office. Its problems apparently stemmed from losing a key investor and failing to obtain bridge financing to cover that loss.

The state invested $400,000 from the Quick Action Closing Fund while Bay County chipped in $350,000 from its county economic development program to lure the company.

Gov. Scott signs
corporate voucher expansion

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law an expansion of the education voucher program that is funded by corporations that contribute to the scholarship fund in return for tax credits.

The increase for the 2012-13 school year is more than $50 million from the current year, to $229 million.

The law also relaxes restrictions on students who can use the program, no longer requiring second- through fifth-grade students to have attended public school the prior year.

The political bug
that won't go away

Nancy Argenziano, a former legislator and Republican-turned-Democrat, was barred from joining the Democratic Party in time for this year's election. With that ruling, she has dropped plans to run for Congress as a Democrat and instead will run for the state Legislature.

Aside from the party-flipping, Argenziano is typical of many politicians in both parties who get elected to office, run into term limits, run for a different office, lose the election, and run for a different office and so on. Florida has had politicians that have held three or four different political offices spanning decades.

Argenziano was a Republican in the Florida House from 1996 to 2002 and then was elected to the Senate and stayed there until 2007, when former Gov. Charlie Crist appointed her to the Public Service Commission.

After her PSC term expired, she sought reappointment, but was denied. She resigned from the PSC and backed Democrat Alex Sink in the 2010 governor's race against Rick Scott.

She was registered as an Independent and changed her party status to Democrat too late to run for Congress. Scanning the horizon for other political offices she could go after, Argenziano placed her sights on her home area in Citrus County. So she has moved back there from Tallahassee to run against freshman Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness.

Argenziano's apparent addiction to public office is hardly unique. In fact, it is quite common.

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