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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 3, 2011 9 years ago

Freedom Driver

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Ryan Houck headed Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy to kill Amendment 4, the 'vote on everything' amendment. He now defends new attacks on economic freedom with Free Market Florida.
by: Jay Brady Government Editor

Ryan Houck may forever be known as the mastermind of the campaign that killed Amendment 4 - a constitutional amendment that mandated voters approve changes to a local government's comprehensive plan. Business interests feared the over-reaching growth control measure would destroy 250,000 jobs.

With that victory in his past, Houck sees more roadblocks to economic freedom ahead, which is why he chose to lead Free Market Florida, a Tampa-based “free market watchdog” advocacy group. It's the successor organization to Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, the lead organization for last year's “Vote No on 4” campaign.

In leading that effort, Houck — a 2006 Rollins College political science grad — formed a coalition of more than 320 campaign partners, 15,000 Facebook fans, 4,000 volunteers and nearly 15,000 industry advocates. He has expanded his use of new media in his new role to include Twitter and more video links. “One of the most innovative tools there is, is video technology,” Houck says. “That's an important part of the way we communicate and more important in the next few years.”

On the re-launched group's website, FreeMarketFlorida.org, Houck prevalently uses videos as a tool to make his organization's case against various regulations to those who support its mission as “an unapologetic advocate for the principles of the free market.”

Houck wants to keep that support base focused on new issues, what his group calls “flashpoints,” which he says means “where we think the health of Florida's business climate is at stake.”

One of those flashpoints includes the numeric nutrient criteria that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to impose on the state as the result of a court settlement. Other flashpoints include litigation pursued by environmental groups and land-use issues.

Backed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the non-profit Free Market Florida waded into the fight against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's plan to mandate that the state use numeric nutrient criteria to set quantitative limits on the water quality of rivers, lakes and streams and eventually coastal and estuarine waters, too. A study done by the University of Florida and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimates that the regulation could cost $1 billion each year in direct costs plus an additional $1 billion in indirect costs. The study also claims it could put 14,000 agriculture workers out of a job.

Houck's group takes aim at environmental groups, such as 1,000 Friends of Florida, the Florida Sierra Club and EarthJustice. In one of his videos, Houck says these groups' intentions aren't to save the environment, but rather to engage in an “endless cycle of litigation” designed to limit growth in the Sunshine State.

Free Market Florida's mission also includes reforming the state's growth management laws, a logical extension of the past few years devoted to defeating Amendment 4. With the adoption of the Community Planning Act by the Legislature, Free Market Florida can count that measure as an early success.

Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the growth management law reform, which limits the state's role in overseeing local government comprehensive plans, but also prohibits local governments from holding referenda on plan amendments.

As for the nutrient criteria, Houck will continue to make videos, lobby and try to get information out to get the EPA to back off.

“We'll continue to weigh in on the issue,” says Houck, who emphasizes the importance of Free Market Florida's communications-driven strategy. “It's one of the biggest threats to Florida's economy.”

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