A Legislator’s Perspective on Rail, the Constitution, and Other Matters

By Fred and Iris Scheibl[ PRINT ]

As anyone following the process has discovered, there is friction among the branches of government in Tallahassee. When Governor Scott decided to reject the federal grant for building a high speed rail line between Tampa and Orlando, a “gang of 25” Senators were not pleased. So displeased that they wrote a letter to Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, asking for more time to circumvent the Governor’s decision before “our” $2.4 billion were allocated to California or New York, or some other “rail-friendly” state. (Click HERE to see the letter).

District 25 Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff is one of the “gang of 25” signatories, as is district 27 Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto. Both Republicans are newly elected to that body and both were supported in various ways by South Florida 912, including a prominent recommendation on our “leader’s picks”. Since we support the Governor’s decision and rationale on high speed rail (it is a boondoggle, makes no economic sense, and will likely put the state on the hook for future subsidies), we contacted both Senators for their rationale in end-running the Governor.

Senator Benaquisto described her decision as “process related’. Although she does not support using federal funds to build the rail project, and doubts that a private sector project would be profitable, she signed on to the protest letter to protect the prerogatives of the Legislative Body. She was not in the Legislature when the original rail bill was passed (which provided funding to qualify for the federal grant), but was swayed by the argument that the actions of a previous legislative session (and previous governor) could not be unilaterally overturned by the present Governor. She also is now having second thoughts about the issue.

A Conversation with Ellyn Bogdanoff

Ellyn Bogdanoff has a nuanced view of the issue. After exchanging several emails on the subject, she offered to meet with us to better explain her position. In her view, much of the issue has been obscured by trivialized media reports and she believes the constitutional issue it engenders is larger than any discussion of high speed rail.

This afternoon, we had the opportunity to meet with the Senator at the comfortable Starbucks in the Gardens Mall. Accompanying her were legislative and political aides who were traveling with her throughout the district today.

We started our conversation in agreement – most of the coverage we read about the Legislative Session in the Palm Beach Post and Sun-Sentinel is superficial and doesn’t delve into the whole story.

As a member of the Florida House, the Senator supported Sun-Rail and the groundwork that was laid to qualify for federal transportation grants for the high speed rail projects. We don’t agree on this issue, but the Senator has been consistent. Irrespective of the underlying policy though, she views this current issue as one with constitutional ramifications.

While Senator Bogdanoff agrees with most (80-90%) of Governor Scott’s positions on issues, she believes that many of his actions since coming into office are arrogant, but more importantly, unconstitutional.

As a corporate CEO, he had the ability to take actions without necessarily consulting or deferring to other ‘bodies’. The state government on the other hand, is structured to assign separate powers to the legislative and executive bodies. The Governor, the executive body, does not have the authority to unilaterally overturn what the legislature had appropriated in past sessions. Nor does he have the ability to ‘legislate’. She referred us to an Orlando Sentinel article describing the contention between Governor Scott and the Legislature: (Click HERE for the article.)

Governor Crist did much that she considered unconstitutional as well, including the arbitrary extension of voting time during the 2008 election.

To Senator Bogdanoff, fidelity to the Florida State Constitution trumps any position on issues where she would otherwise agree with the Governor. If one ignores blatant constitutional violations when one agrees, then what happens in the future when other rights are being trampled?

She believes that we (ie. grassroots activists, South Florida 912, South Florida Tea Party) can and should remain ‘pure’ in our positions. She however, as a legislator, has to be focused on achieving ‘incremental’ wins. She has worked hard to have a leadership ‘seat at the table’ (Ellyn Bogdanoff now chairs the Budget Subcommittee on Finance and Tax) and if one behaves as a ‘bomb-thrower’, but gets nothing passed, then what is accomplished? In the give and take that her leadership role entails, if she can get 85% of what she wants, by voting for the 15% she doesn’t agree with, then she’ll do it. High speed rail was such an example – the Orlando-Tampa line was perhaps not the route she would have preferred, but she compromised to move on the larger package.

We have agreed to disagree with the Senator on high speed rail for Florida. We do not believe that the ridership projections are realistic and thus believe that any rail effort will ultimately result in requiring subsidies from the taxpayer. She believes that any private corporation agreeing to build and run the line would not do so if they didn’t think they could be profitable without subsidies.

Prior to Governor Scott’s decision, both Wisconsin and Ohio rejected similar grants. They (like us) see the entire Obama rail dream as a $57B progressive pipedream. None of these projects are likely to be profitable and will require operating subsidies to make riding them affordable. This is true of Tri-Rail and it is true with Amtrak, for which the Pew SubsidyScope Project estimates carries a subsidy of $32 for every passenger and loses money on 41 of 44 routes.

Other Topics

After our discussion of high speed rail and the separation of powers, we briefly touched on some other issues of local interest.

Key to budget restraint at the state and local level is FRS reform. The proposal as outlined by the Governor includes reduction in special-risk accrual, elimination of COLA and a 5% contribution by participants. Senator Bogdanoff considers the proposal as it stands, “dead on arrival” as there are not the votes to go that far. The bills (SB 1128 and 1130) that have been introduced by Senator Jeremy Ring (FS32), Chairman of Governmental Oversight and Accountability, are working their way through his committee, but fall short of the Scott proposal (and what is needed).

Another bill, SB1406, sponsored by Senator Bogdanoff, would introduce a 2.5 cent sales tax increase to replace the ad-valorem tax for the school systems. Although it deletes a requirement that a district school board levy the minimum millage rate necessary to provide the district’s required local effort, it does not prevent them from doing so. We suggested that this presents a double taxation case like the local Fire/Rescue sales tax proposal but she insists this is a true tax swap. She did say though to make it work, it will require an additional constitutional ballot amendment in 2012 removing school board funding from property taxes.

We ended the meeting keeping communications open. She has been willing to explain her rationale for her positions. We may not always agree on specific issues, but appreciate the Senator’s candor and openness.

What are you waiting for? ACT NOW!

You’ve stood on corners, waved signs, called and faxed your representatives to try and have an impact.  But isn’t the upcoming Election ultimately what it’s all been about?  Electing people who understand your positions, listen to you and who will be accountable to you?



Do your research, then check out our Leaders’ Picks.  Then Vote!  And take your neighbors with you!

Early voting locations are found here: Early Voting Locations.


Make phone calls or walk or put out signs for your favorite candidates – look at their websites for how you can help them.  Click on Elections, pick the campaign you want to work on and click on the Candidate for their website.


For Central Palm Beach County locations: Joe Budd, Tami Donnally and Sherry Lee campaigns are trying to maximize volunteer shift coverage by working together to cover the main locations.   Please contact any of those campaigns directly or call Melissa Nash Andrews at 561 436 5836 or melissa@tamidonnally.com to sign up to take a shift or several shifts.  The Early Voting locations are open from 10-6 weekdays and 10-2 on Saturday and Sunday.

Additionally – Allen West needs Early Voting coverage at the two northern locations – Palm Beach Gardens Library and Jupiter Library for 2 hour shifts – contact Ralph Eltringham at ralphde33@gmail.com or call 561-744-5522 and give them your polling place choice, day and time committment. 

Analysis of FL State Ballot Amendments by James Madison Institute

Lots of folks have questions on how to vote on the Florida State Ballot Proposals.

The James Madison Institute is a Florida-based research and educational organization engaged in the battle of ideas. The Institute’s ideas are rooted in a belief in the U.S. Constitution and such timeless ideals as limited government, economic freedom, federalism, and individual liberty coupled with individual responsibility.

South Florida 912 member Francisco Rodriguez  is an active member of the James Madison Institute Palm Beach Board of Advisers.

Check out the Voter Guide for the 2010 State Ballot Proposals to get a better understanding before you vote.

It’s time to Act – Muster and get deployed NOW!!

Please save the date for our next meet-up at the Old Wellington Mall on Wed Sept 22 at 6:30pm

The Original Wellington Mall center court
12794 W. Forest Hill Blvd
Wellington , FL 33414

Yes – its short notice.  But we need to step up our volunteer efforts for the imminent elections as well as make a strong showing of support for the TAB (Taxpayer Action Board) proposal, and more aggressive spending cuts at the final Palm Beach County Budget Public Hearing on 9/28. 

Joe Budd, candidate for Congressional District 19 will be our key candidate speaker – with other candidates to be announced.  We’ll also talk about what what we can be doing between our meetup and the 9/28 hearing to be more effective in making our positions on the budget known to the County Commissioners.

You’ve  been learning about issues and fighting for your beliefs for the last year and a half – and now is the time to ACT and support your candidates in every way you can.  Otherwise, what was the point?  Please join us at the meetup!

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View your August 24 Sample Ballot on line

Early voting has ended as of 2pm on Sunday.   Tuesday is it – Election Day!

The Supervisor of Elections was mailing out individualized-by-precinct ballots last Monday.  I know that I haven’t received mine yet.  However – you can view your ballot on-line.  Either go to the SOE precinct finder or go to the Elections Tab at the home page of our website and click on ‘find your districts’.  Fill out your address and then when you get to the screen that lists your options, click on ‘view sample ballot’, put in your party affiliation and it will bring up your ballot and polling place.

Remember – even if you aren’t registered in a political party (eg you’re NPA) – you still may have items on the ballot – Judges, School Board, etc.  Please take the time to check and make sure.  Every vote counts!

McCollum / Scott Debate

While this wasn’t broadcast locally – all of the sections of the debate can be viewed here!   Since many of us have heard them individually – it’ll will be interesting to see the interaction in a debate.  Personally, I can’t stand the commercials from either of these candidates and I wonder whether the loser will endorse the winner.

Independence Day

Funny thing – one of my all time favorite movies is Independence Day.  I believe as the day draws nearer to the 4th we need to reflect on where we have been and where we are and where we are headed.  We can look at it with two perspectives.  First if it keeps on the path that we are headed which bodes disaster or the path that we as Active Americans and 912ers endeavor.

Sometimes people might feel that it is ok to continue on, buy groceries, go to work, church, dinner with friends and ….repeat.  It is not!  I had dinner with friends on Friday and one of my friends – God Bless her – but she was shocked when I told her ( BTW SHE IS A LIBERAL) that our country is becoming socialist and that there are communist, fascist, progressives in power and she was SHOCKED.  She did not believe me;  she dismissed me with the comment “like that really worked?”…”Don’t people know history?”  Then it was what do you want for dinner?  Man it still suprises me that people really don’t understand.  No! “people” do not know history and “people” are not paying attention.  One of the girls at the table said well according to Mike Moore capitalism isn’t really working either. ( for a second I prayed that God give me patience. ) the conversation continued and even with all the tools I have in my memory banks it led to a heated and exciting conversation.  It is uncomfortable.  I do not enjoy it all the time, sometimes I just want to have a meal with old friends.  We cannot do that anymore.  We have to be a little uncomfortable.  I thank God for giving me the knowledge and the know how.

There are a lot of candidates from different parties and some that are unaffiliated that are quality, honest candidates. We can educate ourselves on the candidates and back them.  We have to.  Finances are tight, yea well so are mine. Donate $9.12 to each of the candidates you like and then work on their campaign.  That is the ONLY WAY we will win this.  I personally am dedicating every Wednesday night thru the Summer and a number of weekends to those quality candidates that I personally support.  For the record they are from different parties.  I hope to see all of you making calls and getting active.  If you need suggestions, and are not sure where to start, check out our web site and the blogs posted by others and the candidates.  We also can make calls on our website for candidates.  We will have stuff coming up so please stay involved. We are planning a meeting in August and then two in September and October to prepare for the HUGE election.  The candidates will be the focus.  We must not allow ourselves go down with out a fight. Educate yourselves.  Get involved!
We must celebrate OUR INDEPENDENCE DAY!

Gubernatorial Candidate Rick Scott interview at DC Works for US

Fred and I drove down to Coral Springs in order to hear Rick Scott, GOP candidate for Florida Governor, running against FL Attorney General Bill McCollum in the primary.  Mr. Scott is considered controversial – because, as he put it, he ‘upset the apple cart’ as he started to gain in the polls against the assumed GOP candidate.  Scott is also controversial because of his role as CEO of Columbia/HCA during a huge 1997 Medicare/Medicaid fraud scandal.  However – he also had been a huge opponent of Hillarycare.  And he was the guy running the Conservatives for Patient Rights commercials battling Obamacare.    My post is for information only – I think we need to hear/see more from all of the viable candidates. 
Fred summarized Scott’s approach as ‘Government by Audit’ – when asked what he could have done differently at HCA, he said they should have had more auditors to keep tabs on things. An answer that he could have given (but didn’t) is that a leader can set an example for an organization that breaking the law is not OK.

I took a lot of notes and this is a long post.  Many of the questions asked of him should also be the kinds of questions we ask of our candidate for other state offices (such as in the Senate debate on 6/24).

Here’s a few pictures (fuzzy cellphone – sorry) of the event. The narrative continues below them.

Meeting Summary

Karin Hoffman kicked off the meeting and spoke about the need for activism.  She also spoke in defense of the DC Works for US strategy of endorsing primary candidates.  She feels that waiting until August is too late to build up the volunteer base and techniques and that it’s more important to pick the candidates NOW.  She also spoke about needing to win, not 30 or 40 congressional seats – but over 110 in order to have a veto-proof majority.  Karin also announced that Bill McCollum will appearing at DC Works for US in about two weeks.

Opening Remarks:  Mr. Scott said that he has spent the last 1 1/2 years fighting the healthcare bills.  But that he’s running because the state is a mess and we keep electing the same type of politicians.  We need someone who has run businesses before.  Rick has done all kinds of menial jobs and came from modest means.  He purchased his first business at 21 – a donut shop.  (As an aside, he remarked that if you let the employees eat unlimited donuts, after the first couple of days they will never eat one again!)  He owned various businesses since then, the largest being Columbia/HCA with 285 thousand employees.  He’s lived the American Dream and he has had setbacks.   We need accountability in government, like there is in the private sector.  We need to balance budgets.   He also spoke to making the climate better for businesses in Florida.  That the only way we’ll recover is by bringing in businesses and expanding the economy – not by spending programs.

1) Accountability budgeting – set measureable and outcome oriented goals and measure them daily. 

2) Arizona-like immigration bill. 

3) Defend the state of Florida (eg from federal actions)

He doesn’t need this job but feels he needs to act.

Karin then followed with questions submitted by members by email.  There were no questions from the audience.

Speak to your Columbia/HCA Controversy:  Can’t make excuses.  The company had 1)best patient satisfation 2)Lowest prices 3) Best patient outcomes.  But did a bad job of internal/external audit.  In business, the executives are accountable; in government – NOT.  How to fix it in government? More internal/external auditing.  How to enforce immigration?  Use the Governor’s pulpit to educate/cajole.  Push the Federal government to act and do their job.   Pass an Arizona-like bill.  Use all agencies to enforce the law.  Make e-verify mandatory?  Yes – or something like it.  But he wants to remain sensitive to not overwhelming businesses with regulations.  How will you decide when to use the National Guard (eg in oil spill/border issues)?   Need a forceful governor and legislature.  It’s their obligation to act if the Federal Government doesn’t  How to prevent the oil spill from damaging FL and what is your position on drilling?  1) First solve it (the oil flow) 2) hold the companies accountable and keep them responsible for compensating those whose businesses/livelihood damaged 3)we need to be energy independent – which includes nuclear, alternative energy as well as offshore drilling.  How about distance for drilling?  Find out what caused the blow-out.  Need experts.  How to handle the rise in unemployment/create jobs?  1) Create a state budget that business people won’t feel relies on increased taxation 2) limit regulations that impact business from coming to the state 3) States that have lower spending as a percent of their GDP have better business environments – so lower spending. 4) The governor has to be a salesperson – promoting the state.  What is your position on Hometown Democracy?  (Iris’ note: Amendment 4 on Nov ballot)  It’s a disaster.  Job killer.  We elect individuals to be responsible for monitoring/planning growth.  Can’t have every decision voted on.  Why vote for you?  Not a career politician, not accountable to any interest group, not going to pander.  How to protect Floridians from actions by Congress/Federal Gov’t?   Educate the citizens.  He didn’t see Governors and Attorney Generals speaking out to their people during the healthcare fight and talking about the implications.  Our state elected officials need to take a stand.  So when Congress votes – the impact on the states will be clear.  Use laws.  Defend states rights.  Impact on FL of gov’t standards on waterways?  Get the facts.  Sit down with everyone.  High Speed Rail?  What is the ROI?  Will it pay for itself?  From what he’s learned, it won’t.  Position on accepting Federal Stimulus Dollars?  Against the stimulus bills because you can’t tax or spend your way to prosperity.  We should not have accepted the stimulus dollars.  We want our elected officials to stand up for our state.  Agenda 21/Sustainable Development?  Not familiar with it.  FL Senate Bill 6?  His daughter is a special needs teacher.  He believes in accountability and merit pay.  The best teachers should make the most money.  New teachers should not be getting tenure.  What’s the purpose of public schools – to teach!  Vouchers?  Absolutely believe in them.  FL HB 21/SB 98, Right to bear arms?  Strong believer in gun ownership and right to bear arms.

At this point, after Karin had squeezed in 3 or more questions after Mr. Scott’s handlers had said he had to leave, Karin thanked him and the candidate was whisked away through the crowd.  A few candidates for various office spoke very briefly but the meeting was over.

Senate Districts 25 & 27 Town Hall Debate – 6/24

Sponsored by the Republican Club of the Palm Beaches and South Florida 912

District 27   District 25
Lizbeth Benaquisto Mike Lameyer Sharon Merchant   Ellyn Bogdanoff Carl Domino

On Thursday, June 24 at 6:30pm, the Republican Florida Senate candidates for districts 25 and 27 will share the stage for a “Town Hall” style debate, at the First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach. Co-sponsored by the Republican Club of the Palm Beaches and South Florida 912, a non-partisan grassroots organization. The event will feature the candidates answering questions on current issues at the state level, chosen to give them an opportunity to contrast their positions with those of their opponents.

Thursday June 24, 6:30PM
First Baptist Church
1101 South Flagler Drive
West Palm Beach, Florida 33401

The church is conveniently located in downtown West Palm Beach, just south of Okeechobee Blvd. If you’re not sure how to get there, below are driving directions.

From the North and South
Take I-95 to Okeechobee Blvd. Okeechobee Blvd east to Flagler Drive. Turn right on Flagler Drive, church is about 1/4 mile down on the right.

From the West
Take Okeechobee Blvd east to Flagler Drive. Turn right on Flagler Drive, church is about 1/4 mile down on the right.

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National Day of Prayer May 6th

Locally there is a number of Churches and groups having prayer and fellowship. Please let us know what is going on in your community and post on the site. I will also as I find out info post as well

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