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Central Florida 100: Voting rights, pet rescues and Dr. Raul Pino

Our panel of 100 influential leaders discusses the most important issues affecting you.

Mary Lee Downey, CEO, Hope Partnership

Last week: MLK HYPOCRISY: On Monday of this week, we saw a flood of social media posts quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate failed to lift a finger to address voter aggression laws like the ones that Florida’s Legislature passed last year – laws that disproportionally impact minority communities and disenfranchise poor people. I imagine that if you were following the Florida legislators who created these laws, they were quoting Dr. King this week too. That’s a special kind of hypocrisy, isn’t it? It seems that by memorializing Dr. King, we’ve allowed ourselves the opportunity to ignore everything he actually taught.

John L. Evans Jr., Organizational behavior scholar; DeSantis appointee

Last week: ART IS COMMERCE: Art is good business. This may shock you, but our hard-charging governor understands the math completely. That’s why he increases our state’s arts and culture budget. Get ready for a stat: every dollar spent on arts and culture yields $9 in return for local economies, according to the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce. As I sit here at The North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, a group of millionaires know this. “Art pays,” they say as they chirp away on their laptops in artsy Non-Fungible Tokens, with all sorts of groovy embroideries on their backpacks.

Ben Friedman, attorney and community advocate

Last week: ANTI-FREEDOM SESSION: Batten down the hatches. It’s only week two of Florida’s legislative session, but our state government continues to lower the bar of what it means to govern with each passing day. The latest attacks on vulnerable populations may not be surprising, but they are still shocking. From banning teachers talking about queer identities to prohibiting businesses from making white employees “uncomfortable” by acknowledging the existence of racism, the Legislature seems hellbent on making this the most extreme anti-freedom session yet. Add Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attempt to interfere with the redistricting process, and Florida is looking at a category 5 authoritarianism storm on the horizon.

Glenton Gilzean Jr., president/CEO, Central Florida Urban League

Last week: MAGIC SUNRAIL: A new partnership between the Florida Department of Transportation and the Orlando Magic allows Magic fans free rides to the games via SunRail. The extended hours and service on the SunRail are accessible by simply showing the conductor a hard copy or electronic ticket to that night’s game. With the SunRail's brand-new Church Street Station just a few minutes’ walk away from the Amway Center, Orlando Magic fans have a new safe, free way to attend games. This promotion will run for the 14 weeknight home games left in the 2021-2022 season.

Looking ahead: RIGHTS RESTORATION: Sen. Keith Perry and Rep. Spencer Roach are working with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to secure the passage of a bill that would make it easier for Floridians with criminal records to land a job. The current proposals only allow for applications to be denied if specific conditions are met, and a license could not be denied due to the applicant’s record if the applicant can show rehabilitation and the ability to perform the job. The passing of this bill could greatly impact both our state’s economy and society.

Joel C. Hunter, president, Parable Foundation

Last week: PRIDE COACHES: With all the outrageous headlines, it is good to take a moment and celebrate a real win for our community. In recent weeks the Orlando Pride hired Amanda Cromwell, beloved coach of UCF and then of the mighty UCLA Bruins. Now Amanda has recruited legendary Michelle Akers to come back to Central Florida and coach with her. These leaders will not only increase the Pride's chances of winning, but will build in the character and compassion for our area. Amanda has been an active participant in sports diplomacy, to empower girls and women through sports. Thank you, Kay Rawlins!

Looking ahead: POWER OF THE ARTS: The opening of Steinmetz Hall, in the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, will not only increase the quality of entertainment performance in our area but will enhance our character as a community. Rabbi Steve Engel called it a "sacred space" and so it is. The arts expand our souls, our appreciation, and our grasp of the world's beauty and tragedy. Experiencing the performing arts creates new neural pathways of understanding and empathy, and thus will have the beneficial side effect of decreasing prejudice and enlarging acceptance. Thank you to Jim Pugh and so many others.

David Kay, chair, Interfaith Council of Central Florida

Last week: ‘PERFORMATIVE’ LEGISLATURE: The oath of office for the Florida Legislature declares its members will “well and faithfully perform the duties” of their office. The first week of the new legislative session predictably featured several bills and a last-minute surprise version of a redistricting map from Gov. DeSantis that are being described as "performative.” That is, they are unlikely to move forward or pass constitutional muster, but are meant as a sort of deliberate political theater to please, placate or rile up segments of the public. Who else among us, we must wonder, could do that on the job and stay employed?

Looking ahead: HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE: Jan. 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 77th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. There’s a special program that day at the Holocaust Memorial Research and Education Center in Maitland. Over one million people were murdered during the five years of Auschwitz-Birkenau’s existence – most of them Jewish men, women, and children. In addition to the attempted genocide of Jews, the Nazis killed millions of others they deemed undesirable: deaf, disabled, gay and lesbian, Communist, and more. The horror of the Holocaust demands that we remain vigilant in ensuring fairness and equality and protecting the vulnerable.

Ken LaRoe, Founder, Climate First Bank

Last week: REFUSING TO CONCEDE: Republican Jason Mariner in South Florida refuses to concede to Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick in a special election House race despite a landslide 59% defeat. Just like Trump, Mariner made claims of voting irregularities, citing “stuff” they “recently discovered” but refused to elaborate or show proof. Republican insurrectionists’ ridiculous support for actions like Mariner’s are a threat to our democracy. Every day I’m shocked by how low some of these people are willing to stoop to undermine our laws, morals and social fabric.

Looking ahead: ELECTRIC BUSES: It’s plain fact that all our vehicles are going to be electric sooner or later. Huge props to ABC Companies and Lynx for their forward-thinking initiative to get some fuel-guzzling midlife buses updated with new electric engines. These old buses with new engines are running routes all over, logging more than 250 miles every day. Half of Lynx’s 300-plus buses are eligible for this swap – I say, why wait?

Alex Martins, chair, UCF Board of Trustees; CEO, Orlando Magic

Looking ahead: BUSINESS INCUBATION: To further diversify the region’s economy, the UCF Business Incubation Program and StarterStudio have come together at a new home in the heart of downtown Orlando. Now in the historic Kress Building on Orange Avenue, the partnership connects scalable startup companies to regional leaders who can drive meaningful business growth. The UCF Business Incubation Program is a community resource that provides early-stage companies with the tools, training and infrastructure to become financially stable, high-impact enterprises, while StarterStudio works to elevate the region in the eyes of investors, educating them on the advantages of investing locally in tech startups.

Khalid Muneer, broker/owner Jupiter Properties Central Florida

Last week: POLITICS VS. SCIENCE: Once again, the debate of politics vs. science popped up when Orange County chief health officer Dr. Larry Pino was placed on administrative leave by the state Department of Health. Dr. Pino said only 77 out of 568 DOH Orange workers have received the full three COVID-19 vaccines, which is not only shocking but irresponsible to the rest of us who are anxious to end this terrible pandemic. Our county leaders deserve full support for their actions as they navigate to bring a sense of medical urgency and leave politics aside.

Muhammad Musri, president, Islamic Society of Central Florida

Last week: PINO’S PUNISHMENT: After the sharp surge in omicron cases, the medical director for Orange County Dr. Raul Pino wrote an email to his staff on Jan. 4 encouraging them to get vaccinated and boosted for COVID-19. Unfortunately, the Florida Department of Health punished Dr. Pino and placed him on administrative leave for simply expressing his feelings. It is shameful to punish and humiliate a hardworking and dedicated public servant whose primary concern is the health of his staff and the public, instead of exposing and holding accountable the politicians whose bad decisions are responsible for the death of thousands of Floridians.

Pamela Nabors, president/CEO, CareerSource Central Florida

Last week: COLLEGE ENROLLMENTS: As spring semester kicked off at Florida colleges last week, research from the National Student Clearinghouse surfaced that not only are the country’s college enrollment levels at a 50-year low, but also in a historic two-year decline. Originally this trend was thought to be pandemic-caused “gap years,” but the sustained decrease could signal a larger cultural shift. In response, colleges are creatively incentivizing students, like Valencia College who recently extended enrollment deadlines, waived application fees, and allowed returning students to retake classes for free. All efforts are needed to reverse this trend.

Looking ahead: ZORA NEALE HURSTON: January’s month-long Zora! Festival caps off with a three-day Outdoor Festival of the Arts Jan. 28-30. The festival celebrates the author nationally famous for detailing the struggles and triumphs of African American life in the South and takes place in her hometown of Eatonville. The Central Florida town made history as the first town in the United States to be organized, governed, and incorporated by African American citizens. The event is a testament to the power, innovation, and pride of the African American culture in Central Florida and its positive impact on our nation.

Brendan O'Connor, editor in chief, Bungalower.com

Last week: ORLANDO BEER WEEK: Orlando Beer Week kicks off Jan. 22 and will run through Jan. 29. It will feature a variety of local breweries and beer-centric venues hosting their own themed events, and special beer releases as part of the celebration. Each participating brewery will host its own events, so be sure to check their social media accounts to see what they’re offering. There's even a Beer Week Bingo Card you can get along the way.

Looking ahead: IT’S QUIET DOWNTOWN: Orlando City Council will vote on whether or not to extend a current moratorium on outdoor speaker permits at its Jan. 24 meeting. The City of Orlando passed an ordinance that limited outdoor speaker permits that was scheduled to end by Jan. 31, but if the new proposal is passed, it will be extended through the end of August. The ordinance restricts outdoor speakers over city-owned rights-of-way, and city staff has stated that they have created a noticeable reduction in the overall street and ambient noise in the Downtown Entertainment District, but do we want a quiet downtown?

Kathleen Oropeza, co-founder, FundEducationNow.org

Last week: ‘ANTI-WOKE’ UNNECESSARY: Gov. Ron DeSantis just launched a confusing bill he once described as “anti-woke” legislation. The goal of SB 148 is to teach the established standards, especially in history, and civics, without causing “guilt, anguish or distress.” History is filled with cruel and horrific actions taken by people against each other. SB 148 solves a nonexistent problem. Our children understand that the past is not their fault. If students feel anguish or distress when they study the Holocaust, the Trail of Tears or slavery, it proves they are in touch with their humanity, a noble public school achievement by any measure.

Paul Partyka, past president, Central Florida Commercial Association of Realtors

Last week: ANTHEM DEBATE: This national-anthem law introduced by Sen. Joe Gruters is ridiculous. I love the national anthem, but to require the anthem to be played by professional sports teams if they get government money is just plain unconstitutional and bureaucratic. Here is a law that serves no practical purpose. Why? No one as yet knows of any situation in Florida where the anthem is not played. So why do it? Typical political ploy…do something, even if it does not make sense, to show your constituency that you are doing something. What a way to run government.

Jim Philips, retired longtime radio talk-show host

Last week: FAKE PATRIOTISM: Some Republican state lawmakers are pushing a bill mandating that Florida pro sports teams play the national anthem before a game or face some sort of penalty. Why? Because they know fake patriotism sells. They lambaste Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee to protest police brutality but claim Jan. 6 rioters were merely tourists. It's been said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Here's a simple message to all lawmakers: Fund public education, fill the potholes and make sure the garbage is picked up on time.

Looking ahead: COAL ASH MOUNTAIN: There is a 175-foot mountain of coal ash adjacent to OUC's Stanton Energy Center. This junk was in the making for 28 years and contains toxins like mercury and arsenic. OUC is moving ahead with a "green energy plan" and says the coal ash site is protected against air pollution and groundwater contamination. Oh yeah? If you ever get the chance, ask OUC bigwigs if they would ever be willing to build a house next to this waste site and rely on well water for drinking and bathing. I think you have the same answer as I do.

Gloria Pickar, president emerita, League of Women Voters of Orange County

Last week: OMICRON IS NOT MILD: “Omicron is inevitable. It’s mild. I hope I get it and can move on.” This cavalier attitude is compounding the COVID-19 disaster we are in. Omicron case numbers are so high that the small percentage with medically severe cases is staggering. Yes, there are breakthrough infections. However, only 4% of COVID ICU patients are vaccinated and boosted. COVID’s only imperative is to infect. The more hosts, the greater the opportunity for acute cases and variants. As hosts, we dictate its spread and damage. Calling omicron “mild” is a foolish excuse for not getting fully vaccinated and boosted. Get serious. Omicron is.

Looking ahead: ELECTION POLICE: Gov. Ron DeSantis described the Florida 2020 election as the “gold standard” for election security and efficiency. Yet he wants the nation’s first election integrity unit funded by $5.7 million to employ 52 people empowered to “investigate, detect, apprehend and arrest anyone for an alleged violation” of election laws. The League of Women Voters opposes this election police force as alarming, unnecessary and costly. It seems designed to intimidate voters and civic-engagement organizations like LWV that support voter registration and turnout. Rather than increasing voter confidence, it is a partisan tactic that undermines public faith in our voting system and democracy. Oppose it.

Larry Pino, attorney and entrepreneur

Last week: BALLOT LAW: This past week brought several ballot issues to the fore. The House panel proposed in HJR1127 to limit citizen initiatives to procedural subjects, the structure of the government or of the constitution. Said differently, under this proposal, citizens would be stripped of their right to propose initiatives that fall within the province of the Legislature. At the same time, Gov. Ron DeSantis proffered his own congressional redistricting map that would increase Republican dominance to an 18-10 advantage over the 16-11 advantage under the Senate map. These are contentious times: Florida voters need to stay on high alert as to changes marginalizing their participation in election results.

Joanie Schirm, GEC founding president; World Cup Orlando 1994 Committee chairman

Last week: SENATORS, VOTE ON VOTING: How can it be that any U.S. senator can refuse to vote on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act? Is it too much to ask that Marco Rubio and Rick Scott be of clear minds and pure hearts when it comes to our democracy? Perhaps this quote by Martin Luther King Jr. might influence their thinking. “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” Fair voting and justice should be your goal.

Looking ahead: LOCAL RIGHTS: Well-run state governments cooperate to solve local problems. State public policy collaboration should assist city councils and county commissions (with jurisdiction over populations outside cities and towns) — with local issues like public safety and health, affordable housing, urban planning, zoning and infrastructure. Unfortunately, in Florida, the “control” skirmish continues with Gov. Ron DeSantis, aided by the GOP-led Legislature, taking on local governments. Proposed bills grossly limit the rights of cities, school boards, and county governments who serve people’s day-to-day lives. Most local public policy decisions should belong to local representatives elected to represent local issues, not the state. Elect state representatives that support local government rights.

Michael Slaymaker, professional fundraising executive

Last week: TRAGIC LOSS: A gay-rights advocate was found dead in a landfill outside of Tallahassee. Jorge Diaz-Johnston was integral in legalizing same-sex marriage in Florida. In 2014, he and his husband, Don Diaz-Johnston, and five other same-sex couples sued the Miami-Dade County clerk’s office after they were barred from getting married. It is not known whether or not the homicide of Mr. Diaz-Johnston was for being a gay-rights advocate or something else. My prayers go out to Jorge’s husband, Don, and his brother, Manny Diaz, the former mayor of Miami. Scary times.

Carol Wick, CEO, Sharity

Last week: POLICE VIOLENCE RESPONSE: The Winter Park Chief of Police was arrested for domestic violence and placed on paid leave. He’s innocent until proven guilty, but the city's response highlights a serious problem in how this is frequently covered up. Several studies found that 40% of police officers report being violent at home. That’s 15 times the rate of the general public. Yet rarely do they face any consequences. A review of FDLE police-misconduct outcomes found that in cases with credible evidence, less than 5% lose their job and even fewer are prosecuted. Police departments have a problem. And it's time to clean house.

Nicole Wilson, Orange County commissioner, District 1

Last week: PET RESCUES FOR BETTY: Last week, we saw the Betty White Challenge raise tens of thousands of dollars in funds for our local pet rescues. This incredible show of support was a great way to honor Betty White’s love for animals and raise funds for our rescues. These rescues have been and continue to be inundated with pets as more people move here. Orange County Animal Services has been an integral partner in taking care of these animals. The support for our is going to make a big difference in caring for Central Florida’s pets.

Looking ahead: STOP THE PUPPY MILLS: Months after Orange County passed its ban on the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits, the state Legislature has filed Senate Bill 994 to nullify our ordinance. The county acted to protect the health, consumers, and animals of our area. The retail sale of pets is the consumer endpoint of the puppy-mill business. Florida must stop providing the demand for inhumane treatment of animals. Finally, there are many successful business models to transition away from the sale of pets while being in the industry. The ordinance we passed protects our community.

Michael Zais, political blogger for thedrunkenrepublican.com

Last week: MILTON’S FOND FAREWELL: I could not think of a more fitting end to ex-UCF and current FSU quarterback McKenzie Milton’s college football career than to see his last action at his old stomping grounds, UCF’s Bounce House. Are we to believe that the football gods didn’t have a hand in the Hula Bowl in Hawaii moving to UCF due to stadium renovations, just so Milton could make one last pilgrimage to bid farewell at the place that is ground zero for his greatness? As for Milton’s highly challenging aspirations of reaching the promised land of the NFL, we’ve learned one thing -- betting against KZ is surely a fool’s errand.

Looking ahead: HITLER COMPARISON: Another Democrat has caused quite the kerfuffle by yet again playing the Hitler card against a Republican opponent. This time, it’s Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried that draped Gov. Ron DeSantis with the ridiculous and offensive Hitler characterization. This is getting so old, tired and predictable. If I had a nickel for every angry liberal incapable of debating actual policy that compared some Republican to Hitler, I’d be out in my driveway right now polishing my Bentley. As for Fried, she is destined to join the parade of less-than-stellar Democratic gubernatorial candidates defeated by Republicans who have littered the Florida political landscape since 2010.


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