Beyond Party Battles

Under The Hood


Party lines will matter less than county boundaries on Monday when Sarasota’s legislation delegation convenes. Made up of the six lawmakers representing the county in Tallahassee, the local meeting offers one of the top moments each year for the region’s political leaders to gather near their constituents.

It’s also a reminder that for all the partisan posturing we see out of Washington on a seeming 24-hour loop, most of the work done by government leaders has less to do with party ideology and more to do with responsible advocacy. This event comes the same week state Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and state Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, announced they will champion similar legislation easing requirements for retired teachers to sub in classrooms.

And the greatest issue facing the region in fact transcends parties. While denying climate change became all the rage in Washington over the past couple decades, the majority Republican delegation here arrives having universally promised to do something about red tide. Gruters and state Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, both included environmental measures among the first bills they filed in their respective chambers.

You can also expect matters of local need to dominate the list of requests the delegation hears on Monday. The City of Sarasota’s legislative priorities list includes a push for mental health funding and sober homes licenses. Sarasota County plans to ask for more business incentive funding and the right to collect taxes on online travel purchases. All the area’s cities and local governments have some list of needs, as do dozens of citizen groups slated to present at the meeting.

Even controversial battles, like the constant struggle between the state and local officials about home rule and unfunded mandates, spur divides about geography and constituency more than ideology.

Sure, there’s plenty of left-versus-right battles to be had in Tallahassee this year. Good has a bill filed to close gun show loopholes in Florida and an assault weapons ban will get discussed in the state capital even if it never reaches a vote.

But the bulk of work for lawmakers will be on securing funding for transportation needs like River Road and about enacting better water quality policies.

It’s an important reminder after an election season where all sides report the voters top question had nothing to do with Florida politics at all. Rather, most voters wanted to know if pols sided with President Donald Trump or against him.

To some degree it makes sense. National news focuses nearly exclusively on the federal government for obvious reasons, and only checks in on localities when there’s a disaster or a huge screw-up. And with a record-length federal government shutdown that only ended yesterday, it’s been hard to focus on the work of state government, which has merrily chugged along with Washington became paralyzed by dangerous brinkmanship and insulting rhetorical battles.

Amid all the attention on D.C. foibles, it’s important for the public to know this rare opportunity exists to meet with the region’s state leaders as well. The delegation likely will gather again, but in the halls of Tallahassee. The annual event held in Sarasota marks a chance to address the area’s representatives and senator collectively with the same intimacy of a city commission meeting.

The event begins at 9 a.m. at the Sarasota County Administration Building downtown. There will be less sparks than an election season debate, but the event will bring the top government leaders into one room to discuss the nuts and bolts issues impacting the region. I wouldn’t miss it.

Photo: Joe Gruters and Margaret Good last fall hosted a joint town hall on red tide.

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