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SRQ Daily Oct 8, 2016

Saturday Perspectives Edition

Saturday Perspectives Edition

"This amendment is deceptively designed to allow the utilities to charge rooftop solar owners more to remain on the grid."

- Susan Nilon, The Nilon Report

[Under The Hood]  A Failure in Fairness
Jacob Ogles, jacob.ogles@srqme.com

As Florida voters get ready to elect representatives for the next Congress, few enjoy much of a decision. Out of 27 House races being decided November 8 by Sunshine State voters, only three of four (depending how generous you choose to be to endangered Tampa Rep. David Jolly) contests appear to even be close. That’s pathetic, especially as candidates run with a court-approved map drawn to offer the most level playing field ever.

It’s now abundantly clear. The Fair Districts amendment passed in 2010 is an abject failure.

Yes, Democrats cooed when courts ruled—rightly—that a map approved by the Florida Legislature favored Republicans. (Well, most Democrats did, more on that later.) And the new map likely will mean more Democrats from Florida in the House next year, and for those who want to do their part to wrest the gavel from Speaker Paul Ryan’s hands, that’s good news. Yet, most Democrats in Florida live, as they have for a quarter century now, in either districts where Democrats surely win every November or ones where they have no chance at all. The same goes for Republicans. In either case, the representative serving them in Washington face far more incentive to listen to leadership in DC than voters at home.

Take the Jolly race. The Republican in early 2014 first won office in a special election—the most expensive Congressional race in history—against former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink. The closely split district was viewed at the federal level as a bellweather for the mid-terms. But no matter how much outside interest existed, the race came down to voters here, and Jolly honed a message to reach as wide a swath of them as possible. After he was sworn in, he governed as a moderate and avoided a challenge later that same year.

But courts decided his election helped prove the map favored the GOP. Under new lines, Obama would have carried Jolly’s district with 55 percent of the vote. Now Jolly runs with almost no Washington support, and analysts widely expect him to lose to Democrat Charlie Crist.

But some Democratic incumbents also suffer under this map. Panhandle Rep. Gwen Graham, another moderate, balked at new lines. She will sit this cycle out, practically ceding her seat to the GOP, while gearing up for a gubernatorial run in 2018.

But incumbents who weren’t drawn into defeat now have more one-sided races. Closer to home, Sarasota Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican elected in one of the nation’s closest House contests in 2006, looks unbeatable this year. And Tom Rooney, the representative for south Sarasota County, also raises little concern. No disrespect to respective Democratic challengers Jan Schneider and April Freeman, but the Gulf Coast doesn’t look to be in play in the House contests, even though Sarasota County has been a hard-fought battleground zone (if still slightly right-leaning) in the last presidential, gubernatorial and Senate contests.

Most voters don’t pay attention to primaries, where an increasing number of House races get decided. Those who do represent the most ideologically strident. Pundits often critique moderates for voter apathy, but there’s little reason to watch House contests where your vote won’t matter.

A true map of “fair districts” would not simply divide Florida between safe Democrat and Republican seats. It would value voters over parties and empower constituents with a say on representation. That means holding contests each November where competitions occur. That didn’t happen this year, and a new map won’t be drawn until 2020. By then, we need better accountability on drafters than Fair Districts alone provides.

Jacob Ogles is senior editor of SRQ Media Group. 

[The Report]  Deceptive Practices Of Amendment 1
Susan Nilon, susan.nilon@gmail.com

Over $21 million have been donated by the Florida utility companies to the PAC called Consumers for Smart Solar, which produced Amendment 1 on this year’s ballot. Take note that Amendment 1 is a well-disguised effort to choke the life out of rooftop solar. See for yourself: Campaign Finance Activity.

Your mailbox is probably filling up with mailers from Consumers for Smart Solar giving you logical-sounding reasons to support their amendment. What you need to know is they are not consumers, they are producers of electricity, and there is nothing that will benefit you with this amendment.

With costs going down, rooftop solar is becoming more popular. Realtors will tell you it is a very attractive asset to your home value, let alone to your wallet. And that is a scary fact to Florida utility companies. They want to control rooftop solar and make it next to impossible to be able to afford it. What you need to know is this amendment is deceptively designed to allow the utilities to charge rooftop solar owners more to remain on the grid, which is required in Florida. Meaning the less we use from the utility company, the more we are going to have to pay. There would be no savings at all to install rooftop solar panels on your home if this amendment passes.

Last March, when the Florida Supreme Court voted to allow the language of Amendment One on the ballot with a 4-3 vote, Justice Pariente wrote a dissent, backed by Justices Quince and Perry, that said: “Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware…Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida's major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo…the ballot title is affirmatively misleading by its focus on 'Solar Energy Choice,' when no real choice exists for those who favor expansion of solar energy."

Not a single solar company in Florida is backing this amendment. Not one. This amendment gives you the impression that it will give Floridians the right to purchase or lease solar equipment. We already have that right and are fully protected under Florida’s existing consumer protection laws. This amendment gives you the impression that rooftop solar owners are a financial burden to those who do not have it on their homes. There is no evidence proving that argument. They just take less power from the utility company. What this is really about is Net Metering, which allows customer/generators to spin their meter backwards because of the electricity they don’t immediately consume.

Take a look at what happened in Nevada when people believed this argument. The Brookings Institute published a study this year about the popularity of rooftop solar. They noted that when “the local utility in Nevada successfully wielded the cost-shift theory last winter to get the Nevada Public Utilities Commission to drastically curtail the state’s net-metering payments, prompting Solar City, Sunrun and Vivint Solar—the state’s three largest providers of rooftop panels—to leave the Nevada market entirely. The result: New residential solar installation permits plunged 92 percent in Nevada in the first quarter of 2016.”

Their study reports: “Net metering—contra the Nevada decision—frequently benefits all ratepayers when all costs and benefits are accounted for.” They go on to say: “Economic benefits of net metering actually outweigh the costs and impose no significant cost increase for non-solar customers,” and, “solar installations will make fewer costly grid upgrades necessary, leading to additional savings…estimated a net benefit of $166 million over the lifetime of solar systems installed through 2016.”

And it’s not just the Brookings Institute. The Environment America Research and Policy Center has found that “distributed solar offers net benefits to the entire electric grid through reduced capital investment costs, avoided energy costs and reduced environmental compliance costs.”

So let me put this in a simple context. Amendment One is an outright falsehood. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Please help get the word out. The more we educate the voter on this amendment the better our chances will be to remain in control of the decision on how we get our electricity.

Vote NO on Amendment One.

Susan Nilon of The Nilon Report. Contact Nilon at susan.nilon@gmail.com. 

[Higher Education]  Humanities on the Creative Coast
Donal O'Shea, doshea@ncf.edu

Our region, a little corner of paradise, is graced with an astonishing array of arts and cultural organizations. We have eight professional theaters, an opera, a ballet and a symphony. We have other dance and music troupes, an extraordinary art museum and much more. These arts and cultural organizations are joined by an extraordinary array of research institutions and institutions of higher education and research.

Yet we often undersell ourselves. Or like Thomas of Becket, we yield to the last temptation and make the right case for the wrong reason. We celebrate the arts, citing their economic impact on our region. Never mind that they are an essential part of what makes us human.

And the humanities? The study of history, philosophy, religion and literature? They have few champions. Few willing to stick their hand up to insist they be a vital part of our regional discourse, of every arts and educational institution and of the events that they generate.

No one disputes the importance of the sciences, and no institution does more to educate future scientists than my own. Anywhere from 15 to 25 percent of New College graduates subsequently receive PhDs in mathematics and the sciences, a staggering proportion and by far the highest in the state. Only CalTech, Harvey Mudd, MIT and Reed are comparable. No one else is close.

A third of our students, however, major in the arts and humanities. They go on to become doctors and lawyers, entrepreneurs and business leaders. New College and our neighboring institutions get little credit for educating these students, who will emerge as important and influential citizens.

The steady drumbeat that only STEM matters has marginalized the arts and driven the humanities out of our public discourse. It has signaled to students that they should not take time to ask the big questions. What makes life worth living? What cost making a fortune, if you lose your family or your soul? Is there a God and, if so, is mine the same as yours? For those questions won’t get them a job.

In this environment, the decision of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, one of the nation’s largest and most respected foundations, is most welcome. Their grant of $750,000 will fund an initiative that will allow New College and the universities in the Consortium of Colleges on the Creative Coast to connect with one another and with local arts organizations. It drives a stake in the ground asserting the importance of the humanities. And it will immensely strengthen the intellectual life in our region. 

The disciplines in the humanities provide the intellectual tools that allow us to put ourselves in another’s place. They allow us to understand and communicate meaningfully with others and, not incidentally, to talk about the direct experience the arts afford. Employers call out for graduates with emotional intelligence and “soft” skills. But there is nothing “soft” about soft skills. The humanities teach precision of expression and discipline of thought. And those in turn allow us to deal with complexity, and with a world in which two seemingly opposite statements can both be true.

For a wonderful panegyric on the utility of the humanities that recently went viral, see Professor Scott Newstok’s article “How to Think Like Shakespeare.”

Our founding fathers understood the importance of the humanities, and their mastery of them suffuses our nation’s founding documents. In contrast, what do Bashar al-Assad, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sherif Ismail and many other Middle-Eastern leaders share? They have STEM educations, and not much else—they are technocrats, often doctors or engineers. Can you imagine one of them, or any narrowly educated technocrat, drafting the Declaration of Independence?

One of the strengths of American higher education has been its insistence on building a foundation of broad learning, and that students study the humanities as well as the sciences, deferring specialization to graduate school. To abandon this is to diminish ourselves, our children and our society. 

Donal O'Shea is president of New College of Florida. 

[Education]  A New Chapter Begins
Jennifer Vigne, JVigne@edfoundation.net

The Education Foundation since 1988 has been supporting the students, teachers and schools of Sarasota County. We award grants to teachers for support in their classrooms, celebrate the talents of our area’s accomplished student artists through a renowned juried arts competition and provide technological support to students in need with our 27 digital learning labs located throughout Sarasota County. The Education Foundation remains steadfast in these commitments as it enters into an exciting and pivotal period developing new and innovative initiatives that will provide even greater impact to our area students, teachers and schools. A new chapter for the Education Foundation has begun.

In support of its commitment to a lifelong love of learning, the Education Foundation of Sarasota County will ensure and sustain its legacy as an independent philanthropic organization as it embarks on these exciting initiatives. With a sharpened vision and enhanced mission, the Education Foundation adheres to a creed of guiding principles that serves as a beacon of light in all that we do:

  • We believe education changes lives.
  • We believe every child deserves to reach his/her full potential.
  • We believe in creating brighter futures for our children.
  • We believe in leading in education innovations by taking calculated risks.
  • We believe a vibrant and prosperous community is dependent upon the value its community members place on high-quality education.
  • We believe an investment in a child’s education is the best investment anyone can make.

As we celebrate College Knowledge month in October, we invite you to learn more about the work we do and encourage you to become involved.  

Next week, we are hosting a Superintendent Finalist Reception on Thursday, October 13 from 6pm–7:30pm at Riverview High School. The Sarasota County School Board will decide on October 18 who will become the next superintendent upon Lori White’s retirement, and this will be the last opportunity for the community to meet the final candidates and share their voices with us.

On October 14-16, we will be hosting our inaugural #SRQHacks Hackathon at New College of Florida. Over 60 students and more than 80 mentors will come together over the weekend to work in teams to create and build mobile applications that address real community issues. With Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Star2Star Communications generous support and partnership, this coding conference will serve as a springboard for sustainable opportunities for students to be exposed to careers and mentors on an ongoing basis.

Then, on October 21, the Education Foundation will host a GradNation Summit at Suncoast Technical College. In partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and AT&T, this summit will convene students, teachers, community partners and area leaders to identify ways in which we can raise the high school graduation rate to an ambitious 90 percent. According to the Gulf Coast Community Foundation’s community indicators, Sarasota County is 79 percent, better than the 67 percent national average but still leaving 21 percent of our students on an uncertain path for their future. We want to work with our community to expose students to opportunities available post-graduation—opportunities that exist only if they graduate.

Our new chapter is full of opportunity to make meaningful impact with our students, teachers and schools. After all, 100 percent of tomorrow’s future is dependent upon the leaders we are developing and investing in today. Please visit our new website at www.edfoundationsrq.org and be a part of our story.

Jennifer Vigne is executive director of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County. 

[SCOOP ]  Art 'N' Agriculture

The Manatee County Agricultural Museum currently is hosting the “Art ‘N’ Agriculture” exhibit featuring paintings by Easter Seals of Southwest Florida students. Artwork is available for purchase and all proceeds will go towards Easter Seals artists and the organization’s art program. Easter Seals provides exceptional services for persons with disabilities and their families. Agricultural Museum Supervisor, Diane Ingram, says, “We hope the opportunity for Easter Seals’ students to exhibit their work in a professional museum environment will add to their life experiences in a positive way. The works are colorful, whimsical and accurate depictions of agricultural subjects. We are excited to host this exhibit and believe our visitors will be impressed by the students’ talent!”  

Manatee Agricultural Museum


Goodwill Manasota and the Women’s Resource Center of Manatee and Sarasota are launching BRAVE (Benefits, Resources and Veterans Education) Networking Program to make mental health care available for all local veterans at no cost. Beginning on October 12 and taking place every Wednesday from 5:30pm to 6:30pm at the Goodwill Veterans Resource Center, veterans are invited to network with other veterans and counselors from the Women’s Resource Center and Goodwill’s Veterans Services Program team. Program participants will also be able to enjoy the company of therapy dogs provided by Paws And Warriors Foundation (PAWs). Individual sessions with counselors will be available by appointment.  

Goodwill Manasota

[SCOOP]  Pink Your Drink

Throughout the month of October, TableSeide Restaurant Group is hosting a fundraiser benefitting Circuelle Foundation at three of their restaurant locations: Louies Modern, Muse at The Ringling and Libby's Cafe + Bar. Order from a select Prink Drink menu and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to support Circuelle's Educational Program where every $10 educates and empowers young adults to be advocates for their health. 

Circuelle Foundation

[SCOOP ]  SMH St. Armands Circle Urgent Care

Sarasota Memorial has opened a new Urgent Care Center on St. Armands Circle. The 5,387-square-foot facility, located at the entrance of the circle, is the not­-­for-profit health system’s sixth urgent care center and the first dedicated to people who live, work and vacation in the barrier island communities. Residents in the area have long asked for more convenient access to SMH’s network of care and the St. Armands site is ideally situated to serve not only Lido and Longboat Keys, but also Plymouth Harbor and nearby communities. SMH expects as many as 10,000 visits to the St. Armands center in its first year, many of them from retirees who have greater need for urgent care services and no longer will have to fight the traffic and congestion on the Ringling Causeway.  

Sarasota Memorial Healthcare

[SCOOP ]  Selby's Secret Garden

This month the Conservatory Plant Show for Selby’s Secret Garden is unveiled. Take a walk back in time to the greenhouses of the Victorian era that celebrate the Golden Age of botany and discovery. Members of Selby Gardens are invited for an early opening on Friday morning, October 14. Enjoy live music with a cocktail as you stroll through the conservatory and garden on Wednesdays until November 23 with Sunsets at Selby’s Secret Garden

Selby Gardens

[KUDOS ]  Coffee With A Cop

On Friday October 7, officers from the Sarasota Police Department and community members came together in an informal, neutral space to discuss community issues, build relationships and drink coffee. Coffee with a Cop, held at the Coffee Carrousel on Main Street provides a unique opportunity for community members to ask questions and learn more about the Sarasota Police Department’s work in the City of Sarasota’s neighborhoods. The majority of contacts law enforcement has with the public happen during emergencies or emotional situations. Those situations are not always the most effective times for relationship building with the community and some community members may feel that officers are unapproachable on the street. Coffee with a Cop breaks down barriers and allows for a relaxed, one-on-one interaction.  

Sarasota County Sheriffs

[KUDOS ]  Community Foundation Awards Grant to Embracing Our Differences

The Our Sarasota and McCauley-Brown Funds of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County recently awarded Embracing Our Differences a $4,500 grant to help fund and enhance its 2016–2017 educator workshops. A key component of its education initiatives, Embracing Our Differences' annual teacher workshops and retreats provide area educators with skills, strategies and resources to provide curricula and lesson plans relating to art appreciation, character building and diversity education. Teachers are shown the importance of creating an inclusive and safe environment for all students—specifically those who do not conform to gender norms. Since 2004, Embracing Our Differences has been a pioneer in promoting the virtues and benefits of equality and inclusion. 

Embracing Our Differences

SRQ Media Group

SRQ DAILY is produced by SRQ | The Magazine and edited by Senior Editor Jacob Ogles. Note: The views and opinions expressed in the Saturday Perspectives Edition and in the Letters department of SRQ DAILY are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by SRQ Media. For rates on SRQ DAILY banner advertising, please contact Ashley Ryan at 941-365-7702 x211 or at her contact page. To unsubscribe, please click here.

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