Photo credit to Florida Politics.
Rep. Ray Rodrigues will play quarterback for the local bill giving Estero residents the right to vote on cityhood.
He has long been a supporter of self-governance and the people’s right to speak, which is why he authored a bill last session reinforcing Florida’s Sunshine laws. Rodrigues says he was outraged when the Florida Supreme Court let an appellate court decision in Escambia County stand which denied public input at a government meeting.
“I truly believe a government is of the people, which is one of the reasons I’m carrying the bill for Estero’s incorporation,” he said.
As the representative for District 76, Rodrigues’ domain covers the bulk of Estero. A Pensacola native, he moved to Southwest Florida in 1995 and to Stoneybrook in 2005, where he lives with his wife, Ruth, and 11-year-old son, Rhett. He likes to hit a golf ball around what he considers the area’s finest public golf course — when he can find the time.
When he’s not in Tallahassee or conducting state business, you’ll find him on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University, where he is a budget manager for the College of Arts and Sciences. His son, who has cerebral palsy, celebrated his last birthday with the now famous FGCU men’s basketball team before they made it to the Sweet Sixteen.
“They gave him a card signed by every member of the team,” Rodrigues marveled. “It’s a memory he will never forget.”
Rodrigues’ financial acumen certainly helps when it comes to analyzing the complex state budget.
This session, legislators are in the happy position of determining what to do with a projected $800 million surplus. There are plenty of ideas — from tax cuts to rebates on licenses plates and reduced government fees on cell phones. However, if the legislature approved all of them, the surplus would turn into a $600 million deficit, said Rodrigues, who is entering his second term in the Florida House of Representatives.
“Everyone’s not going to get what they want, but it’s a good problem to have,” he added. “Three years ago, the state had a $3 billion deficit and the fight was whose budget is going to get cut.”
Politics is often about compromise. Even in Estero, where support for incorporation seems nearly universal, there may be a few dissenting voices getting drowned out by the unified voice of the Estero Council of Community Leaders (ECCL) and the Estero Chamber of Commerce, he said.
Rodrigues has orchestrated two public meetings in Estero so the local legislative delegation could hear all views of incorporation. At the Oct. 28 gathering, he asked for a show of hands of those in favor of putting the issue on the Nov. 2014 ballot. Of the more than 300 residents who packed the meeting room at the Estero Recreation Center, all but a handful raised their arms high.
“I think the message is loud and clear,” Rodrigues said. “This is an issue you want to determine yourself in Estero. You will have my support.”
While Rodrigues and other local legislators fully support the incorporation vote, there are other issues to be worked out, including whether Estero’s boundaries should include all of the two-mile buffer zones between Estero and Bonita Springs. Rodrigues is anxious to see the result of a voluntary annexation referendum for 842 residences in Pelican Landing and The Colony, to be conducted by the city of Bonita Springs in February.
“There’s going to be a lot of eyes watching to see how that annexation goes,” Rodrigues said.
Bonita Springs will not fight for The Brooks, which lies off Coconut Road east of US 41, but city officials have approached Rodrigues about the contested area to the West, which includes three neighborhoods and the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa.
Since Rodrigues also represents Bonita Springs, his role as a diplomat has become more crucial as neighborly feelings erode between the city and Estero. This is Rodrigues’ first experience with the incorporation process.
“I’m not sure what to expect,” he said. “This is all a learning experience for me. I want to give everyone the opportunity for input.”
At the end of the day, Rodrigues measures up his success as a state legislator, community member, and family man this way:
“I’ve been successful if I know I’ve kept my priorities straight and given my best effort.”
Q&A WITH REP. RAY
ELM: What do you personally hope to accomplish in the upcoming legislative session?
Rodrigues: I refiled a fracking bill (to regulate hydraulic fracking, which uses water, sand, and chemicals at high pressure to fracture rock). It went through the House and did not pass in the Senate last session. I have a new sponsor in the Senate, and I feel very good about it. After fracking begins, it becomes much more difficult to regulate.
ELM: What was your biggest disappointment last session?
Rodrigues: The Democrats let the partisanship of Washington, D.C., creep into Tallahassee. When it came to a decision on Medicaid expansion, everyone already had an unlimited open debate. Deference was given to the minority party, and they tried to be obstructionist. I had a bill on school safety that was never heard because of their partisanship maneuver. By the end of the session, it was back to cooperation, but we had run out of time.
ELM: What do you think the Florida legislature will do with the healthcare issue this session, and what is your personal position?
Rodrigues: The wise thing to do is not look at what the government says, but look at what the government has done. From studying history, the federal government often makes promises it cannot keep. We had a state plan that was truly sustainable that would have provided healthcare to everyone who needed it. I think we will try to run it again this session. I don’t know what will happen in the legislative session, but I know I will not be voting for Medicaid expansion.
ELM: What might people be surprised to learn about you?
Rodrigues: My college internship was with the U.S. Marshal Service in Glynn County, Georgia. It was an unusual internship for a political science major. In high school, I was in a federal Marshal Explorers program. As a kid, it was incredibly fun.
ELM: What organizations do you personally support and why?
Rodrigues: I am on the Board of Advisors for Special Equestrians. My son has cerebral palsy and has been riding since age 2. I am also a deacon with my church (Gulf Coast Church of Christ), and I’m involved with the local Republican Party. I support and am a former board member of the Freedom of Virtue Institute (which educates Southwest Florida residents on America’s founding principles of limited government and individual freedom as the best principles to uphold human dignity).