What’s in store for casino gambling and offshore drilling?
Will a crime-tracking computer system ever be funded by the state?
Should public schools have barred live coverage of President Barack Obama’s speech?
Florida Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, whose District 101 includes much of Broward County, is this week’s guest on "One on One with Jeff Lytle."
Abut 12 minutes of highlights of the half-hour Comcast program is available on naplesnews.com/oneonone
Video highlights and transcripts of past programs are there too.
The interview with Hudson was recorded at Comcast studios on Wednesday, Sept. 9.
Lytle is editorial page and Perspective editor of the Daily News.
Edited transcript of the interview
Jeff Lytle: One of the big issues coming up — we have two: casino gambling and offshore oil.
Let’s go to oil first. You were in favor of the last offshore plan in the previous session, the plan that fell apart in the Senate, that would have allowed drilling in some cases within three miles of our shores. You weren’t the only member of the Collier County legislative delegation to vote in favor of that. Yet I can’t recall any specific hearings, any thorough vetting of what all your constituents had to say on this.
You were quoted at the time as likening Collier County’s previous good experience with inland drilling, as one of the first places in Florida to have that. And that’s been safe. And you said, that experience is justifying your vote in favor of offshore drilling so close to our shores.
How can you be so sure that that would be a good idea and your constituents would go along with that?
Matt Hudson: Well, I heard a great public outcry from my constituents regarding energy independence and making sure that we, as Americans, took a proactive step toward securing ourselves; and that entails exploring all options.
The offshore drilling debate is really two debates — well maybe three debates. You have the congressional waters which are 10.4 miles and deeper. And then you have the Florida-controlled waters which are 10.3 miles to the coastline. So you have two different types of waters that we’re referring to begin. And you’re drawing for two different things: for their oil and natural gas.
From a very practical matter, we’ll probably never get the Congress to relinquish their moratorium from 10.4 miles out and actually see Florida reap any royalty from that or anything like that. Their last proposal excluded Florida from any financial participation in that. And that’s why Sen. Bill Nelson as well was against the plan.
For years we’ve not talking about the coastal region; we’ve not talked about from the shorelines to that 10.3. And it was the elephant in the room. It was never being discussed. Well sooner or later you’ve got to talk about the elephant in the room. And I think it was extremely important for us to have that dialogue in this past session to be able to get it out there.
I personally didn’t have any great confidence that the Senate was going to pass it. I think it was a great move to bring it out so that it could actually be brought out. So on shows like this we could actually talk about it.
I didn’t see that as being an issue that would pass this past session.
It’s fundamentally important for us from a natural gas standpoint in Florida that we drill for natural gas. Take the oil off the table if that’s an issue for people. But from a natural gas standpoint, and I sit on the Energy & Utilities Policy Committee, the majority of the base load electrical power in this state in created from natural gas-burning electrical plants. We have two sources of energy for natural gas in the state of Florida: one through a pipeline that comes into the Port of Jacksonville from Georgia and one that comes in through an undersea pipeline under the Gulf of Mexico into the Port of Tampa from the Port of Mobile.
As a result, we pay the highest natural gas prices of any state in the union. Our suppliers know that. So for us to be able to increase our natural gas supply immediately creates a cost savings that will lower electric rates. It’s basic economics.
That pipeline that comes in from Mobile, I should add, is one of 32,000 miles of pipeline that are already under the Gulf of Mexico currently. So it certainly is not a new concept. So if we did nothing else but drill for natural gas, which no one is arguing the environmental side of that, it would have an immediate effect on Floridians.
Jeff Lytle: As you said, we haven’t had a full-blown public discussion on this. In view of the fact that there may be a special session on this as early as this fall, perhaps, then will you and constituents get to have that discussion so you get to hear from all of them.
Matt Hudson: I will tell you that we will probably have a special session in October, quite frankly. It will probably be included in what would be our normal committee week that we have established ... I think it begins the 5th, if I’m not mistaken ... I’d have to look at a calendar.
That will be at the call of the governor, the Senate president and speaker as to whether they decide to include the offshore drilling. There has been much discussion of them doing that.
There has been much discussion that we ought to hold public hearings around and vetted it out as well.
Jeff Lytle: Good idea. So let’s do it. Why don’t we do that before we vote?
Matt Hudson: I’m certainly game to hear what anybody has to say about the issue. In fact I just met with the president of the — I’m probably not getting it right, but it’s like the president of the president’s council; all the different presidents of different condo boards, and all those kind of things, have an association, if you will.
Jeff Lytle: You mean Collier County.
Matt Hudson: Yes, in Collier County. And the president just recently met with me and we talked about the issues. I know that I’m going to be working with him through the Greater Naples Chamber to set up an event to talk about this.
Jeff Lytle: Before the special session?
Matt Hudson: Yes. So we’re already on track to do that.
Of course, anybody can reach out to us anytime.
Jeff Lytle: The question is, if the special session were today, and if the same proposal were on the table at that time, would you vote yes again?
Matt Hudson: I would vote yes again based on the feed-back I’ve gotten from constituents thus far. And I can also tell you that I think the proposal is going to be a little bit different as it comes back.
I think there will probably be some language in that bill, although I haven’t seen it, just what I’ve kind of heard, that they’re going to work on removing visual impediments that had given people a lot of angst.
Jeff Lytle: You mean oil rigs you can see from the condos.
Jeff Lytle: So that would be sort of a drilling technique that would be obviously sort of subterranean or under the surface rather than the traditional rig.
Matt Hudson: Right.
Jeff Lytle: But you could still have spills. Certainly you understand how inextricably linked the environment is to our economy?
Matt Hudson: Absolutely.
Jeff Lytle: So that would give Collier County and all of Southwest Florida a special interest in this.
Matt Hudson: The entire state, the entire Gulf coast has this interest, not just limited to Collier County, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s certainly an issue for anybody who lives along the coastal side of the Gulf, whether you’re in Santa Rosa County where you are right next to a neighboring state where they are drilling.
I would make the argument that certainly 20 miles this way is going to have the same environmental effect on Florida as if it were 10 miles closer. Certainly, they deal with that already. We’re already dealing with that issue. And it hasn’t been an issue, and I think that’s the biggest thing to make people understand.
Jeff Lytle: What do you say to the argument that there are already areas where there are active leases that have not been drilled? Why not drill or use those areas first?
Matt Hudson: I would tell you that it’s got to be financially viable for somebody to do.
Jeff Lytle: Are you saying those waters are too deep?
Matt Hudson: No, I’m saying it’s too deep. But the question becomes this: if you wanted to go hunting, and you wanted to lease a piece of property to go out on a hunting lease, what’s the guarantee there’s going to be wildlife there? Is there a guarantee? Just because the federal government says that we’re going to lease you this area, there has to be a financial reason for you to drill hole, after hole, after hole, after hole, after hole to find it.
Sometimes things get leased where there’s just nothing to drill for. And so, I think that we’ve got to be practical and look at the entire equation. There are active leases out there, yes, but there are also leases that quite frankly have nothing to yield. Why explore where there’s nothing there? The rule of thumb in my book has always been, dig where there’s gold if you want gold.
Jeff Lytle: We have to move on. Talking about gold, let’s talk about casino gambling.
Matt Hudson: Interesting segue.
Jeff Lytle: You have been quoted as saying you’re in favor of the tentative pact between the Indians and the governor’s office. But the Legislature gets to weigh in.
Matt Hudson: Correct.
Jeff Lytle: How can you be sure there’s enough in that pact for the existing venues, such as the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track in Bonita Springs, to have that keep going? The card rooms get to say open longer; the poker games go to a little different level, but there’s no blackjack, as I understand it.
Matt Hudson: That’s correct.
Jeff Lytle: And that the big one.
Matt Hudson: I think there’s a couple of things here. First of all, and it’s important for people to understand that in the spring when the Legislature voted on the compact, I voted against it. I was one of very few people who voted against it in the spring. And I voted against it because it was taking blackjack away from Immokalee.
I represent Immokalee. I represent my constituents. I represent the eastern part of Collier County, and with the area of my county that has a very, very high unemployment rate. For me to vote for something that would potentially take away the creation of 2,000 jobs is unacceptable. And so I spent most of the summer lobbying very, very hard to ensure that we could get blackjack back into Immokalee to be able to create those jobs. Because if blackjack comes back to Immokalee, then they will build a 500-room Hard Rock hotel, a Hard Rock event center, a PGA golf course and a wind farm. And they will employ people who are right now unemployed. And we need that.
So that’s why I voted against it, because blackjack was not included in Immokalee, and that’s why I’m in favor of it now, because it’s been added back in.
In terms of the existing pari-mutuels that exist, not only around this area, be it the Bonita dog track or Tampa Downs, or any of the various pari-mutuel facilities, they’re lobbying for something, first of all, that they never had to begin with, whereas the Indians were given it, and it was taken away. They’ve gotten a lower tax rate, and I think that’s an important thing that’s often missed in discussion. They were paying a tax rate quite frankly that was fairly excessive.
The tax rate for them has also been lowered. They’ve been able to expand some of their games as you mentioned in terms of their poker rooms and things like that. And they still have the dynamic that other facilities do not have. They do not have in a casino in Immokalee, or at any other reservation, they don’t have a live venue thing for people to be able to watch, be it dogs, horses, jai alai, whatever. So I think it’s up to them, as they’ve existed in this state for a very, very long time without an awful lot of competition, to take advantage of the opportunities that we’re presenting to them.
They asked for a lower tax rate; we gave it to them. They asked for some of these expanded opportunities; they’ve gotten it.
The only thing they haven’t gotten is the blackjack; and you know what? I think that’s a fair trade for not having the live games at the other place.
Jeff Lytle: You mentioned that you represent Immokalee, I think Denise Grimsley also represents Immokalee.
Matt Hudson: Yes, we share Immokalee. I’m sorry. I should have said that. She’s got the north half; I have the south half.
Jeff Lytle: So where do we go from here?
Matt Hudson: Well, this will certainly be in the special session. Really, that’s the nexus of why we would have a special session would be to discuss the compact.
Jeff Lytle: In the fall?
Matt Hudson: In the fall, yes.
Jeff Lytle: So we’ll have gambling and oil at the same time?
Matt Hudson: In theory, but the oil is not a for-sure thing by any stretch of the imagination. The gambling would be the only reason they would actually call it. It would be up to them if they would expand the call to allow other issues.
I think as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to advocate very strongly for my constituents and for 2,000 jobs. And I can’t see in good conscience any other reason to do anything other than that.
Jeff Lytle: Two more things: The Legislature this past term passed on a less than a three and a half million dollar expenditure for computer system that would track criminals throughout the state. So you’d have known bad guys — guys who should not be on the street, on the street; and a Fort Myers police officer was killed as a result of that.
Will that be on your radar in the next session of the Legislature?
Matt Hudson: Yes, it will be. As chair of the Collier delegation, I’ve already had conversations with my colleagues in Lee County who obviously had the tragedy there in the city of Fort Myers. Certainly, it’s on their radar screen. It will be on our radar screen. I think it’s something that we’ll be working together jointly as a delegation from Southwest Florida to follow through.
Jeff Lytle: Why do things like this have to be so hard?
Matt Hudson: That’s the million-dollar question. I think the challenge for us this past session was obviously all budgetary. We passed the fewer number of bills that we’ve passed since 1998. Most people don’t realize that. But yet, in a 60-day window, we were able to pass about 270 pieces of legislation. I would kind of challenge Congress to do that in a year.
But certainly what we were focused on was all budgetary and was all about the economy, the economy, the economy. And we passed a number of good economic development programs and balanced the budget. And I think that’s something we can hang our hats on and be proud of the fact that we started our budget year on time with a balanced budget.
Jeff Lytle: Should local public schools have allowed President Barack Obama’s speech on education to be shown during the class day live?
Matt Hudson: You know what, I’m a person who goes into schools and talks civics an awful lot. So I can certainly appreciate what the president trying to do.
I did not agree with the original curriculum, and even the secretary of education certainly had a retraction of how he worded it wrong, if you will.
Jeff Lytle: By curriculum, you mean the president’s message?
Matt Hudson: Right, the original message. I read his message on Monday, prior to coming out, and I think it was a good, strong message. I don’t necessarily think that it was maybe age appropriate for kindergartners. Maybe there should have been two messages, quite frankly; one for elementary school and one for some of the older students. Because I think you’re probably talking over the heads of a lot of kindergartners and first graders, quite honestly.
Jeff Lytle: If the message is right next year, if the president decides to give the message again, at the start of the school year ...
vMatt Hudson: At the start of the school year, I think it’s not a bad thing. I think it creates the opportunity for parents to interact with their children, and I think there’s a good lesson to be learned there; and a lesson to be taught there.
I would say in fairness and deference that any school district that wanted to do it should make sure that they provide an alternative in case a parent wanted to opt out and let the child sit in the cafeteria for 30 minutes, or whatever.
But certainly I don’t think there’s an underwriting issue there, providing that the speech is vetted first by parents.
Jeff Lytle: Was all the debate about politics and policy and parental control, or was it really an indication of how poisonous the political atmosphere has gotten?
Matt Hudson: I think it’s probably a combination of both. I don’t think the debate right now going on in Washington, DC, what debate there is, is very toxic, and it’s not helpful. It’s not helpful to anybody.
I think it creates a jaded view of their government. I think that it extrapolates down to state government and to local government. And there’s a lot of people that are trying really hard to do the right thing. Then there’s some folks that are taking it to an extreme that they need not take it to the extreme.
This health-care debate I think is the debate of our day.