VIDEO: Grady defends oil drilling vote; explains leaving the Legislature

Rep. Tom Grady's exit interview

Red light cams, JaxLabs, oil, politics

Naples’ Tom Grady is leaving after a two-year term in the Florida house to practice securities law and build a conservative political action committee for local/state offices.

He also says red light cameras will remain in Florida despite a new law that dilutes their profits, and defends a 2009 vote for drilling in state waters.

Grady is this week’s guest on Comcast’s "One on One with Jeff Lytle.’’

Video highlights and partial transcripts of that and past interviews are available at naplesnews.com/oneonone.

The entire 30-minute program airs Sunday at noon on Comcast CN14.

Lytle is editorial page/Perspective editor of the Daily News.

* * *

Lytle: You’re leaving — not town, but you’re leaving the Legislature.

Grady: I’m not leaving; I’m graduating from the Florida House in November.

* * *

Lytle: You have six months left, and you won’t be running for re-election.

Grady: That’s correct.

* * *

Lytle: Tell us about it.

Grady: I have loved serving in the House of Representatives. I feel that I have learned so much, actually being in the process; and as you know, I thought I had been involved and active in the process as a non-elected citizen in Collier County for 26 or 27 years.

Being in Tallahassee, working in the Legislature has been a real honor, and I thank the people of Collier County for the opportunity. I want to use that as any other education that I have had and be able to leverage from that and be very active ongoing in both state and local and federal campaigns in 2010 and 2012. And I think the way for me to be most effective at that is to be here in Collier County and not Tallahassee.

* * *

Lytle: Just for the record, your health is good. You’re not in any kind of trouble. There is nothing else we need to know.

Grady: This is all positive.

* * *

Lytle: I had to ask.

Grady: I do still practice law, as you know, and I represent persons who have been defrauded in securities-related transactions. And that’s a pretty busy area right now, unfortunately. So, yes, I am continuing to practice. But nope, it’s all good, Jeff.

* * *

Lytle: OK. Successors: whenever we see this in the Naples area, it’s a pretty small inside club, and they usually have successors lined up. You mentioned one name to me before we came on the air.

Grady: I don’t think it’s an inside club. I know that Laird Lile is interested in running for the position. I think we’ve been fortunate in having good elected representatives and senators from Collier County, and I know we will continue to do that. And I’ll work very hard to make sure to the extent I can that someone who shares my conservative ideology is a successor in this seat.

* * *

Lytle: Now, Lile is a long-time attorney and active in the community, and active in the Education Foundation, among other community efforts. Does he has your support?

Grady: I support Laird Lyle. I think he would be a great candidate. That’s not an endorsement. I want to wait and see what happens.

One of the reasons that I’m making this information available now, just after session, is because I think it’s important, contrary to your suggestion that there’s a club. I think it’s important for people in Collier to know, and anybody interested in running should run.

I think Laird Lile would be a great candidate and a great representative. Let’s see who else wants to throw their hat in the ring and see where we are by the end of qualifying, which is the third or fourth week of June.

* * *

Lytle: One of the other things you’ve been working on is setting up this pretty serious conservative political action committee. And I gather that this would give you more time to pursue that.

Grady: It will. You’re talking about Prosperity Florida, and the purpose of Prosperity Florida is, as its name suggests, to recognize that private industry, and private enterprise, the mom-and-pop business throughout the state of Florida make Florida work. Government doesn’t create jobs. Individual people do.

Entitlements are choking governments all around the world. In Greece, the pictures that you see of people rioting are not pictures of people who are hungry, or people who need something. They’re pictures of government workers, starting fires and killing people because they don’t want to earn less money.

That’s the kind of risk we face locally and at the state level and national level. Greece is like California. I should say, California is following Greece. Actually I’m not sure which came first. But those kinds of issues are out there, and I think that with an organization like Prosperity Florida we can support candidates who recognize that private industry creates these jobs and opportunities, and the government has a very, very important role, but a limited role.

There is a limit on the amount of money that people can and will and should pay in taxes, and a limit on what we ought to spend in government. Prosperity Florida wants to gets that message out.

* * *

Lytle: And these candidates would be candidates for Florida offices.

Grady: It is a local Collier Count-based organization. So yes, local and state government.

* * *

Lytle: So this would be county commission candidates, school board, Florida Legislature, governor.

Grady: It could be any of those, Jeff, but I don’t want to suggest that it’s going to be all things for all people, or follow all races.

We will look at individual races that are particularly important for the objectives of the group, which is to say maintaining or shrinking the role size and influence of government and lessening dependency of people on government.

So it could be any of those particular levels that you’re talking about. It could be school board; it could be county; it could be state. Probably won’t be all of those all the time, but could be any of them at any particular time.

* * *

Lytle: Let’s shift the gears a little bit to oil and red-light cameras.

To me it’s ironic that you were an opponent of the state getting involved legislatively in the red-light camera matter, but upon further review, maybe the legislation that came out of Tallahassee might have effectively killed red-light cameras. It takes away the rolling right turns, and it takes away the commissions for the contractors of the camera companies.

It just strikes me as kind of ironic that in the state Legislature’s efforts to get involved might have killed the program.

Grady: I think you’re being optimistic. I think the program was designed to generate $39 million in revenue, and I think that it will.

Collier County might eliminate its local program because it’s no longer profitable, as you suggest. There’s only one vendor who benefits from this, and that vendor will continue to benefit whether it’s a state camera or a local camera.

* * *

Lytle: But if you don’t have the rolling right turns eligible for citations, then there goes the profit.

Grady: Unless you have more cameras. And you can put in more cameras in more state-owned intersections as a result of the legislation.

But I hope you’re right because I don’t think it contributes to safety. I think there are good people who disagree with me, and I respect that. And I may be wrong. But the studies I’ve seen all suggest that the cameras don’t increase safety. They change the kind of accident that you have at an intersection. But they don’t increase safety overall.

* * *

Lytle: So, locally, when you talk about state roads, you’re talking about U.S. 41.

Grady: U.S. 41 is a federal highway, but the right-of-way is not owned by the county. So anytime there is a right-of-way that is owned by someone other than the local entity, this bill would allow you to come in and put in a camera.

* * *

Lytle: OK. So what other roads would be eligible for cameras that weren’t eligible?

Grady: I actually don’t know specifically in Collier what the names of those roads would be, but any intersection that doesn’t currently have a camera is probably a state-owned intersection, or there’s a state right-of-way — or scheduled to have one because the county can’t put them in without this legislation. Now they can and the state can.

* * *

Lytle: On the offshore oil matter, looking back on it now, how do you analyze your prior vote to allow drilling close to shore last year in view of what’s happened now? Where are we headed with this? Is the state as prepared as it can be for whatever might happen?

Grady: First of all, my prior vote was not to allow drilling. My prior vote was to allow the Cabinet to make the decision about whether it’s a good idea to drill and where and when.

* * *

Lytle: Is it that big a difference?

Grady: I think it’s a huge difference. I’m not saying you’re suggesting it, but I don’t want viewers to conclude that the legislation would have said, we’re going to start drilling. It didn’t. The legislation said the Cabinet can make the decision to start drilling. And I continue to support offshore drilling.

And I also want to make the distinction between gas and oil. In Florida, generally, as far as we know, there’s very little oil that could be obtained in that area that we’re talking about. There is, however, gas. And gas doesn’t spill the way that oil spills.

And I know you’ve had Andy McElwaine (of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida) on your program in the past. Prior to the current problems in the Gulf, Andy has said publicly that there is no risk in drilling; there is risk in transportation. Well, I don’t want to suggest that he was wrong. Obviously, there’s risk in everything. There’s risk in doing something. There’s risk in not doing something.

But most oil is spilled when it is transported as opposed to when it is drilled.

And I want to back up even further and say that the reason that I believe drilling is important, despite the fact that I’ve grown up in Florida, I love Florida; I love her beaches; I’m very concerned about keeping her beautiful appearance forever.

I also recognize that the number one role and responsibility of government is public safety and defense. And we can’t have an intelligent conversation about public safety and defense — or for that matter, the economy — without talking about oil.

And right now, we can’t drill in that area, as you know. It is against the law. But we still face a spill. There are other states drilling. The risk will continue and will be out there whether we’re part of it or not.

And we also know that Cuba, Venezuela, China and other countries can drill in the Gulf and will if we don’t.

I would much rather have a BP that makes money that will be responsible, that will pay for damages — I’d rather not have the damages — but I’d much rather have a BP than a China oil out there in the Gulf of Mexico that we know will not be a good environmental steward of what we treasure in the state of Florida.

* * *

Lytle: So, should we have a referendum on what you just described? There is a movement to that effect.

Grady: No, I don’t think we should have a referendum. I think the Constitution should be a sacred document and we change it too frequently only to find that we made a mistake.

We changed it regarding class size; we changed it regarding bullet trains; we changed it regarding pigs and lots of other things. And we sometimes think, gosh, we shouldn’t have done that.

I think citizens send people to Tallahassee to make hard decisions for them. I think that’s what we should do. I think the Legislature should make that decision. There is no chance, no chance that there will be drilling in Florida’s strip of water, as opposed to the federal lands for year. No chance, zero. That is dead.

Why should we rush today to have a referendum? Let’s wait and see how this unfolds. Maybe we’ll have a referendum in six months or a year. Maybe we learn a lot from this incident. Maybe we are saved from the worst of it. Maybe we’re not. We don’t know yet. It’s Wednesday. This show will air on Sunday. We might know a lot more between Wednesday and Sunday.

But I think we should be patient; we should learn; we should study it. But we should recognize that one third of the country’s oil comes from the Gulf of Mexico. That’s not going to stop.

* * *

Lytle: Jackson Laboratory. Is the money a sure thing?

Grady: The money from the state is in the budget.

* * *

Lytle: Is it going to make it?

Grady: I don’t think that there’s any such thing as a sure thing. But I believe it will. I believe that the governor will sign the budget. I think that the money will remain in the budget, and I think it will be available then for our local conversation about whether we’re able to structure a deal that we’ll be able to take advantage of that money.

* * *

Lytle: We’re talking about $120 million from the state. But one of the provisos in the state deal, in the provisions, is that this project has to get moving quickly. It just can’t sit there for years and years and years. Right?

Grady: That’s right. I think it will. I’ve met with representatives from Jackson Labs. It won’t happen overnight. But the process I think will begin in June.

In fact, the process has already begun in terms of meeting with the Board of County Commissioners and obtaining the necessary permits and so forth. And I think the bill will bring additional hires starting in June. I think Jackson is optimistic that this will happen and will act on that assumption, even though there are still a lot of moving parts, as you know.

The community has to support this. It has to be supported not only by the folks in the Tallahassee, but by the folks here locally. I think it will begin soon.

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