Tuesday evening, the Caxambas Republican Club hosted State Representative Bob Rommel, in their regular meeting inside the United Church fellowship hall. Rommel, a freshman legislator who lives just down the road in Fiddler’s Creek, won the Florida House of Representatives District 106 seat vacated by Kathleen Passidomo when she moved up to the state senate.
The approximately three dozen who came to hear Rommel speak heard his report from his inaugural session in Tallahassee, his first foray into public office.
“I can’t believe I’m up here talking about politics now. I still think of myself as a businessman,” Rommel told the group.
After starting out as a mechanic, and quickly moving into management at an automobile dealership, he owned a mortgage company, and now has three restaurants, Bistro 41 and Bayfront Bistro in Southwest Florida, and another in his original home of New Jersey. Rommel is also a former president of the Caxambas Republican Club, said Jerry Swiacki in his introduction.
Rommel talked about his initiation into the whirlwind of state government, and how he was able to make an impact beyond what he expected.
“Normally, freshman don’t get any bills passed,” he said. “There were 3,000 total bills passed, and as a freshman, I passed five.” He was particularly proud of his bill working to combat the crisis of opioid addiction.
“Fifty two thousand die every day from opioid overdoses. It’s every day, people,” he said. “My bill was going to hold people accountable for overdoses.” He was called into the leadership offices, and told, “we’re going to kill your bill,” but responded he knew how to fix the objections.
“Eight weeks later, the bill passed. Over the summer, the governor signed it into law.”
The bill, H0249, with 12 total sponsors, was summarized as, “Permitting certain entities to report controlled substance overdoses to the Department of Health; providing immunity for persons who make reports in good faith; requiring a hospital with an emergency department to develop a best practices policy to promote the prevention of unintentional drug overdoses, etc.”
Of legislating, Rommel said, “it’s hard work, but pretty rewarding. This is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had in my life. It’s also, by far, the least paying job I’ve ever had.”
Speaking of whirlwinds, the recent hurricane was on people’s minds, and Rommel said that, after the storm, “you see who the workers are. You should be very proud of the City Council and your first responders. You guys had power back in two days – amazing.”
Hurricane Irma, he said, came into the state at the Florida Keys, and went out the Panhandle, affecting all of Florida. “That’s never ever happened.”
Rommel stands for less government, and less taxes, but “when we have an emergency, we let government step up and do its job.”
Along with the storm, the minds of the Republicans in the room was on the upcoming 2018 election, when Rommel will be on the ballot, and Florida will choose a new governor and a United States senator.
“If you look at the demographics of the state, we may be red-blooded conservatives, but the rest of the state is not,” said Rommel. Irma’s aftermath, he said, will strain the state’s finances.
“We’re predicted to have a budget shortfall – it could be two billion dollars. There will be cuts. We have to be fiscally responsible. Sometimes a hurricane is a net positive to the economy,” with new construction. “This will not be. This is going to ding us a little.”
Rommel said Republicans need to be wary of “crafty” attorney John Morgan as a candidate. “I’d watch out for him in the governor’s race.”
Rommel had to cut short the Q&A following his talk, to meet with “my boss,” Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who was in Naples speaking to a meeting of Americans for Prosperity.
Caxambas Republicans president Dave Rice recognized local dignitaries in attendance, including Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards, Marco Island City Councilor Howard Reed, and Emma Green, district coordinator for Congressman Francis Rooney. The congressman himself is a tentative speaker for the group’s Dec. 19 meeting, and Senator Passidomo was promoted as a confirmed guest on Nov. 21, along with Edwards in January.