SEBRING — Tuesday became a good night to hear views on preserving Florida’s water resources and agriculture from two Republican state legislators.
State representatives Cary Pigman and Matt Caldwell spoke to the Highlands Tea Party about their views for Florida’s future. Pigman (R-Avon Park) is running for his last term as state representative for District 55. Caldwell (R-Fort Myers) is running for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Speaking on Florida’s fiscal, water and agriculture resources, they shared speaking and question time for an audience of approximately 55 people.
“What’s driven me in this,” Pigman said, “is to be a fiscal conservative. I want to make sure your tax dollars are spent prudently.”
Pigman, elected in 2012, said Florida has a bigger divide than Republican and Democrat. The urban-versus-rural divide shows itself in septic-to-sewer conversion efforts and best management practices for agriculture.
“One of the biggest challenges is to be a buffer,” Pigman said,
He said a lot of well-meaning, misguided people would be “perfectly happy” if Lake Okeechobee became a reservoir and the rest of District 55 became a nature preserve.
“It does the county no favor to take half of the county off the tax roll and put it in conservancy,” Pigman said.
To preserve water quality, he proposes helping as many rural landowners convert property to central sewer systems.
Septic tanks remove coliform bacteria present in solid waste, he said, but do nothing for phosphates and nitrogen in liquid waste. As a result, homes beside water bodies, such as along Lake Okeechobee, put those nutrients straight into surface water, as well as into the aquifer.
He’s also concerned for education. Funding went up $100 per student this year to $7,400 each, he said, but others want to see as much as $14,000 per student.
Education funding comes from property taxes, Pigman said, and when pushed for specifics, he said such proponents get “fuzzy.”
When asked about trade schools, Pigman said he supports four-year degrees, but said short-term degrees would help get people employed more quickly.
On health care, he said the state had to file for a waiver, which took two years for approval, to save 4 percent of funds on managed care intervention for Medicaid patients.
When asked about direct primary care, Pigman, an emergency room doctor, said he preferred a system where a patient pays a fixed amount up front for as much access to a doctor “that the two of you can tolerate.”
Combined with a form of catastrophic coverage — roughly a cost of $100 per month each for the two insurance policies — and subsidized with block grants for families who struggle to afford it, he said it would take away any Medicaid incentive to stay unemployed.
When asked about teaching of Islam in school, Pigman, a retired U.S. Army colonel, drew on 35 years of Army service, including with the 256th Combat Support Hospital in Mosul, Iraq.
“I’ve been over there. I’ve seen it,” Pigman said, referring to extreme restrictions on women in public and soldiers requirements to not to even chew gum during Ramadan, a time of fasting, because it would look like they were eating.
“I’ve been to those countries, and it’s miserable, and the most sexist thing,” Pigman said. “People who are proponents of that leave that out.”
Caldwell, whose family has been in Florida since 1825, said he studied history, which gave him a road to “teach, preach, or go into politics.”
He is finishing his last legislative term, representing the 79th District since 2012 and previously representing the 73rd District from 2010 to 2012.
Of the 13 state-level elected agriculture commissioners in the United States, he said Florida’s is the only one that looks at all forms of agriculture, all consumer services and small industry.
“This is really the Commissioner of ‘Dirty Jobs,’” Caldwell said, referring to the television show. “If you work outside or wash your hands, you are housed in the Ag. Department.”
Florida serves as the trade center for Central and South America, he said, and the office inspects goods coming into ports. Imported agriculture goods, he said, hurt Florida under the North American Free Trade Agreement. He wants to see that renegotiated.
Water policy is the biggest domestic issue, Caldwell said, since “we’re the only place that’s not a desert at our latitude.”
Coastal counties may need to use desalination as a water source, he said. Also, places like Miami-Dade, with 90- to 100-year-old infrastructure designed for 2 million people, now serve 8 million and lose 30-50 percent of their water between the water plant and faucet, he said.
Such systems need to be upgraded and replaced.
Lastly, when asked the role of illegal immigration in agriculture, he said there was no role for it.
Instead, he said, people need to enter legally and become naturalized. Also, Caldwell said he would prefer a visitor work program where visiting laborers return home after each season.