The Island Sand Paper sits down every few weeks with a community leader and asks them 6 Questions.
This edition features United States Congressman Francis Rooney (R-FL19), whose district includes Fort Myers Beach. Congressman Rooney is in his first term of his first-ever elected office, winning the seat in November 2016, after a very successful professional career in the construction industry.
Q1: With Florida approving Senate Bill 10, what are your water project priorities?
“The single biggest issue impacting our Southwest Florida community is water quality. Our economy is forever tied to our ecology, and having clean water flowing through our rivers, streams, estuaries and the Everglades. The Lake Okeechobee watershed and Everglades have far-ranging impact on the entire State of Florida and the country, but especially in Southeast and Southwest Florida, where 55% of all real estate in the state is affected – 2 trillion dollars of economic impact across 164 cities and 16 counties.
“The key to the Everglades restoration is the funding and completion of a series of projects authorized in the Water Resource Development Acts (WRDA) of 2007, 2014, and 2016 pursuant to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), enacted in 2000. Additionally, the United States Army Corp of Engineers needs funding to complete the reinforcement of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee. Florida’s entire Congressional delegation agrees on this issue and we have asked that The White House include this important funding in their infrastructure budget, as President Donald Trump promised during his campaign.
“I am narrowly focused on the federal role here to expedite the existing plans and complete the projects called for through the CERP and I am working every day to make this case to the federal government, including the Army Corp of Engineers, House and Senate Appropriations leaders, and The White House, that we need them to fund what they committed to fund in these authorization laws.”
Q2: Can you provide an update on the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and your efforts to reauthorize it?
“Cost and availability of flood insurance impacts home and business owners across our district. It also directly affects the livelihood of thousands of Real Estate and Insurance professionals in Southwest Florida and throughout the state. We need a program that works for Florida; we have been a “donor state” for decades, paying 27% of the NFIP’s annual premiums while only collecting 7.3% of the dollars paid in claims since 1978. The counties of Collier and Lee have paid 4.8% of the premiums, but were involved in only 0.18% of the claims over the same period.
“With the NFIP losing $1.5 billion a year, changes are necessary, however we must ensure that fair and affordable insurance options for Southwest Florida remain in place.
“I am encouraged that our delegation is working toward bipartisan solutions to resolve the mapping, mitigation and underwriting issues related to the NFIP, and I am confident that grandfathering existing properties and a federally-funded backstop for any private insurance options are the key elements that are currently being included in all proposals being brought forward in Congress.”
Q3: With the United States Senate unable so far to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, what is your viewpoint on health insurance?
“Nationally, there is no topic that has been more discussed then repealing and replacing the failed and unsustainable social experiment of Obamacare. Its repeal is necessary for Southwest Floridians that have seen choices dwindling and premiums skyrocketing. The plan passed in the US House of Representatives is a conservative, patient-centric, free enterprise healthcare solution that provides choice and competition. Despite what some on the Left are contending, coverage for pre-existing conditions will remain. The ability for individual states to tailor their guidelines to meet the needs of their residents is a crucial element of reforming our healthcare system, and it is what our Constitution intends for powers not expressly delegated to the Federal government. It is now up to the US Senate to do its part.”
Q4: What is the #1 issue of concern that you hear about from your constituents?
“Some of their greatest concerns have already been addressed in your first few questions. In addition to those issues, most of our constituents are concerned with the constant government overreach into their lives. Increasingly, government does too much for us, overregulating, forcing us to buy insurance that does not meet our needs and saddling our children and grandchildren with the obscene national debt – most people simply want government to ensure our national defense and the rule of law, otherwise leaving us to our own pursuits.”
Q5: You often mention that our area was your first interaction with Southwest Florida. What is your favorite Fort Myers Beach story or memory?
“I think it was 1987 when we first sailed our boat from our family place in Pensacola to Boca Grande and then down to Fort Myers Beach. That first year we left it at Moss Marina for part of the winter before taking her back north. The next year, and for several thereafter, we left her at Compass Rose Marina, on Sea Side Drive on San Carlos Island. A very nice couple ran it and took great care of Hoya, our Bermuda-40. We would come in the fall and return in the spring, and Fort Myers Beach was our shore-side base, including laundry and provisioning and all that, as well as enjoying the beach and restaurants there.”
Q6: You are well into your first year of serving in any elective office: What have you found unexpectedly good or pleasant about the experience? Conversely, anything especially disappointing or unpleasant?
“The most disappointing experience has been the slow pace of Congress. As a businessman, I am used to making decisions and, when necessary, adjusting course quickly, With 435 House members that are advocating for their unique needs of their individual districts, things move at a pace that would frustrate anyone who isn’t a career politician.
“Without a doubt, the experience I find most pleasant is being able to meet so many great people that, had I not run for office, I might never have been introduced to. I have had the pleasure of touring small businesses, churches, hospitals, schools, trade associations and the homes of constituents across the district and from varied backgrounds – learning what their biggest concerns are and being able to provide help. Whether that help is direct, as is the case when constituents are attempting to obtain answers from a government agency, or indirect, by removing regulations or passing tax reform, nothing is more rewarding.”