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Friday, 23 October 2015 09:27

Gary Price: An Interview with a State Senate Candidate Featured

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The State Senate vacancy caused by Garrett Richter hitting the term limit for the Florida Senate has caused a three way race for his seat, with former Naples City Councilman Gary Price joining the contest for the Republican nod for the seat with State Representatives Matt Hudson and Kathleen Passidomo.

Richter should be a familiar name to many who keep appraised of environmental issues in Southwest Florida, especially recently as he was the sponsor of a senate bill regarding oil exploration regulations that took aggressive language against local communities that have passed or are looking to pass municipal fracking bans.

Price feels that the fact he is entering the contest straight out of local politics, rather than moving from one chamber to the other in the Florida Legislature, gives him the ability to offer voters a candidate who shares their perspectives on many of the issues currently hanging in the balance in Tallahassee.

“The reason that I’m running, that sets me apart from my two opponents, is that I have local government experience,” Price said. “It doesn’t make me better than them, but it makes me different. My focus and filter for issues comes from a local level. I think the best government is the one closest to the people.”

“I’ve fought against Washington and Tallahassee when I was a Council member to keep them out of our business and let us make decisions locally,” Price said. “Having that experience will help me in Tallahassee as we face issues to determine whether they should be dealt with on a federal, state, or local level. From what I understand, they can use a little bit more local government experience up there.”

This mindset comes into play during a contentious period between some state and local governments, most notably the City of Bonita Springs and the State Legislature. During the summer, Bonita Springs exercised its authority to pass a municipal fracking ban within their city limits. The response from Oil and Gas Resource Regulation Bills sponsored by Senator Richter and State Representative Ray Rodriques for the coming session looks to target a municipality’s ability to determine what kind of resource extraction techniques are allowed within their borders.

“The Bill has morphed into something that will take away local control,” Price said. “This issue is of particular interest because there are only around five big communities that are on top of that gas field. If it was happening in every county, maybe it would be a state issue.” He feels that this situation is unique, as it will only affect a narrow set of communities, and that their decisions should be heavily factored into any decision making. “Having that perspective and having people look at that locally is a good thing.”

He also feels money set aside for Amendment 1 has not been allocated according to the wishes of the Florida people. “I don’t think, as a taxpayer and as a voter, that we intended for that money to go to staff and a bunch of typical government expenses. Folks wanted us to solve a problem regarding water and land conservation, and 70 percent of the people voted to set aside money to secure land and resources to help us in that solution. I would be a champion of using those resources to best of our ability to solve this problem.”

While relatively new to environmental issues facing Florida, Price said that attending a Leadership Florida meeting a few years back concerning the contamination of natural springs in the state opened his eyes to the scope of the problem.

“I’m humbled by what I don’t know, and also inspired by knowing what we’re fighting for,” Price said. “These are worthy causes, and that is what keeps me going.”

Price also views the abrupt end of this year’s legislative session as failure of the Legislature’s job, and a let down to the people they serve.

“The Legislature has two jobs: drawing up the budget, and redrawing the election maps,” Price said. “They failed in both this year. They had to have extra sessions for both of them. From a budget perspective, I’m very careful about being a good steward of taxpayers’ money, and have a good track record of doing that.”

Coming from a background in banking and financial consulting, a career he still holds with 5th Avenue Advisors in Naples, he feels it gives him the skills needed to make a difference in the Legislature. Around 2009, when the economy was bottoming out, Price served on the Pension Board for Naples. “It was around February, and we thought it was the end of the world. We had about $5 million of our employees’ money to invest. The Board just said let’s keep it in cash, because they thought everything was going down, and that there was no sense in blowing this money. I was able to convince them to invest the money, and the investments we made for our employees doubled in about a year and a half.”

Beyond that, his work on monetary issues also extended to Tallahassee during his time on Council.

“The work I did with pension reform at the state level gave me a chance to work with a couple of Senators up there,” Price said. “I didn’t particularly like the bill they were working on, and told them that, and they asked me to sit down with the firefighters, police, and League of Cities and come up with something I did like. That was my first entre into state-level government, and over the course of a couple of months, we hammered out a deal everyone agreed to that has now become law. That was about two years ago, and what it really showed me was that you can actually sit down and get things done if you stay pure to the process and listen to others.”

Price also noted with pride that he was the only City Council member to vote against a pay increase in that period of time. While he was defeated in the vote, he donated his entire raise back to the city.

Another area where he wants to address a breakdown in communication between the state and local municipalities in the area of education reform, specifically looking to see what testing is appropriate. “Even when we get numbers back, tests don’t match up with the expectations of the state,” Price said. With two children who have been through the public school system in Collier County, it’s an issue he feels he has experience to address. “My specific plan is to get the authority back to a local level, to the school districts and school boards. I’m a big fan of home rule.”

He also wants to make a push on “giving care to the caregivers.”

“We’re doing an amazing job in providing for the elderly and special needs folks of all ages,” Price said. “We can forget, though, that caregivers are getting burnt out. As a parent of a special needs child for 20 years, one of my passions is to put organizations together that can help each other. Not necessarily have a huge, government-funded project, but something to support these people so they can get a break. My wife and I have lived this for twenty, so we have a special affinity for these folks.”

“I think as we try to balance environment, education, and budget, I want people to know that I am also focused on the more personal issues that affect the people of Southwest Florida,” Price said.

Price’s career in the political realm began back in 2001, when he was appointed to Naples’ Planning Board. “It’s kind of a funny story,” Price recalled. “I was meeting with a City Councilperson, and he said ‘we have an opening on the planning board, and we don’t have any applicants, so if you apply you’ll probably get in.’”

From that opportunity, where Price served two of his four years on the Board as Chairman, he moved up to the Naples City Council in 2005, when he was appointed to replace a resigning member. There, he served for around six months before officially winning the seat in an election in February of 2006.

Viewing public policy and government as a personal passion, Price states that his serving on Boards and Councils is his hobby instead of taking up something like Golf. “I’m a public servant, and I’m passionate about doing it with respect to the people who pay the bills, which are the taxpayers.”

By Trent Townsend

Read 2325 times Last modified on Friday, 23 October 2015 09:41

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