Blessing or boondoogle: supporters and critics of a high speed bullet train await Gov. Scott’s decision.

ORLANDO – It’s a project that could help transform Central Florida’s economy, bringing thousands of badly needed construction jobs to the area, while relieving traffic congestion on Ilocal highways and creating a network of alternative transportation options …

No, it’s a costly and wasteful boondoggle, one that will saddle Florida taxpayers with expensive long term maintenance costs that the state can’t afford, all for a train that nobody will bother riding …

As 2011 starts, the debate over a high speed bullet train from Cocoa Beach to Orlando and then on to Tampa rages on, and it’s going to be up to new Gov. Rick Scott to make the final decision on the project.  Scot was a skeptic of the high speed rail system during his gubernatorial campaign last year, and his political supporters are counting on the governor to kill a project they view as costing far too much money, while offering too little in the way of a payback.

“We do not want him to be endorsing the rail program,” said Peg Dunmire, chairman of the Florida Tea Party, which endorsed Scott in last year’s Republican primary.  Scott, a South Florida businessman, defeated former state Attorney General Bill McCollum in the August 2010 primary.

Peg Dunmire, chairman of the Florida Tea Party, thinks most people want the freedom their cars offer, and won't ride a high speed train.

Doug Guetzloe, host of The Guetzloe Report radio talk show and a longtime critic of the train, said the governor may have no choice but to kill the high speed rail project, since the state is facing a huge budget deficit due to declining tax revenues.

“Scott’s got an estimated $3.5 billion budget deficit in this fiscal year,” Guetzloe said.  “He’s either got to cut spending or raise revenues, that’s all you can do.”

Since the governor has pledged not to raise taxes and to look for ways to cut them further to help spur the economy, Guetzloe said that means steep cuts in state spending.

“Our Constitution requires a balanced budget,” he said.   “Where do you get the money without raising taxes? He says he won’t raise taxes, but those are very serious cuts. He could start by turning down money for rail.”

In 2009, the Obama administration signed on to the construction of a high speed line between Orlando and Tampa, using funding from the federal stimulus bill. After announcing the administration’s support for the project, the Federal Railroad Administration granted Florida $1.25 billion to help build the train route.

But critics say Florida will still have to fund the rest of the construction costs, along with the long term maintenance bill as well.

“There’s no source of funding for the operating costs,” Dunmire said.  “And we’re getting this money from the federal government – which doesn’t have the money to begin with.”

Dunmire and Guetzloe noted that last November, voters in Osceola, Polk and Hillsborough counties voted down ballot referendums that would have raised taxes to pay for road building projects or new or expanded public transportation systems.  While those votes could simply be viewed as an anti-tax message, Dunmire said, it also signals skepticism about people giving up their cars to take a train on a fixed route to their jobs, health care providers or shopping needs.

“It’s the wrong technology,” she said.  “Americans like their cars.  We like to decide when to go, and where.”

But the project’s supporters think Scott will ultimately get behind it.

Paul Senft, director of the Economic Development Council in Haines City and a strong supporter of the high speed train, said new Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio came to the Sunshine State’s rescue by turning down federal money for rail projects.  That freed up more than a billion dollars in federal stimulus money, and shortly afterwards, the White House diverted another $342 million to Florida.

Paul Senft, Haines City's economic development director, thinks cities across Central Florida can boost their economic prospects if residents have easy access to a commuter train.

“The fact that some other states reejected the funds and Florida picked up a tremendous amount of extra money, that helped a lot because the local investment became smaller,” Senft said. “The construction cost has become smaller and smaller as the federal government has given us more and more money. I think we’ll be in good shape on the high speed rail.”

Senft has been supporting the rail line because it would include stops at Walt Disney World, about 20 minutes from Haines City, and in Lakeland, the largest city in Polk County.  He believes communities like Haines City can sell themselves to businesses interested in relocating to the region by reminding employers of the easy access workers would have to rail.

“There’s not any regions in the world that are truly economic regions that don’t have mass transit,” Senft said.  “It will help us, image-wise, and with higher wage jobs.”

But Guetzloe countered that the high speed train will ultimately cost the state far more in the long run than the federal investment suggests, and he said Scott risks burdening the state with a massive long term price tag if he signs on to the project. 

Doug Guetzloe thinks Gov. Rick Scott needs to stick to his opposition to a high speed train from Orlando to Tampa.

“It’s an unfunded liability,” Guetzloe said.  “We don’t have $17.6 billion in the next 20 years to operate the train. I think he (Scott) will be hard pressed to flip on that one.”

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Orlando church offers its views on “The Truth about Political Islam.”

Encounter Church in Orlando has a copy of The Koran next to the American flag and some literarture on Islamic terrorism.

ORLANDO – Born and raised in Egypt, Usama Dakdok believes he knows a lot about the Koran and its teachings.  He’s studied the religious text of Islam, which Muslims hold is the divine guidance and moral direction for mankind, and the final revelation of God.

“I read the Koran, I studied the Koran, and I learned about Islam,” Dakdok said.

Dakdok was raised in a Christian household in a heavily Muslim country, and now lives in the United States, where he runs the Straight Way of Grace Ministry, a traveling church committed to preaching the glory of Jesus Christ as mankind’s savior – and, he noted “to tell the truth about Islam.”

It’s a truth, he said, that very few Muslims around the world truly understand, because in Dakdok’s view, not many actually bother to read the Koran and fully comprehend what it says. More often, he said, they blindly follow their political and religious leaders’ interpretations.

“My people are destroyed by a lack of knowledge,” Dakdok said.  “We all need to be educated.”

On Wednesday, Dakdok was the guest speaker at the Encounter Church, which opened its doors last August in a building at the corner of E. Robinson Street and Bumby Avenue in downtown Orlando.   The pastor, Blake Lorenz, said the new church welcomes guest speakers, particularly those who can help them spread the message that Christianity, not Islam, represents the true word of God. The church believes these are the end times, and the conflict between Christianity and Islam is going to grow even greater in the coming years.

“We need to get educated, don’t we?” Lorenz said. “We need to get educated – and act.”

As part of that, Encounter Church is starting a five week course, beginning next week, called “Behind The Veil.”

“It will talk about the historic truth that we’ve got a book written on Christianity, rather than the false message of Islam,” Lorenz said.

On Wednesday, Encounter Church also hosted Alan Korman, the Orlando chapter coordinator ACT! For America, a nonprofit organization that aims to educate Americans about what it sees as the threat of Islamic terrorism, and what its literarure calls the “tyranny of Islamofascism.”

ACT! believes a Jihad (Holy War) has been declared on America, and the people of this nation need to unite and fight back.

It was Korman who sponsored Dakdok’s speaking program at the church.

“We run the (Orlando) ACT! chapter and we’re trying to have speakers once a month,” Korman said.  “Usama was born in Egypt, and he understands the Muslim brotherhood and what they mean and how they are a threat to us in America.’

Dakdok said anyone can understand the message of the Koran if they simply read the book, which he has done.  But very few people, he said, take the time to do this, so the actual message of the Koran gets lost to millions.

“Islam is not what somebody claims, but what is written in the Koran,” he said.  “We get two completely separate versions.  Some say Islam is a peaceful and loving religion – ‘I love my neighbor.’  Some would say Islam is the most barbaric religion. Which one is right?”

He noted that in Indonesia, there are “210 million Muslims who have never read the Koran. You go to where they worship and they are chanting, and I say, ‘Do you know what you just said?’ They have no clue.”

The same is true of Muslims in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and other countries, he said.

“None of these people know about Islam. They never learned it,” he said.

Dakdok said he and his church have adopted this mission themselves, “revealing the truth about Islam.  Why is it the truth?  That’s because it is in the book.  As long as this stuff is there, I’m going to teach it.”

Dakdok said the message is one of oppression, not a free exchange of ideas, cultures and religious and political differences.  This is particularly true in Europe today, he said, where cities are confrotning painful cultural and religious clashes as the Muslim population there grows.

“People like me 40 years ago spoke in churches in Europe, and 30 years later, Europe is crying out for help, and there is no help,” he said.  “The signs of protestors read ‘Democracy Go to Hell, Freedom Go to Hell.’  In Islam – no democracy. In Islam – no freedom.”

Christians, he said, need to understand their values and beliefs are being challenged, even threatened, by Islam.

“Jesus said ‘I will die and I will rise again,’ “ Dakdok said.  “Do Muslim people believe Jesus rose again? No. Muslims believe Jesus is a bad person, a blasphemer.” 

A parishioner at Encounter Church in Orlando demonstrates the message that Jesus is the true savior.

Korman said this is more than just an academic question for religious scholars.  He noted the case of Rifqa Bary, a teenager who fled her home in Ohio after claiming she had converted to Christianity, and her parents had threatened to kill her for it.

The case became a cause celebre, until Oct. 13, 2009, when Orange County Judge Daniel P. Dawson ruled that he would return Bary to Ohio. She was temporarily placed in the custody of the Franklin County (Ohio) Children Services. In June 2010, Bary graduated from high school and on Aug. 10, she turned 18 and her custody with Franklin County Children Services ended.

Korman said the case showed that Islam tolerates no dissension, and does not preach personal freedom.

“You have three chances to go back to Islam,” he said.  “She pretended to go back – and she didn’t. This is where political Islam impacted a life here in America.”

Encounter Church is at 2320 E. Robinson St.  To learn more, call 407-858-0351 or email info@encounterfl.com.

To learn more about ACT! For America, call 407-497-3541 or email actorlando1@gmail.com.

Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

Redistricting could mean one thing: the triumphant return of Alan Grayson.

Paul Senft things the Fair Districts Florida measures will end up in court and could go tossed out.

ORLANDO – He became a hero to so many on the political left, a champion of health care reform and opponent of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, but he ultimately lost his re-election bid in a solid year for Republicans.

Now the question is whether former Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson is poised to not only get re-elected, but to quickly become a soon-in to win.

At least one local political commentator thinks Grayson is headed back to Congress with a clear victory path next year.

“Guess what, he’s going to be back,” said Doug Guetzloe, host of The Guetzloe Report radio talk show and driving force behind the Ax the Tax movement.

Political activist Doug Guetzloe thinks former Congressman Alan Grayson will be heading back to Congress next year.

Guetzloe thinks that Grayson – who lost his seat representing the state’s 8th Congressional District to Republican Dan Webster, 56 percent to 38 percent – will win not because of changing political winds that go against the GOP and return to the Democrats’ corner, but rather something else entirely: redistricting.

 At the start of each decade, the 50 states use new census figures to redraw the lines of all 435 congressional district to reflect population shifts.  Florida grew at a solid enough rate throughout the past decade that the Sunshine State is expected to gain two more congressional districts, bringing the total number to 27.  Central Florida was one of the fastest growing parts of the state, and the Orlando area is widely expected to gain one of those districts.

Guetzloe, a conservative who has been active recently with the Florida Tea Party – which recruited a candidate, Peg Dunmire, to challenge Grayson in 2008 – thinks that district will clearly favor the Democrats.

“Central Florida will get a new Democratic seat in 2012, and it will be a democratic seat because Orange County is overwhelmingly Democratic,” Guetzloe said, adding that the Democrats have a natural candidate to run.

“Save your Alan Grayson buttons,” Guetzloe said.  “Alan Grayson will be the next congressman from that district.  He will be the unabashed frontrunner.”

Guetzloe thinks two factors will work in favor of a solidly Democratic district in the Orlando area.  First, most of the congressman in this area – Webster, Rep. John Mica of Winter Park, and Rep. Bill Posey of the Space Coast – are Republicans. Guetzloe thinks these incumbents will be eager to shed democratic precincts in their own districts, making them safer for their own re-election bids.

Second, a decade ago the district lines were drawn by the Florida Legislature, which today – just as in 2002 – is solidly in the hands of Republicans.  Add in Gov. Rick Scott, and Republicans have complete control of the redistricting process.

Or at least they did, until last November, when Florida voters approved two ballot referendums that pulled redistricting from the hands of state lawmakers and turned the process over to an independent commission given the task of drawing up the new lines. The ballot initiative, by Fair Districts Florida, aimed to restrict “gerrymandering,” the process of drawing lines to maximize partisan gain. Instead, it requires the drawing of compact districts that conform to geographic boundaries.

With Republican lawmakers stripped of their ability to craft safe GOP districts,”It’s going to result in more Democrats being elected in 2012,” Guetzloe said.  “Fair Districts is going to result in less gerrymandering, which will result in more democratic seats.”

Paul Senft, a former member of the Republican State Executive Committee and a  former Polk County commissioner, said that prediction might be premature.  He said population shifts will help determine where the district lines go, regardless of which party controls the process.

“The actual population figures will have something to do with that,” Senft said.  “I don’t know if Miami has grown or stayed the same, or if the Jacksonville area had the most growth. There are extensive computer programs where they can punch in numbers and do it that way.”

Senft said Greater Orlando, which experienced a major population boom over the past 10 years, should be favored to gain a new seat.

“I would think Orlando probably would, yes,” he said.

Could former Congressman Alan Grayson be heading for a re-election victory in 2012?

But Senft said it’s not clear if the Fair Districts measures, which were approved by two to one margins, will hold up under a court challenge.  U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, who was first elected to Congress in 1992, filed a court challenge along with U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, R-Miami, to knock Amendments 5 and 6 off the ballot, unsuccessfully. Brown has promised to continue her court challenge, since she believes the amendments will make it harder to create districts that minority candidates can carry. 

“It will go to court for sure,” Senft said.  “It’s going to go to court and be settled in court. I don’t believe the politics is out of it when it’s in the courts.”

Brown’s own district stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando, taking in heavily minority voting precincts in both cities.  Guetzloe, though, predicted that Brown’s court challenge would almost certainly fail.

“I think Corrine Brown is an anachronism,” he said.  “I think she’ll moan and groan about this, but I don’t think she’ll get anywhere.”

 Contact us at FreelineOrlando@gmail.com.

 

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