House District 2 Race, Ed Gray
This extended District 2 interview comes from Ed Gray. Gray is the head of Capital Trust Agency and Gulf Breeze Financial Services. He has served as mayor of Gulf Breeze, as well as on its city council and the Santa Rosa County School Board.
IN: Alright, Ed, if you could just tell me a little bit about yourself and why you decided to enter this District 2 race.
GRAY: I have lived in Gulf Breeze since 1963. I’m now 50 years, a resident of the area. I decided to enter the race upon Clay’s passing, who was a dear friend of mine. We have known each other ever since he moved to the area, and actually served together while he was a city councilman and I was the mayor of Gulf Breeze. So, we have a close relationship. Both he and his wife Carol, really good friends.
The candidates that were coming forward, I’m sure, all meant well and are good people and want to serve, but we needed someone that could be in Tallahassee that understands a lot of what the issues are. Would have the background to be a part of the legislative process and practically immediately. And I felt like, of all the candidates that were coming forward, I could fit that role the best.
And then the last part of my decision making process was to ask my three children what they thought of the idea. And all of them said, ‘Dad, if this is what you want to do, go for it.’
And then finally I called Carol, Clay’s widow, and asked her thoughts on it, and she said, ‘Clay Ford is probably looking down on us right now saying, ‘Go for this, you ought to do it, Ed.’ And she encouraged me to do it too, and so with all that, I’m in the race and I’m excited about it.
IN: What would you consider the big issues for Florida, and more specifically Northwest Florida and District 2?
GRAY: Well, this may sound like a cliché that people tend to use a lot these day, but it’s still the most pertinent topic, and that is jobs growth. And my ideas on job growth probably differ from some, insofar as ways to encourage job growth a little differently.
Having been on the school board for over eight years, up until 2010, the idea of career academies became a real positive that is going on in both counties, actually Escambia County has been a pioneer in forming career academies. Teaching students trades, allowing them to learn how to obtain certifications, industry certifications, and being really good at some of the more technical, or high-tech business skills and not necessarily have to go to college.
And I think a good tool, and frankly an incentive, to grow industry in our area, would be to have the mechanism in place to respond to a business prospect that we can produce through these academies the skills and the trades necessary. Not necessarily just in the high schools, but also in the junior colleges and UWF. So, career academies I think can be an economic driver for us, as well as just be good for the educational enhancements our students deserve.
We also need to make sure the climate is right when a prospect comes to. It might be invited, or otherwise solicited by the chamber of commerce or other economic development groups, that we respond with elected officials that have their hand out and are saying, ‘We really want to talk to you, we welcome you coming into our community, how can we assist you?’ The attitude that we portray can make a tremendous difference in at least being top-listed for a site that a business may be looking to move into and create jobs.
IN: How do you think we’re doing in that department right now?
GRAY: I think we’ve come a long way. I think the Pensacola area chamber is making really good strides. This latest strategic planning exercise they went through, I actually participated in that. I was asked and was very appreciative the chamber of commerce asked me to be a part of it—this was long before the election was going to happen—and I think we’re on the right track.
The regional approach certainly serves this district. This district includes two sides of the bridge and also Santa Rosa Island and Pensacola Beach, so the regional concept is absolutely important and they subscribe to that and so I’m here to help there any way I can.
IN: Let’s play word association. You get to say more than one word. You can elaborate. All of these are issues that are coming before the Florida legislature this session or are general topics of national discussion that may come before y’all in the future.
GRAY: I am a NRA member and 100 percent supportive of the Second Amendment. And therefore gun ownership and gun rights are something I think should be preserved.
IN: Do you have a position on any of the bills in the state this year?
GRAY: There’s not any that I’m aware of insofar as Second Amendment rights in the state. There’s stuff going on nationally that I’ve read about.
IN: I think we’ve had a few introduced. Guns on campus, that kind of stuff.
GRAY: I am not a believer of guns on campus. You can talk to any educator, that I have spoken with locally, guns on campus, except by—please note the exception—by the resource officer. School resource officers on campus are the exception, guns on campus otherwise is not a good idea.
IN: Do you think an armed resource officer on campus is a good idea?
GRAY: Absolutely, when I was on the Santa Rosa County School Board we funded school resource officers in every school before the budget constraints forced us to have them only in the high schools. Currently, in Santa Rosa County, they’re only in the high schools. I believe that’s the case also in Escambia County, but it was a joint funding of the law enforcement agencies and the school board and they were just forced because of no money to reduce those except for high schools, but absolutely, we once had school resource officers at every level of school and I think they’re a great idea.
They also, at the early ages, when there in the elementary schools, allow for students to have respect for law enforcement and understand law enforcement is a positive in their life.
IN: What about healthcare?
GRAY: For 29 years I’ve been on the board of Baptist Health Care. I have seen healthcare and its payment systems go a lot of different cycles. And absolutely the toughest part of healthcare is how do you properly treat indigent persons that walk into the emergency room and need care, but don’t have the money to pay for it. And that will be a challenge for many years to come. And what I bring to the legislature will be the perspective hospitals that have to deal with that physicians that I certainly have contact with that have to deal with it, and then on the other side of the issue is the state having to pay for this. So, I bring a working knowledge that hopefully I can help address some of the solutions.
IN: What about gay marriage or domestic partnership?
GRAY: What individuals do, between themselves is entirely their personal matter. It’s not something I think the state needs to become involved with in any way because that is a personal decision of people. And how they live their lifestyle is entirely up to them. It’s one of the principals of this country that you have the individual right, and that would include the right to cohabitate if they desire.
IN: Do you think the state should become involved insofar as bestowing the same rights on same-sex couples as on traditionally married couples?
GRAY: No, I don’t think the state should become involved in that.
IN: What about marijuana?
GRAY: What about it?
IN: Well, there’s two bills in play this session, I don’t think either one has received a hearing, but on the national level, Colorado and Washington just legalized and—
GRAY: I have gone through an era of marijuana usage back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, that’s when I grew up, in junior high and high school, when marijuana was becoming a highly-used drug. I will tell you I have never used it. But people, notably former presidents, have said they have used it on occasion, I have never used it. And I will tell you that I still believe that it is a drug that can be detrimental to someone, particularly behaviorally, and it should remain illegal.
IN: Do you think there are any medical benefits or that we should explore that?
GRAY: … I’ve heard of that. Not really researched that to know if it’s a valid use or not. All I know is, from a general law standpoint, it should be an illegal drug.
IN: Legislatively-speaking—if you were to get elected—would you consider looking at it in a medical sense?
GRAY: Only if the medical facts indicate that it will, you know, save lives. But I haven’t seen that kind of information.
IN: RESTORE money.
GRAY: The RESTORE money is going to be of tremendous importance in two ways. One, that we get our fair share. Let’s face it, other than possibly Louisiana, there’s no area affected by the BP oil spill more dramatically than this area. And secondly, we need to make sure BP oil funds are used for long-term benefit, long-term growth, not just one-time, make-it-happen project that certainly would have benefit, but the BP money being a one-time, windfall money, need to be used as an investment in the future. To pay dividends, and we get benefits from for years down the road.
IN: Sen. Gaetz recently said that maybe this RESTORE money shouldn’t be left to the county-level. Do you agree with that?
GRAY: I would agree with that, I think Sen. Gaetz was right, that we should have faith in our local governments and—
IN: He was saying—he originally supported that, but more recently he said—and this was in the midst of the chamber gift card—
IN: He said maybe the counties couldn’t handle it.
GRAY: I believe the chamber gift card situation was an anomaly, because of a quick fix that BP funded to help bring people quickly back to the hotel rooms. I think whenever you have something that happens that quickly, with the intent to put the money to use quickly, then some of the processes should be improved upon the next go-around, but if there are any, and it remains to be seen as far as what the investigation shows, the audited numbers show, but if we find that the processes were flawed, then we can do it better next time. But that’s not a reason to say we shouldn’t give local officials the say and the input and money-management of BP funds. I have a lot of trust in local officials. When given the right decision making guidelines, will do the right thing.
IN: Sen. Evers and Rep. Broxson both supported, in two different sessions, drilling in Blackwater, what are your thoughts on that?
GRAY: Well, the fact of the matter is, we’ve been drilling in Blackwater for years.
IN: On public land.
GRAY: Well, I mean, you’ve been drilling in Blackwater on neighboring properties, whether there’s boundary between them, it’s still the Blackwater area. So, you know, I thought that at least deserved a look and to find out if it had some merit.
There again, I’m not really up on the facts, other than what I’ve read in terms of the proposal. But anything that can make us less dependent on foreign energy sources is at least worth looking at.
IN: What about Citizens Insurance?
GRAY: Citizens Insurance is a big liability to the state of Florida. Whether its Citizens Insurance or other insurance companies, the long-term fix for our insurance problems is to open these markets, entice more insurance carriers into this state, and provide more choices for the consumer. We have to get the consumerism back in the game for the homeowners insurance market.
Whenever the free enterprise and the means for the consumers to exert their choices in the marketplace are back in play, we’re going to have a much better relief for the insurance problem.
IN: Finally, if you were elected, how do you think this area would be different, or benefit, by the time your term was up?
GRAY: I intend to be Speaker of the House one day.
IN: Well, I guess, when that long term is up?
GRAY: When that long term is up we will have had a respect in Tallahassee, that this area is progressive, that it has a responsible way to handle its affairs and conduct its economic vitality, economic activity in a manner that supersedes the rest of the state. That we are not only the western gate of Florida, but we, in fact, are going to be a driving force for the whole state. We’re gonna let people know that Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are not just a forgotten area of the state.
IN: Thanks a lot, man. You got anything you want to add?
GRAY: If you answer those questions as I’ve responded to you then I think that covers it well.
IN: That’s what we’re doing.
GRAY: Exactly. And I appreciate you recording it; everything there’s together.
No, your questions were good ones. I don’t have a problem with anything you asked. I appreciate you coming over.
IN: Anything I missed? Anything you’d like to add that I maybe didn’t touch on?
GRAY: Interesting you bring up insurance, because that’s the piece I’ve been speaking to my consultant about. Certainly the Second Amendment rights are for a lot of people top-of-mind these days. Economics stimulation is a big deal.
On the BP, question for you, just because you’re out and about and witness a lot of what’s going on out there, other than the local elected officials, who obviously have an eye on BP money, and they should, do you hear rank and file people talking about the BP RESTORE money much?
IN: I think the people who are plugged into that scene are talking about it. Some people, you have to explain that it’s different than the claims process, so it just depends on if you’re paying attention or not.
GRAY: Yeah, got you. Because that’s the same sense I get. It’s a big deal because what is coming, but I don’t think the average person out there can really relate to it quite yet.
IN: Right. And it’s all so theoretical in a sense.
GRAY: You know one area that we didn’t talk about that I still think is high priority, and it’s part of my background, is education. We talked about career academies, and that touched on it to some degree, but I think that there are ways that we can support and fund our educational institutions around here, both K through 12 and upper level, much more responsibly and also give them much more flexibility to do even a better job than they’re doing now.
So, another area you’re going to see me working hard in Tallahassee is to let loose of the rein, so-to-speak, in terms of all these processes and rules that govern how local institutions and local school districts do their business and serve the students and the parents. That’s going to be a big thing with me.
IN: Any specific changes you’d be making?
GRAY: The funding formula. Right now, the funding formula. It’s heavily weighted toward the more populated South Florida counties. Now, because of that, and them having more votes than us, I don’t think I’m going to be able to revamp it. But maybe what I can persuaded my legislative peers to look at is when a school district is performing well, at the top of their performance standards, even showing a rise in their academic standing then we need to pay for that, or we need to award them additional funding because they’re doing such a good job.
We have that in the school districts in this area. Santa Rosa is very high and Escambia is getting higher every day. They’re both really making good strides. We need to make sure the funding formulas reward that.
By the way, when I was on the school board, because of my background being finances and numbers related stuff, I attempted to really grab my arms around that funding formula and understand it. Anyone that’s ever looked at it will tell you, it’s one of the most complicated funding formulas you’ll ever behold. And I think I’ve got a working knowledge, but I don’t know of anyone that’s an expert. It’s about 22 line items, with weighted factors that go into each one of them, categoricals for various operations of the school system, I mean it’s just amazing. We need to simplify that thing.
IN: Anything else?
GRAY: Nope, that’s it.