The Gateway to Opportunity

Every morning when I drop my 13 year-old son at school, I am reminded of the value of a good public education. It is his future. Protecting our public education system is one of the things that drove me into Florida politics years ago. Many of us are appalled at the policies Governor Scott and Republicans in Tallahassee are pursuing — cuts in funding, teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, and more.

These are the same kind of policies Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would pursue across the nation. According to them, education is the responsibility of each individual family, and each family should get whatever education they can afford for their kids. Once again, “you’re on your own.” If your family can’t afford much, that’s too bad. Romney and his supporters would abandon those millions of young Americans and their futures.

President Obama understands this is wrong and that a quality public education must be available to all students – not just the few who can afford it. He has said:

“You can choose a future where more Americans have the chance to gain the skills they need to compete, no matter how old they are or how much money they have. Education was the gateway to opportunity for me. It was the gateway for Michelle. It was the gateway for most of you. And now more than ever, it is the gateway to a middle-class life.

“And now you have a choice — we can gut education, or we can decide that in the United States of America, no child should have her dreams deferred because of a crowded classroom or a crumbling school. No family should have to set aside a college acceptance letter because they don’t have the money. No company should have to look for workers overseas because they couldn’t find any with the right skills here at home. That’s not our future. That is not our future.”

Education is the foundation for a stronger economy and better jobs for Americans, and it is the gateway to opportunity for all. America can not afford to go back on education. That is why I believe we must re-elect the President and elect Democrats to Congress and our Florida Legislature if we hope to keep our economy and our middle class strong. (Note: This post also appeared last week on SarasotaPatch.com.)

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Can We Change the Tone in Washington?

Grace Nelson, wife of Sen. Bill Nelson, speaks in Sarasota on May 18, 2012

Sarasota recently played host to Grace Nelson, wife of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), for two events on May 18. Among other topics, Mrs. Nelson spoke about the current tone of politics in Washington, DC and in the 2012 campaign, sharing Senator Nelson’s concerns about the declining collegiality among his colleagues in the Senate and the overall divisiveness that marks today’s political discourse. My most recent post on Sarasota Patch looks at this divide in more depth, including a recent Washington Post article by respected Congressional scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein. Mann and Ornstein conclude that, while taking into account their academic responsibility to remain as neutral as possible when studying partisan politics, “we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”  Though Mann and Ornstein point to the party leadership (and Newt Gingrich in particular) as mostly culpable, they believe the real solution lies in the hands of voters. “If they can punish ideological extremism at the polls and look skeptically upon candidates who profess to reject all dialogue and bargaining with opponents, then an insurgent outlier party will have some impetus to return to the center. Otherwise, our politics will get worse before it gets better.”  What do you think? Are we stuck in a vicious cycle, or can the political climate in Washington be repaired if voters reject extremism and a refusal to compromise?

Character Counts

Earlier this week I wrote a post for the Sarasota Patch blog about the ongoing ethics problems of Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan (problems that are also drawing national attention), and the responsibility voters need to take for electing politicians with integrity. Do you think that ethics issues will – or should – play a deciding role in this and other races across the country? Share your thoughts in the comments.

A Daughter of Immigrants

Happy (belated) Mother’s Day! This holiday and Father’s Day always remind me of the sacrifices my parents – immigrants from Italy – made in coming to America to build a life and a home here in the United States. Whether you also have parents or grandparents that came from other countries, or you have to look back a bit further, nearly all Americans can point to the immigrant experience somewhere in their family trees. We all come from families who came to America to make a better life for themselves, and through their hard work they made a stronger America.

As has happened in the past, however, a strong anti-immigration strain has made headway in our nation, and will be a factor in this coming election. Here in Sarasota, the local Republican Party has initiated several anti-immigrant petition drives – one that would make English the official language of the United States (making life more difficult for all immigrants, including those here legally), and another petition supporting passage of laws similar to the strident anti-immigrant law passed in Arizona in 2010, SB 1070, which encourages racial profiling and harassment of Hispanics and other minorities, regardless of their legal immigration status. At the national level, Mitt Romney has said that America should make it so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they will “deport themselves.” That sounds like support for the Arizona-style laws to me.

In a nation where greatness was built on a foundation of immigrant mothers, fathers, daughters and sons, these harsh and punitive proposals are neither appropriate nor beneficial for America. Instead, like President Obama, I believe that comprehensive immigration reform is needed to protect the interests of Americans while at the same time creating responsible optionsfor those who want to start a life in the United States. The DREAM Act – a bipartisan legislative proposal that would provide a path toward citizenship for young people eager to get an education, work hard, and make a contribution to America’s future – is a key part of his solution.

As President Obama said earlier this month, “we’regoing to keep fighting for this common-sense reform — not just because hundredsof thousands of talented young students depend on it, but because ultimately America depends on it.” Legislation like the DREAM Act allows our nation to continue our proud “melting pot” tradition, while improving our economy by harnessing the talents of young people who want to work hard and make our future brighter. The contrast between the two parties on this critical issue is clear, and as a daughter of immigrants, I hope that we will all remember what is needed to help American families succeed.

First Lady Michelle Obama

2012 got off to an exciting start in Sarasota, with First Lady Michelle Obama dropping by for a visit on January 26.

I served as a member of the host committee and had the privilege of meeting Mrs. Obama at the event, which took place at a private home in Sarasota.  Her Sarasota visit highlights this area’s importance in November.

Mrs. Obama focused on her efforts to promote children’s health and wellness programs, as well as discussing the President’s key accomplishments over his first three years in office, including healthcare reform, financial industry reform, small business tax incentives, fair wage legislation and educational programs such as Race to the Top.

She also discussed the upcoming election, underscoring the President’s philosophy: “the President believes there are no second-class citizens in America. Every night he reads letters from citizens across the country and he feels strongly that everyone deserves the opportunity to make a better life.” Her visit was a great kick-off to 2012, invigorating locals and showing that Sarasota will be a key campaign destination between now and November.