Congressman David Jolly (FL-13) launched the 2016 New Ideas Conference with a reminder of what the event is – and isn’t – about.
“This is to give voice to the community, and this is a forum to talk policy, not politics,” said Jolly as he spoke words that resonated the ideas of free speech.
The April 8 forum – now in its second year – featured local leaders and the community talking about critical issues. Jolly served as the event’s moderator.
Last year New Ideas jumped into discussions about budget, transportation, energy and education. This year featured three panels – Veterans’ Welfare, Government Reform and Emerging Threats of Terrorism.
“Our nations heroes deserve the very best we have to offer,” said Congressman Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) during the discussion about veterans. “Too often the VA has fallen short.”
The Veterans’ Welfare panel brought with it highly emotional responses. Johnny Jones, a retired Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician who lost both of his legs in 2010 after he was deployed to Afghanistan, touched the audience with his inspiring words. He told the crowd that losing his best friend, another U.S. Marine, to suicide forced him to think about what causes someone to go that far. He spoke passionately about the misuse of medication to those with PTSD. His non-profit organization, the Boot Campaign, works to raise awareness for Veterans’ issues. It also provides assistance to military families.
“All Americans want this to change,” said Blaze Radio Network anchor Doc Thompson. “We have the right ideas, but it is not getting done.”
Continuing with the idea of not getting things done, the Government Reform panel talks addressed issues with government gridlock and corruption.
“Congress has gotten so dysfunctional that good candidates don’t want to do it anymore,” said Editor of Editorials for the Tampa Bay Times Tim Nickens. “They can never get anything done, and the problem is not the middle. It is the extremes on either side.”
The discussion addressed district gerrymandering, Congressional term limits, the use of filibustering and budget concerns. The workings of primary elections also came up.
“A lot of people feel disenfranchised due to closed primaries,” said former Congressman Jim Davis. “Open primaries give more control and more choice. Neither side will like it, but we need to do it.”
Emerging Threats of Terrorism
Discussion of the threat of cyberterrorism entered the picture last. The panel featured Katherine Bauer, senior fellow at the Washington Institute; Congresswoman Gwen Graham (FL-2) and Chief Operating Officer for the Florida Center for Cybersecurity Sri Sridharan.
“Our military is protecting and defending us. We are working hard every day providing security here in the U.S,” said Graham.
Attendees were looking for answers on conflicts involving Syria, ISIS and Iran. Intellectual property, proper “cyber hygiene” and blocking ISIS online were also discussed.
“Syria, it is a humanitarian crisis,” said Graham. “You can’t make sense of whose fighting who for what reason.”
People from around Pinellas County joined students and faculty within the crowd at the SPC Seminole Campus Digitorium.
“I really enjoyed the Veterans panel,” said SPC Biology student Torin Clark. “It was awesome to hear that they were truly trying to figure out ways to help veterans.”
Clark also got a lot out of the Government Reform panel talks. Not someone who has kept up-to-date with politics, he said he learned a lot from the panel.
Local business owner Bruce Elliot said “This event is awesome, but once it is over, we have to think, ‘Well, what’s next?’”
At the end of each panel, people were told how they could get in touch with the panelists as well as others who can push for change. Many in the audience left with new answers and new questions.
Missed the forum? See video from the event online.