The expansion of State Road 56 into Zephyrhills could be key to a major economic boom for Pasco County, and two candidates seeking to replace state Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, in Tallahassee agree state-level leadership must be in place to make sure it happens.
Danny Burgess and Minnie Diaz both shared their visions for House District 38 during a meeting last week of the Wesley Chapel Republican Club. The two are seeking the Republican nomination to face Democrat Beverly Ledbetter in the November election, and both flexed their conservative values in front of the small crowd in the training room at Hyundai of Wesley Chapel.
“To have State Road 56 coming all the way to Zephyrhills with our municipal airport sitting right here, we are going to benefit so much as a community, as a district and as an area,” said Burgess, who up until last Monday was mayor of Zephyrhills. “That is such an asset for this area.”
Yet, proposed projects like the private elevated toll road could disrupt plans to start that expansion in the next two to three years, with the Florida Department of Transportation likely going to “hold back” until a final decision can be made on the controversial 33-mile project.
“All they are looking for is a green light or red light by the county to see whether or not they are going to approve it,” Burgess said. But for the elevated road itself? “It is not what we want.”
Diaz said the developers behind the elevated road project, International Infrastructure Partners, have far too many unanswered questions surrounding them for her to support the project.
“We need to look, as a county, at other alternatives,” she said. “Sure, we want to go all the way into Zephyrhills so that the east and west can become more easily accessible. But the original plans are just too big. I think we can probably break it up into smaller pieces and make that work for Pasco County.”
Diaz is a native of California, but has lived in Pasco County for more than a decade after making her career in the U.S. Air Force. She has always been excited about the economic possibilities when it comes to aeronautics, she said, and Pasco County has two airports — Zephyrhills and Tampa North Executive Airport in Lutz — just miles apart that could bookend a major industrial corridor.
“It would be attractive to those in the manufacturing of aerospace and aviation technologies,” Diaz said. “My vision for Pasco is to make Pasco so attractive, it would be a secondary hub for these industries, yet not impact the quality of water and agriculture that is part of our East Pasco makeup.”
While the state should lead the charge, Diaz says she still supports local governments having a final say.
“My role (in the House) should be in advocating economic growth,” she said. “You tell me what you want, and I’ll see that it’s done on the state level.”
One of the key components of listening closely to local city and county governments is that leaders at the state and federal level have a tendency to paint with a broad brush, Burgess said.
“What is best for Broward County is not always best for Pasco County,” he said. “We need to absolutely protect our home rule. That is the doctrine that our state has adopted many years ago, and it allows our local governments to make their own decisions, to adopt their own charters and adopt their own ordinances.”
During the forum, Burgess highlighted his time as both the youngest city councilman in the state (he was first elected in Zephyrhills when he was 18), and later the youngest mayor in the city’s history, fresh out of law school.
Diaz acknowledges she has not held elective office before, but that hasn’t stopped her from trying to make a difference when it comes to making laws. A bill she helped craft was in committee late last week, she said, and is designed to provide funding to jails to help train officials on how to provide services to the mentally ill.
“It will not have cost us any money as taxpayers,” Diaz said. “The initiative was written in such a way that it requires funding from other sources like gambling and lottery. It would not create an increase on our community burden.”
The primary election for House District 38 is Aug. 26, with the winner heading to the general election Nov. 4.
And your most-admired judge is …
House District 38 candidates Danny Burgess and Minnie Diaz were asked during a recent Wesley Chapel Republican Club forum to identify their favorite U.S. Supreme Court justice.
It’s definitely not Elena Kagan or Sonia Sotomayor, two justices appointed by President Obama, Diaz said. Instead, she likes Clarence Thomas.
“He had to go through those (sexual harassment) hearings unfortunately, and I think his time is coming up now,” Diaz said. “He needs to step up and confront the current judges and be more vocal and create more advocacy for conservatism.”
Burgess, himself a lawyer, says he prefers Antonin Scalia.
“You become fascinated by this man’s legal opinions, the way he words his opinions,” Burgess said. “He is really an asset to the Supreme Court, and I just hope that he can stick around for as long as he can muster.”
Published April 16, 2014