The 56-year-old Phil Ehr, a retired U.S. Navy commander who served 26 years, attacked Gaetz as “immature” with “radical” positions, such as abolishing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Education.
“I see someone who really should take a political time out,” Ehr told the Inweekly after announcing his candidacy on July 17 at Veterans Memorial Park on Pensacola Bay. The formal announcement included a pledge of allegiance, the National Anthem and a short march through the park led by Ehr with 13 volunteers carrying American flags behind him.
Gaetz, a 35-year-old attorney, served in the Florida House for six years before winning his first term to the U.S. House when he received 69 percent of the vote against Democratic candidate Steven Specht.
The First Congressional District is considered by political observers to be one of the most Republican districts in Florida, as well as one of the most Republican districts in the nation.
“We won’t decide the congressional seat in the August primary, we will decide it in November,” Ehr said.
Ehr also criticized Gaetz for sponsoring a bill to give ownership of Santa Rosa Island property to its leaseholders. The federal government granted the property to Escambia County in 1947.
“Ultimately that benefits developers at the expense of Escambia County citizens,” Ehr said.
Ehr added that Gaetz and Congress, in general, are “dysfunctional.”
“My parents and my teachers in the Navy taught me that you must earn the respect of those you serve,” he said. “You must put their interest ahead of your own. Gaetz knows nothing about leadership.”
Among other things, Ehr, who once flew EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft, said he would support tax and social security reform that benefits the middle class; affordable health care; respect for public education and infrastructure projects that support good jobs. He said enthusiasm for his campaign will overcome PAC money and special interest money raised by Gaetz.
“I can no longer stand on the sidelines and watch Gaetz abuse our trust,” said Ehr, who admitted he was a registered Republican.
An Escambia County voter for 32 years, Ehr has been married to wife, Sue, for 21 years and they have two daughters, Jen and Claire.
Christmas in July
To benefit sick and injured children during their time in the hospital, The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart has launched a Christmas in July Toy Drive. The Children’s Hospital is seeking donations of toys for its playrooms and child life program, as well as to offer patients at the bedside. For infection control and safety reasons, items must be new, and toys must be washable (plastic or wood). Please, no toys with violent themes.
The following items represent the hospital’s areas of greatest need: Infant rattles/toys/teethers, Toddler toys, Disney movies, Light up toys, Musical toys, crayon packs,
Xbox 360 controllers, Xbox 360 games (rated E) and individual matchbox/hot wheel cars.
Donations for the Christmas in July Toy Drive can be dropped off at the information desk in the lobby of The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart, which is located at 5151 N. Ninth Ave in Pensacola. Donation receipts will be provided. For information, call 416-4363.
Inside Airport Stats
Gov. Rick Scott spent the past week touting the state’s move ahead of Texas in the overall number of passengers boarding airplanes. While many large commercial airports in Florida have been steadily climbing, the vault to second in the nation in 2016 came with growth predominantly at facilities in Central and South Florida, according to The News Service of Florida.
Florida recorded a nearly 4 percent growth in its overall outbound passenger count, from 78.07 million in 2015 to 81.17 million last year, according to annual Federal Aviation Administration data.
Locally, the Pensacola International Airport only saw less than a one percent growth in total passengers last year, while neighboring Destin-Fort Walton Beach had an 18 percent jump.
The Federal Aviation Administration figures counted 59 active airfields in Florida last year, from the 20.8 million airline passengers departing from Miami International to the single passenger recorded as flying out of Zephyrhills Municipal in Pasco County.
With Florida trailing only California for air passengers, the largest year-to-year increases in such traffic were found at Orlando International, Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International, Orlando Sanford International and St. Pete-Clearwater International, along with a number of smaller regional facilities, according to the Federal Aviation Administration figures.
The largest percentage year-to-year increase among the 10 busiest was St. Pete-Clearwater International, going from 819,974 passengers in 2015 to 915,668 in 2016, an 11.67 percent jump, primarily due to an expansion of routes by Allegiant Air, the airport’s dominant carrier.
The state’s numbers were also bolstered with 32.6 percent growth at Punta Gorda airport in Charlotte County, an 18 percent increase at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport and an 11.7 percent jump at Daytona Beach International.
According to the Pensacola International Airport’s website, the facility handled 1,609,063 passengers in 2016, up from 1,594,058 for 2015—less than a 1 percent increase. Up until June, the Pensacola International Airport only recorded a 1.6 percent increase for 2017.
However, the recent increase of direct flights may have put the Pensacola facility’s growth more in line with its central and south Florida counterparts. Mayor Hayward last week touted that the June passengers hit an all-time high for the airport with a 7 percent increase. In June, the airport had an increase of 11,168 passengers, more than five previous months combined, 9,969.
Mayor Hayward has become known for declaring victory early. Can the Pensacola airport repeat its June performance?
Last year, the July 2016 passengers increased slightly, but fell off steeply in August and September, dropping 7.5 percent and 13.2 percent respectively from the June 2016 total.
Meanwhile, the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport has seen its total passengers increase 25.2 percent this year. Its website has not been updated for its June numbers, but it will be interesting to see how its growth compares with Pensacola.
Fight over Amtrak
The Gulf Coast Working Group released a report to Congress on July 17 that recommended restoring daily round trip Amtrak train service between New Orleans and Orlando.
The working group, which was formed by Congress under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act in 2015, cited the potential for expanded tourism and business travel along with improved access to jobs, education, and healthcare among the reasons it recommended restoring the route.
Amtrak service between New Orleans and Orlando was suspended in 2005 due to significant damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.
“This report makes clear the need to restore passenger rail service along the Gulf Coast and provides a path to get us there,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who helped create the working group.
He said, “While there’s lots of work ahead, this service will not only help us meet the future transportation needs of the region but could also be a boon for tourism and the local economy.
The minimum investment needed to resurrect the rail service from New Orleans to Mobile is $5.376 million, according to the report. To run the service from Mobile to Orlando, the estimated minimum investment would be $4.432 million. The budget to completely upgrade the infrastructure to provide ongoing rail service from Mobile to Orlando is $103 million.
CSX does not agree with those figures. It has estimated that $2.3 billion is necessary to support passenger service. An HDR study found that monumental capacity challenges exist along the CSX rail line, from New Orleans to Mobile to Deland, which will make operating the proposed new passenger service that meets the required on-time performance of 80% very difficult and very expensive.
President Donald Trump’s proposed $4.1 trillion budget for 2018 calls for terminating federal dollars that support Amtrak’s long-distance services.
Giant Killers Strike Again
On July 24, an Illinois federal jury ruled that the pharmaceutical company AbbVie, Inc., must pay $150 million in punitive damages to a former user of AndroGel, a testosterone replacement medication.
Jurors deliberated nearly five hours, over the course of two days, before finding that AbbVie falsely marketed the drug and was liable for fraud. Attorneys for the plaintiff, Jesse Mitchell of Oregon, argued that he suffered a near fatal heart attack in 2012 after using AndroGel.
“This verdict sends a very strong message to AbbVie, that it’s conduct in improperly marketing this drug to millions of off-label patients was wrong and warranted severe punishment,” said Troy Rafferty of Levin, Papantonio, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor, lead counsel in the case. “Mr. Mitchell was given his day in court and AbbVie was made to answer for its conduct that ultimately, nearly killed him. Justice was served today.”
The legal team representing Mr. Mitchell also included Dave Buchanan at the Seeger Weiss Law Firm, Bill Robins at the law firm of Robins Cloud, and Stephanie O’Connor at Douglas and London. Thousands more cases remain pending as part of a multidistrict litigation before the Honorable Judge Matthew Kennelly in the Northern District of Illinois.
Fire Union Agrees
Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward announced on July 25 that he had reached a tentative agreement on a new three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Pensacola Professional Fire Fighters Local 707, representing the City of Pensacola’s Fire Department employees.
“Our public safety employees are one of our City’s strongest assets,” said Mayor Hayward, according to city announcement. “These men and women put their lives on the line every day to protect our citizens. We owe it to them to ensure that they are paid fairly for the great work they do each and every day.”
The agreement includes an increase in the starting pay for newly hired Firefighters from $30,000 a year to $32,500 a year. In addition, Firefighters will each receive a 3-percent pay increase each year over the next three-year period. The agreement was voted on and ratified by the full union membership. The contract will now be presented to the City Council for final approval.
On July 24, Quint Studer announced that New York Times bestselling author Dan Heath will be the keynote speaker for the two-day Entrecon this November.
“Dan Heath is one of the leading names in helping communities and businesses be successful, create social impact, and manage change,” said Studer. “Dan’s expertise in helping both businesses and communities improve themselves is a great opportunity for us in the Pensacola area.”
Other speakers include authors Bert Thorton, Kevin Sheridan, and Liz Jazwiec. Thorton is the Vice Chairman Emeritus of Waffle House and will be speaking about tactics for success. Sheridan’s books have spent time on six of the bestseller lists, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA TODAY. Jazwiec has over thirty years of healthcare leadership and her “workplace trilogy” focuses on creating strong leaders and engaged employees.
Studer also unveiled the conceptual renderings for the future home of the Studer Community Institute, the former SunTrust Building. The drawings represented some of the ideas for a multi-million-dollar upgrade to the iconic building on Garden Street.
He said the goal of the purchase and renovations was to turn the building into a place for community discussions and dialogue, host expert speakers on issues important to Pensacola, and create an open public space for citizens to meet and enjoy downtown.
“Our goal has always been to improve the quality of life for people in Northwest Florida,” said Studer. “From Entrecon to the Business Roundtable to the future SCI building, we hope to help our community and our local businesses be more productive and profitable, which means more jobs and a better trained workforce.”
Entrecon 2017 will be held Nov. 14-16. To purchase tickets, visit entreconpensacola.com