DOUG COURTNEY (D)
FAMILY: Married, two children
QUIRKY FACT: Writes for fun; author of four books and numerous short stories
BIO: Landed in Flagler County in 1997. Worked as town clerk of Beverly Beach. Part of the founding administration of Palm Coast as the first city clerk; served as finance director of Marineland. Politically active since he arrived, not only as local Democratic chair and state committeeman, but by serving on executive committee, central committee and small county state chairman for Florida Democratic Party. Created innovative medical software as owner and co-owner of Patient Practitioners LLC and ExecData Inc. Has a bachelor’s in business, an MBA and currently pursuing doctorate in information systems technology.
What can the state do to make Florida a better place to do business?
There’s a lot of things the state can do, not the least of which is trying to invest more in businesses. We’ve just been cutting, cutting, cutting taxes and other things away for the last four or five years, trying to reduce taxes for businesses ...
There’s a big difference between what an individual Legislature can do and what the state can do. Florida is soon going to be the third largest state in the union; it’s got one of the largest budgets, second only to Texas and California, and it’s bigger than a lot of countries. It has the ability to do a lot of things that other countries don’t have. It’s position hanging down between the gulf and the Atlantic Ocean has made its proximity to North America and even Africa and all those things, you know, very capable of increasing its imports and exports.
So we have a lot of things that we can do. ... For the first couple of years, here, the Legislature has worked on cutting taxes and cutting the regulations that are in the state of Florida to increase business. There does come a point where a person has to ask themselves: That’s only one part of the equation. As everybody knows who’s been in a household or done anything like this, when you have a loss of income the first thing you do is cut your expenses. You’ve got to get rid of the second car, down payment, you’ve got to cut and that’s the first place everybody should go.
But after awhile, you’ve cut as far as you can cut. So the question is: Have we cut as far as we can cut? Some people say we have, and we’re starting to cut serious services that we need for other people. But there’s always the second thing that you can do, and in a business or a household, if you’ve already cut everything you can cut, the second thing you have to do is increase revenue. In a household what you do is you go out and get another job or you try to find a part time job, or you sell something.
Florida has the ability to market itself and market itself extremely well. We have a whole range of things that we can do, not only for exporting, but we also have a huge amount of agriculture, farmland, cattle, citrus, aquaculture, all these other things that are a large part of the state of Florida. Each one of things has to be worked on to try to develop it, market it, and bring more revenue in.
There’s just so much more that we can do other than looking at the one side of the ledger. We have to start looking at the other side of the ledger; we have to learn how we’re going to market ourselves, how we’re going to sell things, how we’re going to make ourselves grow. If we continue to make ourselves small, we’re going to be small. We have to work on getting into the future and be proactive. Florida can do a lot of things to help that. One of the things they can do is invest more in businesses.
I don’t like some of the regulations we have in the state of Florida for businesses. It just seems like we have one more paperwork after another paperwork that has to be filed and filled out. Streamlining this would not only save cost, but it would also make sure that businesses are attracted to moving here. That doesn’t mean to say that we should allow every business that has some sort of shady reputation in here; I think we all remember all the psychics that were here a couple years ago. But you know the same token is we have to streamline what the regulations are and know exactly where we want to be with these things. These are the sort of things we can do as a Legislature, as a government. We need to make sure that we’re business-friendly, and we’re aligned not only in the state but all the way down.
We have three licensing organizations in the state of Florida, just right off the top. We have the state, obviously; then also the county and then you go down to municipalities and towns. A lot of times each one of these municipalities and towns — like Palm Coast, as we’re well aware, has its own set of regulations on how they’re going to be doing things. And on top of that are the county regulations and on top of that are the state’s regulations. There should be more coordination between all three organizations.
Everybody has to protect themselves, and every place in Florida is unique. I’m going to tell you that Key West is nothing like Jacksonville. I think everybody would agree on that.
I’m more interested in marketing. There’s two things that were brought up: one of them by a builder the other day, a trust fund that was raided by the state Legislature and is down to zero right now, but it holds all the money that we use for low income, first-time buyers and all these things. He came up with a really good plan that I would like to look at more. It was another way to fully invest the fund and also eliminate impact fees. I’m not sure that I’m all for it yet, but it was just brought to me the other day and the general idea was it could be more revenue for the state and less impact fees, which means more money for his fund. We could market to first-time buyers and get more people buying, which would also help the Realtors and homebuilders. It’s a good stimulus package. He researched and thought about it, and it’s not something that was just from this person; two or three builders came to me and asked me about something like that.
So this is marketing, this is where we want to go; we want to sell what we have. We don’t want to keep relying on the housing community, but that’s a quick way to start right away. So selling, marketing, doing something. The other thing I’d like to do is why can’t Florida be one of the investment organizations? California has a unique investment opportunity with the way they’re brought up and everything. We need to somehow develop a more California-style investment. California is unique with its Silicone Valley, and I understand that, but they have embraced a new way of doing things. I’m from the information technology sector, when I try to get funding for my company. I run up against what I call the standard brick-and-mortar investors. For every dollar they want at least $1.50 turned back in assets. In California, the young people, the younger investors, the Googles and everything, they realize that they might invest in 10 different companies and lose money in nine of them. But the 10th one is going to be Google or Twitter and they will more than make up for the money lost in the other ones. They have a much more aggressive investment culture because of that, and I believe that’s the investment culture that is keeping them ahead of the curve, and that’s the investment culture that will move that state forward, and we need to adopt it here. We need to encourage it here.
How do we do that? I think that the state of Florida could actually help with that. I don’t know the entire processes we have to do it, but there is the ability and capability for Florida to create a fund that could help encourage these investors by semi-backing their investments. The idea was to break free of the standard brick-and-mortar mindset that created most of the industries we know right now.
The future is not going to be in standard brick and mortar; it’s going to be in information. Information is going to be the new currency; it’s going to be the new thing we’re going to have to worry about; it’s going to change more than anything else, and information currency is worldwide. And we have to be prepared for it, or else we’re going to sink back to where we were before 50 or 60 years ago. We’re a very strong country, but we need to take the aggressive leadership role that we fought for and we won. We need to move forward with it, and that’s one of those things we’ve got to do. There are a lot of new ideas out there, and it’s nothing that one state legislator is going to do on his own. We have to make sure that we go up there and we talk to people; we’ve got to be able to work both sides. There’s a lot of people very interested in these ideas, and the legislators I’ve talked to and been dealing with very much want to come up with new ideas to move things forward. They’ve heard the “cut, cut, cut,” and they’re saying it’s not working. We’ve got to move forward, and both sides of the aisles are hunting for new ideas, and they’re wanting to partner with anybody who’s got any valid ideas that could be studied to maybe get put in place to get things moving. And that’s where I’m at.
What should the state do with regard to education?
We have to be much better than we are. High-stakes testing is a cosmetic solution to a very complex problem. You can’t use high-stakes testing to evaluate any school districts or students or anything; that is a qualitative solution to a quantitative problem. Anyone who doesn’t know the difference between those two is having a serious problem anyhow. A lot of factors come in to how well a student does: his birth, his environment, his intellectual capacity, whether he ate that day or whether he slept that night, whether he slept in a home in a bed or he slept in a car in the alley — all these things come together to determine how well somebody does and how well they are educated.
When you give a test, as anybody in the industry knows, the only thing the test does is give an idea of the ability of the person taking the test, to evaluate their abilities to do things; it doesn’t do anything else. It doesn’t evaluate the schools, it doesn’t evaluate the teachers, it doesn’t do anything; it can only evaluate the person taking the test.
So the first thing we have to do is stop relying on high stakes testing to help our schools. We had to reinvest in our public schools in 1918. Comprehensive compulsory education became the norm in the United States, and since then we’ve won a World War, we’ve gone to the moon, we’ve taken on all the aggressors and ended up being the greatest nation and the greatest country with the most revenue and the most abilities that anybody’s ever seen. And this has all been done since 1918, since we’ve made people go to school and learn. All the states agreed that for somebody to learn, they had to do it through public education. This has all been done through public education, one of the greatest assets, the greatest tools and greatest abilities that the United States has ever put together in one place. And trying to tear that down is just ridiculous. Why would you want to do anything to hurt it? You’d want to build it up, wouldn’t you? You want to make it even greater than it is.
The things that we’re doing in education — we need to reinvest in that. I don’t have any objections to charter schools or anything like that, if the charter schools are held to greater and higher standards. I mean, why do we need something else to run side by side with public education? With public education, these people have enough work to do; they take everybody. If we’re going to give funds or something like that to a school, they must be better and have higher and greater standards than what we’re capable of doing ourselves. All we’re doing right, then, is just splitting up the difference and taking money away from the educational opportunities we need for having the local students.
We need to invest in our schools. We need to invest in our teachers. We need to take the time to make sure that our public schools are as up to snuff as they can possibly be. I know these teachers, they’re good. People have no idea the quality of teachers that we have. I bet you half of the time a teacher puts into school these days is administrative work that we decided as a state and state Legislature to tell these teachers to do so we can have a report to tell someone else something or other. If you really want to improve education, take the administrative work off the teachers; let them go back and teach. Let them do the things that they want to do. Let them get down to teaching; and this is what we have to do: We have to reinvest in our public education system. We have to bring up the money to where it’s supposed to be. ...
The last estimate for the FCAT that I read was $1 billion the state; the taxpayers’ money was being used for what I call the FCAT industry. I already know $76 million goes to just printing the test. Another $50 million just goes to nothing but administrating the test. That’s $126 million the state admits they’re putting aside for FCAT funding. This isn’t all the time — we’re taking off two weeks a year for FCATs. How much is that related in the cost of a salary, or even cost of the time in the schools?
My son, when he went through the FCATs for two weeks, sat and watched movies because he had already passed the FCAT in 10th grade. For two years, he looked forward to FCAT testing because he had two weeks to go watch movies. This isn’t teaching our kid anything; they got 176 days a year that by law they have to teach. Twenty of those days are set aside for FCAT? This is ridiculous. The $1 billion a year spent on FCAT — cut it out and put it back into the schools. Give it to the teachers. Let’s build those new buildings that need being done. All we’re looking at is FCAT as a measurement. Do we really need that kind of measurement? We’re putting that kind of money into a measurement? There’s a whole lot of other ways we can measure things, particularly on a qualitative scale.
So education has to be reinvested in, we have to move forward and put the money back to the teachers — back to the schools. We have to get serious about what we’re doing and if we’re going to raise any standards we have to raise the standards on the quality of teachers and students. We don’t have to worry about raising the quality of standards on a test.
What is your view of the state budget? What changes do you want to see if you’re elected?
The state budget has grown 110% since 1998, I believe. Most of that was due to the fact that what they decided to do was take the trust fund moneys and use them to pay the budget. That’s what they’ve been doing. We have I think 35 trust funds or something like that, 19 to 35 trust funds. That is money that’s supposed to be set aside in trust for certain things. Now there’s no law broken because in each one of these trust funds there’s a provision in there that says if there’s excess funds in there not being used, the Legislature has full reign and authority to move the money over to the general budget, which is what they do.
However, we need to be more transparent about our budget. There’s $35 billion inside these trust funds. The state budget is $70 billion. We only receive half the money we need for our budget through doc stamps and taxes and everything like that. You’ve got to get the money somewhere. But if we’re going to be taking money out of the trust funds, let’s be transparent and upfront about it.
So if we’re going to use the trust funds, let’s if nothing else, let’s quit calling it a trust fund and start calling it part of the general budget and start paying from the general budget back to them so we know what we’re looking at. The budget itself is going to grow. The state of Florida added I think 3 million people in 10 years; we’re going to be the third-largest state in the union. When you add people like this, you cannot run a state 2012 budget on a year 2000 budget — there’s just too many people. You add five kids to your household, you’re going to have increased cost, that’s just the way it is. There’s more roads, more fire departments, more houses, more cities — Palm Coast is a good example of that.
Trying to hold a budget down to an arbitrary standard of say, $70 billion, and saying we’re going to keep to this standard for the next 10 years, even though our state’s going to grow by 20% a year is just foolish; you can’t sit there and do that. The budget has to have more transparency; it has to be more realistic; legislators have to look at the budget and understand exactly what it is, where we’re going to go, and we are required by constitutional statutes to provide a certain level of services and things we are required to do because we are a government. We formed this government to do certain things and those things have to be taken care of.
One of the downfalls about having most of our money in the state budget based on sales tax is that we suffer the slings and arrows of recessions as well as booms and busts more than anybody else. But at the same time, that is one of the benefits of it, too, is that when we do better we do very much better than everybody else. Problem is, is that during 2004-2006 when we were doing extremely well, instead of putting that extra money aside or in a trust fund, they used it to expand the government. We’ve got to be smarter than that; we’ve got to be smart enough to take that money when we’re doing very well and put that money where it belongs. I don’t think that we need to raise taxes. What we should be doing is raising marketing and the income level of the state of Florida.
What makes you the best person to represent district 24?
Experience, education, leadership, the big three. I’ve been in Florida politics since I moved here; I was in politics for years before that where I came from. I’ve been in Florida politics 15 years. I was with the Democratic Party in the state of Florida, well known up there. For six years I was one of the state chairs in the Florida Democratic Party and was the state chair of the Small County Coalition. That doesn’t sound like much, but 40 of the counties in the state of Florida are in the Small County Coalition. So 40 out of 67 counties are under my purview, and I was their chair for six years. I’ve had to know people from Pensacola to Key West and from Tampa to Jacksonville — I was all over the place. And I had a beautiful time. I got to know Janet Reno very well, I got to know Jim Davis very well, Bob Graham, Senator Nelson, and I talk not only on those levels and the national levels but I got to know Alex Sink very well, her staff. I got to learn how things were done, backgrounds, all these things. It was a very good education is what I’m trying to say, and I got to know the position.
And I also got to know the other side of the aisle. I enjoyed my meal with Jeb Bush at the governor’s mansion, and we had a really good time up there. So I’ve been in and out, back around, and my educational and background experience about Florida politics is huge.
Plus my experience in business. I own two businesses in the state of Florida; I worked here in the state of Florida for years. I’ve got an extensive background in business, owned my own businesses for a number of years. I’ve had as many as 200 employees under my direction and as few as one, which is me. So my background in business goes over 40 years. I have an MBA. I am currently pursuing my doctorate in information systems technology. I’m an inventor; I created a device that’s going for its patent right now.
Even the city of Palm Coast, when the city was founded, I was in the founding administration. I was with the people who wrote the plans. I had to work with the county to create this city. This city means a lot to me because I was there at its literal birth.
I’ve just got a lot of experience and background; I know the people in the city, I know the district. Besides Palm Coast, the district is Volusia and Flagler and St. Johns counties. I’m well known in St. Johns County; I’ve worked with those people for years. I’m also extremely well known in Volusia County. As a matter of fact, when they announced I was running in Volusia County and I went down to make a few appearances, they said, “Don’t you live here?”
As a democratic legislator, you have to build coalitions to get things done. Being a democratic and freshman legislator, the odds of you doing great and wonderful things right off the bat are extremely small. And you have to be able to build the coalitions and things that need to be done. We have to bring things back to this district. We have to bring money and things back to this district. We have had good representation, Dr. William Proctor, but the fact is is that he was from St. Augustine. It makes a difference if you’re sitting in the county. Our priority is going to be this district; our priority is going to be Palm Coast, Flagler County and the people in this district. And we aren’t more concerned with urban areas; we’re more concerned with suburban areas, rural areas; 50-60% of the district is farms. So we have to be concerned with things like this.
A freshman legislator has to be able to go in there and find the grants that are available, know where to go, where to get the friends to do all the wheeling and dealing that goes on in the Legislature to make sure you can bring that money back here. The reason I’m the best one for District 24 is experience, my background. I have a leadership ability, obviously. I’ve done lots of things in this county; I’ve been a leader throughout the state of Florida. And my education, just formal and school of hard knocks, extremely good. I’ve been here some time; this is not a Johnny-come-lately thing for me. I’m very, very qualified for the position. I feel that of all three of the candidates here I am well above them in qualifications. So yeah, I feel very good about my candidacy. I think I’ll be extremely good for District 24, and I think that I’ll very much be able to carry things through and get the things back that we need here to move forward. I can be a strong voice for this district, to the governor’s mansion and to the courts if necessary. So I have an ability and capability of doing a lot of good things for this county. And I really want to; I mean this is not a case where I am just moving into the county to fill the chair. This is not a case where I just took this as a flyer. I’ve thought about this long and hard; I decided that we can do this; I put together a team and we’re working for it and fully intend to win the whole thing. And when I get up there, we’re ready to go. We’re ready to talk to these people and get this thing done for the state and for this county and for this district.
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