This legislative session, state Rep. Randy Fine has become one of the Florida House’s most-fierce and eager debaters.
Whether it be discussions on expanding school choice, holding higher-education officials accountable for misusing state funds or championing legislation to battle anti-Semitism, the Brevard County Republican is no stranger to headlines.
Aside from Fine being a quote-machine for reporters, House Speaker Jose Oliva has entrusted him to lead the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, where major higher education changes have been proposed --- a top priority for the speaker.
Fine, a 45-year-old businessman, was first elected to the House in 2016 in District 53.
The News Service has five questions for Randy Fine:
Q: You talk about K-12 education being your passion. Can you talk about how session has been in dealing with higher education? It’s been pretty busy so far.
FINE: Yes, it’s been fascinating. I had not served on any of these committees and I had not run any bills relating to this. So, for me, I came in with fresh eyes. I think you benefit when someone who doesn’t have a dog in the hunt can look and see how things should operate. So that’s the approach that we’ve taken, particularly with the PECO (Public Education Capital Outlay) projects, with capital funding decisions. I don’t have to make my recommendations based on loyalty to any school or region. I’m just trying to do the right thing.
Q: Speaking of recommendations, you’ve made quite a few of them in your committee. Which proposals do you think are the most likely to pass in both the House and Senate?
FINE: Well, that’s a hard question at this point in the process. I can tell you what I hope will happen. I’d like to see us revert to a capital-allocation process. It’s based on merit and analytics as opposed to politics. That we identify our highest-priority projects and that we get them funded no matter where they are in the state because a more-educated workforce benefits all of Florida, whether it is Pensacola, Miami, Orlando or Jacksonville. That’s really where I’d like to see us land in this whole process.
Q: And we’ve seen some of that language taken up in the Senate already. Are you OK with the Senate proposal as currently written? Or would you like the chamber to take a little bit more?
FINE: We’re making progress. I don’t think they’ve accepted everything yet. We’re making progress on it and we’ll continue to talk with them on it. We don’t want our universities to just be monuments of buildings, because one of the things we’ve learned in this process is budgets come and go, but buildings last forever. And so, it’s essential that we get those building decisions right. If we overfund something one year, we can cut it back next year. If we underfund something one year, we can bring the funds back the following year. But once you’ve built a building to some degree, you’re stuck with it. And so, we’ve got to get that process right. That’s how you build a legacy. It’s hard to build a legacy around dollars. It’s easier to build a legacy in terms of those long-term capital allocation decisions. And that’s why I’ve spent so much time focused on them.
Q: If you were king and you could do whatever you wanted with the Florida education system, what would that system look like?
FINE: I’d do three things. (Ending) Common Core, which we’ve done, more choice for parents, and then the third thing I would do is I’d make sure we have adequate resources for special-needs children because there’s no more important responsibility of government than to care for those who don’t have the ability to care for themselves. (In terms of school choice), I would let every parent make the choice that’s right for them. I would create the same kind of competition in education that we have in every other aspect of our lives. I think that you would see a renaissance. We already have so many great options in this state, but I think that I would create more. I really think that every child is different, and I think every parent can make the best choice for their children. And if it were up to me, we would have as many choices at all economic levels as possible.
Q: Can we talk about your bill about anti-Semitism? It passed in the House with overwhelming support. Why did you feel it was important to propose this bill this year? Where do you see it going in the Senate following Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson’s comments against the bill?
FINE: It’s a growing problem on college campuses, and I think that over the last three or four years, anti-Semitism has become mainstream, unfortunately. It doesn’t mean either party has a monopoly on anti-Semitism. But I think in one it’s generally seen as something that is not OK, and unfortunately, in the other it’s something that’s become celebrated. I mean, (U.S. Rep.) Ilhan Omar is an overt anti-Semite and she is celebrated in some corners of the Democratic Party. So that feeds into what goes on in college campuses where Jewish students are targeted for being Jewish. So, I think it’s important that here in Florida, where the Jewish population is so large, that we say that this isn’t OK for our children to be treated this way. I’m optimistic that should it go before the Senate, it will pass unanimously. I think that Sen. Gibson has had some thought-process since she made those comments, and she said that she supports it now. And she was the only one who had said she wouldn’t, so I feel pretty optimistic about it, and I appreciate the thought that she’s put into it.