In the News
Deborah Buckhalter (Jackson County Floridian)
U.S. Congressman Steve Southerland was guest speaker at Wednesday’s Marianna Rotary Club meeting. He talked about various things -- including the political “hit list” he says he’s already on as he begins his second term as the House Representative for Florida’s 2 nd Congressional District.
The Republican said campaigning has already begun for the 2016 election year, with Democratic opposition already posting billboards aimed at defeating him if he should seek a third term.
He said he will continue to defend his support of traditional family values and to fight for other things he believes in as he moves through his second term and potentially a third.
Southerland then turned his attention to various hot issues in Washington, and spoke of one successful bill he was proud to have supported, the Restore Act that sent BP oil spill recovery funds directly to the counties most affected in north Florida and four other Gulf states. Rather than the money being filtered first through the legislature, where he feared the fund could have been “siphoned off” to areas less affected, Southerland said the money can now go to its purpose of restoration and recovery where the spill dried up tourism, closed fisheries and otherwise hurt communities.
Southerland said he was happy to be assigned in his first term to committees is agriculture, natural resource, transportation and infrastructure, saying those were good fits for the concerns of his district. “We have been very busy making sure our rural counties get the support they need from the federal government and making sure we create an environment that your economy can thrive in. Sometimes we do a better job than others at doing that, and sometimes the federal government fails miserably at that, but it very, very important to me,” he said.
On the Natural Resources committee, Southerland said he is sometimes frustrated by policies that hamper the ability of people to take fair advantage of national forest lands. Often, he said, the Department of Interior’s oversight of those lands run counter to common sense.
“We you see, down in the Apalachicola National Forest, more trees rotting than we are harvesting, that is sinful. A national forest was designed by Congress to be a working national forest, not a national park. We have national parks; we don’t harvest any timber in national parks. But a national forest is designed to be a place ... where communities that live around those perimeters are able to log and harvest and have some economic benefit to those communities. I believe the nation forest service in many ways has failed in that area.” Southerland blamed poor management practices for some of the large wildfires the nation has seen in recent years, indicating those might have been avoided with appropriate management practices in place to clear the forest floor from the “fuel” that can make a forest “a tinderbox” in the event of a lightning strike that sparks a fire. He said, however, that the southeastern United States does a better job that other regions in managing those lands.
Southerland said he is also upset by what he feels is an over-reaching fisheries regulator who wants to “turn the Gulf of Mexico into an aquarium,” and that some regulations are not bases on good data and “absolutely strip us of our God-given right to fish.” He said he finds it inappropriate, for instance, that, in counting fish populations as a regulatory barometer, fisheries officials refuse to count those congregated around reefs, where the fish naturally seek shelter and could be counted to accurately reflect species populations.
The National Marine Fisheries commission he said, last year shorten the fisheries season and set bag limits so low that the economies of the communities dependent on the fisheries are being devastated and that he is determined to see a change in that circumstance.
Southerland also hinted at his support of the Keystone Pipeline initiative as a job creator and a way of reducing the cost of energy.
Asked about the continuing quest to find out more about those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, Southerland had this to say. “We know the individual (suspect) who was killed spent six months in Russia; Russia told us that he was returning and that we needed to keep our eyes on him, they communicated that to the CIA. That did happen, so somewhere, somebody dropped the ball…I think Homeland Security, the CIA and the FBI, we have to have a meeting of the minds…I'm not sure yet who bears all that responsibility, but we’re looking and we’re working to find that out.”
Southerland made clear his position on the idea of welfare reform. “If you are of working age, and you are physically, mentally, psychologically able to work, it is a sin for us to pay you not to work,” he commented.
On debt and the sequestration or debt-limit bill, Southerland said he didn’t vote for sequestration because doing so would have meant he’d have to break his campaign promise not to do anything to hurt Medicare. Southerland said sequestration cut that program by $115 billion. Instead, he said, he voted twice to replace sequestration with more flexibility within departments which would allow their managers to, rather than making a 2 percent across-the-board cut in spending, would have allowed them to decide what needed cuts and what needed to be left at full funding.
Southerland said he’ll be back to Jackson County in the future to update the community further about his take on what’s happening in Washington.
Apr 25 2013
Valerie Garman (The News Herald)
PANAMA CITY — The city of Blountstown, located in Northeast Calhoun County, operates on a $3 million per year budget and is struggling to keep up with infrastructure needs.
“It’s no cheaper to fix things here than it is in a big city,” said City Manager Emory Pierce. “But in big cities with multi-million dollar budgets, a couple of thousand dollars to fix something is nothing.”
The story is similar for rural communities across the Panhandle region, and U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, is hoping a new bill might help those areas he said “form the backbone of North and Northwest Florida.”
Southerland recently introduced the Building Rural Communities Act, a bill aimed at giving rural government officials the necessary tools to plan large-scale improvement projects in a more cost-effective manner.
Co-sponsored by Rep. Mike McIntyre, D- N.C., the legislation would channel between 3 and 5 percent of funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development Essential Communities Facilities loan and grant program toward technical assistance and financial planning for rural communities.
“Unfortunately, across America many of these bedrock communities are fading away because they can’t match the access to infrastructure and services that larger cities provide,” Southerland said. “Our legislation will make it easier for rural communities to thrive by providing the technical assistance and project planning they need to strengthen public safety, public health, and public access to upgraded services – all at no additional cost to taxpayers.”
Pierce said funding issues have halted a project to run a force main sewer line from Altha, a small town to the northwest, to the Blountstown wastewater treatment plant. Currently, all of Altha’s buildings run off of septic tanks.
“Without real community sewer lines, they are severely limited in Altha and along that entire corridor toward Blountstown,” Pierce said.
He said the Calhoun County School District is exploring options for a new high school in Altha, but the current infrastructure cannot support a structure that size.
Overall, Pierce said he would support any bill that could potentially help rural areas like Blountstown.
“We have the normal aging infrastructure that all cities big and small have, and we are searching for funding to help with our internally generated funds,” said Pierce, who noted the city cannot raise utility rates for fear of losing customers. “All people and businesses here are strapped. If we raise rates, I would estimate we would lose several customers and the community just can’t stand that.”
Southerland’s bill was referred to the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture for further consideration.
Apr 08 2013
Deborah Buckhalter (JC Floridan)
U.S. Congressman Steve Southerland was in Marianna on Monday to announce his intention to file a bill which, if passed as proposed, would expand the reach of an existing USDA technical assistance fund. A set-aside within the USDA’s Rural Development-Essential Community Facilities (CF) program, the assistance fund is currently limited to use on water and wastewater projects. Through it, Marianna recently obtained money to get the technical assistance it needed to carry out a drainage improvement plan associated with a street project.
Expanding the use of the fund would allow rural communities to hire consultants to help them find and compete for USDA grants and loans to fund a wider range of projects, things like improved police and fire stations, health clinics, senior centers, courthouses and other assets.
The legislation, as proposed, would also allow local governments to use the funding to train employees, and get financial advice in trying to not only secure government grants and loans, but also in setting up a repayment plan for the loans. The bill also includes provisions that would allow the communities to engage experts who would monitor and help them properly maintain the funded facilities after they’re completed.
Southerland wants 3-5 percent of the CF fund set aside for this type of assistance. If roughly $21 million is devoted to the CF fund this year as expected, the set-aside would mean that from $630,000 to a little more than $1 million would be available for rural communities to request.
In Southerland’s 2 nd Congressional District, of which Jackson County is a part, there are 14 counties; 12 of those are rural in nature, he said, and could potentially benefit greatly from the dedication of funds to provide them technical assistance across a wider range of projects.
Southerland said he believes there is bi-partisan support for his proposal, called the Building Rural Communities Act. He said he expects to file it soon after he returns to Washington for session this week.
State legislator Marti Coley joined Southerland at Monday’s announcement, the Representative and Speaker Pro Tempore expressing her support of the plan. Southerland revealed the bill at a public meeting in the engine bay outside the Marianna Fire Department main station, located at Marianna City Hall.
Also joining Southerland for the announcement were representatives of the non-profit Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, which works with USDA in providing technical assistance for hire to communities on water and wastewater projects. That entity supports Southerland’s proposal, and a representative of the organization said it wants to expand into some of the other areas of assistance that his bill addresses.
Southerland said his legislation is modeled after the technical assistance program for water and wastewater, which he said he believes has been of great service to communities which could not otherwise afford to hire high-caliber technical experts.
He also said that, because the technical assistance fund would be taken from the already- established CF program, the set-aside would mean no additional cost to taxpayers.
Apr 02 2013
Jessica McCarthy (Panama City News Herald)
PANAMA CITY — Civics lessons usually come from textbooks, but Jinks Middle School students got to go to the source Tuesday when U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland paid a visit.
Southerland spent about an hour with students, talking about different areas of government and answering questions from students. He talked about what it was like to grow up in Panama City, his experiences running for Congress and how important it is for students to work to build the future.
“Growing up here, being a local product, graduating from middle school and high school here and now I’m a member of Congress and I’m just like you,” he said.
He said he regularly schedules time with students around his district.
“No matter what political party these students associate with, the important part is they take an active role in creating their future and America operates best when all hands are on deck,” said Southerland, a Republican. “I want to inject the element of personal responsibility.”
Students’ questions ranged from how hard his job is to how much he makes a year to ethnic diversity in Congress. Some students also wanted to know what kind of music he listens to, how he felt when he won his first election and whether he would put more money into education budgets.
He talked to the students about how important their vote was, giving a real life example of a local school board race that came down to two votes, but did not limit the discussion to civics. He also talked about being rich in what he called the right things, friends and family, the value of hard work and playing by the rules.
He told the students there would be bad days where the ball didn’t bounce their way, but over the long haul, if they worked hard, told the truth and played by the rules, more often than not, that ball would bounce their way and they would have peace of mind.
The students cheered their support after Southerland said he didn’t like the FCAT although the cheering quieted a little when he said he is in favor of testing, just not so much pressure and weight being placed with one test.
He said he was impressed with how much the students already knew.
“Their questions and answers and knowledge of civics and government was as good or better than any other (school) group I’ve spoken to,” Southerland said. “Kudos go to the school district and kudos to Jinks and the instructors for doing a good job.”
WJHG-TV (Panama City)
BONIFAY - Five years ago, Doctors Memorial Hospital in Bonifay launched a new era in health care, openings a new 48,000 square feet facility, double the size of the old hospital. But, the road to that new facility was long and difficult.
"We started off trying to get approval from the government" explained Doctors Memorial Board Chairman, Joe Sowell. "We had to get a referendum with Holmes County and we got it. And it passed with about 80 percent."
But Sowell was worried looming federal budget cuts would derail the community's hard work. "I'm afraid it's going to be very negative" he said. "Don't know all the consequences of it yet, but few little things I have saw, it has more of a negative impact than a positive."
Hospital administrator Joann Baker shared Sowell's concern for the uncertain future.
"We're still unsure of what's going to happen at Congress, how it's going to effect the rural hospitals. But, I would love for them to keep in mind that each community does need their hospital" Baker told us.
Congressman Steve Southerland said he was interested in knowing what Doctor's Memorial Hospital needed. He toured the facility Monday and updated administrators about what was going on in Washington.
"There's some [hospital] programs that probably need to be phased out, and then probably some that need to be built up a little better" Southerland said. "So I'm eager to talk to administrators this morning about some of the health care challenges they face."
For now, administrators said they would continue to treat their patients, and hope for the best.
Jan 26 2013
Valerie Garman, The News Herald
PANAMA CITY — As U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland transitions into his second term in Congress, he is hopeful lawmakers on Capitol Hill can get back to the basics to solve the country’s fiscal problems.
“When you feel like you’re stuck in the mud, you go back and look at the basics,” said Southerland, R-Panama City. “We’re like a vehicle that’s stuck in neutral.”
With the 113th Congress under way, Southerland said finding a solution to the country’s financial troubles is one of the biggest challenges lawmakers will face this year.
“You can’t talk about the challenges we face without talking about the fiscal issues here in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “We have a mountain of deficit and debt and we are spending money we don’t have.”
For Southerland, the solution comes from developing a budget — something he points out the Senate has not done in the last four years — leading the House Republicans to outline an ultimatum: agree on a budget or receive no paycheck.
Members of the House approved a measure Wednesday that would require both houses of Congress to pass a budget before the federal debt limit can be increased. Southerland stood in support of the legislation, dubbed “No Budget, No Pay,” which says congressional pay will be withheld if either house fails to meet the April 15 budget deadline. Although some constitutional scholars have questioned whether the legislation violates the 27th Amendment, which deals with changing congressional pay, Republicans are confident it would pass constitutional muster.
“We will raise the debt ceiling under one condition: you pass a budget in the Senate,” said Southerland, who noted Congress is required to pass a budget annually by law. “To say that we can just wing it without a budget process is very nearsighted and it’s just wrong.”
As Congress stares down yet another debt ceiling, Southerland hopes to push for a “multipronged plan” that combines tax reform, regulatory reform and federal spending cuts, as well as explores ways to stimulate growth.
“The challenge is, how do we find consensus in split government to spend money responsibly and stimulate growth responsibly,” Southerland said. “We’ve got to make sure we pay the government’s bills.”
Southerland said he voted against the fiscal cliff bill approved earlier this month because he did not feel the package solved the problems on the table, all the while decreasing take-home pay for working Americans.
“We didn’t do anything to solve the debt and deficit crisis the country is in,” he said. “The reason I didn’t vote in favor of the bill is because I didn’t feel it was a solution.”
While President Barack Obama outlined a liberal vision for the country in his inaugural speech Monday, Southerland said he stood in disagreement with many of his philosophies.
“The underlying summary of the president’s inaugural speech was that government will solve all of our challenges, and I disagree with that,” he said. “I think oftentimes government makes our challenges worse; government has grown to a size where it’s too big.”
“The last two years have been a tremendous growing experience,” said Southerland, who noted his first term involved learning how to run a congressional office with a focus on communicating to constituents, organizing staff and establishing himself in three House Committees: Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Transportation and Infrastructure.
Southerland said the RESTORE Act, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill-related legislation passed by Congress in June, was probably the most significant piece of legislation he was involved in during his first term.
“I think one of the most productive issues was our collaboration on the RESTORE Act,” Southerland said. “The RESTORE Act is such a needed piece of legislation to really restore the” affected states.
Southerland also is entering his second term recently elected by fellow Republican sophomores to serve as their class representative to the House Republican leadership during the 113th Congress. The sophomore Republicans comprise about one-third of the House of Representatives, with about 75 members of the class.
“We have the opportunity to determine the direction we go,” Southerland said. “To sit every day with the speaker and the majority leader, it’s a great honor.”
Southerland said he believes he was chosen to serve due to his efforts to build relationships within the House. He also was appointed by Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster to serve as vice chairman of the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.
“I enjoy a broad cross section of relationships across the country,” he said. “I have really focused on building relationships with my classmates. I have the trust to represent them fairly.”
Jan 22 2013
Ledyard King, Tallahassee DemocratWASHINGTON— Rep. Steve Southerland will have a little more say this congressional term about what happens off the coast of Florida and other states.
The Panama City Republican was named Tuesday to head the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard, maritime transportation and water safety programs.
The Coast Guard enforces the law on U.S. waters and the high seas and conducts search and rescue missions, drug and migrant interdiction, oil spill prevention and response, and enforcement of U.S. fisheries and marine pollution laws.
The subcommittee also has jurisdiction over regulation of ocean shipping and the merchant marine, except as it relates to national security.
“As a member of the House transportation committee hailing from a state with 15 ports, I understand the importance of bolstering Coast Guard readiness and strengthening our coastal economies,” Southerland said.
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., who chairs the full transportation committee, named Southerland as one of six new subcommittee chairmen.
“Over the past two years, Rep. Southerland has consistently demonstrated a commitment to reforming America’s vital infrastructure systems without losing his focus on making Washington spend smartly,” Shuster said. “His knowledge and expertise in coastal issues will be a welcome addition.”
Elected in November to a second term, Southerland co-sponsored the RESTORE Act that is designed to send Gulf Coast communities billions in federal fines that BP will pay for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.It’s Southerland’s second climb up the leadership ladder this month. On Jan. 4, members of the Republican class of 2010 elected him to serve as sophomore class representative to the House Republican leadership.
Oct 12 2012
Tim Croft (THE STAR)Think not just good, but great.
That is what Congressman Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, urged commissioners from Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla counties during an informational meeting Thursday on the RESTORE Act.
Southerland urged commissioners to be broad-based and transparent and to be cohesive, not only in spending the billions in BP fine money potentially coming to eight counties along the Northwest Florida coast, but also in rebuffing attempts by the executive branch to change the dynamics of how those fines will be collected.
(Trade Only Today)Gulf Coast fishermen and their families from Florida’s 2nd Congressional District will gather today in Panama City to present U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., with the 2012 Fishing Champion award for his support of coastal fishermen.
Southerland will receive an award for being a champion of the fishing industry, Recreational Fishing Alliance executive director Jim Donofrio said in a statement.
Oct 07 2012
Editorial (Panama City News Herald)How do you get the likes of Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Steve Southerland on the same side of an issue? Threaten to touch Florida’s share of money from the BP oil spill settlement.
After months of political wrangling, Congress in June finally passed the RESTORE Act (which President Obama signed into law in July). It allocates 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to Florida and the four other Gulf states. The act directs that the fines returned to those states be used for ecological and economic recovery efforts.