Big Politics Comes to a Small Town

The crowd at the Lakeside Inn waiting to hear Carlos Beruff, who made a campaign stop last week to meet and greet supporters

Carlos Beruff, wealthy Manatee County developer and candidate for United States Senate, was in Mount Dora on June 1.

Beruff spoke at the Lakeside Inn, took audience questions, and posed for photos with local supporters.

As a stop on his way through Florida’s 67 counties, shaking hands and making speeches, Beruff delivered the message he wants Floridians to hear –  he’s going to make government simple again. He spells that out in his laconic new “10 Steps to End Government Greed” brochure – all 10 points of which are explained in less than 75 words, total.

Beruff, according to Medallion Home president Pete Logan, is a “brass tacks kind of guy.”  Logan says Beruff has roots in Central Florida going back over 40 years – to when he was an attendee at Howey Academy in Howey-in-the-Hills.

The energetic developer, 58, took the stage to applause and immediately queried the 80 or so in the crowd to determine how many of them were from The Lakes of Mount Dora (the Medallion Home subdivision that Beruff controls). Approximately 60 hands went up.

On comfortable footing, after assessing his audience, Beruff said, “So you know, I come in and tell it straight, and do do what I gotta do, and try to fix things as quickly as we can.”  He then went on to explain his background and how it led him to run for the seat currently held by former presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

The child of immigrants fleeing political persecution and violence in Cuba, he frequently begins his narratives by providing his rags-to-riches background, taking pains to share stories of his path, including his childhood Saturdays spent, “in government surplus food lines.”  He tells of his grandmother assuring him, ‘If you work really, really, really hard there is nothing you can’t get done.’

“I have lived the American dream,” he says.

The homebuilder was adamant, “I am a businessman, not a politician,” a prevalent theme throughout his 25-minute speech to the assembled crowd.  Beruff went on to explain why he is running, saying that he got involved with politics when he was 35 because, “Seventy-five to eighty percent of the people I have helped to get elected have let me down.  They forget they are public servants.  Everyone is underrepresented – they [politicians] never come back to Florida after they get to Washington…What is up there is big money, but the small businesses and the people are underrepresented.”

Beruff spoke of time he served, as a governor’s political appointee on the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), saying, “The water management districts were broken, they are fixed…they need more fix.”  Beruff claims to have created more than

Of his service as chairman on the board trustees of the State College of Florida (formerly Manatee Community College) Beruff said, “In the State College of Florida, we had a president who just didn’t want to cooperate.  The reason he didn’t want to cooperate was because he didn’t want to do anything right, and we got rid of him.”  Beruff also noted that he led a charge to eliminate tenure for instructors, (though there is provision for contracts of a longer term).

Speaking about his role as the chair of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Beruff touted turning the organization’s bureaucracy on its ear to the advantage of Florida taxpayers, saying his initiatives are saving taxpayers millions of dollars by cutting waste.

Beruff resigned his position on that governing board shortly after making his last motion as chair – to approve an environmentally controversial project for fellow local developer Pat Neal on the Perico Island Wetlands.

He also noted that during his stint as political appointee and chair of the Sarasota Airport Authority, “We got rid of TSA and went to the private sector.”  Beruff went on to explain that federal government is squeezing the military. He believes that government agencies such as TSA need to be cut dramatically so that the United States can continue to provide a military that is, “the most sophisticated and powerful in the world.”

Before he segued into a question and answer session, Beruff spoke of a thirty-five to fifty percent waste in spending on healthcare in the country, without offering any particulars about eliminatng that waste. Below are the questions and responses.

Beruff (left) with councilman Ed Rowlett (right) and other supporters
Beruff (left) with councilman Ed Rowlett (right) and other supporters

Audience Question #1: Mr. Beruff, on a scale of 1-10 how do you figure on Trump?

Beruff: (without hesitation) “10.”

After audience applause for his answer subsided, Beruff went on to say that he related to Trump’s anger and passion about the direction the country was taking, saying of running for U.S. Senate, “My friends tried to talk me out of it, but I will never forgive myself if I don’t try.”

Audience Question #2: A man who identified himself as a past president of the Mortgage Banker’s Association of Florida complained about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the credit constraints the agency has created, asking of the candidate, “Will you support a major overhaul?”

Beruff: “I don’t understand all that stuff. I am a simple guy.  Why don’t we just have a sheet that says, ‘You are borrowing money, you have to pay it back, sign here?’”  To the responsive laughter from the audience he continued, “I mean it’s unbelievable the documentation we get to close a deal, with a mortgage, it’s…you’re killing trees.”

He went on to complain that America is country where people expect things to be managed for them and individuals are not expected to be responsible for the actions they take.

Audience Question #4:  The questioner wanted Beruff’s opinion of the job Rick Scott has done as Florida’s governor and whether or not Beruff approved of that job.

Beruff, a Scott insider, friend, and supporter was effusive in his praise of Florida’s governor, telling the audience about Scott’s salary (Beruff says he takes only a penny a month because of “paperwork stuff” and flies “all over” in his personal airplane and does not charge taxpayers a penny for its use.)

Beruff said of Scott, “That is the hardest working public servant – because he is an ideologue.  A lot of guys talk about this and that, but they are all making deals. The only reason he makes any deal is because he says, ‘Carlos if i had 2-3 more conservative senators in Florida I could do a lot more.’”

Beruff then encouraged the audience members to vote for the most conservative senator, “you can get your hands on,”  so they could help Rick Scott, who he says, “can still do a lot of good.” He closed that question out be expressing the long hours Scott works, using the example that he can reach Scott on the phone at 6:15 in the morning.

Audience Question #5:  An audience member asked about the scrutiny the Republicans in Washington were under for not passing a bill on the Zika virus situation, asking if her guess was correct that any proposed bill to date was loaded with earmarks and pork.  She wanted to know how Beruff would handle such bills, ones which had attachments.

Beruff said it was part of his plan to pass bills that “don’t have a bunch of other things in it – they could be pure.”  He said a previous questioner at another event had asked a similar question, warning Beruff that if he didn’t play ball and make deals with other senators he could be “sitting in the basement on an egg crate.”  To audience laughter, Beruff said the answer he offered was, “When you grow up with the government surplus food lines, that’s a step up for me.”

Audience Question #6:  The questioner wanted to know, what differentiated Beruff from his opponents and asked for examples.

Beruff responded to the final questioner of the evening by saying, “They are all career politicians, more importantly they have no life experience. They haven’t fallen, they haven’t hit the pavement.  They haven’t had to work off 20 million dollars worth of debt the way I have.  They haven’t run a homebuilding business.  They have all been in politics for years, I haven’t,” he said.

Beruff went on to emphasize his outsider status explaining, “Somebody said, ‘Are you going to be a politician?’  I said, ‘No, I am a business person who will only be a business person.  You’ve got to stick to your principles.’”

No questions were asked of Beruff about the pending lawsuit Medallion Home is pressing against the City of Mount Dora and no mention was made of the lawsuit by Beruff or by his staff. (Read about that lawsuit here.)

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Mayor Girone and Ed Rowlett chatting up U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff, along with former council member Denny Wood (center) at Lakeside Inn

With no further questions from the audience, the formal portion of the gathering was dismissed as the eager and the curious among the audience went to the front of the room to pose for pictures with the obliging candidate.

Melissa DeMarco, Editor (editor@mountdoracitizen.com)