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0000017b-82f4-dd8b-a7fb-82ffe48f0000Florida's public radio stations are teaming up to bring you comprehensive, statewide 2016 election coverage.

Meet The Candidate: Rocky De La Fuente

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Rocky De La Fuente

Age: 61

Hometown: San Diego

Party affiliation: Democrat

1) Why are you running for U.S. Senate?
I am running for U.S. Senate for several reasons. First: I love my country. It has provided me with immeasurable opportunities and I want to give something back. 

Second: I have been living in the real world rather than the political one. I’m closer to the people and have a better understanding and appreciation of their challenges. I don’t have to pretend to understand minority issues because I am a minority. I don’t have to pretend to understand how to create jobs because I have created thousands of them across the United States and throughout Central and South America. I don’t have to pretend to understand the importance of paying a fair wage and providing health care benefits because I have witnessed the impact it has on the lives of the families of those I employed. I don’t have to pretend to care about the environment and our coastline because I am actually doing something about it through my involvement with biofuels. I don’t have to pretend to understand the cost of education because I have five children. And where I really differ. … I don’t look at problems through a political lens. I look at them through a practical one. 

Third: Our Nation is at a crossroads. We are suffering from political gridlock fostered by traditional politicians who place party politics ahead of the people. At one point, Congress had a nine percent approval rating, yet we returned over 90 percent of the incumbents to office. Einstein once said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them"; I would suggest a corollary: We cannot solve our problems with the same people who created them. It’s time for change. It’s time for fresh thinking, and I can deliver that to the United States Senate.

2) If facing a deficit, what parts of the budget would you cut and what would you promise not to cut? 

Whether facing a deficit or a surplus, I would operate as I do in my private sector businesses. 

First: I would evaluate departments, agencies, programs and regulations to determine whether they are congruent with our federal government’s core mission as expressed in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution (i.e., do they “provide for the common Defence (sic) and general Welfare of the United States”). If they cannot be tied to that standard, the federal government has no basis to fund them and I would cut any related budgets. 

Second: I would evaluate departments, agencies, programs and regulations that are congruent with Article I, Section 8, to determine whether they are operating effectively and efficiently. For example, Defense is clearly an authorized expenditure, but it is difficult to believe that our current $637 billion Defense budget doesn’t have at least some level of inefficiency and ineffectiveness within its current programs particularly with respect to the level of profits permitted by military contracts. Correspondingly, the GAO has repeatedly identified hundreds of billions of dollars of redundant and conflicting regulations, but Congress has yet to take meaningful action on those recommendations. I would vote to cut the budget in any way that would improve the operating efficiency and effectiveness of our departments, agencies, programs and regulations. 

Third: I would honor our federal government’s commitments just as I do my own. As such, I would not cut entitlement programs into which taxpayers have been required to pay. After all, it is their money and Congress has a fiduciary responsibility to protect that investment.

3) What would you do to strengthen Florida's economy and create more well paid jobs?

I would support federal legislation to repair and replace infrastructure (including transportation-related projects and utility-related projects involving the electrical grid, potable water and sewage systems, etc.). These expenditures are necessary and proper and would proportionately inure to the benefit of Florida, which is desperately in need of such assistance, and they would bring jobs to our state. I would also push for Florida to become the epicenter of renewable energy research and deployment. Our state has enormous natural solar and wind advantages that we need to exploit. Not only will that approach attract high paying jobs, it will also reduce long-term energy costs and help preserve our environment and beautiful coastline. Finally, having actually worked in the private sector, I would also support legislation that reduced frivolous government regulation that often suffocates growth and redirects capital from jobs to compliance.

This is not to attack those regulations that are properly designed to provide for the health, safety and general welfare of the public; rather it is directed at regulations that are imposed for less altruistic reasons or that are relics from the past that serve no useful purpose in the present. Freeing up the related capital that is spent on compliance could kick start job growth, which is of particular interest to my constituents in the State of Florida.

4) Should the Second Amendment have limitations?

I have no interest in taking way Americans’ right to bear arms. However, I support an intelligent application of the Second Amendment. As a society, we have imposed registration requirements to try to minimize the possibility of guns being misused. However, it has become increasingly obvious that our current requirements are neither efficient nor effective.

I believe we should revisit those requirements to accelerate and improve the vetting process in a manner that provides for a safer country. With respect to prohibiting gun sales to people on an FBI terror watch list, I am not opposed to the concept, but I am opposed to doing it without appropriate due process safeguards.

My home town of Orlando was recently shaken by the tragic loss of 49 lives at the hands of someone who, by any reasonable measure, should have been on the FBI’s terror watch list. Yet, the assailant was able to legally secure a gun and perpetrate a heinous crime.

Conversely, other people have been placed on that list by the happenstance of their names or innocent associations.

The reality is we need a more efficient and effective registration system and we also apparently need more sensible standards with adequate due process protections with respect to the FBI terror watch list. I support the Second Amendment.

However, just as there are restrictions imposed upon the freedoms offered by the First Amendment when actions intrude upon the rights of others and represent an unconscionable trespass upon society, I think we need to have an open dialogue about reasonable limits upon the type of weapons the Second Amendment anticipates and protects. For purposes of full disclosure, I own guns. However, there are types of weapons that serve little to no positive social purpose that I think should be open to discussion. For example, while some of my friends interpret the Second Amendment to be without limitation, I have a difficult time believing anyone would seriously argue that they should be entitled to own a fully armed F-22 Raptor or a thermo-nuclear device. Once that premise is accepted, it falls upon us to have an intelligent discussion of what reasonable restrictions might be imposed to protect society as a whole. Gun reform doesn’t equate to gun control. It doesn’t take away the right to own a gun under the Second Amendment. It merely applies a rational criterion to ownership that inures to the general welfare of everyone.

5) Please explain your position on energy. Do you support drilling off the coast of Florida/ the Eastern U.S.?

I believe the United States needs to become energy independent, but it needs to do so intelligently. In that regard, we need to concentrate on the development of renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and biofuels rather than continue down the path of polluting our environment through the use of fossil fuels. 

Florida is positioned particularly well to pursue the advancement of renewable energy given its natural advantages. 

As for off-shore drilling: I am against it in Florida, the Eastern U.S. and, in fact, everywhere. As we know all too well in Florida, an off-shore disaster is particularly difficult to resolve and extraordinarily damaging to the ecology and the coastline. Florida has a particularly beautiful and vibrant coastline that is incredibly important to our state’s economy.

While the rest of the Nation may think we have recovered from the BP oil spill that occurred in 2010, we have not. There is no excuse for replicating the threat by allowing off-shore drilling anywhere.

6) What should the federal government be doing to combat rising sea levels and other effects of climate change? 

Climate change and global warming are real, and it is incumbent upon us to do whatever we can to mitigate the contribution we, as humans, make to the problem. I don’t believe in calling people names, so I’m not going to refer to anyone who disagrees with my interpretation of the science as a “flat earther.” Instead, I would ask them two simple questions.

First: Do you believe that there is a possibility that human activities impact the climate in any way and at any level? 

Second: Do you believe we have a duty to behave in a responsible way to mitigate any damage we might cause so as to preserve the environment for future generations? 

I think that approach would change the discussion in Congress, and as a result, we could start discussing the issue and working together to mitigate the damage. 

I recognize that we cannot pass legislation that corrects the problem on a global basis, but we can set an example for the rest of the world and apply peer pressure and other diplomatic means to move the major contributors to climate change in a favorable direction. 

I also would suggest that Congress try something new to exploit the innovative capacity of the private sector by applying positive reinforcement to drive behavior rather than a system of fines and fees to punish non-conformance.

If we were to build a government model similar to the XPrize that significantly rewards businesses and academic institutes that achieve meaningful objective that otherwise might seem unattainable, we might well accelerate how quickly we can move to a renewable energy environment devoid of any dependence on fossil fuels; a cleaner environment that will serve as a gift to generations to come.

7) Do you support Common Core education standards? Please explain.

I support the concept of establishing and maintaining standards that will improve the education of our children. They are our future, and they need to have every possible advantage to compete in a global marketspace. 

I am not an education professional, therefore I may not be well-equipped to make a specific assessment as to the relative strengths and weaknesses of Common Core as it currently exists. However, I believe its intent “to provide clear and consistent learning goals to help prepare students for college, career and life” represents a step in a positive direction. We need to assess best practices from around the world and determine whether we can apply them effectively to our education system. Our children deserve nothing less.

8) What is your position on the Affordable Care Act?

I believe that health care should be considered to be a right within the context of the “general Welfare” provision of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

I believe our Nation should be smart enough to identify, and strong enough to fund a system that helps those who cannot help themselves. No one should have to decide between having the medical care they need and the other essentials of life (i.e., food, clothing and shelter).

In that regard, I support the Affordable Care Act. However, we need to revisit the original intent of the ACA and be prepared to modify it as necessary to conform to that intent. The ACA was supposed to address three critical elements of health care: accessibility, cost and quality. 

Unfortunately, it ultimately focused almost singularly on accessibility to the detriment of the other components. As such, the subsidization parameters are already beginning to head in a negative direction. We need to review how to bring additional efficiencies and effectiveness to our health care system and how to fund programs that advance the quality of the health care we can deliver.

We can afford to provide catastrophic coverage to every America who needs it and to cover any gap that might exist within a means-based system. However, we need to work equally hard to reduce the cost of health care while investing in the research and technological advancements that are likely to improve its quality. 

As a businessman, I recognize the importance of health care coverage. I have witnessed the impact of illness and disease on my employees and their families. I am for continuing to improve our health care system to address the needs of every American in a manner that reflects the values upon which this Nation was founded.

9) Florida's median income hasn't kept pace with inflation over the past decade. What policies do you advocate to change that in the decade ahead?

Florida’s economy needs a kick start. Our citizens have suffered far too long from stagnant wages and insufficient opportunities. It is time to take action. 

I support the implementation of a higher minimum wage for those who are forced to live substandard lives today. It is an embarrassment that our country has allowed the gap between the haves and the have nots to grow for so long. To address this, I will argue for a multi-level approach to minimum wage criteria, dependent upon occupational level, as has been so successful in other countries.

I will also work to bring a new range of higher paying jobs to our state based upon increasing Florida’s participation in the research, development and creation of renewable energy technologies. We are blessed with incredible solar and wind resources and are positioned to capitalize on advancements in biofuels. If we commit to becoming the national leader in those fields, we will attract capital and industry to our state, which will translate into new jobs that provide higher wages. It will also help us reduce our long-term exposure to the environmental accidents that have plagued our coastline in recent years and eliminate the history of brownouts we have occasionally suffered during the hot days of summer.

As a collateral benefit, we can also expect partnerships to emerge between our universities and the private sector in the pursuit of technological advancements.

This will inherently attract talent to our state and potentially help curb the cost of higher education in Florida.

Beyond energy, I will vote for federally funded infrastructure programs that are long overdue in Florida. Our highways and utilities need improvement, and I will fight to get the resources we need to address these issues.

10) Should the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba be eliminated? With any conditions?

I believe President Obama is on the right path. We need to normalize our relationship with Cuba. It offers opportunities for trade that can inure to the benefit of Florida in particular and can help reunite families that have been separated for years.

I understand the human rights arguments, but expanding our relationship with Cuba will enhance rather than threaten progress toward resolving those issues.

Those who think every concession we make must be conditioned upon a specific commitment on Cuba’s behalf simply do not understand Cuba.

We cannot dictate change to a sovereign nation, but we can significantly influence it. Exposing the people of Cuba to alternatives that are available in the United States and elsewhere will drive the change from within, which is how it must be made.