Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long spoke to Mr. Panuthos’ Upper School history class and student government about several components to the political process. During her conversation, she also explained her role as a county commissioner, specifically how she is involved with two major plans for the county dealing with transportation and climate change.
Long is a former Seminole City Council member and served in the state House of Representatives from 2006 to 2010. She defeated Republican County Commission incumbent Neil Brickfield two years later.
“This was a great opportunity for my students to interact with someone with an extensive background in politics,” said Mr. Panuthos, who was recently recognized by the Madeira Beach VFW Post 4256 as its teacher of the year. “Considering this is an election year, it gave the students a keen perspective on the civic duty in regard to political office.”
Following Long’s 25-minute speech, several students asked pertinent questions regarding Long’s time in office and political experience as well as certain decisions made by the county government.
Jack Lescarbeau ‘16 questioned why commissioners rejected a request by the City of St. Pete Beach for $49.62 million to pay for projects, such as streetscaping, two parking garages and a new library.
“You talked about being strongly against the community redevelopment plan in St. Pete Beach because it is a barrier island and could get wiped away due to a catastrophic natural event such as a hurricane. How can you make the decision on something hypothetical?”
Long responded by reasserting the position of the commissioners that “it would set a precedent where all of the other cities on the barrier islands would want the same.” The Pinellas County coastline is bordered by 35 miles of sandy beaches on 11 barrier islands along the Gulf of Mexico.
Andrew Cevasco ‘16 asked Long, a Democrat, what she thought of Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, and Long said she does not believe “he’s in it for the right reason,” claiming his agenda is “terribly misguided” with ramifications that would “take generations for the state to recover.”
Long did give Ashaunti Brown ‘16 some poignant advice when Ashaunti asked how young people could follow in her footsteps.
“Volunteer for people in office. The best way to learn about the business is to work alongside people who are in it.”
Finally, George Hamilton ‘18 wanted to know what it was like when Long met President John F. Kennedy when Kennedy visited her high school, Fryeburg Academy, a college preparatory school in Maine. Meeting President Kennedy was when she became interested in politics.
“The main thing I always remembered from his visit was he told us to be careful for what you wish for in your life. The fact that you’re in this school means you have the ability to be anything you want to achieve and don’t ever forget where you came from. When he spoke to me, he looked right into my eyes. I will always remember that.”