by Jeremy Morrison
Sen. Bill Nelson’s swing through Pensacola Aug. 29 was part business, part pleasure. The day ramped up with meetings with local officials and a tour of downtown’s mold-addled federal courthouse and wrapped with a visit to the recently unearthed site of De Luna’s landing.
Just before lunch, Nelson sat down with local elected officials and members of the press at Pensacola City Hall. Armed with a stash of tissues, the Florida Democrat took a few minutes to field both concerns and questions.
“If you notice me wipe my nose from time to time, it’s because I went in the old courthouse,” Nelson laughed.
The half-joke served as an introduction to some bad news: there’s a hold up with the rehab funding designated for the courthouse. The senator had broken that news earlier in the day, when he donned a filtration mask and did a walk-through of the vacated federal facility.
Nelson explained that the necessary funding was being held up because there was an objection to purchasing the privately owned building prior to it falling under the city’s ownership next year.
“We’ll get that administrative hiccup taken care of,” Nelson assured, calling the objection “pure balderdash.”
The senator elaborated, saying that he had just found out about the funding snag earlier in the morning while traveling. Apparently the objections hail from the staff of Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), who chairs the House of Representative’s Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. Nelson said he personally knew Crenshaw — “as a matter of fact he and his wife were in my wedding a long time ago” — and that the issue could be resolved.
“All you need to do is get reasonable heads together and figure out you don’t want to wait another 11 months,” Nelson said, promising that, if need be, “a prayer session” with Crenshaw would get the job done.
Aside from bumming everyone out with the courthouse delay, Nelson also had to explain why the federal government was not providing funding to fight the Zika virus. He explained that he and Sen. Marco Rubio had co-sponsored a bill addressing the mosquito-borne virus that passed the Senate, but the initiative was destined for failure in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“So it goes over to the House, then they wait until the last four days before the congress was going to adjourn for the political conventions and then they tack on some riders,” Nelson said.
The senator said that the Senate refused to accept the riders, which sought to cut funding to Planned Parenthood and Puerto Rico’s Medicaid allocation, as well as reversing a ban on flying the Confederate flag in military cemeteries. He called it “unfortunate partisan politics.”
There was also some discussion of micro-local issues. Pensacola City Councilman Brian Spencer wanted to discuss the possibility of tweaking regulations to allow for stormwater retention systems to be built under an elevated building or parking garage. And Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May went ahead and let the senator know the area would be needing federal assistance when it came time to fully rehabilitate the recently-closed Rolling Hills landfill.
But after a brief visit, the senator headed out of city hall. Off to see Pensacola’s recent archeological find.
“I gotta go if I’m gonna see De Luna’s colony,” Nelson said, closing out the appearance.