CENTRAL FLORIDA involving Business Force, is a grassroots progressive group called Organize Now. It has no illusions about about the strength Business Force has developed. “I think they’re absolutely powerful. They’re the largest chamber in the entire state,” Organize Now President Stephanie Porta said of Business Force. “But I don’t think they’re wonderful. I think they’re big business power, right? If you want big, powerful business to be more powerful, then you go to Business Force. I think they hide behind a couple of small businesses, but they’re clearly fighting for the big corporations.” The counter, often organized by Organize Now or other grassroots in Orlando such as the East Of Econ group, together with groups such as the Sierra Club of Central Florida, bring petitions and passionate individuals. Business Force also has pushed — through the Orange County Charter Review Commission — to limit the power of citizen petitions. “It’s people power. It’s having people paying attention, and holding elected officials accountable to residents, the people, rather than the large special interests in 92 | INFLUENCE SUMMER/FALL 2016 this town,” Porta said. “The majority of people in this town are not big businesses; the majority of people are workers, who are getting paid poverty wages to work for these corporations.” Agrusa shrugs at such criticism. It’s come before, and much of the previous controversy preceded him. While Business Force is going to be a force against such causes as minimum wage hikes and forced benefits, it has taken neutral or even quietly supportive positions on other social causes. “Wages, we’ve obviously weighed into that, not raising minimum wage, but to talking about other alternatives to create economic opportunities that would ultimately lift wages in this community,” he said. “We need to create the most pro-business economic climate that can exist in Central Florida.” The committee’s endorsements and campaign contributions have gone to candidates of both parties. Sure, as a business oriented committee, it tends to support Republicans. Its first three endorsements this cycle were of state Reps. Rene Plasencia, Mike Miller and Bob Cortes, all generally moderate Republicans in swing districts, facing tough re-election prospects. But the group also has supported Democrats who generally have pro-business records even if they also support many of the progressives’ causes, including Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, state Sens. Geraldine Thompson and Darren Soto, and Osceola County Commissioner Brandon Arrington. One progressive cause Business Force helped champion was addressing homelessness. “When we vet these candidates we are not looking at anything beyond their positions on business and economic-related issues. Certainly, we have dug into some of the social issues, because there are economic impacts. For example, homelessness. In the past we heard it as a social issue, but we realized its actually cheaper and more effective to provide people with a home first, the housing-first model. We’ve been a model, really for the state of Florida in efforts to stop homelessness, especially chronic homelessness,” Agrusa said. Business Force also is trying to create its own generation of political leaders, through the The Central Florida Political Leadership Institute. The decidedly nonpartisan political campaign school with the unabashed pro-business agenda teaching prospective elective candidates, offers seminars in everything from fundraising and polling to using opposition research. Last year’s institute graduates include Peggy Choudhry, a Democrat and community activist running for Osceola County Commission this year; Roberto Baptiste, a U.S. Border Patrol agent who made an aborted run for Orange County sheriff; and Michelle Ertel, who is not running for anything, yet, but has long been at least as active in Seminole politics as her husband, Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Mike Ertel. “I hope that by the end of this election cycle there will be somebody like Peggy Choudhry, who will be our success story,” he said. 148 STATE AND LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS, IN 38 STATES RUN SIMPLE WITH SAP ERP. Discover What SAP Can Do For Florida The committee’s endorsements and campaign contributions have gone to candidates of both parties ... moderate Republicans in swing districts ... but the group has also supported Democrats who generally have pro-business recrods, even if they also support many of the progressives’ causes.
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