Graham talks about springs, spying and Cuba
Published: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 6:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 7:40 a.m.
Former U.S. senator and Florida governor Bob Graham discussed environmental protection, gave his opinion about the U.S. government’s data spying and answered questions about his time in government during a Rotary Club of Gainesville meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Graham, 77, spoke to more than 200 club members and guests at the Paramount Plaza Hotel & Suites conference center, 2900 SW 13th St. The event also included a question-and-answer session with the audience and book signing with the former politician.
The first half of the talk consisted of Graham answering questions on several state and federal issues with Gainesville Sun Editorial Page Editor Nathan Crabbe.
Graham discussed pollution in Florida’s springs and underground water systems, saying the last three to four years have been a “defensive battle” to prevent legislation that could further damage the environment from passing.
This year would be different, he said, especially with a new water and land conservation amendment on the November ballot.
“We’re going to go on the offensive,” he said.
The discussion shifted to Graham’s term as chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 2001 to 2003.
Crabbe asked Graham his opinion on former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and the aftermath of him leaking information about the government’s spying activities.
“(Snowden) was unfaithful to his commitment,” Graham said. “Like everyone who handles classified information, you commit to an oath of confidentiality. He violated that, and he should be sanctioned for that.”
However, Graham said Snowden’s disclosures revealed a need to have a “serious review” of how the government balances security and personal privacy, adding that the spying activities were unconstitutional.
“I was stunned to be informed as to the degree of which we are now engaging in highly personal collection of emails and telephone information,” he said.
The talk shifted to Cuba’s plans to start offshore drilling and the Republican Party’s proposed alternative plan to President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Graham, who served as chairperson for the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling from 2010 to 2011 and recently returned from a trip to Cuba to meet with officials, said Cuba’s plan to drill for oil 50 miles south of Key West would be “very much to our interest” despite the current U.S.-Cuba embargo.
Graham also praised Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., for their proposed Patient CARE Act plan, which, if passed, would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
“I think this is a very significant and credible proposal,” he said. “If all we did was repeal, we would be back to the status quo, which resulted in about 20 percent of Floridians not having any health coverage and escalating costs.”
The second half of the talk was a question and answer session between Graham and Rotary members.
One member asked Graham his proudest moment during his term as governor from 1979 to 1987.
He answered economic development during his time in office, saying Floridians made more money on a per-capita basis than the rest of the country.
Another member asked how Florida could attract major homeowner insurance companies back to the state.
With hurricanes and sinkholes, Florida is a risky state for insurers, Graham said. He suggested the state should protect underground water systems to prevent sinkholes and make sure building construction standards are met, especially along the coasts.
“The alternative is have the taxpayers and government pick up the cost,” he said.
Tuesday’s talk was the first time in about a decade Graham spoke to the club, said Grace Horvath, current president of the club.
“He had very honest answers,” she said. “I think people were pleased with the information they received.”
Since he retired from public office in 2003, Graham served as chairman of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. He also established the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida in 2006.
He is currently chairman of The WMD Center, a nonprofit organization that conducts research on the use of weapons of mass destruction, and a published author.
Tony Domenech, a former club president, said he enjoyed the talk and agreed with Graham’s responses on Snowden’s actions and Florida’s water issue.
“I’m thrilled Senator Graham came and spoke with us,” he said.