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Trump vs. DeSantis: Florida pastors mull conservative issues

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DORAL, Florida (AP) — Several of Florida’s conservative faith leaders have the ear of two early frontrunners for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – former President Donald Trump, who lives in Palm Beach, and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The clergy’s top political priorities are thus likely to resonate in the national campaign for the religious vote, even as both men’s agendas are still being weighed from the pulpit.

The faith leaders’ key issues include education, especially about gender and sexuality, and immigration, a particularly relevant matter in Florida, which is a destination for hundreds of thousands of newcomers and home to politically powerful Latino diasporas.

Trump made reducing illegal immigration a strong focus of his previous campaigns, often with strident rhetoric, and has discussed building on his legacy in a second term. DeSantis, who isn’t yet a candidate but is widely expected to run, has taken a more careful approach with immigration developments in Florida, while spotlighting issues related to schools and family.

Several pastors, particularly in heavily Latino South Florida, argue for reforming immigration policy. They want a more orderly process at a time of historically high illegal border crossings, but also more help to regularize and integrate undocumented migrants who are contributing economically and socially in United States communities.

The faith leaders’ top priority, however, is defending their congregations, and youth in general, from what they see as efforts to impose — through public education – concepts of marriage, family and identity that run against their values.

Some LGBTQ advocates, teachers unions, and others argue that the issue of “parental rights” is being used to inject conservative politics into public schools.

But for pastors like Frank López of Jesus Worship Center in Doral, a Miami suburb, exposing children to certain types of sexually explicit materials in schools without their parents’ knowledge is a form of political indoctrination that “brings conflict to a family.”

“We don’t want any government ever to go above a father and mother,” said López, whose church has grown to more than 3,000 members from over 40 different nationalities since it was founded two decades ago with barely three dozen worshippers.

He cited as a counterweight a bill DeSantis signed last year to give parents a say in what books are available in school libraries, targeting the presence of sexually explicit volumes.

“I think that the government should not get involved in any religion, but yes I believe that religion should get involved in governing,” said López, whose church has hosted visits by Trump, DeSantis and other conservative politicians.

Tom Ascol, the senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral who offered a prayer at DeSantis’ inauguration earlier this year, said he wants political leaders fighting “woke mobs” to restore “common-sense sanity” on issues like sexually explicit materials in public spaces with children.

“What Governor DeSantis did here in Florida, I’m grateful for,” Ascol said.

For Rabbi Avrohom Brashevitzky, executive director of Chabad Jewish Center of Doral, the top concern is similarly “the breakdown in morals and ethics,” which he believes leads to societal ills including antisemitism, a growing worry nationwide.

He attributes that breakdown to failures in education to imbue youth with the values of tolerance, kindness and a belief in a higher existence.

“Life doesn’t begin and end with your cheeseburger, you and your pleasures,” Brashevitzky said, praising DeSantis and the Florida legislature for passing a “moment of silence” in schools before the day’s start, where children can pray or reflect.

“We as a society, Christian or not, have a responsibility to protect the young ones,” echoed Abraham Rivera, senior pastor at La Puerta Life Center, a Brethren in Christ church with about 200 members in Miami.

The focus on freedom for conservative faith-based moral values, particularly for youth, is proving a winning argument among religious voters nationwide, experts say.

“I certainly see a lot of energy around what conservatives would call ‘parental rights’ … I don’t see that ending,” said Marie Griffith, the director of religion and politics studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

In Florida, conservative family values might have turned younger Latino voters toward DeSantis, helping to account for his nearly 20 percentage point reelection victory last year — “unheard of” according to Susan MacManus, a professor emerita of political science at the University of South Florida.

The state is almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, she said. Trump won the prized battleground state by single digit percentage points in the last two presidential elections.

“The evangelical vote in Florida is too diverse to be a big force in politics,” she added, but many faithful across denominations like seeing DeSantis take charge of issues like sexually explicit materials available to children. “That resonates.”

The ability to stand up for more conservative values is also inextricably linked to the free exercise of religion for faith leaders like Rivera and his wife, Marilyn, who’s also a pastor and met with Trump when she led South Florida’s Association of Hispanic Ministers, which represents about 800 pastors from different Christian denominations.

“We never come at it from a hate perspective. As a pastor, I happen to believe what the Bible teaches about sexuality and marriage,” he said.

But he and other pastors fear holding on to those beliefs could put their churches at risk of being sued, for example when refusing to celebrate same-sex marriages, or that they might be forced to go against their conscience.

“The effort of some on the ‘progressive side’ to define religious freedom as freedom to worship but not necessarily the freedom to serve or the freedom to advocate” is also a top concern for Thomas Wenski, the Catholic Archbishop of Miami.

Wenski noted that “neither party will necessarily embrace the whole gamut of Catholic social thought,” which includes opposing abortion and capital punishment. Last year, Wenski’s strong advocacy for migrants and refugees put him publicly at odds with DeSantis, who’s Catholic.

Ultimately, faith leaders said that a candidate’s integrity and ability to address their concerns through policies outweighs a candidate’s likeability and other personal traits.

“The Christian church is not about looking for a perfect person or a charismatic person,” López said. “It wants a person who does what he says and a person who’s aligned with God’s values.”

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South Florida News

Miami-Dade’s Health District Metrorail Station Renamed UHealth | Jackson Station to Promote Healthier Living and Community Access

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MIAMI-DADE, Fla. (FNN) – Today, Miami-Dade County unveiled the newly renamed UHealth | Jackson Station, located at 1501 NW 12 Avenue in the heart of the Health District. Formerly known as the Civic Center Metrorail Station, this renaming marks a significant collaboration between Miami-Dade County, the University of Miami Health System, and Jackson Health System. The new station name serves as a landmark to two of the world’s leading medical care systems, promotes healthier living through collaborative activations, and ensures easier access for transit riders.

This naming rights agreement, led by Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development, is the first public-private revenue-generating opportunity for Miami-Dade County involving Jackson and the University of Miami Health System. Approved unanimously by the Board of County Commissioners in June, the partnership will generate nearly $3 million in non-tax revenue and provide numerous benefits for the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW).

Mayor Daniella Levine Cava praised the collaboration, stating, “This innovative partnership with the University of Miami and Jackson showcases the powerful synergy between the private sector, our public health system, and Miami-Dade County. It is a beacon for greater access to healthcare and healthier living. It reflects our commitment to building a robust, efficient public transportation system that is beautiful, functional, safe, and gets you to your destinations faster, including your healthcare provider.”

The station, which has an annual ridership of over 13.4 million and 90,000 annual boardings, is situated in a bustling area frequented by hundreds of thousands of pedestrians and motorists. The renaming aims to remind residents and visitors that they can easily access top-notch healthcare in their community.

District 1 Commissioner and Board Chairman Oliver G. Gilbert, III, expressed his support, “As a proud transit rider and advocate of strong public-private partnerships, this transformative change at one of our busiest Metrorail stations marks a milestone in our commitment to vibrant, accessible public transit. This partnership with the University of Miami Health System and Jackson Health System is a great step forward, and I look forward to more similar initiatives.”

District 3 Commissioner Keon Hardemon added, “This unprecedented collaboration will positively impact my district, our communities, and public transportation. I commend the hard work of everyone involved in bringing this marketing partnership to fruition, which promotes healthier living and greater access to Miami-Dade’s health tech innovation hub.”

Dipen J. Parekh, M.D., chief operating officer of UHealth, emphasized the commitment to accessibility, stating, “Naming this station with our Jackson partners demonstrates our dedication to increasing community access, just as we are expanding UHealth’s presence across Miami-Dade in the coming year.”

To further illustrate this commitment, UHealth will deploy mobile clinics along Metrorail stations over the next 30 days, providing children’s vaccines, screenings, and educational materials.

Carlos A. Migoya, president and CEO of Jackson Health System, highlighted the significance of the renaming, “Properly naming this station UHealth | Jackson reiterates our commitment to enhancing access to Miami’s only academic health system and evolving the Health District into one of the nation’s top medical destinations.”

All signage at the station has been updated to reflect the new name, with partner branding added to various features and elements. The new station name will also appear on digital and static signage throughout the Metrorail system and online.

Francesca de Quesada Covey, Miami-Dade County’s Chief Innovation and Economic Development Officer, concluded, “Our Marketing Partnerships program exemplifies how we innovate County government to build a FutureReady Miami-Dade, improving services for residents and finding win-win opportunities with the private sector.”

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South Florida News

Miami-Dade County to break ground on state-of-the-art South Dade Transit Operations Center

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MIAMI-DADE ( June 20, 2024 ) – On Tuesday, June 25th, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman, Oliver G. Gilbert III, along with the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW), elected officials and project stakeholders, will celebrate the groundbreaking for the new cutting-edge South Dade Transit Operations Center (SDTOC) project, the first of its kind in the United States.The SDTOC is an innovative transit project that will meet the requirements for Envision Silver Certification. It will house and maintain a new fleet of 100 articulated battery electric buses. SDTOC will have dedicated areas for maintenance, parts storage, driver training, bus dispatch, cleaning, and detailing. In a major storm or emergency, the SDTOC can also be used as an Emergency Command Center for DTPW operations. It will also contain a solar component, reclaimed water system and native tree area demonstrating the County’s commitment to resilience and sustainability. Most importantly, it will serve as a vibrant economic hub creating more than 270 jobs in the greater Homestead area.

This is the first major garage facility constructed in 40 years and critical to serving South Miami-Dade with closer, more expeditious and complete transit services. The project is scheduled to be completed in Summer 2026 with portions opening as soon as Summer 2025.

Who:
Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade, Miami-Dade County Mayor
Oliver G. Gilbert III, Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman
Robert Wolfarth, Chair, Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust
Eulois Cleckley, Department of Transportation and Public Works Director and CEO
What:
Groundbreaking for South Dade Transit Operations Center
When:
June 25, 2024 — 10:00 a.m.
Where:
SW 127 Avenue and Biscayne Drive, Homestead

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South Florida News

The Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust announces its May 2024 Full Trust meeting

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MIAMI-DADE ( May 24, 2024 )– On Wednesday, May 29, 2024, the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) will hold its May 2024 Full Trust meeting.

The meeting will be held at 5 p.m. in the Miami-Dade County Commission Chambers on the second floor of the Stephen P. Clark Government Center at 111 N.W. First St., Miami, Florida, 33132.

The meeting will be broadcast live on Miami-Dade Television and via webcast at www.miamidade.gov/webcasting.

Members of the public are welcome to participate by providing a comment on any of the items to be discussed at the Full Trust meeting. A copy of the meeting agenda will be published on the CITT website at least a day prior to the meeting.

Public comments can be provided by:
• Attending the meeting in person and delivering a comment there, or by
• Sending an email to citt@miamidade.gov no later than noon on Wednesday, May 29, 2024. The email will be read into the record during the meeting.

Each member of the public providing a comment will have two minutes to speak. Emails read into the record shall not exceed two minutes. Those who provide a public comment must also provide his/her name, address, and the CITT agenda item number(s) being addressed.

Anyone wishing to obtain more information regarding the meeting can call 305-375-1357. For information about the CITT and the People’s Transportation Plan, the public is encouraged to visit the CITT’s website, or call 305-375-1357.

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