OR Conversations is a weekly Q&A featuring conversations with local newsmakers.
John Newstreet is the president and chief executive officer of the Kissimmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce and a Republican candidate for the special election to fill the vacant House District 44 seat in west Orange County, facing Republicans Bobby Olszewski, Bruno Portigliatti, and Usha Jain in an August 15 primary. A resident of west Orange, Newstreet has a background of serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, working in the U.S. Senate staffs of Mel Martinez and Marco Rubio, and heading up the American Legion in Florida.
Orlando Rising: What does your experience with the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber of Commerce do to prepare you for the Florida House of Representatives?
John Newstreet: One of my top priorities in Tallahassee will be to focus on economic development and job creation and my work at the chamber provides an unequalled perspective into growing our economy.
Every day, I’m working with businesses of all sizes to help meet their goals. Our team focuses on connecting small businesses to each other and, every year, more than $1 million of business is conducted in our small business networking groups. I’m working with large businesses to make a difference in our community. And, our relationship with many non-profits allows us to serve those in our community who need the most help.
One project the chamber has worked on extensively is BRIDG. There, the community understood the need to diversify Osceola’s economy and invested in a regional advanced manufacturing center that will significantly increase wages. This type of project should be replicated in various industries across the state and certainly in West Orange. I hope to shepherd those types of projects to keep Florida’s environment for growing businesses strong.
OR: What does your experience with the U.S. Coast Guard and American Legion do to prepare you?
Newstreet: Growing up, my family was focused on service and there is no greater service than serving your country in the armed forces. I was honored to answer the call to serve my country and it has been my life’s mission to serve those who also answered that call.
As the only veteran in this race, I fully understand the needs of our veteran community. At the American Legion, I worked with veterans across Florida from all branches. We provided services to bring veterans together and to assist veterans in their time of need. During my time at the American Legion, we grew the organization to its highest level of membership because of our focus on service.
If I am elected, improving the lives of veterans across the state will be a primary focus while I serve in Tallahassee.
OR: You grew up in a family of 10 children, not including occasional foster children your parents welcomed in. What were the biggest challenges and benefits of such a big family?
Newstreet: Sharing one bathroom was always the biggest challenge.
But, I was in the middle of those 10 children and being a part of a large family certainly has its challenges as every one of my brothers and sisters have their own unique personalities.
Family teaches you values and service was embedded in almost everything we did. I’m always proud of my parents for providing a safe healthy environment for foster children until they found a permanent loving home.
It was a training environment to bring consensus to large groups of people. I believe that is why I have been successful at the chamber and at the American Legion with large boards of directors and thousands of members. It’s also why I believe I’ll be successful in Tallahassee, as I can bring people to the table to make true conservative change.
OR: The biggest controversy of the past session was over the education omnibus bill, House Bill 7069. It’s likely to come back in 2018. What are your thoughts on this bill’s provisions to use charter schools as lifeboats for underperforming public schools?
Newstreet: My mother was a teacher and now trains teachers as a professor of education at a college in Texas. My sister and a sister-in-law are also a teachers. I am a strong proponent of improving our educational system in Florida because to improve our economy, we must have a great education system.
While our public schools in west Orange County are fantastic, not all school systems in Florida are serving their children the way OCPS is in District 44. In Pinellas County, the Tampa Bay Times won a Pulitzer for their series on the school district’s “Failure Factories” there.
I believe it is our role as legislators to ensure ALL Floridians have the proper education to provide a great future for our children. We must provide options for children when a school repeatedly fails. We should give parents the right to determine how their child is educated. But, we also must give those teachers in public schools every tool available to succeed as well.
Under HB 7069 public schools received increased funding and children in failing schools have a choice. That is always a great accomplishment.
This topic is not going away anytime soon and I look forward to participating in the debate. Education should always be a primary topic of discussion in the Florida Legislature.
OR: How did the Pulse tragedy affect you?
Newstreet: I had several friends who were affected by the tragedy. The pain they shared was a pain that no one should ever go through.
Still, after Pulse, it was inspirational to see the community come together in the way it did. It showed, once again, that Central Florida is a great place to live.
OR: The winner of HD 44 could be a viable candidate to become House Speaker for the class of 2018. What are your thoughts on that prospect?
Newstreet: My thoughts are 100 percent focused on talking to the voters in District 44 and serving them as their representative in the Florida Legislature.