A group of about 50 University of Central Florida students got a chance to hear and interact with their state representative Friday.

Rep. Dean Cannon (R-Winter Park), who represents UCF’s district in the Florida House of Representatives, spoke for nearly 30 minutes in the Student Union’s Cape Florida Ballroom answering questions and giving his opinions on several key issues facing the university and its students.

“I just want you to know that protecting both access to higher education generally and specifically funding the institutions like UCF that are doing well is and will always be my priority as long as I am in the House,” said Cannon, who is running for his last term as the District 35 representative and is slated to become speaker of the House after the November elections.

When asked about what is the most pressing issue facing one of the fastest-growing universities in the country, Cannon responded with two things: “the finite budget, and the danger of redundant programs and the ability to specialize.”

“All universities are not the same,” Cannon said. “There are smaller universities. There are universities with different focuses. … All universities can’t be alike and they shouldn’t be alike, and they can’t all do the same things.

“The process of deciding who’s going to get what and who’s going to give up what is a real difficult challenge to governments right now.”

Cannon also responded to other issues, including early voting on college campuses, health care for students and opportunities for non-U.S. citizens to receive college educations — and presented himself well, according to Ryan Dougall, a senior radio/television major and chairman of the College Republicans at UCF.

“I think everyone that came here truly had a passionate question to ask and I believe he did answer it the correct way,” Dougall said.

Jay Shannon, a junior political science/pre-law major and vice president of the College Democrats at UCF, agrees.

“He’s a Republican and we know that and for the most part we don’t support him,” Shannon said. “I was very pleased with his answers to the questions, especially my question about early voting because I don’t see it as a partisan issue. “I think that he’s being very good at doing his job, which is representing our campus, and I was very pleased overall.”

Cannon has been very involved as District 35’s state representative since 2004, having a hand in several campus projects, including the approval of the new medical school.

He also hinted Friday that bills like the Green Energy Fund bill, which would implement a small student fee to fund campus sustainability projects, are in better shape of being passed than in previous years.

The spring 2010 legislative session is scheduled to begin March 2.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, Rep. Cannon continues to make UCF a top priority, by Brentley Romine,  bromine@orlandosentinel.com