With the Legislative Session in its second week, drama in the City Council and the pension board, as well as a host of other items, there was an embarrassment of riches — a veritable bouillabaisse of news — in Northeast Florida politics.
Stand Your Ground fix clears Senate
Sen. Rob Bradley of Fleming Island moved a bill through the Senate Wednesday making it easier for criminal defendants to claim self-defense, placing the burden of proof on prosecutors that using deadly force was not self-defense. Approved 23-15, the Bradley bill is a proposed legislative remedy to the Florida Supreme Court ruling in Bretherick v. Florida. In that 2015 opinion, a 5-2 court said people charged in shootings must prove during pretrial proceedings that they are entitled to immunity from prosecution.
As pro wrestler Ric Flair used to say before finishing an opponent: “now we go to school.”
Soon, if HD 14 Rep. Kim Daniels has her way, the expression may be “now we pray in school.”
Daniels prioritized HB 303 this session, a measure that allows for religious expression in public schools — including gatherings of believers and the right to write about religious figures as heroes.
This bill, derided by many fellow Democrats, is well on its way to becoming law — a tremendous achievement for a rookie member of the minority party.
The Senate version cleared its final committee Tuesday and is headed to the floor at some point soon.
The House version cleared its first subcommittee — unanimously, with applause at the end for Daniels and her co-sponsor, Patricia Williams, a Ft. Lauderdale Democrat.
Worth noting: a schism among Duval Dems on this issue.
On the Senate side, Audrey Gibson was a fierce critic of the legislation, carried by Republican Dennis Baxley.
On the House side, Tracie Davis enthused about Daniels’ bill.
Worth asking: What would Reggie Fullwood’s position have been?
Travis Hutson redistricting bill moves to third reading
SB 352 from Travis Hutson intends to streamline the handling of redistricting cases in state courts, moved from the special-order calendar to third reading Wednesday. Hutson noted that the bill “locks the maps in place on qualification day,” giving clarity to candidates.
The bill is intended to encourage judges to conduct redistricting actions in the sunshine, including public hearings involving potential district maps, keeping minutes of closed-door meetings on the plan, facilitating public comment on maps and plans, and complete records retention of all emails and documents.
Though a committee Democrat objected to the burden on judges, he withdrew what Hutson called an “unfriendly” amendment before it was voted down.
Spotted — At Clay County’s inaugural “Clay Day” in the Capitol Courtyard in Tallahassee: CFO Jeff Atwater, Ag. Commissioner Adam Putnam, Sen. Rob Bradley and Reps. Travis Cummings and Bobby Payne.
Andrew Gillum plans Jacksonville fundraiser
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum returns to Jacksonville Sunday afternoon, for his first visit since becoming a candidate for Florida Governor.
The event is March 19 at The Space Gallery (120 E. Forsyth Street), starting at 3 p.m.
Suggested donation levels are as modest as $50, though attendees are urged to splurge, donating up to $3,000 if so moved.
Gillum’s last public appearance in Jacksonville was roughly a month ago, during the pre-candidacy phase of his effort.
In that speech to the Jacksonville Young Democrats, he made a generational appeal to youth, fresh ideas, and so on.
Council leadership races continue
Competitive races continue for the presidency and vice-presidency of the Jacksonville City Council starting in July.
For the top slot, current VP John Crescimbeni leads Anna Brosche 7-5.
It still looks like Crescimbeni’s race to lose.
Uncommitted: Danny Becton, President Lori Boyer, Reggie Gaffney, Katrina Brown, Garrett Dennis, Reggie Brown, and Doyle Carter.
Gaffney, Brown, Dennis, and Brown are all Democrats, like Crescimbeni. If he can carry three of the four, he’s golden … and media can look forward to a hilarious year of Crescimbeni pressers with Mayor Lenny Curry.
In the Veep-stakes, meanwhile, Aaron Bowman keeps expanding his lead over Scott Wilson.
Currently 6 to 3, Bowman has the advantages of Jax Chamber ties and — among at least one supportive councilman, Matt Schellenberg, the perception of being more ready to take over as mayor if needed.
Reggie Gaffney draws challengers
Though we are still two years out from 2019 Jacksonville municipal elections, District 7 Council member Reggie Gaffney is drawing challengers for his re-election from local Eastside activists.
Chaussee Gibson filed this month, saying that Gaffney was “missing in action” in his district. And perennial candidate Marc McCullough also filed.
Are these just names on the ballot? Probably.
Gaffney is not the best orator on the council, and he may be better known for issues with Medicaid overbilling and reneging on a pledge to support Doyle Carter for Council VP last year than for anything he’s done on the council.
But the reality is this: the donor class, including Shad Khan, is comfortable with Gaffney. And these opponents will be starved for donations.
Running against someone like Gaffney sounds easy for those outside the process. But those on the inside know that he’s safe for re-election.
After all, if ending debate in 2015 with a prayer of exorcism, then being walked out by Ken Adkins, didn’t beat him, what will?
Cops and lawyers
A year ago, the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police was sitting pretty.
Angela Corey was walking toward re-election. And Melissa Nelson was, like Shipyard development, port dredging, or a downtown renaissance, just a rumor.
“The FOP and State Attorney Corey, to quote ‘7 Seconds,’ walked together and rocked together. It was a good position to be in. Melissa Nelson — a different matter,” Gancarski writes.
“Union members and brass have concerns about the SAO’s emerging human rights division and the focus it could put on police actions. Zona himself took to Facebook this month to express concerns about Octavius Holliday, who’ll be helming the division. Holliday represented Diallo Sekou of the Kemetic Empire when he and others blocked the Hart Bridge in 2014, protesting Eric Garner’s death by cop in New York City,” Gancarski adds.
Pantazi quoted Nelson saying that she stands by the Holliday hire. The question now, however: will the FOP back an opponent to Nelson in the 2020 State Attorney race?
The concern was that Nelson would be too much like Harry Shorstein for the police’s taste. Though her brand of criminal justice reform is closer to that of the Koch Brothers than Black Lives Matter, it’s nonetheless too much for a police union used to seeing the SAO look the other way.
Pension fund putsch
Pack your lunch if you’re headed to Friday morning’s meeting of the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund. You might be there a while if you’re interested in the five-person panel’s reaction to Curry’s pension proposal.
The agenda stipulates a break before “review and discussion of the pension surtax,” a meaningful distinction is that it takes three members to have a quorum and board members have been known to clear out before the end.
Why “review and discussion”? Perhaps, because of Jason Gabriel, the city’s general counsel, who let the pension fund know that it had no voice in the matter … a result of the 2015 pension deal that restricted future negotiations to the city and the unions — not the fund.
For the PFPF, this is another in a series of setbacks — and the difference between the bare-knuckled approach of the Curry administration and that of certain predecessors has made a meaningful difference.
Room to grow for sales tax revenue?
The Florida Times-Union reports that for the numbers to work out regarding the city’s plan to fund new public sector pensions via a future sales tax extension, sales tax revenues will have to grow 3.75 percent per year and 4.25 percent annually.
“Both forecasts are faster than the 3.2 percent annual average increase in sales tax revenue that the Better Jacksonville Plan has racked up since it started in 2001,” writes Dave Bauerlein.
Curry is not concerned.
“Regardless of the growth rate of the half-cent sales tax, this is a dedicated revenue stream that is critically needed to help pay down our pension debt. Should the growth rate happen slower than projections, our annual actuarial contributions will reflect that change and the city’s annual contributions will reflect that,” his office said in a statement.
Pension contributions, reports the T-U, are $350M or roughly a third of the 2016-17 budget. This, claims the administration, is not “sustainable.”
The city currently faces a ~$2.8 billion unfunded pension liability.
One of the more exhausted stories in the #JaxPol firmament (arguably) is that of Hemming Park.
Endless discussions of the management situation, the situation with people just hanging out in the park, and so forth, creates a situation where reporters’ eyes glaze over — never mind the readers.
Yet, there is always a new angle: as Max Marbut of the Jax Daily Record demonstrates, via documenting the question of what to do with the Confederate statue in the park.
Council member Reggie Brown made a case for moving the statue, in response to an extended discussion as to what in the park is “historic.”
“I agree with the historians, but if it was a statue of Adolf Hitler, you know the Jewish community would be against it,” he said.
Brown is exactly right.
The “heritage, not hate” crowd conveniently leaves out the reality of the casual decimation of hundreds of thousands of people via the American slavery system.
Jacksonville, of course, has a namesake associated with the decimation of native tribes — so it’s easy for people here to get tunnel vision.
But Brown’s point merits a deeper consideration than it will likely receive.
Bye bye AEI
The American Enterprise Institute wrapped up its yearly gathering in St. Simons Island last weekend; protesters were there to bid gatherers farewell, reports the Florida Times-Union.
The reaction, predictably, was mixed. Some honked car horns in support. Others honked in anger. Overall, it was a good day for those who enjoy car horns or who have stock in poster board and marker companies.
It is unknown (or at least unreported) who from the gathering may have heard the protesters. Former President George W. Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker were among those in attendance.
Jon Huntsman’s Jax speech cancellation hinted at ambassador gig
The World Affairs Council’s loss is the world’s gain.
After President Donald Trump had appointed Huntsman as Russian ambassador, AG Gancarski of Florida Politics reported that Jacksonville residents got a sneak preview hours before it went out to the media.
An internal email to World Affairs Council members scooped the press: “Jon Huntsman, Jr., our March 14 Global Issues Evening speaker, is unable to join us due to rapidly unfolding responsibilities in Washington, D.C. I am sure that you are as disappointed as I am, but know that he is keen to speak to the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville, and has even asked for a ‘rain check’ to do so. We will work to reschedule Ambassador Huntsman.”
Replacing Huntsman March 14 was Gen. Philip Breedlove, a four-star Air Force general who helmed the U.S. European Command and NATO’s European Command.
Duval drug court gets national honor
The National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) and the U.S. Department of Justice named the 4th Judicial Circuit Adult Drug Court one of only nine national mentor drug courts.
The court will model and provide best practices and technical assistance to other jurisdictions for the next three years.
Since 1994, the NE Florida drug court has processed 2,000 people’s cases, emphasizing outpatient rehab over incarceration.
Chief Judge Mark Mahon called it “an incredible honor to be recognized at a national level for all of the great work being done in our problem-solving courts.”
Nice place to visit, but…
St. Augustine is America’s oldest city and an increasingly poorly-kept secret as a travel destination — and that secret became even more open this week when Time said the St. Johns County seat is the best travel destination in the country.
Citing “pristine beaches” (no, not “sexy beaches”), lauding the restaurants and golf, and politely ignoring the traffic, Time noted that St. Augustine has abundant reasonably priced lodging.
Meanwhile, Action News Jax offers a counternarrative — contending that St. Johns County’s rapid population growth has put affordable housing at a premium, creating a shortage of quality housing.
“In Jacksonville, you can get a 3 or 4-bedroom HOUSE for what you will pay for a 2-bedroom APARTMENT here,” asserted one SJC resident.