Northeast Florida is winning — bigly.
Check the scoreboard. Or read the articles in this week’s edition.
The next leader of the Senate Democrats — Jacksonville’s own Audrey Gibson.
The new budget chief in the Senate — Fleming Island’s own Rob Bradley.
And yeah, there were … things … that happened … to allow both of those to come to pass.
But lo and behold, Northeast Florida has more stroke in the Senate than has been the case for years.
The question, now: what will the region do with it?
In the House, we are waiting for Paul Renner to work his way up to Speaker — next decade.
Can the region’s Senators and House members get together and make some big pushes for Jacksonville priorities?
Report: No worries for Al Lawson re-election
The Tallahassee Democrat posted a provocative article recently, contending that Rep. Lawson doesn’t have much to worry about when it comes to his re-election bid.
Data guru Matt Isbell of MCI Maps — cited in the article — says the seat is Lawson’s to lose.
“The district gave Clinton over 60 percent of the vote … the rural red counties make up a small share of the vote,” said Isbell. “Lawson may generate a general election challenger, but it won’t a serious or threatening one.”
Indeed, Lawson is one of those Democrats that Republicans can do business with — and it is hard to imagine a serious general election challenger.
However, as Jax Dems know, Lawson could face a primary challenge from former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown … which would be interesting.
While Lawson could face Alvin Brown, more certain is a primary challenge from first-time candidate Rontel Batie.
Batie, a former Corrine Brown policy director, was evasive when we asked his thoughts on Brown’s legal woes and for an idea of how much money his committee (“Rontel for Florida”) has raised.
Batie’s pitch is a millennial candidate with an inspirational personal narrative — rising from deep poverty and personal adversity (including his father getting shot when he was a kid.
It’s uncertain where the momentum comes from to push him over Lawson … yet it’s in Lawson’s interest to have Batie and as many challengers as possible in the race.
Lawson has a lock on Tallahassee, built support elsewhere in the district, and with the more candidates splitting the anti-Lawson vote, the better for him.
Batie really hurts Alvin Brown — again, should Brown get in the race.
No prison, please
Rat on the kingpin, and avoid prison.
“Immediately after being confronted by investigating agents, Ms. Wiley obtained counsel and quickly began providing truthful cooperation in the Government’s investigation,” the memo asserts, describing her cooperation as “early and significant, leading to the indictment of a then-sitting member of Congress and her chief of staff, and ultimately to the plea and cooperation of Mr. Simmons, her testimony and his testimony at trial and the conviction of Corrine Brown.”
The memo asserts that Wiley’s “significant role” in the scheme that went on for three years is outweighed by her cooperation. Also asserted: that Wiley has “no significant risk of recidivism.”
Notable: one of Wiley’s attorneys, Justin Fairfax, will be the next Attorney General of Virginia, elected in the Old Dominion’s anti-Trump wave Tuesday.
Audrey Gibson to lead Senate Democrats
Jacksonville is making moves in Tallahassee: veteran Democratic Senator Audrey Gibson will become the caucus leader for Senate Democrats after an 8-7 vote Monday.
Gibson will succeed current Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II when his term ends next November.
The split was described by observers as moderates versus progressives, a dynamic which some fear will split the caucus; our source tells us Braynon was the deciding vote.
In a “you heard it here first” moment, Florida Politics called this in the Oct. 30 edition of Sunburn.
We asked Gibson about what this would mean for North Florida — specifically, will the region finally get to sit at the adult table when it comes to appropriations?
“Equal footing comparatively speaking is definitely a goal,” Gibson asserted, “however, in one Session it may be a bit lofty.”
Rob Bradley becomes Senate Appropriations Chair
Gibson’s ascension to Democratic Caucus leader is the shot.
Here’s the chaser.
Sen. Jack Latvala’s scandals led to him stepping down — temporarily — from the Senate Appropriations Chair. And Fleming Island Sen. Bradley will take over the position — just weeks before an election year Legislative Session that will see big money spent.
“While the independent, third-party investigation regarding Senator Latvala is pending, I believe it is in the best interest of the Senate for another Senator to temporarily serve as Chair of the Senate Committee on Appropriations,” Senate President Joe Negron wrote in a memo this week.
Latvala, as widely reported, is facing largely anonymous yet deeply detailed accusations of abusing his power with women in the Senate.
Bradley will be in a position to advocate for his priorities, which include more money for North Florida’s St. Johns River, tributaries and springs, as well as a $100 million appropriation for Florida Forever.
Rick Scott fumbles gun question in Jacksonville
Gov. Scott’s talking points failed him in a Jacksonville visit this week when he was asked by this outlet whether “prayers” sufficed as a response after the latest mass shooting on American soil: the killing of 26 people in a South Texas church.
Many of Scott’s Twitter followers posited that “prayers” aren’t enough to stop such things from happening. When asked for concrete policy solutions beyond prayers, Scott — a Governor entering his eighth year in office — had no solutions.
He did, however, use the word evil nine times in roughly two minutes.
“The most important thing we have to do,” Scott said, “is we need more prayer rather than less.”
“Last week, we had a terrorist attack in New York City. We need to pray for when these things happen. It’s horrible when these things happen,” Scott said.
“It’s evil when these things happen,” Scott continued. “Whether it’s a terrorist attack with a truck, somebody doing what they did in a church in the San Antonio area, I’m going to pray for them. We know it’s evil.”
“I believe in the Second Amendment. I just wish there was no evil in the world,” Scott added.
“It’s evil — whatever you want to call it. It’s evil. It’s evil what happened — the terrorism in New York, it was a terrorist inspired by ISIS in the Pulse attack. These things are evil,” Scott said.
“Evil is evil,” Scott added.
This botch led the liberal political action committee “American Bridge” to issue an email calling Scott’s handling of the gun question “abysmal” and decrying his statement as “pablum.”
Aaron Bean’s Handmaid’s Tale Moment
News Service of Florida reports that a Senate committee “narrowly approved a bill that would place into law a program that seeks to dissuade women from having abortions.”
Aaron Bean sponsored the bill … and the Fernandina Beach Republican was “surprised” that the bill was controversial with the National Organization for Women, which urged protesters to dress like the concubines in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the Margaret Atwood novel about a dystopian, anti-feminist United States.
Lawmakers approved beans bill Tuesday in a 5-3 vote by the Senate Health Policy Committee.
‘Kill shot’ for Jay Fant AG bid?
The underreported Cold War between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and State Rep. Jay Fant continues, with Curry’s political committee donating to Fant’s opponent, Rep. Frank White, in the Attorney General race.
This was followed by endorsements of White from Curry and Rep. John Rutherford, described by one Republican consultant as a “kill shot” for Fant.
Curry’s political advisers, Tim Baker and Brian Hughes, are handling White’s campaign.
Fant, the previous chair of the Duval County Legislative Delegation, was slated last Session to carry a bill that would have brought $50 million to Jacksonville to help with costs related to removing current Hart Bridge offramps and routing traffic onto surface streets.
Fant noted that he was going to carry the bill last year based on the public safety argument the mayor’s office advanced at the time.
This year, Fant says the bill would be the prototypical “heavy lift,” saying it was “up to the city to make its case,” and that case “needs to be really good.”
Fant, who was at odds with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, doesn’t appear likely to carry Curry’s priority bill this time out.
The city seeks $12.5M from the state to match a federal grant of $25 million, which would be roughly three-quarters the cost of the project.
Locals endorse Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum for governor
Two elected Jacksonville Democrats — state Rep. Tracie Davis and School Board member Warren Jones — endorsed Gwen Graham for Governor Monday.
Meanwhile, Thursday saw former state Sen. Tony Hill endorse Graham’s primary opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
Graham had already been endorsed by former Jacksonville Mayors Jake Godbold and City Councilmen Tommy Hazouri and Garrett Dennis, and thus far is the only candidate for Governor on the Democratic side to score meaningful Jacksonville endorsements.
“I’m proud to have Representative Tracie Davis and School Board Member Warren Jones by my side fighting to restore public education in Florida,” Graham said. “With their help, we are making outreach in Jacksonville and Duval County a top priority in my campaign.”
Worth noting: Davis and Dennis are political allies of Sen. Audrey Gibson, the soon-to-be caucus leader of Senate Dems and the chair of the local Democratic Party.
Clay Yarborough widens money lead in re-election bid
Jacksonville’s House District 12 will see a competitive election next November between incumbent Republican Clay Yarborough and Democrat Tim Yost.
Clearly not taking re-election for granted, Yarborough posted his strongest total since June: $21,750 of new October lucre.
Democrat Yost brought in $1,208 in donations from 19 contributors, including HD 15 Democratic hopeful Tracye Polson.
He finished October with roughly $2,300 on hand.
Lenny Curry’s D.C. adventure
Jacksonville Mayor Curry was in Washington D.C. this week making the push for a federal infrastructure grant, and his itinerary was packed.
The $25 million grant from the Department of Transportation would allow the city to reconfigure off ramps from the Hart Bridge onto surface streets.
The push is supported by Sen. Marco Rubio, who is just one of the Beltway power players Curry met with.
Curry met with Billy Kirkland and Justin Clark, who handle intergovernmental affairs for the White House.
As well, the Mayor had meetings with U.S. Reps. John Rutherford and Mario Diaz-Balart.
Diaz-Balart, a senior member of the House Committee on Appropriations, is chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. He also serves on the House Committee on the Budget.
Curry followed up the Diaz-Balart meeting with meetings with senior staff from the U.S. D.O.T., and then a meeting with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Worth noting: Marty Fiorentino of the Fiorentino Group helped Chao, an old friend and colleague, as she settled into her latest Cabinet position.
Four more years for Jax Sheriff?
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams addressed a Jacksonville City Council committee Monday — but the big news is that he is just weeks away from launching his re-election campaign.
“We’ll announce that here in the next couple of weeks,” Williams told Florida Politics. “I think we have a lot of work to do and I’m excited.”
Williams’ political committee, “A Safe Jacksonville,” had $105,000 on hand at the end of September, and raised roughly $30,000 more in October.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s race in 2015 was expensive, with over $2 million raised by the seven candidates in the field.
Williams will likely face a ballot challenger — but high approval numbers, per a recent UNF Poll, suggest that any challenger will have an uphill slog.
The first-term Republican Sheriff has 67 percent approval — and 60 percent approval among Democrats.
Williams also has broad appeal in all ethnic groups; his worst performance in the survey is 54 percent with African-American voters.
Death looms over Jax Council Parks panel
Harley fell down a hole above a septic tank; the rubber lid was missing.
Kraan was stabbed in broad daylight by a man with mental issues.
Park safety has become a major issue, and the Jacksonville City Council providentially has a special committee on parks.
However, that special committee had nothing to say about the deaths on the dais, instead talking around the margins, discussing maintenance and other issues.
Parks Committee Chair Scott Wilson noted, before the meeting Wednesday, that maintenance and security are among the committee’s focuses.
Calling the deaths in parks “unfortunate circumstances,” Wilson noted that he was “sorry that happened,” but there are logistical issues precluding ramping up park security.
“We have over 400 parks in the city,” Wilson said, and that requires a “careful” deployment of resources.
After the meeting, Councilwoman Lori Boyer noted that during budget discussions this summer, Sheriff Mike Williams had been “unwilling” to make commitments to station JSO officers in parks.
She suggested that park rangers, which would have arresting powers, could be an option.
“Parks need to be safe,” Boyer said,
However, a security guard in every park would be “overkill,” Boyer added.
Randy White files for Westside Jax Council seat
Jacksonville City Council District 12 is the heart of the city’s true Westside; accents are authentically local, politics are right of center, and a person’s word is his bond.
As of 2019, current Councilman Doyle Carter is term-limited out — but a candidate who filed to replace him embodies much of the straightforwardness Carter brought to the table.
Randy White — a former Jacksonville Association of Firefighters union head, and a retired deputy fire chief — has “the fire in the belly to serve,” he told Florida Politics Tuesday.
Of course, he says he wouldn’t even be running if “my good buddy wasn’t termed out.”
White’s priorities as a candidate include public safety on the macro level, and on the district level, he wants to actualize the still largely untapped potential of the Cecil Commerce Center (formerly Cecil Field).
No nukes are good nukes?
Mayport’s dream of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier may be dead, per the Florida Times-Union.
“I don’t believe the presence of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier would best suit the Jacksonville area,” Rear Admiral Sean Buck said.
But there are positives, with additional amphibious readiness ships slated to call Mayport home.
“In the next two to three years Mayport is going to grow and have a very, very big presence of brand-new Navy warships, more sailors, more families and be back to what I consider the good-old days,” Buck said.
MMJ not OK in Jax Beach
It’s unfortunate when 81 percent of voters are wrong.
That’s the message from Jacksonville Beach, where — despite that massive majority voting in favor of Amendment 2 in 2016 — city leaders are putting the kibosh on cannabis dispensaries, per Action News Jax.
“My job is to represent the people of Jacksonville Beach and as I mentioned during the council meeting, 81 percent of the people may have voted for medical marijuana. But it wasn’t 81 percent of Jacksonville Beach residents looking to put a dispensary in Jacksonville Beach,” Mayor Charlie Latham said.
Even by the standards of beach politics, this was shady. The 4-3 City Council vote on the ban’s first reading included a flipped vote and what Action News delicately called “some confusion.”
The final vote on this measure is in two weeks.
Bye Bye Hastings
The St. Johns County hamlet Hastings will be dissolved, per a resounding vote this week.
One hundred thirty-six voted for dissolution, and 29 opposed; total turnout was 41 percent.
Hastings now has somewhere around 644 people, down from 1200 at its peak. The average housing price: around $80,000. There is no in-town high school.
Dissolution will come at a cost to St. Johns County.
Among moneys owed: $237,000 to FDOT, $639,400 in water and sewer Revenue Bond debt, and $72,757 listed in the Ordinance as “Building Maintenance and Improvement Loan.”
Almost $950,000, all told.
State Rep. Cyndi Stevenson told us earlier this year that dissolution “will likely benefit the city residents and businesses because the county will be a more efficient provider of services. The County will likely incur some costs to improve water infrastructure. The County is already providing some services to unincorporated areas near Hastings, so there are some efficiencies that can be recognized.”