In 2015, A.G. Gancarski coined a phrase: “Drive the narrative, or it drives you.”
It came as a response to Alvin Brown’s failure to message efficiently in his mayoral election loss to current Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.
This axiom applies to politics up and down the ballot, from city council races to the presidency. Someone must set the parameters of the story — if it isn’t one candidate, it’ll be another.
We will see that in 2018.
Brown, hamstrung by sloppy re-election messaging, is taking it to Al Lawson in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 5th Congressional District.
In neighboring CD 6, Republican operatives Brian Swensen and Tim Baker are going nuclear against each other’s respective candidates (Swensen works for John Ward; Baker for Mike Waltz).
And we will see more of it.
Who will win the election?
The person who best tells a story, time after time.
As 2018 progresses, pay attention to the narrative arc.
Rutherford, DeSantis prop up Nunez memo
Rep. John Rutherford, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, defended the “Nunez memo in the context of what we already know” this week on Fox News Channel.
“The bias that was in those text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Paige,” Rutherford said, was “what has brought the integrity of the FBI and DOJ into question” regarding inconsistencies in 2016 election investigations.
Not only bias but “impropriety,” said Rutherford, must be “ripped out by the roots.”
Rutherford, of course, is not the only Northeast Florida Republican to preach to the choir on FNC.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, starting when the memo was released Friday of last week, made similar contentions, noting that evidence of collusion between President Donald Trump and Russians has yet to be presented.
DeSantis wants Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to come in front of the Congress and justify extending the surveillance. Conservatives, including Ann Coulter, have called for Rosenstein’s dismissal.
Lawson, Rutherford push for TRICARE clarity
As legacy costs and deficits pile up, even previously untouchable entitlements like the TRICARE insurance program for military veterans and dependents are feeling the squeeze.
First Coast News reports that Jacksonville’s two congressmen, Republican Rutherford and Democrat Lawson, are seeking answers regarding autism treatment copays.
Lawson wrote Humana, the insurance company, and the Defense Department demanding answers, per FCN.
Lawson said, “I am aware of poor customer service and am deeply concerned about the level of care TRICARE patients … I am also aware of providers claims of having health care costs owed by Humana because of lack of payment. This is simply unacceptable.”
“People’s premium rates are going up; we expect to hear something from them soon. The sooner, the better,” Lawson said. “We were really caught off guard that they are having these problems, the corporate people are not responding, and we want to make sure they do.”
In its response, TRICARE defended its practices, saying “Humana Military has gone above and beyond the contract requirements to pay Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for autism care providers before the 30-day contractual requirement has lapsed because we understand that many of these behavioral health providers are small businesses.”
Plan B for Lawson?
Lawson started his re-election bid slowly. He has about $100,000 on hand and no campaign apparatus to speak of, while Brown has been able to attack Lawson on optical issues like applauding President Trump at the State of the Union.
There is some thought that Lawson isn’t completely confident in his ability to beat Brown, and those feelings weren’t buried when Lawson weighed in on local Tallahassee politics, saying that Sen. Bill Montford should not run for Mayor.
“I know he needs to make a decision, and other people are leaning on him to bring stability to City Hall, but he has two years left and a lot of us hope he will finish the term,” said Lawson. “Bill carries a lot of clout in the Senate. Among Democrats and Republicans. There’s no question about it.”
If Lawson loses to Brown and Montford finishes his term, it’s very easy to imagine Lawson returning to the state Senate.
Lawson, should he lose, will have done so because Alvin Brown was able to drive the Duval base. When Lawson beat Corrine Brown in 2016, he won the western part of the district with massive numbers.
Trump lauds Lawson
In the words of someone somewhere, “Please clap.”
The Tampa Bay Times flagged Trump lauding Lawson for applauding him during the State of the Union.
“Who was that guy? He was a nice guy. I think he was a reverend. And he was clapping,” Trump said in Cincinnati. “And I wouldn’t say it was exactly a rousing — but he was putting his hands together. And I want to find out who he is. I’m going to send him a letter of thank you. And he was probably severely reprimanded.”
It’s doubtful whether a “letter of thank you” from Trump would help Lawson in a primary against former Mayor Brown, who is happy to pillory the incumbent as a DINO.
“It is deeply troubling that Al Lawson claps for the Trump agenda in Washington as people back home struggle to make ends meet. While the black jobless rate is at its lowest levels following President Obama’s years of hard work, there remains more to be done,” the former Jacksonville Mayor said.
Duval vs. Y’all
In yet another plot point in the Congressional District 5 race, Jacksonville Democrats backed Brown for Congress this week.
Duval County Democratic Party chair Lisa King led the wave.
Other endorsers rolled out in Wednesday’s media release include former Jacksonville Human Rights Commission Chair Mario Decunto, Duval County Black Caucus Chair Hazel Gillis, and former Northeast Florida United Way CEO Connie Hodges.
Brown is taking advantage of an as yet un-launched re-election campaign by Lawson to score some news cycle wins.
Last week, he rolled out the endorsement of former Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel Cleaver.
When CD 6 Republican candidate Ward backed Democrat Brown
The hits keep on coming in the brass-knuckled GOP primary race in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.
The latest salvo came Monday when Florida Politics obtained records of candidate Ward giving to a Democratic candidate in the 2015 Jacksonville mayor’s race.
Ward, a resident of Ponte Vedra Beach, was one of several Jacksonville Republican donors to Brown, the now-former mayor primarying Lawson from the left in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.
Ward gave $250 in May 2014, days before Curry jumped into the mayoral race. However, most observers knew Curry was eyeballing a run as far back as 2013.
Notable: Ward’s campaign is being run by Brian Swensen, who was campaign manager for Curry in that race for Jacksonville Mayor.
Ward has attacked Waltz, his GOP primary opponent, for cutting an ad in opposition to Trump in 2016 during the fractious Republican primaries.
Another Curry strategist is running waltz’s campaign: Tim Baker.
Baker believes the donation raises questions.
“Why was it important that Ward from Massachusetts support a liberal mayor of Jacksonville,” Baker wondered.
Baker deemed Ward a “dishonest politician who will say or do anything to win an election, even hypocritically attack a decorated veteran.”
What is clear: Curry’s consultants from 2015 are running hard-charging campaigns against each other in this 2018 race, in which both Baker and Swensen have reasons for wanting to score a victory against each other.
New roadway for Cecil Commerce Center
This week, Gov. Rick Scott came to Jacksonville and — as is always the case when he visits Northeast Florida — Duval got its money’s worth.
Specifically, $6,000,000 of it: for the construction of a new 1.5-mile access roadway to the city-owned Cecil Commerce Center Mega Site to provide access for the manufacturing industry.
The money comes via the state’s $85 million “job growth” fund.
The fund, a compromise solution to Enterprise Florida’s previous practice of directing money to businesses (many were companies that had donated to Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” political committee), includes money for public infrastructure and workforce grants.
Scott also sought to ensure legislators pass another $85 million for the fund in the current Legislative Session.
While in Jacksonville, the Governor also messaged on the importance of VISIT FLORIDA, which the Senate wants to cut down to a $50 million budget (half of what the Governor wants).
Not every Jacksonville legislator was thrilled with the job growth fund spending. Sen. Audrey Gibson questioned the fund’s existence on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Motto matters to Daniels, as bill heads to House floor
The bill requires display in all “school buildings” in a given district, including school district structures.
The House Education committee cleared the bill with just one no vote Wednesday, with Republicans and Democrats alike generally agreeing with Kim Daniels, the Jacksonville Democratic co-sponsor of the proposal, that the motto should be displayed.
Daniels’ Republican colleagues from Jacksonville, Jason Fischer and Fant, were among supporters.
Committee chair Mike Bileca lauded Daniels for having the “courage to take this issue on,” setting up an impassioned close from the first-term Jacksonville Democrat.
“This is not Communist China,” Daniels correctly noted. “This is America … on a bad day, the greatest country in the world. The disrespect against flag and country makes me sick.”
Daniels noted that the motto is a “symbol that represents something that we need to get back to,” and the bill comes from the “spiritual, not natural realm.”
The Senate version of the bill has yet to be put on a committee agenda.
Fant blasts Moody at AG debate
The strategy in the race for Attorney General on the Republican side is pretty clear at this point.
Rep. Fant and state House colleague Frank White will team up against Ashley Moody, the runaway choice of Florida Sheriffs and the best actual fundraiser in the race, to malign her as insufficiently conservative.
We saw evidence of this Saturday at the Federalist Society Attorney General debate.
Moody and Fant went after each other hard Saturday over third-party ads charging her as “liberal,” exchanging charges during an Attorney General’s forum held during the Federalist Society Conference at Walt Disney World Saturday.
“This is what we do in the big leagues,” Fant said.
Florida Politics had reported earlier that White appeared to be behind the independent political committee attacks; at one point, Fant denied being behind the mailers that Moody cited.
Fant, who had challenged her conservative and Republican credentials before, replied to her question by calling her a “newcomer to partisan politics,” and lecturing her that, “the issues matter, and just because the issues make you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re being attacked.
“I might also add I’m not the only campaign that has discussed this contrast. There is more to this. So, if you’re going to support a Bill McBride over Jeb Bush, we’re going to talk about it. If you’re going to have a history of suing Donald Trump, we’re going to talk about it. If you have alliances with liberals in the bar, we’re going to have to talk about it.”
Pill bill moves through House, Senate
WJCT reports on a bill by Rep. Clay Yarborough that is currently working its way through committees in the House and the Senate.
The measure would allow donating unused medicine to low-income people in need.
“If you had a patient who was in a nursing home or a hospital, or something like that, and they had a lot of medication prescribed to them but then they passed away and the medication had not been opened or compromised in any way or expired, then those drugs could be donated,” Yarborough asserted.
“It’s just a way to help the citizens of our state and consumers in our state that would be in need and save money and use these drugs that [are] perfectly fine and there’s nothing wrong with them,” Yarborough said.
Jacksonville City Council consternation over JEA sale potential
Watching Jacksonville Mayor Curry roll over the City Council is like watching a season full of homecoming games.
However, a public notice meeting this week showed a lot of skepticism from the legislators, about the potential sale of JEA.
The utility, which has been pilloried for service issues, saw a VP grilled Monday on why serious moves toward underground power lines weren’t made in older neighborhoods.
And Tuesday, Councilors balked about the proposed sale of the utility.
Some, including Councilman Garrett Dennis, believe the sale is all but a done deal.
Notable about this meeting: Dennis, an irritant to the Mayor’s Office, had many Council members on his side in opposition to the Mayor’s Office.
Councilman John Crescimbeni and Council President Anna Brosche, recent rivals, wondered why the Office of General Counsel was slow in responding to inquiries.
Dennis’ Northwest Jacksonville colleagues backed his play.
Katrina Brown wants “town halls” in her district to discuss the issue.
Reggie Brown wants to make sure infrastructure, such as $3 billion in sewer projects, are addressed in the sale.
Reggie Gaffney asserted that “JEA has a plan,” and wondered when Council would be made aware.
“We’re all kind of blindsided by this,” Dennis said, vowing to ensure that the Council does “whatever is best for the shareholders … the 850,000 people who own JEA.”
For Dennis, who took on the other Democrats from Northwest Jacksonville last week, this has been a strong galvanization of support after what many activists saw as a betrayal.
Supplementary reading: Folio Weekly wonders: The sale, what the mayor knew and when he knew it?
Jacksonville Councilman takes part in anti-fracking rally
From the “blink and you missed it” files, Jacksonville City Councilman Jim Love was one of a few participants in an anti-fracking rally last weekend.
Via First Coast News, Love and the St. Johns Riverkeeper came out against fracking.
”We saw what Deepwater Horizon did for the Gulf Coast. We don’t need that on any part of our coast. It’s obvious we don’t need this to happen in Florida,” Love said.
“Florida is not the right place to do this sort of this. It will threaten our drinking water, it will threaten our springs and rivers and we need to stand up to ban this practice in our state,” St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said.
The Florida Legislature is mulling fracking ban bills this session.
After delays, St. Johns River dredging begins
After a Port Canaveral project delayed availability of the dredging vessel, deepening has now begun on a three-mile stretch of the St. Johns River.
“We are very pleased to initiate construction on this nationally significant project,” said Col. Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville district commander. “The Jacksonville Harbor deepening project ensures our nation’s infrastructure stays strong, which in turn boosts the United States economy, bolsters global competitiveness, creates jobs and reduces risk.”
According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, issues with a tugboat resulted in the Dutra Group missing its initial Dec. 15 start date, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ mandatory start date of Jan. 31. Dutra, a California-based dredging and marine construction company, could face financial penalties if it does not finish the project by July 31, 2019.
Dutra Group is now working on the first phase of the $22.8 million project, known as Contract A, which will deepen the St. Johns to 47 feet. About 3 million cubic yards will be removed from the first 3 miles of the channel, sent to the designated disposal site 6 miles southeast of the entrance channel jetties, the Journal reports. Work will continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week, an Army Corps representative said.
JAXPORT on upswing for Q1
Strong gains marked JAXPORT’s first quarter of the fiscal year, CFO Michael Poole said this week in a board meeting.
The port authority saw increases across the board – 14 percent more vessel calls, 16 percent more tons of cargo and 16 percent more revenue compared to the same period last year, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal. JAXPORT also handled 27 percent more containers, moving 2.7 million tons in total for $16.7 million in revenue.
Among one downside for the quarter, Poole noted. Maintenance dredging is over budget by more than $1 million, or 153 percent. Hurricane Irma forced the port authority to dredge nearly 40,000 cubic yards more than anticipated. Nevertheless, Poole is confident JAXPORT will find enough savings to offset, rather than having to ask for more funding.
Once the dredging project is complete – deepening the St. Johns River to 47 feet – the port authority will experience faster growth, said Roy Schleicher, JAXPORT chief commercial officer. The dredging project, which began this week, is scheduled to be completed in 2019. Currently, the Port of Jacksonville can handle vessels that hold 10,000 containers, but, once deepened, it can accommodate 14,000-container vessels.
“When the 14,000s start coming in when the dredging is done, our container numbers are going to go through the roof,” Schleicher told the board. “We’re really excited … All new opportunities.”
Downtown Jax eyes driverless shuttles
Traffic in downtown Jacksonville could soon include autonomous vehicles.
Driverless shuttles could be cruising Bay Street in the near future, a project that CBS 47 reports will use new technology to help recruit companies downtown.
Action News Jax’s John Bachman recently visited Las Vegas to speak with Nat Ford, CEO of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, about the pilot program in that city and how it can apply to Jacksonville.
Las Vegas currently offers a driverless shuttle on a half-mile loop that includes parts of the old Las Vegas strip. The shuttle tops out at 12 miles an hour but is capable of doing 30 miles an hour.
Ford said Jacksonville could see a driverless shuttle program within the next five years. Over the next two to three years, Ford expects to convert the current Skyway platforms for shuttles – with the federal government interested in supporting driverless technology.
Driverless shuttles in Las Vegas currently cost around $250,000 each, compared to a JTA bus, which runs about $650,000 apiece.
Jacksonville Beach Pier to reopen soon
Storm-ravaged Jacksonville Beach Pier is close to a partial reopening, a year and a half after damage from Hurricane Matthew closed the iconic landmark.
Half of the pier is scheduled to open in April, according to First Coast News.
As of this week, crews working on the pier finished re-paneling and railing half of the original length of the pier. The back half is not yet structurally stable to begin work, one of the workers told reporters.
Portions of the new railings will be recessed, allowing people in wheelchairs to fish from the pier.
The City of Jacksonville budgeted $1.3 million to replace the deck and guardrail in the pier’s front part. As for the back portion, no timeline is available yet.