Before we get to federal and state news, let’s take a look at local drama.
In what has been the roughest week for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, his administration pushed forth to a skeptical City Council and the querulous crowd a controversial report Wednesday urging the sale of the local public utility.
The valuation study was released in draft form last week, suggesting that this is the best time ever for Jacksonville to unload all (or part) of its public utility.
JEA CEO Alan Howard requested a City Council meeting. He was rebuffed by Council President Anna Brosche, who nonetheless had to preside over the meeting anyway when Curry called a conclave.
Gone are the halcyon days of Friday pep rallies with Curry and Brosche cheerleading the Jaguars in Council Chambers, lost in a phalanx of claims, counterclaims and character assassinations. In Wednesday’s meeting, the mayor called the Council president a liar when she said Curry wanted an authorization to explore a JEA sale, followed by Brosche’s assistant saying Curry’s chief of staff “accosted” her, creating a hostile work environment.
The sale, per a General Counsel memo, would require a two-thirds City Council vote. That would be a proverbial heavy lift, given that going into Wednesday, most Council members who had an opinion were skeptical. Some wanted a referendum (not permissible, per the memo).
Others thought a sale is bad business.
And for many skeptics, it wasn’t lost on them that Curry patron Tom Petway, a board appointee who replaced one of Alvin Brown‘s picks soon after Curry took office, was the primary pusher of the sale option last year.
Many of the mayor’s haters have wondered when he would be seen as overplaying his hand. Some will say that happened, finally, this week.
Duval on Senate floor during immigration debate
Sen. Bill Nelson spotlighted a Jacksonville example during the Senate immigration debate this week.
Nelson, a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, illustrated the need for protections via the story of Elisha Dawkins.
Dawkins thought he was born in America. He was wrong. He was locked up for falsifying passport information. Could have been deported. But Nelson stepped in.
“I found out about him because I read a news clip that he was in jail. Here was a fella, grew up in America, only knowing that he was American because he was brought to America from the Bahamas at age six months. He served two tours in Iraq. He came back and joined the Navy Reserves. He had a top-secret clearance. His reserve duty was in Guantánamo with that top-secret clearance. And then because of an application for a passport, he was suddenly swept up and put in jail,” Nelson asserted.
“Now, fortunately, we found out about it, started raising a stink about it. It was brought to the attention in one of the court hearings by a federal judge, and the federal judge said to the assistant U.S. attorney, ‘What in the world are you doing putting a fellow like this in jail?’ And, of course, after that tongue lashing from a federal judge, we got involved with Elisha,” Nelson added.
“I’m happy to report to you that Elisha is today a U.S. citizen. Elisha is a productive member of the Jacksonville community,” Nelson added. “And he is educated, and he is contributing to his community.”
Rutherford not down with Brown
Republican U.S. Rep. John Rutherford obviously won’t vote in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District between Rep. Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Brown.
However, in comments made Monday morning, Rutherford made it clear that he would prefer Lawson keeping his seat to Brown, with whom Rutherford worked for four years in Jacksonville, capsizing the Democrat from Tallahassee.
“We had some real disagreements on what was best for this community,” Rutherford said in Jacksonville about Brown. “I believe he hurt law enforcement and public safety in Jacksonville.”
For years, Rutherford and Brown sparred over budget issues with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which Rutherford ran from 2003 to 2015.
“I can tell you I’ve worked with Al Lawson in Congress already. He’s a gentleman, he’s bipartisan, and I really like working with Al,” Rutherford said. “He and I have really hit it off big, I think. He’s very supportive of our veterans. We have a great working relationship.”
The congressman added that Lawson is more than just a “Tallahassee guy,” saying that Lawson “talks about Jacksonville all the time and what’s going on here and the needs of Northeast Florida.”
Rep. Rutherford is pretty much yoked to President Donald Trump at this point, and that affinity applies to tax reform and the continuing resolution passed this month.
That held true during a press gaggle Monday in Jacksonville, in which Rutherford defended the continuing resolution to keep the government open, the tax reform bill that critics argue will disproportionately benefit corporations over the middle class, and suggested entitlement cuts down the road to offset a legislative commitment to increased deficit spending.
Asking Rutherford about these issues, reporters note that these measures look likely to pass debt onto future generations.
Rutherford asserted that CBO assumptions of 1.9 percent gross domestic product growth over the next 10 years are probably low.
“They’re anticipating as high as four, four and a half,” he said. “Each point above 1.9 percent is $274 billion a year. If we’re just one point above, in three years we fill the trillion-dollar hole created by the tax cut.”
Regarding the CR, Rutherford asserted that “if your house is being eaten up by termites and it’s on fire, which are you going to address first? Some things are more exigent than others.”
Savings will come, he said, when entitlements are cut.
“Where it’s going to come from,” said Rutherford, “is when we get to the entitlements side of the budget, that’s where the bulk of the revenue is at; that’s where we’re going to have to cut and find ways to make that happen.”
DeSantis needs money
Rep. DeSantis would be seen by some as more of a Northeast Florida candidate if his clear interest weren’t D.C. intrigue rather than Florida issues.
One wonders if he might have stronger fundraising were he not doing most of his campaign from the Fox News studios.
Per the Palm Beach Post, DeSantis is still way behind Adam Putnam in the money race for governor, with “less new money in January than the Agriculture Commissioner.
“DeSantis’ campaign advertised a gaudy $3.3 million January haul — but more than $2.4 million of that figure was raised last year by a pro-DeSantis PAC and transferred to a new PAC in January,” the Post observes.
“DeSantis, who announced his candidacy on Jan. 5, raised $894,020 in new contributions in January. That includes $131,019 collected by his main campaign committee and $763,001 raised by a new PAC called Friends of Ron DeSantis. The Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC also received more than $2.4 million from the Fund For Florida’s Future, a PAC formed by DeSantis supporters last year that raised more than $2.6 million through the end of December. The Fund For Florida’s Future nearly zeroed out its account last month, giving $2 million to the new DeSantis PAC on Jan. 18 and another $447,394 on Jan. 31.”
The real story: a five to one ($16.8 million versus $3.3 million) advantage for Putnam.
Moody shreds Fant
Rep. Jay Fant took yet another shot at Attorney General opponent Ashley Moody this week, calling via letter for a “Second Amendment” debate with the “liberal” retired judge, and questioning Moody’s commitment to Stand Your Ground.
Moody then fired back, making it clear she thought Fant was a mountebank with no business in the AG race.
“Your letter demonstrates why you are not qualified to be Attorney General,” Moody wrote Tuesday. “You do not understand ‘Stand Your Ground’ as it existed then or now, criminal law, or how to try a case. This is not surprising since you have never actually tried a case, prosecuted anyone, nor really practiced law.”
Moody also brushed aside Fant’s challenge to a “Second Amendment debate” on March 1 in Tallahassee.
“I look forward to debating you, Frank White and Ross Spano, in the future and discussing how I will tackle the difficult challenges facing Florida, including the Second Amendment. But, until then, I plan on continuing to travel Florida meeting voters, hearing their stories, and discussing why I should be Florida’s next Attorney General,” Moody responded.
Too much moola for Shands?
POLITICO Florida waded into regional politics with a whistleblower type story asserting that UF Health was getting too much money in the Senate budget.
“Consider Shands Jacksonville Hospital and one of its employees, state Sen. Aaron Bean. He voted to approve a proposed Senate budget that disproportionately benefits the hospital from a pool of hundreds of millions of dollars the Legislature must divide among the state’s many public and private hospitals. Bean works at Shands as a ‘relationship development officer.’ Basically, he gets paid to bring in money,” the POLITICO dispatch observed.
“The Senate appropriation gave Shands Jacksonville a special funding boost of about $12 million. State Senate Budget Chief Rob Bradley — who happens to Bean’s brother-in-law — said he was unaware of the extra money and is calling it a mistake. But Bean won’t say whether he knew about the special money when he voted for it,” the article continues.
UF Health, of course, is arguably the most cash-strapped safety net hospital in the state. The extra $12 million would have made a real difference. Luckily, though, watchdog journalism will ensure another year of belt-tightening for the institution.
HD 15 still House race to watch
The race to replace Rep. Fant in House District 15 continues to be close in terms of cash on hand.
Tracye Polson issued a news release Monday detailing her resources.
“We will report today another $27,746 in January for my campaign. This is all in my campaign account and includes a $25,000 loan from me personally. This puts my combined total raised to $135,347 with over $91,000 COH,” Polson said.
The $25,000 loan dwarfs the $2,746 of hard money Polson raised in January off 46 contributions (many of which were as small as $1), bringing her to $55,000 loaned to her campaign. Polson also brought in $2,600 to her political committee, Better Jacksonville, but $2,500 was from her campaign treasurer.
Polson’s $91,000 on hand keeps her close to Republican lawyer Wyman Duggan, whose long-rumored primary challenge has yet to manifest.
$5,350 of new money in January brought Duggan over $109,000 raised, with approximately $95,000 of that cash on hand.
Other races for the State House on the 2018 ballot have no drama in the cash dash.
Water issues ahead, Graham says
Former U.S. Senator and Florida Gov. Bob Graham addressed a packed room in Jacksonville at the North Florida Land Trust’s annual meeting.
Graham, the keynote speaker at the event, discussed water issues and tenets of effective lobbying.
Water, Graham said, would be a “continuing challenge” for Florida, due to anticipated population growth and development.
Currently, Graham said, one in 5 acres in Florida is developed.
By 2070, the number will be up to 35 percent.
That development and population growth, said Graham, will tax the St. Johns River, springs and other tributaries. Impacts will be felt statewide, including the Apalachicola River and the Everglades.
“The state needs to step its game up,” Graham said, and “think 20 to 30 years ahead.”
However, that’s not exactly happening — and Graham dedicated a portion of his remarks to the importance of advocacy.
Graham noted that Florida chiropractors were the most effective at lobbying their issues during his heyday.
They built a personal connection, with chiropractors connecting with legislators in their districts. Typically, they’d call quarterly and would talk about sports and other ephemera when the Legislature was not approaching Session.
Then, just ahead of Session, it would be business.
The personal relationship was important to that approach, and effective.
Campaign finance disparities in Duval races
Local Jacksonville candidates continue fundraising for the 2019 elections, and a leitmotif is the relative non-competitiveness of cash dashes thus far.
The carnage starts in the race for Sheriff, where new entry Tony Cummings sputtered in his first campaign finance report, bringing in an anemic $525.
Williams has, between committee cash and hard lucre, roughly $338,000 on hand at the end of January.
This was after a quiet month of fundraising for him and Mayor Lenny Curry both.
There are several similarly lopsided races for Jacksonville City Council as well.
Bowman for president
Jacksonville City Council Vice President Aaron Bowman made it official Monday, launching his run for the Council presidency.
Tradition holds that the Vice President moves to the presidency, barring some unusual development, such as what happened in 2017 when Brosche defeated John Crescimbeni for the top job.
The Brosche presidency has been a fractious one, with competing narratives between her and fellow Republican Curry on a variety of issues, including pension reform, children’s program reforms, and exploring the prospect of selling local utility JEA.
If there is a subtext to the letter Bowman, a former commander of NAS Mayport, sent Council members declaring his candidacy, it would be a return to civility and order. This will be especially timely given that his year as President will be an election year for the majority of Council.
While it’s conceivable that someone could launch a run for President against Bowman, it’s a fool’s errand.
The race for Council Vice President is in flux, with a number of candidates who have yet to garner significant commitments of support. But the race for the top job is all but decided with this declaration of candidacy.
Civil rights history task force
This week, Jacksonville City Council President Brosche rolled out a proposal for a task force on civil rights history.
This will be a 25-person task force, chaired by School Board member Warren Jones and Ju’Coby Pittman.
Board members include, but are not limited to, Chris Hand, Hope McMath, Tony Allegretti, Marcus Pollard, Ennis Davis, Isaiah Rumlin, Alton Yates and Darnell Smith.
The task force proposal is a reaction to Jacksonville and Florida not being on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail. The trail covers 14 states and 100 historic landmarks.
The task force will complete the work by June 30.
Council members in attendance at a public notice meeting Monday included Sam Newby, Reggie Brown, Garrett Dennis, Katrina Brown and Reggie Gaffney.
There was approval for the concept, and potential developments, including a museum proposal by Councilman Brown, and a discussion of potential landmarks that could be included on the trail.
Council members discussed potentially getting money for the museum concept from Tallahassee and Washington, as potential matches for city money.
With education, no more #MeToo
With an increasing number of sexual harassment accusations against entertainment, community and elected leaders, Jacksonville’s Ed Burr is calling for better education and tools for our children to ensure safety for both themselves and others.
In an op-ed for USA TODAY, the entrepreneur and mega-developer described how he watched each development in the #MeToo movement with a “mixture of awe and disheartenment. The bravery of the survivors is inspiring, but in the face of so much evil we can feel powerless.”
Burr calls for a focus on education, giving power to children to prevent abuse from happening in the first place.
“Educators, you have a powerful platform of influence. Schools serve as the single best place to implement prevention programs,” he writes. “Parents can help by supporting schools’ decisions to teach these programs and by fostering a dialogue at home. And lawmakers can make a difference by requiring all schools to provide abuse prevention education — and by holding them accountable to do so.”
Cecil Spaceport to launch first commercial space vehicle this year
After last week’s Space-X launch, Cecil Airport — the joint civil-military facility located in Jacksonville — announced preparation for its first commercial space launch, expected to happen before the end of the year.
Currently, there are 12 commercial spaceports in the United States. Cecil Spaceport will be one of six that can accommodate horizontal launches. Jets equipped with small rockets would fly all over the ocean to be launched.
“It’s incredible, it just makes myself very proud of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority and the Jacksonville community,” Cecil Spaceport director Todd Lindner told News 4 Jax.
Construction on a new hangar begins this month, designed for space operators, assembly and storage of vehicles.
“A new space operation mission control center which will be part of a new air traffic control tower that is going into construction probably later this year,” Lindner added.
Tarps come off
Bully for the Jacksonville Jaguars — the Florida Times-Union reports that the tarps are finally coming off the nosebleed seats, a measure of demand for a revived product.
Seems like only months ago that local right-wingers were fulminating about kneeling for the anthem.
What a difference a playoff run makes.
Regarding the anti-kneeling brigade, file away the spectacle from last year the next time you consider the next great social conservative fulmination.