August primaries are close to three months away. Vote by mail ballots will go out sooner than that.
What that means is the time is now for candidates to show what their operations on the state and federal level really look like. And on the local level, where elections are still farther away, it’s infrastructure-building time.
In federal races, we have already seen pretenders separate themselves from ostensible pretenders. State qualifying is next month; some will take passes on those races, too.
Adding to the intrigue: An opening in the Duval County Tax Collector office. While not a thrilling position, it has four candidates (as of this writing) who have real political resumes. And that election, a special, is on the August/November schedule.
As the saying goes, “buy the ticket, take the ride.” Through next May, it’s all elections, all the time — that’s when Jacksonville’s municipal races finally close out.
Rutherford seeks federal penalties for targeting police
Rep. John Rutherford is a congressional co-introducer of legislation to make it an additional federal crime for criminals to attack law enforcement officers.
House Resolution 5698, the “Protect and Serve Act of 2018,” would create federal penalties for people who deliberately target local, state, or federal law enforcement officers with violence.
In addition to any sentences they may receive for the standard crimes, the fact that the crime was committed against a law enforcement officer could add 10 years, or a life sentence if the officer dies, or the perpetrator kidnapped the officer during the course of the crime.
“As a career law enforcement officer and sheriff of Jacksonville for 12 years, I know what officers go through every day when they put on their uniform, say goodbye to their families, and go out on the streets doing the important work of protecting our communities,” Rutherford stated in a news release from his office.
“With an uptick in ambush attacks on law enforcement, like we saw last month in Trenton, Florida, we must ensure that there are steep consequences for anyone who targets our law enforcement officers. The Protect and Serve Act will serve as a significant deterrent for anyone who deliberately targets officers with violence. I want to thank my friend, Congresswoman Val Demings [a co-sponsor and former police chief] for her leadership on this bill and for her support of law enforcement officers across the country.”
Hutson makes moves
The committee brought in $155,000 in April, and much of that money came from other committees.
The “Free Speech PAC” and “Citizens First,” both of 5730 Corporate Way Suite 214″ in West Palm Beach ponied up $40,000 each.
“Florida Jobs Alliance” and “Conservative Choice,” each of which share an address with Sunshine State Conservatives, were in for another $25,000.
These committees all appear to be pass-through committees, with money coming from other committees, and so on.
Also of interest: The contributions, dated April 27, represent a break from previous contribution trends for the committee, which predominantly (though not exclusively) has been from corporate and industry PACs.
The committee doled out $10,050 in April, including contributions to campaigns of Sen. Kelli Stargel, Rep. Joe Gruters, and a secondary Hutson committee, “First Coast Business Foundation.”
More significant spending could be found in March for the committee, which gave $50,000 to the FRSCC, to help with fundraising efforts.
As the race for the eventual Senate leadership continues to unfold, expect more interesting committee transfers … and, if April receipts for this committee are an indication, they will at least sometimes be hard to track.
Yarborough, Byrd pad cash leads
In HD 11, Byrd raised $3,470 in April, bringing his cash on hand to $38,500. Among his donors: the Fiorentino Group.
While less than $40,000 cash on hand doesn’t sound like much, thus far his Democratic opponent (Nathcelly Rohrbaugh) has yet to show real fundraising prowess.
Rohrbaugh raised $560 in April and has $1,010 on hand.
HD 11 is solidly Republican, with 66,830 of them compared to 30,574 Democrats as of 2016.
Though there are rumors that Byrd may face a primary challenger, thus far they have been all sizzle and no steak.
HD 12 saw a similar scenario: an entrenched incumbent continuing to plug away against a Democratic opponent in a deep-red district.
Though Yarborough brought in just $1,000 (and spent more than that on consulting), he nonetheless has over $103,000 on hand.
Yarborough, who was a two-term Jacksonville City Councilman representing a big swath of his current House district, is also one of the better grassroots candidates in the area.
Even with just $1,000 coming in, Yarborough outraised Democrat Tim Yost, who brought in only $745 off eight contributions.
Yost has nearly $4,000 cash on hand.
Polson continues to bank in HD 15
In Jacksonville’s House District 15, Democrat Tracye Polson continues to stack chips in her campaign account, with the hope of flipping the seat from red to blue.
Between her campaign account and that of her “Better Jacksonville” political committee, she raised $36,983.03 in April. The total raised is over $211,000 now, which is far and away the biggest nest egg for any Jacksonville state House candidate, Republican or Democrat.
However, given that the seat was uncontested by a Democrat in recent campaign cycles, and given that in most other local Republican-held seats Democrats are not well-funded, Polson’s campaign stands out as one with sufficient resources to make the race competitive.
“When I got into this race, we knew people wanted change, improvement over the same politicians and lobbyists who fail to provide results that improve the lives of working families in Jacksonville,” Polson said in a media release.
Democrat fundraises for Fischer challenge
House District 16, on the Southside of Jacksonville, is typically a secure Republican hold.
The district leans Republican with a 55,593 to 35,171 voter registration advantage over Democrats, according to LobbyTools.
Rep. Jason Fischer faced no Democratic opposition in 2016. And predecessor Charles McBurney had the same luck.
However, 2018 is a different matter, with Ken Organes carrying the Democratic banner.
Organes, buoyed by $7,500 of his own money, tallied $11,743 off 34 total contributions. Aside from the candidate’s stake, the vast majority of donations were $100 and below.
The former CSX employee still has a way to go to catch Fischer, who recorded no April fundraising either for his campaign account or that of his Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville political committee.
The campaign account has $82,000 on hand, and the committee has nearly $35,000.
Elsbury to replace Korman Shelton
Jacksonville’s director of intergovernmental affairs, Ali Korman Shelton, is moving on as of the end of next week.
And Monday, the office of Mayor Lenny Curry revealed the path forward for the team, with one promotion and two internal hires effective May 21.
Jordan Elsbury, a previous “30 under 30” honoree on this site, will replace Shelton going forward.
Elsbury had already been working with Korman Shelton in intergovernmental affairs. A veteran of the campaign side who moved over to policy when Curry got elected, Elsbury has been a quick study in both the politics and personalities of City Hall.
Additionally, the team will be boosted significantly with two key hires from City Council staff to serve as Council liaisons.
Leeann Krieg, the Council assistant for Greg Anderson, and Chiquita Moore, the assistant for Sam Newby, will be moving over as coequal “Council liaison” positions.
Moore and Krieg will be charged with helping to move the Mayor’s agenda through Council, a process that may get easier at the end of June when Council President Anna Brosche relinquishes the gavel to Curry ally Aaron Bowman.
Tax collector special election
The position of Duval County Tax Collector is poised to open up in the coming weeks.
Incumbent Michael Corrigan is moving on, to become CEO of Visit Jacksonville. His resignation letter suggests that he couldn’t serve his entire term before taking that position.
Providentially, a group of Republican hopefuls, including Councilman Doyle Carter, former State Rep. and City Councilman Lake Ray, and former Councilman and Property Appraiser Jim Overton (who staked his campaign with $51,000) are already filed to run on the Republican side.
One Democrat has filed, and she is a major one: former Councilor and State Rep. Mia Jones.
There will be a special election.
The first election would be on the August ballot. If no one gets a majority of votes, the general election ballot in November would be decisive.
Qualifying for this race will occur between June 18 and June 22.
White ready to replace Carter on Council
Jacksonville City Councilman Carter was already termed out in 2019 before he threw in for the soon-to-be-vacant Duval County Tax Collector position.
And Carter made it clear that he backed his old friend Randy White for the Westside seat.
Like Carter, White is a Republican. And despite the absence of any real competition for the seat, White has maintained consistent fundraising of the sort that would discourage any late-breaking challenge for the political newcomer.
White, now in his sixth month as an active candidate, brought in a relatively modest April haul: $3,700, highlighted by donations from Duval Teachers and Nassau County Fire and Rescue employee funds.
The candidate has raised $83,386 and thus far has spent just $1,402 of that sum.
Conry presses advantage over Boylan
April continued what is becoming a familiar narrative in the two-person race in Jacksonville City Council’s District 6.
Rose Conry still holds the money lead over former WJCT CEO Michael Boylan, as the two Republicans vying to succeed termed-out Matt Schellenberg.
And cash on hand sees Conry with an almost 2-1 advantage.
Conry brought in $8,050 in April, which pushed her over $77,000 raised and $70,000 on hand.
Among notable donors for the first time candidate: Michael Munz and a political committee associated with State Rep. Jason Fischer.
Worth noting: Fischer and Conry share a political consultant, Tim Baker.
Boylan lost ground during the month in the money race, bringing in $6,250, pushing him over $48,000 raised and $36,000 on hand. Not only is Boylan raising less money than Conry, but he’s also spending more of it.
Boylan is in a more precarious position than he might expect. Conry’s political operation is situated to make attacks down the stretch count. He will want to step up his fundraising, lest he becomes unable to counter them.
Soft April for Newby
Jacksonville City Councilman Sam Newby won his at-large seat on the Jacksonville City Council three years ago on a shoestring budget of just over $9,000, defeating a candidate who raised 15 times what he did in the May 2015 unitary general election.
And, if his first month in the race is any indication, Newby figures he can win re-election without eye-popping fundraising totals.
Newby brought in just $4,600, with a $100 personal loan and $4,500 in outside contributions from five donors.
Nevertheless, those donors are noteworthy.
Among them, a “big three” of sorts: the Orange Park Kennel Club, the Jacksonville Kennel Club, and Jacksonville Greyhound Racing.
All three gambling entities gave the maximum of $1,000, as did Sleiman Holdings, which is currently in a legal imbroglio with the city of Jacksonville over busted docks and other issues at the Jacksonville Landing.
These donors suggest that if Newby needs to raise more serious money going forward, he could.
However, he didn’t in April.
Newby has one opponent currently, Democrat Chad McIntyre, who thus far has yet to report fundraising.
Another Bishop belly flop
When then-Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop finished a strong third in the 2015 mayor’s race, the Republican vowed that he would run for Mayor again, before endorsing Democrat Alvin Brown over Curry, the eventual Republican winner.
Both the early declaration of a mayoral redo and the cross-party endorsement of Brown seemed like a safe bet at the time to many.
Bishop has long since abandoned his dreams for the mayor’s office and settled into a bid for an at-large City Council seat.
But fundraising continues to elude him, as another distressing tally in April suggests.
Bishop brought in just $1,225 during the month … much less than he is spending on campaign management ($3,000), via the RLS Group.
April was the second straight month in which the belly-flopping Bishop campaign spent more on campaign management than it raised.
The leading fundraiser in the race, Republican Ron Salem, continued to bank in April. He added $4,000 to his political committee and an additional $2,850 to his campaign account.
The committee has $11,000 on hand after April receipts; Salem’s campaign account, meanwhile, is over $150,000 cash on hand.
New judges in Duval
Two unopposed judge candidates will move on to the bench in Duval, reports the Florida Times-Union.
Assistant State Attorney Collins Cooper, a former Gators kicker who has faced criticism from supervisors over his perceived incompetence, will be one of Jacksonville’s newest circuit judges … Katie Dearing, a respected business attorney and the daughter-in-law of retiring Probate Judge Peter Dearing, was also unopposed and will assume office next year.”
There is one contested election: “Former state Rep. Charles McBurney and former prosecutor Maureen Horkan will face off in an election this fall for circuit judge.”
McBurney, recall, ran afoul of Marion Hammer and the National Rifle Association when he sought a gubernatorial appointment to a judgeship in 2016.
Do they have long memories?
Jacksonville Medical Examiner exits
The “challenging” tenure of “embattled” Duval County Medical Examiner Valerie Rao, per the Florida Times-Union, is at an end.
Rao wrote Gov. Rick Scott last week signaling her intentions.
Rao’s tenure went from bad news cycle to bad news cycle, with early issues of employee turnover due to what the T-U summed up as “conflicts.”
“Rao, ironically, is retiring before she was ever reappointed to the position. She was up for reappointment in 2012, but Gov. Scott never reappointed her. Instead, he said he wanted more names to consider. Eventually, in 2014, the Medical Examiner’s Commission recommended two more candidates, but both ended up accepting other jobs. Since 2012, Rao has served as interim medical examiner.”
Record tourism for Jacksonville
Per Visit Jacksonville, 2018 is on a record-setting pace for local tourism.
Behold, the highlights of a news release on the subject.
Total hotel revenue: up 12 percent year over year. Occupancy: up 3.5 percent. And average room rate is also up $5 year over year, to $96.39.
March hotel occupancy: 82.2 percent, with 462,000 rooms sold in the county, leading to $45.7 million in revenue.
Good news for policymakers counting on the bed tax. Convention traffic has been a driver, with 52 meetings through March locally. Targeted marketing and advertising, per Visit Jacksonville, have worked.
UF Health dumping outpatient dialysis
Tourism may be up … but it’s not helping the fiscal picture at Jacksonville’s UF Health.
In a letter to Jacksonville City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche, CEO Leon Haley notes that the hospital is negotiating to sell its outpatient dialysis service to a national, not-for-profit provider by the end of June.
The seeming deciding factor seems to be that the move is made necessary by what Haley calls “significant federal and state funding shortfalls.”
State funding, per Haley, has dropped by $31 million in the last three years. Additionally, $12.7 million in federal cuts will happen this calendar year.
Feds fund ferry
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority announced Tuesday a $3,356,900 Passenger Ferry Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration.
The money is earmarked for improvements for the ferry slips, the vessel and terminal.
JTA took over the ferry’s ownership and operations two years ago, noted its CEO.
“We have made a lot of improvements since JTA assumed ownership and operations of the ferry on March 31, 2016,” said JTA Chief Executive Officer Nat Ford.
“Ridership continues to grow, and improvements to the ferry’s infrastructure will continue thanks to grant awards that the JTA has received from the FTA,” Ford said. “With this recent award, the JTA will continue to strengthen the ferry’s infrastructure, and give our riders a safe and reliable service.”
In a media release, JTA thanked Florida’s Senators and Jacksonville’s two Congressmen, Rutherford and Al Lawson, for their work on behalf of the project.
Homeless rights bill filed
The Jacksonville City Council will consider in the coming weeks a “Homeless Bill of Rights,” legislation that will codify civil rights for the city’s dispossessed populations.
Ordinance 2018-308, filed by Councilwoman Katrina Brown, contends that “the basic rights all people should enjoy must be guaranteed for homeless individuals and families,” and attempts to “assure that basic human rights are not being trampled simply because someone happens to be homeless.”
The bill would guarantee the right to move freely for homeless people, as well as rights to be “protected by law enforcement,” to prayer, to voting, to quality emergency health services, to “occupy” legally parked cars, and to have a “reasonable expectation of privacy over personal property.”
Undoubtedly, at least some of the enumerated prerogatives will be major talkers in City Council committees.
The National Coalition for the Homeless has pushed for this legislation, and Brown’s bill aligns with the goals of that organization.
Smackdown for hit-free zone
A solid month of deliberation over a bill that initially intended to make all of Jacksonville’s public spaces “hit-free zones,” then was gradually watered down to just include City Hall and still make spanking permissible, ended with a 9-9 vote and the bill being killed Tuesday.
Two weeks ago, the bill was deferred, with concerns about everything from “big government” overreach and inhibiting parental discipline to effects on employees tasked with stopping people from hitting each other in offices like the tax collector and supervisor of elections shops.
Last week, the legislation slogged through committees. Two panels voted the bill up 4-3; the third group downed it 3-4.
On Tuesday, despite the changes, the bill couldn’t get over the hump. As has been the case for a month, Council members defended the use of spanking to discipline children during the discussion, while fretting about unintended consequences of the legislative proposal.
Councilman Garrett Dennis, the bill sponsor who has been at odds with the Mayor’s Office, hasn’t been shy about saying that his bills aren’t getting a fair hearing because of City Hall internal politics.
This was the latest example.
Oddsmakers still unconvinced about Jaguars
The NFL draft is history, the first rookie minicamp is yet to begin. The regular season is still four months away. Many of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ players, coaches and management can’t wait.
After coming within five minutes of heading to the Super Bowl and adding some core skill players, the Jags and coach Doug Marrone believe they can take the next step. Those giving odds believe their chance is average at best.
The bookies at Bovada place three AFC teams ahead of the Jaguars and one alongside when it comes to winning the conference championship. The team that kept Jacksonville out of the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots, are again favored to defend their title in the next one.
Bovada has the Patriots as 9-4 favorites to win the AFC, but the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom the Jags defeated twice in Pittsburgh last year, are second at 9-2. The Houston Texans face 10-1 odds followed by Jacksonville and the Los Angeles Chargers at 11-1.
As the season progresses, Jacksonville’s odds will improve if the play of quarterback Blake Bortles resembles the Bortles displayed in the playoffs against the Steelers and Patriots.
With the draft providing Bortles with more help on offense, as well as fortifying an outstanding defensive unit, the Jags know they can now play with anyone. With the talent with the confidence and swagger — exemplified by shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey — they have a chance to prove last year was no fluke.
If betting were legal in Florida, the Jaguars might be worth risking a few bucks.