As poet, novelist and pop culture icon William S. Burroughs once noted: “Control needs control to control.”
That observation holds in all hierarchical structures, especially politics, and particularly after voting begins.
In a typically Republican area like Northeast Florida, recent history shows it’s been rare to see so many competitive races as we are seeing this year on the November general election ballot.
Democrats are fielding candidates — serious ones — in unlikely places. And whether they can win or not, it’s worth noting that they are competing and signaling that there are no giveaway offices. Not anymore at least.
While it’s not likely that Cord Byrd, Jason Fischer, or Clay Yarborough will be leaving office anytime soon, the fact that Democrats are playing matters.
Also crucial down the stretch: Control over narratives.
The Ron DeSantis for Governor campaign has an increasingly Jacksonville flavor. Operative Tim Baker came aboard in a senior role, joining recently hired campaign manager Susie Wiles.
Baker and Wiles (as well as the rest of the team) will win or lose based on how effective they are when it comes to defining Andrew Gillum as just another Democratic candidate in a state where most poll stories have headlines of “dead heat” or “too close to call.”
Republicans have controlled narratives in this region for generations. To maintain control of the process, they will have to continue writing the script.
Baker joins DeSantis campaign
With four weeks before the primaries, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis brought on yet another seasoned hand for his campaign’s stretch run.
Florida Politics learned Monday evening that operative Baker joined the campaign in a senior leadership role, offering strategic and political guidance.
Baker, one of a series of staff moves in DeSantis World that included bringing on another op with a Jacksonville portfolio in campaign manager Susie Wiles, asserted that the campaign is “starting to hit stride” and “we are all working like crazy.”
Baker’s skill: targeting voters and moving them.
Recent campaigns have seen specific appeals made to medium-propensity voters, to female homeowners between the ages of 35 and 46, and to other blocs of voters, where support could be firmed up and maximized.
One can already see evidence of such appeals in the DeSantis campaign, which smartly and in a timely fashion went up on TV last week to pillory Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for botched storm response after 2016’s Hurricane Hermine.
Such ads can be seen as part of a larger strategy to define Gillum in the “traditional major party candidate” way. Baker notes that Gillum emerged unscathed from an oppo-free Democratic primary, while DeSantis was “pounded in the primary,” as support from President Donald Trump drove a narrative that went well beyond Florida borders.
The choice, Baker believes, will come down to one of “leadership” (DeSantis) versus a “feel-good choice without substance.”
Clark backs Soderberg
No real surprise here, but former Clinton Administration alum Nancy Soderberg picked up an endorsement in her Congressional race from former 4-star general and 2004 presidential candidate Wes Clark.
“I worked closely with Nancy when she was on the National Security Council and U.N., and I’ve watched her defend American interests around the globe. She has fiercely fought for our values; building peace in the Balkans, forging a cease-fire in Northern Ireland, standing up to terrorists, and so much more,” Clark said.
The Clark endorsement was part of a raft of military endorsements for the Democrat running to replace DeSantis in Congress. The nods from two 4-Star Generals, three Lieutenant Generals, one Brigadier General, one Colonel, one Captain and three Rear Admirals “highlight the respect Nancy Soderberg earned from leaders in our military over her decades of work safeguarding our national security,” asserted a media release.
Soderberg is up against Mike Waltz in the general election in the Daytona-centric district that nonetheless has a lot of Jacksonville flavor in the campaign, with donors and interests in the 904 monitoring this swingy contest.
Bean beefs up
From Sept. 15-28, Bean raised $22,200 between his campaign account and that of his political committee, Florida Conservative Alliance.
Among the donors on the committee side: Florida Blue and the Florida Pharmacist Political Committee.
The campaign account donors included Southern Gardens Citrus, U.S. Sugar, and Comcast.
Bean has $89,908 in the committee account and $107,567 in the campaign account, giving him $197,475 to work with during the campaign stretch run.
Bean maintains comfortable leads over his opponents. Democrat Billee Bussard has $6,558 on hand after raising $5,760 in the same two-week period. Libertarian Joanna Tavares does not fundraise and has roughly $40 on hand.
The district is nearly half Republican. With just over 360,381 registered voters, 174,580 Republicans and 100,307 Democrats call SD 4 home. The remaining voters are either NPA or third party, including 1,466 registered Libertarians.
Bean last faced a competitive general election in 2012, when he defeated former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg 62 percent to 38 percent.
Byrd flies high
Freshman Jacksonville-area Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd continued to maintain strong cash leads over his Democratic challenger as September closed.
Byrd, whose majority-Republican House District 11 includes coastal Duval and all of Nassau County, brought in $8,100 of new money between Sept. 15 and 28, pushing his campaign account over $49,000 on hand. Comcast and Duke Energy PAC were among the $1,000 donors.
Byrd also has over $10,000 in his 1845 political committee.
Labor money, including from a Sheet Metal Workers local and the North Florida Central Labor Council, added to Rohrbaugh’s haul.
No bitter pills for Yarborough
First-term Jacksonville-area Republican state Rep. Yarborough continued to maintain a healthy cash lead over his Democratic challenger as September ended.
Yarborough, running in Southside Jacksonville’s Republican-plurality House District 12, brought in $6,000 between Sept. 15 and 28.
Of that haul, $4,000 came from the biggest companies in Big Pharma: Eli Lilly, Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer and AstraZeneca all cut the Arlington Republican checks.
All told, he has raised $171,225, with $103,918 of that on hand.
Yarborough faces Democrat Tim Yost, who took in $610 during the same period. All told, Yost has $11,225 on hand of $17,558 raised.
Yarborough made news last week for becoming the regional head of the Yes on 3 campaign, designed to make expansions of casino gambling contingent on citizen referendums.
Polson seeks debate
The general election race to replace outgoing state Rep. Jay Fant in Jacksonville’s House District 15 is beginning to heat up, with a pattern established last week.
Democrat Tracye Polson is determined to push back against what she sees as distortions of narrative and distractions from the campaign of Republican opponent Wyman Duggan.
One such example: challenging Duggan to debate, in the wake of a pyrotechnic attack ad that linked Polson to Resistance protesters, with stock footage of a flag burner catching the Democrat’s ire.
The ad said Polson is “with them, not with us.”
In that context, Florida Politics has learned of the second line of attack being mulled by the Duggan campaign, one focusing on Polson being a recent arrival to House District 15, a group of deep-rooted communities ranging from Riverside, Avondale, and Ortega to the more bucolic stretches of Jacksonville’s Westside.
The contrast would be implicit, between the deeply rooted Duggan and Polson, a candidate who moved to the district much more recently, according to voter registration records.
Polson registered in HD 15 in November 2016, records show. Before that, she was a registered voter in St. Johns County.
We asked Polson about this potential issue, and she framed it as yet another distraction put forth by the Republican campaign to distract from his career as a lobbyist.
All told, he has roughly $82,000 on hand, a number that is still behind the Polson campaign, which had as of its most recent campaign account and committee filings approximately $123,036 on hand after having raised and self-financed about $125,000 during the same period.
Polson is spending big on television, and her ability to finance her campaign has gotten her into the game. The next four weeks will show if her campaign can go toe to toe with a Republican machine with deep tentacles into GOP power structures in Jacksonville and Tallahassee both.
Overton builds cash edge
As September ended, a familiar narrative continued.
Republican Jim Overton maintained his lead in the money race with Democrat Mia Jones for Duval County Tax Collector — even though she was the choice of almost 47 percent of voters in the August blanket primary.
The latest filings to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections run through Sept. 28.
Overton (a former City Councilman and Property Appraiser) now has over $43,000 on hand after raising $16,034 in the two weeks leading up to the 28th.
Among the latest donors: Peter Rummell, the Jacksonville developer closely aligned with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry; Hans Tanzler; and a couple of entities associated with Jacksonville Landing developer Toney Sleiman, currently feuding with Mayor Curry.
Jones was less productive from Sept. 15 to 28, raising just $3,835 and giving her nearly $20,000 on hand. Prominent backers include the AFSCME union and local trial lawyer Wayne Hogan.
Democrats enjoy a registration advantage in Duval County. Of the just over 600,000 registered voters, 244,542 are Democrats, compared to 219,850 Republicans.
However, that advantage doesn’t translate to wins in citywide races. All constitutional officers in Duval County are currently Republicans.
DeFoor stretches cash lead
In the race to succeed Republican Jim Love on the Jacksonville City Council, Love’s fellow Republican Randy DeFoor expanded her cash on hand lead after September receipts.
But in what could be a preview of a runoff election, Democrat Sunny Gettinger is keeping pace.
DeFoor brought in $10,050 of new money to the campaign account, and an additional $5,000 to her political committee.
First Coast Energy was the big donor this cycle; its CEO Aubrey Edge is a supporter of Mayor Lenny Curry, and DeFoor is aligned with that political operation.
Gettinger, meanwhile, saw declining receipts for the fourth straight month. Her September haul of $4,245 was the slowest month of her campaign, giving her over $96,000 on hand.
DeFoor and Gettinger are better positioned financially than the two male candidates in the race, who have yet to report September numbers.
Republican Henry Mooneyhan had roughly $12,000 on hand at the end of August. Democrat Jimmy Peluso had approximately $36,000 at his disposal.
Jacksonville municipal races see a first election in March. If no one takes a majority in that blanket primary, the top two finishers move on, regardless of party, to the May general election.
Vogtle sparks Moody’s downgrade
Moody’s downgraded $2.1 billion of Jacksonville debt, pinning a negative outlook on issues resulting from the city’s misadventures with utility JEA.
At the root of it all: the still-under-construction Plant Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, from which the city committed to buying power in 2008, and as of late wanted out of the deal, citing conditions ranging from flat revenue streams, escalating costs to getting cheaper power elsewhere.
JEA agreed to bankroll 41 percent of MEAG’s share for 20 years. However, the utility and the city have groused of late.
And now the credit rating agencies are taking notice.
“The downgrade of the city’s debt reflects our concurrent downgrade of JEA’s electric, water and sewer and District Energy System utility debt ratings,” Moody’s contends.
Affected were a series of bonds, spanning a spectrum of city expenditures.
Jacksonville’s issuer rating dropped to A2 from Aa2, Special Revenue Non Ad Valorem Covenant bonds to A3 from Aa3, Better Jacksonville Sales Tax Revenue bonds to A2 from A1, Capital Projects bonds to A2 from Aa3, Excise Taxes Revenue bonds to A2 from Aa2, Capital Improvement bonds to A2 from Aa3 and Transportation bonds to A2 from A1.
At issue: “The city’s participation as a plaintiff in litigation with JEA, a component unit of the city, against Municipal Energy Authority of Georgia (MEAG), in which JEA and the city are seeking to have a Florida state court invalidate a ‘take-or-pay’ power contract between JEA and MEAG.”
COJ OK on ADA, says DOJ
The DOJ Civil Rights division wrote city officials, noting that the city had fulfilled the terms of its voluntary, pre-litigation Project Civic Access agreement.
The agreement, per a 2013 post by the Justice Department, was wide-ranging:
“During the compliance review, the Department reviewed 64 of the city’s facilities. The agreement requires the city to correct deficiencies identified at the 64 facilities and requires Jacksonville to review and correct identified deficiencies at hundreds of additional facilities.”
Those facilities had all been built or modified since 1992, and included libraries, community and senior centers, a boat ramp, fire stations, athletic fields and sports complexes, City Hall, parks, the Jacksonville Zoo, detention and corrections facilities, parking garages and polling places.
The city had to improve accessibility, ranging from parking to drinking fountains.
Efforts for Braille and sign-language translations and translators likewise were mandated. Barriers at polling places and to emergency services similarly had to be removed, and sidewalks and other public infrastructure required work also.
JAXPORT nabs major ocean carrier
JAXPORT is adding Zim Integrated Shipping Services, the world’s 11th largest ocean carrier.
First reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Israel-based company will come to Jacksonville as the vessel operator for 2M, among the largest vessel-sharing alliances in the world.
The additions will bring containers from North Asia through JAXPORT, which has recently focused on Asian container imports, with an average annual growth of 21 percent over the past five years.
Zim’s entry into the Jacksonville market will further diversify JAXPORT ocean carriers and boost its growing container business. Container volumes year-to-date are up 28 percent over last year, and volumes handled by JAXPORT in July and August were the highest in the port authority’s history for the same time frame.
Existing ocean carriers also increased their average capacity at Jaxport by almost 13 percent in August, the Journal noted.
Jacksonville as a port-of-call is another new step Zim, an independent carrier facing challenges in the ocean carrier industry. Zim and other ocean carriers have often netted quarterly losses in the face of oversupply — despite increased volume and revenue increases — as well as declining rates and rising costs.
On October 3, Zim USA President George Goldman explained to the Jacksonville Propeller Club that the world’s top 11 carriers lost money 25 out of the last 42 quarters.
“That’s not really sustainable,” Goldman warned, adding that the industry has gone through several acquisitions, mergers and bankruptcies.
Goldman admitted that much of the industry’s operational challenges are self-inflicted, especially when it came to oversupply. He called the industry collectively “dumber than a bag of rocks.”
“Individually, we’re pretty smart people,” Goldman added. “The problem is when we get together … Without a doubt, we are our own worst enemies.”
Zoo celebrates endangered gorilla birth
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced a new addition — its 22-year-old, Western lowland gorilla Kumbuka has given birth to a healthy infant.
The 4.8-pound female was born Friday, Sept. 28 at 1:30 p.m.
Kumbuka’s initial maternal behavior toward the baby was perfect and healthy, Zoo officials said. However, Kumbuka was cradling and carrying the youngster improperly — similar to the way she behaved before she lost two previous offspring at another zoo.
Zoo staffers believe Kumbuka’s hearing disability may prevent her from detecting when her youngsters are in distress. Faced with a life-threatening situation, the staff decided to remove Kumbuka’s baby — for short-term assisted rearing by gorilla-care staff.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla SSP (Species Survival Plan) group supports the decision.
The Gorilla SSP recommended she join the Jacksonville Zoo troop to learn maternal behavior from the other mother gorillas and participate in a maternal training program.
After Kumbuca’s arrival in 2014, Jacksonville gorilla care staff began suspecting she might be hearing-impaired. By 2017, her condition was confirmed through consultation with audiologists from Nemours Children’s Specialty Care.
The diagnosis provided valuable for developing a specific birth plan to improve Kumbuka’s chances for maternal success. Throughout Kumbuka’s pregnancy, keepers worked to teach her the correct way to position an infant — as well as other essential maternal skill — while also preparing for possible intervention, if necessary.
The training will continue as keepers show the proper way to hold and carry the infant. Kumbuka is the most genetically valuable female in the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP), and pairing with Jacksonville’s silverback Lash, she conceived in early February 2018. Lash, 42, was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and came to the Jacksonville Zoo in Gardens in 1998.
The new infant is very important to the entire North American program, which relies upon cooperative pairings of gorillas already in human care. Wild gorillas are no longer captured for zoos.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens recently opened the newly-renovated home for the great apes, African Forest. The $9.5 million renovation features a 50-foot-tall kapok tree that animals can climb and swing on, a mixed-species exhibit, a trail system that allows the animals to roam the area as they choose, and many more wellness-inspired design elements.
The infant gorilla is not yet named.
Jaguars Job One
As ESPN’s Michael DiRocco notes, the Jaguars defense faces a specific challenge against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday: stop Ezekiel Elliott.
After falling to the Kansas City Chiefs offense (led by Patrick Mahomes) and loaded with playmakers, the Jaguars face a Cowboys offense led by running back Elliott, which ranks near last in the NFL for passing.
That relieves the pressure just a bit. And as DiRocco writes, “It’s going to be an old-school, smash-mouth kind of game.”
“The New York [Giants] week got us ready for this week in the sense of saying they’re going to try to go through the running back,” Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith told ESPN. “We know the offense flows through the running back. They’re going to try to get him going. We’ve just got to go out and execute and play.”
Elliott, who coach Doug Marrone calls “probably the best running back in the league,” leads the league rushing with 480 yards and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also leads the Cowboys in receptions (22), and his 635 yards of total offense accounts for 41 percent of the Cowboys’ total yards.
That is despite turning in his worst performance of the season Sunday: 54 yards on 20 carries in the Cowboys’ 19-16 overtime loss to Houston.
“Great out of the backfield, great hands, great in space,” Marrone continued. “There’s probably not a run that he can’t do. He can run people over. He can run by them. I’ve seen him run over them. He has a great stiff arm.
“Can’t say enough good things about the guy.” The Jaguars’ run defense is ranked No. 14 (101.2 yards per game), allowing the Chiefs to rush for 126 yards. Nevertheless, the Cowboys’ pass game is not even close to what the Chiefs brought to Jacksonville. In nine of the last 13 games, QB Dak Prescott passed fewer than 200 yards, without a touchdown pass in seven of those games.
For the Jaguars, stopping the run is a top priority, but handling Prescott is not far behind, mainly due to his mobility.
Prescott is one of eight quarterbacks who rushed more than 100 yards this season (with 121).
Bottom line: The Jaguars success this week will rest on how they deal with Elliott.