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Jacksonville Bold for 11.29.18 — Payoff pitch

Baseball terminology may be out of season, but no matter: this week’s developments show that all the work Northeast Florida lawmakers have done in recent months has paid off.

For the second straight year, Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley will helm Senate Appropriations. This year, a close ally is also handling the House budget.

Gov. Ron DeSantis: as much as he belongs to anywhere, he’s a Jacksonville guy.

2019 will see Jacksonville political types keeping one eye on Tallahassee and the other eye on local elections. Mayor Lenny Curry is on the ballot and though there is no formal slate of backed candidates, it looks from here like the best funded and organized operations have the Curry stamp of approval.

Sure, there are concerns. There always are.

But what’s clear: at least at this moment, Northeast Florida got its groove back.

Now, the real question: can they somehow transfer that mojo to the flailing Jacksonville Jaguars?

Below, some less depressing news than provided by the NFL.

Bradley back as budget chair

For the second straight year, Northeast Florida Republican Bradley will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Another year with the gavel for the Fleming Island Republican.

With Rep. Travis Cummings chairing the House’s budget panel, that means Clay County has two lawmakers overseeing statewide spending decisions for the 2019 Legislative Session. And both have a direct line to the executive branch.

Both he and Cummings endorsed Governor-elect DeSantis weeks ahead of the primary, part of the first wave of elected leaders willing to break from DeSantis’ primary opponent, Adam Putnam.

Late last year, Bradley described his approach as “getting the job done with as little drama as possible.”

And given the ideological and temperamental alignment he shares with Clay County colleague Cummings, it’s hard to imagine too much rancor in the process.

Garden party

It’s not all budget for Bradley. though.

He is renewing for the second straight year his quest to protect Floridians’ vegetable gardens, local ordinances notwithstanding.

Front yard gardening is a debate across the country. (Image via TreeHugger)

SB 82, filed by the Fleming Island Republican, would basically eliminate as “void and unenforceable” local jurisdiction over front yard gardens.

The goal: to facilitate “the development of sustainable cultivation of vegetables and fruits at all levels of production, including for personal consumption.”

The bill cleared the Senate 36-1 late in the 2018 Legislative Session when Bradley was appropriations chair. However, it died in the House without a committee hearing.

Bye bye, bundling?

The days of “bundled” constitutional amendments would end under a bill filed by Bradley.

Could 2018 be the end of amendment ‘bundling?’

Per the Fleming Island Republican, bundling “terrible way to amend the constitution” and “unfair to the voters who are asked to consider these changes.”

The measure (SB 74) offers a single-subject limitation for the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), a legislative fix for the grouping together of unrelated measures into the same amendment.

The CRC won’t meet again till 2037-8, which certainly will give the body’s next iteration time to process the changes proposed in the current bill — should it become law.

Health care budget runs through Bean

Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, will hold a key position in 2019: chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Health and Human Services.

Aaron Bean has four more years, and an agenda to push.

Bean was just elected to his second term in the Senate, and the chairman of the full budget committee is someone he knows very well: Fleming Island Republican Bradley.

On Monday, Bean told us of his “excitement” to chair the committee. He found out Monday morning via phone from Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano.

Bean noted that since his time in the House, he has chaired a number of health policy committees, and as in previous years, this year will see “challenges.”

“There’s not going to be enough money in the health care world,” Bean said.

His goals: “to improve access, affordability, and quality” via “free market” solutions. He does not see a pathway to Medicaid expansion but does see that there could be ways to improve on past and present performance.

“Could we look at what we’ve done and do it better,” Bean asked rhetorically. “The way things were done five or 10 years ago may not be the best way now.”

On the table for “discussion”: Agriculture Commissioner-elect Nikki Fried’s proposal to move medical cannabis functions to her department and away from the Department of Health.

DOH “dragged their feet” on implementation, and there may be a “more efficient way” for “delivery.”

Telemedicine is another priority of Bean’s: He filed a bill to expand it last year, and this year he wants to ensure that there is a House champion for the “non-controversial” legislation.

Bean also has a bill that would ratchet up criminal penalties for those who kill police animals, such as the K-9 “Fang” from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office who was killed this year by a criminal. And he also is again pushing legislation to make the Secretary of State an elected position.

Memorial marker

Bean’s bill isn’t the only priority legislation for LEOs, however.

Bills filed this week propose to honor Lance Whitaker, a 48-year-old police officer who died in May while responding to an accident.

A memorial is planned for Officer Lance Whitaker, who died on duty in May. (Image via WJXT-TV)

Whitaker, an 18 year veteran of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, died in a single-car crash on 295, responding to another accident. His vehicle hit a tree.

SB 64/HB 43, filed by Jacksonville Democrats Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis, will honor Whitaker’s memory with a marker near where he perished.

Steve Zona, who helms the local Fraternal Order of Police, lauded the filing.

“Senator Gibson was amazing when I talked to her about this, she immediately agreed to help,” Zona said. “I went to [Gibson] and she didn’t blink an eye. Ran with it. A true stateswoman and friend of public safety.”

Zona called the bill a “fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to public service and the citizens of our community.”

Beyond this bill, Gibson and Davis are teaming up again: on legislation to bring financial relief to those impacted by the toxic grounds of the Fairfax Street Wood Treaters, which contaminated the area over the course of three decades.

2020 vision

The 2018 elections are in the books. And after competitive elections, local state Reps. are already planning for 2020.

Clay Yarborough is just one of many incumbents already planning for 2020.

Republican Reps. Jason Fischer and Clay Yarborough opened their campaign accounts ahead of Thanksgiving. As did Democrat Rep. Tracie Davis. And Rep. Wyman Duggan opened his just after the holiday.

Of the four, only Davis went without a challenge in 2018.

Fischer defeated Democrat Ken Organes 59-41 in his re-election bid in Mandarin’s HD 16; Yarborough earned 59 percent of the vote against Democrat Timothy Yost in Arlington-centric HD 12.

Duggan, meanwhile, is in his first term after a two-point win over well-funded Democrat Tracye Polson in the increasingly-swingy Westside HD 15.

Sen. Travis Hutson, likewise, has already filed for four more years on the 2020 ballot.

Candidates cannot fundraise during the Legislative Session. However, we are months away from that, so expect movement.

Case closed

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott said he wanted to appoint Duval County Judge Lester Bass to succeed Judge Robert Foster on the 4th Judicial Circuit.

On Monday, the outgoing Governor (and now Senator-elect) got his wish via the Florida Supreme Court.

Newly appointed circuit judge Lester Bass (Image via Jax Daily Record)

Bass’s appointment to the 4th Circuit came after considerable legal wrangling regarding whether Scott had the right to appoint at all.

Jacksonville lawyer David Trotti filed to run for the seat before the qualifying deadline, as an unopposed candidate. The case went ultimately to the Florida Supreme Court.

On Monday, it dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds.

The 55-year-old Bass, a county judge since 2014, was previously a General Magistrate and Hearing Officer in the circuit, and before that stints as both an assistant public defender and district attorney.

Meet the new boss, etc.

On Tuesday, the board of Jacksonville public utility JEA voted to make interim CEO Aaron Zahn permanent.

In it for the long haul: Aaron Zahn gets the permanent gig.

Mystery shrouded the process for some observers, leading JEA board chair Alan Howard to decry notions that the board was not independent of the Mayor’s Office.

A review of the seven-person board’s scoring matrices backs up at least part of that claim. Each candidate was scored on a 70 point scale (10 per category), and Zahn didn’t win on everyone’s score sheet.

Chairman Howard had San Antonio utility executive Cris Eugster ahead of Zahn by one point (61.5 to 60.5). Board members Husein Cumber and Kelly Flanagan, each of whom verbalized concerns about Zahn during the meeting, had the in-house candidate tied with Eugster in total.

The win came from two places, one aggregate and one categorical.

Zahn outscored both Eugster and power industry veteran Pamela Hill by almost 40 points, and those margins came from the four other board members. And across the board, Zahn outperformed his competition in three intangible categories: “financial acumen,” “stakeholder management,” and “interpersonal skills/influence/gravitas.”

Read more here.

Election reform call

Jacksonville attorney Chris Hand, formerly chief of staff for Mayor Alvin Brown, had a front-row seat to Duval County’s part of the relatively uneventful election recount process this month. And he has some suggestions for reform.

Chris Hand with a mentor and friend, Bob Graham.

Among them: removing conflicts of interest by making Supervisors of Elections a nonpartisan office, replacing superannuated and worn-out voting equipment, standardizing ballot design to avoid Broward-style outliers, moving primaries to May, and moving to a “top two” voting system that would blunt the current fever for base appeal in the primaries.

“The bipartisan adoption of common-sense election reforms would make the 2019 legislative session one of the most consequential in recent memory. If Republican and Democratic leaders follow through on their stated plans, Florida could for once be in the national election spotlight for positive reasons,” Hand wrote.

Read the whole thing here.

How Dems won Jacksonville

An editorial in Folio Weekly by Democratic activist Luis Zaldivar offered his insights on Democratic candidates like Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson winning Duval (even as they lost their elections statewide).

Duval Democrats have been gaining ground for years, though not without a struggle.

“With this election, we can also definitively turn the page on a long list of assumptions about the city — assumptions that those of us on the ground have known for a while to be false,” Zaldivar wrote.

Among the party’s moves: “a yearlong effort to target Democrats who usually vote in presidential elections but skip the midterms … issue-based, grassroots campaigns” and “extraordinary” candidates who lost their state House races but energized turnout for the party overall.

Duval, says Zaldivar, “delivered a win because a lot of work was put into it. As we reorganize for the big presidential contest of 2020, Democrats in the rest of the state need to take a look at what has happened here in the last two years.”

Time will tell if they do.

Underdog story

Jacksonville Democrat Yolanda Thornton wants to be Mayor.

And she’s made her move, opening a campaign account in which there is room to grow.

Yolanda Thornton joins a crowded field.

Thus far, she’s raised $100.

She’s never held elected office before. Never been appointed to a city board or commission. And she moved back to town recently.

“I haven’t been back long enough to be involved with the party the way I’d like to be,” Thornton said.

And, as compared to candidates urged to run by one group or another, Thornton arrived at the decision without such urging.

Despite all those factors, Thornton sees a path.

Winning, Thornton told us, will take an “underdog ground game.”

“Stranger things have happened,” she said.

Read the whole thing here.

Eco-friendly Crowley

Fans of the environment have a friend in Crowley Maritime.

Per media release: “The Chamber of Shipping of America (CSA) has awarded 109 vessels owned and/or operated by Crowley Maritime Corp. with Certificates of Environmental Achievement in recognition of their strong safety records and environmental protection … vessels include container ships, tankers, articulated tug-barges (ATBs), tugboats and more, representing a combined 1,171 years without an environmental incident. Forty-nine of these Crowley-owned and/or -operated vessels have gone at least 10 years without an incident.”

Some good news from Crowley Maritime.

“The safety of the environment is crucial to our operations in every place where we work,” said Capt. Boren Chambers, Crowley’s director of marine operations.

“It should be clear to the American public that we in the maritime industry take our stewardship of the marine environment very seriously. Safe and environmentally responsible operations is a culture fully embraced by the maritime industry as a whole and as evidenced by the performances of the award recipients,’ asserted Chamber of Shipping President Kathy Metcalf.

Jacksonville Aviation Authority names CEO

Jacksonville Aviation Authority’s Board of Directors unanimously chose Mark VanLoh as the agency’s next CEO, reports WJCT. He is replacing Steve Grossman, who ran the JAA for nine years.

Newly appointed JAA CEO Mark VanLoh. (Image via Tulsa World)

VanLoh has served as president and CEO of the Tulsa Airports Authority since February 2017, before which he spent 12 years as Director of Aviation for the city of Kansas City, Missouri, and three years as president and CEO of the Chattanooga Airport Authority. He will take charge of Jacksonville’s four airports on December 3.

JAA operates Jacksonville International Airport, Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport, Herlong Recreational Airport and Cecil Airport.

Zoo offers ‘Toast To Conservation’

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens held its second “Toast To Conservation” event Nov. 17, a fundraising effort that focused this year on great ape conservation.

Highlights of the event — which raised more than $60,000 for global wildlife programs — include the inaugural Champion of Conservation Award granted to conservation curator John Lukas and presented by Joseph M. Hixon III, the recently retired chair and president of Hixon Properties.

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens goes ape for great ape conservation, raising $60,000. (Image via the Jacksonville Business Journal)

The Zoo also donated to the Okapi Conservation Project in Lukas’ honor, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal.

Keynote speakers were Sonya Kahlenberg, the executive director for the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center, and Claudine Andre, founder of the Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary in 2002.

Since 2013, the Zoo has been donating a portion of its gate receipts to field conservation efforts — raising more than $1 million for projects worldwide.

“This is the second year we’ve held the ‘Toast To Conservation.’ (The first was in April 2017.) It was really gratifying to see the event grow significantly from the first year; not just because we were able to raise more money for conservation, but, because it shows that our supporters are excited and engaged by the great conservation work being done by our dedicated conservation team,” said executive director Tony Vecchio in a news release.

Jaguars offense takes double punch

Two key components in the Jaguars’ offense will not be on the sideline Sunday, but for different reasons. Star running back Leonard Fournette will sit out for throwing a punch, while offensive coordinator

The Jaguars offense took a figurative punch to the gut after firing offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. (Image via Getty)

took a figurative punch when head coach Doug Marrone fired him following Sunday’s 24-21 loss in Buffalo.

Fournette has played in only 5 of the team’s 11 games due to injury this season. He struggled in the first two, both Jaguars victories, but has racked up more than 100 yards from scrimmage and scored all 5 of his touchdowns over the last three weeks, all losses by a combined total of only 10 points.

Following his “engagement” with Bills’ defensive end Shaq Lawson, where both players were subsequently ejected, the Jaguars’ fell apart. Had they somehow managed to win the game, Hackett would likely still be employed.

Hackett became the scapegoat for a team mired in a 7-game losing streak that has struggled on both sides of the ball. He told NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that his firing was “a total shock” and added: “I guess (Marrone) didn’t think I was good enough, that’s the only thing I can think of.”

The two had been together since their days at Syracuse nearly a decade ago.

A healthy Fournette and a semi-healthy offensive line might have produced more victories, but quarterback Blake Bortles has clearly regressed. Did Hackett argue with Marrone to keep Bortles as the starter, thereby creating friction?

Not according to Marrone, who said after Sunday’s game he “never considered” benching Bortles. After firing Hackett, Marrone benched Bortles in favor of Cody Kessler.

On Sunday, the Jaguars will try to break their losing streak against Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field. They lost to the Colts 29-26 two weeks ago in Indianapolis.

Is there any pressure on Marrone? Apparently not, as Rapoport says his sources tell him the head coach will be back in 2019.

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