Drew Wilson, Author at Florida Politics

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.
Lori Berman

Lori Berman wants special session to yank Confederate statue from D.C.

Lantana Democratic Rep. Lori Berman sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott Thursday asking him to call a special session to replace Florida’s statue of a Confederate General at the National Statuary Hall in Washington.

Each state gets two slots to fill in the statuary hall and Florida’s current picks are Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, who invented the ice machine, and Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.

“With the recent acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, it is more imperative than ever that we complete the process we started in 2016 to replace this statue,” Berman said. “There is no place for racism or bigotry in our civil society and Florida certainly should not be represented in our nation’s Capitol by General Smith. Let’s finish the job and get this done immediately.”

Berman suggested Scott set the special session during one of the upcoming interim committee weeks, when lawmakers will already be in Tallahassee to discuss legislation ahead of the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts in January.

The South Florida Democrat told Scott that “by expediting this vote, we will be sending a message to all Americans that Florida will not tolerate hate.”

Lawmakers had mixed results in their 2016 and 2017 efforts to change out the statue. In 2016, the Legislature passed a bill to get the process started by creating a panel to nominate possible replacements.

Their picks were black educator and Bethune-Cookman University founder Mary McLeod Bethune, Publix founder and philanthropist George Jenkins, and “The Everglades: River of Grass” author Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Despite the recommendations, lawmakers couldn’t come to an agreement during the 2017 Legislative Session.

A bill to send Bethune to D.C. cleared the Senate, but failed in the House, while the Douglas bill was blocked by Orlando Republican Rep. Scott Plakon said he would prefer to send Walt Disney, who although impactful on Florida history never lived in the state.

Smith, who was born in St. Augustine, has represented Florida in the statuary hall since 1922. In addition to the statue, a Jacksonville middle school and the Alachua County School Board administration building are named after him. He is also the subject of numerous private monuments throughout the South.

Matt Caldwell endorsed by five Southwest Florida representatives

Agriculture Commissioner candidate and Lehigh Acres Republican Rep. Matt Caldwell rolled out a string of endorsements  from his Republican colleagues in the state house.

Caldwell earned the support of five Republican representatives: Byron Donalds, Dane Eagle, Heather Fitzenhagen, Bob Rommel and Ray Rodrigues.

“I am proud to have unanimous support from House members in Southwest Florida, a tight-knit and dynamic group who share conservative principles and have been effective in shaping policy and ensuring prosperity for the Sunshine State. Floridians deserve a Commissioner who is a true conservative that can lead in Tallahassee on day one and, with hard work and God’s blessing, our campaign will be successful,” Caldwell said.

Rodrigues, Donalds and Eagle praised Caldwell as a conservative leader, Fitzenhagen lauded him for for his “understanding and experience, while Rommel described the Lee County Republican as the candidate who best embodied his ideals for the next commissioner: “resilient, hardworking and knowledgeable about the issues our farmers deal with on a daily basis.”

“Matt Caldwell’s proven record of leadership and success in the Florida House make him the most qualified person for this important office,” Fitzenhagen said. “I am thrilled to support Matt and I urge you to join me in voting for him.”

The Southwest Florida quintet chose the fourth-term HD 79 representative over his major primary opponent, Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley, who on Tuesday was gifted the opportunity for some on-the-job training when Senate President Joe Negron named her chair of  the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The pair are looking to take over for Adam Putnam, who is termed out of the job and is running to be governor in 2018, and both of them have found quite a bit of fundraising success.

Grimsley announced last week that she had raised a total of $1.1 million through her campaign and “Saving Florida’s Heartland” committee. Caldwell’s total fundraising through his campaign account and “Friends of Matt Caldwell” committee crossed the $1 million mark at the end of July. He has $878,000 of that money on hand.

Also running in the Republican Primary are former Rep. Baxter Troutman and Paul Paulson, both of whom have dumped large sums of their own money into their campaigns. Troutman filed in mid-June and added $2.5 million into his bid, while Paulson has put nearly $400,000 of his own money into the race.

Dennis Baxley to attend pro-Confederate banquet

State Sen. Dennis Baxley is scheduled to appear at a September banquet put on by a Save Southern Heritage Florida, a pro-Confederate group.

Baxley, a Republican who represents Sumter County and parts of Lake and Marion, is on the slate for a panel discussion on the “War on the South” during the Sept. 2 event in Temple Terrace. Also participating in the panel are Orlando-area radio host Doug Guetzloe and H.K. Edgerton, a black supporter of the Confederate flag.

Save Southern Heritage was formed in 2015 “in response to the knee-jerk Anti-Southern institutionalized bullying and ‘Erase-ism,’” a word coined to describe the removal of Confederate monuments from public land. The group argues that the Civil War was not fought over slavery.

Members of the group were also present at the “Unite the Right” gathering of far-right grous in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend, where tensions culminated in a 20-year-old white supremacist killing a 32-year old woman and injuring 19 others when he drove his car into counter protesters.

In an interview with the Miami New Times, Baxley said he plans to “condemn racism, bigotry, and violence” at the event, but made clear he was against the removal of Confederate monuments. He also told the paper that he believes removing such monuments is a catalyst for violence.

St. Petersburg and Gainesville moved monuments without protest this week, and Hillsborough County plans to do the same with a monument in front of the county courthouse annex, pending a private fundraising effort.

“We place monuments with an expectation of permanency,” he said. “Taking them down is triggering something not healthy for us as a people.”

Many such monuments in Florida were erected decades after the Civil War by pro-Confederate groups looking to sanitize and glorify Southern soldiers and generals by including language describing the secessionist’s cause as “just” or “right” while labeling its military dead “martyrs.”

Baxley, an Ocala funeral director and descendant of a Confederate soldier, said he wasn’t “going to relitigate that” and added that he would feel the same if “someone defaced a monument of Martin Luther King, Jr.”

The conservative lawmaker ran into similar controversy earlier this year when he blocked efforts by black Democrats in the senate to pass a bill creating a monument to Florida victims of slavery.

Baxley said he blocked that bill because the memorial would “celebrate defeat.” He didn’t specify for whom. When he tried to walk back his statement he said instead of a memorial to “celebrate adversity, (he’d) rather celebrate the overcomers of that adversity.”

Save Southern Heritage Florida is charging $29.50 for tickets to the event, which includes a three-course fried chicken, salmon, and pasta dinner.

David Richardson says it’s time to dump Donald Trump

Miami Beach Democratic Rep. David Richardson said Wednesday that President Donald Trump should resign over his comments in the wake of the Charlottesville, Virginia, protests that left one dead and 19 injured.

“What the country witnessed yesterday was a United States president losing all moral authority to govern. His defense of neo-Nazis, KKK members, and white supremacists is not just ‘Trump being Trump’ or one more opportunity for Republicans to condemn the sin while continuing to prop up the sinner. We’ve seen heads of industry and labor resign in disgust from the President’s jobs council. Today, I challenge Republican elected officials to join me in calling on President Trump to resign,” the HD 113 representative said.

Trump failed to mention neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan or other white supremacist groups by name in his initial remarks following the “Unite the Right” rally that saw thousands descend upon the small Virginia town to protest the removal of a statue and the renaming of a park dedicated to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Instead, Trump said Sunday that “both sides” — interpreted to mean the hate groups and the people who protested them — were to blame for the violence.

After the backlash surrounding his initial statement, the president condemned the white supremacist groups in prepared remarks Monday but gave a full-throated and unprompted defense of his original statement Tuesday in a news conference.

Trump on Tuesday described the counter protesters as members of the “alt-left,” a term he seemingly reverse-engineered from “alt-right,” the common name for the collection of far-right fringe groups that make up the more unscrupulous side of his base. He also went on to deride the counter protesters for not having a permit and described them as a club-wielding group that charged at the alt-right protesters.

Perhaps his most damaging comment Tuesday was his assertion that there were “very fine people” among the white supremacist groups.

“Excuse me. They didn’t put themselves down as neo-Nazis. And you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides,” he said.

Tampa Bay-area lawmakers, Lawrence McClure buddy up for joint fundraiser Sept. 20

Three Republican lawmakers and the leading GOP candidate in HD 58 will hold a joint fundraiser Sept. 20 in San Antonio, Fla.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, set to be Senate President for the 2020-22 term, will be joined by Tampa Bay-area Reps. Danny Burgess and Shawn Harrison, as well as HD 58 candidate Lawrence McClure for the event.

The reception will be held at the home of Marlene Sumner, the wife of deceased Pasco County lawyer Robert Sumner, and is joined on the host committee by her daughter Lorraine Nicolette and son-in-law John Nicolette.

For more information, or to RSVP for the fundraiser, send an email to anthony@simwins.com.

McClure is one of two Republicans running to replace Republican Rep. Dan Raulerson, who is leaving his seat Aug. 15 due to health problems.

The Republican-leaning seat has a qualifying deadline of Aug. 16 and has yet to draw a credible Democratic candidate, giving the winner of the Oct. 10 GOP primary race between McClure and Yvonne Fry heavy odds to win in the special general election on Dec. 19.

Simpson, Harrison and Burgess are currently unopposed in their re-election campaigns.

The invitation is below:


Second Democrat files for Ag Commissioner race

Another Democrat has thrown his hat in the ring for Agriculture Commissioner, according to papers filed with the Florida Division of Elections. 

Broward County resident David Walker filed for the seat Friday and joins Michael Christine in the Democratic Primary to take over for term-limited Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is running for governor.

Though Walker shares his name with the Sunshine State’s eighth governor, he appears to be a political newcomer.

He doesn’t have a lot of catching up to do with Christine as far as fundraising goes, though he’ll need a sizable campaign fund to compete with the Republican candidates in the race, especially current leader Sen. Denise Grimsley.

The Sebring Republican announced Thursday that she had added another $152,000 between her campaign and committee accounts last month, and has so far raised about $1.1 million for her quest to replace Putnam.

Fort Myers Republican Rep. Matt Caldwell isn’t far behind with more than $1 million raised since January, including $108,000 last month. Between his campaign and committee accounts, he has $878,000 on hand.

The third major GOP candidate in the race is citrus grower and former four-term Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman.

Businessman Paul Paulson, a homebuilder who mounted an unsuccessful bid to be Orlando mayor in 2015, is also running.

Christine, who entered the race in April, reported no contributions for both June and July.

Committee backing felon voting rights amendment adds $500K in July

The political committee backing a ballot initiative to automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent felons brought in over $500,000 last month.

Floridians for a Fair Democracy” received $250,000 of the July haul from the American Civil Liberties Union, with another $150,000 coming from the The Advocacy Fund, a San Francisco-based group that funds a variety of progressive causes across the country.

The remaining $100,000 in contributions came in from Robert Wolthius, a San Francisco software engineer

Spending clocked in at about $662,000 last month, with the vast majority of the money going toward collecting and verifying petition signatures.

The bulk of expenses were paid out by the Clearwater-based committee went to Calabasas, Calif.-based petition management firm PCI Consultants, which took in $583,183.

Also on the payroll was Miami-based Accurate Business Systems, which received $36,429, and Columbus, OH-based EMC Research, which was paid $23,318.

In all, Floridians for a Fair Democracy has raised just shy of $1.1 million and had about $93,000 of that money on hand on Aug. 1.

In order to make the ballot, initiatives need signatures equal to 8 percent of the voter turnout in the most recent presidential election. That equals 766,200 signatures for initiatives aiming for the 2018 ballot, which is a significant jump from the 683,149 needed to make the cut in 2016.

As of Monday, the voting rights amendment had 54,700 confirmed signatures. Initiatives must get 76,632 signatures before they are reviewed by the state Attorney General.

Metz Husband & Daughton brings Pierce Schuessler aboard

Metz Husband & Daughton will announce today that it added a new lobbyist for its Tallahassee office.

Pierce Schuessler joins MHD from Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee’s office, where he worked as the former Senate President’s chief of staff.

“With nearly a decade of experience in state government, we have no doubt Pierce’s background will give our clients a key advantage that will enhance their success,” MHD President Jim Daughton said. “Pierce’s relationships, skills and knowledge are a welcomed addition to the team.”

Schuessler’s résumé also includes stints with former Sen. Ken Browning, Secretary of State Ken Detzner and in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget. He was also the one-time Director of Legislative Affairs for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, where he was instrumental in the department’s 2013 effort to secure $880 million in funding for the Everglades Restoration Plan, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s priorities.

“The MHD team has earned their reputation as leaders in legislative and executive branch advocacy, consistently delivering winning results for their clients,” the FSU poli sci alumnus said. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to contribute to such a well-established firm.”

MHD is a full-service lobby and law firm based in Tallahassee. In the first quarter of 2017 the group brought in $882,000 through lobbying, earning it a spot among the top 10 grossing firms.

Disney donates another $500K to initiative to limit gambling expansion

Disney doubled down on its support for a proposed ballot initiative that would limit gambling expansion in the Sunshine State.

Disney cut a $500,000 check to the committee backing the amendment, “Voters in Charge,” last month. Since April the company has given $1.15 million for the cause, which accounts for more than 80 percent of the committee’s total contributions.

If it makes it onto the 2018 general election ballot and passes, the amendment would force any future gambling expansions to be decided on by Florida voters

Anti-gambling expansion group No Casinos Inc. has given most of the rest of the money raised by the committee, as well as thousands of dollars worth of in-kind contributions.

Disney has long contended that casino-style gambling would damage Florida’s image in the eyes of tourists, especially the variety that visit the company’s four Orlando theme parks.

No Casinos’ asserts expansion would increase gambling addiction and ratchet up crime rates while shutting down local business due to what casino proponents call the “substitution effect,” where gambling as well as a casino’s on-site restaurants, amenities and services leech business away from non-casino businesses.

The initiative cleared its first hurdle in April, when the Florida Supreme Court signed off on the proposal’s ballot wording. Voters in Charge must now collect 766,200 petition signatures to get on the ballot.

Collecting those signatures is the major expense of most ballot initiatives.

So far, the nearly all of the committee’s $943,858 in expenditures have gone toward petition gathering and petition verification.

As of Friday, the initiative had 151,476 valid signatures.

Rick Scott committee adds $164K in July

Governor and likely 2018 U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott brought in $164,150 last month for his political committee, “Let’s Get to Work.”

The haul was balanced out by $133,645 in spending, mainly on consultants, leaving the second-term Republican governor with about $2.9 million on hand.

The July donor roll included Amscot Financial, JM Family Enterprises and Charter Communications, each of which chipped in $25,000. Healthcare groups Ameriteam Services and Pediatric Dental Anesthesia Associates gave $15,000 and $12,500, respectively, while lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig gave $10,000.

The bulk of Scott’s spending headed to Annapolis-based On Message, Inc., which has been retained by the governor for consulting and media work for several years. The company picked up $79,000 in July, while Contribution Link got $16,000 for database services and Deborah Aleksander got nearly $15,000 for fundraising consulting and travel expenses.

Other consulting companies getting a paycheck last month were Cavalry Strategies, JTKE, Traction Capital and Robert Manders. Law firm GrayRobinson PA also picked up a $1,000 check for legal services.

Scott’s second term is entering its twilight and term limits prevent him from running again. Though he hasn’t announced his plans for 2018, most believe he will make a run for the senate against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

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