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.

Neil Combee mentions familiar name defending Josie Tomkow

Outgoing state House member Neil Combee invoked a familiar statewide officeholder in an op-ed he submitted to the The Ledger, defending fellow Republican Josie Tomkow’s candidacy for the District 39 seat Combee is set to vacate next week.

Combee is exiting the House Nov. 24 to start a new job as Florida’s State Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Tomkow was the first candidate to file for the impending special election, and quickly earned Combee’s endorsement, though most reports of her candidacy latched on to her being 22 years old.

Combee doesn’t think that’s right.

“Although I am aware she is young by time’s standard, I don’t think age should ever preclude someone from entering public service,” he wrote. “You can never be too old, or too young to want to give back to your community and help your neighbors.”

Combee then weaved a tale that many in the Polk County-based district might find a little familiar:

“Twenty-six years ago, Polk County voters sent what was then one of the youngest people ever elected to the Florida Legislature. He was 22. His accomplishments are well known.

“He rose up in leadership, defending conservative issues and values, leaving an enormous and lasting impact on everything from property rights to insurance regulation.

“When his service was done he came home and, at the age of just 26, Polk County sent him to the United States Congress. There too he was the youngest person during his tenure to serve and he quickly rose up to become a leader.”

That, of course, refers to Agriculture Commissioner and GOP gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, now 43.

Combee’s point was clear: “We here in Polk County have always sent leaders to the Legislature – leaders like Adam Putnam. We look beyond age and I hope we will do that yet again.”

Combee even noted his own youth when Polk County voters elected him to the county commission at 28, and echoed the sentiments from his resignation letter that there “is no greater privilege than having your neighbors send you to be their voice.”

The Auburndale Republican then reiterated his support for Tomkow.

“Now, as an older, wiser man, I can tell you I am endorsing Josie Tomkow because she is the best person for the job, period. She has the energy and passion to serve. She has the knowledge and experience to get things done for our community and her neighbors. She is the right person at the right time.”

Gov. Rick Scott has not yet announced special election dates to replace Combee, and Tomkow is currently the only candidate filed to run in the district.

HD 39 covers parts of Osceola and Polk counties, including Polk City, Auburndale, and the outskirts of Kissimmee at its eastern border and northern Lakeland along the district’s southwestern edge.

Combee’s full letter is below.

Matt Caldwell announces ‘fifth wave’ of endorsements in Ag Commissioner race

Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell announced another four endorsements Friday from county level elected officials in Lee, Nassau and Walton.

Caldwell got nods from Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, Lee County Tax Collector Larry Hart, Nassau County Property Appraiser Michael Hickox and County Clerk John Crawford, also of Nassau.

“The importance of protecting our heritage and the economic engine that is Florida Agriculture cannot be overstated. The person that we entrust as Commissioner of Agriculture carries the solemn duty to send his law enforcement and firefighters into harm’s way in service of this state. As Sheriff, I understand that we need a Commissioner who can rise to these challenges. Matt Caldwell is that man,” Adkinson said.

Hart said the HD 79 lawmaker’s “experience working on agricultural policy along with his conservative principles and his legislative skills best qualify him to be Florida’s next Agriculture Commissioner,” while Crawford added that Caldwell is a “humble and serious public servant.”

“He cares deeply about Florida and its future. I’m proud to endorse my friend for Commissioner of Agriculture,” he said.

The press release from Caldwell’s campaign described the new endorsements as the “fifth wave,” following past bulk endorsements from elected officials. The previous set announced by the Caldwell camp included House Speaker Designate Jose Oliva, and Reps. Bryan Avila, Michael Bileca, Manny Diaz, George Moraitis, Jeanette Nunez and Carlos Trujillo

Caldwell said Friday he was “honored to receive the endorsements of these Constitutional Officers who serve a critical role in our State.”

“If given the honor to be elected as Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture, I will work hand in hand with these local leaders to support businesses and families across our State. The incredible individuals listed below are also either current or immediate past presidents of their respective constitutional officer associations in all 67 counties. They are each trusted by their peers as leaders in these positions and I am honored they have placed their trust in me,” he said.

The Lehigh Acres Republican is in a three-way primary race with state Sen. Denise Grimsley and former state Rep. Baxter Troutman, who served from 2003 to 2010, to take over for current Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is termed out of the Cabinet seat and running for Governor in 2018.

Democrat David Walker also is running for the seat.

Between his campaign and committee, Caldwell had raised a combined total of $1.37 million as of Oct. 31 and had about $934,000 on hand.

Through the same date, Grimsley had raised a total of $1.91 million and had about $884,000 on hand, while Troutman had raised $2.61 million and had $2.56 million on hand. His total is buoyed by $2.5 million of his own money.

Personnel Note: Florida Chamber taps Orlando Health’s David Strong as Central Florida Chair

The Florida Chamber of Commerce announced Friday that it appointed Orlando Health CEO David Strong chair of the Central Florida Regional Board.

“David Strong is a highly experienced business leader that fully understands what it takes to lead Florida to a new and sustainable economy,” said Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson. “In his role as a Florida Chamber Regional Board Chair, Strong will help lead the Florida Chamber’s mission to secure Florida’s future.”

Bob Grammig, who chairs the Chamber’s board of directors and is a partner at lobbying firm Holland & Knight, picked Strong for the job.

In his new role, Strong will represent the Florida Chamber in the Central Florida business community and connect area business leaders with resources to help make the Central area—and Florida—more competitive.

“Serving as the Florida Chambers’ Central Florida Regional Board Chair is an exciting opportunity,” Strong said. “I am eager to unite Central Florida’s area business leaders behind the Florida Chambers’ pro-business initiatives.”

Strong has been the president and CEO of Orlando Health since mind-2015. Before joining the $2.8 billion health care network, he worked as the chief operating officer of UNC Health Care.

In addition to his work with the Chamber, he serves as a member of the CHRISTUS Health Audit and Finance & Strategy Committees, chairs CHRISTUS St. Vincent, and is a member of the Florida Hospital Association board of trustees.

Two more sheriffs back Ashley Moody for Attorney General

Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody picked up endorsements from two more county sheriffs Friday and now has the support of the top cops in a third of Florida counties.

Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith and Washington County Sheriff Kevin Crews added their names to a list that already includes a score of other sheriffs, including those from BayBrevardClay, Hernando, Indian River, Lake, PascoPinellas, Sarasota, Sumter, Walton and other counties.

“When it comes to the security of our state, we don’t need a politician.  We need a trusted, conservative leader who has spent a lifetime in service to the law.  That is why I support and endorse former prosecutor and Circuit Court Judge Ashley Moody for Attorney General. She has the drive, commitment, and most importantly, the experience needed to keep our state safe,” Smith said.

Crews also highlighted Moody’s experience, adding that Moody is the only candidate in the field that is a “qualified, seasoned, and effective conservative.”

“Her life experience not only as a federal prosecutor and judge, but as the wife of a federal law enforcement officer and a mother, gives her a unique perspective that combines compassion and strength. Ashley Moody is the right person at the right time for Florida. I wholeheartedly support her candidacy and am proud to endorse her to be Florida’s next Attorney General,” he said.

Moody was grateful for the endorsements of both sheriffs, and lauded Smith for his decades-long career in law enforcement and Crews for his “long history of combating drug offenders that profit off the pain of our communities.”

Moody is leading in endorsements among an expanding primary field to take over for termed-out Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Moody and Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant were the only two GOP candidates in the mix for a few months before Pensacola Rep. Frank White threw his name into the hat last month. On Thursday, Hillsborough County Rep. Ross Spano made it a four-way primary.

Moody had a similar lead in the money race before White made a splash in his first-month report, released earlier this week.

Bolstered by $1.5 million of his own money, White had $1.73 million on hand in his campaign account to begin November, putting him ahead of Moody, who through the same date had about $920,000 in her campaign account and another $207,000 in her committee, Friends of Ashley Moody.

Fant had about $910,000 on hand to start November, including $750,000 in loans, while Spano joined the race with about $44,000 on hand from his House re-election campaign.

Republican Chris Licata exits HD 69 primary, Jeremy Bailie and Raymond Blacklidge remain

Republican Chris Licata announced Thursday that he would withdraw from the three-way primary race to replace HD 69 Rep. Kathleen Peters, who is not seeking re-election in 2018.

“Having recently completed eight-years in the Navy, I returned home to the Tampa Bay region to continue a life in service to my fellow citizens. Service to others and to my community was first nurtured through my education at Admiral Farragut Academy and further refined through my time in the Navy,” Licata wrote in a Thursday email.

“When I entered my name in the race for the Florida House of Representatives, I did so in this spirit of service. However recent developments have lead me to believe that this is not the best way to serve at this time; thus I will be submitting my withdrawal as a candidate for public office to the Florida Division of Election in the coming weeks,” he continued.

Licata thanked his supporters for backing his campaign over the past few months and said he would continue being “very involved” with the Republican Party of Pinellas County and Pinellas County Young Republicans.

Licata was running against Jeremy Bailie and Raymond Blacklidge in the Republican Primary. He initially filed to run in HD 62 at the end of July, a left-leaning seat held by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, but he sent a letter to the Florida Division of Elections in August switching his campaign over to HD 69, where he said “his roots run deep.”

Licata’s campaign failed to gain traction when it came to fundraising, however. Through four months he raised $645 and lent his campaign $1,000.

Blacklidge, a veteran insurance executive, was the first-in candidate and is the current leader in the money race. He has brought in over $70,000 so far, including $5,500 in loans. Heading into November he had about $50,000 on hand.

Bailie, who filed in September, has raised $22,309 through his first two months in the race and had $21,261in the bank on Oct. 31.

Also running is Democrat Jennifer Necole Webb, who entered the race at the beginning of the month. She challenged Peters in 2016 and lost by 13 points on Election Day.

HD 69 has a Republican lean, though voter registrations between the two major parties are relatively close.

Peters won her 2012 contest against Democrat Josh Shulman 52-48, and her elections since have had even greater margins — she won 58-52 in 2014 and took 57 percent of the vote in 2016.

Earlier this year, Peters announced she would not seek a fourth term for the Pinellas County seat and would instead run for county commission, citing an “assault on home rule” from Tallahassee.

Vance Aloupis sustains firm fundraising lead in crowded HD 115 field

Republican HD 115 candidate Vance Aloupis added another $10,175 to his campaign account last month, maintaining his lead in the three-way primary race to take over for term-limited Republican Rep. Michael Bileca.

Aloupis’ October fundraising report shows him with a to-date fundraising total of $192,634. It also showed $2,036 in spending, leaving him with $173,640 on hand heading into November.

The Miami Republicans’ donor roll included $1,000 checks from AT&T South Florida and Publix Super Markets VP Hoyt Barnett and his wife Carol Barnett, the daughter of Publix founder George Jenkins.

Expenditures included a $1,450 payment to Flagler Strategy Group for printing services and a few small expenses related to campaign travel, website hosting and fees for credit card contributions.

Aloupis faces Carlos Gobel, Rhonda Rebman-Lopez and Carmen Sotomayor in the Republican Primary, and neither Gobel nor Sotomayor have shown much in the way of fundraising.

Rebman-Lopez, however, is becoming more competitive largely due to her tossing $36,800 of her own money.

In the five months since she filed for the seat, she’s raised $48,429 in contributions and spent just $3,309. When the loans are added in, she has $80,920 in the bank.

Her October numbers included $9,425 in contributions, $800 in loans, and $1,000 in spending. Among her donors last month were Doral caterer Ben Fox, and Hialeah car dealer Gus Machado and his wife Lilia Machado.

Also running for HD 115 are Democrats James Schulman and Jeffrey Solomon.

Schulman raised $25 last month and spent $324, putting him at $3,241 after six months in the race. Solomon tacked on $3,075 and spent $2,040 for an on hand total of $4,813 through five months.

HD 115 covers an inland strip of Miami-Dade County, including parts of Pinecrest, South Miami and Palmetto Bay.

The majority Hispanic district has a Republican lean, and Bileca has had no trouble holding on to the seat against Democratic challengers, winning his most recent re-election campaign with about 54 percent of the vote.

Ben Diamond endorses Gwen Graham for Governor

The field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates could keep growing, but St. Petersburg Rep. Ben Diamond announced Thursday that he’s backing former Congresswoman Gwen Graham in the primary race to take over for Gov. Rick Scott.

“Gwen Graham has shown she is not afraid to take on the special interests or status quo. Gwen understands that hardworking Floridians should not have to pay investor-owned utilities for nuclear power plants that are never built or for fracking exploration,” Diamond said in a press release from the Graham campaign. “As governor, Gwen will stand with Florida’s families over Tallahassee special interests.”

Graham last week came out against utility companies putting the financial burden of their ventures on ratepayers through nuclear cost recovery fees and fracking exploration.

“For 20 years, the Republican politicians in Tallahassee have turned a blind eye to the Public Service Commission and utility companies as they’ve taxed seniors, small business owners and families. That ends when I’m elected governor,” she said.

Diamond also applauded Graham, the daughter of former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, for her support of Florida Forever and other environmental programs.

“For too long, leaders in Tallahassee have ignored the will of the voters by refusing to fully fund Florida Forever. Gwen will listen. She will continue the legacy and leadership of her father in working to conserve Florida’s lands and protect Florida’s water supply for our children and grandchildren. As governor, I know Gwen will fully support Florida Forever and be a good steward of our environment.”

Florida voters in 2014 overwhelmingly backed the Florida Forever ballot amendment, dedicating more money for Florida Future — only to see meager appropriations in the three years since.

A senate bill filed for the 2018 Legislative Session seeking to commit the Sunshine State to spending $100 million a year on land acquisition and preservation through the Florida Forever Trust Fund cleared its first committee stop last week.

Graham called Diamond a “true leader” and said she was “proud to have his support.”

“Working with Floridians across this state, we will end the special-interest stranglehold on our government. We will fight to conserve our land and protect our clean water for generations to come,” she said.

Graham is currently in a four-way primary for the Democratic nomination for governor. She faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who entered the race on Nov. 1.

Graham has raised about $4 million for her campaign, putting her behind only Levine among Democratic candidates. Looming on the horizon is the possible entry of Orlando attorney John Morgan, who told Florida Politics Thursday he would decide whether to run in the first quarter of next year.

Rebekah Bydlak maintains fundraising lead in HD 1 race

October campaign finance reports show Republican Rebekah Bydlak holding onto her lead in the three-way race for House District 1, currently held by term-limited Rep. Clay Ingram.

The Cantonment Republican added $7,240 to her campaign account last month for a to-date total of $71,512. Bydlak also spent $8,387, leaving her with $63,125 in the bank heading into November.

On Bydlak’s donor roll last month was former Senate President and prominent North Florida Republican Don Gaetz, as well as Ingram.

Bydlak ran against Gaetz’ son, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, in the Republican Primary for Florida’s 1st Congressional District last year. In 2018, she faces former Republican Rep. Mike Hill in the GOP primary for the Pensacola-based seat.

Hill gave up his HD 2 seat in 2016 to run for Florida Senate, but lost to then-Rep. Doug Broxson in the primary. Despite current HD 2 Rep. Frank White opting to run for Attorney General rather than re-election, Hill held in the HD 1 race.

Hill’s fundraising was sluggish when he entered the race in September and in October he raised $6,925, an improvement of $1,000 over his first-month effort. To date, he has raised $12,820 and has $11,063 on hand.

While still far behind Bydlak, Hill has surpassed Vikki Garrett, the lone Democrat in the race. After tacking on $3,400 last month she has $9,133 on hand.

House District 1 covers the western inland portion of Escambia County, including Brent, Bellview, Ensley, Ferry Pass, Gonzalez and Molino.

The seat is among the most heavily Republican in the state. Ingram went virtually unopposed in 2012 and 2016, and in 2014 defeated Democrat Gloria Robertson-Wiggins with nearly 70 percent of the vote.

Adam Putnam widened fundraising lead in October, while Phil Levine made a splash

Gubernatorial candidates raised big bucks last month, none more so than Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam who added $1.2 million between his campaign and committee accounts.

Putnam raised $571,932 of that sum through his campaign account and another $616,235 through his political committee, Florida Grown.

The former congressman and state lawmaker spent a combined $466,801 from the two accounts to leave him with nearly $14.7 million in the bank with a to-date fundraising total of $20.4 million.

Putnam’s campaign account received dozens of checks for $3,000, the maximum contribution for statewide races, with several donors doubling down with checks through their company’s subsidiaries or from their family members.

The October donor roll includes a political committee tied to Florida Transportation Builders Association, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and insurance company GEICO, among many others.

Florida Grown, which passed $17 million raised last month, picked up a $150,000 check from the Associated Industries of Florida on the last day of the month as well as $50,000 contributions from California Republican David Jenkins, Dallas-based Tenet Health, real estate group Rayonier Inc., and GMRI, an Orlando-based subsidiary of Darden Restaurants.

Among the expenditures were $115,755 in payments to Harris Media for digital advertising and web development, 17 payments combining to over $75,000 for Lakeland-based Silloh Consulting, and $43,430 to Tallahassee-based Forward Strategies for fundraising consulting.

As reported last week, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine brought in nearly $1 million for his political committee, All About Florida. With all candidate reports in, that total puts him in second place behind Putnam for October.

Levine filed as a candidate on Nov. 1, so he has yet to file a finance report for his campaign. His committee account is flush, though, due to him plunking down $2.6 million of his own money.

The committee had about $5.4 million socked away at the end of the month, earning Levine the No. 2 spot in cash on hand.

Embroiled Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala’s October numbers came in at $513,101 raised between his campaign and political committee, Florida Leadership Committee, putting him in a distant third place among the declared major-party candidates.

The new money was offset by $152,147 in spending, leaving Latvala with a little over $5 million in the bank, good enough to put him in third place for cash on hand as well.

Campaign donors included a committee tied to the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, hotel company Marriott, and North Palm Beach attorney James Williams Jr. and his wife, Maureen Williams.

On the committee side, Latvala picked up $25,000 checks from American Traffic Solutions, a political committee tied to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Sugar and public employee trade association AFSCME Florida.

Expenditures included a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida, which paid that back with more than $60,000 worth of “in-kind” contributions last month, $30,000 to Champion Digital Media for advertising, and $20,000 to St. Pete mayoral candidate Rick Baker’s political committee. Baker lost that election to incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman earlier this month.

Former congresswoman Gwen Graham, who touted her fundraising efforts earlier this month, came in behind Latvala with $346,573 raised between her campaign and committee, Our Florida. Heading into November, the North Florida Democrat had raised more than $4 million between her campaign and committee and had $2.66 million of that money on hand.

Winter Park businessman Chris King, running as a Democrat, tacked on $151,834 through his campaign and committee, Rise and Lead Florida, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came in last place among the major candidates. His campaign announced last week that it had raised $80,107 in October, though his committee, Forward Florida, saw negative fundraising last month.

King’s fundraising total to-date clocks in at about $2.7 million, with about $1.7 million on hand. Gillum has raised nearly $1.6 million to date, and had $557,571 on hand at month’s end.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has not officially declared for governor, brought in $267,200 in October through his political committee, Watchdog PAC, making it the committee’s slowest month yet.

AIF’s Voice of Florida Business political committee gave the Land O’ Lakes Republican $50,000 last month, while Auto Glass America, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and a couple other donors chipped in with $25,000 apiece.

His $4 million on hand total would currently put him in the No. 4 position if he were to enter the race.

Mail ballots go out for HD 58 special election

About 19,000 mail ballots have been sent out for the special general election to replace former Rep. Dan Raulerson in Hillsborough County-based HD 58.

Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer announced the mailing in a Wednesday press release, adding that voters have until Dec. 13 to request a mail ballot.

Voters expecting to receive a ballot in the mail can track whether it has been sent on the supervisor’s website. Voters can also confirm online whether the supervisor’s office has received their completed ballot.

Election Day is Dec. 19, and early voting is set to run from Dec. 10 through Dec. 16. In order to participate in the election, would-be voters need to have registered by Nov. 20.

Four candidates are on the ballot: Republican Lawrence McClure, Democrat Jose Vasquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and no-party candidate Ahmad Saadaldin.

McClure, who defeated Yvonne Fry 55-45 in a contentious primary battle, is the odds-on favorite to win the seat given HD 58’s Republican majority.

In addition to having a favorable electorate, McClure also holds a commanding lead in the fundraising race. Through Nov. 6, he had raised $148,000 and had about $12,500 on hand, while his closest competitor, Saadaldin, had raised just under $12,000 and had about $4,000 on hand through the same date.

HD 58 includes Plant City, Temple Terrace, Dover, Mango, Seffner, Thonotosassa, and parts of Tampa and East Lake-Orient Park.

Raulerson represented the district until he announced in August that he would be leaving the legislature due to health reasons.

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