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.

Bill Nelson blocks three Interior nominees over offshore drilling plan

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Wednesday made moves to block three Department of the Interior Nominees until Secretary Ryan Zinke publishes a new offshore drilling plan that officially takes Florida “off the table.”

Zinke announced last week that the department would not explore offshore drilling in Florida, so far the only coastal state that has been given such a reprieve.

“As a result of discussion with Governor [Rick] Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms,” Zinke said in a Jan. 9 statement.

The agency head went on to praise Scott for his leadership in Everglades restoration and during the 2017 hurricane season.

The move raised eyebrows, especially Nelson’s, as Scott is widely thought to be planning a run for Nelson’s Senate seat in the fall.

After the announcement, Nelson wrote a letter to Zinke requesting specific details on any changes made to the agency’s five-year drilling plan. Nelson has also said Floridians should view Zinke’s promise as “just empty words” until he follows through with a new plan officially excluding the Sunshine State.

The current plan, published a day before Florida was taken “off the table,” had its first public hearing Tuesday and the department’s maps still showed Florida waters as open for drilling.

In response, Nelson placed a hold on Susan Combs, nominee to Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget; Ryan Nelson, nominated to be Solicitor; and Steven Gardner, nominated to be Director of the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, & Enforcement.

Nominees on hold are blocked from being approved without a vote.

Floridians want popular vote to decide presidential elections, poll says

More than two thirds of Florida voters say presidential elections should be decided by the national popular vote, according to a Florida Atlantic University poll.

The poll, commissioned by the League of Women Voters, asked 1,000 registered voters how they thought the country should elect the President, and 68 percent said the winner should be the candidate with the most votes in all 50 states, while less than a third said they wanted to stick with the current Electoral College system.

“Despite the fact that Florida is the third largest state, Floridians’ voices are not equal to those of residents of other states,” said LWVF President Pamela Goodman. “Floridians’ voices are further diminished by the ‘winner-take-all’ rule, common to 47 other states, which awards all of a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins in that state, no matter how slim the margin.”

Support for the measure was near 90 percent among Democrats, with 70 percent of independents and 46 percent of Republicans saying they were also in favor. Nearly three-quarters of women supported moving to a popular vote system, while 63 percent of men were in favor.

Broken down by region, North Florida voters were in favor of the Electoral College 74-26, while Central Florida voters (63-37) and South Florida voters (68-32) were in favor of the popular vote.

Voters who backed President Donald Trump were split 53-47 in favor of keeping the Electoral College, which benefitted Trump bigly, while nine tenths of Hillary Clinton’s backers said it was time for a change.

The poll also found the more voters know about the Electoral College the more inclined they are to like it, though a majority of those who said they know “a lot” about the system said they were in favor of a switch.

Dr. Kevin Wagner, who chairs the FAU Department of Political Science, said the results of the poll “are consistent with other polls conducted over the past 50 years which have found the majority of Americans believe the President and Vice President should be chosen directly by the American people.”

The results of the poll were announced Wednesday at a press conference held by Aventura Rep. Joseph Geller and Orlando Sen. Victor Torres, who have filed legislation that would bring Florida into the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact if signed into law.

FAU conducted the poll from Oct. 19 through Oct. 22 and responses were collected online and by telephone in English and Spanish. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.

Matt Gaetz focused on policy, not Donald Trump’s immigration remarks

Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz on Wednesday dismissed a recent controversial remark by President Donald Trump and said his conservative colleagues in the House should stand strong on policies such as ending the visa lottery and building a wall on the southern border.

“President Trump is right that America deserves an ‘America First’ immigration policy. The 2016 election was not about DACA. If it were, then Hillary Clinton would have won. Border security is the top immigration priority of the American people — it should be for Congress, too,” Gaetz said.

“Instead of offering ideas to secure our nation, congressional Democrats have seized on closed-door comments allegedly made by President Trump about Haiti and other nations.”

The Panhandle congressman is referring to a report published last week by several news outlets, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, that the president questioned why the United States should accept immigrants from “s—hole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and countries in Africa.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and several other Florida elected officials have condemned Trump’s remark.

Gaetz didn’t condemn the remark, nor did he say he agreed with Trump’s word choice, instead taking the tack that what the president said is irrelevant to congressional Republicans’ policy goals on immigration.

“I’ve been to Haiti, and I’ve stood in 90-degree heat in open-air AIDS clinics there. It is true that the people of Haiti deserve better than what generations of corrupt governments have offered them. Meeting with Haiti’s President offered little hope for progress. The education, infrastructure, environmental, and health conditions are horrible,” Gaetz continued.

“Congressional conservatives should continue to support immigration policies to end the visa lottery, stop chain migration, build a wall, implement e-verify nationwide, and remove dangerous criminals from America. Anything else would be a betrayal to our voters.”

Dianne Hart already emerging as frontrunner to replace Sean Shaw in HD 61

Democrat Dianne Hart announced Wednesday that she will give it another go in House District 61, which is opening up this year due to Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw’s entry into the Attorney General race.

“I know firsthand the struggles and the needs facing this District and spent a lifetime working to help our children and better our neighborhoods,” said Hart. “For far too long we have been ignored by those in power. Our children deserve a better education, our families need access to affordable healthcare and we must have better services for our elderly and disadvantaged families. I vow to continue to work tirelessly for and with the people of our community, small business owners, and neighborhood watch organizations to improve the quality of life for everyone, not just the privileged few.”

Hart was one of three candidates on the ballot in the 2016 Democratic Primary for HD 61. She and Shaw were separated by just 101 votes, each taking about 42 percent followed by Walter Smith in third with 15.5 percent of the vote.

This go around, Hart starts off with a slew of endorsements from current and former elected leaders, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, St. Petersburg Sen. Darryl Rouson and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis.

“I am proud to support a woman of integrity like Dianne Hart,” Davis said. “Dianne has always worked hard to serve our community and has led countless community events, from stop the violence rallies and healthcare forums, to job and vocational training fairs. Dianne Hart is a cornerstone in our community and will be a powerful advocate for us in Tallahassee.”

The Tampa Democrat is the CEO of the East Tampa Business and Civic Association, and has owned and operated a small business, Ms. Dee’s World of Beauty, for more than 30 years.

Hart is also a member of the Hillsborough County Children’s Advisory Board and NFL YET Center, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Task Force and was recently appointed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller to serve on the Commission of the Status of Women.

She joins fellow Democrat Byron Henry in the race. He filed his paperwork to run on Dec. 21, but didn’t report any contributions in his first campaign finance report.

HD 61 covers downtown Tampa, Ybor City, and Seminole Heights. Democrats hold an overwhelming advantage at the polls.

Kurt Jetta raised $338K for bid to unseat Lois Frankel in CD 21

Republican Kurt Jetta announced Wednesday that he raised more than $88,000 in the fourth quarter 2017 and chipped in another $250,000 of his own money for his campaign to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel in Florida’s 21st Congressional District.

The fourth-quarter performance puts Jetta, so far Frankel’s only challenger, with $338,182 raised to date. Jetta did not say how much his campaign spent last quarter, though he pointed out out that Frankel’s GOP challenger in 2016, Paul Spain, raised a total of $26,000 that cycle.

Frankel defeated Spain 62-35 on Election Day.

Neither Jetta, nor Frankel’s end-of-year reports are viewable via the Federal Elections Commission website, though the incumbent has a substantial money lead based on her third quarter numbers.

Through the end of September, Frankel had raised $463,220 and spent $293,312 in the current election cycle. Her campaign also carried over $812,067 in unspent funds from her 2016 re-election bid, putting her with $981,976 cash on hand on Sept. 30.

Frankel received $237,737 of her 2018 cash from individual donors, and another $191,029 from political committees, the latter of which was slammed by Jetta in his fundraising announcement.

“By taking tens of thousands of dollars from Big Sugar, corporate lobbyists, the big banks that stole tens of millions from taxpayers, and trial lawyers; career politician Lois Frankel shows that she’s more at home in the swamp of Washington, D.C. than Palm Beach County. I’m deeply grateful for the support of the Palm Beach community and to the outpouring of local support for my efforts to give Palm Beach a real voice in Washington, D.C.” he said.

CD 21 covers part of coastal Palm Beach County, including Lake Worth, Manalapan, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.

The district carries a massive advantage for Democrats, who make up 46 percent of the electorate. Third party and no party affiliated voters make narrowly edge out registered Republicans in the district, with each making up about 27 percent of the electorate.

In 2016, Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried the district over President Donald Trump 59-39.

Senate President aspirants Travis Hutson, Dana Young continue to raise money at rapid clip

The frontrunners for the 2022 Florida Senate Presidency have spent the last few months adding funds to their political committees and, more importantly, using that money to help out a handful of potential backers when it comes time to vote in a couple years.

Sens. Travis Hutson and Dana Young are still the top contenders for the job and each has been successful on the fundraising trail since October.

Young has raised nearly $200,000 to Friends of Dana Young since October, including $68,500 in December, which put her with $690,585 cash on hand at the start of the year. The Tampa Republican also spent about $63,000 in committee cash during that span.

Much of that money went toward various consulting contracts and fundraising expenses – she is up for re-election this year, after all – though she still extended a helping hand to a pair of possible supporters.

Back in October she chipped in $10,000 to a committee supporting Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper’s campaign to replace former Sen. Jack Latvala in Senate District 16. She followed that up in December with a $1,000 check to Stuart Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell’s re-election campaign for Senate District 25, which isn’t up until 2020.

During the same stretch Hutson pulled in $114,000 for his Sunshine State Conservatives committee, though he capped off the year with $0 in contributions last month. He also spent about $25,000, leaving him with nearly $160,000 to play with as of New Year’s Day.

The St. Augustine lawmaker hit Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry and Rockledge Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield with $1,000 checks in December.

A handful of sources told Florida Politics in October that Perry had already thrown his support behind Hutson in the Senate President race, joining Mayfield as one of his key supporters.

While nothing’s been made public in the interim, Perry’s district has a Democratic lean and his chief opponent is close to the $150,000 mark in fundraising, so getting some support from Hutson’s committee puts a little weight behind the rumors he’s in Hutson’s column.

Hutson had already given Perry $1,000 in August, and last cycle he stepped in with a pair of $1,000 checks during Perry’s bruising 2016 race against former Democratic Sen. Rod Smith.

Other current or aspiring senators getting support from Hutson earlier in 2017 include Aaron Bean, Dorothy Hukill and Hooper.

Since Election Day 2016, Young has helped out the campaign account of Sen. George Gainer, as well as Rep. Ben Albritton, who is running for SD 26 this year, and Reps. Jason Brodeur and Jeanette Nuñez, who are running for senate seats in the 2020 cycle.

Capitol Reax: Workers’ comp, payday loans, vacation rentals, train safety, AOB

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee voted unanimously Tuesday for a bill by Sen. Lauren Book (SB 376) that would include in the Worker’s Compensation Law benefits for first responders who sustain mental or nervous injuries such as PTSD in the line of duty.

The forward momentum for the bill got the attention of CFO Jimmy Patronis, who put out a statement Tuesday evening:

“The numbers don’t lie. More than 15 percent of firefighters reported having made at least one suicide attempt during their time in the fire service, compared to about 2 percent of the general population. Forty-six percent of firefighters reported having thought about suicide, compared to about 5 percent of the US population. These statistics are alarming and this is what we are fighting to change this session.

Our first responders arrive on any emergency scene without hesitation, without question. We can only imagine how difficult it is to face what they see daily. I’m putting the full weight of my office to increase benefits this legislative session for our first responders who suffer from PTSD. It’s time Florida step up for our fearless first responders.”

The Senate Commerce Committee voted 9-2 in favor of a bill, SB 920, that would authorize up to 208% annual interest rates for loans that are larger and have longer terms than the payday loans Florida law currently allows.

That move drew the ire of the The Florida Alliance of Consumer Protection, which thanked the two no-votes – Sens. Rene Garcia and Annette Taddeo – in a statement from Director Alice Vickers condemning the bill:

“Florida is already flooded with harmful, debt trap loans. The payday lenders believe they can sneak this one in, but we’re not having it. Loans that are designed to trap people in long-term debt at triple-digit interest rates are counter to what any person or group wants if they have the best interests of Floridians at heart. Payday lenders, unfortunately, are not among those groups.”

FACP also included a quote from Rev. James T. Golden, social action director of the AME Church:

“I am extremely disappointed in those Senators who supported a bill today that negatively impacts Black and Brown people in this state. They voted against the interest of Black and Brown people. There are too few people who have too much power to impact the lives of too many people with no power, when you define power as having the money needed to control the outcome. But, I have great faith, that before the end of this legislative session that enough people without money will demonstrate the power of faith.”

Short term rentals, such as those offered by Airbnb, were also a subject of discussion in Tallahassee Tuesday, as dozens of sign-wielding advocates gathered at the state Capitol to demonstrate in favor of bills that would end the ‘patchwork’ of local regulations governing the peer-to-peer business.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association put out its own opinion on the matter via President and CEO Carl Dover:

“FRLA’s more than 10,000 members represent a wide range of lodging accommodations, from bed and breakfasts and independent operators to corporate chains, who all share one common goal – keep visitors coming to Florida. While it’s absolutely critical in this day and age for our industry to embrace modern rental technology, unregulated short-term rentals pose a serious risk to both our tourists and residents. We urge our lawmakers not to put Florida’s world-class lodging reputation at risk for illegal commercial operators. FRLA looks forward to continuing the conversation and working closely with our legislators to protect our visitors and consumers.”

CARE FL, the main group opposing the All Aboard Florida passenger train project, cited the third death in six months of a person struck by an AAF train when it came out in favor of a pair of bills Tuesday (SB 572 and HB 525) that would up safety standards for rail projects in the Sunshine State.

The group also announced plans to hold a Jan. 29 informational meeting in Stuart – smack dab in the middle of AAF’s planned Miami-to-Orlando “Brightline” route.

CARE FL Chairman Brent Hanlon put out the following statement:

“First and foremost, we express our deepest condolences to the family members of all three victims. This is exactly why we are fighting for our communities.  Enough is enough.  We need safety measures in place that will protect our pedestrians, our school children who may walk or bike along the tracks to school, our first responders and members of our community. AAF continues to tout its commitment to safety, but three deaths during test runs indicate something is seriously wrong.”

“How many more deaths or injuries will it take before AAF acknowledges the need for enhanced safety measures?”

When one hears ‘assignment of benefits’ major home damage comes to mind, but AOB is a growing problem for auto insurers according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. To that end the, PCI cheered the Florida Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for passing a bill to crack down on fraudulent insurance claims for broken windshields.

PCI regional manager Logan McFaddin said the following in a Tuesday release:

“PCI applauds members of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for advancing SB 396 today.  With assignment of benefits (AOB) abuse in the auto glass marketplace rapidly increasing, it is imperative that we curb abusive practices associated with windshield glass repair this session.

“According to the Florida Department of Financial Services, in 2006, approximately 400 auto glass AOB lawsuits were filed against auto insurers. In 2016, nearly 20,000 lawsuits were filed.  These numbers are concerning.  Florida drivers deserve to have insurance benefits they can rely on without having to worry about some auto glass repair shops looking to take advantage of them in vulnerable situations.

“PCI encourages legislators to pass meaningful reforms this session to stop these abusive practices burdening their constituents.”

Nick DiCeglie adds endorsements from Largo elected officials

House District 66 candidate Nick DiCeglie picked up a pair of endorsements Tuesday from Largo Mayor Woody Brown and Commissioner Curtis Holmes.

“I seldom voluntarily endorse any candidate but there are occasions when the qualifications displayed by a would be leader are so outstanding that it’s warranted and that is why I wholeheartedly endorse Nick DiCeglie to be the next representative for Florida House District 66,” Holmes said. “I’ve worked with Nick on many occasions, he’ll do a great job for Largo.”

“I’m pleased to offer my support to Nick DiCeglie for my home district, Florida House District 66. Nick cares about this community and has a solid record of community involvement,” Brown added.

Holmes and Brown follow former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Seminole Vice Mayor Chris Burke in endorsing DiCeglie, who chairs the Pinellas County Republican Party and runs Clearwater-based trash removal and recycling company Solar Sanitation.

“I’m honored to have the support of these two great leaders, Mayor Brown and Commissioner Holmes,” DiCeglie said. “They understand the needs of our community and serve with the highest level of integrity. I look forward to the opportunity to work together with them to do great things for the City of Largo.”

DiCeglie is running against St. Petersburg attorney Berny Jacques in the Republican Primary for HD 66, which is currently held by termed-out Rep. Larry Ahern. Also running are Democrat Alex Heeren and Reform Party candidate Paul Anthony Bachmann.

Jacques currently holds the fundraising lead in the primary race with $133,000 raised and $106,302 cash on hand through the end of December, though DiCeglie has outpaced him since entering the race in September.

Through four months in the campaign, DiCeglie has raised $72,714 and had $59,427 of that money on hand heading into 2018.

HD 66 is reliably Republican, with about 10,000 more registered GOP voters than registered Democrats. Ahern has comfortably won each of his three elections in the district.

Madeira Beach incumbents face challengers on March ballot

Two Madeira Beach commission seats are up for grabs in March and four candidates qualified for the ballot ahead of the noon deadline on Jan. 12.

Voters will decide whether to give longtime District 1 incumbent Terry Lister another term or send Deby Weinstein to the five-member panel in his stead. In the District 2 race, current Commissioner Nancy Hodges is up against Eric Breslin.

The Madeira Beach Board of Commissioners consists of the mayor and four commission members. After each municipal election, a the board votes to elect a Vice-Mayor for a one-year term.

The panel meets the second Tuesday of every month at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall.

The Madeira Beach elections will be held on March 13, when Pinellas County holds its municipal elections. Residents can determine which district they live in by visiting the Madeira Beach website.

More than 20 city commission or city council seats will be up for grabs in Pinellas County communities on Election Day, including seats in Belleair, Belleair Beach, Clearwater, Gulfport, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Redington Beach, South Pasadena and Treasure Island.

In addition, the communities of Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Pinellas Park and Treasure Island will hold mayoral elections.

More information on the offices slated for the March ballot can be found via the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website. New voters must register by Feb. 12 in order to cast a ballot in the municipal election, and those looking to vote by mail must request a mail ballot by no later than March 7.

Lauren Baer announces slew of endorsements for CD 18 bid

Democrat Lauren Baer announced Tuesday that her campaign to unseat freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast had picked up support from five elected officials and local leaders within Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

The bulk endorsement included nods from state Sen. Kevin Rader, state Rep. Matt Willhite, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, Palm Beach County Tax Collector Ann Gannon, and Jonathan Chane, the second-place finisher in the 2016 Democratic Primary for the seat.

“True leaders find solutions, work with people from all backgrounds to get things done, and fight for what they believe in. Lauren Baer is a true leader. I trust that she will take her experience and fight every day for the residents of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast,” Rader said.

Chane echoed Rader’s sentiments, adding that he was “proud” to back Baer.

Willhite said Baer was the “best candidate to represent this District’s values in Washington,” while Muoio and Gannon praised the former U.S. State Department official and CD 18 native for both her passion and experience.

“I am humbled to have the endorsement of these tireless advocates for their communities,” Baer said. “The people of Florida 18 are ready to be represented by someone who will fight every day to make sure their voices are heard in Washington. I look forward to following in the footsteps of these incredible public servants.”

Baer is running against Pam Keith in the Democratic Primary for CD 18, which covers all of St. Lucie and Martin counties as well as northeastern Palm Beach County, including Tequesta, Jupiter, Palm Beach Gardens and part of West Palm Beach.

Earlier this month Baer announced that her campaign raised $325,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, bringing her to-date total to $575,000. The campaign didn’t disclose her on-hand total, though she had $236,000 in the bank at the end of the third quarter.

End-of-year reports for Keith and Mast have not yet been posted by the Federal Elections Commission, but Keith had raised $150,000 through the end of September, and had $63,000 on hand, while Mast had cleared $1.6 million through the same date and had $921,000 in the bank.

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