Drew Wilson – Page 3 – 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.
Richard Corcoran

Richard Corcoran’s political committee continues spending spree in May

House Speaker Richard Corcoran won’t be on the ballot this year, but that hasn’t stopped his political committee from spending beaucoup bucks.

Corcoran started Watchdog PAC in April 2017, and shortly after wrapping his first Legislative Session with the Speaker’s gavel, he started piling on cash — more than $6.9 million between May 2017 and April 2018, the last time it recorded a contribution.

For nearly its entire run, the committee was seen as Corcoran’s primary fundraising vehicle for a gubernatorial bid or, later on, a run for Attorney General. The Pasco Republican, who had repeatedly said he would run for Guv or “go home,” ended that speculation a month ago when he chose the latter option and threw his support behind Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s gubernatorial bid.

In the weeks since, Corcoran’s committee has spent more than $340,000 on payroll, office rent, contributions to other Republican pols, research and every flavor of consulting contract.

Topping the expenditure list was more than $50,000 in payments to public opinion research firm Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, which has worked with many Republican politicians including Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Watchdog PAC paid the firm $44,750 for a survey, $7,500 for research consulting and another $2,000 for research services.

Tallahassee shop Rapid Loop Consulting received $46,275 for travel expenses, web design, office supplies and meeting expenses; Jacksonville-based Political Capital received $40,000 for fundraising and political consulting; and $25,000 apiece to Capital City Friends of NRA and political committee Citizens Alliance for Florida’s Economy.

Further down the list were $1,000 campaign contributions to Republican Rep. Jeanette Nuñez’ 2020 bid for Senate District 39, Jeremiah Hawkes’ campaign for Pasco County Judge and Ronald Kitchen’s campaign for Citrus County Commission.

Watchdog PAC spent $341,361 in all last month, leaving it with $1.63 million banked heading into June.

Southern Strategy Group lands Pinellas Co. lobbying contract

The Pinellas County Commission has selected Southern Strategy Group (SSG) to handle its lobbying needs in Tallahassee for the next two years.

SSG was one of several firms to respond to the Pinellas Commission’s call for contract proposals and, as reported last week, their pitch made the shortlist alongside Dean Mead and GrayRobinson.

Dean Mead had held the contract for years, and though they made the top three, it seems the writing was on the wall.

As one commissioner, who did not want to be named, earlier told Florida Politics: “Dean Mead sold their relationship with [former state Sen. Jack] Latvala to their advantage. With him gone, most likely so is their contract.”

While the choice was likely a smart one in a post-Latvala world, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice said Thursday that the decision to move forward with another firm wasn’t easy.

“It was a tough decision. We appreciate the good work of Pete Dunbar and his team. I think the commission wanted to make the change to be more focused on the appropriations process. We look forward to working with Laura Boehmer and Seth McKeel to get the job done for Pinellas,” he said.

Southern Strategy Group, which is consistently among the top-grossing Florida lobbying firms, said it would represent Pinellas County for $158,000 in lobbying pay over the next two years. Dean Mead asked for $200,000 in pay and GrayRobinson asked for $144,000.

While GrayRobinson didn’t snag the Pinellas County gig this go around, they haven’t struck out on other county or municipal clients.

Their most recent lobbying compensation reports, also among the best in the state, showed they were the firm of choice among many municipal clients. Making their client roster were a half-dozen county governments and some of the largest metros in the state, including Miami-Dade County, Tampa and Orlando.

Susan Valdes sidesteps special treatment allegations, refers questions to attorney

Hillsborough School Board member Susan Valdes, now running for House District 62, slammed Democratic primary opponent Mike Alvarez Thursday for running a negative campaign.

At issue is Valdes’ resign-to-run letter. A new law signed by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year requires elected officials to turn in a resignation letter for their current office 10 days before qualifying for another.

After the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections told media and Alvarez’ political consultant that Valdes missed the deadline, the office changed course in a Monday news release, saying it had accepted Valdes’ resignation letter.

Emails released by the Alvarez campaign earlier Thursday show Valdes’ resignation letter was delivered to the home of Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer at 10:30 p.m. Friday, hours after his office told reporters Valdes had missed the deadline, interpreted as 5 p.m. Friday, June 8, by Mary Helen Farris of the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office.

In a release Thursday sent by consultant Victor DiMaio — Valdes panned Alvarez for “hiding behind his high-paid, out-of-town consultant” and for “trying to impugn the integrity of the supervisor of elections and 14-year School Board Member Susan Valdes, who are fellow Democrats.”

“Instead of having an honest discussion about education, the affordable housing crisis, healthcare and all the other critical issues facing the voters of District 62, my opponent is choosing to throw mud,” Valdes said. “Instead of a new day, Alvarez is offering politics as usual.

“That is why Rep. Janet Cruz and former Representative and Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez are endorsing my candidacy. We share a long history of service and working together to advance the cause of the people we represent and also supporting our fellow Democrats.”

Though she chastises Alvarez for mudslinging, at no point in her release does Valdes deny, or even respond to, the crux of his accusations — that through the after-hours lobbying of Latimer and the supervisor’s office, she was permitted to have her resign-to-run letter delivered to Latimer’s home, a privilege that is almost certainly unavailable to other candidates.

DiMaio referred any questions on the legality of Valdes’ resignation to Tallahassee-based election law attorney Ron Meyer. Florida Politics attempted to contact Meyer but had not received any response as of Thursday evening.

No matter Meyer’s take on how the resign-to-run law applied to Valdes, the Avalrez campaign is not backing down.

In a statement to Florida Politics, the Tampa Democrat said he “couldn’t help but notice that Board Member Valdes doesn’t deny that she received special treatment or that this is just the latest in a series of ethical lapses. When calls for accountability, transparency, and honesty are a political attack — you’ve been in politics too long.

“When I talk with the hard-working people in Hillsborough County, they value honesty and integrity above everything else. I don’t have 14 years of political favors and shady transactions with the downtown crowd, but my advice to Susan would be to stop hiding from the voters and address these issues. I think the voters deserve to know if you’ll break this streak of bad behavior and start playing by the rules that the rest of us live by every day.

“I believe the voters deserve someone who will fight to change the culture in Tallahassee — not someone who wants to join the party.”

Alvarez filed for the seat, a Democratic stronghold, in May 2017. Fellow Democrat Christopher Carlos Cano entered the race June 1.

janet cruz

Florida AFL-CIO backs Janet Cruz for SD 18

Representing more than 500 labor unions and 1 million Florida workers, the Florida AFL-CIO announced Thursday it’s backing House Minority Leader Janet Cruz in her bid to unseat incumbent Republican Dana Young in Senate District 18.

“We need a fighter for workers in Tallahassee — to lower health care costs, raise wages, and make sure the hardworking people of Florida are respected, safe, and prospering,” said Florida AFL-CIO President Mike Williams. “Leader Cruz is our champion because she’s lived it — having been a single working mom trying to keep the lights on, food on the table, and to get ahead for herself and her children.”

The nod comes a few weeks after the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, endorsed Cruz in the battleground race for the Tampa-based seat.

“I’m honored to stand with the working people of the Florida AFL-CIO,” Cruz said. “I will fight every day to make sure workers have a voice in Tallahassee — a voice that speaks louder than special interests making health care less affordable, our schools less safe and less funded, and wages less than they should be. Together, we are going to flip this seat and put workers first.”

Cruz and Young are currently the only candidates running for SD 18. Florida Democrats see the contest, as well as the races for SD 8, SD 16 and SD 24, as key to their chances of forcing a tie in the state Senate. Republicans currently hold a seven-seat advantage in the chamber, with one vacancy.

SD 18 is the only one of those four Senate battlegrounds that voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. Young was first elected to the seat in 2016 with about 48 percent of the vote.

Cruz has been a member of the Florida House since 2010. After initially filing for a Hillsborough County Commission seat, she announced in mid-April that she would challenge Young in fall. Shortly after that announcement, 2016 Democratic nominee Bob Buesing exited the race to clear the way for Cruz in the primary.

Through the end of May, Young had a massive lead in the fundraising race with more than $1.2 million in the bank compared to Cruz’ on hand tally of about $341,000.

Daphne Campbell

Daphne Campbell adds seven local endorsements for SD 38 re-election bid

Incumbent Democrat Daphne Campbell has received another stack of local endorsements in her campaign for a second term in Miami-Dade based Senate District 38.

Announcing their support for Campbell are Golden Beach Mayor Glenn Singer, Biscayne Park Mayor Tracy Truppman, El Portal Mayor Claudia Cubillos, Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam, North Bay Village Vice Mayor Adreana Jackson, Miami Gardens Vice Mayor Erhabor Ighodaro and Miramar Vice Mayor Yvette Colbourne.

“Senator Campbell has been a longtime friend and advocate of the town of Golden Beach. She works diligently to help the residents of our communities, and all the communities she represents, to receive the necessary means by which to flourish and prosper. We are fortunate to have her represent our Town,” Singer said in a news release.

The local endorsements add to the suite of supporters lining up behind Campbell as she looks to stave off challenger Jason Pizzo, a former prosecutor who took second place in a crowded SD 38 Democratic primary two years ago. Past endorsements for Campbell include a dozen of her colleagues in the Legislature, among them incoming Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson and incoming House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee.

“Local mayors are the backbone of strong communities across the state of Florida. I am happy to have the support of such a strong group of mayors, that recognize the strong leadership and experience that I offer representing their communities in Tallahassee,” Campbell said.

“I look forward to continuing to be a vocal advocate for the cities I represent, while also focusing on issues that are important to the residents of district 38 like better-paying jobs, increased public school funding, and affordable health care for all.”

Campbell was elected to SD 38 in 2016. She received 31 percent of the vote in the six-way primary compared to 24 percent for Pizzo, a difference of 2,129 votes. She later won the general election in the Democratic stronghold after taking 75 percent of the vote against unaffiliated candidate Phillip Brutus.

As of Thursday, Campbell and Pizzo are the only candidates who have filed for the 2018 race. The qualifying period for candidates to make the ballot begins Monday and ends at noon on June 22.

Pizzo currently leads the money race with $193,000 raised and more than $100,000 on hand, including $100,000 in loans. Campbell has raised a little over $92,000 and started June with $29,800 on hand. Her total has not been bolstered by any candidate loans.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Emails show Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections bent rules for Susan Valdes

There’s a new chapter in the saga of Susan Valdes’ resignation from the Hillsborough School Board.

Valdes, now a candidate for House District 62, faced a June 8 deadline to get her resignation letter to the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office to meet the requirements of the new resign-to-run law signed by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year.

As previously reported, the supervisor’s office received the resignation letter in an email delivered 7:30 p.m. Friday. Though well after the office’s 5 p.m. closing time, the supervisor’s office announced Monday it accepted the resignation, effective Nov. 6.

New email records obtained by the campaign of Mike Alvarez, who faces Valdes in the Democratic primary for HD 62, show there was an understanding within the supervisor’s office that the resign-to-run deadline was 5 p.m. Friday, but that those rules were bent to accommodate Valdes.

According to the timeline put out by Alvarez, Hillsborough County General Counsel Mary Helen Farris made clear in a June 1 email to the supervisor’s office communications director, Gerri Kramer, that her interpretation of the resign-to-run law was that resignation letters had to be filed by 5 p.m. Friday — 10 days prior to the start of candidate qualifying on June 18.

“The statute states: The written resignation must be submitted at least 10 days prior to the first day of qualifying for the office he or she intends to seek … Aren’t your official office hours 8:00 to 5:00? I would then say June 8th by 5:00,” she wrote.

Kramer operated under Farris’ interpretation of the statute for the next week, including responding to emails from reporters inquiring about a resign-to-run letter from County Commissioner Sandra Murman, who was considering running for a different commission seat in the fall. When the clock hit 5 on June 8, Kramer fired off a pair of emails confirming that the office had not received a letter from Murman.

Two-and-a-half hours later, Valdes’ campaign assistant, Victor DiMaio, emailed the resign-to-run letter directly to Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer. He sent the email a second time at 7:40 p.m.

Records don’t indicate Latimer responded to DiMaio’s by email, though numerous records indicate indicates Latimer had been in contact with him and Valdes that evening.

Peg Reese, chief of staff at the supervisor’s office, sent the following email to Farris, Latimer and Kramer at 7:52 p.m.:

“Ms. Valdez did not [emphasis hers] deliver a Resign to Run letter to the Supervisor of Elections office by the close of business today. At approximately 7:30 PM this evening, Craig received via email a Resign-to-Run letter from Vic DiMaio, campaign aide to Susan Valdez. According to Valdez and DiMaio, both of whom spoke with Craig this evening, DiMaio was supposed to deliver the letter to the Supervisor of Election by the close of business today (5:00 PM) …”

Latimer and Valdes appear to have spoken by phone after that, as Valdes sent an email to Latimer later in the evening asking “If there is anywhere Victor can get the letter to you today before midnight; please let me know either via email or cellphone … Thank you very much for your assistance …”

It is unknown whether DiMaio and Latimer spoke, though DiMaio did drop off a resign-to-run letter at Latimer’s house according to a 10:34 p.m. email.

“Attached are photos of the Susan Valdes letter that I personally hand delivered to the door of your residence … at 10:30 PM. Your understanding and cooperation and acceptance of this letter will be greatly appreciated.”

At 1:52 a.m., he sent another email to Latimer thanking him for his “continued help and assistance.”

Committee backing felon rights restoration raised $400K in May

The committee backing a 2018 ballot initiative that would automatically restore voting rights to Florida’s nonviolent ex-cons brought in more than $400,000 in contributions last month.

Floridians for a Fair Democracy received numerous small-dollar contributions from Floridians, though nearly all the $409,220 raised last month came through just three checks.

At the top of the report was a $200,000 check from The Sixteen Thirty Fund, an advocacy group that has sponsored dozens of local, state and federal advocacy campaigns since it was founded in 2009.

That contribution was followed by a pair of $100,000 checks from Cale Bonderman and Zoe Bonderman, who appear to be children of Texas billionaire David Bonderman.

Cale Bonderman is a musician and songwriter who heads up indie band Cale and the Gravity Well; Zoe Bonderman is listed an “owner and CEO.” Both Bondermans gave $100,000 to Floridians for a Fair Democracy in February as well.

May also saw the committee spend $227,762, including nearly $100,000 in payments to Ohio-based EMC Research, $40,000 to New York-based Mercury Public Affairs for consulting work, and a long list of other expenses including payroll for paid staffers.

That left the committee with $452,575 in the bank heading into June. Floridians for a Fair Democracy has raised nearly $5.5 million since it was formed in October 2014, though all but $100,000 of those funds were raised in the past 18 months.

Earlier this year, the felon voting rights amendment gathered enough signatures to make the Nov. 6 ballot, where it will appear as Amendment 4. It is one of 13 amendments, including eight amendments proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission, that will go before voters in the fall.

A recent survey conducted by EMC and North Star Opinion Research found nearly three-quarters of Florida voters in support of restoring voter restoration rights to felons. Amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

Amendment 4, also known as the Voting Restoration Amendment, would restore voting rights to Floridians with felony convictions once they complete all terms of their sentence — including parole, probation, and restitution if imposed by a judge.

Those convicted of murder or sexual offenses would be ineligible.

Mike Alvarez weighs in on Susan Valdes resignation controversy

Susan Valdes’ resignation from the Hillsborough School Board may not have been above-board, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by one of her Democratic primary opponents in House District 62.

As previously reported, Valdes’ resignation from the District 1 School Board seat came in late and was initially rejected by the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections before the office reversed course and announced that it had been accepted Monday.

Valdes is now a candidate for HD 62, and Democratic primary rival Mike Alvarez issued a statement Wednesday calling on Valdes to explain how, exactly, she made it into the race after missing the resign-to-run deadline.

“Commissioner Valdes and I are both Democrats. As a true Democrat, I understand that our party values transparency, the rule of law, and access for all people to our government institutions — especially in the age of Trump,” Alvarez said in a news release.

“That’s why it’s extremely concerning to hear that legally valid requests for public information are being stonewalled to keep voters in the dark. We deserve to know why a long time elected official like Commissioner Valdes is getting special treatment from government employees, how she sought that special treatment, and what role government staff played in this process.

“I’m calling on Commissioner Valdes to immediately instruct the Hillsborough County School Board to release all emails pertaining to her resignation, her failure to file legally required documents, steps government employees took to change widely reported facts, and what pressure she put on government employees to advance her political career. This should also include all correspondence between Commissioner Valdes and School Board staff with the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and the Supervisor’s staff.

“By all appearances, Commissioner Valdes is using her grip on the School Board and its employees to block from public view information that the public is legally entitled to — I hope the Commissioner will take this first step toward a legal, ethical, and transparent process and away from a troubling history of insider deals and special treatment for the political elite.”

Tom Alte, a consultant to the Alvarez campaign, said Hillsborough Schools denied a public records requests seeking communications related to Valdes’ resignation, claiming it was “too broad,” though Hillsborough Schools refutes that claim.

Grayson Kamm, a communications and media officer for Hillsborough County Public Schools, said his office never denied Alte’s request but did reach out to him to inform him the request would “take a considerable amount of time to gather” and “could potentially contain student information, which, by law, would need to be reviewed and redacted and may incur costs for the amount of staff time required for that review.”

“Our public records process and our staff members follow the law and serve the public,” he said.

HD 62 covers part of Hillsborough County and is currently held by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, who is term-limited and running for state Senate in the fall.

Alvarez filed for the seat, a Democratic stronghold, in May 2017. Fellow Democrat Christopher Carlos Cano entered the race on June 1 followed Monday by Valdes. The qualifying deadline for candidates to make the 2018 ballot is noon, June 22.

Steve Cona

Steve Cona files for Hillsborough School Board

Tampa businessman Steve Cona announced Tuesday that is running for District 1 seat on the Hillsborough County School Board.

“Our public schools should be our biggest economic development engine; a place that cultivates and elevates the uniqueness of every student. As a school board member, I will work to ensure our students are prepared to be career and college ready. As a father, I want to ensure we are utilizing all of our current resources to provide the best learning environments for our students,” Cona said in a news release.

“My expertise and experience will provide a fresh set of eyes and solutions to build the best school district in the country because that is what our Hillsborough County students deserve.”

Cona is a Hillsborough County native and the current president/CEO of the Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, a position he has held for five years. He and his wife, Audra, have two children enrolled in Hillsborough public schools. Though School Board races are nonpartisan, Cona is a Republican who once ran for Hillsborough County Commission.

He is the first candidate to declare for the race to replace current School Board member Susan Valdes, whose resignation from the seat is of questionable legitimacy. She is now running in the Democratic primary for House District 62.

The special election for the District 1 School Board seat will be on the 2018 ballot alongside the regularly scheduled elections for District 2, District 4 and District 6.

District 1 covers northwestern Hillsborough, including part of Tampa and the communities of Egypt Lake, Keystone, Leto, Town ‘n’ Country and Westchase. The winner of the nonpartisan election will serve out the remainder of Valdes’ term, which runs through 2020.

Chip LaMarca

Chip LaMarca releases first campaign video in HD 93 bid

Republican Chip LaMarca, currently a Broward County Commissioner, released a campaign video this week in support of his bid to succeed Republican Rep. George Moraitis in House District 93.

The 90-second video, “Working for You,” highlights LaMarca’s roots in the Broward County district before delving into his pitch on how he would improve the quality of life for the area if he were sent to Tallahassee in the fall.

“I’ve lived in South Florida just about my entire life. Moved here when I was 3, grew up in public schools in Broward County, in this district, and I’ve had the opportunity to live in the district which I seek to serve my entire life,” LaMarca says in the video over footage of him and his wife walking on the beach.

“Politicians … they don’t really pay attention to what their constituents are looking for. I think they’re a lot of times guided by what their party wants them to say or do. I don’t think they show up enough, I don’t think they go to places where they might be in for a difficult conversation.

“If I am sent to Tallahassee and blessed to serve the people of this district, I would hope they would say I made a tremendous difference in Tallahassee. I would hope they understand I went to work every day to protect their environment, protect their family and safety, protect their pocketbooks, and make sure that we didn’t attack their freedoms, their wallets, or any part of their lives, [or] their liberties in any way, other than we wanted to make sure they live in a great community and had great opportunities,” LaMarca said.

LaMarca faces Democrats Emma Collum and Stephanie Myers as well as no-party candidate Kelly Milam.

Through May, he was leading the fundraising race with more than $250,000 raised and $222,700 on hand. Collum is the top Democrat with about $100,000 raised and has $42,700 compared to Myers’ $27,500 in total fundraising and $10,000 on hand, including $15,000 in loans.

HD 93 covers the northern half of the Broward County coast, including Deerfield Beach, Hillsboro Beach, Lighthouse Point, Pompano Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Sea Ranch Lakes, Oakland Park, Wilton Manors and Fort Lauderdale.

It has been a reliably Republican district despite voter registrations only skewing slightly toward the GOP. The last book closing report for the district showed 36 percent of the electorate were Republicans and 35 percent were Democrats.

In 2016, Moraitis defeated Democrat Ken Keechl, a former Broward Commissioner, 54-46. That was the closest spread since the seat was redrawn ahead of the 2012 elections, and it came on the same day Donald Trump carried the district by a point.

LaMarca’s video is below.

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