Drew Wilson – Page 4 – 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.
Melissa Howard HD 73

Melissa Howard rebuts allegation that she’s a former Democrat

Tommy Gregory, a Republican candidate for House District 73, threw some serious shade at primary opponent Melissa Howard this week, but it looks like he should double check his sources.

At issue is Howard’s party affiliation, not an uncommon avenue of attack in the primary season.

Earlier this week, the Gregory campaign alleged that Howard is still registered to vote in Ohio and, based on voter registration records from that state, that she was a registered Democrat as recently as 2010.

The campaign used that data to question whether Howard is “even allowed to be on the ballot” and whether she is “misleading voters” in the Sarasota County district by masquerading as a Republican.

The allegations were seemingly backed up with pictures of the voter rolls giving credence to those supposed inconsistencies, but it’s a good thing they didn’t take it a step further by presenting them as fact, or else there would be a walk back in order.

As nearly any Floridian or Ohioan can attest, Ohio isn’t Florida. In this case, Ohio has different election rules and their state voter rolls record information differently than Florida’s.

Here’s what Hamilton County (Ohio) Election Administrator Chuck Eckert said when Howard reached out for an official explanation to quash the attack before it got roots:

“Under Ohio election law, political party affiliation is done by requesting the ballot type for the political party with which you wish to be affiliated in a Partisan Primary Election. Your voting history reflects only General Election activity, no partisan primary election activity.”

After nabbing that official statement from someone who is familiar with how Ohio handles voter data, Howard reiterated she has “always been and voted for Republicans.”

Believing Howard is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican doesn’t take a vivid imagination — her campaign treasurer is none other than current HD 73 Rep. Joe Gruters, who is both the current chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota and was a co-chairman on President Donald Trump’s winning Florida campaign.

Howard and Gregory are the only two Republicans vying for HD 73, a GOP stronghold that covers parts of Manatee and Sarasota County. Both candidates have built six-figure war chests in the two months they’ve been running for the seat. HD 73 is open due to current Gruters’ decision to run for the Senate seat currently held by Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, who is running for Congress.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

The Keiser Bunch - Belinda Keiser

FMA slams ‘blue wave’ Belinda Keiser in new ad

A political committee tied to the Florida Medical Association released a new ad Wednesday hammering Belinda Keiser, who is running as a Republican in the special election for Senate District 25.

FMA is backing Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell in the SD 25 race, which is opening up this year due to the early exit of Senate President Joe Negron.

“The Keiser Bunch,” as the title hints, borrows heavily from the intro to Sherwood Schwartz’s famous 1970s sitcom to cast Keiser as a faux Republican, still in league with the Democrats she’s been donating to for decades.

Keiser takes center square in the Better Florida Fund Corp ad while Democrats Hillary Clinton, Charlie Crist, Bob Graham, Al Gore, Alcee Hastings, Buddy MacKay, Bill Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Shultz fill out the remainder of the grid.

Those eight Democrats got a spot in The Keiser Bunch because they’re among the better-known Democrats who have received campaign contributions from Keiser, but that list isn’t exhaustive.

“Here’s the story of Belinda Keiser moving from Parkland to run as a Republican for Senate. She’s donated thousands to Democrats like ‘crooked Hillary,’ Al Gore, Debbie Wasserman Shultz and not one dime to President [Donald] Trump. And she’s even run for office as a Democrat,” the ad narrator states.

The ad then pans over a spreadsheet showing dozens of donations Keiser made to Democratic politicians over the years. Federal candidates alone have received $141,667 from the Keiser University chancellor, add in state-level candidates and the Florida Democratic Party and that figure approaches nearly $200,000 without adding in the funds she used to boost her failed campaign as a Democrat for state House.

Those aren’t all old contribs, either — just six months ago she cut a $1,000 check to Plantation Sen. Lauren Book, and in July 2017 Crist, now a Congressman, received a $2,500 check.

“Blue wave Belinda has paid her dues to the left, but this Broward County Democrat won’t fool us. Vote no on ‘blue wave’ Belinda Keiser,” the ad concludes.

Keiser’s palatial Parkland home is 80 miles away from the southern border of SD 25, which covers all of St. Lucie and Martin counties, along with a small portion of Palm Beach County. Despite the long trek, she filed for the seat using the address of Keiser University’s St. Lucie campus shortly after Negron’s announcement.

Since then she’s attempted to paint herself as a loyal Trump supporter who has been a member of the Republican Party since the turn of the century, though a cursory search of her own statements shows she joined the GOP no earlier than 2007.

The ad is below.

Aakash Patel

Kiran Patel endorses Aakash Patel for Hillsborough commission

Republican Aakash Patel picked up an endorsement from respected Tampa cardiologist and philanthropist Kiran Patel (no relation) for his bid to replace retiring Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham in the fall.

“It is my pleasure to endorse Aakash in his quest for Hillsborough County Commission. I am a firm believer that the next generation of Indian Americans should make even greater efforts to positively impact our communities and our nation, and Aakash has worked diligently to accomplish much and will do more as he continues his public service,” Kiran Patel said.

“I have seen his successes as he has grown his business and his efforts to make early childhood education accessible to more families in Hillsborough County. I look forward to celebrating Aakash’s success and his future accomplishments.”

The two Patels have known each other for more than 20 years, working together when Dr. Patel lead the International Indian Film Festival events in Tampa and Aakash served on the Host Committee. Both have also been actively involved in the Indo-US Chamber of Commerce.

“I am extremely honored to have the support of Dr. Patel. He has consistently been a role model for me as he demonstrates his compassion by giving back to our community. I sincerely appreciate him for his support as I move forward toward serving on the Hillsborough County Commission,” Aakash Patel said.

Aakash Patel runs a business consulting firm and has also been appointed chair of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County and to the Florida Early Learning Advisory Council by Gov. Rick Scott.

Before this week’s endorsement, Patel’s Hillsborough Commission campaign has earned the backing of Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Northwest Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, Zephyrhills Rep. Danny Burgess and Sarasota Rep. Joe Gruters, among others.

Patel originally filed to succeed Sandra Murman in the District 1 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, but her recent decision to serve out the remainder of her term led him to switch his campaign over to the countywide District 7 race.

He had raised more than $450,000 for his campaign before making the jump, setting him up as the fundraising leader in the eight-person field.

Hillsborough elections supervisor played favorites with Susan Valdes

There’s something fishy going on at Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections office, says one Democratic consultant.

As previously reported, Susan Valdes is eyeing a run for the Florida House, for the seat being vacated by Janet Cruz. In preparation for a bid for House District 62, Valdes resigned her seat on the Hillsborough County School Board just before the deadline.

At least that’s what the Supervisor of Elections office says.

“Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer received a resignation letter on Friday, June 8, at 7:30 p.m. from Susan Valdes, who currently serves as District 1 School Board Member,” the office said in a Monday release, which also served to announce the District 1 School Board seat would be on the 2018 ballot.

That press release came after the supervisor’s office told Tampa Bay Times reporter William March that Valdes had not resigned by the deadline. Tom Alte, a consultant working with the Michael Alvarez campaign, got the same answer at first — with the added detail that the resignation letter was rejected — before he found out supervisor’s office was taking the “unprecedented” step of reconsidering that decision.

“This is something that wouldn’t be done for any other candidate,” Alte said. “It very clearly violates the statute.”

Since Monday’s decision, Alte has tried to figure out what exactly happened behind the scenes that made the supervisor’s office to reverse course and accept the resignation letter, but says he’s being stonewalled.

He said a public records request for emails to and from Valdes’ official School Board email address over the past week was almost immediately denied for being “too broad.” An amended request for emails only relating to her resignation letter has not gotten a response.

Grayson Kamm, a communications and media officer for Hillsborough County Public Schools, refutes those claims. In a statement to Florida Politics, he said Alte’s records request was never denied, nor are any public records requests.

“We recognized his request for ‘all communications regarding Susan Valdes from May 1st to today’ would a) take a considerable amount of time to gather, and b) 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,” Kamm said.

“Because of those two reasons, we called Mr. Alte to see if we could help more closely figure out what he was looking for and potentially get him the records he was looking for more quickly.

“In the phone conversation, he gave a more detailed description of what he was seeking; we processed that request and have provided it to him — it is certainly not the case where that request ‘has not gotten a response.’

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

What Alte did receive is a timestamped email confirming the resignation letter came in at 7:30 p.m., well after the 5 p.m. closing time at the supervisor’s office. He also received confirmation from Mary Helen Farris, general counsel at Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office, that the Friday email was the first time the office received any paperwork relating to Valdes’ resignation.

Ironically, Alte was also told that supervisor’s office staff were slow to respond because they were getting a refresher course on how to do their jobs without political bias.

If the supervisor’s office has decided to stay open later, as it did Friday, maybe Latimer could let the rest of the county know rather than cater to a constituency of one. Otherwise, it seems another few rounds of training are in order.

Jimmy Patronis expands cash lead in CFO race

The campaign cash keeps rolling in for CFO Jimmy Patronis.

The Panama City Republican brought in $463,251 last month, including $217,601 for his campaign account and $245,650 for political committee Treasure Florida. That haul boosts his overall tally to $3.6 million with $3.17 million in the bank at the beginning of June.

Topping the committee report was a pair of $25,000 checks, one from a political committee tied to Coral Gables billionaire Mike Fernandez and another from South Florida recovery center Deerfield Florida House. Utility company TECO Energy, law firm Lydecker LLP, medical marijuana dispensary Surterra and a political committee linked to the Florida Chamber of Commerce followed at the $15,000 level.

The campaign report listed 270 contributions, including 35 for the maximum allowable contribution of $3,000. Notable names among the max donor crowd were lobby firms The Rubin Group and The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners as well as half-dozen checks linked to U.S. Sugar and its subsidiaries.

Patronis was appointed to the CFO job by Gov. Rick Scott last summer. He faces light opposition from Antoanet Iotova in the Republican primary, while former Democratic Sen. Jeremy Ring is likely to face him on the November ballot.

Ring’s finance reports combined to $59,603 last month with $35,000 of that sum raised via his political committee, Florida Action Fund, and the balance heading to the campaign account.

The former Yahoo! executive’s most prominent contribution in May was a $15,000 check from the Greater Florida Leadership Group, one of three committees chaired by Tallahassee lobbyist David Ramba to donate to Ring’s committee last month. Also on the committee report was a $10,000 check from Florida Alliance for Better Government, a committee chaired by lobbyist and Democratic consultant Screven Watson.

The campaign haul included a trio of $3,000 checks political committees tied to the Florida Police Benevolent Association. The PBA endorsed Ring for CFO last month.

Ring has raised about $1.1 million for his campaign, including $150,000 in loans. He started June with $458,674 on hand.

Todd Marks

Todd Marks moves Hillsborough Commission campaign to countywide District 7

Tampa attorney Todd Marks announced Tuesday that he’s entering the race for the District 7 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, to replace retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham.

“I look forward to sharing my vision of a leaner county government that keeps taxes low and stays out-of-the-way of small business and land owners and holds the bureaucrats accountable,” Marks said. “I am the only consistent conservative candidate with the background and experience required to make tough decisions when it comes to growth, transportation and public safety.”

Marks, who runs Westchase Law and Westchase Title, was previously a candidate for the District 1 seat currently held by Commissioner Sandy Murman. Murman had planned to run for countywide District 7 seat this year but opted to serve out the remainder of her term in District 1.

Included in Marks’ announcement were endorsements from several Republican elected officials in the Tampa area, including Murman, state Sen. Dana Young and state Reps. Jackie Toledo and Lawrence McClure. Also among the 17 endorsements announced Tuesday were former Jeb Bush and Dick Cheney Chief of Staff Kathleen Shanahan and former Tampa Chamber President Mike Griffin.

“I have known Todd Marks for many years and am excited that he has chosen to run for the Hillsborough County Commission, District 7 seat. As a successful businessman, he will add an important voice for economic development and pro-business policies to our County Commission. In addition, Todd Marks shares my commitment to the environment. We can always count on Todd to protect our water, our children and our quality of life. I ask all Republicans to join me in supporting Todd Marks,” Young said.

Marks joins seven other candidates in the District 7 race including fellow Republican Aakash Patel, who was his chief primary rival when both were candidates for the District 1 seat.

Of the other six candidates in the race, only Democrat Kimberly Overman has posted any substantial fundraising numbers. She has raised nearly $35,000 and has about $13,000 in the bank.

When Patel and Marks bring over the funds from the scrubbed District 1 campaign they are set to take the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in fundraising, respectively. Patel had raised $450,000 as of May 31, while Marks had raised nearly $85,000.

Matt Caldwell tops Ag Commissioner field in May

North Fort Myers Rep. Matt Caldwell topped the four-person Republican primary for Agriculture Commissioner in May fundraising with more than $200,000 received between his campaign and political committee.

The May reports, which show $53,120 in campaign fundraising and $147,500 in committee cash, bring Caldwell’s total fundraising up to $2.12 million with $1.26 million in the bank. That puts a small gap between him and Sebring Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley, who has $1.04 million banked after raising $136,252 in May.

“I am grateful for the statewide support in our bid for Commissioner of Agriculture. Some typical politicians in this race are apparently willing to waste Floridians hard earned tax dollars to bankroll their campaigns — but I have made it clear that I will not take taxpayer money to fund my campaign,” Caldwell said Tuesday.

“And while ‘self-funders’ may try to buy a seat and avoid the hard work of a campaign trail, we are running the only true, statewide campaign for Commissioner. We will raise the funds needed for this campaign from Floridians that believe in my track record and conservative message.”

That second jab was directed at former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman, who raised about $64,000 last month and kicked in another $200,000 in self-funding to maintain his cash lead in the primary race.

His reports bring him up to $3.42 million, including $3 million in candidate contributions. He started dipping into those funds last month, spending more than $1.6 million on a media buy to air a series of campaign commercials statewide. He started June with about $1.5 million in the bank.

Also running in the Republican primary is Mike McCalister, a retired Army colonel from Plant City. He entered the race in mid-March and has raised just $1,800 so far.

The winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary could face Fort Lauderdale Democrat Nikki Fried in November.

The medical marijuana advocate filed for the race Tuesday, joining fellow Democrats Jeffrey Duane Porter and R. David Walker, neither of whom have gained any traction on the fundraising trail.

Walker kicked in $100,000 in loans to his campaign last month but raised just $1,286. He has $148,550 in the bank. Porter raised just $1,100 in May and has $22,900 on hand.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

FDP Medicaid Expansion Tour - Gainesville 6.12.18

Florida Democrats launch Medicaid expansion tour

Florida Democrats held the first in a series of planned stops in a statewide “Medicaid Expansion Tour” at Gainesville City Hall Monday afternoon.

The Florida Democratic Party event drew Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe, City Commissioner David Arreola, Alachua County Democratic Party Executive Committee Chair Cynthia Chestnut and Senate District 8 candidate Kayser Enneking to expound on what the party believes will be a defining issue of the 2018 election cycle.

Chestnut said Medicaid expansion will play a role up and down the 2018 ballot including in the U.S. Senate race where incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is up against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whom Chestnut said “lied” and “turned his back on Floridians” when he announced he said he was in favor of expansion in 2013.

The former lawmaker also slammed Republican gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis as offering little more than a continuation of Scott administration policies at a time when Floridians are ready to “move forward.”

Enneking made similar comments regarding her bid to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry in SD 8, noting Perry’s vote against Medicaid expansion during his time in the Florida House.

“States that have expanded Medicaid have seen their health care outcomes rise to the top,” she said. “The argument that we can’t afford to expand Medicaid is a false argument.”

Arreola, the youngest commissioner ever elected in Gainesville, said Florida’s decision not to expand the federal-state health insurance program for the poor wasn’t just affecting their medical bills but creating a “dangerous set of circumstances for our people and our economy.”

“What else does that prevent them from accessing? Better jobs?” he asked.

The tour, which will continue Monday in West Palm Beach, signals Florida Democrats’ intent to make health care access the keystone of their efforts to take back the Governor’s Mansion and state Legislature after two decades of Republican rule.

As Poe put it: “Medicaid expansion is on the ballot in 2018.”

Ashey Moody

Ashley Moody raises big, Frank White doubles down and Jay Fant fizzles

Former circuit court judge Ashley Moody again topped her primary opponents in the Attorney General race with nearly $450,000 raised between her campaign and committee accounts last month.

The Hillsborough County Republican received $271,500 of that cash through her committee, Friends of Ashley Moody, with the balance raised via her campaign account.

Her May effort easily bested the other two Republicans vying to replace term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi in the fall. Pensacola Rep. Frank White reported $97,000 in outside money last month, while Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant showed a paltry $1,640.

“Judge Ashley Moody, the only Attorney General candidate who has actually prosecuted a case, continues to outraise all primary opponents, and this month’s finance report is no exception as we look toward next week’s official qualifying period,” campaign manager Nick Catroppo said in a Tuesday news release.

“This morning’s announcement that Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd became the 40th Republican sheriff to endorse Ashley Moody for Attorney General makes her the best, most qualified candidate to serve as Florida’s next chief legal officer.”

Though White’s actual fundraising performance pales when compared to Moody’s, he also dumped another $1.25 million into his campaign last month. The seven-figure “investment” adds to his already immense self-funding effort and keeps him in the top spot when it comes to cash on hand.

He entered June with more than $3.4 million banked. His total includes $2.7 million in self-funding and another $200,000-plus in contributions tied to his father-in-law, Pensacola car dealership magnate Sandy Sansing.

Moody has raised $2.64 million so far and has nearly $2.1 million on hand. Her only self-funding was a $6,000 check used to kick-start her campaign in June.

Fant, who has had a rough time on the fundraising trail for months, has now raised $637,313 and kicked in another $750,000 via a candidate loan. He finished the month with $805,000 in the bank — $711,000 in his campaign account and $93,800 in his committee, Pledge This Day.

White started flexing his cash advantage last week with a $1 million ad buy as part of an “80-day plan” to keep him on TV screens through the primary election. He is the first AG candidate to start running TV ads, but Moody is certain to follow.

A recent poll found her with about 15 percent support in the three-way primary, followed by White at 13.7 percent and Fant at 10.2 percent. More than 60 percent of those polled were undecided.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Keith Perry

Keith Perry fundraising bounces back in May

A month after he was outraised threefold by his leading challenger, Republican Sen. Keith Perry of Gainesville bounced back and expanded his cash-on-hand lead.

The first-term senator added $58,250 in May, including $47,250 through his campaign account and $11,000 in receipts for his committee, Building a Prosperous Florida.

That haul brought him past the $500,000 mark in total fundraising 18 months after filing for re-election to Alachua County-based Senate District 8.

The North Central Florida roofer now has $411,000 in the bank for his 2018 effort, putting him $105,000 ahead of leading Democratic candidate Kayser Enneking, who entered June with about $306,000 on hand.

The Gainesville physician’s May reports included $30,555 in campaign money and another $9,501 for her committee, Florida Knows Excellence. She’s raised $372,000 since entering the race nine months ago.

Perry’s campaign report lists 124 contributions, including more than two dozen checks for the maximum allowable donation of $1,000.

More than a quarter of the campaign contributions came in on May 24, when Perry held a campaign kickoff fundraiser in Gainesville with Senate President Joe Negron, Senate President Designate Bill Galvano and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson making the host committee.

Most of the campaign contributions came from within SD 8, which covers all of Alachua and Putnam counties as well as the norther half of Marion County. That’s a notable change of pace from his recent reports, one of which featured no in-district donors.

Health insurer Florida Blue topped the committee report with a pair of $5,000 checks. The only donor on the report was a political committee tied to Sysco, which chipped in $1,000.

Enneking’s campaign report showed 119 contributions, including max checks from some of her possible future colleagues.

Showing up in May were committees tied to Democratic Sens. Lori Berman, Lauren Book and Perry Thurston. Also notable were checks from Gainesville developer Ken McGurn and a committee chaired by Coral Gables billionaire Mike Fernandez, who was until recently a major Republican donor. Most of the rest of Enneking’s campaign report came in via small dollar donors chipping in $100 or less.

The committee report was topped by Crestview physician Michael Gilmore, who gave $3,000. Further down the list was a $1,00 check from Gainesville law firm Avera & Smith. Named partner Rod Smith was the 2016 Democratic nominee in SD 8. He is also a former state Senator and former chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

Before she can go head-to-head with Perry in November, Enneking has to win an Aug. 28 primary against fellow Gainesville resident Olysha Magruder. She reported about $2,600 in new money in her May report and also kicked in a $1,000 loan. She started June with a little over $9,000 on hand.

SD 8 is one of a handful of districts that became more favorable to Democrats after the Senate map was redrawn ahead of the 2016 elections. Despite Democrats holding a 9-point advantage in voter registrations, Perry ended up defeating Smith by 4 points on Election Day. SD 8 also voted in favor of Donald Trump, though only by two tenths of a point.

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