A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski

Eyeing 2020, Joe Biden rallies for Andrew Gillum, Bill Nelson

As early in-person voting kicked off Monday for the first time at Jacksonville’s University of North Florida, Democratic chances were jolted by a tested commodity at the lecturn: former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden, leading many polls of 2020 hopefuls for the party’s nomination for President, isn’t the only potential top-of-the-ticket presence to hit the state. U.S. Sen. Cory Booker was here this weekend.

Just as with Booker, who is barnstorming battleground states ahead of Nov. 6, Biden’s two-day, three-stop Florida swing is intended to boost candidates and remind Florida voters that despite his age, the Delaware Democrat is a major player.

The language: familiar.

“This election is bigger than politics,” Biden said, as he has said in battlegrounds coast to coast.

“We used to be the shining city on the hill,” Biden said, driven “by the power of our example.”

That soft power, said Biden, is “being shredded … all for the purposes of a [President] amassing power, abusing power.”

This is, per the VP, driving a cultural nadir: Biden described the alt-right in Charlottesville last year, “chanting the same type of anti-Semitic bile” as in Nuremberg or Berlin.

“It’s gotten worse, calling refugees animals,” Biden lamented, noting that the rhetorical approach has driven even conservatives out of the GOP.

The Biden visit is yet another reminder that Gillum is in the mainstream of the party, a message that will be further impressed when Hillary Clinton comes to Florida for fundraising events Tuesday.

Biden, as he said early on, has been traveling the country giving the same speech with regional variations: a textbook anti-Trump message designed to drive the vote out.

And in Jacksonville, it spurred some enthusiasm, with a brief “Run Joe Run” change breaking out at one point. Though as the speech bled past thirty minutes, the crowd started to trickle out.

Still, for Democrats, seeking to blend the moderate approach of Bill Nelson with a more 21st century appeal of Gillum, introducing the united “winning” ticket is key if they want to reverse the trends of the last two decades.

Biden’s speech was a trip down memory lane for many Democrats, including the former VP and longtime Senator himself.

“I served with a lot of people in the U.S. Senate. But I’ve never served with anyone with the integrity, character, and decency of Bill Nelson. Whatever Bill Nelson told you he’d do, he will do and has done,” Biden said.

Biden bashed Republican Ron DeSantis for voting for the President Donald Trump tax bill, which created a “debt which any economist will tell you can’t be paid.”

“They’re saying we have a debt,” Biden said, “and there’s only one way to [pay it], go where the money is, Medicare and Social Security.”

Biden moved on to hurricanes, spotlighting climate change as a threat to Florida. Per one embedded reporter, this was a rhetorical appeal for the storm-ravaged Sunshine State.

Regarding Rick Scott, Biden noted “do you want that know nothing to join the know nothing in the White House?”

It was a rhetorical question (and also a rare new line in a refined speech).

Biden moved on to another part of the ticket soon enough.

“You have one of the most exciting, bright leaders in the country,” Biden said, “in Andrew Gillum.”

Biden noted that Gillum could expand Medicaid “with a stroke of a pen,” and would deal with climate change issues.

Moreover, “you’ll never see his budget cut over a billion dollars in education.”

Sen. Nelson enthused: “The last time in Jacksonville I saw this big of a crowd was the election that put Barack Obama in the WH.”

While that was hyperbole, with the UNF crowd of roughly 1,000 well below the draw Obama had in 2008, Democrats weren’t disputing the read.

Nelson, bemoaning today’s “smackdown politics,” drew parallels between his race with Gov. Rick Scott and the Gillum/DeSantis race.

Among those parallels: answers to red tide, as well as economic issues that lead to people working multiple jobs and still falling behind.

Nelson voiced an interest in STEM programs, being sure to brand around the space program.

“Just two days ago, the Republican leader of the Senate said we’re running up too much debt,” Nelson said, noting that Sen. McConnell said Social Security and Medicare may be on the table.

“As long as I’m around, they’re not touching Social Security or Medicare,” Nelson said, powering a chant of his name that lasted about half a minute.

Democrats, conscious of the pool of voters who are much warmer toward one candidate than the other, understand all too well the need to sell the whole package.

“It’s time to send Rick Scott packing,” Gillum said.

For his part, the Mayor vowed to “put some decency and common sense in the Governor’s Office,” some partisan red meat less than 24 hours after trumpeting cooperation with Scott after Hurricane Michael in the debate Sunday night.

“Did y’all see that whooping we put on Ron DeSantis? This brother can’t get off the stage soon enough,” Gillum said, vowing to “retire him soon enough.”

Gillum hit on policy issues, including the Equal Rights Amendment, access to reproductive rights, and a firm stance against the National Rifle Association. For those following this campaign, these positions are familiar.

Lt. Gov. candidate Chris King brought the fire, hyping up VP Biden as “looking good” in the back.

King, who drew roughly 2 percent in the primary, has become an energetic running mate.

“When he chose me, this wasn’t a political marriage,” King said, saying that Gillum wanted him to be his “friend, brother, and to have my back.”

Among an example of having his back: King speaking, at Gillum’s request, at a Bethune Cookman pep rally. That went well until he called them the Rattlers, the mascot for Florida A&M.

Agriculture Commissioner hopeful Nikki Fried noted that the “Blue Wave” is being driven by a “Pink Wave,” a reflection of the women running this year.

Her biggest crowdpopping line: advocacy for medical marijuana.

“Seeing how Tallahassee messed up [enacting] the will of the people,” Fried said, got her to run.

And “getting this medicine to patients who are suffering” drives her mission, she said.

“We need you voting like our lives, our state depend on it,” Fried said, “because it does.”

Beyond the statewide candidates, Duval County Tax Collector hopeful Mia Jones, state House hopeful Tracye Polson, state Sen. Audrey Gibson, and Congressional candidate Nancy Soderberg all hyped the crowd.

Gibson, a moderate Democrat by most reckonings, noted that if concerns about early childhood education and health coverage for people with pre-existing concerns “made [her] radical, then so be it.”

Soderberg, a Clinton administration alum running in a Congressional District centered around Daytona Beach, hammered opponent Mike Waltz for opposing coverage of people with pre-existing conditions.

Republicans disclaimed the importance of the rally.

 “Joe Biden is wasting his time in Florida. The Republican Party is more unified than ever in the Sunshine State thanks to the success of economic growth under Governor Scott’s leadership. While Biden was attempting to gin up support for an unhinged Democratic Party, Republicans were rallying behind our proven Republican leaders who have fought hard to get Floridians back to work,” asserted Taryn Fenske, RNC spox.

However, the GOP is also bringing out the big guns, with Vice President Mike Pence in town for DeSantis Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, another potential Presidential hopeful, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, will be back in the state for Nelson before the election.

Cover Photo Credit: Daniel Henry. 

Rick Scott defends education spending in latest ad

Gov. Rick Scott has spent months defending his education spending, including an ad just last month, and his latest ad (“Attention Florida”) suggests that defense is a work in progress.

The 30-second spot, per a campaign media release, is “highlighting Senator Nelson’s false attack on Governor Scott’s historic funding for Florida’s education system.”

“Time and time again, Senator Nelson has been confused about the reality of Florida’s education accomplishments over the past eight years,” the media release asserts, citing spending more dollars on education and per-pupil funding, assertions that have been disputed.

The script mirrors that perspective: “Under Rick Scott, Florida has its biggest education budget in history, more spending per pupil than ever before … After 40 years on Washington, Bill Nelson in confused about what’s happening in Florida.”

As PolitiFact spotlighted in March, Scott contends that “for the sixth straight year [in the budget process], we have secured record funding for K-12 and state universities.”

The site noted that in real dollars, that didn’t hold true, and over the last decade, schools have had more unfunded mandates, such as increased safety measures and mental health, that weren’t the case pre-recession.

As HD 15 race gets pricey, Wyman Duggan holds cash lead

As early in-person voting begins in Duval County, money is rapidly being spent in the expensive race for an open seat in House District 15.

Republican Wyman Duggan, per receipts that extend through Oct. 12, holds a cash on hand lead over Democrat Tracye Polson.

Polson has aggressively fundraised and self-financed, and has led the money race for most of the campaign, but the most recent finance report represents an outlier to that trend.

Duggan’s campaign account had just over $46,000 in it as of Oct. 12, with $9,549 raised the week before compared to $32,540 spent ($30,000 of that on television).

Duggan’s political committee still had resources as of Oct. 12, with $20,000 of new money the week before (and no spend) boosting that tally north of $37,000.

In addition to having roughly $83,000 for the home stretch, Duggan has also been the beneficiary of over $100,000 in television buys from the Republican Party of Florida, helping him to amplify his message that Polson, a social worker, is out of step with the Westside Jacksonville district.

Polson actually outraised and outspent Duggan in terms of her campaign account during the week, bringing in $13,776 compared to $41,376 in expenditures (with $38,606 on television). The campaign account has just over $7,000 on hand.

Polson’s political committee likewise spent bigger than it raised: $400 brought in during the week, compared to $24,651 in expenditures (moved to the Florida Democratic Party). It has nearly $40,000 on hand.

The seat did go for Donald Trump two years ago, though Democrats haven’t fielded a candidate in plurality-Democrat HD 15 since it was redrawn ahead of the 2012 elections, so its lean in down-ballot races hasn’t been tested.

No drama: John Rutherford, Al Lawson dominate cash race against longshot challengers

Q3 continued a narrative trend for Jacksonville’s Congressmen, as they continued to dominate their longshot challengers in the cash race.

First-term Reps. John Rutherford, a Republican and Al Lawson, a Democrat, each of whom have districts that are favorable in terms of voter profile, also connected with donors in the period leading up to Sept. 30.

Rutherford, who represents Northeast Florida’s 4th Congressional District, ended Q3 with $430,130 on hand (of $730,000 raised), well above the $4,444 Democratic challenger Ges Selmont had.

The political action committees of corporations such as Boeing and Google ponied up, as did local powerbrokers like Gary Chartrand and Peter Rummell, and old friends like former State Attorney Angela Corey.

Rutherford, who said he wouldn’t bother debating Selmont because there was no point in giving him a platform, raised $132,930 on the quarter, spending just $20,123 of it.

Republicans comprise 281,000, or 49.8 percent of the district’s voters. There are now 150,237 Democratic voters, or 26.6 percent of district voters. NPAs and third-party voters comprise the balance.

The money race in the majority-Democrat Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee Congressional District 5 likewise seems to reflect where voters will go, with Lawson holding a strong lead over Republican Virginia Fuller.

Lawson exited September with $60,303 on hand (he spent heavily in a competitive primary against Jacksonville’s Alvin Brown). Fuller, who had previously said that she wasn’t fundraising, had just $1,864 at her disposal.

The quarter reflected an active August: receipts of $80,522 were exceeded by $151,379 of spending.

In a reflection of the realities of the district, with Lawson a Democrat comfortable with Republicans and their issues, he got donations from GOP interests, such as the Charter School Action PAC.

Lawson and Rutherford both do things that irk their bases, as recently as last week.

Many groaned when Lawson lauded Gov. Rick Scott for his efforts to save lives after hurricanes.

Likewise, word from the Duval GOP Victory Dinner was that Rutherford’s own party was trying to give him the hook after he spoke longer than organizers apparently hoped.

But what’s clear is that neither of these incumbents is going anywhere, but back to D.C., in 2018.

Bloody day in Jacksonville backdrop for political theater

The Jacksonville Jaguars were losing at home when news broke of six people shot just blocks from the stadium.

Shootings are nothing new to Jacksonville, often called the murder capital of the state. However, this one had a particular political weight, right down to the investigating sheriff, who was apparently in Tampa offering support to gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis.

The news soon enough went national.

And as it went national, Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, a Democrat who may run for Mayor, needled incumbent Republican Mayor Lenny Curry about the shootings.

Curry did not respond. However, Jacksonville’s shootings would find a global platform Sunday evening, as Democrat Andrew Gillum debated Republican Ron DeSantis on CNN.

Gillum, in defending himself against DeSantis’ contention that Tallahassee is a hotbed of violent crime, noted the shooting in Jacksonville. That is, unfortunately, an undercount, as shootings happened elsewhere in the city.

Jacksonville, which has a Republican mayor and Sheriff who both endorsed DeSantis ahead of the primary, has struggled with its murder rate for decades.

That Sheriff, Mike Williams, pilloried Gillum on public safety on behalf of the DeSantis campaign, in a statement that dropped just minutes after the debate.

“Andrew Gillum hasn’t supported law enforcement, he signed an anti-police pledge, and he didn’t do anything tonight to calm the nerves of people rightfully concerned about public safety under his failed leadership,” Williams said.

Questions that Williams’ quote may have been pre-provided abounded, but per a picture from Attorney General Pam Bondi, Williams was at the CNN debate with sheriffs and the AG.











Curry and Williams face re-election in 2019. Stemming the murder rate has proven elusive despite increases in law enforcement budgets (largely a function of collectively bargained pay raises and equipment revamps).

Ted Yoho’s final two years could bring drug policy breakthroughs

U.S. Congressman Ted Yoho, a quintessential Freedom Caucus Republican, looks poised for re-election to a fourth term from Florida’s 3rd district.

There won’t be a fifth.

“You can bank on that,” he told us Friday afternoon in Orange Park, after a campaign town hall.

But he’s likely not done this year, if metrics are predictive.

As of the most recent fundraising report, Yoho had $328,257 of his $752,614 nest egg on hand. This compared favorably to Democratic opponent Yvonne Hayes Hinson, a former Gainesville city commissioner who had just $2,478 of $34,726 on hand.

The party split of the north-central Florida district, which includes portions of Alachua, Bradford, Clay, Marion, Putnam, and Union counties, is likewise favorable for the incumbent. CD 3 has 200,504 Republicans, compared to 175,561 Democrats, with NPAs and third parties comprising the rest of the district’s 487,002 voters.

Yoho packed a back room at a restaurant in Clay County’s biggest city, and he made no bones about where he stood: With Ron DeSantis and against Andrew Gillum, and with movement conservatives like Rep. Jim Jordan over the Paul Ryan wing of the party.

Yoho is confident that Republicans will retain the House, and if that’s the case, he may be positioned to play an important role on issues in the next two years no one would have predicted would be the case when he first ran in 2012.

One such issue: the failed U.S. War on Drugs.

Yoho, concerned about the fentanyl and opium sourced from China, Mexico, and other putative American allies, proposes a simple solution.

“Bring drugs in, you’re going to die,” was how the Congressman summarized the proposal of Singapore-style capital punishment for importation of fentanyl and opium.

The draconian solution is needed, in part, because the Drug War is not being won.

“We spent $2 trillion since 1979 on the war on drugs. Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico are growing more drugs today. We’ve got more drugs in our country. How successful have we been,” Yoho said.

“It’s been ineffective, we’re not any better off, and we need to have a different narrative … If these people are going to be our allies, they need to get rid of that garbage,” Yoho said.

“A lot of that money gets lost in funnelling to corrupt politicians is what I personally believe,” Yoho said. “Do they really want to change the problem in that country? If Mexico wanted to correct that problem, they would correct that problem.”

“If there’s a war on drugs, let’s end it, let’s get it fixed,” Yoho said, noting 160 Americans die everyday from overdoses.

Meanwhile, Yoho stated his belief that the federal government should decriminalize cannabis.

For those who have followed Yoho for a while, he has had a libertarian streak to his votes on this issue (such as a 2014 vote to end Barack Obama era busts of state-level medical cannabis programs).

However, it’s a question on which he continues to evolve.

“Are there benefits to marijuana? I think there are,” Yoho said Friday.

“My goal is to decriminalize it at a federal level at a certain volume. If you’re growing your own or you’ve got a little bit on you … I can’t even tell you what volume on that stuff is,” Yoho said. “But if you’re driving around in a pickup truck … and there’s several bales in there, you’re probably going to jail.”

“We’ve got so many people who have screwed up their life and are in prison. They’ve got a record. It’s a mess,” Yoho said. “Our goal is to decriminalize it, make it so it’s not as strong an offense, and let the states regulate it the way they see fit.”

Yoho also noted issues with interstate commerce and the black market from the federal prohibition.

“Right now because it’s a federal crime, all those dispensaries, they can do business in their state but they can’t deposit that [in a bank]. It’s all cash,” Yoho said, which leads to unaccountability on tax returns and a strengthening of the black market.

Yoho is not a fan of the state’s medical cannabis program.

“There is no standard for a marijuana product, so how can a doctor prescribe? There’s too much vagueness,” Yoho said, noting that specific dosage prescription thresholds can be circumvented under the state model.

“It’s like how much salt do I put on my eggs. You use enough to where it tastes good to you,” Yoho concluded.

Cory Booker makes Florida swing for Andrew Gillum, Bill Nelson

U.S. Senator Cory Booker, New Jersey’s best hope for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination, is spending Saturday in Florida.

His first stop of the day found him at Edward Waters College in New Town, where he was part of the HBCU’s Homecoming Parade, along with supporters of Florida’s top Democratic candidates: Sen. Bill Nelson and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

The college tour didn’t stop with the parade: Booker had scheduled an afternoon meeting with University of North Florida students in Jacksonville, followed by a late-afternoon visit to Orlando’s University of Central Florida.

We spoke to Booker between meetings in Jacksonville via phone.

Booker noted he was “excited to support” Nelson and Gillum, two “inspiring leaders.”

Nelson, said Booker, is a “titan in the Senate,” and “to not have him return would be an outrageous injury.”

Gillum, meanwhile, is “one of the most exciting leaders in the country,” promising a “dramatic change” in Tallahassee, with a policy vision on health care and other matters that aligns with Booker.

When asked, Booker noted that this trip was not driven by 2020 concerns.

“My focus is Nov. 6,” the Senator said, even as he is travelling “almost coast-to-coast” right now to “help as many people as I can” in the “most important midterm of my lifetime.”

Democratic candidates, meanwhile, have big events next week: Monday “winning ticket” rallies at the University of Central Florida and the University of North Florida feature Nelson and Gillum, along with the frontrunner in the 2020 Presidential primary: former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Capping off the two-day circuit is a 3:45 p.m. rally on Tuesday in Orlando. While Gillum won’t be there, Biden and Nelson will appear with Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, along with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Defendants to sever in Jacksonville City Council fraud case

Suspended Jacksonville City Councilors Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown are staring down a 38-count conspiracy to defraud.

The pair is accused of extracting hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use from a Small Business Administration-backed loan provided for Katrina Brown’s family’s barbecue sauce plant.

The two Democratic Council members have presented a united front, maintaining their innocence. Until now.

Well ahead of a February trial date, Reggie Brown on Tuesday moved to sever his case from Katrina Brown’s. Then on Friday, Katrina Brown filed her own motion for severance.

Reggie Brown’s severance motion contends Brown solely performed “routine acts related to everyday business activity,” and that the “spillover effect” from the allegations against Katrina Brown is essentially guilt by association.

“There is no direct evidence Reginald Brown had any knowledge of any misrepresentations Katrina Brown may or may not have made to lenders. He never willfully agreed to commit a crime. He never knowingly aided and abetted any criminal conduct that may or may not have been committed by Katrina Brown,” the motion reads.

“As to Reginald Brown, the United States appears to simply hope its widely cast net ensnares people like him who associated with Katrina Brown and who, perhaps naively, relied on her purported business acumen,” the motion continues.

Another motion was to strike as “prejudicial” language in the indictment that discussed his vote in favor of the economic incentives the pair allegedly defrauded, as it was “customary” for Brown (a two-term Councilman) to vote for such deals.

The two face a compendium of charges: 13 counts of wire fraud, another 13 of mail fraud, five counts of money laundering, and charges of attempted bank fraud for Ms. Brown and failure to file a 1040 from Mr. Brown.

Katrina Brown filed her own severance motion Friday.

Ms. Brown believes that Mr. Brown’s defense will “shift blame” to her, and the combining of the cases will imperil her receipt of a fair trial.

She also wants recordings and notes of witness interviews, and language referring to the barbeque sauce plant as being “supposed” to produce sauce stricken as prejudicial.

Katrina Brown filed a number of other motions, including for personnel files of officers and criminal histories of alleged witnesses, along with whether or not they had ever been habitual drug users or had “ill will” toward Ms. Brown.

The trial will be high-profile, regardless of whether severance is allowed. The most recent local  analogous fraud case: that of former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and her former chief-of-staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons.

After the severance, Simmons was key to the federal government’s case that Corrine Brown was the ringleader of the conspiracy. He pleaded guilty to a reduced number of counts, and avoided the threatened hundreds of years in prison.

Ron DeSantis, Andrew Gillum both confident in voter engagement

With early in-person voting beginning as early as Monday in parts of Florida, the two major party gubernatorial candidates believe they will turn out their base.

On Friday afternoon, the campaign of Republican Ron DeSantis released its voter engagement numbers, which paint the picture of a campaign that found its moorings in recent weeks after a rocky post-primary launch.

The campaign has 30 field offices with 6,201 volunteers, per the release. And they are apparently working.

“Since October 1, the campaign has had tremendous success, with 578,607 doors knocked and 561,471 phone calls made,” the media release asserts.

Worth noting: Oct. 1 was just a few short days after campaign manager Susie Wiles took over operations, which one person close to the campaign described as being like having an adult in the room.

Democrat Andrew Gillum, despite an 11-day sabbatical from the trail, found his stump speech gear quickly in Jacksonville, where he told Florida Politics in an exclusive interview that he wasn’t worried about engaging his voters — who include NPAs and “disaffected Republicans.”

There wasn’t a single poll in the primary that showed me leading or winning,” Gillum noted. “But we won it. And we’re going to win the [general election] the same way.”

“The polls are capturing something, but they aren’t capturing the immense energy on the ground. The reason that people didn’t see us coming is because we had 150,000 voters who voted either for the first time or hadn’t voted in the last three elections,” Gillum said.

“We’re going to double that number in the general election. We’re going to win the race for Governor. And we’re going to do that by bringing more voters to the polls,” Gillum said.

Field made the difference in August for Gillum, who powered past Gwen Graham with the assistance of a variety of third-party groups and their organizers and activists. Gillum is saying to expect even better this time out.

Conversely, field made no difference in the Republican primary, as DeSantis overcame Putnam’s team of party regulars and activists with a TV-heavy, Trumpified appeal.

His message Friday: his team will be competitive on the ground down the stretch.

Walk it like they talk it: Andrew Gillum, Cory Booker in Jacksonville parade

One Democrat who wants to be Florida Governor and another who may want to be United States President will walk together in a Jacksonville parade Saturday morning.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum will be joined by United States Sen. Cory Booker at the Edward Waters College parade.

Gillum, who resumed campaigning in Jacksonville on Thursday, will hold his third public event in the city in under 48 hours. At least one fundraising event has been held also.

The Tallahassee Mayor resumed his campaign with a rally at a Jacksonville church, his first of two stops in the city Thursday afternoon, with a fundraiser in between the two public events.

His second stop: a speech at the NAACP banquet, which attendees said was among the best attended of all 53 iterations of that event.

Gillum faces Republican Ron DeSantis, Reform Party nominee Darcy Richardson, and a host of minor candidates on the ballot.

Votes by mail are already being cast, and Duval County’s early voting starts Monday. It will be worth watching if Gillum’s GOTV translates into a Democratic bump before the Souls to the Polls efforts the next two weekends.

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