A.G. Gancarski – Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski

Jay Fant leaving AG race, applying for OFR commissioner

Now, the Republican race for Attorney General is a two-person show.

GOP state Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville is out. He’s now applying to be commissioner of Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR).

Commissioner Drew Breakspear is resigning effective June 30, after CFO Jimmy Patronis told him he “no longer ha(d) confidence” in Breakspear’s ability to lead the office, which acts as the state’s watchdog for the financial industry.

Fant explained his rationale Tuesday as the role would be a solid fit for his banking experience — including a high-profile loss.

“After years of work in the private sector,” Fant said, “I first decided to pursue elected office because I experienced first hand what wayward government policy does to business.”

He added: “I was running a small community bank during the Great Recession and Florida real estate crisis. Our company, like all banks and financial firms, suffered tremendously. The federal government intervened by passing a massive bank bailout that helped the largest banks and left the small community banks out in the cold. 64 banks in Florida alone, including ours, went out of business. Wall Street won. Main Street lost.”

“Businesses in Florida must operate on a level playing field, and our willingness to fight for that is vital to the success of free enterprise,” Fant said. “These beliefs led me to run for the Florida House, and then last year to run for Attorney General. The recent opening for Commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, however, is the position most in line with my experience in banking, law and policymaking; I will seek that appointment.

“My passion is to see that limited government be fair for all Floridians.”

For Fant, who’s been struggling in the attorney general’s race, this may be the closest he gets to a Cabinet position.

The OFR reports to the Financial Services Commission, which is made up of the governor and Cabinet: attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner.

State law says they can hire or fire the OFR’s head “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.” Patronis is a friend and political ally of Gov. Rick Scott.

Fant was on Scott’s side last year, when he voted against a bill backed by GOP House Speaker Richard Corcoran that sought to abolish Scott’s favored Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

Fant said then that he doesn’t “like going against leadership on a vote, and I stick with them on just about everything, but this just isn’t one of those things.”

And Scott later had Fant’s back at an Enterprise Florida meeting later that year.

“There are not a lot of people in the Legislature that stood up for us and talked vocally about their support of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida,” Scott said. “Jay Fant was one of the few, and I want to thank Jay for doing that, and I wish all luck in your next endeavor.”

During a gaggle, Scott then amplified his comments, calling Fant a “leader.”

Remaining in the AG race are Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge, and Frank White, a House colleague of Fant.

If Fant were to endorse, it likely wouldn’t be Moody, given the heated exchanges between the two during the primary.

Among White’s backers is Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry; the move could strengthen an important relationship locally for Fant, who left a safe House seat to pursue the AG job.

Anna Brosche backed candidate files for impending Jacksonville City Council vacancy

Even before the 2019 city elections, the Jacksonville City Council is in a time of turmoil.

Two members have been suspended, facing federal charges in a conspiracy to defraud. And a third member, Doyle Carter, has already submitted a resignation letter as he runs for Duval County Tax Collector.

Whereas the two suspended members will see their replacements picked by the Governor, Carter’s seat is subject (as is the Tax Collector position) to a contested special election on the August ballot — with a November runoff if no one candidate gets to 50.01 percent.

Republican Randy White, a former fire union head and friend of Councilman Carter, filed months ago and has close to $85,000 banked. On Monday, a second Republican, Sharol Noblejas, ensured there would be competition.

Noblejas, in the current class of Leadership Jacksonville, also is on the Mayor’s Asian-American Advisory Council, is on the Board of Directors for Night of Asia, and is on the Asian American Federation of Florida.

She has been mulling a run for some time, but the unique circumstances of the opening spurred her into action.

“I was thinking of 2023,” Noblejas said, “but this looked like a good opportunity.”

Noblejas counts Council President Anna Brosche as a supporter, in what will be an early test of the Council President’s coattails (especially given that White is friendly with Mayor Lenny Curry, and Curry’s chief lieutenants Mike Weinstein and Sam Mousa).

She also expects to get support from women’s groups and Republican groups.

If elected, she wants to “make the Westside safe for families and children,” citing a need for pedestrian overpasses.

Now that the race is competitive, the oppo will float. And one such piece of business will be a Chapter 11 marital bankruptcy from 2011.

The story was a familiar one, Noblejas related. She lost her job, it took her a year to find a new one, and the bankruptcy was a way to “stay afloat.”

Poll shows Sean Shaw up, but can he be Attorney General?

State Rep. Sean Shaw, the likely Democratic nominee for Attorney General, is polling well against either Republican he will likely face in November.

As Florida Politics reported Monday, Shaw, the son of a former Supreme Court Justice, is leading former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody by five points, 41-36 percent, and Pensacola-area state Rep. Frank White by 4 points, 40-36 percent.

“These are very good numbers,” a “pleasantly surprised” Shaw recounted.

“Historically, these down-ballot Cabinet races are tough for Democrats, but it doesn’t surprise me in the sense we’ve been traveling around the state, and people want something different,” he added. “People want something that hasn’t been in that office for a little while. Someone who’s willing to stand up to anyone doing wrong to Floridians.”

Shaw, who represents the Tampa-area House District 61, concedes that it will be “tough” serving as Attorney General from a different party than majorities in the House and (likely) the Senate.

“It is going to be challenging,” Shaw said. “We’ve had one party in charge for so long that I don’t think we understand what it would mean to have another party serve as a check and balance.”

However, Shaw noted that the issues in the AG’s office ultimately are nonpartisan issues.

“Everybody wants to be protected from someone committing fraud. Everyone wants to protect the environment. On the education issue, we may have some partisan disagreements, but the law is what the law is,” Shaw said.

“These Constitutional Amendments that the people passed are black and white,” he added, passed with over 60 percent of the vote.

“That means Democrats and Republicans both believe these things,” Shaw noted.

Regarding medicinal cannabis: “It said the people are going to get it, and it should be smokable.”

And on Amendment 1: “We’re supposed to use doc stamp money to purchase environmentally sound land, and we’re not really doing it.”

If elected, Shaw said he is willing to wage “some battles with the Legislature” to get to the original intent of those amendments and related laws.

As for the money race, however, it’s a different story. The Tampa Democrat has just over $400,000 on hand. In comparison White has $3.4 million (much of it self-funded) to $2.1 million for Moody.

Either candidate would be able to outspend Shaw, yet that doesn’t particularly concern him.

“I don’t have to spend in the primary,” he said. “A lot of that money, they’re going to have to spend to beat each other. That’s going to be a vicious, expensive primary.”

And Shaw recognizes there will be an inevitable play to the base: “They’re going to have to take some positions on some issues. We’ll see if those positions are acceptable to a general electorate.”

“We’re just going to keep hoarding money,” Shaw said, as the GOP primary continues.

He fully expects money will be spent to oppose him when the time is right: “There will be a lot of money spent against me. I’m offering something that’s scary to people.”

Another hallmark of the campaign staffs on the GOP side — oppo dumps — don’t concern Shaw.

“I wouldn’t be running for Attorney General if I was worried about oppo in my background,” he said.

On the trail, Shaw is increasingly refining his message.

In Jacksonville Monday, he addressed Duval County Democrats, after a spate of media hits. On Tuesday, Shaw held a “meet and greet” at a local law office, giving a more polished crowd-pleaser of a stump speech.

Shaw is not writing off Northeast Florida, an area often ignored by statewide candidates.

“It’s the same as other areas of the state in terms of the energy Democrats have,” Shaw remarked. “That’s something that you shouldn’t write off.”

“Democrats are excited. They can’t wait until November,” he said, “and the Blue Wave.”

Material from Florida Politics’ Drew Wilson contributed to this post.

Leslie Dougher files another election complaint against Bill Nelson campaign

Former Republican Party of Florida Chair Leslie Dougher has reinvented herself as a gadfly for Sen. Bill Nelson’s re-election campaign in recent months, including protesting at his events.

Dougher, Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice for RPOF chair years back, has also not been averse to filing elections complaints against Scott’s opponent.

January saw a Senate Ethics Complaint filed against Nelson, for allegedly campaigning in a government building.

And June sees a Federal Elections Commission complaint about political signs near a Nelson May 29th fundraiser that lacked disclaimers.

The complaint asserts that it is a “logical presumption” that the campaign “paid for or authorized” the signs.

Dougher’s last complaint was deemed a “political stunt” by Team Nelson. We are reaching out now for what likely will be a similar comment.

Citing abuses by corporate ownership, Florida Times-Union newsroom moves to unionize

Staff, including reporters, photographers, copy editors and desk editors at the Florida Times-Union, moved Tuesday toward unionizing the newsroom, under the NewsGuild-CWA

The next move: NLRB-monitored election by Times-Union staff members in the next 20 to 40 days. If a majority votes to unionize, the staff will begin negotiating a contract with GateHouse Media.

Two other GateHouse shops at the Lakeland Ledger and Sarasota Herald-Tribune have already organized.

Longtime reporter Steve Patterson notes that the newsroom has “lost co-workers in recent years.”

“Our staff wants some stability. A union can’t solve all our problems, but it can be an advocate for us when we really need it,” Patterson added.

Wages have been a concern. Previous ownership of Morris Communications cut pay 10 percent in 2009. And wages haven’t fully recovered since, despite repeated cuts of staff and attempts to install efficiencies, including off-site printing and design.

Beth Reese Cravey, a T-U writer since 1987, has “yet to hit $40,000 a year in salary,” she said.

“Other reporters have come and gone at starting salaries higher than mine. I cover nonprofits, among other things, and I often qualify for the income-based programs I write about. That’s because I have never had a voice with enough strength behind it to be heard,” Cravey said.

“I believe forming a union will give us that voice,” Cravey added. “But it’s not just about money. It’s about respect and being valued.”

Staff feels a particular urgency now. The GateHouse purchase, per a mission statement, “brought more uncertainty perhaps than any other time in the newspaper’s 154-year history.”

The newsroom was once 100 workers strong, as recently as five years ago. Now the staff is 40, including ten layoffs during the GateHouse era.

The newsroom staff shrank from more than 100 to fewer than 40 in the past five years, including the layoff of 10 newsroom workers in January.

A mission statement from reporters asserts that “current and past owners have actively harmed the newsroom” with cuts.

“We fear that GateHouse’s short-term strategies will lead to more and more cuts in the future. As of today, there are fewer than 40 full-time employees working across the Times-Union newsroom in metro, opinion, life, sports, photo and the copy desk – a third of the staff we had just five years ago. Once-filled desks now sit empty,” the mission statement adds.

“For too long, under Morris and under GateHouse, we have come to work waiting for a shoe to drop, waiting to be called into an office, waiting to learn of layoffs. We have had no say in the future of our own newspaper, and the disconnect between corporate and the newsroom is vast. We believe the success of The Florida Times-Union depends on its editorial staff. We must be a part of GateHouse’s decision-making processes to ensure we are not overlooked,” the mission statement continues.

Fair wages, affordable health insurance, and workers’ rights are among the concerns enumerated.

Jacksonville likely to push back budget presentation, compress budget hearings

A bill that cleared Jacksonville City Council committees this week will, if approved by the full Council next week, push back the Mayor’s budget presentation to July 23, and will require serious budget meetings by the Finance committee that may impact Council members’ Labor Day travel plans.

On Tuesday morning, the Finance Committee approved the legislation 5-1, at the request of Council President-designate Aaron Bowman, who will be traveling in his business recruitment role as VP of JAX USA, a Chamber arm that focuses on business recruitment.

Bowman will be out of the country.

“This one I did not take lightly,” Bowman said, who will be at the International Air Show handling economic development opportunities, with an eye toward recruiting more air companies to come to Jacksonville.

“It’s so important for our region,” Bowman said.

“I did not want to miss my first event as Council President,” Bowman added.

This is not unprecedented: the date has been pushed back in city history three other times.

The first Finance Committee budget hearing would be pushed back also: to Aug. 16, with scheduling compressed so that the panel can have tentative approval of the budget Sep. 5 and actual approval on Sep. 10.

Per Councilwoman Lori Boyer, there would be an impact: “Finance committee meetings running up to and through Labor Day weekend now” including “cleanup” and amendments.

“A lot of people try to go away on that weekend,” Boyer noted.

Feds quibble with Corrine Brown co-conspirator early release motion

Carla Wiley, a co-conspirator with Corrine Brown in the One Door for Education scheme to defraud that ended the congresswoman’s political career, wants an early release to a halfway house.

However, the federal government opposed the motion Monday. [Government Opposition to Wiley Early Release]

Wiley, who served as the CEO of the phony charity and is now serving 21 months in federal lockup, was urged by federal attorneys to make her case via the Bureau of Prisons.

“A prisoner is required to exhaust all administrative remedies available to her through the BOP before filing her petition in federal court,” asserts the filing. “Wiley has not stated what steps she has taken within the BOP to obtain her requested relief.”

Wiley, who moved to cooperate with the feds well before Brown’s trial last year, contended that she had a “minor role” in the scheme, limited participation, “decision-making authority,” and benefit.

New Rick Scott ad urges voters to ‘think again’ about Bill Nelson’s independence

Gov. Rick Scott, the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, urges Florida voters to “think again” when it comes to an ad claiming Sen. Bill Nelson is an “independent” voter in the Senate.

“Nelson votes with Democrats over 90 percent of the time,” the digital ad released Tuesday by Scott for Florida asserts.

“He voted with Obama to cut billions from Medicare,” the ad continues.

The ad also noted Nelson’s vote against last year’s Republican tax reform package, and the Senator’s recent about-face on backing judicial nominee Allen Winsor.

“Bill Nelson isn’t fighting for Florida,” concludes the narrator. “He’s only fighting for Democrats.”

This digital spot is the latest ad in an unrelenting barrage of Scott ads against Nelson.

Jacksonville wins appeal of pension reform lawsuit

Monday brought good news for the city of Jacksonville, as the First District Court of Appeal rebuffed five plaintiffs challenging the city’s pension reform referendum of 2016.

The city prevailed in circuit court last year over plaintiffs Joseph Andrews, Connie Benham, Dr. Juan P. Gray, Lynn Price and Reverend Levy Wilcox.

They objected to the wording of the referendum, which passed 65 to 35 percent on the August 2016 ballot.

Per the DCA order: “The trial court found that the summary clearly articulated the chief purpose to ‘reduce or eliminate the City’s unfunded pension liability through the use of a dedicated 1/2-cent sales tax to be adopted for not more than 30 years once the Better Jacksonville 1/2-cent sales tax ends’.”

“We see no problem with this conclusion,” the DCA asserted.

The appellants also objected to the timing of the referendum on the ballot, as Council’s action in May approving the referendum preceded the July 1 effective date of the state law allowing the referendum. That objection was also spiked.

The pension reform legislation allows the city to extend the Better Jacksonville Plan half-cent sales tax from 2031 until 2060 to pay off unfunded pension liability on now-closed defined benefit plans.

When the City Council passed the legislation, Jacksonville faced having to spend $360 million on pension costs; because of the re-amortization of what was then a $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability. The cost went down to $218 million, allowing the city to invest in raises for workers and capital improvements.

Employees hired since October 2016 are on a defined contribution plan.

Bill Nelson slams Rick Scott for failure to condemn border family separation policy

Even as Republicans (such as former Gov. Jeb Bush) decry President Donald Trump‘s policy of separating migrant children from families at the Mexican border, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is framing Gov. Rick Scott‘s response as lacking.

Scott has stated his opposition on the policy, with the most forceful declaration on Monday, as the Governor and U.S. Senate candidate blamed the issue on “bipartisan inaction and failure from our federal government” and not the president implementing the policy.

“They have failed to secure our borders, which has resulted in this chaos,” Scott said. “Let me be clear — I do not favor separating families. Washington is to blame for this by being all talk and no action, and the solution is to secure the border. Anyone seeking to enter our country illegally needs to be sent back, with the exception of those who are truly seeking asylum from an oppressive regime.”

This wasn’t enough for Nelson.

“As thousands of kids sit and sleep in warehouses, separated from their parents, Rick Scott — once again — refuses to stand up to the Trump Administration’s cruel and inhumane policy of separating families,” Nelson’s spox Carlie Waibel asserted.

“Bill Nelson is fighting in Congress to stop the separation of families — co-sponsoring the Keep Families Together Act — and holding the Trump Administration accountable, while Rick Scott plays politics with these children’s lives. It’s time for Rick Scott to stand up to his friend Donald Trump and support legislation to keep families together,” Waibel added.

In media encounters both Monday and last week, Scott has not mentioned Trump’s name.

Scott’s positioning is apace with that of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, but seemingly ambivalent compared to the forceful policy condemnations of many Senate Republicans.

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