A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 514

A.G. Gancarski

Gwen Graham touts progressive bona fides in latest ad

As primary opponent Andrew Gillum stumps with Sen. Bernie SandersGwen Graham is reminding Democratic voters of her own progressive bona fides ahead of a South Florida GOTV tour with teachers.

A media release from Graham’s campaign says a new ad spotlights Graham’s positions on “Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, Clean Energy — after defeating the NRA and a Republican incumbent.”

The narration depicts Graham as the avatar of Florida’s “fresh, bold start.”

“In Congress, one Democrat who voted eight times to stop Republicans from repealing Obamacare. One Democrat who earned a one-hundred-percent rating from Planned Parenthood for protecting women’s health. One Democrat who voted for President Obama’s Clean Energy Plan,” the copy asserts.

“Faced down hundreds-of-thousands spent against her by the NRA and beat a Republican to win a seat in Congress,” the ad continues. “Wanna end twenty years of Republican rule? She’s the one: Democrat Gwen Graham.”

The ad is deliberately positive, intended to stand out from the negative ads on the airwaves, Graham’s campaign asserts.

For Graham, the messaging is natural.

“Our public schools, our environment, and our rights are all on the ballot,” Graham said. “In Congress, I stood up for our shared values — to protect health care, women and our state’s natural treasures. Together, we are going to end 20 years of one-party Republican rule and bring those values back to Tallahassee.”

Rick Scott says conflict of interest claims regarding All Aboard Florida are ‘absurd’

Gov. Rick Scott‘s finances continue to be a focus this summer, as the Governor runs for Senate.

The latest revelations came from the Miami Herald this week, which reported that Scott, who killed Florida’s chance at federally funded high-speed rail early in his term, has investments in a credit fund run by the parent company of All Aboard Florida, which is running rail from Miami to Orlando and, eventually, to Tampa.

According to the Herald’s report, Scott is banking from this fund: profits exceeded $150,000 last year alone.

Moreover, some of Scott’s administration members helped with the plan, which raises questions for the Herald even as Scott’s Senate campaign insisted the investment is in an “unrelated debt financing fund,” an answer that didn’t exactly address what appears to be another in a series of conflicts of interest.

In St. Augustine Friday, we asked Scott to address the latest in a series of controversies. Scott pushed back.

“First of all,” Scott said, “that’s absurd.”

Scott noted that when he was elected in 2010, he “put his assets in a blind trust so that I didn’t have any conflicts.”

“I wanted to put myself in a position where I didn’t know what I had investments in. I didn’t make investments. I didn’t buy assets, I didn’t sell assets. Most people who get elected don’t do that,” Scott said, but he “did it because [he] didn’t want to have a conflict.”

“I don’t know what’s in those investments,” Scott said before pivoting to “high-speed rail.”

“It’s horrible for our state the way it was set up. It was going to cost billions of dollars. California took the money, Connecticut took the money, and look what it’s done,” Scott urged.

“They’re behind budget, there [are] delays. It cost more than they thought. Those projects are not getting done. And their state economies [are] in shambles,” Scott said, contrasting those states to Florida.

“We’ve paid off $10.5 billion in debt. We’ve cut taxes by $10 billion a year. Record funding for the environment … for transportation … for education,” Scott added.

“We’ve been able to do the right thing for our state,” Scott added.

We asked Scott’s campaign to elaborate on the statement provided to the Miami Herald on Thursday. Spokeswoman Lauren Schenone offered the following denunciation of the paper’s claims:

“It is completely untrue that the Governor or First Lady has any investment in All Aboard Florida. Both the Governor’s and the First Lady’s investments are in an unrelated debt-financing fund. As such, the success or failure of All Aboard Florida or any rail project within the State of Florida will have no effect on this investment.”

On Russian election interference claims, Rick Scott wants Bill Nelson to ‘come clean’

An ongoing narrative this election season is Sen. Bill Nelson‘s claims that Russians are interfering in Florida elections.

Nelson, at varying points, has claimed that “Russians are in the records” of local supervisors of elections, and that they are “continuing” with tactics employed in 2016.

Nelson’s likely opponent in the Senate general election, Gov. Rick Scott, and his administration have repeatedly questioned the factual basis for those assertions, with Nelson’s silence nettling them.

On Thursday, a joint letter from Secretary of State Ken Detzner and Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux, President of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, to Nelson demanded that he clarify his “deeply troubling” comments.

Despite contacting the FBI, Homeland Security, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and other state and federal agencies, the state came up with no “actionable intelligence.” Nelson, said Detzner and Lux, has a “responsibility” to share information with the state.

On Friday in St. Augustine, Scott continued to beat the drum for Nelson to break a functional silence on his thus far unsupported claims.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Scott thundered. “Either he has completely made this up, just completely made it up, or he’s released classified information. One of those two things has happened.”

“Here’s what he said: The Russians have hacked our system. The Russians are free to roam around our election system right now. Then when he was pressed,” Scott added, “he said ‘Oh, it’s classified information. I got my information from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee.'”

“We asked them,” Scott continued, “and they didn’t confirm anything he said.”

“Then,” Scott added, “he blamed it on the administration, [saying] they’re not releasing information. We asked Homeland Security, the FBI; they never confirmed it.”

“Then he says he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore,” Scott continued, “so here’s where we are.”

“We put the money in to make sure we have a secure system. We’ve added cybersecurity experts, we’ve gotten grant funding for our supervisors of elections,” Scott said.

“He needs to come clean,” Scott said. “Did they release classified information? And how did he have access to it? He doesn’t have the right to it, he’s not on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Or did he just completely make it up?”

We asked Scott if he had spoken to Sen. Marco Rubio about this, but he had no response. We are reaching out to Rubio’s office for further insight.

Ron DeSantis snags Brevard endorsements from Debbie Mayfield, Randy Fine

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis snagged three new gubernatorial endorsements Thursday from Brevard County, as the Northeast Florida Congressman continues to build momentum during GOP primary early voting.

Sen. Debbie Mayfield, Rep. Randy Fine and County Commissioner John Tobia endorsed after a roundtable regarding algae blooms in the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.

Mayfield noted that “Ron is a committed conservative who has proven his ability to connect with voters statewide on the issues we hold dear like securing our borders, holding government accountable and putting taxpayers first.”

“Brevard County — and Florida — needs a Governor that is going to fight against the special interest corruption that is responsible for killing the Indian River Lagoon,” said Fine.

“Ron DeSantis will be that Governor. As a conservative leader in Congress, Ron has proven himself to be a fearless warrior, unafraid of the establishment and its stranglehold on our political system. We need to drain the swamp and save the lagoon and I know that Ron DeSantis will lead Florida to make that happen,” Fine emphasized.

Later Thursday afternoon, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry endorsed DeSantis during a visit to an afterschool program in Jacksonville.

Public opinion polls have run the gamut. Some have shown DeSantis up by 20 points, and others say the race is a dead heat.

However, with Putnam donors having in some cases moved over to DeSantis, there is a sense of inevitability.

And the swing of endorsements reflects that.

‘Brothers from a different mother’: Lenny Curry endorses Ron DeSantis

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis visited an afterschool program in Jacksonville Thursday, and even before the formal endorsement, Curry made it clear he aligned with DeSantis.

At one point during the tour, he used the phrase “brothers from a different mother.”

Curry, during a subsequent media availability, removed all suspense and endorsed DeSantis over Adam Putnam.

“We agree on many things,” Curry said. “Got to be tough on crime. Got to get bad guys off the street. Invest in young people.”

“Ron and I have similar backgrounds,” Curry related. “We come from working-class families. Worked our butts off to get a good education.”

“Ron’s a good conservative. I’ve been about disrupting the status quo locally and I think that’s what’s got to happen everywhere,” Curry added. “Ron’s going to disrupt the status quo in the state of Florida. I’m supporting him.”

Curry will help with fundraising.

“I will do whatever it takes,” Curry said.

While Putnam’s a “friend,” Curry thinks DeSantis “is the right guy right now.”

Notable: Curry’s chief of staff and political op, Brian Hughes and Tim Baker, ran DeSantis’ first campaign for office in 2012.

Jacksonville Republicans are split in this race.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams endorsed DeSantis last week, along with Clay County Rep. Travis Cummings and Sen. Rob Bradley.

This co-appearance happens two days before Putnam campaigns in Jacksonville, with City Council President Aaron Bowman, Sen. Aaron Bean, and others supporting him.

However, with DeSantis as the seeming frontrunner in the race, it’s incumbent on Curry to build the kind of bond he has, for the most part, enjoyed with Gov. Rick Scott.

It’s notable, however, that Curry made no such effort with Putnam during the months he was ahead in polls.

‘The old he-coon walks’: Adam Putnam channels Lawton Chiles in Lake City

In the GOP campaign for Governor, it wasn’t too long ago that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was left for dead.

Putnam suffered what appeared to be a mortal wound when President Donald Trump came to Florida for U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. And then there were polls showing DeSantis up by 20 points.

Some discussed the idea of Putnam getting out of the race. Previous Putnam donors moved over to DeSantis.

However, he doubled down, with a bravura performance in a Jacksonville debate and some new polling showing that the race could be in dead heat.

In a primary season full of ironies, perhaps the greatest would be if Putnam could overcome Trump endorsing his opponent — after a campaign season where the leading question was about how Trump would, in the words of Putnam, put his “thumb on the scale” in the campaign.

We caught Putnam’s speech off the beaten path: on the outskirts of Lake City, at a breakfast buffet with a raft of domestic pickups in the parking lot.

This is Putnam’s element: what once was “real” Florida, which is becoming demographically obscured by blotched suburban and exurban sprawl and homes for transplants from other places, who brought their values with them.

A lost cause? Perhaps. But you wouldn’t know that from Putnam’s speech or from the reception in Lake City, a place where Donald Trump Jr. isn’t likely to make a campaign stop with a candidate.

Putnam’s remarks were full of markers of cultural authenticity, of being a “real Floridian” (unlike his primary opponent). Many of these were familiar.

From trumpeting endorsements from nearly 50 sheriffs and Attorney General Pam Bondi to noting the next Governor needs to know where Union and Bradford Counties are “without a GPS,” — and most tellingly — lifting a famous line from Democrat (and fellow Polk County native) Lawton Chiles‘ 1994 defeat of Jeb Bush.

“The old he-coon walks just before the light of day,” Putnam said, before describing himself as a “fifth-generation Florida Cracker.”

Putnam noted the importance of “running up the numbers out here,” as spots on two-lane roads are not DeSantis Country, because the Ponte Vedra Congressman doesn’t make the appeal.

“They don’t bother to drive up your road and visit you at your business,” Putnam said.

Putnam also razzed DeSantis’ dependence on Trump, at one point lampooning him calling the White House and asking, “What are we going to do today, boss?”

After the remarks, we caught up with the candidate, who was laconic in his answers.

Asked about the improved poll numbers, Putnam described it as a “good way to start a Monday,” but the “only poll that matters” is, of course, Election Day.

“I like the feel on the ground, I love the sense that I’m getting from the crowds, the energy, the doorknocking. This is where I believe a year and a half’s work pays off of actually being in people’s communities, listening to them, hearing their concerns and sharing my vision for Florida … running on more than just an endorsement,” Putnam said.

Worth noting: his team has knocked on 300,000 doors, a stark contrast to what seems to be a phantom field operation on DeSantis’ side, an appeal to what the candidate calls “Trump/Putnam voters,” who support the President, but who also expect a “real plan for Florida” from the next Governor, rather than just being “totally dependent on the President’s coattails.”

Putnam’s appeal, he says, is targeted to “small towns and big cities alike,” citing workforce development as something that matters statewide.

“This is not a message that is narrow in scope,” Putnam said.

DeSantis has already leaked potential Lieutenant Governor picks. When asked about that, Putnam said, “he can run his campaign the way he wants to and I’ll run mine the way I want to.”

In a real sense, with candidates that fundamentally deviate little from the Florida Republican status quo, the difference in presentation, style and temperament will be dispositive in the end.

Fed court sides with Jacksonville in pension challenge

A federal court in Jacksonville sided Wednesday with the city of Jacksonville over a challenge filed by former Police and Fire Pension Fund head John Keane because of cuts in his pension benefits.

Keane saw his benefits boosted to $234,000 a year by the board instituting the Senior Staff Voluntary Retirement Fund. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said the fund was created improperly and ordered that Keane be pensioned at the level of the General Employee Retirement Fund only ($187,000).

Keane wanted damages and injunctive relief as well as the court saying the fund was valid. The city position was it was outside of the purview of the board to create the second fund.

Keane’s challenge was rooted in the idea that he had a constitutionally guaranteed right to the pension, yet the court was not moved, and the complaint was dismissed.

Jacksonville has wrestled with pension issues for over a decade now, with the defined benefit plan that applied to pre-2016 hires racking up over $3 billion in unfunded liabilities.

In 2016, the city instituted a defined contribution plan, in exchange for agreeing to raises across the board from employees.

Police and fire fared the best, receiving 20 percent salary hikes over the course of three years.

Jacksonville City Council panel to investigate short-term rentals issue

Unlike the majority of Florida counties, Duval County has yet to figure out a way forward regarding regulation of short-term rentals.

Zoning doesn’t accommodate them currently, and as a result, Jacksonville is missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue.

A Jacksonville City Council committee looks to change that with findings due by the end of April.

Rolled out this week, the Special Committee on Short-Term Vacation Rentals is charged with making “recommendations on the City’s zoning and other laws to determine whether there are limitations on the ability of short-term vacation rental uses to operate in the City and to ensure their compatibility with other adjacent or nearby uses if they were allowed.”

As well, the committee will look at issues of taxation, regulation, and “leasing strategies” used to circumvent long-term leases.

Danny Becton. is leading the committee. He will be joined on the panel by newly appointed Ju’Coby Pittman and second-termer Jim Love.

Of the three, Love is the only one with on-the-record comments on short-term rentals thus far.

“Maybe it would be better to forgive them and collect the money,” said Love, calling the matter a “sticky wicket” in his district, which includes touristy areas in Riverside and Avondale.

Jacksonville’s code has struggled to keep up with certain aspects of the 21st-century economy.

The city has a similar stalemate on vehicles for hire that has lasted years through a fragmented special committee paralyzed into inertia by competing advocates for Uber/Lyft and traditional cabs.

The city continues to suspend medallion fees for vehicles, and suffers fiscal loss, according to the bill summary for the latest extension of the medallion-fee moratorium: “Revenue loss from medallion renewals payments and late fees; when the moratorium was enacted in December 2015 there were 1,146 vehicle-for-hire medallions renewable at a cost of $100 per year; the late renewal fee is $10 per month after the deadline.”

The math on that, just as is the case with short-term rental collections, runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As deep-sea drilling issue bubbles, ‘Explore Offshore’ to make affirmative case

The American Petroleum Institute thinks there’s a case to be made for expanding offshore drilling. And API offshoot “Explore Offshore,” billed as a “bipartisan coalition,” is poised to make that argument.

The group, rolled out just hours after POLITICO reported an industry interest in drilling within 75 miles of shore, has some star power associated with it. Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson is national co-chair.

State co-chairs are likewise known quantities, in former Puerto Rico Sen. Miriam Ramirez and former Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp.

Kottkamp and Ramirez both offered enthusiastic advocacy for drilling, with Kottkamp noting the importance of lobbying local elected officials.

“Affordable energy is critical to our quality of life in the Sunshine State. We are speaking with our local leaders throughout Florida to discuss ways to maintain our state’s natural beauty and meet the energy needs of our growing population of over 20 million residents and 110 million annual visitors,” Kottkamp said.

Ramirez noted that “we can support thriving tourism industries here in Florida all while developing offshore energy resources that could create high-paying jobs in our state.”

The effort, Nicholson says, is not limited to Florida.

“As we plan ahead as a country, access to our offshore energy resources is a key part of the nation’s economic future and national security, and that is why I am pleased to chair the national Explore Offshore USA coalition. Uniting supporters from Virginia to Florida, we will continue to work to ensure access to our offshore energy resources to support reliable, affordable energy, boost national security, and assure a strong United States economy,” Nicholson asserted.

This effort comes at a time when Florida’s political scene has been roiled by mixed signals regarding whether or not offshore oil rigs are in Florida’s future, including opposition from many Congressional Delegation members to expansion of industry prerogatives

Sen. Bill Nelson has already dubbed his potential general election opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, as “Oil Slick Rick” after what he and political allies deem to be flip-flopping by Scott on the issue.

Scott took credit for taking the issue “off the table” after a January meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, even as no such assurance has been memorialized in law or departmental directive.

Scott, meanwhile, has attracted strong interest from the energy sector as a Senate candidate.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Scott has raised at least $880,000 from energy interests well outside Florida.

In that Times piece, a Scott spokeswoman decried any implication that the donations are transactional on this issue.

“Anyone who contributes to Gov. Scott’s campaign does so in support of his candidacy, which includes priorities such as protecting Florida’s natural treasures by keeping drilling away from our coastline,” Lauren Schenone said. “It was Gov. Scott who worked to have Florida taken off the table for oil drilling.”

Jonathan Webber, Deputy Director of Florida Conservation Voters, added in a statement, “In Florida, our environment is our economy. Any proposal for expanding offshore oil drilling puts our economy and environment at serious risk.

“How many so-called ‘foolproof plans’ now sit on the trash heap of history? Floridians learned a harsh lesson from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which coated Panhandle beaches in noxious black tar and hurt local businesses up and down the Gulf coast. No one can ignore that this outdated practice is unsafe. Climate change and sea-level rise are already causing enough dramatic consequences for Floridians.

“We should be investing in Florida businesses that offer clean energy alternatives, like solar power. Members of Florida’s Congressional Delegation are elected to office for moments like this. Now is the time for them to speak up in Washington and publicly oppose this plan. Offshore drilling is a risk that our state cannot afford.”

Nicholson, however, contends many concerns about drilling are misplaced.

“There is little to no chance of this exploration being visible from the coastal lands, and the miracle of new science and technology has made the chances of a disastrous accident like that of the BP Deepwater Horizon in 2010 nearly impossible,” Nicholson said during a news conference at the Florida Press Center.

David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said that because of technological advances since 2010, “we’re at a safer point than we’ve ever been.” Still, he said, there are no guarantees that another oil rig blowout will never occur.

“I think there are some of us who would like an absolute guarantee. I’ll be transparent with you: There are no absolute guarantees in the activities of mankind,” Mica said. “But we must try to improve our technologies with the very best and brightest. And Florida is producing many of them.”

Some material from the News Service of Florida is used in this article with permission.

Debate on: Al Lawson and Alvin Brown agree to ‘electronic town hall’ on Jacksonville radio

The Democratic primary campaign in Florida’s 5th Congressional District continues between incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and challenger Alvin Brown.

With a recent poll showing Brown 22 points down, and endorsements from everyone from over three dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus to the Florida Times-Union going Lawson’s way, Brown opted on Wednesday to re-up a debate challenge made over a month ago.

“The contrast could not be starker between myself and my opponent, and the voters in Florida’s 5th Congressional District deserve to hear directly from both of us about our very different visions for the future,” Brown asserted in a statement.

And apparently, there will be a debate of sorts. Monday’s episode of First Coast Connect on WJCT-FM will see the two Democrats square off in what will be an “electronic town hall.”

This is remarkable, given that earlier Wednesday, Lawson’s campaign manager Philip Singleton shot down discussion of a debate.

“Over the last eight months, we could have organized a debate but people in this district and throughout Florida have already started voting. Early voting started this week in Duval, Gadsden, and Jefferson [counties]. With well over 6,000 ballots already cast, we feel it would be unfair to those voters to have a debate less than 14 days before an election,” Singleton concluded.

We have yet to hear back from Singleton or Lawson regarding the change in plans; however, this appears to be Brown’s chance to make up some ground in polls.

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