A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 379

A.G. Gancarski

Former Florida Trump campaign chair Susie Wiles talks Russia scandal, ABC News story

ABC News reported Saturday evening that Lanny Wiles, the husband of Florida Trump Campaign Chair Susie Wiles, saved a seat for a Russian lawyer at the heart of the current scandal involving Russia, the President’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager.

“The husband of the former Florida chair of the Trump campaign obtained a front-row seat to a June 2016 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing for Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian attorney who had met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower eight days prior,” ABC News reported.

“Lanny Wiles saved the prominent seat for Veselnitskaya at the June 14 hearing on “U.S. Policy Toward Putin’s Russia,” ABC News’ report added.

Lanny Wiles told ABC News he had “zero” connection to the scandal. And Susie Wiles told ABC News that it was an “unfortunate coincidence” that this happened while she was working with the campaign.

We caught up with Susie Wiles on Sunday afternoon, and she explained that her husband was doing non-profit work with an American firm involved in Russian baby adoption, but she could not recall the name.

That non-profit asked Lanny to save seats; he did so, not knowing that he was saving the seat for someone who had planted the seeds for international intrigue just eight days before.

Lanny had no clue that said lawyer was involved in what Trump partisans have been calling opposition research, Susie Wiles noted.

And as chair of the Florida Trump campaign, Wiles said the very idea of foreign nationals used for opposition research was “out of the realm of any experience” she had had, and at odds with the very traditional campaign she ran for President Trump down in Florida, one in which there was no Russian involvement.

“This is America,” Susie Wiles said, calling the Russian opposition research “hypothetical.”

“I’ve never seen it. Never.”

Given the nature of Lanny Wiles’ employment with an American non-profit with an interest in adopting Russian babies, we asked Susie Wiles if any Russian money ever had made its way to either of them.

Susie Wiles was emphatic in her answer, indignant at the question.

“I did not and would not participate in something that hurt the campaign, the government, the President, or the country,” Wiles said.

Jacksonville Councilman doubles down on describing Pope Francis as a ‘communist’

Is Pope Francis a Catholic? Or is the Pontiff a communist?

Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford has a take.

“I am a Catholic and he is a Communist,” Gulliford said of Pope Francis on Facebook Thursday, reacting to an online publication (M2 Voice) that said the Pope asserted that “world government must rule the United States ‘for their own good’.”

Notable: the quote was not in the original interview the website claimed to cite, which was conducted in Italian and translated by Agence France Presse before the M2 Voice aggregation.

Gulliford’s comments drew sharp criticism online Thursday, and on Friday, we reached out to him for further clarification — and many of his comments came back to schisms in the Church between the conservative American Catholic wing and the “liberation theology” school from which Pope Francis hails.

“Liberation theology,” said Gulliford, is a “form of Christian communism,” and one that Francis’ “narratives and pronouncements” still echo.

“All he talks about is social justice,” Gulliford added.

“If he is the head of the Catholic Church, he should put salvation over social justice,” Gulliford continued, adding that “any friend of the United Nations is no friend of mine.”

Gulliford also believes that, even if the quote he reacted to was not in the interview, there is plenty of evidence of Francis’ anti-American animus, reflected in his comments against the United States, which reflect a “definite anti-American bent.”

Gulliford also noted that “Pope Benedict XVI condemned liberation theology as being in conflict with Catholic doctrine.”

Meanwhile, several Catholics with a different take weighed in Friday also.

“When right-wing politicians and conservative media pundits don’t want to hear what Pope Francis has to say about inequality or the failure of trickle-down economics, they hurl the communist epithet at him,” said John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, and author of The Francis Effect.

“But the pope’s economic message is rooted in traditional Catholic teaching. The catechism of the church talks about inequality as sinful. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI strongly challenged free-market fundamentalism. Conservative Catholics have a history of conveniently wishing that part of their own church tradition away.”

A local Priest offered a similar sentiment.

“Pope Francis stands solidly in line with his predecessors. William F. Buckley, Jr. rejected Pope John XXIII’s Mater et Magistra, and admirers of Pope John Paul II cherry picked from his teaching on communism and capitalism, passing over his critiques of the latter while trumpeting his critiques of the former,” said Jacksonville local Pastor Tim Lozier of Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church.

“I absolutely agree that Pope Francis is simply preaching the Gospel … and we all are often more aligned with the worldly values of success and prosperity than we are with the values Jesus taught and lived.”

Jacksonville councilman claims Pope Francis is a ‘Communist’

Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford got shut out of Council committees for the next year, a consequence of having worked against the election of new Council President Anna Brosche.

But that’s not stopping Gulliford from offering insights into not just local issues, but the global scene.

A recent example of that hit Facebook Thursday morning, when Gulliford weighed in with a provocative comment on an article posted by local political operative Billie Tucker.

“I am a Catholic and he is a Communist,” Gulliford said of Pope Francis.

What prompted that?

An article in an online publication (M2 Voice) that said the Pope asserted that “world government must rule the United States ‘for their own good’.”

“I am afraid there are very dangerous alliances between powers who have a distorted view of the world: America and Russia, China and North Korea, Russia and Assad in the war in Syria,” the Pope observed in the same interview.

The “for their own good” line was not provided in context in the M2 Voice article, raising questions as to the veracity of that quote — especially given the translation from the original Italian didn’t seem to have the phrase in the title.

Gulliford is no stranger to social media controversy.

As we reported last year, Gulliford had a spirited back and forth regarding a bill he had filed to ban skateboarding in downtown Jacksonville. Gulliford withdrew the bill a year later.

Florida Democrats pan latest U.S. Senate health care bill

Even as people were reviewing copies of the latest version of the U.S. Senate health care bill, Florida Democrats — starting but not ending with Sen. Bill Nelson — panned it.

“This latest Republican health care bill is just as bad as the previous versions. It makes huge cuts to Medicaid, allows insurance companies to hike rates for older Americans and will take coverage away from millions of people. We need to be working together to improve our nation’s health care system, not make it worse. If approved, this bill will hurt a lot of Floridians and for that reason alone,” Nelson said, “I will oppose it.”

Gubernatorial candidates also weighed in, beginning with Chris King.

“The latest version of the Senate’s health care bill is just the same devastating attack on Florida’s families as the last version. It’s still an attack on the most vulnerable among us, including seniors, low-income families, and folks with pre-existing conditions,” King asserted.

“It makes drastic cuts to Medicaid. It allows insurance companies to offer ‘bare bones’ health plans that cover less than the bare minimum required under the ACA. And it puts the Republican Party’s goals ahead of the American people’s livelihood. We must urge our Senators—especially Marco Rubio—to vote no on this bill.”

Reaction will continue to pour in all day; expect updates.

‘Queen Corrine’ Brown asks donors to ‘deliver’ for legal defense

Action News Jax reporter Jenna Bourne posted a flier Thursday on Facebook that revealed an energetic 11th hour fundraising strategy for Corrine Brown.

Brown, who faces hearings on motions for acquittal and a new trial on Aug. 7, will have three fundraising events in the weeks ahead of time, per the flier.

Sat. July 22 sees an “after party”, to follow a concert by 20th century soul singer Betty Wright.

A week later comes the “All White Throwdown,” a “party with a purpose.”

And then, on Aug. 6, a surprise party — with location TBA.

The Corrine Brown Legal Defense Fund, per its website, is 0 percent funded — so the Congresswoman needs robust support at these events.

Brown was convicted earlier this year on 18 counts related to a fraudulent educational charity; those counts included conspiracy to defraud, several counts of wire and mail fraud, tax fraud, and fraudulent financial disclosures.

For those wondering about the “Queen Corrine” nickname, it surfaced during the trial, when discussion of Brown’s signature drink — strawberry Bellini in a sugar-rimmed glass — titillated media and onlookers alike.

Once primary opponents, now Paul Renner is backing Jay Fant for Attorney General

In 2014, Jay Fant beat Paul Renner in a special election in Florida House District 15.

Improbably given the pitched nature of that campaign, Fant and Renner became friends thereafter — a friendship consolidated as Renner moved downstate from Jacksonville to Palm Coast, where he got elected to the House from there.

Fait and Renner had different fortunes last session in the Florida House. Renner, a key lieutenant for Speaker Richard Corcoran during the pitched debate on incentive programs, saw his star rise. He was recently elected to be leader of his class, a prerequisite to being House Speaker in 2022-24.

Fant, meanwhile, was on the other side of the incentive debate, and had a session somewhat less noteworthy … as he planned his run for Attorney General in 2018.

Despite their diverging fortunes in the Legislature, Renner offered an endorsement to Fant Thursday, per a press release from Fant’s political shop, which co-branded the Renner endorsement with that of fellow Jacksonville Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough.

“I’m honored to have the support of strong conservatives like Paul Renner and Clay Yarborough,” said Fant. “Their effective leadership in Tallahassee serves their constituents and our entire state well. I look forward to continuing to work with them to limit government and increase opportunity for hardworking Floridians.”

Fant has secured endorsements from roughly a dozen House colleagues thus far.

These endorsements are necessary for Fant, who is trailing in the money race to Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge who raised $600,000 in June between her campaign account and her political committee.

A key difference thus far in the backing Moody enjoys versus that Fant has: support from the respective legal communities in their city.

Tampa-area barristers are backing Moody; Jacksonville lawyers, meanwhile, are more derisive of Fant’s bid.

Could the endorsement of future Speaker Renner — a partner in a Jacksonville law firm — bring local lawyers into the Fant camp?

July campaign finance reports will tell the tale.

Jax City Council schedules August budget review

In news sure to delight masochists, those paying penance, and those few reporters tasked with covering Jacksonville City Hall, the City Council has rolled out its schedule of budget hearings for August.

All hearings begin at 9 a.m. and are scheduled to end at 5 p.m.

This coming year sees a reconfigured Finance Committee, with the majority of votes destined to come from Democrats representing minority-access Council districts — a bloc of voters that provided the decisive margin for the election of Council President Anna Brosche.

All four of those Councilors have been vocal about the need for Jacksonville to fulfill long-delayed infrastructural promises for the Urban Core and North and Northwest Jacksonville. And they will lead discussion of the budget next month.

The fun kicks off on Thursday, Aug. 10, with an overview of the budget from the Council Auditor, a review of the Sheriff‘s budget, and the Fire and Rescue Department budget all offering scintillating moments.

The Sheriff wants more officers, of course, and also wants five new correctional officers to supervise inmate cleaning crews — civilian supervisors, it turns out, do a poor job of keeping the “dope man” away from crews, and have been known to enjoy carnal relations with convicts under their charge.

Fire and Rescue, meanwhile, has been starved of resources for years. They would like 73 new positions and equipment refreshes, but during the executive branch budget review, the office of Mayor Lenny Curry was resistant to these entreaties en masse.

Frivolity continues on Friday, Aug. 11, with a review of various smaller departmental budgets, including the public library system.

Finance resumes its budget review on Aug. 17, with more smaller departments; that day’s review will be highlighted by Parks and Recreation, which has a three hour slot on that Thursday.

Aug. 18 sees capital improvement budget reviews for the city’s independent authorities, as well as consideration of budgets for the Downtown Investment Authority and Community Redevelopment Areas.

Aug. 23 offers the sole Wednesday meeting on the slate, and deals entirely with the capital improvement plan and debt — for those interested in seeing how this particular Finance Committee deals with these issues, and how the Mayor’s Office deals with its positions, plenty of insight will be gleaned on that day.

Aug. 24 is highlighted by Neighborhoods and Public Works, in terms of time allocation.

However, also on the docket: promised changes from Mayor Lenny Curry to the children’s programs administered by the Jacksonville Journey and the Jacksonville Children’s Commission — the latter group came under fire earlier this year after issues with summer camp funding roiled the public and dominated the local paper’s front page.

Aug. 25 — the final scheduled day of review — includes an overview of pensions … the first one since pension reform passed earlier in 2017.

Jacksonville’s first medical marijuana dispensary represents policy progress

Wednesday morning saw Jacksonville open its first medical marijuana dispensary, as Trulieve’s storefront on Beach Boulevard opened for business.

For those following the medical marijuana debate in the city as recently as two years ago, Trulieve’s facility represents real progress, especially in contrast to other cities across the state still wrestling with zoning and other perceived impacts of these facilities.

Back in 2015, when “Charlotte’s Web” — the low-THC form of marijuana, also called “Hippie’s Disappointment” —  was a controversy, Jacksonville wrestled with those very issues. Early June saw an emergency 180-day moratorium from the City Council on the growing, processing and dispensing of “low THC marijuana, a/k/a medical marijuana.”

After public outcry, the moratorium was repealed at the second meeting in June.

A second moratorium was passed soon enough. Then the Planning Commission and the Land Use & Zoning committee worked out some useful rules for the high-CBD/low-THC marijuana … rules that exist today, even as the definition of medical marijuana has become more liberalized after the passage of Amendment 2 in 2016.

Ordinance limits dispensaries to one per city planning district, with a minimum of a mile between them, permissible in non-residential zoning areas. Rules for cultivation were also established at that point.

The difference between 2015 and 2017 was vividly illustrated Wednesday, when Trulieve opened its eighth Florida dispensary. This, said Victoria Walker, who handles community relations for the company, put a storefront within a two hour drive of everyone in Florida.

And in Jacksonville, where the company already has hundreds of patients, this is a gateway to increased access for qualified patients, Walker said, already enjoying what she calls the “largest product line” in the state of capsules, oils, vaporizer kits, and topical creams.

Essentially, everything but smokable marijuana.

Walker told us that the company’s goal was to “develop products using the whole plant,” but the company will “operate under whatever the law says.”

Walker also touched on the process in Jacksonville, which she said was a “little bit of a long process” in terms of permitting.

However, it’s a process that is now complete for the company locally — which can’t be said elsewhere.

“A lot of counties are trying to figure out the rules,” Walker said, and Trulieve has met with them.

Her thinking is that as the Trulieve model expands, residual resistance to cannabis use for therapeutic reasons will abate.

“Perception is reality,” Walker said.

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For those who remember the Jacksonville debate of 2015, there was much worry about potential decline in property values and community mores related to these dispensaries.

However, the Trulieve facility — freshly renovated, clean, accessible — is light years ahead of most of the rundown commercial properties near it, an indication that commercial cannabis, at least under the dispensary model, doesn’t necessarily have to lead to the kinds of excesses prohibitionists decry in states with full legalization.

Before the doors opened, patients were discussing the therapeutic effects of cannabis, with a thirty year old indie rock kid talking about the benefits of cannabis with a man twice his age in the queue to enter the store.

Meanwhile, there were those who had their own testimonials to the healing power of cannabis, and none was more powerful than that of 36-year-old Rosemary McKinley, a ballroom dance competitor who has been on high-THC cannabis concentrate since 2014.

McKinley’s days once were spent in an opiate haze, a pharmacological hell of Vicodin, muscle relaxers, and fentanyl.

Those days are over, she said. Since she started therapeutic cannabis, she has gained 15 pounds, and the spasms and headaches, as well as the fatigue and nausea, brought on by a tumor have become bad memories rather than recurrent impacts.

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With the power of cannabis becoming a less esoteric proposition over time, the future of cannabis is bright, said Donavan Carr, the President of NEFL NORML

“Everything takes time,” Carr said, but “if you look at other states, you get an idea of where we can go.”

Could outright legalization happen?

Carr sounded confident.

“It’s just a matter of time,” he said.

June fundraising in Northeast Florida told many stories

As those in the political game are acutely aware, fundraising is the oxygen that sustains campaigns.

June for Northeast Florida legislators and committees was no exception — virtually everyone in the region did some fundraising, and all of that was in a certain context — one that makes it possible to ascertain the success or failure of their efforts.

In that context, here’s how the money is shaping up for Northeast Florida politicians.

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Jay Fant is in trouble: It took Rep. Jay Fant until late Monday — hours before the deadline — to file his numbers. And that’s usually not a great sign, as his campaign for the GOP nomination for Attorney General seems to lack the buy-in from the donor class that opponent Ashley Moody has.

Between her political committee and her campaign account, Moody raised $603,000 in her first month in the race — a number that puts her way ahead of Fant, who brought in just under $70,000 in June.

Just $1,000 of that went to his committee account, yet Fant did a bit better in hard money — bringing in $68,240 of new money in June, giving him just over $145,000 on hand.

All told, Moody holds nearly a 3-to-1 cash on hand advantage, and enjoys quiet support from Northeast Florida heavyweights, none of whom are inclined to come out for Fant.

The question most are asking: when does Fant declare victory, get out, and file for re-election to the Florida House? And if he does this, will he face a challenge anyway?

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Jason Fischer, Clay Yarborough show strength: First-term Jacksonville Republican State Reps. Jason Fischer and Clay Yarborough were best-in-class when it came to fundraising in June.

Between Fischer’s campaign account and the account for his political committee, “Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville,” Fischer brought in almost $55,000 for his 2018 re-election effort.

Of that new money, a full $32,700 went into Fischer’s campaign account — pushing it over $51,000 on hand.

Fischer’s committee, after $22,700 of new money in June, now has just over $29,000 on hand.

He likely won’t face a primary challenge; if he did, however, he’d have whatever resources he needed to hold his seat.

Yarborough, noted for a grassroots approach to campaigning, has continued his successful outreach to the business community and the donor class — which wasn’t a sure thing a year ago.

Yarborough brought in $22,375 in June — by far, his biggest haul since filing for re-election months back.

All told, Yarborough has roughly $35,000 on hand.

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Most Northeast Florida incumbents took it easy: One of the great things about gerrymandering and the Jacksonville area’s State Senate and House seats is that, once you win the invariably cutthroat primary, the hard part is over.

So there weren’t a lot of eyepopping June totals.

Sen. Aaron Bean brought in $9,250 in June, spending more than half of it, and giving himself just under $24,000 on hand.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, slated to face a write-in candidate next November, brought in $7,450, pushing herself over $51,000 on hand.

In HD 11, Rep. Cord Byrd brought in $1,500, bringing cash on hand to just over $17,000. But it won’t matter — he won last November with 98 percent of the vote.

HD 13 Democrat Tracie Davis brought in $4,750 in June, with $3,000 of it coming from Jacksonville dog tracks; the new money pushes Davis over $16,000 on hand.

Davis’ colleague in HD 14, Kim Daniels, seeded her account with $100 — and so far, that’s it for Daniels, who has no real worries, given her charisma, name ID, unique ability to work across party lines, and willingness to self-finance what are largely billboards and grassroots campaigns.

South of Jacksonville, the story was the same. HD 17 Republican Cyndi Stevenson raised $1,000, bringing her total on hand to roughly $34,000. HD 18 Republican Travis Cummings brought in $2,000, giving him $54,000 on hand. And HD 19 Republican Bobby Payne‘s $500 of new money in June gave him nearly $17,000 on hand.

Again: safe seats, all of these, and no real urgency to raise money to defend them.

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Committee action: A look at Northeast Florida committees showed typical strength for two powerhouses.

“Build Something That Lasts,” the committee of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, brought in $110,000 in June.

With less than $9,000 in expenditures over the June period, Curry’s committee now has $242,456 on hand.

And “Working for Florida’s Families,” the committee associated with Sen. Rob Bradley, brought in $59,500 — with the big donor being REI, the Winston-Salem tobacco company, at $25,000. That committee now has $390,000 on hand.

Meanwhile, questions have been raised about what one Jacksonville consultant calls the “weak launch” of Sheriff Mike Williams‘ ” A Safe Jacksonville” committee, after a second lackluster month of fundraising.

The committee raised $9,600 in June, and has roughly $20,000 banked.

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Locals only: Perhaps the most impressive month of any Jacksonville-area candidate came from former Florida Ethics Commission head Matt Carlucci, who kicked off his 2019 campaign for the Jacksonville City Council in June.

Carlucci, a former Jacksonville City Council President who seeks a return to the legislative body, hauled in $60,000 in June.

To put that number in perspective: even the strongest fundraisers in the 2015 races for City Council couldn’t get appreciably past a quarter-million dollars raised.

While it’s unrealistic to expect Carlucci to string together $60,000 months, the bankroll is a warning to anyone who decides to get in the race to replace Greg Anderson  — the incumbent in that seat, who himself cut a check to Carlucci.

Former Corrine Brown consultant to host Jacksonville Andrew Gillum fundraiser

If the Andrew Gillum campaign for Florida Governor were a ship, by now it would have taken in so much water that one could cue up the Celine Dion theme and the closing credits.

Gillum’s fundraising, described as “anemic,” is no match for the resources of the other Democrats vying for the nomination: Philip Levine and Chris King have demonstrated an ability and willingness to self-finance, and Gwen Graham is able to parlay decades of relationships built in Florida’s Democratic donor class by herself and her father.

However, despite federal investigations into Tallahassee city government, and enough oppo to overflow a landfill, the Gillum campaign continues apace — with a fundraiser in Jacksonville Tuesday evening.

The goal of the event to be held at the Beaver Street Enterprise Center is relatively modest: 100 donations of at least $100 each — not exactly Adam Putnam money.

Especially interesting in light of the shakeups at the top of the Gillum campaign: the organizer for the Jacksonville event … local political consultant Mincy Pollock.

Pollock has been on the scene for a couple of years, first as a candidate for Jacksonville City Council, then as a consultant for and asset to former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown.

In 2015, Pollock emerged in opposition to Brown’s “Quick Picks’.

Brown likened her endorsement sheet to picks at a dog track — and for whatever reason, Pollock was not Brown’s pick.

This irked Pollock: “Growing up in Jacksonville I’ve always looked up to leaders in the black community and hoped I would one day be on Corrine’s Quick Picks when the time came. When I decided to run I reached out to a number of leaders in the community and most of them responded with the question: ‘How much money have you raised?’”

Pollock’s high-minded aversion to the realities of fundraising didn’t last too long. Shortly after the 2015 election wrapped, Pollock was welcomed into Corrine Brown’s fold … after an attempt to become a “consultant” for the eventual winner of the election.

Pollock took Brown’s advice, after a meeting with the then-Congresswoman, and attended the Congressional Black Caucus Boot Camp.

“From going here,” Pollock related in 2015, “I got a bird’s-eye view of how [things] are tied together.”

That bird’s eye view of how things are tied together proved occasionally complicated for Pollock, who at one point wrote personal checks that went into the account of “One Door for Education,” a non-performing quasi-educational charity that was used by Brown and associates as a slush fund.

Brown, currently fighting a conviction on 18 of the 22 federal counts associated with that case, has a hearing for both a new trial and acquittal on Aug. 7.

However, despite the obvious issues involved in Brown’s late career, working for her clearly served as an important resume point for Pollock — and obviously gave Gillum confidence as well.

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