A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 514

A.G. Gancarski

For Nikki Fried, cannabis a key to the AG race — and public policy

Nikki Fried, the Broward-based lawyer, medical marijuana lobbyist and Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, appears to be not only well-positioned to win in August, but to compete in November.

She’s winning the endorsement game: the Tampa Bay Times backs her, as do almost two dozen Democrats in the Florida Legislature, the pro-choice Ruth’s List and the SEIU. And she’s performing well at straw polls, winning some outright.

We caught up with her Thursday morning in Jacksonville, just hours before two heavyweights, John Morgan and Alex Sink, were to host an Orlando fundraiser for her.

Fried noted that this “institutional support” is “tremendous,” from “leaders … beacons in the party,” especially Morgan, who has been “so instrumental to the passage of medical marijuana” in Florida, and who backs a cannabis adult-use legalization amendment in 2020.

We stayed on the cannabis subject for some time, with Fried making the most explicit argument any statewide candidate has about the connection of cannabis policy to myriad other systemic issues in the state.

Fried first became professionally interested in cannabis in 2014, when she represented a client who was having access problems to the medicine. Since then, obviously, she has taken that professional interest statewide, and sees a very important role in the Cabinet for “somebody up in Tallahassee who has such a strong base of knowledge and can really kind of blow things up and say this is not working, we need to fix the problems.”

Fried notes that Christian Bax, Gov. Rick Scott‘s point man for implementing cannabis policy, seemed purposefully inept.

“Christian … not a good bureaucrat by any stretch of the imagination” seemed to be “taking orders from Gov. Scott,” Fried said.

“Gov. Scott has made internal comments that he doesn’t want to see any new licenses handed out, [or] an expansion of the program, and it’s really put roadblocks every step of the way,” Fried said, including in implementation, getting licenses and new products out, and enforcement.

“He’s done everything he can to make it as hard as possible for the patients, the doctors, and the providers,” Fried said.

Fried noted, conversely, that Sen. Bill Nelson is moving toward her position on cannabis. Previously he had stated an opposition to “recreational marijuana” and rescheduling the plant.

“He has finally … started to understand the position that it’s in our Constitution,” Fried said. “Rick Scott isn’t even there. He might not be to recreational and legalization … but I’d rather have somebody like Bill Nelson who is going to support the will of the people … than somebody who’s been an obstructionist on this issue.”

Fried also supports the broadening of the list of eligible conditions to include pain, eating disorders, and opiate dependency, noting also that many doctors are reluctant to “go onto the registry because they’re afraid of prosecution and losing their licenses” due to meddling from the Department of Health.

Regarding cannabis criminalization, Fried was blunt, saying it has “imprisoned” those in the state with the least recourse to defend themselves.

“As a public defender, I saw firsthand that a majority of the police reports I saw, that the first line talks about ‘the smell of cannabis was detected’ and probable cause to do searches comes afterward,” Fried said, leading to minority groups being “unfairly targeted” and hooked into the criminal justice system.

Cannabis legalization, Fried said, would remove the option of the pretextual police search by an officer “to stop somebody because they think they smell cannabis on them.”

The end of pretextual stops would remove stresses on the prison system. Moreover, Fried believes that current criminal convictions on cannabis possession should be “expunged.”

“Clemency issues … the restoration of rights … I think that all comes together,” Fried said. “As soon as we can get cannabis out of the conversation of criminal reform and start making those changes, you’ll see a huge change,” including freeing up prison resources for other means.

Fried, a University of Florida alum, has given money to a LOT of Republicans, including Adam Putnam and Ashley Moody.  However, it’s clear the Democratic establishment trusts her nonetheless.

Fried gave money to Moody and Putnam out of “friendship,” she said.

“I don’t align with their political views at all,” Fried notes.

When she gave to Moody, she didn’t know if she was a “D or an R.” In the case of Putnam, who seems diametrically opposed to Fried on many issues, she clearly knew his political leanings when she cut a check in 2014.

“We know each other from Leadership,” Fried said. “I gave him $250. I do not support him on many of these issues … and have chastised him” for various positions, including but not limited to medical cannabis and “how he’s handled the concealed weapons process.”

She believes Putnam has “not been a servant to the public.”

“I keep hearing time and time again,” Fried said, regarding failure in both agricultural and consumer service enforcement.

“There has been a lack of responsiveness,” Fried said, on environmental, water, and other issues in “this current administration.”

Fried faces Jeff Porter and Roy David Walker in the Democratic primary on Aug. 28. If she gets through that, she will face one of three Republicans (Reps. Baxter TroutmanMatt Caldwell, or Sen. Denise Grimsley) in what will be an expensive November race.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams endorses Ron DeSantis

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams endorsed U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis for Governor late Wednesday, breaking with almost 50 elected sheriffs and police unions that have long since backed Adam Putnam.

“I am pleased to endorse Ron DeSantis for Governor of Florida.  I greatly respect his military service in the United States Navy in Iraq,” Williams asserted.

“When I talk with Ron DeSantis, his view of law enforcement mirrors my own: protecting innocent citizens and holding bad actors accountable. I believe that as Governor Ron DeSantis will prioritize law enforcement and will be good for the citizens of Jacksonville.  I am proud to offer him my support,” Williams added.

This endorsement came on the same day the head of the local Fraternal Order of Police was waving signs for Putnam outside the Jacksonville debate.

Two other major Northeast Florida players, state Senate Appropriations chairman Rob Bradley and his Clay County colleague, Rep. Travis Cummings, endorsed DeSantis Wednesday ahead of the debate.

Meanwhile, one other major Northeast Florida endorsement, that of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, still waits to be conferred.

Curry’s mayoral chief of staff, Brian Hughes, was watching the debate with Curry’s political adviser Tim Baker from the balcony Wednesday evening.

Hughes and Baker ran DeSantis’ 2012 campaign for Congress, suggesting there may be an opportunity for synergy on that front also.

‘Gwen and the Men’ and the narrative heading into tonight’s downhill in Jacksonville

Despite the best efforts of four opponents, Gwen Graham goes into a televised forum Thursday evening in Jacksonville looking like the Democratic nominee for Governor.

The trend lines nationally point to a Graham win, another entrant to what is called in some quarters a sisterhood of gubernatorial nominees, in what seems like a year favorable to women running for office.

The most recent polls, meanwhile, say it’s not so much a matter of if Graham is going to win, but by how much. Undecideds are breaking her way, and this is the time a candidate would want that to happen.

The ALG Research poll, taken last week, had Graham at 33 percent, with the field lagging behind: 17 percent for former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; 13 percent backing Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene; 10 percent supporting Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; and 3 percent for Winter Park businessman Chris King.

This poll, first reported by POLITICO, was pushed by the Graham campaign.

Levine’s camp is pushing its own internal poll showing him down, but by four points, to Graham (26-22). Greene is farther back at 16 percent.

The question, for Levine, Greene, Gillum, and King, is an existential one: How does one attack Graham?

No one has figured out how to make attacks resonate yet. King and Greene attempted to assail Graham’s environmental bona fides. Gillum has seen the Collective PAC do his dirty work. But none of it, per poll after poll, has mattered.

In the format Thursday evening, it will be difficult for candidates to distinguish themselves — and not because much of the television audience will have at least one eye on the Jaguars’ preseason opener.

An hour-long forum, divvied up between five candidates who tend to pivot to talking points with every answer, goes very quickly, and the likelihood for new ground being plowed is minimal in that context.

Ron DeSantis, Adam Putnam trade blows during GOP primary debate for Governor

The second and final debate between Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis was Putnam’s best chance to showcase his unique value add in a race where momentum has gone his opponent’s way since the President endorsed him,

The debate in Jacksonville set up well: a friendly crowd, a local outlet determined to make the questions about “Florida issues,” and an absolute existential need to perform well and somehow bring the race, Trump factor notwithstanding, back into play.

Putnam had in recent days introduced attacks on DeSantis, saying he’s soft on Stand Your Ground and a “puppet” of the “open-borders” Koch Brothers. The avuncular persona replaced by that of a pitbull, reflective of a reality: after decades in politics, Putnam for once couldn’t make institutional ties translate with the voters.

“This election’s a choice between the Washington way and putting Florida first,” Putnam said, calling DeSantis the “Seinfeld candidate.”

“The campaign is being run out of a studio, they have a smattering of celebrity guest appearances, and it’s all about nothing. But, unlike Seinfeld, it’s not funny,” Putnam sniped.

That was the first of many trolls of DeSantis this evening, in what was a 60 minute aggressive performance from Putnam.

DeSantis made a subtle class war appeal in response, noting that his first job was for “six dollars an hour,” which is not a problem Putnam ever faced.

From there, policy. On school safety, DeSantis advocated school hardening, noting that “law abiding gun owners” were impacted by the school safety reform bill passed last Legislative Session, which he expects to be overturned.

“That bill on security side was a very good first step, but there’s more to do,” DeSantis said.

Putnam pivoted to “protecting our Second Amendment,” occupying the same space as DeSantis on that — then noting he, unlike DeSantis, backed the Sheriff in the Markeis McGlockton case.

DeSantis, in a frontrunner move, did not take Putnam’s bait.

JAXPORT dredging was next. Putnam noted support for it, and noted again that “the Florida way was different from the Washington way.”

DeSantis likewise backed state funding of dredging, noting that he’d pushed for funding dredging in Congress.

Economic incentives were up next, via Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida.

DeSantis backs using “whatever tools are there,” noting that “picking winners and losers” was not his preference.

Putnam, meanwhile, took the Rick Scott position of enthusiastic advocacy for economic incentives — “tools in the quiver” for the next governor.

Then, a jab at DeSantis, for invoking the water quality issue [“algae blooms”] in his Visit Florida response: “You can take everything my opponent knows about Florida water policy and write it on a sticky note, and you’ll still have room left for your grocery list.”

“Adam is basically the errand boy for U.S. Sugar,” DeSantis said. “They’ve pumped millions and millions of dollars into his campaign.”

Putnam tried to fire back later in the debate, but DeSantis hit the U.S. Sugar line again.

“They released their nutrient load by 70 percent,” Putnam said. “But you wouldn’t know.”

President Donald Trump was next up, with his endorsement of DeSantis called “the elephant in the room” by moderator Kent Justice.

Putnam noted a “different approach” between Trump’s campaign and DeSantis’ campaign: “He ran on a plan. You ran on an endorsement.”

“I wish he hadn’t put his thumb on the scale in Florida’s campaign,” Putnam said. “Having the Trump card is the only card you have. It’s a good one, but you’re not playing with a full deck.”

“You could have put [Putnam’s] picture on a milk carton during the 2016 campaign,” DeSantis fired back. “He’s a career politician … who will say or do anything to get elected.”

“You ran for three offices in three years, that’s a career politician with ADD,” Putnam jibed.

Special interest money came up, with Putnam noting that “90 percent of [his] campaign support has come from real Floridians,” with DeSantis’ money coming from “casino owners and pornographers” from as far away as California.

“It’s not just the direct contributions from Big Sugar, it’s the indirect … close to $10 million in this cycle alone,” DeSantis said. “I’ve had more negative ads run against me than every other candidate running for governor on either side, probably by a factor of five.”

The attack ads, said Putnam, “are true” — including the FairTax hit from July.

“That may sound good in D.C…. in a Harvard economics classroom, but it’s bad for Florida … for seniors,” including in Nocatee and the Villages.

DeSantis noted that both VP Mike Pence and the Florida Legislature in 2014 backed the proposal, and that the “lefties at Harvard would hate the FairTax.”

“If he’s willing to misrepresent something conservatives have supported for years, what makes you think as Governor he would tell you the truth,” DeSantis asked.

The two were able to agree on a couple of things: Medicaid expansion would have been bad for Florida. Both want, as Putnam said, a “patient-centered” model.

And both support charter schools, as laid out in HB 7069.

Expect Democrats to capitalize on that in the general election, no matter who comes out of the Republican side.


Lenny Curry re-election fundraising slows to $110K in July

Even as rumblings persist that Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Brosche is eyeing the 2019 mayoral race, incumbent Lenny Curry continues actively fundraising and running ads.

July was Curry’s weakest month since announcing he wanted four more years, with Curry bringing in $85,000 to his Jacksonville on the Rise political committee and an additional $24,950 to his campaign account.

The $109,950 haul brings Curry up to just under $382,000 in the campaign account ($395,000 raised) and another $1,501,000 in the committee pot ($1.95 million raised).

Curry, running an active campaign against nominal competition, has nearly $2 million on hand.

The more interesting donors were on the committee side.

Names to be filed away for future reference include Auld and White ($25,000); mainstay Fidelity National Financial ($25,000); Dream Finders LLC ($20,000) and BNY Mellon and its subsidiary Pershing Advisor Solutions ($20,000 total).

Between them, Curry’s four opponents have under $1,200 on hand.

The first election is in March. Should one candidate not get a majority of the vote, the top two face off in May.

Incumbent Tommy Hazouri, unopposed for Jacksonville City Council, wows with $29K July

Former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Hazouri, a Democrat running for reelection to the City Council, showed strong fundraising from diverse sources for his second straight month, suggesting that any 2019 challenge will be futile.

Hazouri pulled in $29,750 in July, pushing his total fundraising above $85,000, with more than $83,000 of that on hand.

He is running unopposed.

Former Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver joined current owner Shad Khan and his lobbyist, Paul Harden, in making maximum $1,000 donations to Hazouri — just a sample of Republican support for Hazouri, which includes former Jacksonville City Councilman Stephen Joost.

The local police and fire unions also maxed out for Hazouri, as did pillars of the donor class such as Steve Halverson and Sleiman Holdings,

Lobbyists, via the Fiorentino Group, also featured.

The most unexpected name in the 56 contributions? Vito Stellino, a former Florida Times-Union sportswriter.

Hazouri faced opposition from the left and the right in 2015, but this time around, it appears that his base of support is too broad for anyone to even jump into this one.

How Adam Putnam could have home-field advantage over Ron DeSantis during Jacksonville debate

On Wednesday night, Jacksonville will play host to what likely is the last major stand for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the race for Governor.

Putnam’s debate at Jacksonville University with U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis is a make-or-break moment if one is still possible in this race.

The Real Clear Politics polling average, which includes polls conducted before President Donald Trump unambiguously endorsed DeSantis at a rally, has DeSantis up 11 points. A late-July Mason-Dixon poll likewise saw a 12 point spread.

The race could stay there. It could, at least theoretically, get closer if Putnam’s ground game strategy continues without abatement.

Or the spread could get worse.

What we know: Ballots are coming in already, and the polls reflect a snapshot of a race that is already being decided.

All is not lost for Putnam, however. Even if donors ranging from bestbet to Foley and Lardner are hedging their bets, Jacksonville could — in theory — allow him to change the narrative.

On Monday, he won the Jacksonville Young Republicans straw poll over DeSantis 75-2. While there were caveats (Putnam showed up and stumped for the vote, as part of what have been three straight days in a city that has 1/20th of the state’s population), a win is a win.

Even if some people at the event were saying, quietly, that the race was already over, the reality is that DeSantis didn’t even have representation at the event.

The donors may be moving. The polls may be upside down. But for Putnam supporters, Jacksonville offers a silver lining: a debate on Florida issues in front of a live crowd, one composed of insider types who invested energy into the idea of Adam Putnam as governor.

Depending on how lively that crowd is, there could be a real home-court advantage for Putnam (despite DeSantis’ wife, Casey Black DeSantis, being a local television personality of long standing).

The most useful analogue to what this advantage can offer, if all plays out as it should, was the third and final Jacksonville mayoral debate between Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry in 2015, where the crowd effects were felt early and often.

Both Brown and Curry had active supporters, with dueling chants and the like ahead of the event outside the hall.

Inside the hall, moderator Kent Justice reminded the crowd, as he typically does, to abstain from demonstrations.

By and large, that happened. However, the Curry people — many of the same young Republicans who back Putnam today — were just a bit less reserved than the Brown supporters.

If you are a Putnam supporter, if you really believe in Adam Putnam as the only acceptable Republican nominee, what’s going to stop you from making noise for your candidate? From disparaging DeSantis at a key moment?

It’s live television. And live television allows for audience participation.

By definition, the Gen Y and millennial types who support a candidate like Putnam have buried whatever passes for their anarchic streak deep down. However, what’s to stop them from a well-placed boo, catcall, or Bronx cheer at a pivotal moment?

The crowd made noise on Curry’s behalf a couple of times in 2015. Brown, never a natural debater, was rattled.

While DeSantis is no Alvin Brown, the fact remains that in a race where the formerly inevitable Putnam has been divested of advantages as time has gone on, the Jacksonville crowd may be the Congressman’s final stumbling block before getting the nomination.

The debate starts at 8. But there will be strong indications of how pro-Putnam the crowd is well before that.

Rob Bradley, Travis Cummings endorse Ron DeSantis ahead of Jacksonville debate

In a sign of the changing times in the Republican gubernatorial race, state Sen. Rob Bradley and state Rep. Travis Cummings on Wednesday endorsed U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis for Governor.

These endorsements, rolled out hours before DeSantis debates Adam Putnam in Jacksonville, show the powerful Clay County Republicans breaking with many Jacksonville elected officials and Republican activists, who fell in line behind Putnam when he seemed inevitable months back.

“I’m proud to endorse Ron DeSantis for Governor of Florida.” Sen. Bradley said in a statement. “Our state needs strong, dependable leadership and Ron DeSantis is a proven conservative who will make a great governor. He’s an Iraq veteran with a solid conservative record and the support of our President.”

“He’s demonstrated a fierce commitment to principle in Congress and he will bring the same values to Tallahassee. I look forward to working with him to strengthen our economy, improve our education system and bring accountability to our government,” Bradley, who serves as the Senate Appropriations chair, said Wednesday.

“Ron DeSantis is a proven conservative leader with a strong record of service to our country both in Congress and in the military.” asserted Cummings, who chairs Health and Human Services in the House.

“There’s no doubt he will be a real leader for our state who will be a champion for conservative causes that will help Florida thrive. He’s an Iraq veteran and a true conservative who’s got the backing of the President and I’m proud to stand by him,” Cummings added.

Worth noting: Cummings was a college roommate of Kent Stermon, who has been a close ally of DeSantis for years.

The open question: Will other Jacksonville-area endorsements fall into line for DeSantis?

While many Jacksonville pols, including U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, state Sen. Aaron Bean, and Jacksonville City Council Vice-President Aaron Bowman, have backed Putnam, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has — at least up until now — reserved an endorsement.

Adam Putnam campaign: Koch ‘puppet’ Ron DeSantis is betraying Donald Trump

The Koch brothers continue to be an issue on the GOP side of the Florida Governor’s race for a second straight week, with the Adam Putnam campaign again pillorying U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis for accepting their support.

Conceivably, this argument could be used by Putnam in the final debate with DeSantis on Wednesday night in Jacksonville.

A fiery news release from Putnam spokesperson Meredith Beatrice asks, “Is D.C. DeSantis taking Koch money illegally in an attempt to hide his support for weak borders and anti-American trade policy?”

“The anti-Trump, open-border Koch group backing D.C. DeSantis isn’t reporting the source of $300K in contributions. This appears to be another attempt from D.C. DeSantis to cover up his betrayal of President Trump,” according to the Putnam campaign, which spotlights a POLITICO report.

The issue: The Koch network is funding a direct mail campaign on DeSantis’ behalf, but not disclosing the source of $300,000 in contributions.

“D.C. DeSantis is choosing to to be a puppet of the open-border, anti-Trump Koch brothers and turning his back on President Trump who recently slammed the Koch brothers, calling them a ‘total joke’ and saying they are ‘against Strong Borders and Powerful Trade,’ ” the Putnam camp charges.

The Putnam camp’s attack on the Kochs started last week, as President Donald Trump came to Florida to stump for DeSantis, but not before attacking the Kochs on Twitter.

DeSantis, who worked hard for the Kochs’ backing even before getting into the Governor’s race (winning the unofficial Koch primary against Putnam endorser Richard Corcoran), had already been endorsed by the network, with direct mail in the works even then, even as the Republican National Committee urged donors to divest from Koch efforts as the Kochs and the President continue to feud publicly.

Putnam’s camp wondered: “Is DeSantis happy to accept millions from people against strengthening our borders and negotiating powerful trade deals?”

The rhetoric has been ratcheted up … at least in news releases.

In stump remarks, Putnam has avoided mentioning the Kochs, preferring to aim at left-wing billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer, who are playing on the Democratic side of the race on behalf of Andrew Gillum.

Team Putnam’s argument against unsourced “dark money” contributions has cropped up on the Democratic side as well, with Gwen Graham bristling at attacks levied against her on behalf of Gillum by the Collective PAC.

Adam Putnam slams Ron DeSantis for ‘siding with liberal Democrats’ on ‘Stand Your Ground’ controversy

Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam continued Tuesday to stress differences with the other gubernatorial candidates over the justification behind the Markeis McGlockton killing, a potential preview of talking points from his debate with U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in Jacksonville Wednesday evening.

McGlockton was fatally shot on July 19 by Michael Drejka in Pinellas County in a dispute over a parking place that went from verbal to physical to fatal.

DeSantis and the Democrats have said that they don’t see the killing of McGlockton as a “Stand Your Ground” case. However, Putnam took a different position in a conversation Monday with Florida Politics  in Jacksonville.

“It’s a decision that’s in the hands of the state attorney who has access to far more of the full picture of what went down,” Putnam said, “than just the video that we’ve all seen in the media.”

“I certainly have a lot of respect for Sheriff (Bob) Gualtieri,” Putnam added, “who also has a law degree by the way. And I’m confident that the state attorney will make the decision that’s right in the eyes of the law.”

In a position that diverges from Putnam’s and Gualtieri’s interpretation, DeSantis said in a statement to POLITICO, “It doesn’t seem to me that the law is even applicable in the case of Markeis McGlockton, and I don’t think the Pinellas County sheriff analyzed the law properly.”

Putnam’s campaign amplified differences with DeSantis on Tuesday, with pitched rhetoric: “D.C. DeSantis has betrayed President Trump and law-abiding citizens by siding with Al Sharpton and liberal Democrats to tear down Stand Your Ground.”

Putnam added that DeSantis “ought to be ashamed of siding with Al Sharpton and liberal Democrats instead of standing for Floridians’ constitutional rights.”

Gualtieri, who has endorsed Putnam for Governor, said security camera footage of McGlockton shoving Drejka to the ground before the shooting made the case fit within the framework of the SYG law as written. That’s because, Gualtieri contends, the law was amended by the Legislature in 2017 to require law enforcement to prove a shooter didn’t feel threatened before they may file criminal charges.

“Nowhere else is there anything like this in criminal law, where somebody asserts something, and the burden then shifts to the other person,” Gualtieri said. “So, the law is changed dramatically because you’ve got a situation here where ‘stand your ground’ allows for a subjective belief by the person that they are in harm’s way, they are in fear.”

Where many differ with that opinion is the video clip of the seconds before Drejka fired. SYG removes the “duty to retreat” before lethal force may be used in self defense, but the footage appears to show McGlockton backing away from Drejka, thereby deescalating the altercation, once the weapon was drawn.

Democrats over the weekend appeared with the Rev. Al Sharpton and all five candidates support repeal of the SYG law.

Additionally, the Clearwater branch of the NAACP has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the case while national racial justice group Color of Change has started a campaign to “Stop ‘Stand Your Ground.” Their efforts include a petition to encourage Bernie McCabe, the state attorney for Pinellas and Pasco counties, to file charges against Drejka and the recent opening of a state-level political committee to raise funds and get their message out.

Drew Wilson contributed to this post. 

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