A.G. Gancarski – Page 4 – Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski

Slow February in Northeast Florida legislative race fundraising

February offered a unique opportunity for people running against incumbents, who can’t fundraise during the Legislative Session, to make up ground in fundraising.

But — at least in competitive Northeast Florida races — they didn’t take up the gauntlet.


SD 4: Incumbent Aaron Bean couldn’t fundraise in February, and has $88,000 cash on hand in his campaign account, in addition to $106,000 in the account of his “Florida Conservative Alliance” political committee.

SD 6: Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown raised no money in February, his first month challenging Sen. Audrey Gibson for the Democratic party nomination. Gibson, who couldn’t raise money, has $121,410 on hand.


HD 11: Incumbent Republican Cord Byrd has over $33,000 on hand currently, and now faces a Democrat. Natchelly Rohrbaugh entered the race Mar. 1, and will file his first campaign finance report in April.

HD 12: Republican Clay Yarborough has over $122,000 on hand, despite not being able to fundraise in February. Democrat Tim Yost, who did fundraise in February, brought in $1,429 and has $3,300 cash on hand.

HD 13: Incumbent Democrat Tracie Davis has $35,715 on hand; her intraparty challenger, Roshanda Jackson, was in the race for five days in February and spent none of them fundraising.

HD 14: Incumbent Democrat Kim Daniels has just under $15,000 on hand. Daniels’ NPA challenger Darcy Richardson actually did fundraise in his first month in the race, raising $4,755.

HD 15: A wide-open race, given that incumbent Rep. Jay Fant is running for Attorney General, with three Republicans and one Democrat in the mix.

The Republican candidate of longest standing, lawyer Wyman Duggan, had his weakest month of fundraising yet. $2,025 of new money keeps Duggan above $95,000 on hand.

Yacht broker Mark Zeigler, new to the race, raised just $55 in his first few days as a candidate. Joseph Hogan filed this month and will report his first fundraising next month.

Democrat Tracye Polson raised $5,790 in February but continued her high burn rate, spending $5,200 on consultants. Between fundraising and loans, she has raised over $116,000 and has $77,000 left in hard money. Additionally, she has $10,000 in her “Better Jacksonville” political committee.

HD 16: Incumbent Republican Jason Fischer has no electoral competition. He has over $88,000 in hard money and another $40,000 in his “Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville” political committee.

HD 17: Incumbent Republican Cyndi Stevenson will go unchallenged. She has $82,000 in hard money.

HD 18: Incumbent Republican Travis Cummings will face no competition. He has $85,000 in hard money.

Stephanie Murphy anticipates ‘tipping point’ in gun debate

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday, Rep. Stephanie Murphy discussed the current national conversation on gun laws and potential reforms, expressing optimism that a change is coming, even as she processed certain realities.

One such reality: President Donald Trump is walking back what seemed to be support for gun reforms, expressed in a recent bipartisan meeting with her and other members of Congress at the White House.

“I was at the table at that meeting and was hopeful that we’d be able to get the President’s support for common sense gun safety measures,” the Winter Park Democrat said. “He talked a really big game about what he’d be supportive of, so it’s really disappointing that his proposal falls short of what parents in my community are asking us to do.”

“He talked a big game challenging both Republicans and Democrats not to be fearful of the NRA. Certainly, he rolled back his commitments,” Murphy added.

Murphy extolled her own Gun Violence Research Act, which would allow the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies to sponsor independent research into the causes of and solutions for gun violence.

Despite pushback from panelists, Murphy said such research was necessary.

She described the current national conversation about gun solutions as anecdotal, “reactive to the latest mass shooting, the latest headline,” saying that the real issue is the “day to day gun violence in our communities,” citing an example of doctors wanting guidance treating battlefield gun wounds in community hospitals.

“You might be looking at a tipping point because those students in Florida are starting a movement,” Murphy said. “You’re talking about a generation that had to grow up where they don’t know anything but school mass shootings. They’re sick and tired of it, and they’re activating.”

“I think the gun lobby’s hold over politicians is about to change,” Murphy added.

Highlights from recent Jacksonville City Council race fundraising

With roughly a year before voters cast first ballots in the 2019 Jacksonville City Council elections, it’s a good time to take a look at fundraising in selected races through February.

With $8,400 of new money in February, Matt Carlucci, a former Council Republican running for at-large Group 4, is still the clubhouse leader with just over $221,000 raised. Carlucci’s opponent, fellow former Council member Don Redman, a Republican, has a lot of ground to make up.

Word on the street is more candidates will enter this one.

As we reported last week, Republican Ron Salem has over $150,000 on hand in at-large Group 2. This number puts him well ahead of former Councilman Bill Bishop. Bishop raised just $2,000, with just over $13,200 on hand.

Democrat Darren Mason only entered the race in March.

In District 14, Democrat Sunny Gettinger showed respectable first-month fundraising numbers in February, bringing in over $34,000. Gettinger still has a ways to go to catch Republican Randy DeFoor, who raised $4,350 in March and has nearly $90,000 on hand in hard money, and $25,000 in an affiliated political committee, “Safe and Prosperous Jacksonville.”

District 5 looks like it’s Republican LeAnna Cumber‘s race to lose. $15,950 of new February money leaves Cumber with $168,000 on hand against a Democrat who has $473 in his account.

In District 6, Republican Rose Conry continues to dominate, with $65,000 on hand compared to roughly $20,000 on hand for fellow Republican Michael Boylan. Conry had another $10,000 plus month in February, including a donation from Mayor Lenny Curry‘s political committee. Boylan brought in over $17,000, highlighted by donations from Steve Halverson and Mark Frisch.

In District 7, incumbent Democrat Reggie Gaffney is pulling away from a gaggle of underfunded competition. $8,800 of new February money pushed Gaffney over $27,000 on hand, with his closest competition (Sharise Riley) having just $6,000 on hand. John Baker and Sleiman Holdings cut checks last month for Gaffney.

In District 8, we still await incumbent Katrina Brown‘s first campaign finance report. Tameka Gaines Holly is the cash leader just now, with $5,401 of February money giving her over $13,500 on hand.

Unopposed in District 13, Republican Rory Diamond raised over $8,000 in February; he has $114,200 on hand.

District 2 Republican Councilman Al Ferraro launched his campaign for re-election last month and christened his coffers with $10,800 in new money. His most interesting donations came from the family of developer Toney Sleiman, a man at odds with the Mayor’s Office these days.

District 10, meanwhile, is a multi-Democrat field with light fundraising and no clarity in the coffers thus far.

Talleyrand Connector money illustrates Lenny Curry’s long game

Lenny Curry is fond of tweeting: “Plan all the way to the end.”

But at the end of 2016, when the Jacksonville mayor first pitched removal of the Hart Bridge offramps, some were confused as to what that plan was.

Curry brought a poster board into the Duval delegation meeting, and said he wanted $50 million to tear the offramps to the Hart down. That was the first many members of the group had heard of the concept, which was the dramatic reveal of the pre-2017 Delegation meeting.

The Hart Expressway, said Curry to media, was a “relic of the past.”

However, there was minimal movement in the 2017 Legislative Session toward altering said relic.

The city was undaunted, and moved forward, calling a different play by October of last year.

The Mayor’s Office went to the Jacksonville City Council with an ask for $1.5 million for a design criteria study. Meanwhile, FDOT had done a study of the project that revealed a benefit to the port.

By then, the ball was rolling toward an attempt to secure a federal infrastructure grant for $25 million, and the rationale had shifted, per a letter of support from Sen. Marco Rubio to the Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program.

“The city’s proposal will make needed improvement to the Hart Bridge Expressway in order to relieve congestion, improve traffic flow, and enhance access to the Talleyrand Port Authority,” Rubio wrote.

Weeks after that, Curry went to D.C., where he lobbied various power players on the same project.

Curry met with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as well as Billy Kirkland and Justin Clark, who handle intergovernmental affairs for the White House, U.S. Reps. John Rutherford and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Sen. Marco Rubio.

The argument, by then, had shifted: economic development for Bay Street the new traffic pattern would spawn, Curry said, was “gravy” — not the primary purpose.

As the 2018 Legislative Session progressed, Curry made a little-noticed (at the time) trip to Tallahassee.

Curry met with Gov. Rick Scott; the two discussed removing regulatory hurdles for downtown development.

However, there was a secondary purpose to the trip.

From the Senate, he met with Aaron Bean, Senate Minority Leader Designate Audrey GibsonTravis Hutson and Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, along with Wilton Simpson.

Curry also met with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, in addition to meeting with regional representatives Travis Cummings, Jason FischerClay Yarborough, and Tracie Davis.

Soon after that, there was movement on the Talleyrand Connector issue, with Sen. Bean getting a $1 million “placeholder” into the budget.

“It will be a conference issue — rules say it has to be in either the Senate or House budget to become a conference issue.  $1M is all I was able to muster today.  It is a start and hopefully not the final number,” Bean said on February 8.

Indeed, it’s not the final number.

That final number was the $12.5 million Curry wanted from the state all along.

While it’s conceivable, in theory, that Gov. Rick Scott could veto the money, in practice that almost certainly won’t happen.

Curry has scored legislative victories in Tallahassee before; consider the pension reform referendum, widely regarded as a “heavy lift” before it was law.

His relationships, he said last week, helped him with this latest heavy lift.

Regarding Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and Rep. Travis Cummings, Curry said, “without their belief in what we’re doing in this city,” Curry said, such meaningful investments as the $12.5 million in state money wouldn’t be possible.

Regardless of whether or not the federal grant happens, work can begin this year, per administration spokesperson Tia Ford.

“Regarding this project, I’ve been advised that $50 million includes a combination of local, state and federal resources to create the Talleyrand Connector as outlined two years ago and as was evaluated by FDOT last year. The removal of the bridge and first phase of the associated components can be accomplished using $25 million with additional components costing another $25 million in later phases,” Ford said.

There wasn’t a lot of initial faith in (or understanding of) the concept when pitched. But now it’s happening.

As has been the case for over 2 1/2 years, it’s hard to bet against Curry.

And the Talleyrand Connector appropriation is the latest example.

Al Lawson discusses disparities in access to capital in Jacksonville

At the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce Monday Morning, Rep. Al Lawson and Rep. James Comer helmed a Congressional field hearing for the Small Business Committee regarding access to capital disparities.

The disparities disproportionately impact female and minority-owned businesses, and the hearing in Jacksonville was intended to discuss potential remedies to the challenge.

“Capital is the lifeblood of any business,” Lawson said, noting that the average African-American startup is 18 percent less likely than white business owners to get help from the lending industry.

“Investors are predisposed to a preference to people who are similar to them,” Lawson added, and to that end, Monday’s hearing was intended to help women and minority-owned businesses voice their needs in the marketplace.

Jimmy Van Horn, a Lead Lender Relations Specialist for the Small Business Administration, noted that given the “insurmountable hurdle” of access to capital issues, the SBA steps in to help with loans ranging from microloans to loans up to $5 million.

Microloans, said Van Horn, are especially useful for startup businesses, especially when combined with technical advice.

Hillary Almond, President of Almond Engineering, resigned her role at JEA 14 years ago and went into business for herself.

The company was started on a wing and a prayer, and even over a decade after founding, the vast amount of grossed money goes back into the business. New hires can’t happen without necessary capital, Almond said, as she lacks the resources to float their salaries.

“Getting loans, getting capital, it’s very difficult … banks shy away,” Almond said regarding the SBA process, contravening Van Horn’s assertion.

“I go to banks, the people doing loans there don’t even want to talk about SBA. I would love to get an SBA loan; that would help me,” Almond added.

Roslyn Mixon-Phillips, Vice President of The Hester Group, described the risky loans minority-owned businesses had to undertake, given being foreclosed from traditional lending, including home mortgages, credit cards, and “lenders of last resort.”

Time impacts, as well as lack of “business acumen,” preclude often operational concerns.

“They’re often too busy performing the work of the services,” Phillips said, and lack the advantages of corporate infrastructure.

“In my more than 30 years working with small businesses,” Phillips added, “my impression is that the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

Philips urged patience and persistence with the SBA process.

“If one door closes, another door opens,” Phillips said.

Dane Grey, President of Elite Parking Services, had a different story, describing how access to private capital has facilitated his company’s expansion throughout the region.

“What we did initially was put together a business plan,” Grey said. “To create something that is different … a viable product, and a business plan with people who understood our business.”

Panelists agreed that access to microloans would help smaller businesses.

HD 33 Republican hopeful Brett Hage raises $180K in February

Brett Hage, a Sumter County distribution executive and Republican who seeks to fill the HD 33 seat left open by former Rep. Don Hahnfeldt‘s passing, started his campaign with epic February fundraising.

All told, Hage brought in $180,700 off 216 contributions, and has all but $838.30 of that haul on hand.

Current president of the Sumter County Chamber of Commerce, Hage proved uniquely able to galvanize locals behind his bid.

The vast majority of Hage’s donations came from Ocala, Wildwood, and other areas in and around Sumter County.

Hage has no competition on the Republican side of the ballot; however, there is a Democrat running.

Francine Shebell of the Villages entered the race in June 2017, and has been a torpid fundraiser.

After a $1,065 February, Shebell has roughly $10,300 on hand.

Jacksonville Civic Council forms committee to ‘assess’ possible JEA sale

Yet another group of Jacksonville community stakeholders will now weigh in on a potential sale of JEA, the city’s municipal utility.

Friday saw the Jacksonville Civic Council announce its creation of a “public finance task force,” which will have a special committee to look at a potential sale or other options for the 128-year-old utility.

The Civic Council, a bipartisan group of business executives, will “help do the important work necessary to fully understand the impact of such a sale on our city’s finances and its citizens.”

The move from the Civic Council, the executive committee of which includes some of Mayor Lenny Curry‘s most consistent financial supporters, adds yet another layer of scrutiny to a potential exploration of value.

On Thursday, a Jacksonville City Council committee kicked off to explore the merits of such a sale.

The panel, as of now, will meet weekly through the end of June.

Ben Carson decries mass incarceration, wants ‘right thing’ done on cannabis policy

In Jacksonville on Friday, HUD Secretary Ben Carson decried mass incarceration and factors that contribute to it, seemingly including his own administration’s cannabis policy.

In his remarks, both at the roundtable and in the very limited time this reporter spoke to him as the elevator door closed, Carson suggested that there may be a more robustly pragmatic policy debate in the White House currently than is generally thought.

Carson deviated from Republican orthodoxy throughout his remarks, including by noting, as many on the left have, that America has “5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the world’s prison population.”

“There’s something wrong there,” Carson added.

Carson also spoke to another contributing institutional factor; namely, the warehousing of inmates.

“People go in with no skills or education, and come out with no skills or education,” Carson noted.

“Purely looking at the cost of someone who is incarcerated versus someone who is trying to bolster the economy,” Carson noted, “the difference is night and day. When we start to think about it that way, what it costs to train somebody, what it costs for someone to go to college, it costs more to keep somebody incarcerated.”

“It’s also costing us their own positive contributions and one of the things we need to realize about our young people is that we have so many in our penal system, particularly young black males, is that for every one we can keep from going down that path of self-destruction, it’s one less person we need to be afraid of or protect our family from,” Carson added.

“One less person we need to pay for in the penal system or the welfare system, one more taxpaying productive member of society,” Carson said, adding that “this certainly is a message this administration is going to be pushing in a very very hard way particularly at HUD, reformulating our programs in such a way that we concentrate on the people.”

Of course, Housing and Urban Development, whose mission Carson has set out to reform toward a model of “self-sufficiency,” typically has little to do with the penal system.

One party with more of a stake in how that business is conducted: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has taken a hard line position on cannabis law enforcement that is out of step with virtually the entire Democratic Party and, increasingly, many Republicans who see the War on Drugs as an expensive and failed boondoggle.

We chased after Carson when his remarks wrapped and asked him, in context of his remarks about the penal system, if he endorsed Sessions’ stance on cannabis.

Despite a handler trying to curb the interaction, Carson offered an answer, albeit an opaque and interpretable one.

“I’m hoping that as a society we will try and do the right thing with cannabis,” Carson said, as the elevator door closed.

As the Trump administration progresses, and electoral reality sets in during the midterms and the 2020 vote, perhaps there will be more clarity on what that means — and perhaps that “right thing” will come to bear in public policy, which is currently inchoate nationally on marijuana.

Jacksonville ethics panel probes tightening code in light of JEA sale talks

The Jacksonville Ethics Commission legislative subcommittee continued its inquiry Friday into conflicts of interest, transparency issues, and post-employment matters.

The issue has a new urgency in light of the exploration of the sale of JEA, which could potentially offer incentives to outgoing officeholders and candidates.

The discussion included those issues (and corollaries) such as the use of aides by elected officials to handle personal business, as things that need tighter language than what the current ethics code has.

Language regarding soliciting future employment fell under scrutiny also, with a semantic discussion of what it means to “solicit,” and whether that “employment” is primary or secondary.

Likewise, the “revolving door” between the city and a private company that does business with the city, one that has in the past allowed city employees to get paid after leaving public service, was worthy of scrutiny.

“Is there a scenario where someone could leave the city, see something advantageous for them in private,” wondered panel chair Mary Bland Love. “We have young lawyers and staff moving from firm to firm all the time.”

Bans on political solicitation in government premises, asserted panel member Joseph Rogan, are not being enforced by the Supervisor of Elections. Rogan said that in light of that, it might be a good idea to strengthen ethics code language.

Likewise, said Rogan, the lack of an explicit ban on solicitations, via using the title of the office, could constitute misuse of position.

“If you want something done, you should go to a particular lobbyist,” Rogan pointed out as one potential example of abuse (purely a hypothetical), that could be remedied by stronger code language.

City employees acting (again hypothetically) as agents for outside parties dealing with the city was another area of scrutiny.

The relevant code language, committee members agreed, was “hard to read” and nebulous, and in need of an overhaul.

Likewise, consultant positions that are taken by city employees — “moonlighting” — was another area of inquiry.

Client disclosure issues, including city lobbyists working for other clients, and outside counsel (such as that used in the current lawsuit against opioid manufacturers), were spotlighted as needing another draft to tighten language.

As well, tightening of codes, including retaining records in the wake of an ethics investigation, was also a discussion point.

While the Public Records Act forbids destruction of records, the panel discussed potential gaps in its own code, including what evidence must be retained (voicemails, for example) and issues of “decorum” within city agencies.

Jacksonville City Council panel mulls JEA sale

Jacksonville City Council members convened, via a special committee, to discuss the potential sale of JEA on Thursday.

While Mayor Lenny Curry and his political allies have been open to exploring valuation and potential privatization, Council President Anna Brosche and many of her colleagues (including the members of the committee) have been more circumspect about the prospect.

The JEA privatization issue has revealed the deepest divide between Curry’s shop and at least some of the Council over the last two and a half years, and in that context, the special committee was born.

Committee chair John Crescimbeni kicked off the meeting by discussing “mistrust” and “muddying of the waters by all recent events and news stories,” which he wanted to dispel “by putting facts out in front of everybody today.”

Crescimbeni noted that JEA kicked off 123 years ago, as a way of pushing back against exorbitant rates from a private monopoly for street lights, leading to a city power plant and infrastructure.

And now, he noted, the conversation has come full circle.

A JEA representative noted that while water sales continue to increase, power sales have flatlined despite an increased customer base, given increased electrical efficiency. Fron 2007, there has been a 10 percent decline in electric sales, with further attrition forecasted.

Councilman Danny Becton wondered if JEA was “racing toward obsolescence,” given the declining sales on the power side, lest it become “Blockbuster Video when we’re all using DVRs.”

After the meeting, Council President Brosche offered her take, saying that despite declining trends in sales, she finds it difficult to believe there is a day we will be without electricity or water.”

Discussion continued, predicated on the gap between decline in sales and the public mission of the company, before moving on to JEA contributions to city coffers.

JEA contributes $117 million via the JEA agreement, with other annual money (franchise fees and public service tax) pushing the number to $244.8 million.

The meeting left unanswered questions. And showed unresolved faultlines.

One of them: from Brosche regarding the valuation report.

But her questions (including about the “timing of CEO Paul McElroy‘s contract negotiations”) were for JEA leadership, which was not represented in the room, even as former mayoral chief of staff and current JEA executive Kerri Stewart was seen in the mayor’s office minutes before the meeting commenced.

“Everybody’s known this meeting was happening,” Brosche said.

Meanwhile, Finance Chair Garrett Dennis pitched limiting the spending power of the Curry administration, as had been done for the previous administration. He proposed emergency legislation to expedite that.

The suggestion was not rousingly received on the Council dais.

Councilman Becton urged the administration to come before the committee and declare neutrality on the concept of a sale, given the gap between certain council members saying the administration wanted a sale, and Curry and his staffers saying they were exploring the concept.


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