A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 535

A.G. Gancarski

Northeast Florida candidate forum a sparring exhibition without knockout blows

There are relatively few multi-candidate forums in Northeast Florida’s general election season, so the evocatively titled Jacksonville Candidate Forum had a disproportionate importance for candidates seeking to introduce themselves to a general election audience.

One Congressional candidate, Democrat Ges Selmont, running in Florida’s 4th Congressional District, was on hand. Also present: state Sen. Aaron Bean and his general election opponent, Billee Bussard, along with a host of state House candidates.

Between gerrymandering and fundraising, there hasn’t been a lot of drama in most Northeast Florida campaigns. An exception: the high-priced HD 15 swing district battle between Democrat Tracye Polson and Republican Wyman Duggan. However, for these candidates, the forum theoretically offered the even playing field the donor class could do without.

However, as a forum (and not a debate) no knockout blows were on offer. Rather, it was a sparring exhibition: Candidates got 30 seconds to answer two questions, followed by a one-minute closing statement.

Despite the antiseptic format, candidates were able to make some points of note.

HD 12 Republican incumbent Clay Yarborough was put on the spot regarding potential Medicaid expansion. He noted that he would be open to a discussion of expansion that involved work requirements.

Yarborough’s Democratic challenger Tim Yost, when asked about raising the minimum wage, said it should be tied to an average rent in a market.

“$8.25 an hour is not going to get you there,” Yost said, when the median rent is $900 as it is in Jacksonville.

Moving on to HD 15’s donnybrook, Duggan got a build up in the introduction that described what a lobbyist does (a repeated Polson campaign critique of him) without using the word.

Duggan got questions that sidestepped the controversy of the campaign: one addressed veterans’ programs; the other regarded challenges in Florida’ K-12 system.

Duggan did not mention charters, but did describe a desire to bring back vocational education, so that graduates could get a “skilled trade certificate.”

Polson was asked her thoughts on Andrew Gillum‘s proposed corporate tax hike to 7.75 percent.

“97 percent of businesses do not pay corporate income tax,” Polson noted, adding that the tax hike would fund schools.

“That I am in favor of,” Polson said, offering up a quote for a future Duggan mailer.

HD 16’s incumbent Republican Rep. Jason Fischer got an interesting question in which he was asked why he retweeted Jeff Brandes‘ calls for medical marijuana distribution reform.

Fischer noted that cannabis is Schedule 1 and that he voted against the implementation bill “because it created a cartel.”

“We need to look at how government doesn’t create a monopoly,” Fischer said, describing a system where a few operators get wealthy overtly, but at the same time hinting at a reform debate that will animate Tallahassee no matter who is elected Governor.

What chippiness there was, meanwhile, came from a surprising place.

Ges Selmont, running for Congress in CD 4, lamented that Republican incumbent John Rutherford is ducking a debate.

“Why would I give him a platform for his ideas,” Selmont quoted Rutherford, who has a 100-1 cash on hand advantage, as saying.

Rutherford was not present to respond.

One more week: Democrats sue to extend voter registration as hurricane looms

The Florida Democratic Party filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday to extend the Oct. 9 voter registration deadline by one week in areas to be affected by Hurricane Michael.

While Secretary of State Ken Detzner has already extended the deadline by a day via Directive 2018-03, that’s not enough for the FDP.

“Although the Secretary has proposed a single-day registration extension in some counties to accommodate a subset of voters affected by Hurricane Michael, his ‘solution’ is insufficient and confusing. It does not adequately protect the voting rights of Florida citizens who cannot register to vote by the October 9 registration deadline,” the lawsuit contends.

“Voters will face significant hurdles to registration because of the disruption caused by Hurricane Michael. Voters attempting to register online may face internet outages due to the storm,” the suit speculates.

“Thousands of eligible Florida voters who are complying with evacuation requests and preparing for the storm may not have the opportunity to register to vote as a result of Hurricane Michael. Governor Scott and Secretary Detzner have failed to adequately protect the rights of these eligible voters, and should extend the deadline one week in light of Hurricane Michael,” asserted FDP Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo.

As Tuesday progressed, state Rep. Amy Mercado and Carlos G. Smith and state Sen. Victor Torres released statements of support for the party’s stance.

“All that he is being asked to do is extend the voter registration deadline by one week, but so far Governor Scott is refusing to do the right thing,” Torres lamented.

Nikki Fried, the Democrats’ candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, drew parallels between this year and a hurricane that hit two years prior.

“We saw how a registration extension helped in 2016—over 100,000 Floridians registered to vote after the Hurricane, which hit during the first week of October. This situation is no different. Governor Scott should act, just as he did in 2016, and extend the voter registration deadline by one week,” Fried advised.

Thus far, there’s no indication that such action is imminent, pressure from Democrats and a group of left-leaning activist groups (“All Voting Is Local“) notwithstanding.

“Governor Scott is focused on keeping Floridians safe as a major hurricane rapidly approaches our state. Last night, the Governor directed the extension of the voter registration deadline for Supervisors of Elections who are forced to close because of Hurricane Michael. This means that each county will have the same amount of days to register voters,” asserted Scott spox John Tupps.

“The Governor believes that every eligible voter should be able to register to vote and Floridians can go online right now to do so. In fact, nearly 10,000 people have registered to vote online since midnight,” Tupps added.

Republican Party of Florida chair Blaise Ingoglia soon enough had the Governor’s back.

“It is absolutely reprehensible that the Florida Democrats would play political games on the eve of a potentially devastating hurricane, and waste taxpayer money by filing this lawsuit. Governor Scott’s administration has already issued an order to keep voter registration open an extra day to accept paper registrations in the areas affected by the storm,” Ingoglia maintained.

“Only an organization that is playing politics with people’s lives would ask for voter registration to be extended by a full week in this state’s most densely populated Democrat areas, almost nine hours and a time zone away. The Republican Party of Florida calls on Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson to condemn this lawsuit and call it what it is…crony politics,” Ingoglia added.

We will update if such condemnations are issued by the Tallahassee Mayor or the U.S. Senator.

Of the state’s 67 counties, 35 are under a state of emergency. These include Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa. Walton, Holmes, Washington, Bay. Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf, Gadsden, Liberty, Franklin, Leon, Wakulla, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Hamilton, Suwannee, Lafayette, Dixie, Columbia, Gilchrist, Levy, Citrus, Bradford, Pasco, Hernando, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Alachua, Union and Baker.


Ron DeSantis campaign brings in operative Tim Baker for final stretch

With four weeks before the primary, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis brought on yet another seasoned hand for his campaign’s stretch run.

Florida Politics learned Monday evening that operative Tim Baker joined the campaign last week in a senior leadership role, offering strategic and political guidance.

Baker, one of a series of recent staff moves in DeSantis World that included bringing on campaign manager Susie Wiles and communications specialist Sarah Bascom, asserted that the campaign is “starting to hit stride” and “we are all working like crazy.”

Baker, an operative in his mid-30s with a Florida State law degree, is making a full-circle move with this latest gig: in 2012, not too long after joining the Data Targeting shop, Baker was a part of DeSantis’ first successful run for Congress.

At that point, DeSantis was a political neophyte, learning the mechanics of a campaign. And Baker was one of many steadying hands.

“We advise Ron on steps his campaign should take. We have expertise running congressional elections, and doing it successfully,” Baker said. “If that makes us insiders, I guess we will wear that label.” Baker told the Florida Times-Union.

Soon enough, Baker was acknowledged as a rising star in Florida politics as one of the top oppo researchers in the game.

In quotes, however, he was less interested in self-promotion and more in extolling his bond with his clients.

“I learned in the Marine Corps to never never never give up… loyalty is key,” Baker said in 2013.

Baker and frequent collaborator Brian Hughes turned their attention to the 2015 municipal elections in Jacksonville, a watershed campaign in which former Republican Party of Florida chair Lenny Curry defeated Mayor Alvin Brown.

This was notable for many reasons; among them, Brown, even after a rough and tumble campaign, still had approval over 50 percent even in defeat.

Baker’s polling was key to that race, observed current DeSantis campaign manager Susie Wiles.

“He is so precise,” Wiles told the Jacksonville Daily Record.

Beyond being precise, Baker also knew how to keep his own counsel, Wiles observed regarding a pension reform referendum campaign she chaired and Baker polled for.

“The last time I checked, I was co-chair of the pension campaign (Yes for Jacksonville),” Wiles said. “At no time did he (Baker) ever share data with me.”

The strategy for that pension campaign is one that may prove useful to remember as DeSantis attempts to flip a poll trend that has shown Gillum up (sometimes outside the margin of error).

Key was a Bakerian deep-dive data operation, with specific appeals made to medium-propensity voters, to female homeowners between the ages of 35 and 46, and to other blocs of voters, where support could be firmed up and maximized.

One can already see evidence of such appeals in the DeSantis campaign, which smartly and in a timely fashion went up on TV last week to pillory Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for botched storm response after 2016’s Hurricane Hermine.

Such ads can be seen as part of a larger strategy to define Gillum in the “traditional major party candidate” way. Baker notes that Gillum emerged unscathed from an oppo-free Democratic primary, while DeSantis was “pounded in the primary,” as support from President Donald Trump drove a narrative that went well beyond Florida borders.

The choice, Baker believes, will come down to one of “leadership” (DeSantis) versus a “feel-good choice without substance.”

Baker believes DeSantis will find a way to win.

“He has always overcome long political odds,” Baker noted, remembering that first race, when DeSantis was outraised against a field of sitting officials, but still “stomped the field.”

“His work ethic is unmatched,” said Baker, who himself is known for an ambitious portfolio of candidates and causes that has made him an increasingly valuable commodity throughout the country.

Randy DeFoor pads coffers in Jacksonville City Council bid

In the race to succeed Republican Jim Love on the Jacksonville City Council, Love’s fellow Republican Randy DeFoor expanded her cash on hand lead after September receipts.

But in what could be a preview of a runoff election, Democrat Sunny Gettinger is keeping pace.

As of the end of September, DeFoor had roughly $157,000 on hand between her campaign account and her Safe and Prosperous Jacksonville political committee.

DeFoor brought in $10,050 of new money to the campaign account, and an additional $5,000 to her political committee.

First Coast Energy was the big donor this cycle; its CEO Aubrey Edge is a supporter of Mayor Lenny Curry, and DeFoor is aligned with that political operation.

Gettinger, meanwhile, saw declining receipts for the fourth straight month. Her September haul of $4,245 was the slowest month of her campaign, giving her over $96,000 on hand.

Her key donors last month included connected local businessman Walt Bussells and Jon Heymann, the longtime leader of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.

DeFoor and Gettinger are better positioned financially than the two male candidates in the race, who have yet to report September numbers.

Republican Henry Mooneyhan had roughly $12,000 on hand at the end of August. Democrat Jimmy Peluso had roughly $36,000 at his disposal.

Jacksonville municipal races see a first election in March. If no one wins that blanket primary with a majority, the top two finishers move on, regardless of party, to the May general election.

Bring hurricane relief items to campaign stops, Ron DeSantis asks

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis isn’t leaving the campaign trail despite Hurricane Michael approaching the Panhandle.

However, he will be using his upcoming events on the peninsula to marshal supplies from supporters for the storm-impacted, as the barometer drops and the October Surprise of this campaign becomes ever more imminent.

At events in Tampa on Tuesday, as well as Jacksonville and Orlando Wednesday, DeSantis will be collecting supplies at what are being billed as “regional veterans’ events” by the campaign.

“The DeSantis Regional Veterans Events will be refocused to also collect supplies, including toiletries, food, batteries, and more, in order to assist those Floridians impacted by the storm,” the campaign asserted Tuesday.

The DeSantis campaign/hurricane relief swing comes at a time when his opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, will be under scrutiny for management of the city during the storm and its aftermath.

Hurricane Hermine of 2016 has proven fateful for Gillum. Ads on the air have spotlighted Tallahassee’s delay in using non-union power restoration resources, as part of a portfolio of attacks on Gillum’s mayoralty.

In 2016, as power restoration delays mounted, the candidate admitted that “I know we made mistakes — I can’t name them all right now — but we’re working really, really hard.”

Gillum will be under a national spotlight. And Ron DeSantis will be waiting in the wings to establish contrast.

Jacksonville fulfills terms of DOJ disability rights settlement

After over five years of work by the City of Jacksonville to meet Americans with Disabilities Act goals, the city got the all-clear from the Department of Justice on Friday.

The DOJ Civil Rights division wrote city officials, noting that the city had fulfilled the terms of its voluntary, pre-litigative Project Civic Access agreement.

The agreement, per a 2013 post by the Justice Department, was wide-ranging:

“During the compliance review, the Department reviewed 64 of the city’s facilities. The agreement requires the city to correct deficiencies identified at the 64 facilities and requires Jacksonville to review and correct identified deficiencies at hundreds of additional facilities.”

Those facilities had all been built or modified since 1992, and included libraries, community and senior centers, a boat ramp, fire stations, athletic fields and sports complexes, City Hall, parks, the Jacksonville Zoo, detention and corrections facilities, parking garages, and polling places.

The city had to improve accessibility, ranging from parking to drinking fountains.

Efforts for Braille and sign-language translations and translators likewise were mandated. Barriers at polling places and to emergency services likewise had to be removed, and sidewalks and other public infrastructure required work also.

There could be other issues not addressed in the 2013 agreement, per the Justice Department, which stresses that closing the agreement does not mean the city is perfectly compliant.

Florida TaxWatch on Amendments: No on 1, Yes on 2

A simple message emerged from Florida TaxWatch on a Monday media call regarding two amendments backed by the Florida Legislature.

No on 1. Yes on 2.

The watchdog group opposes Amendment 1, which would increase the homestead exemption by $25,000 to $125,000, asserting that the proposal penalizes everyone and benefits a few people.

Amendment 2, which would permanently extend a cap of 10 percent on yearly increases of property taxes on parcels and structures without a homestead exemption, is more agreeable, however. TaxWatch supports Amendment 2, which would extend a ten-year-old cap approved by voters by referendum in 2008.

TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said Amendment 1 was not “real tax reform,” but a “tax shift.”

“Many municipalities and counties are already increasing their millage rates to offset if this amendment should pass,” Calabro warned.

“Homes valued $100,000,” Calabro noted, could even feel a “tax bite.”

Regarding Amendment 2, Calabro noted that if the amendment fails, renters and property owners alike could feel the impact.

“Non-homesteaded property will suddenly be assessed at full market value,” Calabro warned.

“The only way to avoid a massive property tax increase is to vote Yes on Amendment 2,” Calabro said, affirming that the amendment would maintain the status quo.

Amendments require 60 percent support to pass. These both appear to be on track.

Per a Florida Chamber of Commerce poll released earlier this month, Amendment 1 is poised to pass, polling at 60 percent, with the rest opposed or unsure. Amendment 2 has the support of 50 percent of voters surveyed, while another 25 percent plan to vote against the measure and 24 percent remain unsure.

Pharma concerns power Clay Yarborough fundraising

Freshmen Jacksonville-area Republican state Rep. Clay Yarborough continued to maintain a strong cash lead over his Democratic challenger as September ended.

Yarborough, running in Southside Jacksonville’s Republican-plurality House District 12, brought in $6,000 between Sept. 15 and 28.

Of that haul, $4,000 came from the biggest companies in Big Pharma: Eli LillyBristol Myers SquibbPfizer and Astrazeneca all cut the Arlington Republican checks.

All told, he has raised $171,225 and has $103,918 of that on hand.

Yarborough faces Democrat Tim Yost, who raised $610 in the same period. All told, Yost has $11,225 on hand of the $17,558 he has raised.

Yarborough made news last week for becoming the regional head of the Yes on 3 campaign, designed to make expansions of casino gambling contingent on citizen referendums.

Aaron Bean beefs up cash lead in re-election bid

Republican state Sen. Aaron Bean, whose Senate District 4 encompasses all of Nassau and part of Duval County, continued to pad his campaign account during the last full week of September receipts.

From Sept. 15-28, Bean raised $22,200 between his campaign account and that of his political committee, Florida Conservative Alliance.

Among the donors on the committee side: Florida Blue and the Florida Pharmacist Political Committee.

The campaign account donors included Southern Gardens Citrus, U.S. Sugar, and Comcast.

Bean has $89,908 in the committee account and $107,567 in the campaign account, giving him $197,475 to work with during the campaign stretch run.

Bean maintains comfortable leads over his opponents. Democrat Billee Bussard has $6,558 on hand after raising $5,760 in the same two week period. Libertarian Joanna Tavares does not fundraise and has roughly $40 on hand.

The district is nearly half Republican. With just over 360,381 registered voters, 174,580 Republicans and 100,307 Democrats call SD 4 home. The remaining voters are either NPA or third party, including 1,466 registered Libertarians.

Bean last faced a competitive general election in 2012, when he defeated former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg 62 percent to 38 percent.

Cord Byrd expands cash lead in HD 11 re-election bid

Freshman Jacksonville-area Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd continued to maintain strong cash leads over his Democratic challenger as September closed.

Byrd, whose majority-Republican House District 11 includes coastal Duval and all of Nassau County, brought in $8,100 of new money between Sept. 15 and 28, pushing his campaign account over $49,000 on hand. Comcast and Duke Energy PAC were among the $1,000 donors.

Byrd also has over $10,000 in his 1845 political committee.

His general election opponent, Nathcelly Rohrbaugh, mostly kept pace with Byrd when it came to late September receipts, bringing in $4,442 of new money, pushing his campaign account over $16,000 on hand.

Labor money, including from a Sheet Metal Workers local and the North Florida Central Labor Council, added to Rohrbaugh’s haul.

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