For the third straight year, Florida Politics is attempting to predict how politics in the 904 will go.
And hopefully the predictions will go better than they did the previous two years.
2016’s predictions were as reliable as a coin flip: Six right, six wrong.
2017 saw six wrong… and four right.
Batting .400 is fine for a baseball player; however, it indicates room for improvement in terms of political prognostication.
Without further adieu, let’s see if the third time is the charm.
1. Al Lawson will win Democratic primary in CD 5
In 2016, Al Lawson took advantage of Corrine Brown having legal problems and a concomitant inability to fundraise, and won a primary election in a re-configured Congressional District 5.
In 2018, Lawson looks poised to defend his crown — with a Jacksonville challenger, at this writing, being slow to materialize.
While former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has teased a candidacy, Lawson has a number of factors in his favor.
Incumbency, and the fundraising networks that allows, works in Lawson’s favor. As does playing ball with the Jacksonville business community. And working well with his Jacksonville House colleague, Republican John Rutherford.
Lawson had a slow third quarter, but carried $97,000 cash on hand into the final three months of the year; it’s not as if he’s been dynamic in fundraising up until now. But Lawson has the western part of the district on lock. Brown’s challenge: to engage the donor class, and to convince skeptical Jacksonville Democrats that he’s for real.
Because make no mistake — Brown would have to sweep Jacksonville Democrats, and drive high turnout.
Brown, however, may have another option.
2. Democratic challenger will emerge for Lenny Curry
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is polling well, at least according to a University of North Florida survey in the fall.
Sixty-nine percent approval citywide, 57 percent approval with Democrats and 59 percent with African-Americans.
So it’s all clear for his re-election bid, right?
Democrats hold a registration advantage. And there is a lot of time between now and March 2019.
One worry — which may surprise some — is that Alvin Brown makes another bid for City Hall.
The case: Brown was above 50 percent favorables even when he lost the election, a loss that had much less to do with Brown than it did with the shambolic, disengaged campaign on his behalf.
Brown’s messaging was a mess, with the mayor accepting cataclysmic help from the Florida Democratic Party, and taking positions that were out of their playbook — and out of step with the Jacksonville electorate — such as a push for an increased minimum wage.
Brown was ill-prepared to deal with realities as a result of not being true to his messaging, such as a shot up school bus on the evening of a debate.
All that said, he lost by fewer than three points.
While those close to Brown tell us that he’s looking at Congress rather than City Hall, there are those in Curry’s orbit who don’t want a rematch.
3. FEMA $ delay will lead to hard budget choices
As hard as it is to believe, the Donald Trump administration may not have it all together when it comes to FEMA.
Per the Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville is waiting on $85 million from FEMA for Hurricane Irma. That’s added to an additional $27 million the city is waiting on from Hurricane Matthew.
Is the city sitting pretty? Depends on how you look at it.
While the city has roughly $200 million in fund balance, per the Times-Union, the reality is that even before Irma, senior staffers from Lenny Curry’s office were talking of the need to boost the emergency reserve — as the city’s bond rating was capped below AAA by low reserve levels.
Of course, that’s not the whole story.
Part of the issue: high fixed costs, despite pension reform.
Another part of the issue: a surfeit of tangible steps to deal with climate change, particularly salient after a year when epic flooding hit Jacksonville after Irma — weeks after Harvey doused Houston with a year’s worth of rainfall.
Another budget without real attention to storm budgeting — and infrastructure — will lead to consequences down the road.
The feds aren’t going to help.
4. John Rutherford waltzes to re-election
The Duval Democrats are making some interesting moves, but one of them doesn’t seem to be fielding a viable candidate against John Rutherford for re-election.
Rutherford is a nice guy and an enthusiastic advocate for the Trump agenda — which, at least conceivably, could make him worth targeting.
However, Duval Dems don’t seem interested in fielding a candidate — like Nancy Soderberg in Congressional District 6 — who can challenge him.
Maybe it’s not a winnable seat. But a serious candidate should emerge. But hasn’t yet.
5. JEA privatization push gets ugly
The cleanest distillation of the Lenny Curry administration’s case for JEA privatization was made in Sunshine State News weeks back, by South Florida journalist Allison Nielsen.
The city could get a lump sum of money by selling the utility to outside investors. But there would be consequences, including the loss of the near $115 million JEA contribution, and property tax revenues. Not to mention how accountable an outside operator would be to Jacksonville politicians.
JEA also carries debt, and has been dinged by Moody’s for an unwise investment in nuclear power, per the Florida Times-Union.
In short, there are a lot of caveats.
6. Serious challenges for City Council incumbents
Three to watch: Anna Brosche, Katrina Brown and Garrett Dennis.
All three were elected in 2015; all three will face serious re-election challenges, essentially because they pissed someone off.
Brosche has sparred with Mayor Curry on a number of issues, including but not limited to pension reform and the Kids’ Hope Alliance.
Brosche also upset police union head Steve Zona in commenting on disproportionate stops of African-American jaywalkers; Zona, on Twitter, advised Brosche to clean up the City Council.
By that he means Councilwoman Katrina Brown.
Brown accused Jacksonville police of racially profiling a Council colleague during a traffic stop. She would not walk it back, despite national Fraternal Order of Police leadership showing at Council to force her hand.
Expect FOP candidates to come after both women’s Council seats. A retired cop, perhaps, for each.
Councilman Dennis, meanwhile, has been (along with the aforementioned Brosche) the sole source of antagonism for the Mayor’s office.
He clowned Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa during budget hearings, and fought Mayor Curry on issue after issue over the summer.
He will be a target of the Mayor’s political operation.
7. Another hurricane impacts NE FL
As the Governor likes to say, I’m not a scientist, but with water temperatures warming up farther and farther north every year, odds look good for a third storm year in a row. If you are investing in generators, beat the rush.
8. Lenny Curry distances self from Donald Trump as scandal builds
Mayor Curry spent a lot of 2016 and 2017 answering for Trumpiness. The best — or worst, depending on how you feel — example was when questions came in at a presser about the Paris Accord.
Curry has yet to actually have to say President Donald Trump is wrong about something. But conditions are changing.
Robert Mueller is for real. And so are conditions that are conducive to a wave election. And the utter frustration with having one’s own agenda hijacked by some idiotic tweet or soundbite from the White House.
Trump has, by and large, been a bust for Jacksonville. See the above section on FEMA money. Even when a Republican mayor walks the line, Jacksonville is still shorted.
In 2018, Curry will have occasion to put distance between himself and the president. On some issue, somewhere.
The base might not like it, but it will happen. Trump is only becoming more erratic, in terms of messaging, as he sits on Pennsylvania Avenue.
9. Murders continue spike, but no challenge to Mike Williams
Murders are up for the third straight year — at this writing, the final number isn’t in, but it is at least 131.
Last year saw 118 homicides.
This, despite additions of ShotSpotter and NIBIN — a national database that takes fingerprints of bullets to find killers. And additions of new police officers and equipment in the last three city budgets.
Ambitious politicians would make a real run at Williams. However, there don’t seem to be many of them.
Williams has consolidated support in the JSO, and has a $300,000+ campaign nest egg.
Thus, even if murders go up again in 2018 — a safe bet, given that there is no real change in conditions or legislation that drive them — Williams is on the glide path to re-election.
10. Jaguars win the Super Bowl
In this year of inverted reality, the Jacksonville Jaguars are as good as any team in the league. Even with wide receivers plucked from obscurity.
The playoffs — Buffalo at home, then Pittsburgh on the road — shape up well for them.
And the Patriots are beatable. So too are the Vikings — or any NFC team.
Now, the question: do they remake this classic?