A.G. Gancarski – Page 7 – Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski

EMILY’s List backs Nancy Soderberg for Congress

In another sign that Ambassador Nancy Soderberg has all but locked the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, EMILY’s List endorsed her Wednesday.

Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, released the following statement:

“A former deputy national security adviser to President Clinton and ambassador to the United Nations, Nancy Soderberg knows what it means to take on tough jobs. She has used her positions to advocate change, move our country forward, and defend the rights of our citizens. In her current role as a professor at the University of North Florida and a small business owner, she is deeply invested in her community and will do what it takes to ensure that the working families of the 6th District have a voice in Washington. Nancy will fight for access to quality health care, affordable higher education, and commonsense policies that will protect our environment,” Schriock asserted.

“It’s time for a representative who will actually fight for working families, which is why EMILY’s List is strongly supporting Nancy Soderberg for Congress,” Schriock added.

“I am honored to receive the important endorsement and support of EMILY’s List,” said Soderberg.

“EMILY’s List’s endorsement and phenomenal track record of increasing the number of women elected to office demonstrates our campaign’s continued momentum towards victory,” Soderberg added.

Soderberg, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee in the district that runs from southern St. Johns County through Volusia, is showing momentum in her campaign to flip the seat currently held by Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Freedom Caucus Republican now running for Governor.

Soderberg has shown momentum since entering the race in summer 2017. She raised $207,949 last quarter, putting her above the $544,000 mark. She had $376,000 cash on hand at the beginning of the year.


Jacksonville City Councilors link septic woes to business relocation, blight

Not for the first time in recent months, Jacksonville City Council members again discussed septic tank woes in the Northwest Quadrant.

This time, however, a potential legislative remedy is in play.

Budget hearings in August saw multiple members, including Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, lament the slow pace of septic phaseout. $6 million a year is being allocated (via the current JEA Agreement that runs until 2021), split between JEA and the city, for a project that could cost anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion.

With JEA privatization or sale now a hot topic, Council members Brown and Brown, along with Sam NewbyGarrett Dennis and Reggie Gaffney, want to codify commitment to the septic tank phaseout project, via a bill (2018-76) that would obligate JEA to run sewer and water lines throughout the city.

That bill, which would secure in principle a long-awaited retrofitting of these areas, is due to be heard in committees next week.

But the Council members think more needs to be done, via the Northwest Jacksonville Trust Fund.

Councilman Brown noted that businesses are avoiding the Northwest Quadrant in part because of incomplete septic phaseout, and businesses that are in the area are getting letters from the State Attorney threatening them with shutdown if issues aren’t rectified.

“We don’t have an influx of businesses running to do business in our community, in part because of these challenges. I can’t get a business on U.S. 1, a major thoroughfare in our city,” Councilman Brown noted.

Councilman Brown noted the paradox: the Health Department and State Attorney enforcing standards that wouldn’t be an issue if the city had fulfilled its infrastructural obligations.

Councilwoman Brown noted that septic tank replacement can cost a business up to $25,000, which can wipe out reserves and force a business to relocate to areas with proper infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of failing septic tanks in our districts,” Councilwoman Brown said, advising joint legislation to move $6 million from the Northwest Jacksonville Trust Fund to remedy the issue.

“We’re talking about economic development all the time, but you can’t even keep the businesses in the area [because of septic issues]. We don’t need to sleep on this,” Brown said. “We have no program for [current] business owners.”

Current fund guidelines limit disbursements to new businesses, and provide just 10 percent of the project cost, said a representative from the Mayor’s Office. Code would have to be waived for this program, which a city lawyer said needed to be clarified as part of the legislation.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, fired up, said the time for talk is over and the time for legislation to move money for these purposes is now.

Compounding the impact of these issues: low valuation on these properties can make it not worth the commitment.

A representative from the State Attorney’s Office noted referrals come from the Department of Health or FDEP; he said the number of them was not “significant,” and that they are likely because the septic tank in question is broken and neighbors complain.

Sometimes, these complaints rise to the level of criminal violations, he said. While incarceration is possible, the SAO rep expressed confidence that hadn’t happened.

Councilman Sam Newby was concerned by the “verbiage” of letters from the State Attorney, noting that a 60 day jail sentence can be a death sentence for a small business.

The particulars of the legislation will have to be worked out, regarding caps on assistance levels, businesses that will be helped, and terms of loans and grants.

Kim Daniels prays for Donald Trump, against warlocks and witches

State Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat, got national publicity on Monday for the kind of prayer that no other Democrat in the state would deliver.

Namely, as Patheos observed, Daniels delivered with “rants against witches” and a prayer for President Donald Trump.

“God, I lift up President Donald Trump before you,” Daniels intoned during a daybreak sermon off the shoulder of an interstate. “I plead the blood over him. I plead the blood over his family.”

“Over Capitol Hill, over the White House … wherever that first family is travelling in Jesus’ name,” Daniels observed, “over the office of the President of the United States will not be disrespected.”

Daniels inveighed against “witches and warlocks … trying to bring confusion to this great man,” calling for them to  — appropriately enough — be “fired.”

“God, when it comes to the place where witches are bold enough to come out and declare that they will have authority over who’s the President of the United States, I think it’s time for the saints of God to take a radical position, and we send every curse back to the vortexes of Hell where they came from, in the name of Jesus,” Daniels contended.

“We thank you God for Donald Trump. We thank you for his family. We thank you for his possessions,” the Representative continued.

Daniels has made a habit of praying for Presidents.

Her prayer for President Barack Obama, documented in Charisma, was less salutary and more skeptical than the tribute to Trump.

“Lord, expose the work of every witch, sorcerer, spiritualist or person from the dark side operating through his cabinet members or through anyone else closely associated with him. We block the power of the influence of the Yorùbá religion and all other groups of black people who worship their ancestors, in Jesus’ name. We put barriers around the United States that will bind and block the witchcraft coming from Kenya to influence our president in Jesus’ name. Let the power of every dedication of his past be broken, in Jesus’ name,” Daniels urged.

“We break every soul tie and vow that has been established between him and Harvard, secret societies and the Illuminati,” Daniels added.

Daniels, per another blog, once said that she wouldn’t vote for Obama for a billion dollars; however, that archive apparently was scrubbed.

Florida political observers, of course, recall Daniels for her commentary on current events.

Her most celebrated declaration in recent months: an October contention that “prophets foretold” Hurricane Irma.

We asked Daniels about these comments, and her responses were worthy of quotation in full. To sum, she stands by the claim.

“I wouldn’t post it on Facebook if I didn’t believe it,” Daniels said, feet away from where a massive relief fund was being rolled out for the storm she said prophets knew would happen.

Ratings methodology change leads to bond upgrade for Jacksonville

Some good news for Jacksonville came Monday via another bond upgrade.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services announced an uptick in the special revenue bond rating to ‘AA’ from ‘AA-’.

“This latest upgrade further demonstrates our continued and strong focus on fiscal responsibility is making a difference for our citizens,” said Mayor Lenny Curry. “We continue to work hard to enhance the City’s standing with investors by doing all we can to ensure the City’s financial stability for years to come. Improved credit ratings can save our city millions of dollars on future debt issues by lowering borrowing costs, which is good for taxpayers.”

Per the media release: “Citing a change to their ratings methodology, S&P said they now consider both non-ad valorem and general fund pledges as equal since both are dependent on the successful operation of the City. The City of Jacksonville’s special revenue pledge is a non-ad valorem pledge, and backs $1.027 billion of the City’s debt outstanding as of Sept. 30, 2017.”

This is another data point for the city’s narrative of sound financial management, one that has been challenged by external sources.

In October, a Bloomberg analysis cited Jacksonville’s high fixed costs as a warning sign: Jacksonville has the highest fixed cost ratio (31.6 percent) of any city with over 250,000 residents.

“When you measure those fixed costs against a city’s operating budget, no major city is as embattled as Jacksonville, Florida. In the city of 881,000 people, fixed costs are 31.4 percent of expenses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s driven by pensions, which made up almost 18 percent of expenses in fiscal 2016,” the report says.

Curry administration spox Marsha Oliver said that analysis was “inaccurate and overstate our employer pension contributions. It appears that they have included JEA’s pension expenses in our figure. This is flawed and does not provide an accurate comparison to other cities.”

Last summer’s successful sale of $147 million worth of bonds was described by Jacksonville’s chief administrative officer, Sam Mousa, in August as people “scrambling to buy” Jacksonville bonds, “a great indication of how great those bonds are.”

“The ratings agencies did well in looking at our history, stability, willingness to pay… these are good, stable bonds to invest in,” Mousa said.

Jay Fant on CNN: ‘We’ve seen enough from Sheriff Israel’

Rep. Jay Fant, a Republican candidate for State Attorney, renewed his calls for Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to step down in the wake of reportage that deputies stood down, as did the school resource officer, in a mass shooting that killed 17 in Parkland earlier this month.

Fant, a signatory on a letter from House Speaker Richard Corcoran on this matter, made his case on CNN Monday morning.

“We’ve seen enough from Sheriff Israel,” Fant said, noting that Israel said he demonstrated “amazing leadership” but has not demonstrated accountability in the wake of the stand down of one to four officers.

Gov. Rick Scott has avoided calls to remove Israel, instead tasking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate.

Fant did not pan this move.

“The governor is keenly sensitive to what is happening in Broward, that’s why he launched the FDLE investigation, but it’s not going to get better for Sheriff Israel, it’s going to get worse,” Fant said, referring to expected damning findings from the Coral Springs Police Department’s investigation of the incident.

Fant wants an independent prosecutor to look into what happened, he said.

In the wake of the Parkland homicides, Fant has been on national television with some frequency. He had a segment on “Meet the Press Daily” on MSNBC late last week.

Former aide to Kim Daniels to primary Tracie Davis

The intrigue continues in Jacksonville-area Democratic primaries, with yet another incumbent set to face a primary challenge in 2018.

The latest development is in House District 13, where incumbent Rep. Tracie Davis will face a challenge from Roshanda Jackson, a former district secretary for state Rep. Kim Daniels.

Davis, who got the Democratic nomination after Reggie Fullwood withdrew in 2016 because of campaign finance malfeasance and wire fraud issues, finished a close second to the formerly powerful Jacksonville politician in the primary.

However, Fullwood’s withdrawal set the stage for Davis’ entry, with a “vote Fullwood to elect Davis” campaign propelling her to a 14 point victory against Republican opponent Mark Griffin.

Jackson said that she is not “running against” Davis, whom she doesn’t know. And she says that “no elected official has encouraged [her] to run.” And she takes pains to note that she doesn’t want her bid for office to be conflated with that of Daniels.

“I hope the race is peaceful,” Jackson said.

Davis, when asked about the primary challenge, noted that she is focused on the Legislative Session, with gun safety and school hardening bills among her priorities, and will turn her election to the campaign after Session.

This filing comes just weeks after Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown launched his primary challenge to Senate Minority Leader Designate Audrey Gibson.

A persistent narrative has surfaced that Brown was put up to running by Mayor Lenny Curry, which both Brown and Curry deny.

Democratic Party insiders don’t discount that narrative, but also note that another source of these primary challenges may be the post-Corrine Brown struggle for primacy in the Jacksonville Democratic machine.

‘Open government task force’ bill to be introduced to Jacksonville City Council Tuesday

Via 2018-133, Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche seeks to establish a task force to look at transparency in local government.

The bill will be on Tuesday’s Council agenda.

“The Task Force on Open Government” will “undertake an in-depth review of Jacksonville’s legislative process and the methods by which the public accesses government” and  “make recommendations for how the City of Jacksonville can be more open and accessible to the public.”

There was a potential sticking point between the Council President and the Mayor’s Office: “One cycle emergency passage of this legislation is requested. The nature of the emergency is that the committee’s reporting date is no later than June 30, 2018 and time is of the essence in order to allow the task force to convene, organize and accomplish its work in a thorough and thoughtful manner to meet that deadline.”

On Thursday, Brian Hughes, current Chief of Staff for Mayor Lenny Curry, noted in a memo that he had some issues with that emergency timing.

“This topic is related to our administration’s steadfast commitment to following all laws and regulations regarding ethics and sunshine. We always stand ready to consider ways to ensure transparency is achieved,” Hughes wrote in a memo.

Hughes’ principal objection: Brosche’s desire to expedite the creation of the task force.

She “intends to ask council to Consider legislation for creating the commission via a single meeting “in and out” basis … it seems contradictory and lacking in transparency for legislation that celebrates the 5 week cycle to be considered in such a rushed manner without committee input or multiple opportunities for the public to weigh in with their opinions and concerns.”

Hughes added that, “however worthy the commission and its charge, I think this is a troubling breach of the precedent that she herself has cited as an important tool for citizen participation.”

Brosche told us Thursday that ultimately it would be the Council decision whether the bill is what is called “in and out legislation.”

By Friday, her position had evolved, per an email to Ali Korman Shelton, head of intergovernmental affairs for the administration.

“I understand that the Administration is requesting you to speak with all my colleagues regarding the Administration’s desire to ensure the resolution I filed on Wednesday creating a Task Force on Open Government travel the full legislative cycle (versus the 1-cycle emergency under which it was crafted; not an in and out emergency),” Brosche wrote.

“While my desire was to allow the Task Force the fullest possible time to fulfill the charge by June 30, 2018 while still allowing my colleagues the opportunity to discuss and deliberate the creation of a task force to help us serve the citizens more effectively, two fewer weeks will not jeopardize the work of the task force,” Brosche said.

Brosche has been one of the more skeptical people on City Council regarding JEA sale exploration, and there has been some thought that the open government task force was a means to explore, and perhaps submarine, moves in that direction.

Other divisions of Jacksonville’s consolidated government are scrutinizing how business is conducted.

Spotlighting the JEA sale exploration running parallel to the 2019 elections and temptations for termed out pols, Ethics Director Carla Miller has suggested an overhaul of the city’s ethics code relative to lobbying, dark money, “the revolving door” between legislative and administrative jobs, and other attempts to peddle and exert influence.

For Lenny Curry’s team, privatization of public resources is not a new concept

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry took office in 2015, and even before he officially took over in July, there were discussions of reforms of government services.

His transition committees discussed some concepts, and by the time Curry’s team settled into office, explorations continued on a conceptual level of privatizing or otherwise reforming the way services were contracted to improve ROI.

By the end of 2015, there was a clear understanding that the Curry administration was thinking along these lines. (In fact, privatization was one of this writer’s predictions for what would happen in 2016).

Former New York City Deputy Mayor Steve Goldsmith, one of America’s foremost experts on and exponents of municipal privatization, began communicating with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

Goldsmith-style strategies have been credited with driving the Chamber Republican-driven boom in Oklahoma City by City Journal. OKC was the locale for a Jax Chamber Leadership Trip in late 2015.

By December 2015, Mousa met with members of Jacksonville’s City Council, and privatization was discussed, via “scrutinizing” department budgets, looking at what services are required, and a comparison to the private sector providing some services.

Mousa also noted in that meeting, regarding outsourcing and privatization, that there was a bill years ago to privatize garbage services. It was quashed in council when they buckled under pressure from employees and families.

In the writing business, that’s what we call foreshadowing.

This month, Curry’s office has been under a political firestorm for exploring privatization, as conceptually discussed years ago, and as discussed relative to JEA by key Curry supporter Tom Petway as he left the board in 2017.

The sticking point had to do with explorations of JEA privatization: specifically, requests for proposals for, as Council auditor Kyle Billy put it, “Financial Advisory Services that would be needed to solicit bids to purchase JEA, evaluate those bids, assist city staff in negotiations, and assist in bringing the transaction to financial and commercial close.”

Some members of Council have been in high dudgeon over this.

Mousa, for his part, frames the exploration as nothing new, and nothing particular to JEA.

“For the last two years,” Mousa wrote in an email to Billy, “the Administration has been approached by private equity providers and affiliated operating companies interested in either monetizing our City public infrastructure or entering into public/private partnerships for new City infrastructures. Infrastructure such as parking garages, airport, seaport, bridges, roadways and various other City public infrastructure have been presented for consideration.”

In other words, the concepts explored with Goldsmith are coming closer to fruition. Though one misconception of privatization is a transfer of ownership: in many cases, leases and public-private partnerships on operation of facilities or functions are, at least conceptually, possible.

In a conversation Friday, Curry defended the exploration of valuations, as “exploratory, on the record, has been for a couple of years,” and as a potential “opportunity to maximize tax dollars.”

The most extreme and visible example, of course, the valuation of JEA, which some council members have equated to having put up for sale already.

Curry’s take: that “we don’t know the value until we ask it, and how do you know if you’re afraid to ask questions.”

Some council members have said that the exploration of JEA privatization was a way of spackling over a lack of revenue to cover pension costs down the road. Jacksonville, tax-averse compared to peer cities, also faces high fixed costs and reserve levels too low to allow further improvement in the municipal bond ratings.

Curry “rejects the premise that we don’t have what we need to invest in priorities,” citing the current capital improvement budget as an example of the city’s sound financial footing.

Rather, those familiar with the thinking of the administration see explorations of privatization of certain services as an acknowledgment of the evolution of business and infrastructural models.

For example, in the case of JEA, electrical grids in this region were a patchwork of public utilities 50 years ago; today, big private entities surround JEA’s service region, and those entities have shareholder incentives to work effectively and quickly in delivering product to consumers.

When asked if electricity would be delivered differently in this region if JEA were to be privatized substantially, Curry said “public or private, I don’t envision things looking different.”

That is, if discussions got to that point. The administration has been consistent all along in saying that the City Council ultimately ratifies contracts, not the mayor’s office.

And in that process, protections could be rendered.

Rate freezes, protecting ratepayers, could be a negotiation point. So could protecting employees, keeping them on city pension plans and leasing their contracts to private operators.

Another consideration regarding JEA specifically: the leveling off of demand. This has been a concern in board meetings, and will continue to accelerate, especially on the electrical side.

Anheuser-Busch, for example, has figured out how to recycle water for use in its bottling plant. Elon Musk and others are exploring ways to use solar to get off the grid. It follows that companies and other big-ticket users will follow suit as the technology price point becomes more attractive.

Decades away? Or years away? It’s happening, regardless, and that will affect the JEA Contribution ($116.1 million, at last count), as richer ratepayers leave the system, which will be funded more and more by people who can’t get off the grid.

A recent move to privatization in Puerto Rico was extolled by the conservative Manhattan Institute recently.

Though direct parallels between Jacksonville’s functional system and the tragicomic PREPA probably shouldn’t be drawn, the article distills the case for privatization neatly.

“International evidence shows that privatized energy companies are more efficient than their publicly-owned counterparts. Reasons for outperformance are relatively straightforward, and center on the different incentives of government versus private-sector owners. Management is considerably more disciplined in achieving efficient operation when facing oversight from shareholders that seek to maximize the value of the enterprise rather than achieving diffuse and potentially conflicting social goals,” the Insitute asserts.

As well, “commercial owners can bring with them superior technical and managerial prowess. The privatization process sees those companies best placed to operate the utility able to deliver the highest bid and secure ownership. The market for corporate control then maintains a constant discipline on management to meet industry best practices, through the threat of takeover and displacement of under-performing management.”

Is that a model that Jacksonville taxpayers feel comfortable with?

The discourse currently has sentimentalized the status quo, leaving aside annual salary boosts and bonuses for the CEO and top executives to put forth a binary discourse, one characterized by not just an unwillingness to explore change, but an unwillingness to explore change.

The task before Curry’s policy and political team is to move the discussion beyond one of political intrigue to one of a rigorous cost/benefit analysis. Time will tell if the mayor has the political juice to get that done in an election season.

‘Coward’ attacks state lawmaker’s female aide; gun control debate to blame?

Tensions are high this week, as the debate over gun control and rights rages statewide.

One legislative staffer, Sadie Haire, district aide for Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer, a supporter of the Second Amendment, got more than words from a gun control proponent.

“On Wednesday, a man – a coward really – forced himself into my district office in Jacksonville demanding that the Legislature ban ‘assault weapons’ and other firearms,” Fischer asserted on Facebook. “He then attacked my district aide and said he was trying to prove a point about ‘gun control.’”


Fischer related that the man came in upset about the failed attempt to get a ban on assault weapons considered in the House. He said the man demonstrated his outrage by “slamming [Haire] into the door violently.”

“This coward was inspired to violence by the political stunt that one of my colleagues pulled on Tuesday,” Fischer said. “There is no justification, political or otherwise, for violently attacking an innocent person.”

Fischer’s office didn’t have the best security. There was no camera system so that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office could be given a picture, Fischer said.

The office is now closed, while Fischer figures out what can be done, he said. He said he’s reached out to the House sergeant-at-arms. Relocation options could include a private building with stronger security or a government building.

Fischer said this isn’t the first time someone has come into the office to confront staff, but this incident is different.

“I’m so upset he took [his anger] out on a young female staffer,” Fischer said.

As Florida continues to process the aftermath of Parkland and policy going forward, it’s clear that tensions are running high, and legislators and their staff might need better security than previously thought.

Bricklayers and craftworkers back Nancy Soderberg for Congress

Nancy Soderberg, a Democrat running to replace outgoing Rep. Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, rolled out a union endorsement Thursday afternoon.

The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) described Soderberg as having the potential to be a “powerful voice for working families in Congress” in its endorsement.

“Our campaign could not be more honored to receive the endorsement of a Union that has been fighting for workers since 1865 and represents over 75,000 members,” said Soderberg. “The International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers protects the rights of their highly-skilled workers, and fights to ensure living wages and safe working conditions, values we as Americans share. As the next Congresswoman for District Six, I commit to fighting for living wages and protecting our working families.”

Soderberg, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee in the district that runs from southern St. Johns County through Volusia, is showing momentum in her campaign.

She opens her campaign HQ in Daytona Sunday afternoon, and she recently hired a campaign manager and field director, both signs that she is earnestly testing the theory that the seat currently held by gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis can be flipped.

Soderberg, who served as Ambassador to the United Nations during Bill Clinton’s presidency, has shown momentum since entering the race in summer 2017. She raised $207,949 last quarter, putting her above the $544,000 mark. She has $376,000 cash on hand.

While this does not give Soderberg the total cash on hand lead (Republican John Ward has $644,216 on hand), Soderberg will have the resources to be competitive.

In a quest for more resources, Soderberg has a DC fundraiser lined up for March 8. On hand: James Carville and Rep. Darren Soto.

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