Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Matt Caldwell tries his hand at cattle, timber industries during #2LaneTravels Work Day

Matt Caldwell knows a bit about cattle.

He worked for free on a ranch in Immokalee before he ran for office, telling the owner to call him know whenever there was something to do. The North Fort Myers resident wanted to learn more about the businesses and get a better understanding of the industry.

“I built a lot of fence line for free,” joked Caldwell about his previous experiences.

Caldwell got a different view of the cattle industry last month, when he held another #2LaneTravls Work Day focused on the cattle and timber industry. The work day event gave Caldwell a chance to not only see a different model for the cattle industry, but better understand the scope of the state’s timber industry.

Caldwell launched his #2LaneTravels Work Days tour in June at the Key Largo Fisheries in Key Largo.

Made famous by Bob Graham, the state’s former Democratic governor and senator, work days are a political tradition in the Sunshine State. Graham made them a staple of his political career, as is his daughter — Gwen Graham, the former U.S. representative and Tallahassee Democrat now running for governor. Gov. Rick Scott held several during his first term in office, including selling doughnuts and working as a park ranger.

The most recent workday brought Caldwell to Usher Land and Timber in Chiefland. Owned and operated by Lynetta Usher Griner and Ken Griner, the logging and cattle company has been operating in Florida in one shape or form since the 1900s.

The Usher family got its start working in the turpentine business in North Florida in the early 1900s. In the 1940s, E.T. Usher Jr. opened a logging business in the same area. After he married Helen Hiers, the couple began acquiring acreage for a farm and began running cows. The couple’s son Tommy Usher joined the family business in 1984.

Usher Griner and her husband came on board in 1989, and the company has operated as Usher Land & Timber since 1992.

The company’s cattle operation is unique, Caldwell said, in that it participates in all phases of the industry, essentially handling the cow from conception to consumption. Most operations in Florida raise calves until they are about six months old, before shipping them to another facility where they are prepared for slaughter.

“They’re part of a group trying to finish the cows in Florida,” said Caldwell. “That’s a different way of doing it, and it looks to me that they have a successful idea.”

Caldwell said about a half dozen ranchers in Florida are in the group, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida also has a similar process.

Florida ranked 10th nationwide in beef cow inventory as of Jan. 1, 2016 with 915,000 head of cattle, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. That accounted for about 3 percent of the total nation’s total inventory.

But Caldwell said Usher Land and Timber stands out among its peers because in addition to its cattle operations, it also has timber operations. And that decision to use their acreage for multiple uses, Caldwell said, allows them to find a higher rate of return, especially as land prices continue to rise.

Caldwell said he was up at 5:30 a.m. working with the cows as the sun was coming up. He spent a few hours working with the cows, before getting a chance to try his hand at the timber operations. On the timber side of things, he spent some time with workers who were cutting pine timber, even operating the heavy equipment and loading trucks for mill delivery.

“I’ve never worked that level of equipment at the timber site,” he said. “That was absolutely awesome.”

Caldwell’s workday also included a stop at the Suwannee saw mill in Cross City. The company was founded in 1954, but Caldwell said a mill has been in that community for many more years. Caldwell said he got a chance to tour the mill, meet with company leadership and got a better understanding of the scope of the industry as a whole.

More than 5,000 items are made from forest products, ranging from furniture to pharmaceuticals, according to the Florida Forestry Association. The association estimates the forestry industry employees nearly 77,000 Floridians and has a $16.1 billion impact on the state’s economy.

The Florida Forestry Association reported that the pulp and paper product industry supported 72 percent of income paid to the labor force employed in forestry; while forest management and logging accounted for about 9 percent of income. Lumber, veneer and panel manufacturing accounted for 5 percent of wages in 2014.

Caldwell is one of four Republicans vying for their party’s nomination to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in 2018. Sen. Denise Grimsley, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman, and Paul Paulson have also filed to run.

Putnam, who can’t run for re-election in 2018 because of term limits, is running for governor.

 

What it takes: How Jose Felix Diaz ended a political dynasty

Ask the team that helped propel Jose Felix Diaz to victory in his Senate District 40 primary how they did it, and their answer is simple: They just had the better candidate.

That might be true, but it only tells part of the story.

The affable 37-year-old state representative didn’t find himself up against a political novice, instead he faced a member of a South Florida political dynasty hoping to make his way back to the Florida Legislature. An early poll indicated the Miami-Dade Republican wasn’t well-known in the district and showed him trailing Alex Diaz de la Portilla by 36 points.

Yet when the polls closed on July 25, Diaz crushed his opponents, receiving nearly 58 percent of the vote. Diaz de la Portilla, a former state Representative and state Senator, received about 26 percent; while Republican Lorenzo Palomares, a longshot candidate, pulled in about 17 percent.

“Pepi Diaz is one of the best candidates anyone can work for,” said Anthony Pedicini, a Tampa-based political consultant. “He’s meticulous. He’s smart. He outworked Alex.”

Outworking his opponents meant spending a lot of time and resources on the ground, all in a very short period of time. As soon as Gov. Rick Scott called a special election to replace scandal-plagued Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned in April, Diaz was hitting the streets.

Steve Marin, a Miami-based political consultant, has been been on Team Diaz since his first campaign. A mutual friend introduced them, and Marin said he was immediately drawn in by Diaz’s family and his work ethic.

That history between the men let them easily slip back into campaign mode, something that was necessary with such a shortened election cycle. There were about 75 days between when Scott called the special election and the primary; another two months separate the primary election from the Sept. 26 general election.

But Marin said that shorter window was really one of the only things that differentiated this campaign from others he worked on with Diaz.

“It’s not much of a change, it’s just the speed of things. It’s trying to condense everything,” he said. “I think the days get longer. You have to walk, you have to do fundraising, you have to produce, you have to sit with folks. Instead of doing a production at noon, you may have to push it out. Walking it at a certain time.”

David Custin, another Miami political consultant who worked on Diaz’s campaign, said the team set up a “central command-type structure” to make sure there was a coordinated push to get their message across.

Custin, who has been running campaigns in Miami-Dade for more than two decades, agreed the reason they came out on top was because they “had a better candidate.” But, he also acknowledges there was something else that helped Team Diaz secure a 32-point victory over Diaz de la Portilla: They had the resources, and “spent the money properly.”

Diaz raised more than $1.3 million — $809,725 for his official campaign and $504,500 for Rebuild Florida, his political committee — in the two months leading up to the election. His campaign spent more than $2.1 million — $736,434 from his official campaign account and $1.4 million from Rebuild Florida — during the same time period, according to state records.

“It’s all pretty transparent,” said Custin. “We spent our money wisely.”

The team spent more than $600,000 on advertising efforts; $395,700 from his official campaign on media buys, which included radio, television, cable and Spanish-language media buys while Rebuild Florida spent $224,750 between June 9 and July 20 on mailers.

This was the first time Pedicini, the founder of Strategic Image Management, worked with Marin and Custin, but Pedicini said he was “happy to be included in the mix.” Pedicini said his team has mastered the art of helping where they can and being good at execution, something that would be key in a short election cycle.

Having the money allowed the team to get the message out about who Diaz was. It also gave them plenty of means to highlight Diaz de la Portilla’s record, which Pedicini said was key to Diaz’s victory.

“I think Alex’s history helped win that race,” said Pedicini. “He made such bad votes.”

Diaz de la Portilla served in the Florida House from 1994 until 2000, when he was elected to serve in the Florida Senate. He served there until 2010, including stints as the Majority Leader and Senate President Pro Tempore.

“When we were down … in early June, there was no fear, there was no panic,” said Custin. “Alex has name ID and a history, but it was bad.”

His votes during his time in office — along with well-publicized personal disputes — played into the race. Making a Better Tomorrow, a Venice-based political committee, released a series of mailers highlighting his record, even launching a bilingual website to target Diaz de la Portilla, a member of a well-known Miami-Dade political family.

His brother, Miguel Diaz De la Portilla, succeeded him in the Florida Senate, serving from 2010 to 2016. He lost his seat to Jose Javier Rodriguez in a nasty and expensive re-election bid. Renier Diaz de la Portilla served one term in the Florida House, succeeding Alex in 2000.

But Pedicini said there appears to be a move afoot to say good-bye to the old guard, saying the “days of the old families and the old ways of doing things” are on their way out.

“I think what they’re doing is creating a new dynasty,” he said.

Custin agreed, saying it’s “OK to be the old guard if you’re (Mario Diaz-Balart) and you have an impeccable record,” but that wasn’t the case with Diaz de la Portilla.

“There is a … a move for new blood down here,” he said.

Diaz crushed his GOP opponents, but he still has one more hurdle to face before taking up residency in the upper chamber: the general election. Diaz faces Democrat Annette Taddeo in the special general election. Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth, a no party affiliation candidate, is also running.

Democrats see Senate District 40 as a possible pick-up, and a recent Democratic poll showed Taddeo with an ever-so-slight lead over Diaz. The survey, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research for the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, showed Taddeo led Diaz by 16 points among no party affiliation voters, who couldn’t vote in the primary.

The district has slightly more registered Democrats than Republicans. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried the district, defeating Donald Trump 56 percent to 40 percent; however, Sen. Marco Rubio also came out on top, defeating Patrick Murphy 51 percent to 47 percent.

Custin isn’t fazed by those top of the ticket results. While neither he nor Marin would discuss their general election strategy, Custin said “local Republicans here always outperform the top ticket by 6- to 20-points.”

For Marin, it’s all dependent on “who runs a better campaign.”

Team Diaz is already getting help from the cavalry. Senate President Joe Negron, Sen. Bill Galvano, and Majority Leader Wilton Simpson were quick to commit the full support of the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Florida Senate. And the Republican State Leadership Committee, an organization of Republican state officials, has already chipped in $100,000 to the FRSCC to help with the race.

The special general election is Sept. 26.

What politicos are saying about Tuesday’s election results in Senate District 40

The ballot is set.

More than 26,000 voters in Miami-Dade County cast ballots in the Senate District 40 and House District 116 elections. And when polls closed Tuesday night, there were few surprises — at least when in the race to replace Sen. Frank Artiles in Florida Senate.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz handily defeated former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Lorenzo Palomares in the Republican primary. Diaz received nearly 58 percent of the vote, while DLP received nearly 26 percent of the vote. Palomares pulled in about 17 percent of the vote, according to unofficial election results posted to the Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections website.

Diaz’s victory was greeted by overwhelming support by his colleagues in the Legislature, who tweeted congratulatory messages throughout the evening. Senate President Joe Negron, Sen. Bill Galvano, and Majority Leader Wilton Simpson announced they would throw the full support of the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which works to keep a Republican majority in the Senate, behind Diaz to make sure he comes out on top in September.

Diaz will face Annette Taddeo in the Sept. 26 general election, after Taddeo crushed Ana Rivas Logan in the Democratic primary. Unofficial results show Taddeo received nearly 71 percent of the vote, compared to Rivas Logan’s 29 percent of the vote.

Taddeo was quick to take aim at Diaz, issuing a statement Tuesday night calling on the community to reject “the special interests and their lobbyists, Jose Felix Diaz, and elect a champion who will fight for our public schools, take on traffic gridlock and enhance our healthcare system.”

Democrats see Senate District 40 as a potential pick up, but it could be a tough battle. Hillary Clinton one the district by a 57 percent to 40 percent margin, but it backed Marco Rubio 50 percent to 47 percent. And Taddeo’s record of wins is iffy — she has lost several other elections, including a 2016 congressional bid.

Here’s how several politicos are reacting to the results:

— Jose Felix Diaz, Republican nominee for SD 40: “Thank you to all my friends, family, and constituents for their support. Congrats to (Alex Diaz de la Portilla) and (Lorenzo Palomares) on a hard fought race.”

Senate President Joe Negron: “Jose is a strong candidate with broad community support and the experience to best represent the values and needs of this district. The Republican majority has made tremendous gains in Tallahassee on behalf of hard-working Floridians, and Jose’s victory in September is an important step in continuing those achievements.”

Sen. Bill Galvano: “I applaud Jose, Alex and Lorenzo for running spirited campaigns to represent their community. Jose has earned the confidence of the people of Senate District 40 and now is the time for Senate Republicans to work together to ensure victory on September 26th.”

– Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson: “The work to ensure the people of Senate District 40 have the strong leader they deserve begins right now. Jose’s heart and compassion for the people he serves make him a perfect fit for the Florida Senate, and we look forward to making that case over the next nine weeks.”

— Annette Taddeo, Democratic nominee for SD 40: “I am truly grateful to my fellow Democrats in District 40 who elected me today to be our nominee in September. Our campaign is ready to take our people powered message to every voter in our district so we can bring change to Tallahassee. It’s time our community rejects the special interests and their lobbyist, Jose Felix Diaz and elect a champion who will fight for our public schools, take on traffic gridlock and enhance our healthcare system. With tonight’s decisive victory, we can, and will, send a loud message in September that the politics of division coming from President Trump and Washington, D.C. will not be tolerated in South Florida. Together, we will make history by electing the first Hispanic Democratic woman to the Florida Senate and a champion for our families.”

Gwen Graham, a 2018 Democratic candidate for governor: “Annette Taddeo is a leader who will represent every member of Miami’s diverse community. With her experience as a small business owner and working mom, she will help bring common sense back to Tallahassee. I look forward to helping Florida Democrats win this seat and working with Annette to restore our promise to public school students, protect our environment and build an economy that works for every Floridian.”

Stephen Bittel, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party: “Annette Taddeo has always been a fearless fighter for her South Florida community. She put herself through college, grew a successful small business, and raised a beautiful family–she will be a forceful advocate for the working families of South Florida in the state senate. The Florida Democratic Party is proud to be fighting alongside Annette for good public schools, an economy that works for everyone, and better transit options in senate district 40. Democrats from around the state are already rallying together to elect another Democrat to the state senate that will focus on strengthening and expanding the middle class.”

— Johanna Cervone, spokeswoman for the Florida Democratic Party: “Voters in senate district 40 are sick of corrupt, pay-to-play politicians like Jose Felix Diaz who are owned by the special interests that buy them. What’s even more outrageous is that Diaz legislates and lobbies at the same time–which up until 1999 was deemed an ‘inescapable conflict of interest’. Instead of doing good, Diaz took big checks from insurance lobbyists and stuck Floridians with higher rates; Diaz used his office to enrich himself while raising property taxes by $500 million–increasing the cost of living for Miami homeowners. Diaz also voted to divert millions from our public schools to the unaccountable, for-profit charter schools that donate thousands to his campaigns. Not a surprise, considering he’s a lobbyist who takes money from corrupt entities like Dade Medical College. Diaz must be taking cues from his old boss, Donald Trump.”

Daniel Perez defeats Jose Mallea in HD 116 GOP primary

Daniel Anthony Perez is heading to the general.

Perez defeated Jose Mallea in the special Republican primary to replace Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. Unofficial election results posted to the Florida Division of Elections website show Perez received nearly 55 percent of the vote, compared to Mallea’s 45 percent.

Perez will face Democrat Gabriela Mayaudon in the special general election on Sept. 26.

Perez is an associate at Cole, Scott & Kissane in Miami. The first-time candidate is the former vice-chair of the Miami-Dade County Hispanic Affairs Advisory Board and is a member of the Cuban American Bar Association. He took heat early in the campaign after the Miami Herald reported he took his engagement photos in Havana earlier this year.

Mallea has an extensive background in politics, including running Sen. Marco Rubio’s successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2010. He also served as chief of staff to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and served stints in the federal government, working at the U.S. Department of State and the White House.

His political background influenced his campaign — both positively and negatively. He scored endorsements from former Gov. Jeb Bush, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, state Sen. Rene Garcia, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

But outside groups attacked Mallea for his work in the mayor’s office, saying he helped usher in massive tax increases; while Perez released a Spanish language ad saying he betrayed Rubio when he worked as Bush’s Hispanic outreach director during his 2016 presidential campaign.

First elected in 2010, Diaz resigned his seat, effective Sept. 26, to run in the Senate District 40 special election, which was also Tuesday. Diaz received nearly 58 percent of the vote to defeat former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who received nearly 26 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.

New College of Florida to request $3.6M from state as part of three-year growth plan

New College of Florida will request more than $3.6 million from the Florida Legislature in fiscal 2018 to help continue its effort to grow enrollment.

The New College of Florida board of trustees on Monday voted to approve its fiscal 2018-19 legislative budget request. The 2018 request includes a single item — more than $3.63 million to fund the second year of a three-year plan to grow enrollment to 1,200 and increase four-year graduation rates.

Founded in 1960, the Sarasota college had a total enrollment of 861 students in the fall of 2015. While the school is recognized as one of the nation’s leading liberal arts schools, New College officials have said the school’s small size could be hampering its success.

“Outside the Claremont consortium, ever liberal arts college ranked in the top 40 has at least 1,200 students,” according to a staff report to the school’s board of trustees. “With fewer students, it becomes difficult to sustain the broad range of academic disciplines common to high-quality to sustain the institutions and the activities to student development.”

The requested funding, according to a staff analysis, will “support strategic initiatives in three key areas: academic excellence, student development and infrastructure.

According to a staff analysis, the second year of funding will increase the enrollment target by an additional 150 students by 2023 and the four-year graduation rate by an additional 6 percent for the 2023 entering cohort.

The second year of funding will, among other things, provide for:

— 15 additional faculty lines and administrative support to increase capacity for the second phase of enrollment growth;

— A summer research program for third- and fourth- year students to work with faculty in labs or in the field;

— Systems to track student engagement with curricular and co-curricular activities allowing early intervention with at-risk students;

— A disability case manager to track and coordinate support from a variety of college units;

— A psychologist to meet the needs of growing enrollment;

— Two additional police officers to ensure officers are on duty 24/7; and

— One financial aid staffer to meet the needs of growing enrollment and to help recruit and retain top students.

The Legislature approved $5.4 million as part of the fiscal 2017-18 budget to implement the first year of the growth plan. New College of Florida will supplement that funding with a goal of $3 million in private fundraising.

The first year of the three-year growth plan was unanimously approved by the Board of Governors as a system-wide priority last year, and school officials said Monday they are hopeful the second year of funding will be a system-wide priority this year.

Ahead of Venezuela freedom rally, Rick Scott says it is important to be a ‘voice for freedom’

Stressing the importance of being a “voice for freedom,” Gov. Rick Scott will once again hold a rally in Miami today calling on Venezuela to completely release Leopoldo Lopez and all political prisoners.

The rally — scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at El Arepazo #2 in Miami — is the second rally Scott has held advocating for Lopez’s release. The Naples Republican held a similar rally calling for Lopez’s release in May, after news reports suggested Lopez’s health was failing.

This rally comes just two days after Lopez was released from prison and placed under house arrested after more than three years of military lockup. The move was a described as a shocking reversal by the government, and has fueled hopes for broader amnesty for dozens of jailed activists.

Lopez was arrested in 2014 and charged with arson and conspiracy after he called for peaceful protests. He was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison in September 2015, a move that was highly controversial.

The Associated Press reported that Venezuela’s government-stacked Supreme Court said in a statement that it granted Lopez the “humanitarian measures” for health reasons and also for “serious signs of irregularities” in the handling of the case that it did not specify.

“All of us want to live in a place where there’s freedom — political freedom, freedom of speech, all of these things,” said Scott after a stop in Fort Myers on Monday morning. “So it’s important when you have the opportunity to be a voice for freedom.”

Scott has been one of a growing number of Floridians who have called for Lopez’s release. Sen. Marco Rubio accompanied Lilian Tintori, Lopez’s wife, to the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump in February, and has called for his release. So has Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who in February called Lopez “one of many pro-democracy members of the opposition … that have been imprisoned for running afoul of the corrupt Maduro regime.”

Last week, Scott also announced he planned to ask the State Board of Administration in August to prohibit the state from doing business with any organization that supports Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

“Floridians stand with the people of Venezuela as they fight for their freedom, and as a state, we must not provide any support for Maduro and his thugs,” he said in a statement.

The request appears to have bipartisan support. According to the Miami Herald, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez has said he plans to file legislation that would divest the state from businesses that would work with the Maduro regime.

“There’s a direct correlation between trade and democracy,” said Scott on Monday. “I think it’s important around the world, but for Florida, it’s a big deal because of how much of our trade is tied to Latin America.”

The rally is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at El Arepazo #2.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permissions.

Rick Scott on GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare: ‘They can’t stop’

Gov. Rick Scott said federal lawmakers need to keep their word, and continue their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“They can’t stop,” said Scott following a stop in Fort Myers on Monday. “They all promised they were going to repeal and replace Obamacare, and they got to do it.”

The Naples Republican’s comments come as Congress returns to an unresolved debate over GOP proposals to roll back much of former President Barack Obama’s health care law. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called off a pre-recess vote on the Senate’s measure, when it appeared it would fail.

Scott has been vocal in his opposition to the current health care law, and has made several trips to Washington, D.C. to talk with federal lawmakers about repealing and replacing the law. He was last in the nation’s capital to talk with lawmakers about health care on June 27, the same day McConnell announced he would be delaying a vote on the bill.

“The way I always look at it is … until you get results, you’re just working hard every day,” said Scott when asked whether he thought his discussions with federal lawmakers were productive. “It’s like the legislative process this session. We worked hard to get the money for Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida, the money for schools. You work every day. Until it’s all done, you always wonder.”

The future of the GOP health care plan remains unclear. The Associated Press reported that at least 10 Republican senators have expressed opposition to the initial bill, drafted by McConnell. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority, and Democrats are united against the bill. That means just three Republican votes against it will doom it.

Last week, McConnell said he would introduce a fresh bill in about a week, but he also acknowledged that if the broader effort fails, he may turn to a smaller bill with quick help for insurers and consumers and negotiate with Democrats.

The governor said what is important to him is that “Florida is treated fairly” under whatever legislation ultimately clears Congress. Scott also said it’s important that, whether someone has a pre-existing condition, they have the right to buy the plan they want.

The state, he said, should also have “flexibility in our Medicaid program to figure out our own benefits, reimbursement rates and things like that.” The federal government also needs to “reduce the amount of regulations” states need to deal with.

David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said criticized Scott’s call for lawmakers to pass a bill, saying Scott is “only ever looking out for himself.” Scott is largely believed to be mulling a 2018 U.S. Senate run.

“First Scott bragged that he helped craft the toxic GOP health care plan that spikes costs by 20 percent, imposes an age tax on older Floridians and strips coverage for pre-existing conditions — all to give himself a big tax break. Now he’s demanding to ram this unpopular plan through Congress, even though the consequences for middle-class Floridians would be expensive and horrific,” said Bergstein in a statement. “It’s just another reminder that Scott is only ever looking out for himself — while Floridians who actually work for a living are paying the price.”

_The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Baxter Troutman pours $2.5M of own money into his Ag Commish campaign

Baxter Troutman kicked off his bid for Agriculture Commission with an infusion of cash, pouring more than $2 million of his own money into his fledgling campaign in June.

State records show Troutman brought in more than $2.5 million in June. According to campaign finance reports Troutman put $2.5 million into this campaign, and received $1,750 from other donors.

The former state representative filed to run for the seat in June, and at the time said he planned to put up several million dollars of his own money to seed his race.

State records show iGrow PC, the political committee Troutman started in June to help fund his statewide bid, raised $10,000 in June. The single donation came from Florida Jobs PAC. Troutman’s political committee posted no expenses during the fundraising period.

Troutman’s official campaign committee spent $5,946 during the last fundraising period, most of which went toward social media and web development costs. The campaign ended June with just under $2.5 million cash on hand.

Troutman, the grandson of late citrus baron and one-time gubernatorial candidate Ben Hill Griffin Jr., served in the Florida House from 2002 to 2010.

The 50-year-old Winter Haven resident is one of four Republicans vying for their party’s nomination in the race to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in 2018. Putnam, who can’t run for re-election because of term limits, is running for governor.

Troutman faces Rep. Matt Caldwell, Sen. Denise Grimsley, and Orlando resident Paul Paulson.

The Division of Elections’ deadline for reporting June fundraising numbers is July 10. As of Sunday evening, neither Grimsley nor Caldwell had posted fundraising information for their official campaigns or political committees to the state website.

Contribution data posted to the Friends of Matt Caldwell website show Caldwell raised $38,500 for his political committee in June. The largest single contribution during the one-month period, according to data posted to the site, was a $20,000 donation from Associated Industries of Florida.

According to Caldwell’s campaign, the North Fort Myers is expected to report he raised $123,049 for his official campaign in June. That will bring his total haul to nearly $225,000, according to the campaign.

Caldwell’s committee raised $762,594 through the end of May. State records show the committee ended the month with $619,236 cash on hand.

“We have been blessed to receive a tremendous amount of support since launching our campaign for Commissioner of Agriculture and will continue to build on this momentum,” he said in a statement. “As I travel across the Sunshine State, one thing this is abundantly clear, Floridians are looking for consistent, conservative leadership and we will continue to fight for the important issues undertaken by the Commissioner of Agriculture.”

Contribution data posted to Saving Florida’s Heartland, the political committee backing Grimsley, and Friends of Matt Caldwell, the political committee backing Caldwell, give some insight into how much both candidates raised during the one-month period.

Contribution data posted to the Saving Florida’s Heartland website show Grimsley raised at least $20,000 during June for her political committee.

Records show Grimsley received a $10,000 donation from Innovate Florida, the political committee run by Sen. Bill Galvano. Her committee also received $5,000 each from Florida Speaks, a political committee associated with Rep. Kathleen Peters, and Florida Phosphate PC.

According to state records, Grimley’s committee had raised more than $1 million through the end of May. The committee ended May with $433,784 cash on hand. Her official campaign, meanwhile, raised $383,977 through May. State records showed her official campaign ended May with $286,693 cash on hand.

State records show Paulson raised $99 in June, bringing his total raised to $3,044. However, Paulson has loaned his campaign $392,828 since jumping in the race in December.

Denise Grimsley says ag, biz background sets her apart in crowded Agriculture Commissioner race

If you would have told Denise Grimsley in December she was about to launch a run for statewide office, she probably wouldn’t have believed you.

It wasn’t something she was thinking about back then. She had already filed for re-election in the Florida Senate, but was starting to think about whether she wanted to run again.

“In December, I had spent a lot of time with my family, and I had pretty much decided I’m walking into the end of my political career,” she said. “I have a great job. I have two grandkids I adore that I want to spend more time with. I was starting to give some thought to not running for re-election.”

Then in January, she was chatting with friends in the citrus and cattle business and one suggested she run for Agriculture Commissioner. She gave him every reason why she shouldn’t, but he told her just to think about it. A few weeks later, when Rep. Steve Crisafulli announced he wasn’t going to run, her friends once again suggested she jump in the race.

This time, she didn’t brush it off so quickly.

“I took a week and I prayed about it. I talked to my family. I talked to my employer … and in about a series of three days, all of my reasons not to went away,” she said.

Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, officially launched her bid for Agriculture Commissioner in February, becoming the first candidate in what is becoming an increasingly crowded race to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in 2018. Grimsley is one of four Republicans battling it out for their party’s nomination, but her early entry into the race came with some big name support.

JD Alexander, the former state senator who had been rumored to be considering a run, threw his support behind Grimsley back in February. The host committee for an early fundraiser read like a who’s who of the agriculture industry, including Bob Behr, the former commissioner and CEO of Florida Natural; Marty McKenna, the former president of Florida Citrus Mutual; and John Barben, the current president of Florida Citrus Mutual.

A fifth generation Floridian, Grimsley said her background makes her uniquely qualified to be Agriculture Commissioner. While she currently serves as a hospital administrator for Florida Hospital Wauchula and Lake Placid, she also served as the vice president and chief operating officer of her family business, Grimsley Oil Company.

She has also been involved in her family’s citrus business, which Grimsley said her grandfather started with 10 acres of growth. Her father has added to it over the years, and Grimsley has had a hand in the family’s agriculture business over the years.

That combination of experience, Grimsley said, is what will distinguish her from three other Republicans — Rep. Matt Caldwell, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman, and Paul Paulson — vying for their party’s nomination.

“As Agriculture Commissioner, I think you need three things to be qualified. You need to some agriculture background for one,” she said. “I think it’s extremely important to have executive experience. It’s a $1.7 billion budget with 3,800 employees. I have that from running our company and running the hospitals that I have now. You need a financial background, and I think you need it in the public and the private sector. I have it in the public sector, (from) being the Appropriations chairman for two years in the House … and I have it in the private sector as well.”

For Grimsley, the next 13 months means spending lots of time on the road, meeting with voters and possible backers. She said she’s trying to share her message with as many people as she can, and explain to them why she’d be the best woman for the job.

“I think you need to take that agency and you step it up to the next level,” she said. “Statewide water policy is important; and the consumer service part of that department is very important. It (handles) things like concealed weapons permits, your ‘no call’ list, pest control, security guards, gas pumps, foods service. It’s everything and most of those, at some point in my life, I’ve been regulated by, so I understand what it’s like to be that consumer.”

Grimsley said she is hopeful her record in the Legislature will show she’s willing to work hard for Floridians. She said she’s strived throughout her time in the Senate to get into the communities she represents to “let people how how we can help,” and that’s something she wants to continue doing if elected Agriculture Commissioner.

“So many people go through this whole government bureaucracy, in any state agency no matter how good they are they all have it somewhere,” she said. “I try to let my constituents know we’re here to help you, we can help you navigate the process.”

Jack Latvala: ‘It is very possible I end up announcing something in the near future’

Sen. Jack Latvala didn’t use an appearance at the Tiger Bay Club of Southwest Florida to announce a 2018 gubernatorial bid.

Then again, he didn’t use it to quash any rumors about his plans for the future.

“We have several members of the press here today, so if I was to specifically make an announcement, then there wouldn’t be a reason for them to come to an announcement if I had one,” said the Clearwater Republican when asked what was in his future.

“I will say this: I have been involved in government in Tallahassee for a long time. I think I know the good and the bad, how many things happen and how to solve problems,” he said. “As I look at being term limited in the Senate, I obviously think about giving it a go and seeing what I can do. It is very possible I end up announcing something in the near future.”

Latvala, the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is believed to be considering a run for governor in 2018. If he decides to run, he’ll join Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the GOP race to replace Gov. Rick Scott. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are also believed to be considering a run.

 “If I do it, it’s going to be based on the same principles that I’ve conducted myself. There might be some yelling, but mostly how I conduct myself is straight talk,” he said. “If people ask me a question, I give an answer. If I give somebody my word, I keep it. I work hard, and I think that’s what we need to have in our public officials at every level. I’m not going to be the best looking candidate, I’m not gonna be the slimmest candidate, but I think there’s not many jobs in government that I couldn’t do.”

When asked was going into making his final decision, Latvala said it wasn’t as much about making the final decision, but having enough time to make sure he could tell everyone he’s worked with over the years what his decision will be.

“There’s a lot of preparation that goes into it,” he said. “I want to do it right.”

While Latvala’s political future was on many people’s mind Wednesday, it wasn’t the only reason Latvala attended the Tiger Bay Club of Southwest Florida’s meeting. He was also on hand to discuss the 2017 Legislative Session, as well as the special session that followed.

Latvala called the 2017 Session “the worst one” in his years in the Legislature.

“We had, without a doubt, a tough session this year. By far, it was the worst one in my opinion. It was the least fun,” he said. “I think people are letting egos get in the way of their good judgement. They’re worried about their owned advancement, they’re worried about their own philosophy.”

Still, Latvala pointed to some achievements during the 2017 Session, including a legislation backed by Senate President Joe Negron to build additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee, which will help alleviate discharges into the Calooshatchee River. He also touted money for beach renourishment projects and pay raises for state workers, both of which were personal priorities during the 2017 Legislative Session.

And Latvala said he was among those members who were concerned with the way the Session ended, with several big bills being negotiated behind the scenes.

“I hope we learned our lesson,” he said. “I think the Senate is not doing thing that way next year, people expect us to debate things on merit.”

 

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