Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 121

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Rick Scott selects Matilde Miller to serve as interim DBPR secretary

Matilde Miller will take the helm of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation — at least temporarily.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday Miller was named the interim secretary of DBPR, replacing former Secretary Ken Lawson.

“Matilde has spent many years at DBPR serving in numerous leadership positions and understands how important it is to help businesses open and create jobs in our state,” said Scott in a statement. “Like Secretary Lawson, she will focus on reducing burdensome regulations and fees that make it harder for job creators to succeed in Florida. She has extensive legislative experience and relationships and I am confident she will be a great leader at DBPR.”

On Tuesday, Lawson was hired to serve as the president and CEO of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism agency. The former federal prosecutor replaces Will Seccombe, the outgoing president and CEO, who resigned amid the fallout from a secret deal with rapper Pitbull.

Visit Florida refused to say how much it paid Pitbull or disclose any of the details of a contract with the Miami superstar, calling it a trade secret. House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued in December to release the contract, but withdrew the lawsuit after Pitbull used Twitter to release it.

Scott, who has praised Visit Florida in the past, responded to criticism by calling on Seccombe to resign. During a meeting in Orlando on Tuesday, the Visit Florida board of directors agreed to pay Seccombe $73,000 as severance. A spokeswoman for the governor said that sum is paid for using private funds.

Lawson will receive a salary of $175,000 a year and work without a contract. He has led the Department of Business and Professional Development since 2011.

“Ken understands the responsibility we have to be transparent with every tax dollar. He has tirelessly fought to make it easier for Florida businesses to create jobs, has helped cut millions of dollars in fees and has streamlined the agency to ensure the state reduced burdensome regulations,” said Scott in a statement. “A native Floridian and military veteran, Ken has an incredible appreciation and understanding for our great state. I know he will use his unmatched experience and love for Florida to promote tourism while bringing much needed reforms to VISIT FLORIDA so our state can break even more tourism records.”

A 16-year veteran of DBPR, Miller has served as chief of staff since 2014. Prior to becoming chief of staff, she served as the agency’s legislative coordinator, deputy legislative affairs director, and director of legislative director. She previously worked in the Florida House and as a high school English and Spanish teacher.

Her first day is Wednesday.

__The Associated Press contributed to this report, with permission.

 

Seminole Compact, other gambling issues expected to be top priority in House Commerce committee

The House Commerce Committee is poised to tackle everything from assignment of benefits to economic incentives, but it’s the most narrowly defined subcommittee that could be the busiest in the months leading up to, and during, the 2017 Legislative Session.

The full House Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, met Tuesday morning to get an overview of topics expected to come up in the upcoming 60-day legislative session.

“So it begins,” said Diaz. “We’re going to be busy. We will be dealing with some of the weightiest issues of the state.”

While each of the subcommittees laid out what could be considered jam-packed agendas, Rep. Mike La Rosa, chairman of the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee, outlined an aggressive schedule largely focused on gambling in Florida.

The subcommittee will spend the next few weeks tackling different aspects of the industry, looking first at the Seminole Compact. The subcommittee is scheduled to hold a two-hour panel discussion Thursday to discuss issues relating to the Seminole Compact.

A federal court judge in November sided with the Seminole Tribe saying the state broke its exclusivity deal with the tribe allowing it to keep blackjack tables until 2030.

“With everything we did last year, we thought we were going to be able to pass a bill, but it didn’t get across the finish line,” said Diaz. “We feel like the opportunity to negotiate (is still there). We’re having negotiations with the Senate, and we’ll pass a compact or bill that’s in the best interests of the citizens of Florida that invests money in the right places.”

Diaz said the Legislature is still “in the early stages of conversation,” but warned the end of session will be here before lawmakers know it.

“If you have concerns with the compact, if you want to make sure (issues are) addressed, now is the time to have the conversation,” he said.

The compact isn’t the only issue the Tourism and Gaming Control Subcommittee will tackle. La Rosa said he expects the committee to discuss slot machines, decoupling, and online fantasy sports. The committee might also take up destination resort casinos, a constitutional amendment restricting the expansion of gambling, and whether to establish a statewide gaming commission.

La Rosa said members will be tasked with addressing concerns about VISIT Florida, which falls under the committee’s responsibilities. The agency has recently faced criticism about the way it handled a secret marketing contract worth up to $1 million with Pitbull.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran filed suit to force the Miami superstar to disclose the contents of his contract. Pitbull released the details of his contract on Twitter one day later.

The controversy led to the firing of two top VISIT Florida officials, and Gov. Rick Scott called for former CEO Will Seccombe’s resignation. The organization’s board of directors on Tuesday agreed to pay Seccombe, $73,000 as part of a severance agreement.

On Tuesday, Scott announced Ken Lawson, the former Secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, would take the helm of agency.

“Ken understands the responsibility we have to be transparent with every tax dollar. He has tirelessly fought to make it easier for Florida businesses to create jobs, has helped cut millions of dollars in fees and has streamlined the agency to ensure the state reduced burdensome regulations,” said Scott in a statement. “A native Floridian and military veteran, Ken has an incredible appreciation and understanding for our great state. I know he will use his unmatched experience and love for Florida to promote tourism while bringing much needed reforms to VISIT FLORIDA so our state can break even more tourism records.”

The House Commerce Committee and its subcommittees are also expected to take up assignment of benefits, personal injury protection insurance, economic incentives, and deregulation during the 2017 Legislative Session.

_The Associated Press contributed to this report, with permission.

Rick Scott: ‘The citizens of Florida will not tolerate senseless acts of violence’

Calling the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport a “senseless act of evil,” Gov. Rick Scott on Friday said the state would use every available resource to keep Floridians and visitors safe.

“The citizens of Florida will not tolerate senseless acts of evil,” said Scott during a news conference at the airport Friday. “Whoever is responsible will be held accountable to the full extent of the law.”

Authorities said five were killed and eight were wounded after a lone suspect opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale airport. The gunman has tentatively been identified as Esteban Santiago.

According to The Associated Press, he was born in New Jersey but moved to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico when he was 2 years old.

Bryan Santiago, the man’s brother, told The Associated Press Esteban Santiago grew up in the southern coastal town of Penuelas and served with the island’s National Guard for a couple of years. He was deployed to Iraq in 2010 and spent a year there with the 130th Engineer Battalion, the 1013th engineer company out of Aguadilla, according to Puerto Rico National Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Dahlen.

“You just can’t imagine how this can ever happen in a state like ours. Think of the innocent lives that were lost,” said Scott. “You can’t imagine how this can happen to any family anywhere in the world, but clearly we don’t want this happening in our state.”

Scott said his No. 1 priority is keeping “everyone that lives in our state, travels to our state” safe.

Scott said he spoke to President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence about the incident. He said has not talked with President Barack Obama. He also dismissed questions about whether the state should take steps to strengthen gun laws, saying it wasn’t the time for politics.

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

DOH issues final order denying Loop’s Nuersery medical marijuana license

The Florida Department of Health has issued a final order rejecting a Northeast Florida nursery’s request for a licenses to grow and distribute medical marijuana, four months after an administrative law judge said the nursery failed to show it should have been approved.

On Thursday, Surgeon General Celeste Philip issued a final order denying Loop’s Nursery & Greenhouses’ application to “become a dispensing organization of low-THC cannabis in the Northeast Region.”

The 36-page order upholds a ruling an October ruling by administrative law Judge R. Bruce McKibben, which said the nursery ““failed to prove by a preponderance of evidence that its application to become a distributing organization in the Northeast Region should have been approved.”

“It was Loop’s duty to show how its application was superior to the other applicants. It was Loop’s duty to present whatever evidence about San Felasco and Chestnut Hill was necessary to make that comparison,” wrote McKibben in his October ruling. “Loop’s failed to do so.”

Loop’s was one of five nurseries that applied to be a dispensing organization for the Northeast region of Florida. After it was passed over, the nursery challenged the decision.

Court documents showed the challenge hinged on it producing a specific strain of low-THC medical marijuana and being better equipped to produce the product. But McKibben disagreed with the premise, at the time saying Loop’s assertion it could comply with cultivation requirements better than the other two nurseries was “purely speculative.”

The Florida Department of Health initially awarded the license for the Northeast region to Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, even though San Felasco received the highest score.

The department denied San Felasco’s application because an employee failed a background check; but that denial was later overturned and San Felasco also received a license.

 

Hearing on gun bills postponed after Senate cancels Judiciary Committee meeting

A pair of controversial gun bills in the Florida Senate will not be discussed during committee meetings next week

According to the Senate calendar, a Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday has been cancelled. The committee, which is chaired by Sen. Greg Steube, was set to take up two gun bills during the two-hour meeting.

Steube’s open carry bill — Senate Bill 140 — was one of the two bills scheduled to be discussed. Under that proposal, concealed carry permit holders would be allowed to openly carry a handgun.

Senate President Joe Negron cancelled the meeting at Steube’s request, spokeswoman Katie Betta said.

“Sen. (Rene) Garcia indicated that he would need to request an excused absence from the meeting,” she said. “It is still very early in the committee process and Chair Steube felt it was important to postpone the meeting until all committee members could be present.”

It’s unclear whether either measure has the votes needed to get out its first committee of reference. The committee’s four Democrats will likely vote against the open carry measure, and could be joined by Garcia and Sen. Anitere Flores, both South Florida Republicans who have been skeptical of the legislation.

Similar gun legislation failed to make any progress in the Florida Senate last year. Former Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who served as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 2014-16 term, blocked several gun proposals from being heard in his committee.

The Judiciary Committee is often the first committee of reference for gun legislation.

A second bill — Senate Bill 128, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley — was also on the agenda. That bill aims to clarify that prosecutors have the burden of proving that shootings are unjustified under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law.

The Fleming Island Republican said in December that the measure would overturn overturn the Florida Supreme Court ruling in Bretherick v. Florida. In the 2015 opinion, the court said people charged in shootings must prove during pretrial proceedings that they are entitled to immunity from prosecution.

Bradley proposed similar legislation in 2016. It passed the Senate, but failed to make any progress in the House.

Andrew Gillum, possible 2018 governor candidate, launches ‘Campaign to Defend Local Solutions’

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is fighting for local rights, announcing this week he’s launched a statewide campaign to “defend local solutions.”

A rising star in the Democratic Party, Gillum has been mentioned as possible 2018 gubernatorial contender. He announced today he’s launched the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a nonpartisan, grassroots effort aimed at bringing together “individuals, organizations, and elected officials concerned about the erosion of local rights.”

And this new organization could help boost his profile across the state, especially when it comes to red meat issues for Democrats.

“This effort …  will send a message to state lawmakers, and give citizens around the country the tools to push back against special interest groups and large corporations, and maintain their right to put forward local solutions to the issues facing their community,” wrote Gillum in a post on Medium announcing the creation of the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions.

Among other things, Gillum said the group will “hold events to rise against looming threats on issues like minimum wage and health benefits, the environment, local hiring practices, and water quality.”

“We will help bring awareness and support to similar fights being undertaken by local officials across the country that are fighting to defend local solutions,” he continued. “And we will elevate the voices and narratives of these efforts, so that no attempt to bully or intimidate local communities around the country will ever be tolerated.”

If Gillum were to get in the race, he’d likely face a crowded Democratic field. Former Rep. Gwen Graham, the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, and Orlando attorney John Morgan are considering a run. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer have all been floated as possible contenders.

Gillum’s announcement comes just days before the 1st District Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in a case involving Gillum and the city of Tallahassee after the City Commission decided not to repeal city codes regulating firearms.

“I’m being personally sued by the gun lobby. In 2014, as a Tallahassee City Commissioner, my colleagues and I refused to repeal ordinances that prevent shooting guns in a public park,” he wrote. “Because of our actions that day, and our commitment to the safety of our citizens, my fellow locally elected officials and I are facing fines of $5,000 per vote, damages up to $100,000, and the potential to be removed from our elected jobs by the Governor of Florida. We have also been forced to find our own lawyers to defend us in Court.”

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Florida Carry and the Second Amendment Foundation sued the city, Gillum, city commissioners Gil Ziffer and Nancy Miller, and then-Mayor John Marks in 2014. The groups claimed the commission violated state statutes when it refused to repeal city codes regulated firearms provisions, according to the paper.

Among other things, the city code said it was illegal to discharge a firearm in a city-owned park or facility. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, plaintiffs in the case said it violates state law, which says only the state can regulate firearms.

In November 2015, Circuit Judge George S. Reynolds ruled the city didn’t violate state statute. Florida Carry and the Second Amendment Foundation appealed the ruling, sending it to the 1st District Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are scheduled for Jan. 10.

Gillum said the suit isn’t about guns, but about “huge special interests, in this case the National Rifle Association (NRA), spending big money to take away local voices and local control, using tactics called preemption and super-preemption.”

“It’s also about how these special interests and corporations, after getting their way with state government, are trying to intimidate and bully local communities by filing damaging lawsuits against officials like me. Like your local commissioners. Like your local councilmembers. Like your Mayor. And like you,” he wrote. “It’s wrong, it’s cowardly, and unfortunately, it seems to be getting worse; especially in places with far-right conservative state governments.”

“I am calling on you to help defend your vote, defend your rights, and to help us #DefendLocal at DefendLocal.com,” he continued. “This is how we fight and win against bullies like the NRA.”

Personnel note: Former Sen. Chris Smith joins Tripp Scott

Former Sen. Chris Smith is returning to his legal roots.

Smith has joined Tripp Scott, the Fort Lauderdale-based law firm announced this week.

“We’re so excited to have you here,” said Edward J. Pozzuoli, the president of Tripp Scott, in a video interview with Smith.

The 46-year-old Fort Lauderdale Democrat got his start at Tripp Scott, working as a law clerk at the firm for two summers. He later joined the firm, working in the contract department writing leases and doing other contract work.

In a video announcing his hire, Smith said his decision to join Tripp Scott brings him “back to where I started, back to where I got my roots, my legal roots especially.”

Smith served in the Florida Legislature for nearly two decades. He was first elected to the Florida House in 1998, where he served until 2006. He was elected to the Florida Senate in 2008. He served in the upper chamber until 2016, but was forced out because of term limits.

He served as the Democratic Leader in both the House and the Senate.

Smith said his years of government experience will allow him to provide clients with insight into “how government works.”

“Being a former legislator helps me be a better lawyer,” he said.

Personnel note: Rob Johnson exits AG’s office for The Mayernick Group

Photo credit: Michael B. Johnston

Rob Johnson, a long-time, respected policy advisor and legislative affairs director, has left the Attorney General’s Office to join The Mayernick Group.

“The Mayernick Group is excited that Rob is joining as a partner in our firm,” said Frank Mayernick in a statement. “We have experienced significant growth and know that as a well-respected professional, Rob has strong relationships and knowledge of the process that will help us continue to serve our current and future clients.

Long on the wish list for private sector recruiters, Johnson served as the Director of Legislative and Cabinet Affairs in the Florida Attorney General’s Office since 2007. He began his time there under Attorney General Bill McCollum, and stayed on after Bondi was elected in 2010.

“I want to thank Rob for his 16 years of service to the State of Florida as a policy advisor, cabinet aide and legislative affairs director,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi in a statement. “Rob had a great opportunity in the private sector that he couldn’t pass up and he will be greatly missed.”

Before joining the Attorney General’s Office, Johnson served as Gov. Jeb Bush’s deputy director of Cabinet affairs. He was also extensively involved in the 2003 workers’ compensation overhaul during his time working as legislative advisor to the state’s first Chief Financial Officer.

Started by Mayernick and his wife, Tracy Mayernick, The Mayernick Group is one of the leading boutique government relations firms in the state.

Often ranked among the Top 20 firms earning more than $250,000 in the state, the firm saw steady growth in the first three quarters of 2016. According to an analysis by LobbyTools, the firm brought in an estimated $430,000 in the third quarter of 2016.

Among The Mayernick Group’s roster of clients are heavyweights like HCA Healthcare, Florida Power & Light and U.S. Sugar.

The husband-and-wife duo with deep connections in the Florida Senate also does work for several “white hat” clients including maternity and infant health charity March of Dimes, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Florida, Lutheran Services and the PACE Center for Girls as well as industry-centric “food fighters” such as AT&T, Alkermes Plc and Dredging Contractors of America.

Johnson’s years of public sector experience will likely mesh well with the team at The Mayernick Group. Before striking out on his own, Frank Mayernick served as the legislative affairs director for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

He also served under the Speaker’s Legislative Fellowship Program, working in the House Rules Committee, and worked as an aide to both Sen. Charlie Clary, a Destin Republican, and Rep. Jerry Melvin, a Fort Walton Beach Republican.

Tracy Mayernick, meanwhile, boasts a strong appropriations background, as well as a history of working on healthcare, telecommunications, environmental, agriculture, economic development, transportation and criminal justice issues.

Johnson’s last day at the Attorney General’s Office was Tuesday. His first day at The Mayernick Group is Wednesday.

I look forward to working with professionals like Frank and Tracy and am committed to providing the firm’s clients with sound strategic counsel as we move into the 2017 Legislative Session,” said Johnson in a statement Wednesday.

A Florida State University graduate, Johnson is married to Alia Faraj-Johnson, the senior vice president and Florida public affairs leader at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. The couple lives in Tallahassee with their 8-year-old daughter.

Save

More than a dozen lawmakers file for re-election in 2018

The number of lawmakers prepping for another run keeps on growing.

State elections records show dozens of members of the state House and Senate have filed to run for re-election in 2018. Many of those are incumbents who faced little-to-no opposition in 2016, while others ran hard fought battles to win their spot in the Florida Legislature.

Sen. Tom Lee filed to run for re-election in Senate District 20 on Dec. 29. The Brandon Republican was re-elected in June 2016, after no one else qualified to run in his district.

Lee was first elected to the Florida Senate in 1996. He served in the upper chamber until 2006, serving as Senate President during the 2004-06 term. Voters sent Lee back to the Florida Senate in 2012.

Lee is set to serve as chairman of the Senate Community Affairs Committee during the 2016-18 term.

Sen. Kelli Stargel also appears to be vying for another term in the Florida Senate, filing the initial paperwork to run in 2018 on Dec. 16. First elected to the Florida Senate in 2012, Stargel was re-elected in Senate District 22 in November. Stargel will serve as the chairwoman of the Senate Finance and Tax Appropriations Subcommittee.

Over in the Florida House, Reps. Loranne Ausley, Paul Renner, Neil Combee, Bob Cortes, Mike La Rosa, Erin Grall, Sean Michael Shaw, Alexandra Miller, Julio Gonzalez, Michael Grant, Rick Roth, Bob Rommel, and Jose Oliva have filed to run for re-election in 2018.

The election in 2018 isn’t the only one on the minds of Florida lawmakers. Several state legislators have already filed to run for re-election in 2020, including Sens. Travis Hutson, Debbie Mayfield and Kevin Rader.

Infamous dates: The moments that shaped Florida politics in 2016

Everyone expected Florida to play an important role in politics this year.

And why wouldn’t they? Presidential hopefuls hailed from here; the state’s electoral votes were coveted; and its Senate race could have determined control of the U.S. Senate.

But just like many predictions in 2016, some of the prophecies for Florida’s outsized role on the national stage fell flat. Many believed a Sunshine state politico would be a presidential nominee (not quite right) or that the election would hinge on its 29 electoral votes (close but no cigar). And that much anticipated battle for the U.S. Senate? It fizzled out before the first vote was even cast.

Here are the dates that really mattered in Florida politics this year. And some of them might just surprise you.

Jan. 20Florida Senate says it won’t appeal redistricting decision — A years-long battle over the state’s political lines came to an end in January, when Senate leadership announced it planned to let the court-ordered maps go into effect. The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reported the four-year legal battle cost Florida taxpayers more than $11 million. The new maps threw a wrench in the 2016 election cycle, with all 40 of Florida’s state Senate seats on the ballots. While many believed the new maps could boost Democrats chances in 2016, that didn’t quite pan out.

Feb. 20 — Jeb Bush ends 2016 presidential bid —  All signs pointed to Jeb Bush being the front-runner for the GOP nomination. The son and brother of two presidents, the former Florida governor racked up a massive war chest and plenty of big-name endorsements. But Bush couldn’t make headway in a crowded field of Republican hopefuls and was often on the receiving end of then-candidate Donald Trump’s attacks. After a sixth place finish in Iowa and a fourth place finish in New Hampshire, Bush hung his hopes on South Carolina. He spent days on end campaigning in the Palmetto state, but it was just too late. He came in third, and ended his campaign that night.

March 15Donald Trump triumphs in Florida primary — Was it the turning point for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? Maybe. The New York Republican was already on a winning streak by the time the March 15 primary rolled around, but the Sunshine State contest was the biggest one to date. And Trump was up Sen. Marco Rubio, who was believed to be a hometown favorite. Turns out, Florida voters weren’t keen on sending Rubio to the White House. Trump trounced Rubio, winning every county except for Miami-Dade County. Rubio ended his presidential campaign that night, saying America was in “the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami. And we should have seen this coming.”

April 21Gwen Graham hints at 2018 plans — When the dust settled on new congressional districts, one thing was clear: Florida’s 2nd Congressional District was solidly Republican. What wasn’t entirely clear was whether Rep. Gwen Graham would run for re-election or follow in her father’s footsteps and run for governor in 2018. She put the rumors to rest in April, announcing she was dropping her re-election bid and was “seriously considering running for governor in 2018.” In the months since, Graham has continued to fuel speculation about her plans for 2018, most recently telling reporters every part of her “wants to run for governor,” but that her husband’s battle with cancer will play a significant role in her decision.

April 28Workers’ compensation decision rocks business community — A Florida Supreme Court decision striking down the state law limiting attorney’s fees in workers’ compensation cases might have been a victory for injured workers, but it also set the wheels in motion for what would become significant workers’ compensation rate hikes. The 5-2 ruling in Castellanos v. Next Door Company was just one of the decisions striking down workers’ compensation laws this year. Those rulings prompted the National Council on Compensation to ask state regulators to approve a nearly 20 percent rate hike. That rate, which was eventually lowed to 14.5 percent, went into effect Dec. 1. The state’s business community has said the rate hikes could have a dramatic impact on business, and are pushing lawmakers to tackle workers’ compensation reform in 2017.

June 1249 killed in an attack on Pulse nightclub — In the wee hours of the morning on June 12, a gunman entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring more than 50. It was the deadliest mass shooting in recent history, and sent shockwaves through the state and country. Gov. Rick Scott spent several weeks in Orlando, visiting with the victims and their families, attending funeral services, and meeting with members of the community. In the weeks and months that followed, the community came together to support the victims and their families. Spearheaded by Mayor Buddy Dyer, the city set up the OneOrlando Fund to assist victims of the attack. As of Dec. 2, the fund distributed $27.4 million for 299 claims, or 98 percent of all eligible claims filed.

June 17David Jolly drops out of U.S. Senate race, announces re-election bid — When Rep. David Jolly announced he was forgoing a re-election bid to run for the U.S. Senate, all signs indicated former Gov. Charlie Crist would sail to an easy victory. But after more and more politicos pushed encouraged Sen. Rubio to run for re-election, Jolly ended his U.S. Senate bid and announced a re-election bid, challenging Crist in an effort to keep his seat in a newly drawn district that favored Democrats. He had the support of many local Republicans, but Jolly’s push to end the practice of lawmakers dialing for dollars soured many congressional Republicans. When Election Day rolled around, Crist defeated Jolly, 52 percent to 48 percent.

June 22 — Marco Rubio reverses course, decides to run for re-election — After a devastating loss in his home state’s presidential primary, Sen. Rubio swore he wouldn’t run for re-election. The Miami Republican said multiple times that was going to serve out the remainder of his term and then go back to being a private citizen. And, as he mentioned on more than one occasion, a close friend — Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera – was already running for his seat. But in the days after the Pulse shooting, Lopez-Cantera encouraged his friend to run for re-election. Rubio ultimately announced his re-election bid just days before the qualifying deadline, effectively clearing the Republican field. He walloped Carlos Beruff in the Republican primary, and led in nearly every poll between him and Democrat Patrick Murphy. Rubio sailed to victory, winning a second term with 52 percent of the vote.

June 29 — Gov. Rick Scott declares state of emergency after algae clogs waterways — The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing Lake Okeechobee discharges down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers after record rainfalls earlier in the year. While those discharges sparked outrage in both communities, the appearance of algae blooms on the state’s east coast prompted action from the governor. Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties in June, and called on the federal government to quickly approve permits for dispersed water management projects. The declaration helped push the issue of water quality to the forefront of many campaigns.

July 8Corrine Brown indicted — It was a no good, very bad year for former Rep. Corrine Brown. Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which she represented since 1993, was redrawn as part of the state’s ongoing redistricting case. She and several other political operatives were served with subpoenas at a BBQ joint in Jacksonville. And in July, Brown and her chief of staff were indicted on federal corruption and fraud charges. The charges stem from her involvement in an allegedly fraudulent charity scheme. Brown was defiant, saying “just because someone accuses you, doesn’t mean they have the facts.” To add insult to injury, Brown was lost her primary in the newly drawn district.

July 29 — Zika comes to Florida — The first reported cases Zika virus in the Sunshine State began popping up in February, when state health officials confirmed there were nine travel-related cases of the mosquito-borne virus. Gov. Scott declared a public health emergency in four Florida counties, a number which would grow as the months wore on. As concerns about the illness spread, officials called on the federal government to assist Florida in combatting the disease and minimize the chances of homegrown cases. But in July, health officials announced the first cases of locally acquired Zika had been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly issued a travel warning for the Wynwood neighborhood, where the first cases were found. The state eventually identified several Miami-Dade communities, including a portion of Miami Beach, where local people had contracted the illness. The state cleared the final Miami-Dade Zika zone in early December. According to the Department of Health, there were more than 250 cases of locally acquired infections reported this year.

Aug. 30The Grayson era comes to an end — Rep. Alan Grayson was known throughout Florida — and beyond — as a bombastic, no holds bar congressman. And he lived up to that reputation when he ran for U.S. Senate. Grayson made headlines after his ex-wife claimed domestic abuse over two decades, a claim he refuted (but not before getting physical with a reporter). Grayson gave up seat in Florida’s 9th Congressional District to run for office, but convinced his second wife to run. That pitted Dena Grayson against Susannah Randolph, a former aide to the congressman, both of whom tried to carry the banner for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And there was no party at the Grayson house when primary night rolled around. Rep. Murphy crushed Rep. Grayson in the U.S. Senate primary; while former state Sen. Darren Soto defeated both Dena Grayson and Randolph (Dena Grayson came in third). The hits kept coming for the Grayson political dynasty. In November, Star Grayson, the former congressman’s daughter, finished a distant third in a three-person race for the Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.

Sept. 2Hurricane Hermine ends Florida’s hurricane-free streak — The Category 1 hurricane was the first storm to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. And boy, did it leave an impression. The storm smacked the Panhandle, knocking out power to thousands upon thousands of customers. While power was restored in some communities relatively quickly, Tallahassee struggled to get up and running. That led to a tussle between Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum and Gov. Scott. In a testy press release, the governor said the city was declining help from other utility companies and expressed frustration over how long it was taking to get the power back on. Gillum shot back, saying Scott was just trying to undermine a cooperative process. But politicos across the state noted the way Gillum, a rising star in the Democratic Party, handled the situation might come back to haunt him in future political runs.

Sept. 26 Water contamination concerns prompt rule changes — Days of rain leading up to, and following, Hurricane Hermine overwhelmed St. Petersburg’s sewer system. City officials opted to release millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, marking the first time in about a year the city did that. Combine that with news that a Mosaic Fertilizer sinkhole released 215 million gallons of toxic, radioactive water into the water supplies, and it’s no wonder concerns about Florida’s water supply ran rampant this fall. After many people raised questions about when the spills were reported, Gov. Scott ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to establish new reporting requirements. Those requirements are meant to guarantee local governments and the DEP are notified within 24 hours of a pollution incident. The state in October reached a deal with Mosaic over the sinkhole, which held the company accountable for fixing the sinkhole and rehabilitating the impacts of the spill.

Oct. 7 — Deadly storm threatens Florida’s east coast — One month after Hurricane Hermine made landfall near Tallahassee, Floridians were faced with another hurricane barreling toward their shores. What started as destructive tropical cyclone morphed into Hurricane Matthew, the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007. Gov. Scott and other officials throughout the state encouraged Floridians to evacuate and warned of days without power. The storm sideswiped the entirety of the East Coast, causing damage up and down the coast. The storm tore apart A1A in Flagler Beach, forcing it closed and requiring significant restoration.

Nov. 8Medical pot becomes legal — The second time was the charm for a medical marijuana ballot initiative. The constitutional amendment which allows people with debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana, easily passed with 71 percent of the vote. Supporters of the amendment, led by Orlando attorney John Morgan, were able to fend off opposition attacks. Florida was one of six states that legalized marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes on Election Day, marking one of the biggest electoral victories for marijuana reforms in years.

Nov. 10Richard Corcoran era brings new rules to Florida House — Calling for a new culture of transparency in the Florida House, House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced new rules aimed at getting tough with with the capital’s lobby corps. The rules prohibit representatives from flying on planes owned, leased or paid for by lobbyists; require lobbyists to filed individual disclosures for each bill, amendment and appropriation they’re working on; and increased the lobbying ban on former members from two to six years. Corcoran also created the Committee on Integrity and Ethics, an oversight committee.

Dec. 22Will Weatherford rules out 2018 gubernatorial bid — Considered a likely 2018 gubernatorial contender since he left office in 2014, former House Speaker Will Weatherford ended the year (and helped officially kick off the 2018 election cycle) by saying he would not run for governor in two years. “I have decided that my role in the 2018 gubernatorial election should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate,” he said in a statement. “My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business.” Weatherford was the first candidate to formally say whether they were running. But even without Weatherford in the race, Floridians can expect a crowded field. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is expected to run, and Speaker Corcoran has been mentioned as a possible candidate. On the Democratic side, Rep. Graham has already expressed her interest, as has trial attorney Morgan. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer are all believed to be pondering a run.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons