Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 136

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Rick Scott sets special election dates to fill House seat being vacated by Jose Felix Diaz

South Florida voters will have more than one race on their ballot this summer.

Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order Monday calling a special election to replace Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. Diaz resigned his seat to run in the special election to replace Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40.

The House District 116 special primary will be held on July 25, with the special general election scheduled for Sept. 26. Those are the same dates as Senate District 40 special elections.

Diaz sent a letter to the Florida Division of Elections on May 17 resigning from the Florida House effective Sept. 26.

Florida law requires candidates who currently hold an elected position to resign their seat in order to run for another position, if the terms overlap. The law does not apply to candidates seeking federal office.

Republican Lorenzo Palomares Starbuck has also filed to run in Senate District 40. On the Democratic side, former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and Annette Taddeo, who ran for Congress in 2016 and was former Gov. Charlie Crist’s running mate in 2014, have announced they are running.

Jose Felix Diaz to resign from House as part of SD 40 bid

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz is officially saying goodbye to the Florida House.

The Miami Republican sent a letter to the Florida Division of Elections on May 17 resigning from the Florida House effective Sept. 26. Diaz, who is running in the special election to replace Frank Artiles in Senate District 40, sent similar letters to Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

Florida law requires candidates who currently hold an elected position to resign their seat in order to run for another position, if the terms overlap. The law does not apply to candidates seeking federal office.

­Scott announced earlier this month the dates for the special election to replace Artiles, who resigned in April after he made national news after he accosted two black colleagues at a private club in Tallahassee. The special primary election is July 25, with a special general election on Sept. 26.

Republican Lorenzo Palomares Starbuck has also filed to run in the special election. On the Democratic side, former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan and Annette Taddeo, who ran for Congress in 2016 and was former Gov. Charlie Crist’s running mate in 2014, have announced they are running.

Rep. Daisy Baez dropped her bid for state Senate last week, amid reports she does not live in the House district she currently represents.

State’s unemployment rate drops to 4.5%

Florida’s unemployment rate dipped to its lowest rate in nearly a decade in April, state officials announced Friday.

The state Department of Economic Opportunity announced the unemployment rate dipped to 4.5 percent in April, down from 4.8 percent one month earlier. The drop marks one of the lowest rates since September 2007, and is only slightly higher than the national unemployment rate of 4.4 percent.

“Florida businesses have excelled over the past six years thanks to the policies of Gov. (Rick) Scott and his administration,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the DEO, in a statement. “Unemployment continues to drop, private sector jobs are on the rise and Florida families are flourishing. We must not give up on our efforts to make Florida the best place to start and grow a business.”

The DEO reported there were more than 8.5 million jobs in April, up 215,400 jobs compared to a year ago.

Professional and business services saw the largest growth, adding 39,500 jobs over the year in April; followed by trade, transportation and utilities with 36,600 new jobs; construction with 34,400 new jobs; and education and health services with 32,700 jobs.

Twenty-three of the state’s 24 metro areas saw over-the-year jobs gains, according to the DEO.

Orlando once again led the state in job creation, adding 42,700 private-sector jobs year-over-year in April. The unemployment rate in the Orlando metro area was 3.6 percent.

“I am proud to announce today that the Orlando area continues to lead the state in job creation, which is great news for families and business in Central Florida,” said Scott in a statement. “Florida’s unemployment rate has also reached a nearly 10-year low, which is sending a message across the country that our state is a top destination for new jobs and opportunities.”

Leisure and hospitality saw the largest growth, with 13,400 new jobs; followed by trade, transportation and utilities with 8,800 new jobs; financial activities with 4,800 new jobs; and manufacturing with 1,600.

The Orlando-area was second among metro areas for job demand, with 37,024 job openings.

The Tampa Bay-area led the state when it came to job demand, with 47,412 job openings. It also ranked first in the state for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) openings with 14,898 openings in April.

The region’s unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in April.

Scott is expected to highlight the job numbers during an event in Miami later today.

Race on! Rick Baker takes double-digit lead over Rick Kriseman for St. Pete Mayor, poll shows

The race for St. Petersburg mayor is heating up, with a new poll showing Rick Baker with a double-digit lead over Rick Kriseman.

A new St. Pete Polls survey finds Baker with 46 percent of registered St. Petersburg voters saying they would pick him in a head-to-head matchup, while 33 percent are with Kriseman. Twenty percent of voters polled said they were unsure.

Baker has held a wide margin over Kriseman for months now. A St. Pete Polls survey conducted Jan. 30 showed Baker would defeat Kriseman by 10 points — 47 percent to 37 percent. At the time, 16 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

“No matter what the polls say we will run hard to the finish,” said Baker in a statement. “I understand that I need to earn every vote and I intend to do that. My goal is, for all of us together, to build a seamless city.”

Although the mayoral race is non-partisan, Baker received strong support from Republicans, with nearly 73 percent of GOP’ers saying they had a favorable opinion of him. The poll found 49 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independent voters have a favorable opinion of Baker.

The survey found nearly 61 percent of Democrats have a favorable opinion of Kriseman, while nearly 43 percent of independent voters said they had a favorable opinion of him. Republicans don’t think highly of Kriseman, with nearly 57 percent of Republicans saying they had an unfavorable view of the first-term mayor.

More than 44 percent of respondents said the city’s recent sewage issues will be a “major factor” in their decision for who they vote for in the upcoming mayoral race; while 36 percent said it will be a “minor factor.” About 15 percent of respondents said it won’t be “a factor at all.”

Baker, who announced he was running for mayor earlier this month, led City Hall from 2001 until 2010.

The survey of 1,237 registered voters was conducted on May 16. The poll — conducted for — has a margin of error of 2.8 percent.

Matt Caldwell announces run for Agriculture Commissioner

Updated 12 noon — State Rep. Matt Caldwell formally announced his candidacy for Agriculture Commissioner on Monday morning, in an event that was livestreamed on his Facebook page.

“I’m thrilled to kick off my campaign with all of you in my hometown,” he told the crowd at Sun Harvest Citrus in Fort Myers. “Growing up, I never made grand plans to run for office … But I decided early on I could sit and shake my fist at the television screen or I could get out there.”

Caldwell burnished his conservative bona fides, which he said “puts a bull’s eye on your back every single day,” mentioning his support of term limits, tax cuts, but also “the needs of our environment and our farmers.”

He also talked about the importance of gun rights and Cabinet duties: The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services oversees the issuance of concealed weapon licenses, and the commissioner sits on the Florida Cabinet with the state’s governor, attorney general and CFO.

“With your help, and God’s blessing, we will come out ahead next year,” Caldwell said.

He was introduced by his friend, House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues, who said there was “no one more prepared to go to Tallahassee and be the next commissioner.”

“It’s not unusual for someone to go to Tallahassee and change, become a different person,” added Rodrigues, an Estero Republican who said he had known Caldwell “half his life.”

“What is rare is when someone is the same person at the end of their seventh year as they were when they got there,” he said. “But the Matt Caldwell you see here today … has not changed when you get to the root of his character.”

An earlier version of this story is below:

For the past seven years, Rep. Matt Caldwell has traveled back-and-forth to Tallahassee from his Lee County home, often choosing highways taking him through the state’s small towns instead of the interstate.

Those countless two-lane journeys over the years will likely come in handy as the North Fort Myers Republican embarks on his next campaign. Unable to run for re-election because of term limits, Caldwell threw his hat in the race to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in 2018. He is set to formally launch his campaign at 11:15 a.m. at Sun Harvest Citrus, a citrus retail store in Fort Myers.

“Here’s an opportunity, from my perspective, to keep pursuing the issues that I think are important, the ones I’ve had a chance to focus on and shape the policy outcomes,” he said in a recent interview. “That’s what I’m always going to be looking to do, to be effective.”

First elected in 2010, Caldwell has spent much of his career in the Legislature focused on environmental and agricultural issues.

As chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee in 2013, he backed a plan to help pay for Everglades restoration. The bill (HB 7065), which was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, called on the state to spend $32 million a year for 10 years to reduce the amount of phosphorous that enters the Everglades. As chairman of the State Affairs Committee, he carried legislation (HB 1075), which the governor also signed into law, in 2016 that addressed how state lands are used.

This year, Caldwell, now the chairman of the Government Accountability Committee, proposed legislation that would have restructured Florida Forever’s funding formula and guaranteed funding for the next 20 years. Filed late in the 2017 Session, the bill (HB 7119) passed the House, but did not get a hearing in the Senate.

“You look at the things I’ve been able to work on over the last … seven years in the process, and I think it demonstrates the ability to work on challenging issues, to work with a bipartisan coalition of folks, to work with folks across the aisle, to come together on some pretty tough things,” he said.

Caldwell said he plans to focus on issues that are front-and-center to the agriculture community. The state’s continued growth creates challenges for farmers, but is also a challenge for the state as it looks preserve critically important water resources and conservation areas.

Caldwell understands that growth first hand. A seventh-generation Floridian, Caldwell’s parents met while college, despite both living in Fort Myers. They got married after undergrad, and moved back to Fort Myers a few years later with one-year-old Matt in tow.

The 35-year-old said Fort Myers was a “fantastic place” for a kid to live.

“I grew up fishing all the back mangroves, windsurfing on the Sanibel Causeway,” he said. “For a kid growing up, there was always something to do. It was a great way to grow up.”

His commitment to public service, he said, comes from his parents. His mom is an educator; his father was in the ministry. He would go with them to vote every election, getting a map of the United States during presidential election years and color in the states and election results as returns came in.

He was recruited by Republicans in 2008 to run for the cross-state Senate seat held by then-Sen. Dave Aronberg. The seat included parts of Lee and Palm Beach counties, and was a near 50-50 seat, with a slight Democratic registration advantage. Caldwell lost, 40 percent to Aronberg’s 60 percent, but said he learned valuable lessons along the way.

“It had urbanized downtowns, it had cattle ranches and citrus groves, it covered part of Lake Okeechobee, it had the ocean on each side. It was quite literally a snapshot of every kind of venue you’ll encounter in the state of Florida,” he said. “You had to learn to campaign in the different environments. You always want to remain true to who you are and what your values are and what your goals are, but you do have to make sure you communicate and people where they’re at, and with such a diverse district, it was one of those educational lessons for sure.”

Two years later, he ran for the seat being vacated by Rep. Nick Thompson, and this time won. But Caldwell said said he was “definitely not the favorite to win that race” either.

Caldwell is once again gearing up for another tough run. With about 15 months until the August 2018 primary, three Republicans — Caldwell, Sen. Denise Grimsley, and Paul Paulson — have already announced they are running for Agriculture Commissioner.

Caldwell has raised $752,594 for his political committee, Friends of Matt Caldwell, since Aug. 2016. According to state records, he raised $702,825 of that since January. The committee ended April with $630,914 cash on hand.

While Caldwell will face the same challenge— getting his name and message out to millions of potential voters — that any statewide candidate will face, the most difficult part of the campaign is much more personal: Being away from his family. Caldwell said he plans to be on the road campaigning five days a week, which means more days and nights away from his wife, Yvonne, and daughter, Ava.

“What I can commit to and offer is that I have a deep-rooted investment in the state of Florida. This is not about a title or to put something on my resume,” he said. “I honestly don’t care if my gravestone says anything more than ‘husband and father,’ that’s the only real job that I worry about being successful in my legacy. But this is really, to me, a chance to serve.”

Tallahassee correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post. 

Adam Putnam: Lawmakers ‘shortchanged’ state colleges in budget

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he thinks legislators “shortchanged” state colleges and workforce development in the 2017-18 budget, a move that could put a damper on the state’s ability to keep some of the best and brightest in Florida.

Putnam officially launched his 2018 gubernatorial campaign Wednesday, and has been traveling the state as part of 10-day, 22-city bus tour. During his announcement speech earlier in the week and at stops along the way, Putnam has said state leaders need to make sure Florida “isn’t only the place where people come after a life well-lived somewhere else; it’s where they come to launch their own American dream.”

“We can grow an innovation economy; we can be the launch pad for American dream, in addition to being the tourist capital and the retirement haven,” he said in an interview Friday. “We can be the state that keeps our brightest and best here, and attracts the brightest and best from the rest of the country, so that they start their businesses here, so they launch and grow their businesses here, they raise their families here.”

Putnam, who has talked about the need for workforce development and an education system that prepares students for traditional universities as well as trades, said he was disappointed with the Legislature’s decision to cut funding for state colleges.

“They shortchanged our state colleges and they shortchanged workforce development,” he said. “Every month, Gov.  (Rick) Scott puts on our desk the job vacancies in Florida, and every month for seven years, nursing is No. 1. The men and women who are going to get those nursing degrees aren’t going to go to Tallahassee or Gainesville or Tampa or Orlando, they’re going to go to their local state college.”

The legislature reduced permanent funding for the Florida College System by about $30 million. The average cut, according to the Association of Florida Colleges, is $1.1 million.

Michael Brewer, the CEO of the Association of Florida Colleges, said in a statement last week that colleges have indicated the reductions could mean they are less able to respond to regional workforce needs, may have to reduce programs, or limit admissions to workforce programs, like nursing.

Putnam said he didn’t know why lawmakers would cut funding to state colleges, but called their decision “short-sighted.”

“It’s undercutting our ability to serve more than half our high school graduates that are not going to get a four-year university degree,” he said. “Investing in state colleges is the best ticket to rebuilding our main streets and communities, rebuilding the middle class in Florida, as well as diversifying the economy.”

Tournament raising funds for education and to honor Phil Galvano, father of Bill Galvano, scheduled for this week

Six months cooped up in the Florida Capitol might put a damper on Sen. Bill Galvano’s golf game, but the Bradenton Republican isn’t too worried about it.

He’s hopeful his skills will come back to him when he hits the links later this week during the 21st annual Phil Galvano Classic at the Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch. And even if they don’t, he’s confident the annual event in memory of his father — golf pro Phil Galvano — will once again raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Manatee Education Foundation.

The elder Galvano wasn’t your run-of-the-mill golf pro. Born in 1915 to Sicilian immigrants, Phil Galvano grew up in New York City and started caddying on Staten Island to make some money. He would caddy two or three rounds of golf a day, with a bag on each shoulder.

It was through caddying he became interested in golf, becoming a PGA golf pro. But when he went looking for jobs, he was turned away. No one was interested in offering him a job, they told him should be a dance teacher not a golf pro.

Galvano said his dad didn’t give up, deciding if he couldn’t “get a job at the clubs, he would create his own golf instruction studio.” He had a friend who was J.P. Morgan’s niece and told her about his idea, and she let him borrow $2,000 to secure a space on 42nd Street to create an indoor golf studio. Clients would hit balls into a canvas, and the elder Galvano would be able to offer instruction just by looking at his swing.

He became successful, and soon scored his first big-name client — well, a client with big-name connections, at least. Bob Hope’s manager started coming in for lessons, and called Galvano his secret weapon.

Galvano said his dad responded by telling him he appreciated the praise, but telling him “I can’t be kept a secret.” The man told Hope, a well-known comedian at the time, about him, and soon Galvano was teaching Hope and other celebrities his tricks.

He wrote two best-selling books, and even filmed his own golf show on television, filmed just a few studios down from where Saturday Night Live is currently filmed.

Phil and his wife, Betty, moved to Anna Maria Island in 1969. They first visited the community about a decade earlier on their honeymoon, at the suggestion of their friend Bill Mote, the benefactor of Mote Marine Laboratory.

Galvano said his father helped create an executive golf course in Manatee County. The course is now closed, and has become the Timber Creek community, according to the Bradenton Herald.

But his father’s memory lives on in other ways. Proceeds from the inaugural event — which was held in the Naples-Fort Myers area, where Phil and Betty Galvano were living at the time of his death — went to Hope Hospice. The following year, the Galvano family decided to move the event to Manatee County. A big believer in education, the golf tournament has supported the Manatee Education Foundation ever since.

“This is where his heart was,” said Galvano, who said his father often said if you “go to bed at the end of the night and can’t think of anything new (you learned), then you wasted the day.”

“We’ve raised millions in my father’s name for public education,” said Galvano.

That money, he said, goes toward enhancing education, and for the most part is used for min-grants that teachers can apply for to enhance his or her classroom. For example, he said science teachers can request a grant for a certain apparatus. The event has raised so much money over the years that Galvano said very few requests get turned down.

Last year’s tournament raised about $400,000, and he expects to surpass that this year. In addition to the Manatee Education Foundation, Galvano said a portion of funds raised will go to The Malala Fund, a nonprofit inspired by Malala Yousafzai that works to secure girls’ right to a minimum of 12 years of quality education.

Galvano, who is in line to be the next Senate President, said he gets a lot of support from his colleagues in Tallahassee and expects eight senators and several House members will be in attendance this year. The governor has attended in the past, as have other celebrities, like actor Armand Assante and golf legend Tony Jacklin.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino has attended the event for the past three years, and will be in attendance again this year. Galvano said he and Marino have become “dear friends,” and he loves the work Marino does for people with unique abilities.

Sponsors will get a chance to mix and mingle with Marino and Galvano during a private lunch and round of golf at the Longboat Key Club on Thursday, before the main event kicks off Friday at the Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch.

Governor signs landmark ride-sharing legislation into law

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Tuesday a bill that creates statewide regulations for ride-booking companies, like Uber and Lyft.

“I’m proud to sign this legislation today to make it easier for ridesharing companies to thrive in Florida and help ensure the safety of our families,” said Scott in a statement. “Florida is one of the most business-friendly states in the nation because of our efforts to reduce burdensome regulations and encourage innovation and job creation across all industries, including transportation.”

The legislation, among other things, requires ride-booking companies, like Uber and Lyft, to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury of death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app, but hasn’t secured a passenger. While with a passenger, drivers would be required to have $1 million in coverage.

“Uber would like to thank Governor Rick Scott for signing House Bill 221 and for his steadfast support of the ridesharing industry. This law now opens the door for more residents and visitors to access innovative transportation options across all of Florida,” said Kasra Moshkani, the South Florida general manager for Uber. “Since Uber first arrived in Florida three years ago, we have worked with local leaders, safety groups and consumer groups to enhance the communities we serve. For Uber Florida, our priority is making safe and reliable rides easy and affordable — whether it’s for a mother needing transportation after a late work shift, or for a senior who needs to get to and from doctor appointments. Today, with Governor Scott’s signature, we see the culmination of hard work and dedication by so many: from Uber driver-partners and riders to our diverse local partners and community leaders.”

Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes in the Senate and Reps. Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant, it also requires companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers. The law pre-empts local ordinances and rules on transportation network companies.

“This legislation will ensure the innovative ridesharing network across Florida continues to thrive,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “Helping Florida businesses grow is critical to our economy, and this bill will also empower workers across the state to work when and where they want to meet the needs of their families.”

The law goes into effect July 1.

“This landmark legislation would have never happened without the Lyft community across the state who stood up for the benefits ridesharing brings to their families, businesses and cities,” said Chelsea Harrison, the senior policy communications manager for Lyft, in a statement. “We look forward to seeing Lyft continue to grow and thrive for years to come in the Sunshine State.”


Adam Putnam to proclaim: ‘Florida can be launch pad for American Dream’

Adam Putnam will detail his vision for Florida’s future, laying out a plan to make Florida a “launch pad for the American Dream” when he formally announces his 2018 gubernatorial bid today.

Putnam, the state’s agriculture commissioner, will launch his gubernatorial bid on the steps of the Old Polk County Courthouse in Bartow at 11 a.m. today. Afterward, he’s scheduled to attend a Florida Grown Hometown BBQ hosted by his political committee, Florida Grown, in downtown Bartow.

According to prepared remarks provided ahead of his speech, Putnam is expected to put a focus on how the Sunshine State “isn’t only the place where people come after a life well-lived somewhere else; it’s where they come to launch their own American Dream.”

“Our state can be the launch pad for the American Dream. The state that is the fishing capital of the world can also be the state that builds the boats and trains the craftsmen,” he is expected to say. “The state that trained millions of soldiers and sailors and airmen can retrain our citizens with the skills that allow them to compete in a rapidly changing world – and win. The state that put a man on the moon can build the tools for the next giant leap for mankind.”

Putnam will point to examples of “American exceptionalism” in Florida, according to his speech.

“Look at the grocery clerk in Lakeland who revolutionized the supermarket industry,” he is expected to say. “Or the cashier on I-Drive who now owns the souvenir shop… It’s the truck driver hauling fruit who saved up to buy an orange grove, and then another… It’s the hotel maid who now runs her own bed and breakfast.”

“Hard-working folks like these have been able to achieve their American Dream right here in Florida. I want every single Floridian to be able to tell a similar story. I want people around the country to know this is where it happens,” he is expected to continue. “It’s why we have more work to do. It’s why we’ve got to keep fighting to put Florida first and make our state the launch pad for the American Dream.”

Putnam will be joined on the stage today by retired Army Sgt. Jordan Corbett, who served in the 555th Parachute Infantry, and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. Corbett will deliver the Pledge of Allegiance, while Judd is expected to introduce Putnam. The Bartow High School Marching Band will be on hand to play the National Anthem.

Matt Caldwell to kick-off Ag Commissioner campaign Monday in Fort Myers

Matt Caldwell is ready to kick is campaign for agriculture commissioner into high gear.

The North Fort Myers Republican will officially kick-off his campaign with an event at Sun Harvest Citrus, 14601 Six Mile Cypress Parkway in Fort Myers at 11:15 a.m., Monday.

Caldwell, who had been expected to throw his hat in the race to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, filed to run for the seat earlier this month. Since January, Caldwell has raised $702,825 for his political committee Friends of Matt Caldwell.

State records show his February 2017 fundraising haul of $412,075 was the largest single month haul since August 2016, when the committee was started. The committee ended March with more than $650,000 cash on hand, according to state records.

The chairman of the Government Accountability Committee, Caldwell has spent much of his career in the Legislature focused on environmental and agricultural issues, a background that could serve him well in the position. During the 2017 Legislative Session, he pushed for legislation restructure the funding formula for Florida Forever and guarantee funding to the conservation program.

Caldwell can’t run for re-election in the House because of term limits.

He isn’t the only state legislator vying to replace Putnam, who is running for governor. Sen. Denise Grimsley filed to run for the seat earlier this year. A fifth generation Floridian, Grimsley was first elected to the Florida House in 2004, where she served until 2012, when she was elected to the Senate

Republican Paul Paulson and Democrats Michael Damian Christine and Daniel Sohn have also filed to run for the seat.

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