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Danny McAuliffe

Confederate statue to be moved to Lake County

The question of the day: Where do you put a statue of a Confederate general that has represented the state in the U.S. Capitol for years?

The answer: The Lake County Historical Museum.

The Statue Location Selection Committee decided on Thursday to allow the Tavares museum to take ownership and responsibility of the no-longer-wanted statue depicting Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith.

The move isn’t quite finalized, but the state’s work is done.

Now, the U.S. Architect of the Capitol must approve a state-backed request to move Smith’s sculpture to the museum. If cleared, it will head to the Joint Committee on the Library for final consideration.

Smith is one of two statues representing Florida in National Statuary Hall. The Legislature in 2016 approved a bill seeking to remove the Confederate general from the chamber inside the U.S. Capitol. It was decided in 2018 to replace his sculpture with that of the late civil-rights activist and education leader Mary McLeod Bethune. Smith won’t be replaced until the Bethune statue is ready.

The panel, led by Department of State Historical Resources Director Dr. Timothy Parsons, received three proposals from curators looking to bring the statue back to the Sunshine State. After hearing two interested parties make pitches, taking public comment and scoring each proposal based on viability, the panel overwhelmingly agreed that the Lake County Museum fits the bill.

Applicants vying for ownership of the Confederate general had to live in Florida. As well, they were required to demonstrate “ability and experience to maintain large public art in perpetuity,” provide historical context in the new display, and confirm that they had enough capital — approximately $10,000, according to state estimates — to move the statue.

In making his successful pitch, former Disney engineer and Lake County Historical Museum curator Bob Grenier suggested the Tavares location — just South of Ocala and northeast from Orlando — meant that tourists from surrounding areas would be incentivized to make a pit stop to see the Confederate general.

“We believe that this is a work of art that needs fair and easy accessibility for all Floridians,” Grenier said. The museum, he added, could “take advantage of all the tourists coming to Orlando.”

Grenier also promised permanency for the statue, along with security (he noted the museum is attached to the local sheriff’s office.) 

“Security is 24/7,” Grenier said.

Steve Birtman, a member of the panel, asked Grenier how the statue would be contextualized “to tell the good and bad” of Smith. 

“My job is to educate,” Grenier told the panel. He said the story of the general’s life would be told in its entirety, and it would be up to the museum-goers to determine what parts of it are “good or bad.”

One other applicant sought to bring the statue to St. Augustine, the birthplace of Smith, where it would sit outside on a patio of the Benet Store. The other applicant was not in attendance but had submitted a proposal offering his private residence as Smith’s new home.

Following the pitches, two Confederate apologists made a last-ditch effort to bring Smith to the Old Historic Capitol in Tallahassee or the current Capitol Rotunda. Those calls didn’t resonate with the panel as they ultimately voted unanimously in favor of Grenier’s plea.

Franklin County gets new school board member

Kristy Branch Banks was selected this week to serve a brief stint on the Franklin County School Board.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Banks to the District 3 post on Tuesday for a term that ends Nov. 13.

Banks, 47, of Apalachicola, owns her own law practice. She received her law degree from Florida State University. She is not seeking election to the same seat this year. Instead, her successor will be either Fonda D. Davis or Roderick Robinson, Jr., both of whom have qualified for the spot.

Banks fills the vacancy created by the resignation of former Board member Teresa Ann Martin

Banks’ appointment to the Board comes at a time when school districts across the state determine how best to implement new school safety mandates passed by the Legislature this year following the mass shooting in Parkland at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The Franklin School Board, like many others, does not favor the new optional armed guardian law, which was a highlighted portion of the Legislature’s school safety package. It permits schools and law enforcement officers to train non-teacher staff to carry concealed firearms on campuses. Scott signed the bill into law in March.

The Apalachicola Times reported in May that the Franklin School Board was moving forward with a plan to potentially arm one “districtwide school safety specialist,” but “there has been little support for expanding the Guardian program which could put firearms in the hands of staffers who qualify.”

At a workshop earlier this week, the Franklin School Board worked out a plan to fund the specialist position at a base salary of $64,000, along with benefits and retirement, reports the Apalachicola Times. 

Banks’ first full Board meeting will be Thursday evening.

#FlaPol in Review: A weekend roundup

A highlight reel of Florida’s political Twitter from over the weekend.

Saturday was filled with photo opportunities for Democrats who marched in Homestead in protest of the federal government’s decision to detain migrant children and separate them from their parents. Meanwhile, candidates across the board kept busy campaigning through the hot summer sun ahead of the August 28 primary.

Starting at the top…

Via his U.S. Senate campaign account, Gov. Rick Scott touted the public-private partnership announced to build a high-speed passenger rail from Tampa to Orlando:

Scott’s chippy talk of incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson preceded this:

All Democratic candidates for Governor marched in Homestead in solidarity against separating migrant families.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham posted this photo with her current competitor Chris King:

This collage from former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine pictures every major Dem candidate sans Jeff Greene

Relatively new to Twitter, Greene shared this image with his followers: 

One marcher caught this telling photo of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum:

Following the Homestead march, King caught up with the St. Petersburg Pride parade:

Meanwhile, on the Republican side of the Governor’s race, Congressman Ron DeSantis stumped in Jacksonville alongside U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. DeSantis was tailing off another Twitter endorsement from POTUS:

But Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam hasn’t given up on the Donald Trump train: 

In statewide races for Cabinet seats, the digital campaign trail continued apace.

State Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Republican option for Agriculture Commissioner, touted appearances in several counties this weekend. She’s pictured in the top left photo alongside Ocala Republican State Sen. Dennis Baxley:

Democratic Attorney General hopeful Sean Shaw traveled from Tampa to Polk County:

Matt Caldwell, a Republican Agriculture Commissioner candidate, was in Richloam:

David Walker, a Democratic candidate for Ag Comish, went to the Washington County Watermelon Parade:

Incumbent CFO Jimmy Patronis, who’s seeking reelection, took some time to share the state’s recent credit rating boost:

Democratic members of Congress from Florida have continued their assault against separating migrant children from their parents.

Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was denied entry to a Homestead center housing unaccompanied minor children last week, isn’t giving up easily on fixing the issue:

Likewise for Democratic Congresswoman Lois Frankel:

At a federal courthouse in Broward County, state Rep. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat, is pictured here passionately speaking about keeping families together:

Fort Lauderdale state Senator Gary Farmer chatted with the League of Women Voters of Florida:

And like the weather, Rep. Bob Cortes‘ campaign activity stayed hot this weekend:

State Rep. David Richardson, a Democratic Congressional candidate, appeared at Saturday’s march:

As did incoming state House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee:

In Tampa, Sen. Dana Young knocked door-to-door for her reelection bid:

State Rep. Bobby Olszewski battled the heat per usual:

In Pasco, Republican Ardian Zika stayed busy as he seeks to replace term-limited House Speaker Richard Corcoran:

Berny Jacques, pictured here with flyers and an umbrella, is clearly campaigning through a Florida summer:

Orlando Democratic House candidate Anna Eskamani has a rain-or-shine policy for her campaign:

And state Senate candidate Carie Pilon was sure to have a presence at the St. Pete Pride Parade:

Report: Overall taxation low, but local burdens high

The state continues to be a relatively low-tax environment, but Floridians still face higher local tax burdens than others, according to a new report from fiscal watchdog nonprofit Florida TaxWatch.

One of just seven states without a personal income tax, Florida’s state and local tax revenue figures out to $5,679 per person — the ninth-lowest amount in the U.S.

But governments in Florida take 53.3 percent of their revenue from local taxes. That’s the second-highest percentage in the U.S., falling just behind New York. Florida also has the fifteenth-highest amount of local taxes collected per person, according to the most recent data available.

“While Florida’s state tax and revenue burdens are very low compared to the other states, local tax burdens are much higher,” reads a TaxWatch news release accompanying the report.

TaxWatch attributed the high local tax burdens to the state’s “high reliance on local governments to provide public services results in higher local taxes.”

Overall, TaxWatch sees the report as a fact-based tool to let “policymakers and taxpayers alike know if we are winning or losing the race to attract more wealth and opportunities for economic growth,” said Florida TaxWatch President & CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “It also shows us where we need to be more competitive.”

The annual report this year is being circulated ahead of the November election when Floridians will vote on three major tax-related changes to the state Constitution. Among them: Amendment 1, which would increase the homestead exemption for property taxes; Amendment 2, which would permanently extend a cap on yearly increases of non-homestead property taxes; and Amendment 5, which would require a two-thirds supermajority vote of the Legislature to approve any future increases in taxes or fees.

TaxWatch is supporting Amendment 2, and one of the researchers involved in the report made reference to non-homestead property.

“While overall property taxes in Florida are ‘middle-of-the-road,’ the current system puts an inequitable property tax burden on non-homestead property,” said TaxWatch Vice President of Research Kurt Wenner.

The fate of Florida’s wetlands could be decided behind closed doors, groups say

Environmental and activist groups are criticizing the state for drafting in secrecy the details of a new permitting process to build in Florida’s wetlands.

In a letter Monday addressed to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein, environmental groups Audubon Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida alongside the League of Women Voters called for a more transparent process in DEP’s workshopping of an application that would give the state almost exclusive discretion in doling out permits to build in wetlands.

Currently, there are two systems in place to authorize building in Florida’s wetlands. Developers can request a permit through the state, or they can go through the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Over the years, the state’s permitting process has been streamlined, whereas the EPA’s system has remained slow. Some have described it as redundant.

HB 7043, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott in March, gives DEP permission to draft an application to the EPA to allow the state to authorize federal permits, so long as they don’t breach Section 404 of the federal Clean Water Act, which approves on a case-by-case basis development — known as “dredge and fill” activities — in wetlands.

DEP is rapidly drafting the application and taking public comment as is standard during accompanying rule-making workshops. It’s held three workshops around the state already, along with an online webinar. An estimated 300 Floridians have weighed in on rule-making, according to DEP, and the agency recently extended its public comment period by two weeks.

But the signatories of the Monday letter fear that a great bulk of the details of the application are being drafted outside of the sunshine.

“There are a lot of details that will determine what the programs look like that are being determined between [DEP] and other agencies,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell told Florida Politics.

According to Wraithmell, agreements between DEP, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are being proposed without public input. As well, agreements over which waters will remain under the Corps’ watch and DEP staffing details of the permitting program are being planned between the agencies. Even a process for challenging the permits could be determined solely by agency staff.

There would be time for public comment on the finalized application, but by then it might not be effective. 

DEP Communication’s Director Lauren Engel said the drafted rules and application would be submitted as a complete package to the EPA and then subjected to public review. The state agency has requested that the EPA hold multiple public hearings in Florida, though that’s not a given.

Federal guidelines require the EPA only to respond to and consider public comments, and Wraithmell worries that the allotted time for input comes too late in the application process.

She also pointed to a fall deadline DEP imposed on itself as evidence that the agency is hastily working under pressure.

“The casualty of that expedited deadline is public engagement,” Wraithmell said. “Our wetlands are too important to let that happen.”

When asked for a hypothetical negative externality of delegating approval powers to the state in a quick manner, Wraithmell suggested that Florida could lose “rigor” in its permitting process, which could mean fewer wetlands. Wetlands mitigate flooding, among other things, according to Wraithmell.

“In our haste to produce less redundancy we could actually throw out the standards against which these permits are issued at the federal level,” Wraithmell said.  

To give the state authority over the permits, the EPA will have to determine that the delegation would not result in a loss of wetlands. The EPA is overseen by Donald Trump-appointed Scott Pruitt.

“Before DEP could begin administering the federal program, we will be required to demonstrate to EPA that our state-administered 404 program would be just as stringent, if not more stringent than, the federal government’s,” Engel told Florida Politics.

Wraithmell believes the DEP is bent on protecting wetlands, but a “mistake” could happen in the application.  

“DEP is representing the public interest of Floridians in this application, so there should be an opportunity for Floridians to contribute to its development,” explained Wraithmell.

When HB 7043 was making its way through Session, Audubon Florida wanted language that would’ve required legislative ratification of the application.

That would’ve given the public ample opportunities to weigh in, Wraithmell said. But lawmakers didn’t deem it necessary.

Accounting watchdog claims Florida doesn’t have enough money to pay its bills

A Chicago-based watchdog group says Florida owes more than it owns to the tune of $11.6 billion, earning it a C ranking in the group’s annual report of state financial standings.

Truth in Accounting released its letter-grade rankings of each state Tuesday morning. The nonprofit was founded to highlight inaccurate government financial disclosures.

Per the two-pager accompanying the report, “Florida’s elected officials have made repeated financial decisions that have left the state with a debt burden of $11.6 billion, according to the analysis. That burden equates to $1,800 for every state taxpayer.”

Truth in Accounting coined the phrase “taxpayer burden” to describe each taxpayer’s share of state bills after its available assets have been tapped.

The latest rankings are based on data made available through each state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, and apply only to the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Analysts for Truth in Accounting figured Florida had $58.6 billion available in assets to pay $70.1 billion in spending. Most of the debt comes from pension funding, or a lack thereof. Per the report, “Of the $60.8 billion in retirement benefits promised, the state has not funded $10.9 billion of pension benefits and $9.3 billion of retiree health care benefits.”

While it’s disclosed some of the pension shortfalls, the “state continues to hide $5.9 billion of its retiree health care debt,” reads the report.

Sheila Weinberg, who founded the nonprofit, said that debt should be disclosed in next year’s CAFR, as government financial disclosure guidelines have changed. A CPA by trade, she started the organization because governments weren’t disclosing the full truth of their finances.

“I realized we were making large decisions based upon the wrong information,” Weinberg told Florida Politics. Truth in Accounting has ranked states since 2009.

“If the state had passed its balanced-budget requirement, it would not being bringing debt into the future,” explained Weinberg. If a state’s budget is in the red, then it can’t receive an A or B ranking. States are given C’s if the taxpayer burden does not exceed $5,000.

States rich in natural resources performed better than others, Weinberg said. Among the top states: Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska and Utah.

Typically, Weinberg said, Republican-controlled states seem to do better on the annual list than those operated by Democrats.

Neighboring states Alabama and Georgia have higher tax burdens than the Sunshine State. The bottom five states on the list include: New Jersey, with a taxpayer burden of $67,200; Illinois, with a burden worth $50,400; Connecticut, with a burden worth $49,500; Kentucky, with a burden worth $39,000; and Massachusetts, with a burden worth $32,900.

Rick Scott accepts trio of fall debates

Gov. Rick Scott is accepting invitations to participate in three fall debates leading up to the November election, in which he will try to oust incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Among the network hosts: CNN, Telemundo 51 in Miami, and Jacksonville’s WJXT Channel 4 (co-hosted by the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute).

Dates and times of the debates are not yet available, though the Scott campaign said they’d take place in the fall — presumably well after the Aug. 28 primary. Neither candidate faces formidable opposition from within their parties. 

The news follows Scott’s campaign announcement that a fourth-consecutive ad attacking Nelson will air across Florida televisions this week. And a healthy bit of criticism of the sitting Senator accompanied news of the debates.

A Scott campaign spokeswoman said the campaign is “curious” to see how Nelson will defend his tenure.

“Bill Nelson continues to be all talk, no action on the issues, but Floridians won’t settle for smoke and mirrors in a debate setting,” said campaign press secretary Lauren Schenone.

A spokeswoman for Nelson’s campaign said they “look forward to debating Rick Scott many times if he will agree to show up and talk about the issues important to Floridians.” Nelson’s camp expects the incumbent to outshine Scott, who they claim “has spent eight years putting himself and his political career ahead of what’s best for Florida.”

Both camps are reviewing other invitations and expect to make similar announcements in the coming months.

#FlaPol in Review: A weekend roundup

Father’s Day greetings and discussions of the Donald Trump administration’s practice of separating migrant children from their parents crowded Florida’s political Twitter feed this week, and some politicians linked the holiday to the happenings at the border.

A reminder: While most pols messaged on the holiday, this edition will only include a few dad’s day sentiments.

Gov. Rick Scott, who’s competing on the top of the ticket against Sen. Bill Nelson, is looking forward to and anticipating working with Colombia:

Nelson, meanwhile, appeared in Tampa Saturday with his Republican colleague Sen. Marco Rubio:

In the race for Governor, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham shared a throwback photo of her and her father Bob Graham, a former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor:

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who’s competing alongside Democratic candidates in the Governor’s race, tied the border happenings to Sunday’s holiday:

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine made sure his team had a presence at a North Florida Pride celebration:

Orlando businessman Chris King wasn’t too happy with Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam’s response to the news at the border:

Putnam, meanwhile, is actively rolling out endorsements from leaders in law enforcement:

In the statewide races for Cabinet, Denise Grimsley hit Southwest Florida for her campaign for Agriculture Commissioner:

Attorney General hopeful Sean Shaw traveled diagonally up the state:

Matt Caldwell, who’s running for Agriculture Commissioner, found himself in Clay County:

Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody stumped through Pinellas:

Congressman Ted Deutch isn’t happy about the current state of immigration policy:

Nor is state Rep. Margaret Good:

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith weighed in on Scott’s World Cup ad:

State Rep. Jamie Grant wants pragmatic policy at the border:


Nikki Fried campaign video features marijuana grow-op, call for gun control

According to newly filed Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried, the state is lax on gun control and too overbearing on medical marijuana.

In a campaign video released Monday morning, the Democrat makes her introduction to voters by setting up a dichotomy between pot and assault rifles.

“One helps sick and dying Floridians and is over-regulated,” Fried says of marijuana in the video. “And the other one is used to terrorize our schools and our communities, and is barely regulated at all.”

Fried, whose work as a lobbyist has focused on expanding access to marijuana, filed last week to run for the Cabinet post. Her advocacy for pot bridged into her campaign, where it will likely be a defining element.

In the video, which features pan shots of a Southwest Florida marijuana grow operation, she asks, “Honestly, what type of Agriculture Commissioner could be against a plant and the farmers who grow it?”

When Fried brings up assault rifles, an image of current Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam appears alongside the headline to a recent Tampa Bay Times report detailing a concealed-carry weapons permit background check lapse during Putnam’s tenure.

The video will air on Fried’s social media. Campaign manager Matt Gotha told Florida Politics that “no decisions have been made regarding putting money into the ad as of yet.”

Per a news release accompanying the video, Fried “intends to use the office to expand access to medical marijuana for sick and suffering Floridians, support the agriculture industry while protecting Florida’s land, water and beaches, advocate for consumers, and be an independent, compassionate voice on the Florida Cabinet.”

Fried, 40, will face off against Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter and David Walker in the Democratic primary. Both have grim fundraising numbers. Porter has $22,900 on hand and Walker has $148,550.

If Fried makes it to November, she’ll likely have to fight against one of a few deep-pocketed Republican candidates. State Rep. Matt Caldwell currently boasts $1.26 million banked for his run and state Sen. Denise Grimsley has $1.04 million at the ready. Former Rep. Baxter Troutman has largely self-funded his campaign, which had $1.5 million on hand at the beginning of June.

Marco Rubio: Fatherhood is essential

For Florida’s Republican U.S. Senator, Father’s Day isn’t about gifts.

Instead, it’s a reminder of an important aspect of parenting, and the obligations that come with raising children in America.

Sen. Marco Rubio recently authored an op-ed for The Federalist, a conservative online magazine, in which he opines on fatherhood ahead of the holiday celebrating it.

Commercialization, Rubio wrote, fogs the “true meaning” of Father’s Day. He borrows words in a resolution by former President Calvin Coolidge to describe of the mission of the holiday: “to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.”

“Fathers play the indispensable role in protecting their families from harm, encouraging children to overcome challenges, disciplining children with authority, and teaching boys how to become responsible men by modeling responsibility themselves,” wrote Rubio.

The tenets of being a dad are bipartisan, Rubio claimed. He cited words from former Democratic President Barack Obama: “[Fathers] are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.”

The Senator said “social chaos,” created by those who commit atrocities, is a direct result of “broken families” and the “absence of fathers.” He pointed to research conducted by psychologist Dr. Peter Langman, who studies mass shooters.

“More than 75 percent of the most-cited school shooters since Columbine came from broken homes,” Rubio wrote. It’s an almost-definite nod to Nikolas Cruz, the confessed Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooter, who was adopted at birth and lost his father at a young age. Since the Parkland shooting, Rubio has made a point of advocating for solutions that are less myopic than restricting access to guns.

When fathers don’t exercise enough positive influence on their sons, “it makes for an alarming number of working-age young men who do not work, seem to have no drive, and take drugs to escape their frustration. It makes for an equally alarming number of young men who abuse women, abandon financial responsibility for their children, become thugs, or become ridiculous hyper-masculine idiots,” Rubio wrote.

He concluded: “For this Father’s Day, let’s focus less on the latest gadgets and cultural outrages, and more on the distinct value — and obligations — of fatherhood and the fatherly virtues of honor, drive to provide, bravery, courage, conviction, gentle toughness, and strength of will.”

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