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Danny McAuliffe

Looking ahead: Florida TaxWatch publishes guide for ‘whoever’ wins gubernatorial election

While Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum have fundamental differences in how state government should be shaped for the next four years, each will face the important task of ensuring it continues to operate.

That’s why the nonpartisan research and policy group Florida TaxWatch is again publishing its “Governor’s Transition Decision Handbook,” a cheat-sheet aimed to help the prevailing gubernatorial candidate move seamlessly from the campaign to the official office.

Whoever wins on Nov. 6— whether it’s Gillum, the Mayor of Tallahassee, or DeSantis, the former Congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach — the nonprofit state government watchdog is hoping to provide a helping hand.

“We’re looking forward to helping him and his team get a quick jump from the campaign to government,” TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro said on Tuesday during remarks to media at the organization’s Tallahassee headquarters.

“The important thing is when the election is over, we can put aside those partisan differences and we look first and foremost at how Florida is second to none,” Calabro added.

Former Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, who served from 1987-1991, headed the handbook’s steering committee, which also includes other former and current electeds from both major parties.

The handbook, Martinez said, is at the very least a “guide,” for whoever wins to help them “implement their policies and organize their administration.”

Before being elected Governor in 1986, Martinez had served a seven-year stint as Tampa Mayor.

“Not enough can be said about the assistance that is required,” Martinez said, referencing his jump from local to statewide office. DeSantis or Gillum will first be tasked with hiring their immediate staff — like their chief of staff and policy and budget directors, added Martinez. 

“Those are very important,” Martinez continued, noting that the Governor’s budget must be submitted to the Legislature sometime before the 2019 Legislative Session March start date.

Martinez, who was the only Republican officer elected statewide in 1986 and was forced to coordinate with a Democrat-controlled Legislature, inhabited the Governor’s Mansion in a scenario similar to what could happen if Gillum wins next week — should the House and Senate remain Republican-controlled.

“You learn to adapt,” Martinez said.

Former Democratic state Rep. Alan Williams, of Tallahassee, said for the most part, “the philosophy and all the rhetoric on the campaign trail must end,” after the election. Then, a bipartisan and unified approach is required.

Beginning to work with the Legislature, Williams added, is among “the most critical” first steps. And that’s how TaxWatch, where Williams serves as a member of the handbook steering committee, can help.

The handbook, more than 60 pages long, provides a preview of the roles an responsibilities of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, as well as a listing of “prominent issues facing Florida,” ranging from big-ticket items like public education spending to abstract but important policies like gaming and affordable housing.

The handbook was first published in 1998, when Gov. Jeb Bush was elected. It’s been revised and republished in four separate editions since.

Poll gives Andrew Gillum 6-point lead over Ron DeSantis

The latest poll from the University of North Florida’s public opinion outfit has Democrat Andrew Gillum six points ahead of Republican Ron DeSantis in the race for Florida governor. 

The six-point lead is outside of the poll’s 3 percentage point margin of error.

Released Tuesday from the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF, the survey has 49 percent of likely voters backing the Tallahassee Mayor and 43 percent opting for DeSantis, the former Congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach. 

About 7 percent of the sample is undecided.

With Gillum at an advantage, the results mirror most public polls released since the Aug. 28 primary. RealClearPolitics, which aggregates the results of reputable polls, puts Gillum ahead on average by 3 points.

“Almost 3 million people have already voted, and Gillum is clearly leading in the gubernatorial race,” said Dr. Michael Binder, faculty director of UNF’s polling branch. 

The edge for Gillum stems from non-party affiliates. Of the 194 NPAs sampled — roughly 18 percent of the 1,047 sample size — 56 percent broke for Gillum, while 31 percent went for DeSantis, and 13 percent indicated they were undecided. 

Partisans, for the most part, supported their party-backed candidate.

Of the 422 Democratic voters sampled, 87 percent said they’d vote for Gillum, with 7 percent splitting for DeSantis and 6 percent undecided. Eighty-four percent of the 431 likely GOP voters said they’d cast a ballot for DeSantis, with 10 percent breaking for Gillum and 7 percent undecided. 

These splits highlight the need for emphasis on sampling the right amount of NPA voters in surveys leading up to the Nov. 6 election, Binder added.

“Currently less than 18 percent of ballots cast have been by NPA/Others, we estimate that number will be 19 percent,” said Binder. 

In September, the same UNF polling group had Gillum up 47-43, with 10 percent undecided.

Donald Trump: Andrew Gillum ‘is a thief’

Republican President Donald Trump is continuing his political assault on Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee in Florida’s race for Governor.

The latest attack: Calling Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, a thief.

In a tweet fired off Monday, the President praised Ron DeSantis, the Republican gubernatorial nominee (and Trump-backed candidate), while repeating his continued claim that Florida’s capital city is “corrupt” and adding that its Mayor “is a thief” — an unproven embellishment.

Those associated with Gillum’s campaign immediately criticized the tweet.

“This is a disgusting lie,” tweeted Geoff Burgan, a former spokesman for Gillum and current media consultant for the campaign.

Gillum, via his Twitter account, also responded.

There’s no evidence suggesting Gillum, the state’s first African-American major-party nominee for Governor, has ever stolen anything.

On Monday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was asked to clarify Trump’s claim that Gillum is a thief.

Sanders responded saying that Gillum is “under FBI investigation.” She didn’t go into details, citing the Hatch Act, which in part limits White House staffers from engaging in political activity.

Gillum’s campaign decried Sanders’ comments as “lies.”

“It’s simply wrong to say Mayor Gillum is under FBI investigation — he’s not under FBI investigation and the FBI has confirmed it,” said the Gillum campaign in a prepared statement.

During the final days leading to the Nov. 6 midterm, Gillum has been dogged by a steady trickle of documents that have revealed links to a two-year FBI investigation into government corruption in Tallahassee.

Gillum has not been subpoenaed by the FBI and contends he is not the target of the FBI’s inquiry. The documents are being distributed as part of an ongoing state ethics investigation separate from the FBI’s.

But nothing made publicly available has pointed to theft, and the Gillum campaign has denied any wrongdoing.

The first batch of records, released a week ago, suggested Gillum may have accepted a ticket to the musical “Hamilton” from “Mike Miller” — supposedly an undercover FBI agent posing as an out-of-state developer seeking to do business with the city of Tallahassee — while in New York.

Records released Friday linked Miller to Gillum’s political committee, Forward Florida. Another batch of records released on Monday detailed a 2016 dinner planned between Gillum and lobbyists.

Trump has a keen political interest in the outcome of Florida’s top-ticket races. He’s exercised his influence on U.S Senate candidate and Republican Gov. Rick Scott and endorsed DeSantis’ campaign before the Republican primary election.

The President will hold two rallies this week. The first in Fort Myers on Wednesday, followed by another in Pensacola on Saturday.

Ron DeSantis used to criticize Obama-era energy investors. Now one is hosting his fundraiser

Before he was a statewide candidate, Ron DeSantis denounced the cozy relationship between the federal government and some private businesses.

But it now appears the Republican nominee for Governor is willing to be wined and dined by those linked to the very same practice.

Among the hosts of a Monday night fundraiser for DeSantis is William “Wilber” James, co-founder and general partner of RockPort Capital, a Boston-based venture capital firm that “invests in the areas of alternative and traditional energy, mobility, and sustainability,” according to its website.

RockPort Capital was one of the top investors in the now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturing group Solyndra Inc.

Before going under in 2011, Solyndra received a $535 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy. After the company’s demise, Republicans — including DeSantis — had used the incident to describe a sort of crony-capitalist relationship between the federal government then overseen by President Barack Obama and companies like Solyndra.

DeSantis wasn’t elected to Congress till 2012. During a speech the year before, DeSantis pointed to Solyndra as “a great example” of “crony capitalism” and “faculty lounge socialism.” He then was known mostly for his book, “Dreams From Our Founding Fathers: First Principles in the Age of Obama.”

“If you look at the people who are connected to things like Solyndra or some of these other outfits,” DeSantis said during the speech to a Tea Party group. “They’re major contributors to the Democratic Party, major contributors to Barack Obama.”

The Department of Energy’s Inspector General later examined the conditions under which the loan was granted to Solyndra. Fortune magazine in 2015 described the report’s conclusion as a highlight “that a startup as high-risk as Solyndra should not have ever been considered for such a large loan guarantee from the federal government.”

Republicans used the loan to Solyndra and its subsequent bankruptcy to attack Obama during the 2012 reelection, decrying it as a taxpayer-funded bailout.

Later during the speech to the Tea Party group, DeSantis charged that the federal government “put the private investors ahead and left the taxpayers holding the bag.”

RockPort, the VC firm co-founded by James, had “put more than $63.5 million into Solyndra,” according to Reuters. That suggests James, now a host for DeSantis’ Monday night fundraiser, is one of the very same “private investors” DeSantis lashed out against in 2011.

While James’ involvement in securing the controversial loan isn’t documented, he told an audience at the 2009 National Venture Capital Association meeting that Solyndra spent $10 million to obtain the government funding, as reported by Business Insider.

Others at RockPort, however, did get involved in pseudo-lobbying efforts with the Obama administration.

David Prend, another co-founder of the VC, had reportedly sent emails to a White House aide asking to “‘help get the word out’  about Solyndra and asking for help on another RockPort portfolio company,” The Washington Post wrote.

In September, a donor named William James chipped in $10,000 to DeSantis’ PAC, Friends of Ron DeSantis. In December 2017, shortly before DeSantis entered the gubernatorial race, the same donor gave $20,000 to another DeSantis-linked committee, Fund for Florida’s Future.

As of late Monday afternoon, the DeSantis campaign had not responded to a request for comment.

Accompanied by Hunter Pollack, Republicans rally in Andrew Gillum’s backyard

This election, Republicans aren’t writing off places like Leon County, despite registered Democrats outnumbering GOP voters nearly 2-1.

On Saturday, a little more than a week out from Nov. 6, volunteers with the Republican Party of Florida met in Tallahassee before splitting up for targeted door-knocking.

Among them: Hunter Pollack, whose sister Meadow was killed in the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 students, faculty and staff dead.

Pollack, a second-year political science major at Florida State University, is one of several MSD students who entered the limelight after the Parkland tragedy. But he’s parlayed his ties to the South Florida high school into Republican activism, rather than the single-issue gun control advocacy that others have opted for.  

Hunter Pollack met Republican Gov. Rick Scott in February after the shooting, and they’ve been “close ever since.” He’s acted as a trail surrogate for Scott’s bid for the U.S. Senate and said he met Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate for Governor, after realizing they had common ground in faulting the FBI.

“We have a good friendship,” Hunter Pollack said of DeSantis.

And Scott, in a statement, said he “worked closely with Hunter and his father, Andy, to improve school safety through the passage of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, and I have been humbled to see their dedication to improving our state in honor of Hunter’s sister Meadow, who was tragically murdered.

“Hunter is a tireless advocate for school safety, and is working hard to share our commitment to protecting students across the state. I am honored to have the support of the Pollacks and will continue to fight for our children in Florida and Washington.”

During the recent CNN debate between DeSantis and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, the former congressman noted that he’s been working with Hunter Pollack’s father, Andrew Pollack, to address school security concerns in the wake of the Parkland tragedy.

Andrew Pollack also recently cut a robocall for DeSantis, encouraging Floridians to support DeSantis and criticizing Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, for signing a pledge from the Dream Defenders, known for its 2013 month-long sit-in at the state’s Capitol

When speaking to voters, whether on the phone or at the door, Pollack offers a unique perspective. If given the chance, he said he tells voters about his sister. That’s followed up by praise for Republicans at the top of the ticket.

“I think people need to know” about Meadow, he said. “But they also need to be enlightened about the positive stuff and my positive experiences with [Scott] and [DeSantis].”

Despite the hard-hitting recent news coverage, which this week further detailed Gillum’s ties to a two-year-long FBI investigation into corruption in the capital city, Hunter Pollack and others working with Republicans said they keep the message at the door “positive.”

Nich Bique, who serves as the field organizer for 13 counties in the Big Bend region, said the party harps on their candidate’s strengths — like Scott’s job record and DeSantis’ military service — rather than diving into the dirt with voters.

To Bique, it’s a winning strategy. He’s overseen a team that credits itself with shifting nearby Wakulla County, a historically Democratic county, red in voter registration earlier this summer. Statewide, Bique said, the party has knocked on more than 3 million doors and called 2.6 million Floridians.

Currently, the team is “targeting low-propensity Republicans,” Bique said. “Republicans who typically don’t get out to vote in a midterm year, a primary, or an off-year general.”

Ultimately, however, it’s a margins game for Republicans in Tallahassee, where one of two Democratic mayoral candidates competing in a runoff  to replace the unabashedly progressive Gillum  has sought to brand the other as a “conservative.”

Records link undercover FBI agent to Andrew Gillum fundraising panel

A second batch of records released Friday as part of an ongoing state ethics investigation suggests an undercover FBI agent paid for a fundraising dinner hosted by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s political committee, Forward Florida.

Adam Corey, a focal point of the FBI’s two-year-long investigation into corruption in the capital city and among the first subpoenaed in 2017, billed “Mike Miller” $4,386 for an April 2016 dinner held by the committee, records show.

Miller supposedly was an out-of-state developer seeking to do business with the city. He is now believed to be among undercover agents who were working a sting operation.

“I hope you had a great weekend,” Corey wrote in an email to Miller. “Attached is the invoice for the dinner you graciously offered to sponsor.”

Corey, who owned the restaurant where the dinner took place, indicated he could help Miller pay any leftover costs.

In another email, Corey said Miller promised to underwrite the fundraising dinner rather than contribute $5,000 to Forward Florida.

Forward Florida has served as Gillum’s primary fundraising vehicle in his candidacy for Governor. The committee has raised $26 million since its creation in 2016.

The records were made public by the Florida Commission on Ethics amid an investigation separate from the FBI’s.

Other records show that Corey had helped to plan trips with city staff. Correspondence shows current Tallahassee mayoral candidate Dustin Daniels, then Gillum’s chief of staff, could have accepted a ticket from Miller to attend the Florida State University-Clemson football game in fall 2016.

Wrote Corey: “Please give Dustin Daniels the fourth and only remaining ticket in Mike Miller’s allotment for the Clemson game. He is going to hang with us.”

Similar records, released Monday, suggested Gillum may have accepted a ticket to the musical “Hamilton” from Miller while in New York. Gillum has maintained that he assumed the tickets were paid for by Marcus Gillum, his brother.

Father of slain Parkland student: ‘Andrew Gillum is dangerous for Florida’

A family member of one of the victims killed during the Parkland school shooting is acting as Ron DeSantis‘ latest surrogate, as the Republican gubernatorial candidate attempts to discredit his opponent’s relationship with police in the days leading up to the election.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 dead in February, is featured in a new robocall paid for by DeSantis.

In the 45-second spot, Andrew Pollack suggests a DeSantis victory will “ensure that no parent loses their child in a school shooting again.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, on the other hand, is “now saying that he will defund the police, and keep them out of our schools,” Andrew Pollack says. 

“That’s wrong and it’s dangerous,” continues Andrew Pollack, who introduces the call by noting his relationship to Meadow Pollack. “And it puts our kids at risk.”

Near the end, the Parkland father makes his case even clearer: “Don’t vote for Andrew Gillum, he’s dangerous for Florida.”

Gillum’s relationship with police and crime has become a focal point for attacks from DeSantis’ campaign. In the first debate between the two candidates, DeSantis accused Gillum of signing a pledge containing a “radical manifesto.”

The organization behind the pledge, Dream Defenders, says “the police and prisons have no place in justice and that law enforcement should be defunded and the money diverted for welfare programs,” DeSantis charged during the Sunday evening CNN debate.

The pledge signed by Gillum, however, was a promise to not accept money from the National Rifle Association, and return any donations to date. It was also a promise to not accept donations from private prison corporations.

But included in the signed pledge is a promise to support the “Freedom Papers,” which contains a much more radical series of promises.

And that stipulation has provided fodder for DeSantis. It’s what’s led Pollack to claim that Gillum “will defund the police, and keep them out of our schools.” It was also used by Florida Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian during another robocall attacking Gillum. 

During a Wednesday night debate, DeSantis again brought up the pledge. But Gillum maintained that the pledge was only a rejection of private prison money.

Following the tragic Valentine’s Day shooting, Andrew Pollack was one of many to wade into political activism. He was an early supporter of Gov. Rick Scott‘s senatorial bid and starred in an ad released by Scott’s campaign earlier this month.

Gillum, who has also been criticized for the crime rate in Tallahassee, where he presides as Mayor, has been endorsed by at least five Florida sheriffs.

You can hear the robocall here.

Background provided by Florida Politics correspondent Jacob Ogles.

Second time’s the charm? Donald Trump to rally in Fort Myers

President Donald Trump will host a campaign rally on Oct. 31 in Fort Myers, according to his campaign, Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.

The rally, to take place at the Hertz Arena in Estero, is meant to encourage “Floridians to get out and vote for the GOP in the midterm elections.”

It’s unclear who will join the President at the rally. Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis accompanied Trump at a similar event in July. Then, the President hailed DeSantis as the clear choice for Florida Republicans during the primary election. Weeks later, DeSantis handily beat his Republican opponent, Adam Putnam.

Absent from the Tampa rally, however, was Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who’s hoping to oust incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Nov. 6. According to Gary Fineout of The Associated Press, a spokesman from Scott’s campaign said, “The Governor is focused on hurricane recovery and we will keep everyone updated on any changes to the campaign schedule.”

Florida Politics has reached out to both DeSantis’ and Scott’s campaigns to see whether the candidates will make an appearance at the Halloween rally.

“President Trump looks forward to celebrating the success of his America First agenda that’s delivering more jobs and bigger paychecks to families all across the Sunshine State,” said Michael Glassner, COO of Trump’s campaign. “The President will also remind Floridians of the critical need to get out and vote between now and Election Day on November 6th to help protect and expand the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.”

More than 100K people have chipped in for Andrew Gillum’s campaign

With less than two weeks until Election Day, the team behind Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is again pointing to anecdotal evidence that suggests the candidate’s populist appeal will help him prevail.

On Wednesday, Gillum’s campaign announced more than 100,000 individuals have given to his bid, launched in early 2017. Crossing that threshold, from the campaign’s perspective, is indicative that there’s more support for the Tallahassee Mayor than there has been for Democratic candidates in elections past.

The donor milestone also follows former Vice President Joe Biden‘s trio of rallies in the Sunshine State. In Tampa and Jacksonville, rallies where Gillum joined Biden, thousand-plus crowds showed up.

That’s “a signal that Floridians are not only ready for change, but excited about Mayor Gillum and his vision for Florida,” Gillum campaign spokesperson Johanna Cervone said.

The number of contributors doesn’t translate to the number of votes a candidate receives, nor the amount of money raised. But a high number of individual donors reinforces the idea that a ‘grassroots’ campaign has traction.

For Gillum, who was considered a longshot candidate during the five-way Democratic primary and is running in a swing state that’s elected Republican Governors for the past 20 years, it’s a harbinger that he’ll emerge victorious over Republican Ron DeSantis on Nov. 6.

DeSantis, who in total has raised $10 million more than Gillum, certainly isn’t lagging in the cash race. But his fundraising lead likely stems from the number of deep-pocketed donors backing his campaign. Friends of Ron DeSantis, the candidate’s committee, has recorded nearly 550 contributions totaling $10,000 or more. In Gillum’s committee, Forward Florida, a little less than 250 $10,000-plus donations have been recorded.

In their respective campaign accounts, where donors are limited to a maximum aggregate contribution of $3,000 for each election, Gillum has outraised DeSantis.

Florida Politics has reached out to the DeSantis campaign to see whether it is tracking the number of donors contributing to the campaign.

New Andrew Gillum ad highlights need for vo-tech education

Florida’s Democratic candidate for Governor is conveying to voters some of the finer details of his plan for the state’s economy.

A new television ad from the Andrew Gillum campaign spells out the candidate’s promised focus on alternative career preparation for high school students who do not want to or cannot go to college.

“As Governor, I’ll invest in more skills, trade, and career training starting in high school to build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top,” Gillum, Mayor of Tallahassee, says in the ad.

Also highlighted is the need for skills, trade, and career training in Florida high schools, which could be fueled in part by a tax increase he’s proposing for non-small businesses in Florida. Gillum has said he plans to raise the corporate tax rate from 5.5 percent to 7.75 percent while continuing to exempt most small businesses from paying the tax.

A renewed focus on vocational-technical training isn’t exactly partisan.

Republican Ron DeSantis in his economic plan stresses the need for skills-based education. DeSantis has said his administration would encourage schools to identify skills gaps and future needs and to be “ground zero for training our workforce of tomorrow.”

Gillum’s campaign has produced a television ad on almost every broad issue Floridians are voting on. Since his Aug. 28 upset primary victory, Gillum has hit airwaves with spots addressing health care, education, and the environment.

The latest ad is here, or available to watch below.

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