Danny McAuliffe – Page 6 – Florida Politics

Danny McAuliffe

Bill Nelson, Democrats to canvass state through holiday

Amid the barbecues and other festivities this holiday weekend, Democrats will be knocking on doors in 23 of the state’s 67 counties and encouraging Floridians to register to vote.

Partnering with Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who will face a tough challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott in November, the Florida Democratic Party has dubbed the Memorial Day campaign an “‘I Will Vote’” weekend of action. The party will join a team supportive of Nelson, “Nelson’s Neighbors.”

During the weekend, the Democratic senator is scheduled to join volunteers in Orange County. Meanwhile, his wife, Grace Nelson, will be in Duval County also doing fieldwork.

In announcing the campaign, the party noted it’s less than 100 days from the Aug. 28 primary. The Democrats said the three-day weekend marks “a kick-off to a summer of activism,” which they hope will result in thousands of newly registered physical and mail-in voters.

In a news release, FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo expressed confidence in the party’s ability to capitalize on grassroots missions — such as what’s planned this weekend — in 2018. One supporting piece of evidence: Florida was the top state in the nation this week to have volunteers sign up for training with the Association of State Democratic Committees, according to FDP.

“The momentum we are seeing in our Democratic clubs and progressive groups across the state has been outstanding,” said Rizzo, “There is tremendous enthusiasm about our candidates, and it shows by the engagement we are seeing in this weekend of action, and beyond.”

Rizzo, who replaced ousted former Dem chief Stephen Bittel in December, said the party is focused on getting Democrats elected “up and down the ticket.”

Though, with the primary still months away, it makes sense that incumbent Nelson is the only named ‘partner’ in this weekend’s activities. He’s the only formidable Democrat running for his federal seat, whereas the Democratic gubernatorial race boasts four strong candidates in Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — meaning FDP will hold its tongue on that ticket until voters determine who makes the cut in August. 

And while Democrats have capitalized on the holiday, Republicans have been active in their Days of Action across Florida.

To date this cycle, the GOP has knocked on 290,000 doors. Per the Republican National Committee, there are more Florida field workers for the 2018 midterms working for the party than there have been for any other cycle before.

“In Florida, this year alone we’ve put almost 1,400 people through our intensive Republican Leadership Institute program,” said Taryn Fenske, RNC Spokesperson. “Seventy paid ground staffers are busy training the party’s volunteer army as quickly as they can. Those graduates form the core of neighborhood-based teams then add layers and grow as the cycle progresses. When crunch time arrives this fall, RPOF and RNC will have thousands of trained volunteers ready to knock on doors in their own neighborhoods to defeat Bill Nelson.”

Rick Scott appoints new member to Florida Citrus Commission

A vacancy on the nine-member governing board of the Florida Department of Citrus has been filled.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday afternoon the appointment of Pat Schirard to the Florida Citrus Commission.

Schirard, 57, of Vero Beach, is the president of GEM Indian River Select, a premium juice company that prides itself on solely using Florida citrus for production. A fourth-generation Floridian according to Indian River Select, he is also a citrus grower in Lake, Brevard, Polk and Indian River counties. His term begins Thursday and ends May 31, 2019.

According to the commission’s website, the terms of three other members, Carlos Martinez, Vernon “V.C.” Hollingsworth III, and Aedan J. Dowling, will expire at the end of this month.

The Citrus Commission is the rulemaking authority for the Florida Department of Citrus, a state agency charged with marketing, research and regulation of the Florida citrus industry. According to FDOC, the citrus industry employs 45,000 Floridians and contributes an estimated $8.6 billion to the state’s economy annually. 

Schirard will assume his new post at a time when citrus growers are trying to bounce back from devastation caused by Hurricane Irma last year. The latest forecast from the United States Department of Agriculture predicts Florida will produce 44.95 million boxes of oranges in the current growing season —  a drop of more than 9 million boxes since October 2017, when predictions were made without factoring in the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma.

The state’s citrus industry also has been hit by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease attacks the fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. The epidemic has waned citrus production in recent decades, though farmers were on track to rebound — until Irma.

Complaint alleges Bill Nelson campaigned on Senate business

One of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s constituents is claiming the Florida Democrat violated federal laws by campaigning during a recent event billed as official business.

The complaint, filed Tuesday by Alan L. Swartz, a Pinellas accountant, takes umbrage with an April 6 townhall held at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, or PSTA, in St. Petersburg.

Swartz charges that the event was carried out in Nelson’s capacity as a U.S. Senator, but instead served only to aid Nelson’s re-election campaign. That, Swartz claims, is a violation of federal laws limiting the scope of taxpayer-backed Senate resources. He’s asked the Senate Committee on Ethics, chaired by Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson, to launch an investigation into Nelson’s alleged wrongdoings.

“There can be no more direct affront to the American system of campaign funding than to exploit taxpayer dollars to support a campaign; yet Senator Nelson appears to have directly engaged in this practice by using official resources to hold a political event in a government building,” Swartz writes in the complaint. 

Ryan Brown, Nelson’s Senate-side communications director, disagreed.

“This was an official event organized by official staff,” Brown told Florida Politics. He suggested that other members of the media have dismissed a similar complaint as “bogus” and that covering the story follows the mantra of being “all about the clickbait.”

At the crux of Swartz’ complaint is correspondence (subjected to public records requests) sent between PSTA and Nelson’s Senate office. 

Local media coverage, Swartz asserts, proves that the event was for campaign purposes — not official business. An article from the Tampa Bay Times about the event was titled, “Bill Nelson, in campaign mode, talks guns at St. Pete town hall.” It’s cited in a footnote in the complaint. 

Nelson is quoted in the Times’ story saying, “Whoever my opponent is, I always take them very seriously and I run like there’s no tomorrow.” Swartz relies on this, in part, to allege the townhall was a campaign event. It is not clear whether Nelson was prompted by a reporter to speak about campaign-specific details or whether he did so with volition. 

Republican Governor Rick Scott officially challenged Nelson three days later.

One of Nelson’s staffers named in the complaint is Sharah Anderson, who took a spot as Nelson’s political director in March — before the Senator’s town hall in Pinellas. Email records obtained by Swartz show Anderson setting up the event using a government email address and “Regional Director” as her title, a position she’s held for 14 years. Anderson splits time between the campaign and Nelson’s office — which is ethical under Senate guidelines. Nelson’s office told Florida Politics that Anderson’s correspondence with PSTA was made through her role with Nelson’s office.

But Swartz contends the April 6 event was for campaign purposes, and so “use of an official email address indicates that Senator Nelson directed official resources to be used to arrange and promote this event,” reads the complaint.

Swartz writes that “at the bare minimum” Nelson created “the appearance of impropriety,” and should therefore be admonished for reflecting “dishonorably upon the U.S. Senate.”

The complaint against Nelson is well-timed as the incumbent fights against Scott for his seat in 2018. It also follows a different complaint filed last week alleging Nelson leveraged his power to get a lower valuation on a property he owns, so he could pay less yearly in property taxes. Nelson himself dismissed that charge as a perennial political attack.

Scott’s campaign communications director, when asked, denied any affiliation shared between Scott’s campaign and Swartz. But the two have crossed paths before; the Governor appointed Swartz to the Pinellas County Housing Authority in 2015 for a four-year term.

And later on Tuesday, the Florida Democratic Party made a charge against Scott that he, too, is using his public office to advance his campaign.

In an email to media, the Democrats highlighted that Scott’s former official press secretary Lauren Schenone, who’s since switched over to the campaign side, attended a state-backed Scott appearance Tuesday. A representative from Scott’s campaign has refuted the charge from the Democrats, clarifying with Florida Politics that Scheone attended the event as a member of the public and her presence was not supported by taxpayer dollars.

Felon rights restoration on horizon for Poor People’s Campaign

A group of activists converged on Tallahassee on Monday to share far-reaching ideals including but not limited to abolishing capitalism, dismantling U.S. and Israeli intervention in Palestine, and giving southwest U.S. land to Mexico.

The rally cries came on the first floor of the state Capitol, and while most seemed unrealistic — at least in terms of immediacy — the group also called for restoring rights to felons, a proposed change to the state Constitution primed for a November vote. It will appear on the ballot as Amendment 4.

The small group of speakers belonged to the Poor People’s Campaign, a nationwide movement first started by Martin Luther King, Jr., and revitalized earlier in 2018 in Florida. The group’s website contains a short manifesto charging prevalence of systemic racism, among other things.

Topics discussed at the rally were wide-ranging; one spoke of the harms of Islamophobia, one criticized western ideologies for preventing national liberation, and a few likened capitalism to white supremacy. Each rallier had signs with scattered messages, too. One read, “Starving a child is violence,” and two followed a different theme: “Systemic poverty is immoral” and “Systemic racism is immoral.”

While each party varied in their woes, all seemed to agree that there is intersectionality in the oppressions they charge — that’s why so many issues were voiced in one sitting.

Even so, through all the noise was very apparent support for the restoration of felon voting rights. Behind the podium was a cardboard jailhouse display with the words “New Jim Crow Jailhouse” on it and costumed inmates — all minorities — linked together with tinfoil chains.

Rev. Ron Rawls, pastor of St. Paul AME Church in Lincolnville, delivered a passionate closing at the rally. He mostly spoke on the need to restore voting rights to felons.

“Political leaders in the state of Florida are using cruel, deceptive tactics in an immoral, misguided attempt to suppress voters from having full strength to choose who will represent them at legislative levels,” Rawls said. “We have to fight back against policymakers by voting yes on Amendment 4.”

Rawls cited the federal government’s hardline response to the crack/cocaine epidemic, which he suggested led to the mass incarceration of minorities. He drew a strong contrast between that and the nation’s newest drug issue.

“Now that opioids are destroying communities, treatment is the designed term and phrase and approach to drug addiction. This approach is actually a good approach — but once again the system finds a way to dehumanize certain groups of people.”

If Amendment 4 receives 60 percent voter approval from Floridians in November, a change to the Constitution will automatically restore voting rights to felons, the exceptions being sexual offenders and murders.

Former Verizon executive appointed to state university board

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday appointed the former chief financial officer of Verizon and former New York higher education authority Fred Salerno to the State University System Board of Governors.

Salerno, 74, fills a vacant seat on the board for a term effective immediately and ending January 6, 2019. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Of Hobe Sound, Salerno is a longtime veteran of the telecommunications industry. He received his bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College and his master’s degree from Adelphi University. His C.V. is extensive, packed with various leadership positions including stints as Verizon’s CFO and top spots at Viacom.

Between 1990 and 1996, Salerno chaired the Board of Trustees for the State University of New York, according to his Bloomberg profile, which also claims he’s held trustee positions with the Inner City Scholarship Fund, his alma mater Manhattan College, and the Archdiocese of New York’s Partnership for Quality Education.

He at one point also was appointed by a New York governor to head the Salerno Commission, a task force to examine the equity of state-funded education policies and practices.

The Board of Governors acts as the governing body of the State University System. Its authorities include operation, management, control and regulation of the state’s 12 universities. The 17-member panel has 14 gubernatorial appointees, along with Chair of the Advisory Council of Faculty Senates Gary S. Tyson, Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart, and the Chair of the Florida Student Association Kishane Patel.

Chris King hits TV with progressive-themed ad

Orlando businessman Chris King, who consistently polls behind at least two of the four other Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the 2018 election, is airing a new 30-second ad Wednesday in television markets peppered across the state.

King is the second Democrat in the Governor’s race to break into TV. The other, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, was also the first gubernatorial candidate to air a TV ad when his affiliated political committee in November dished out $800,000 for a 30-second spot. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate, hit cable waves for the first time in April.

The ad demonstrates the King campaign’s ability to capitalize on momentum; the spot follows just one day after the candidate unveiled an ambitious, progressive and multi-faceted criminal justice plan — which attracted the attention of some of the state’s largest media outlets.

King’s ad is set to air in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, Panama City and West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce television markets.

The ad opens with a waiter asking a politician if he’d like more sugar. The politician responds, “Yes, of course!” And the waiter fills the politician’s cup with an excessive amount of sugar.

Then, in a voiceover, King is heard saying, “It’s the same old politics. Big Sugar buys influence in Tallahassee and pollutes our environment.” When he enters the frame, he says, “I’m Chris King and I won’t take a dime from them.”

The message is intended to highlight King’s sugar-free stance, which he declared almost immediately after entering the race. All of the Democratic candidates have since announced they would not take money affiliated with the sugar industry. Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, however, received $17,400 for her congressional campaign from what’s been described as ‘big sugar,’ but donated that money to the Indian Riverkeeper and pledged to not take any more money from the sugar industry. 

The rest of the ad is made up of calls for progressive policies, including the expansion of Medicaid, funding for affordable housing and making community college and public trade school free.

“If you want new leadership and fresh ideas,” King says at the end of the commercial. “I’m ready to fight for you.”

Beer tastes are evolving — so is the industry’s demographic makeup

Industry leaders are keenly aware that as craft beer popularizes, related businesses should be mindful of diversity.

Women in beer were celebrated on Tuesday in the capital city at Hearth & Soul, a fitting location as its founder and owner Susie BuschTransou is the daughter of August Anheuser Busch III, who led Anheuser-Busch Companies for quite some time during the 20th century and early into the new millennium. She co-owns with her husband Tri-Eagle sales, an Anheuser-Busch, craft beer and specialty drinks wholesaler serving North and North-Central Florida.

From brewmasters to sales specialists to distribution and retail positions, Busch-Transou said women are in demand in the beer industry, a trend reminiscent of the drink’s roots in ancient history, when women handled the beermaking, Busch-Transou said.

Flanking Busch-Transou was Cathy Steen, the chief operating officer of Grayton Beer Company in South Walton, known for its flagship product, the “Beach Blonde Ale.”

“When we have more diverse workplaces, we have better product innovation,” Steen said. “… Beer in particular.”

Steen transitioned to the craft beer industry after a career stint in the wine and spirits sector that dates back more than 25 years. She launched Belvedere Vodka in the U.S. — the only woman among a team of six. She later worked in what she described as a “large conglomerate” in the alcoholic beverage business.

When she got the job at Grayton, Steen said she noticed the brewers were donned in trendy, masculine and certainly relaxed clothing — so she went shopping to pick up her own wardrobe to reflect the Sunshine State and the craft beer industry.

This habit of picking up on trends carried over to her management style.

Rosé, Steen said, is a continued favorite among alcohol-flavor profiles. So, at the new job, she suggested the brewery begin to “cast a wider net” and focus on consumer-first tactics. In other words, tailor product development to fit unique consumer demands.

Enter Rose Gose, the newest Grayton brew that’s yet to hit shelves, but was available in excess Tuesday evening.

Half of the beer is named after the gose flavor, known for its salinity. It takes its name from the German town of Goslar, which housed an environment with high salt levels — similar to that of the Gulf of Mexico, Steen said, suggesting it’s a fitting flavor for brewery situated on Florida’s northwest coastline. The other half of the brew is named after the fruity, dry taste of rosé.

Much of discussion at the celebration Tuesday wasn’t gender specific. Women from local operations were present, and they were acknowledged, but a bulk of time was spent delving into the wonky details of not only making beer but pouring it and using proper glassware.

Though a recurring theme was that a diversified workforce leads to a diversified product, which appeals to more of the population. Steen brought up how the Brewers Association, which represents small and independent craft brewers across the U.S., announced the hiring of a diversity ambassador in April.

Steen added: “All of us that are in customer service, hospitality want to make sure that all consumers enjoy the products that we make, so every time we’re creating we need to make sure we think about all of our consumers in the heart of everything that we do.”

Parkland parents announce bids for Broward School Board

A mother and father of two unrelated students slain in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting will run for two separate seats on the School Board of Broward County.

Lori Alhadeff, mother to the late Stoneman Douglas student Alyssa Alhadeff, will enter the race for the District 4 post, which oversees the forever-changed Parkland high school. Ryan Petty, who lost his daughter Alaina Petty in the Feb. 14 shooting, will run for the countywide At-Large Seat 8.

The seat sought by Lori Alhadeff is held by Abby M. Freedman and is on the ballot in 2018. Freedman, though, has yet to file for re-election. Nathalie Adams had filed to run for the seat, but she’s since withdrawn, according to the Broward County Supervisor of Elections website.

Ryan Petty will compete against Seat 8 incumbent Donna P. Korn and challenger Elijah Manley.

Both parents took aim at Broward County’s PROMISE Program, a controversial diversion initiative under scrutiny, in announcing their bids at a Tuesday news conference. “It’s a program that’s supposed to be giving kids second chances,” said Alhadeff. But she says its moved too far to the extreme in its laxness in efforts to alleviate Broward County’s school-to-prison pipeline problem. “The PROMISE Program needs to be revamped and we need to meet somewhere in the middle with our discipline policies.”

Petty echoed those concerns, saying “There’s a confusing matrix of discipline programs that allows students like Nikolas Cruz to fall through the cracks.”

However, Alhadeff stressed she would not be a one-issue voter as a school board member.

“I don’t want Alyssa’s life to be in vain. I’m doing this because I don’t want another parent to go through the pain and anguish that I have to go through every day,” Alhadeff told POLITICO Florida. “I don’t want any child to have to say to their mom, ‘Mommy, am I going to die today if I go to school?’ It is my job. It is my duty to make sure these schools are safe. And the only way I’m going to do that is if I get on the school board to make those decisions and make those changes.”

A news release sent out Monday afternoon alerted media that Lori Alhadeff and Ryan Petty would make a joint announcement at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday outside of the Broward County Governmental Center in Fort Lauderdale.

The two parents will be supported by Broward Parents for Better and Safer Schools, a newly-formed political committee helmed by Eric Johnson and Sean Phillippi (Monday’s release came from Brendan Olsen, who works with Johnson). Petty has hired public affairs firm Mercury. Danielle Alvarez, recognized by INFLUENCE Magazine as one of the top communications pros in the state, will advise Petty.

Both Alhadeff and Petty told POLITICO Florida they wanted to bring more “accountability and transparency” to the Broward School Board.

“My eyes were open that day and I decided I needed to be more involved in how issues like safety and security are handled at the district to make sure our students and teachers are safe,” Petty said. “Every child deserves to have a great education. But they have to feel safe. If they don’t feel safe, it’s really hard to learn.”

Alhadeff holds a New Jersey teachers certification in Health and Physical Education and is a former classroom teacher. She also has her master’s degree in education. In the wake of the Valentine’s Day tragedy, she founded the nonprofit Make Our Schools Safe. Its website states the foundation’s mission is “to improve the safety of schools, research and test best practices, as well as implement those protocols by creating model schools, beginning in South Florida and spreading nationwide.”

Petty, a telecom, media, and technology entrepreneur, was an active voice in the Legislature as lawmakers rushed to pass school safety reforms during the 2018 Legislative Session. The Tampa Bay Times reports that he was singled out by Rick Scott as the Republican Governor signed the sweeping provisions included in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act into law. He has endorsed Scott in his bid for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

When news broke last week that the charged Parkland shooter Cruz was at one point assigned to the area’s PROMISE program, Petty was vocal in his criticism of the School Board, which had previously claimed there was no connection between PROMISE and Cruz.

“The Broward County School Board has failed in its responsibility as an oversight body. It has forgotten its duty to students, educators and parents,” wrote Petty on Twitter. “We must continue to shine a disinfecting light on the Broward County Schools. Parents must have the information they need to protect their children and to ensure Broward schools deliver the education they promise.”

However, both Petty and Alhadeff stopped short of calling for Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie to step down on Tuesday. “This isn’t about replacing the superintendent,” said Petty.

The School Board in April voted against participating in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named after a faculty member among the 17 fatalities of the Stoneman Douglas massacre. The controversial provision included in the high-profile school safety package provides funding to train, arm and pay non-teacher personnel to be ‘Guardians’ at schools in districts that opt to participate.

Democratic lawmakers call for special session on K-12 funding

Two South Florida state lawmakers plan to ask the Legislature to increase the public education budget, which they say was insufficiently funded during the 2018 Legislative Session and anticipate a budget shortfall exacerbated by mandates passed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

The Legislature officially adjourned in March, but on Monday Democratic Reps. Shevrin Jones, of West Park, and Nicholas Duran, of Miami, said they’re preparing a push for a special session to increase appropriations to school districts statewide.

Schools, the lawmakers claim, were blindsided by provisions in SB 7026, the school safety bill passed in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre in Parkland.

The sweeping package appropriated $67 million to a program designed to arm non-teacher personnel in schools, resulting in an estimated $101.5 per-student increase to education funding. But the program is optional, and some of Florida’s largest school districts have already opted out of it. That’s led some to claim that the actual increase in base allocation per pupil is closer to 47 cents.

Superintendents, as reported by the News Service of Florida, said in March that they would not be able to staff at least one armed person at each school, another provision included in SB 7026. The Times/Herald bureau reported earlier this month that nearly all of 23 school districts sampled in a survey indicated they anticipate a shortfall in funding.

“School Districts across the state are hurting,” Jones said in a prepared statement. “They are asking us to rectify this egregious oversight. We will not stand idly by as we see the integrity of Florida’s educational institutions crumble because our leadership fails to provide us a proper foundation to build Florida’s future.”

To cover the mandated costs, Jones said schools will be forced to “hemorrhage qualified educators and the resources necessary to function at the most basic level.”

Added Duran: “This is yet another attack on our public schools cloaked under the pretense of good intentions. At the end of the day, leadership did what they wanted to do and not what’s best for Florida’s children.”

Miami-Dade, Florida’s largest school district, expects a .11 percent decrease in its budget, and has cited concerns of teacher retention and maintaining employment levels, according to the news release.

The announcement from the lawmakers echoes concerns raised by school superintendents even before SB 7026 was signed into law. As well, the Florida Teachers Union has consistently pushed for lawmakers to reconvene to unlock funds trapped in the optional armed-personnel program.

Following Jones and Duran, the entire Democratic bench in the race for Governor issued statements supporting a special session.

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said “students and teachers have been shortchanged for decades.”

“If we fail to secure this special session this year, I will push for one next year as Governor,” Gillum said.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, also a Democratic candidate for Governor, made a similar promise.

Cutting corners “to foot the bill is unacceptable,” he said. “A forty-seven cent increase to Florida’s per-student education funding is embarrassing and a failure to our children–as Governor, I will make sure that the Legislature stays in session until they properly fund our public schools.”

On Twitter, Orlando businessman Chris King and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham also chimed in with support.

There are two methods by which lawmakers can reconvene for a special session, per Florida law. Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran can jointly call on lawmakers to come back to Tallahassee, or 20 percent of members can request the two chambers reconvene — though that would have to be approved by three-fifths of the Republican-led Legislature.

Requests for comment are pending with Corcoran and Negron.

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