Michael Moline, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 51

Michael Moline

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

Visit Florida board to vote on new contract oversight rule

A rules change to help Visit Florida comply with legislatively mandated reporting requirements for big contracts will be ready for the organization’s board of directors next week.

State law requires Visit Florida to submit contracts in excess of $750,000 to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission. If the commission’s chair and vice chair — or the Senate president and House speaker — agree any deal is a bad idea, they can block it.

Agency general counsel Craig Thomas explained the rule change to the executive committee during a conference call Tuesday. The full board will gather Sept. 12 in Orlando.

“All of these contracts need to be submitted to the Legislature before we can sign them. The Legislature does have the ability, if both chambers object, to prevent Visit Florida from moving forward,” Thomas said.

“We have, in the past, worked with board members and made them available, but we haven’t been operating under any formal policy or procedure that requires the board be consulted before these are submitted to the Legislature. This procedure is designed to do just that.”

Such reviews will happen at the executive committee level.

“All members of the executive committee will receive a copy of any contract that’s required to be submitted to the Legislature at least five business days before Visit Florida would put it on formal notice and refer it to the Legislature,” Thomas said

The chair would ask the executive committee to review such contracts, with the panel voting either to drop or refer them to the lawmakers.

“We wanted to balance the need to not add additional delay” with giving the executive committee time to review the contracts, Thomas said.

“We’re being transparent,” chairman Lino Maldonado told committee members.

“We’re not going to be rubber-stamping things. But we do need to find the proper balance between efficiency and expediency, and oversight — which is our role — without overstepping our role.”

In other words, he said, “not letting the CEO run the business he was hired to run.”

The legal requirement followed criticism — particularly in the House — of Visit Florida’s practices, including its signature to a $1 million promotions deal with the rapper Pitbull.

Personnel note: Nelson Mongiovi leaving VISIT FLORIDA

VISIT FLORIDA has begun a search for a replacement for chief marketing officer Nelson Mongiovi, who has resigned effective Sept 11.

Vice President for Brand Staci Mellman will serve as interim CMO.

Members of the executive committee heard details of the search during a conference call Tuesday. Officials offered no details of Mongiovi’s plans. He did not reply to an emailed request for comment.

Searchwide Global, the executive recruiting firm directing the search, is developing a job description and recruitment plan with an eye to lining up candidates beginning next week, Senior Vice President Kellie Henderson told the committee.

The plan is to deliver a list of candidates sometime the week of Oct. 22, she said.

“Tentatively, that’s when that will happen. And from there, we’ll go into the interviews,” Henderson said.

The firm is talking with “key industry stakeholders” to design the job description, Henderson added. These 15 people represent different regions and industries within the broader tourism sector.

“To allow us to have a broad input level with regard to the state’s perspective and needs for the CMO,” she said. “Does it play in the international market? Does it work for small business? Again, our industry is very diverse.”

The job will pay in the $200,000-$210,000 range, excluding benefits, which would add 15 percent to 20 percent to the package. That should be enough to attract suitable candidates, Henderson said.

Happy Labor Day Florida — or perhaps not so much

Florida ranks a not-too-impressive No. 37 on Oxfam America’s Best and Worst States to Work Index.

The report, released to coincide with Labor Day, cites the state’s $8.25 per hour minimum wage — less than 32 percent of the estimated living wage for a family of four of $25.87.

Moreover, cities and counties lack the power to boost the wage locally.

Florida ranked No. 26 on that score.

It ranked No. 30 for the right to organize. The report mentions the state’s right-to-work law and lack of protections for contract workers. On the plus side, Florida protects collective bargaining for teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

The state’s lowest ranking is for worker-protection policies. Here, the report cites a host of factors, including the lack of mandated family and medical leave, or sick leave in general; accommodations for pregnant or breastfeeding women on the job; protections against sexual harassment; or prohibition against workplace secrecy policies.

“With the Trump administration and a conservative U.S. Supreme Court chipping away at workers’ rights, this new report underscores the importance of state policies that reinforce those rights and support working families,” said Sam Munger, external affairs director for the State Innovation Exchange.

That “strategy center” provides research and other support for progressive state legislators, and circulated the findings in a news release.

 “And it’s no coincidence that states with more progressive policies score better in quality of life and health outcomes,” Munger said.

The report finds Washington, D.C.; Washington state; California; and Massachusetts are the best places to work, “thanks to progressive policies on wages, worker protections, and the right to organize.”

The report asserts:

“In 2018, workers are not sharing in the bounty of our thriving economy — and the federal government is not going to make changes that matter. Some states are taking steps to keep working families out of poverty, and to give them a decent chance.”

Critics: Amendment 6 language would confound ‘common sense’

Ballot language for the Constitution Revision Commission’s proposed Amendment 6 disguises its curtailment of defendants’ rights with a promise to create procedural protections for crime victims, opponents argued in written arguments submitted Friday.

In their answer to arguments the state submitted to the Florida Supreme Court the day before, the League of Women Voters and two private citizens attempted to refute Attorney General Pam Bondi’s suggestion that the court should trust voters’ common sense.

The language, the critics’ brief argues, plays “hide the ball” with the voters.

“The ballot title and summary … do not exhibit or disclose Amendment 6’s chief purpose, which is to significantly expand the rights of victims of crime, to prioritize those rights over those of the accused, and to subordinate the rights of the accused,” they contend in a brief signed by Tallahassee litigator Mark Herron.

“Appellants have suggested that a voter with ‘a certain amount of common sense and knowledge’ would read the ballot title and summary ‘with common sense and in context,’” the brief argues.

“This argument falls far short of explaining how a voter with common sense and knowledge would interpret approximately 10 words referencing the ‘create[ion] [of] constitutional rights for victims of crime’ to indicate a substantial amendment to and expansion of victims’ current constitutional rights and the complete subordination of the accused’s rights.”

The Supreme Court has set oral arguments for Sept. 5.

The proposal, also known as “Marsy’s Law,” after a California crime victim, also would enshrine a raft of victims’ rights, including to proceedings “free of unreasonable delay” — in addition to the existing rights to “be informed,” “be present,” and “be heard.”

It also would raise judges’ mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75 and reduce the deference they must give to agencies’ interpretation of their regulations.

The challenge hinges on the wording that would appear on the ballot. The title cannot exceed 15 words, and the summary cannot exceed 75. Bondi’s brief argued that court precedents allow the CRC some leeway in spending those words, as long as they do not actively mislead.

In this case, the Herron brief replies, the language is “affirmatively and materially misleading insofar as it fails to inform voters that it will result in the loss of current constitutional rights of criminal defendants, will modify speedy trial procedures, will restrict time frames for criminal appeals, will provide constitutional ‘victim’s’ rights to corporations and other business entities in criminal proceedings, and purports to ‘create’ constitutional rights for victims of crime even though rights for crime victims already exist in Florida’s constitution.”

Additionally, it says, the ballot misleads voters into believing that victims could independently enforce their rights; obliges courts to facilitate those rights; and omits mention of the restriction on judicial deference to agencies.

“Where a proposed constitutional revision results in the loss or restriction of an independent fundamental state right, the loss must be made known,” it says.

“Despite these expansive revisions, the ballot summary relating to this portion of Amendment 6 is only 25 words long. It is difficult to imagine how a scant 25 words could possibly ‘provide fair notice of the content of [a] proposed amendment’ which exceeds 1,300 words. Had the summary explained that the Amendment ‘expands’ constitutional rights for victims at least one of the inherent flaws of the summary would have been avoided.”

The CRC also could have been clearer had it not bundled the victim’s rights and judicial reforms into a single package, the brief argues.

“The CRC may not knowingly bundle multiple significant and sweeping proposals into one amendment and then use the well- known and established word limits as an excuse for failing to draft a sufficient ballot title and summary.”

Give voters some credit to decide Amendment 6, state argues

The state government’s written arguments in the Florida Supreme Court test of the Constitution Revision Commission’s Amendment 6 victim’s rights proposal emphasize the “sanctified” nature of the amendment process.

They also underscore that the amendment process counts on voters to be reasonably well-informed about our constitutional system — especially given the strict word limits on the ballot title and summary language at issue.

“Voters have the common sense to understand that criminal and juvenile procedure are the subject of statutes and procedural rules, and the state Constitution will supersede any conflicting statute or rule,” the brief, filed Thursday over Attorney General Pam Bondi’s signature, reads.

“Indeed, requiring disclosure of every form of sub-constitutional law that an amendment might abrogate would not only be unnecessary but also would place an inordinately high burden on the drafters of ballot summaries by making it impossible to comply with the 75-word limit,” the brief says.

The limit for ballot titles is 15 words.

The document, reiterating many of the arguments offered earlier by attorneys for Marsy’s Law for Florida, a victim’s rights organization also defending the proposed amendment, attempts to refute Tallahassee Circuit Judge Karen Gievers, who ordered the amendment off the Nov. 6 ballot last week on the ground the title and ballot summary to be placed before voters were misleading.

The proposal would raise judges’ mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75 and reduce the deference they must give to agencies’ interpretation of their regulations.

The measure, also known as “Marsy’s Law,” after a California crime victim, also would enshrine a raft of victims’ rights, including to proceedings “free of unreasonable delay” — in addition to the existing rights to “be informed,” “be present,” and “be heard.”

The government brief calls the constitutional amendment process “the most sanctified area in which a court can exercise power,” and underscores the high bar set by the justices’ own legal precedents for intervening.

“Under the Florida Constitution, ‘sovereignty resides in the people, and the electors have a right to approve or reject a proposed amendment to the organic law of the state, limited only by those instances where there is an entire failure to comply with a plain and essential requirement of the organic law in proposing the amendment,’” It says.

“If ‘any reasonable theory’ can support an amendment’s placement on the ballot, it should be upheld.”

Gievers wrote that the title and summary do not make clear that the revision would eliminate some rights for criminal defendants. Neither, she added, does it “tell voters that years of settled law and provisions that comprise the criminal justice system and the juvenile justice system will be significantly changed.”

The government argued that the “chief purpose” of the amendment is indeed clear — “to create new rights for victims, not to repeal those currently set forth in (the Constitution), nor to significantly change the criminal justice and juvenile justice systems. The ballot summary accurately discloses the chief purpose related to victims’ rights.”

The document adds:

“A need for expeditious justice is associated with victims and falls within the range of victims’ rights that a voter would reasonably expect to be included in Revision 6. A voter with common sense would easily surmise that the conclusion of judicial proceedings at the trial level or on appeal without unnecessary delay would bring closure to crime victims, and it is within the scope of victims’ rights created in (Amendment) 6.”

As for the rights of defendants, they “would not be altered or infringed by Revision 6. Nor could they,” the brief argues.

“The same rights of the accused which are guaranteed in Article 1, Section 16(a) of the Florida Constitution are also protected by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. … A state constitution need not explicitly state that its provisions do not supersede federal constitutional requirements, as they cannot do so.”

In another development, the justices accepted a petition from The Florida Public Defender Association, the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Innocence Project of Florida for permission to file a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the amendment’s critics.

Opening briefs land in test of Amendment 6 ballot language

Proponents of the Constitution Revision Commission’s victims’ rights proposal have filed the first written arguments in a Florida Supreme Court case testing whether the ballot language would mislead the voters.

The brief appeared shortly after the high court accepted a request by the Criminal Law Section of the Florida Bar to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the proposed amendment’s critics.

“The lower court erroneously stated that the amendment curtails defendants’ constitutional rights without disclosing it in the summary,” the brief argues.

“The amendment does not curtail any defendants’ rights. Those rights are set forth in Article I, sections 14, 15, and 16 of the Florida Constitution. A review of each of the rights listed in those sections clearly demonstrates that nothing in the amendment would adversely affect them.”

The Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments for next Wednesday.

Barry Richard, the celebrated Tallahassee litigator who represents Marsy’s Law for Florida, a victim’s rights group defending the proposal along with attorneys from the Office of the Attorney General, signed the brief.

The proposal is sometimes known as “Marsy’s Law,” after a California crime victim. In addition to victims’ rights, the measure would raise judges’ retirement age from 70 to 75 and require them to defer less to agencies’ interpretation of regulations.

A Tallahassee trial judge ordered the amendment off the Nov. 6 ballot last week on the ground the title and ballot summary to be placed before voters were misleading.

“Because the title and summary do not meet the requirements of Florida laws … in fully, fairly, and accurately telling the voters the chief purpose of the proposed amendment, and because the title and summary are, in addition, misleading, the CRC’s proposal … does not meet ‘truth in packaging’ requirements for submission to the voters and must be removed from the ballot,” Circuit Judge Karen Gievers wrote.

Richard’s brief includes an itemized refutation of Gievers’ findings. For example, she ruled that the language doesn’t make clear that victims already have rights under Florida law.

“The summary accurately states that the amendment ‘creates rights for victims of crime,’” the brief says. “The amendment creates nine new rights that do not currently exist. There is nothing about the creation of new rights that implies that no other rights currently exist.”

Additionally, Gievers concluded the language was opaque as to the measure’s implications for defendants in juvenile proceedings.

Richard’s rebuttal: “The summary states that the amendment creates constitutional rights for victims and ‘authorizes victims to enforce their rights throughout the criminal and juvenile justice processes.’” (Emphasis in the original.)

Gievers also ruled that the title language doesn’t make clear its elimination of the “Chevron” doctrine — the presumption that judges must defer to agencies’ interpretations of their rules.

“This court has held that a ballot title cannot be read in isolation but must be read together with the summary,” Richards wrote, referring to the Supreme Court, itself. “The summary clearly explains the significance of the amendment’s repeal of the Chevron doctrine.”

The Bar’s criminal section includes more than 2,300 judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, law professors, and students.

“The Criminal Law Section has a direct interest in ensuring that this proposal is fairly presented to the voters, as it will place significant new burdens on prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges,” the organization wrote in its motion.

PSC open to lifting cap on utilities’ ‘economic development’ charges

The Public Service Commission agreed Wednesday to consider allowing three major electric utilities to boost the “economic development” fees they’re allowed to collect from customers by millions of dollars.

The change would allow Florida Power & Light Co. to collect as much as $26.7 million annually by 2023. Tampa Electric Co. would collect $4.9 million, and Gulf Power Co. $3.8 million.

The utilities insist those sums would add only marginally to individual customers’ bills — 24 cents per 1,000-kilowatt hours for FPL; 14 cents for Gulf Power, and 10 cents for Tampa Electric.

The Office of Public Counsel, which represents ratepayers before the PSC, protested that the proposed rule revision seemed to have been fast-tracked — in contrast to its own proposal, advanced as much as 1 1/2 years ago, to bring order to a similar add-on for customers of small water and sewage utilities.

“We want to observe and note that there may be a difference — and we hope it’s not the case — between the powerless and the powerful in this state when it comes to getting what the people need and what they want,” Associate Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkle said.

“We’re not opposing this,” he said of the economic fee rule change. “We think there could be merit to what the petitioners are asking for. We’re just asking that this process not be rushed along.”

The process ought to include evidentiary hearings into how existing economic development rules work, he added.

“I agree with you,” PSC Chairman Art Graham said. “Some of this stuff is kind of vague,” he added, referring specifically to language in a proposed order regarding “making financial contributions to state and local governments to assist strategic planning efforts.”

But he also pointed out that the order would allow the commission and its staff to open the rule-making process — not guarantee any outcome.

Commissioner Donald Polman agreed.

“I was assured that the purpose here is to open up the process, and that it is both timely and appropriate that we go through a thorough examination,” he said.

“The staff has assured me that the intention is to gather as much information as we can, and that this will be very open,” Polmann said. “I want to make sure that the appropriate people are benefited, and this this is not simply a burden on the ratepayers.”

James King, senior attorney for FPL parent company NextEra Energy Resources, said his side was all right with that.

“It’s our intent to develop the record, answer questions, participate in workshops,” he said.

State law limits economic development fees to “operational assistance,” including participation in trade shows; helping state and local authorities develop economic strategic plans; marketing and research; and answering government and business questions about delivering power to specific sites.

State regulations limit such fees to 0.15 percent of a utility’s gross annual revenues or $3 million — whichever amount is smaller.

The utilities complained that the rules now amount to a $3 million flat cap — the value of which has declined by 65 percent in the past 20 years.

“There’s nothing wrong with taking time to make sure that you get it right when it comes to what we would consider discretionary spending by utilities.,” Rehwinkle said.

“What matters most to economic development — from my experience with economic development — is low rates.”

As for the delay on the water utilities, Public Counsel J.R. Kelly said following the meeting that, since his office requested action, the commission held a workshop perhaps nine months later.

PSC policy allows small water and sewage utilities “that virtually have no rate base” to replace equipment and make other investments in infrastructure, Kelly said.

Affected utilities may collect small surcharges against their basic operating expenses for that purpose. But the PSC has never adopted a formal rule governing the process, potentially allowing unfair treatment of customers of different utilities.

“They need to have a rule, so that we would have a uniform application, and everyone would know what the rules are,” Kelly said.

“Since we brought it to their attention, they cannot continue to apply the policy. If they were challenged in court, the court would knock them down.”

What he heard during the hearing comforted him.

“It’s been around 20 years, and it may be time to raise the cap a little bit,” he said. “However, I’m not sure I’m going to be comfortable raising the cap as much as petitioners are proposing.”

Supreme Court sets arguments in Amendment 6 appeal

The Florida Supreme Court took jurisdiction Tuesday over a challenge to the Constitution Revision Commission’s victims’ right proposal known as Amendment 6 and set oral argument for Sept. 5.

The move came a day after a Tallahassee judge ordered the amendment off the November ballot because it “does not meet ‘truth in packaging’ requirements for submission to the voters.”

The high court consolidated two separate challenges to the proposed revision, bypassing the 1st District Court of Appeal. That court had certified the matter as a “question of great public importance requiring immediate resolution by this court,” the Supreme Court said in its order.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers, presiding in a bench trial in Leon County’s Circuit Civil court on Friday, had acknowledged the Supreme Court would have the final word.

The court gave attorneys from the Office of the Attorney General and Marsy’s Law for Florida, a victims’ rights group, until Thursday to file written arguments. Attorneys for two private citizens challenging the measure have until Friday. The defenders then will have until Monday to file final briefs.

The Supreme Court said it would hear oral arguments in the 4th District Court of Appeal’s courthouse in West Palm Beach. Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters said that’s because the justices had committed to the “annual educational conference for appellate judges and clerks” next week that’s held in that area.

Amendment 6 would ensure victims’ rights to attend and participate in certain criminal proceedings; it would also raise judges’ retirement age from 70 to 75, and limit the deference judges must extend to administrative agencies in interpreting laws.

Among other things, Gievers found the measure’s ballot title and summary would not make clear to voters that the constitutional change would eliminate some rights for criminal defendants.

“Neither the title nor summary mentions that the victims’ rights … were qualified and subject to the constitutional rights of the accused,” she wrote, or that it would include delinquency proceedings.

The measure “does not tell voters that years of settled law and provisions that comprise the criminal justice system and the juvenile justice system will be significantly changed,” Gievers added in her order.

Steve Vancore: Finding the ‘blue wave’ elusive in Florida’s primary

Steve Vancore learned the political operative game at the knee of legendary practitioner Marian Johnson some 30 years ago, at Florida Lawyers Action Group.

Today, he’s one of Florida’s leading political consultants and pollsters, operating as a partner in VancoreJones Communications, and teaches media application at Florida State University.

He even made the Influence 100 list of Florida’s biggest political heavyweights. We chatted with Vancore Monday by telephone. He was in Broward County, where he was tending to clients, and talked about what he’ll look for on Tuesday. These remarks have been edited for length and clarity.

FP: What are you looking for in the primaries?

SV: I’m trying to see whether there’s any early evidence of a blue wave. We see it nationally. We’ve seen specks of it in Florida, for example with the election of Margaret Good (in HD 72).

We’re looking to see, are Democrats especially motivated? Thus far, there’s no evidence either way — for it or against it.

FP: You’re looking at early voting?

SV: What I’m looking at is a combination of early and absentee voting (now called vote-by-mail). What evidence is there that Democrats are more enthusiastic? People are pushing out data to suit their ends. But right now, there are no data to suggest one way or the other.

Let me give you an example. Somebody put out this weekend that 250,000 more Democrats have voted in this year’s primaries thus far than voted in 2014, the last midterm primaries. That’s very misleading, because of three factors.

One factor is that that there are so many more Democrats as the state continues to grow by 1,000 people a day. There are more Democrats and there are more Republicans and more independents. Comparing raw numbers to four years ago is misleading.

I can tell you that, since book closing in 2016, there have been more than 200,000 more registered Democrats. There have been more than 260,000 more registered Republicans. But the point is, it’s not evidence of a blue wave.

Two, more money has been spent in the Democratic primaries than has ever been spent in Florida history. When you have these gubernatorial races spending well over $100 million, of course there’s going to be a larger turnout. But it really isn’t that much larger.

Item three is that more people are voting with the convenience of early and absentee voting. In 2016, in the presidential general election, you saw 70 percent of people vote before Election Day. I think the number was 50 percent in 2014.

You take those three variables, I think, overall, you’re looking at 1 or 2 percent more in turnout. That’s not a blue wave.

FP: Are there any particular races you’re looking at? Let’s start with the governor’s race.

SV: I’m a pollster, so you always worry that you’re missing a major variable — something big that would cause your polling to be wrong. I’ll be looking at the margin of victory for Ron DeSantis, quite frankly.

There’s some evidence that, with the conviction and guilty plea (of, respectively, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and attorney Michael Cohen), that Trump’s numbers are eroding. But if DeSantis comes screaming out with above 60 percent of the vote, that shows serious, serious momentum.

I’m looking at the Gary Farmer race, a client of mine, (against Jim Waldman) because there’s been a lot of dark money mail coming out, tons of it, and it’s had no impact at all in the race.

FP: What are you looking for in the Democratic gubernatorial race?

SV: If Gwen Graham wins big, that would be some evidence of a number of things.

One, that she’s a tougher, better candidate than some people are giving her credit for. You have to keep in mind that about as much money has been spent negative-attacking her than she has spent on television.

Remember, a dark money PAC has been attacking her and helping Andrew Gillum. Jeff Greene has spent $6 million, $7 million, $8 million attacking her. If she comes out strong, that will show a very resilient candidate.

FP: What do you make of the dichotomy within the Democratic Party between the progressive wing — that would be Gillum — and the centrists — which is Graham? What are you looking for there?

SV: What you see a lot in Democratic primaries is two things. One, demographic alignment. That’s why Jeff Greene hurts Philip Levine. Levine was comfortably in the lead until Greene entered the race — and you have two demographically similar guys.

They’re about the same age, they’re both wealthy, they’re both Jewish, they’re both white — above-middle-age Jewish white guys from South Florida. So they divided that same swimming lane.

Gillum has done a very good job of occupying the Bernie lane — the progressive lane, we’ll call it; the younger lane. And then, he’s the black candidate. If you combine those, Andrew has a pretty good shot.

Can a centrist candidate win? Gwen did vote against Nancy Pelosi. She did vote for the Keystone XL pipeline. She occupies a little bit more toward the center — which positions her better for the general, one would think.

Here’s the dilemma for her. Let’s say she wins. Does she pick a centrist candidate — a mayor of a big city, a congressman, or something like that? Or does she pick somebody who looks like the base?

Look what happened to Hillary Clinton. Hillary picked Tim Kaine — an old white dude. Had she picked a progressive, then maybe the base would have turned out, but middle-class America would have said, “Oh, that’s not like us.” The Democratic winner, other than Andrew, would have that problem.

FP: And that’s the Democrats’ big problem — persuading people sympathetic to them to actually go vote.

SV: That’s a deep problem. Do you try to win over the middle, or do you try to win over the Bernie supporters?

FP: In the governor’s race, who has the best social media operation?

SV: Andrew Gillum, by a country mile.

The problem with social media, it’s far more limited than people want to believe. It gets negative really fast, and the next thing you know, everybody’s attacking. I looked at one poll that said Andrew Gillum was under water among millennials. Which speaks to the point that if you own social media, it may not necessarily a good thing.

It’s a great medium to reinforce voters; it’s a great medium to get your name ID out there. It’s not a very good persuasion medium. Especially when all the lunatics get on there and start screaming and yelling about you, and the next thing you know you’re in trouble.

Florida Chamber

Florida Chamber’s Marian Johnson on Trump and ‘blue waves’ on Primary Day

For a glimpse into the trends animating Tuesday’s primary elections, Florida Politics turned to the grande dame of the state’s political class — Marian Johnson, senior vice president for political operations for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Johnson has been politically engaged since Barry Goldwater’s 1964 run for President and now presides over one of the state’s most sophisticated political and demographic analytical operations.

We chatted Monday inside Johnson’s office at Chamber headquarters in Tallahassee. Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson participated briefly in the interview. These remarks have been edited for length and clarity.

FP: What will you look for on primary Election Day?

MJ: My main concern for the Chamber is getting good legislators elected over there (the Capitol). Of course, we’re very interested in what happens (with) the Cabinet — it’s not that the legislative seats are more important. But no matter who is Governor, you’ve got to have good people over there who understand that certain things have to happen to secure Florida’s future.

There are some pretty significant primaries that will make a difference. Now when we get to the general election, the Senate’s going to be the play. You’ve got five or six competitive seats in the Senate.

FP: Which races are you looking at in the House?

MJ: I think Aaron Bean will be OK. He made some of the people angry over there, and that’s how he got his primary opposition. It was something about some land holdings, and Aaron went with the opposite side from the local people.

FP: Very parochial, but people care about that.

MJ: Yes. And Ed Hooper, of course — we are interested in what comes out of that race. It’s the old Jack Latvala seat in Pinellas County. Jason Pizzo might upset Daphne Campbell in SD 38 — he’s had enough money to do it.

FP: What’s driving movement in these primaries?

MJ: It’s not just one thing. In every one of them, you can point to something that’s driving voters out, and why people are getting involved in it. It varies by area of the state.

Some of the people running believe they can actually do a better job. I don’t think I’ve met a candidate this year who’s had any kind of bad, ulterior motive. They want to serve. Some of them have no concept of what it’s going to be like when they get here, but they want to make Florida a better place.

FP: Any other noteworthy races?

MJ: You’ve got other races in Pinellas that are interesting. Jeff Brandes wound up without a primary opponent. But you’ve got some House races around Pinellas County that are really interesting. You’ve got Nick DeCeglie against Berny Jacques — that one could be closer than what people are anticipating.

One of the most fascinating is the Gayle Harrell seat in Martin County — Toby Overdorf versus Sasha Dadan. We did not endorse in that race. I understand that one had become a battleground, gotten pretty bad. Whoever wins that primary is going to win in November. I’m not sure it will change the direction of the state.

FP: What else is driving the elections?

MJ: There’s concern about the gun issue. There’s concern about immigration. Things are going pretty well in Florida right now — the economy — and they don’t want it to stop. Those issues are motivating so many candidates.

But they cannot change immigration here — it’s got to be in D.C. — and some of them are not aware of that. We’ve had a lot of shootings in Florida.

FP: Yesterday.

MJ: A lot of the candidates want to be a part of solving this. They’re very, very motivated.

FP: Are you seeing evidence that the Parkland kids are having any influence?

MJ: In that local area, yeah. Because, really, most of the Democrats who want the extreme of ‘no guns’ are in the southern part of the state. Democrats in Middle and North Florida are very different. They want it solved, too, but in their parts of the state they like to go hunting and look at the issue differently.

FP: Any evidence that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is mobilizing people?

MJ: I see that in Central Florida, especially around HD 47 and HD 30, along in there. There’s a young lady running on the Democratic side in that one (HB 47) who’s very progressive: Anna Eskamani … She cracks me up, makes me laugh, but we don’t see eye-to-eye on anything.

Some in South Florida. I don’t see it in the Tampa Bay area or on the west coast at all. Maybe around Broward, Miami-Dade.

FP: Obviously, the Democrats are going to need to turn out to prevail in November. Are you seeing any indication of whether that’s going to happen?

MJ: Not right now. They were looking for a big blue wave. A lot of it will change; a lot of it will depend on what happens tomorrow. But there’s just no indication of a gigantic blue wave. It might be a ripple effect, but I’m not seeing any major change.

Mark Wilson (dropping by Johnson’s office): … `Is there something going on or something?

MJ: Just an election.

MW: Except that the voters are changing as fast as the weather. It’s the first time I can ever remember — we just got the July numbers in — when no counties had Democrats as the No. 1 registration. Half of them were NPAs (no party affiliation) and the other half were Republican. Not one county!

MJ: I was just studying it, too. What is happening in Florida?

MW: I’m just talking about new voter registration — brand-new voters. Usually, you see some blues, you see some reds. We have a yellow color for NPAs.

MJ: The new voters are so interesting to watch. What is it, 44 percent of all new voters are NPA?

MW: We believe that Republicans will be the third-largest party by 2023 or 2024. That’s the trajectory. It’ll be Democrats, then NPA, then Republicans. One of these years, somebody’s going to do a constitutional amendment for open primaries. I think it’ll pass with flying colors.

It won’t come from the Legislature, but Tom Steyer, George Soros, or somebody will do it. (Wilson leaves.)

FP: … Is Florida sheltered from national trends?

MJ: I believe it is. Now, this is going to be an interesting election tomorrow and in the fall, because it’s the midterms. In midterm elections, Republicans supposed to lose all these seats. There’s supposed to be a blue wave coming. We don’t know.

We saw what happened to Jose “Pepi” Diaz in that special election (for SD 40). He was trying to get out of that primary and he tied himself to Trump. And then they took that same little rope and (she mimics a hanging) — skrrrk — in the general.

FP: What effect, if any, is President Trump having down-ballot — congressional and state Legislature?

MJ: If you’re in a Republican primary, you’re touting Trump.

FP: How popular is Trump in Florida?

MJ: Among Republicans, extremely popular. That little curve in Florida, where you’re coming down through Citrus County … not only Republicans but Democrats turned out for Trump. I call them my Yeti voters. That’s the people who go fishing, people who go hunting.

FP: As in Yeti coolers?

MJ: Yeah. Got the Yeti cooler with them, their Yeti hat, their Yeti on the back of their pickup trucks.

FP: And they’re turning out?

MJ: We’ll see tomorrow. And we’ll see in November.

FP: What does the early vote say?

MJ: There are more Democrats who have voted now than there were at this point in 2014.

FP: But that doesn’t tell you what it used to tell you, does it?

MJ: It doesn’t, because you’ve got more voters now. You can go on our website … and it’ll give it to you by House district, by county, by Senate district, by congressional district — all of that.

FP: Voting is not just Election Day anymore.

MJ: It’s not. When a candidate’s running, they’ve got to be able to win two weeks out. In 2016, five days out, 60-something percent of the vote was already cast. Running a campaign is not like it used to be. Digital is everywhere. It’s more expensive. It’s scary that they can pinpoint where you are and send you a message because they know your demographics.

FP: Does it work?

MJ: We did a lot of digital in 2016 and, in a couple of races, I do believe that it made a difference. People haven’t given up on direct mail and TV yet. Most people, when you ask what’s the most trusted source for information, digital has shot up, but it’s still direct mail.

FP: Who’s good on social media? Are there candidates who are smart about it and actually producing results with it?

MJ: I’ll tell you one: Phil Levine.

When he started running, every time I would turn my phone or iPad on, I’d get a Phil Levine commercial. I thought, “Why am I getting Phil Levine?” Because I’m not a registered Democrat.

He was being smart about it — he was trying to influence the political makers in the state, thinking that he was going to win the primary and that we would find him appealing for the general.

There are some in the House and the Senate. Adam Putnam has done some smart digital. I’ve seen some for Denise Grimsley. And it works. It really does work.

Whoever did the attack piece on Baxter Troutman (text messages highlighting his 2012 domestic violence arrest), that campaign was pretty successful. Baxter in the polls was ahead two weeks ago — decisively. Now he’s fighting even to make the nomination. Yup — they work.

FP: What other trends are you seeing?

MJ: If a candidate is not using door-to-door, it’s a mistake. Having a candidate walk the district. Just because digital is big, you’ve still got to have that personal touch. That makes the difference in a lot of these districts.

FP: To summarize, there’s no overarching driver for these House races you’re watching. It’s local politics.

MJ: It’s those issues applied on a local level. Some places, immigration is the No. 1 issue. You can go 100 miles north and that won’t even show up.

FP: Is Trump not playing in those primaries?

MJ: If you’re in a Republican primary, you want to love Trump more than your opponent does. You’ll be surprised by the direct mail pieces that have gone out with Trump’s picture somewhere. It may not say anything about him. But Republicans love him, in all parts of the state. He was even improving in Miami-Dade.

FP: Are the Puerto Ricans who moved to Florida following Hurricane Maria players?

MJ: They could have been. And they still have time to register for the general. But those people who came over, they were too busy trying to see about their lives, and very few of them have registered.

They could have made a tremendous impact. Kelli Stargel’s seat was considered one that could change from R to D — that Poinciana area’s mostly where those Puerto Ricans are landing, and usually, they register Democrat. But they aren’t registering.

They’ve got until Oct. 4 or 5 to register. [The actual deadline is Oct. 9.] A lot of it’s going to depend on the winners tomorrow — whether anyone makes a drive for it.

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