Jacob Ogles – Florida Politics

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

Adam Putnam meets with firefighters, touts law enforcement support

Adam Putnam met with firefighters in Brooksville today after touting his support among law enforcement officials the night before.

The Republican candidate for governor spent much of Saturday with first responders at the Florida State Fire Service Association Executive Board Meeting.

Putnam has earned the endorsements of the Florida Professional Firefighters, the Florida Police Benevolent Association and the Florida Fraternal Order of Police, and at the weekend event spent his time communicating to firefighters that his priority will be on responders’ needs should he move into the governor’s mansion.

“It is my priority to make sure that the men and women who are running into situations that everyone else is running away from have the resources and tools they need to be successful,” Putnam said in a statement.

Putnam met with a number of firefighters at the Withlacoochee Forestry Training Center. The event was not open to press.

Putnam campaigned on Friday evening in Venice with Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight, one of 46 sheriffs to endorse Putnam for governor.

“The most important thing that we have is safety and security,”  Knight said at the event. “When you get 46 Sheriffs from both sides of the aisle who understand Adam will represent us in Tallahassee, continue Florida’s all-time low in crime and keep the state vibrant, you know he will protect our state as Governor.”

Putnam in turn praised Knight, who was re-elected unopposed to a third term in 2016. “Tom Knight is doing amazing things here,” Putnam said. “Everything that we want to accomplish together begins with public safety. Crime in Florida is at a 47-year low because of the men and women who keep the bad guys behind bars.”

Putnam has raised close to $6.5 million in his bid for governor, compared to $2.5 million raised over chief Republican opponent Ron DeSantis, but polls have shown DeSantis leading or tied with Putnam.

Charlie Crist bringing Joe Kennedy to campaign in St. Pete

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist hopes for a boost from the Kennedy clan next month. The Tampa Democrat will speak at a rally with U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III in St. Petersburg in early August.

The #ProtectOurCare event will take place Aug. 7 at Williams Park, where a line-up of advocates will discuss ways to preserve and improve affordable healthcare in the state of Florida. An event announcement makes clear ObamaCare will also be a hot topic of discussion, with the two Democratic congressmen ready to discuss “fighting attempts to undermine protections for those with pre-existing conditions, holding ‘Big Pharma’ accountable for rising prescription drug prices, and calling on Florida to expand Medicaid.”

On Twitter, Crist made clear his own support for the Affordable Care Act and desire to expand Medicaid in Florida. He also says he expects a fight over requirements for insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions.

Kennedy, a Massachusetts representative, has been a popular speaker nationally, appearing last week on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. There, he talked about efforts for Democrats to retake the House of Representatives this November. That likely means winning a number of Republican-controlled seats in Florida, but also requires defending a couple of purple seats including Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Crist, a former Republican governor who since changed parties, won in the Tampa-based district in 2016 after defeating Republican incumbent David Jolly. That year, Crist took 51.9 percent of the vote, eking out a narrow 14,544-vote victory and flipping the seat even as Republican Donald Trump won Florida’s electoral votes in the presidential election.

This year, Crist will face the winner of an Aug. 28 Republican primary between George Buck and Brad Sostack.

While the tight district should be one of the places Republicans put Democrats on defense this year with a freshman congressman elected in a close race two years ago, political prognosticator Larry Sabato still lists the race as “Likely Democratic” on his 2018 election forecast.

Philip Levine, Chris King look for votes in deep red Charlotte

Chris King in Charlotte County

While Charlotte County can safely be called Republican country, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Philip Levine and Chris King weathered pouring rain to speak to voters there on Saturday.

The two candidates spoke at the Politics in the Park event at Harbor Heights Park near Punta Gorda. There, Levine touted his record as a climate-conscious mayor in Miami Beach while King promoted his history fighting against Big Sugar.

Even as candidates try to break ahead in a crowded Democratic field, Levine drew the greatest contrast between himself and outgoing Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for Senate this year, and regular Democratic punching bag President Donald Trump.

“We know that Rick Scott is Donald Trump’s BFF, Best Friend Forever,” Levine told a crowded gathered under a pavilion. “It’s not that he actually robbed the bank with Donald Trump, but I know Rick Scott was the driver.”

King’s boogeyman of choice was the sugar industry, and he shared the story of how a trip to Clewiston last week turned sideways, spinning it as a badge of honor. “The environment and taking on Big Sugar has been a huge part of my candidacy,” he said.

Philip Levine in Charlotte County

He later spoke to Florida Politics about how he doesn’t want to dismantle an entire industry, but wants the government to return to protecting the government instead of allowing pollution, and stressed his campaign of message of being a the first voice of a new generation standing up to sugar. And he figures as Charlotte and other coastal residents deal with algae in rivers, it’s a good time to talk about the issue.

“Here is Southwest Florida, these discharges seem to be issues one, two and three, and these will keep happening unless we start thinking about things differently,” King said.

Levine stressed his own green credentials, noting Miami Beach’s efforts during his eight-year tenure as mayor to strengthen building codes to deal with sea level rise brought on by climate change. Labeling Scott’s Department of Environmental Protection as a department of environmental exploitation, he promised to make sure state regulators don’t snuggle to polluters.

“One thing I won’t do is nothing,” he said.

Despite the make-up of attendees at the Democratic event, Charlotte County may prove a tough place to sell a progressive message in November. Trump carried the county by nearly 29 percent in November 2016.

But King and Levine both see reason to rally as many votes as possible here.

“We just can’t keep losing these areas by huge margins,” King told Florida Politics. “We have to speak to people everywhere.”

Levine, who later headed from Punta Gorda to open a Fort Myers campaign office, said no region could go untouched if Democrats are to win in November.

“I don’t see areas as red or blue. I see areas as Floridians and that’s it,” he said. “We’ll be everywhere, in every town and every county.”

Bill Nelson sharpens algae talks with partisan edge, Rick Scott responds

Updated: With comment from Rick Scott.

Discussion of algal blooms on the Caloosahatchee River took a decidedly political turn at a roundtable hosted by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in North Fort Myers.

Braced for a tight re-election fight where he faces a challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the three-term senator put the onus of the green-algae problem on poor state leadership.

“Rick Scott has systematically dismembered the environmental agencies of the state of Florida over the last eight years,” Nelson said.

Specifically, Nelson called out the defunding of Florida Forever dollars and a change in law requiring fewer inspections on septic tanks for contributing to pollution in Lake Okeechobee.

Participants in the roundtable, held at Three Fisherman Seafood Restaurant overlooking the river, gave similarly partisan assessments of the environment. John Scott, Sierra Club Calusa Group chairman, read off a list of Scott sins against the Everglades that included turning the Department of Environmental Protection into a “polluter hand-holding” agency.

But not everyone at the panel came in a partisan capacity. Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello, also a part of the roundtable discussion, stressed residents needed answers from all leaders.

“You’ve been in the system,” he said. “What’s slowing it down? And what are solutions to get us where we are going?”

On that, Nelson stressed that problems with green algae come from decades of mistakes in the past, noting a 50-year era from the ‘20s to the ‘80s where the primary focus around Lake Okeechobee was preventing the flooding of homes rather than preserving the natural flow of water.

Nelson said the problem would not be fixed overnight.

But the senator did call on a re-evaluation of water discharges from the lake.

“This has gotten so bad,” Nelson said, “and it’s only going to continue unless policies are immediately reversed.”

The conversation also tilted toward health care. There, Dr. Parisima Taeb, the Democrat challenge state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen in House District 78, spun algae as a health problem, causing asthma problems today and potentially late-stage liver disease problems in the future.

“State leadership refusing to accept funds to expand Medicaid should be part of the conversation,” Taeb said.

Nelson also connected Scott’s support from oil companies to the issue. “Yesterday my opponent was in Oklahoma having a fundraiser with the oil and gas boys,” Nelson told Florida Politics. “It’s the oil and gas boys that keep trying to drill off this coast.”

Nelson noted early that the roundtable was part of a campaign event, unlike earlier town halls he’d held in Southwest Florida organized by his Senate office. But will turning algae into a partisan fight make it more difficult to address it regardless of whether he returns to Washington?

Nelson isn’t concerned.

“I get along with my colleague Sen. [Marco] Rubio,” Nelson said. “I think it’s telling that Marco, when asked by the press, ‘Are you going to campaign against Sen. Bill Nelson,’ he said, ‘I will not campaign against Bill Nelson.’ He is my partner in the Senate. I think that tells you something about my bipartisanship.”

Gov. Scott responded to Florida Politics later to the charges leveled by Scott:

“When Bill Nelson repeatedly failed to step up, it was Governor Scott who secured state funding for Lake Okeechobee, supported legislation to accelerate the EAA reservoir, and now secured funding through the Army Corps of Engineers,” reads a statement from Scott’s Senate campaign.

“It’s absurd for Nelson to say that a bill that was overwhelmingly passed by the legislature only six years ago to save homeowners money is somehow responsible for a problem that has lasted for generations. Additionally, under Governor Scott’s leadership, Florida established the most comprehensive nutrient pollution standards in the nation and became the first state to adopt complete nutrient standards protecting all lakes, rivers, streams, springs and estuaries.”

Rick Scott pushes back on Bill Nelson’s algae claims

Gov. Rick Scott didn’t take too well to aspersions cast by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson at him from the Caloosahatchee River yesterday.

Rather than hearing from a federal official about how green algae blooms lay with state policy, Scott promises he will do something from Washington if voters send him there to replace the incumbent.

“Nelson himself acknowledged in Cape Coral that the problems surrounding Lake Okeechobee came from decades of mistakes,” reads a statement to Florida Politics from Scott’s Senate campaign, “but he had nothing to say about his own decades of inaction when asked why solutions were so slow.”

Scott, a Republican, is running against incumbent Democratic Sen. Nelson. The general election is Nov. 6.

On Friday, Nelson’s campaign hosted a roundtable about algae in North Fort Myers, joined by environmental and Cape Coral leaders — and with a distinctly partisan tone.

The Scott campaign pushed back, noting Nelson has been in Washington for decades, whether as a Senator for the past 17 years or before that as a congressman, while repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike lingered as a long-drawn-out federal project.

“When Bill Nelson repeatedly failed to step up, it was Governor Scott who secured state funding for Lake Okeechobee, supported legislation to accelerate the EAA reservoir, and now secured funding through the Army Corps of Engineers,” reads the statement from Scott.

Scott took umbrage at suggestions a law easing regulations on septic tank inspections played a more significant role in the algal blooms now impacting homeowners and businesses in South Florida.

“It’s absurd for Nelson to say that a bill that was overwhelmingly passed by the legislature only six years ago to save homeowners money is somehow responsible for a problem that has lasted for generations,” the statement reads. “Additionally, under Governor Scott’s leadership, Florida established the most comprehensive nutrient pollution standards in the nation and became the first state to adopt complete nutrient standards protecting all lakes, rivers, streams, springs and estuaries.

“Ultimately, Bill Nelson’s misleading attacks make it clear that with no accomplishments of his own after nearly half a century in office, he has no choice but to go negative.”

Where will candidates for governor be today?

From a Democratic get-together in Punta Gorda to meet-and greets in Jacksonville, candidates for governor will spend this weekend connecting with voters. Here’s where you can find some of the major players.

For Democratic candidates for governor, South Florida this weekend is the place to be.

Philip Levine today will speak to Charlotte County Democrats at noon at the Politics in the Park event at Harbor Heights Park in Punta Gorda. Then he will head down the road to Fort Myers to open a new campaign office on Cleveland Avenue at 4 p.m.

Chris King’s “Keeping The Promise” tour continues today into Punta Gorda, where he also will attend Charlotte County Democrats’ Politics in the Park event at 1 p.m. King plans to focus on health care issues including Medicaid expansion and the opioid crisis.

Andrew Gillum will spend the day in South Florida. The Tallahassee mayor will rally supporters in Miami Gardens at the Unrepresented People’s Positive Action Council Community Forum’s Gubernatorial Community Forum, an event that runs from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the Greater New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Then he opens a West Palm Beach campaign office on Corporate Way at 2 p.m. before heading back to Miami for the Wilkie D. Ferguson Bar Association 40th Annual Gala at Briza on the Bay at 8 p.m.

And on the Republican side, Ron DeSantis will meet voters bright and early for a Duval County Meet and Greet at The Local in Jacksonville, where doors open at 8:30 a.m. Then he heads to Orange Park for a Clay County Meet and Greet there, held at La Nopalera Mexican Restaurant with doors opening at 1:30 p.m. and the program starting at 2 p.m.

Adam Putnam will meet with firefighters today at the Florida State Forest Service Association’s executive board meeting.

Gwen Graham and Jeff Greene have not announced any public events today.

But following up on a similar event in Fort Myers, Sen. Bill Nelson plans to meet with health care professionals at a roundtable in Deltona at the Community Life Outreach Center at 2:30 p.m, part of his re-election effort. Then he plans to visit Bethune Cookman University for a tour of Mary Mcleod Bethune before a Volusia County canvassing event. He’ll end the day with a keynote address at the 7 p.m. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Gala at Hilton Daytona Beach Ocean Front Resort.

Gov. Rick Scott, who is challenging Nelson, will join Puerto Rico Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón for a Valrico rally at Rico Frappe Latino at 2:15 p.m. He will then meet with Puerto Rican leaders there. González-Colón endorsed Scott in May.

If more events get announced, this story will be updated.

Youth pastor says Tampa church covered up sex abuse

A former youth pastor at a Tampa church says allegations of sexual abuse were covered up, and he was fired after telling higher-ups at the Riverhills Church of God.

John Lancer worked as a youth pastor at the church in 2016 when janitor Luis Lugo was fired for allegedly exposing himself to an elementary school student, according to a complaint filed by Lancer against the church.

The suit details that security cameras in the hallways near bathrooms in the church were removed and the church leadership in February 2016 noted Lugo disappeared in the building. The minor accused Lugo of abuse in March 2016, about a month after cameras were gone.

Charles Thornton

While Lugo lost his job, Lancer says pastor Charles Thornton told staff afterward that no report about the abuse incident should be made to any authority or insurance carrier.

The victim of the alleged abuse was an elementary student at Grant Park Christian Academy, which rented space from Riverhills Church of God at the time but relocated shortly after the incident with the janitor. Church officials, according to the lawsuit, said it was the responsibility of the school to report the incident.

The Riverhills Church of God website still lists Thornton as missions pastor.

Lancer would not abide by that and called a child abuse hotline and state officials with the Church of God. The local church responded by firing Lancer and his wife Melissa, who also worked at the church.

The Riverhills church still houses another school, the Florida Autism Center of Excellence.

Hillsborough County records don’t show anyone named Luis Lugo being arrested on any sex-related charges in 2016. Lancer’s lawsuit says Lugo was the father-in-law of an administrative elder at the church.

Lancer’s lawsuit also alludes to another potential incident were middle-school helpers at the church acted inappropriately with a younger child and suggests church officials covered that up as well.

Lancer now lives in Warner Robins, Georgia. He is seeking actual and compensatory damages from the church and requesting a trial by jury.

Democrats talk algae, quality of life issues in Fort Myers Governor debate

As the five dominant Democrats running for Governor shared a debate stage in Fort Myers, discharges from Lake Okeechobee rose to the top of a list of progressive causes discussed.

The debate participants universally promised to fight Big Sugar and find solutions to the closely watched environmental issue.

“If you don’t have the political courage to stand up to the industry that has had a vice grip on environmental politics in the state of Florida for 20 years, paying off politicians all throughout the state of Florida, you are now willing to hold this office,” said Orlando businessman Chris King.

All the candidates promised not to take sugar money. King zinged former Rep. Gwen Graham for accepting money in the past, but she noted that one had all gone to help the Indian River Lagoon.

“I am proud sugar money is being used to clean up the mess they created,” Graham said.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said stopping Big Sugar influence would involve more than environmental regulation. He said fixing problems around Lake Okeechobee also offered the chance to help redefine the economy of communities that now rely on the industry.

“We need to put the interests of everyday people first,” he said. Gillum noted areas around Lake Okeechobee, many communities of color, will need new economic drivers, a problem that cannot be solved within the “elite towers of liberalism,” and that the next Governor will need to take a New Deal approach to job growth.

Quality of life and education issues also loomed large in the debate. Standing at a podium next to billionaire Jeff Greene on the debate stage for the first time, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine stressed his public and private sector success while taking a thinly veiled shot at his primary opponent.

“Don’t elect someone just from the private sector who was never tested in the public sector,” Levine stressed.

Greene, though, said his financial success would allow him to help Democratic candidates all the way down the ballot, including in Senate and House races, to be elected. And he said his background made him the best candidate to stand up to President Donald Trump.

“I’ve been fighting with Donald Trump as long as I’ve known him,” Greene said.

Green also promised to put an end to state funding of charter schools, suggesting it’s the lobbying and political influence of professionals in the industry who led to a sudden interest in Tallahassee in expanding charter options.

As for working with the president? Gillum, while calling Trump “uniquely unqualified” for his office, said he’d work with him on high-speed rail. Graham said she’d push for a Medicaid expansion in Florida — and accept the funding.

A message pushed repeatedly was ending the Democrats’ losing streak. Graham frequently talked of the 20 years of Republican rule in Florida, noting she had won a Panhandle congressional seat during a red wave year in 2014.

King reminded people the last time a Democrat won the governor’s mansion was his freshman year in high school.

Levine promised to deliver results in both the election and in the job, noting past success passing a living wage rule in Miami Beach before Gov. Rick Scott put a stop to it.

Gillum appealed to history, noting that the Aug. 28 primary this year will occur on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and the day Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president.

Moderating the debate were WINK News anchors Chris Cifatte and Lois Thome; it was at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Rick Scott Victory Fund gets big push from oil, sports, prison moguls

Contributions to the Rick Scott Victory Fund include large checks from Big Sugar magnates, Florida-based developers, and the sports world, according to data published by ProPublica.

The new political committee, set up to help Gov. Rick Scott unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, just made its first filing with the Federal Elections Commission.

A few of the biggest names behind the bucks:

Jose “Pepe” Fanjul: The son of sugar baron Alfonso Fajul (and brother of Democratic mega-donor Anfonso Jr.) serves as president and chief operating officer for Florida Crystals. He’s also a longtime patron of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and also chipped in $39,300 to the Rick Scott Victory Fund.

Jeffrey and Penny Vinik: He’s the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. She’s one of Tampa Bay’s most prominent philanthropists. Each donated $39,300 to the fund.

Tom O’Malley: The wealthy oilman and retired executive chairman of PBF Energy, O’Malley accepted a 2014 appointment from Scott to the Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees. He and wife Mary Alice each donated $39,300.

Dan Doyle, Sr. and Dan Doyle, Jr.: The father-and-son team behind Tampa-based Dex Imaging also made a heavy family investment in the fund. Both contributed $39,300, and a look further down the list also shows donations from Doyles named Dan (a student), Rosaleen (a homemaker) and Nicole (self-employed).

Jordan Zimmerman: The founder and chairman of Zimmerman Advertising and part owner of the Florida Panthers gave $39,300, with wife Terry donated the same. Scott reappointed him to the University of South Florida Board of Trustees after Zimmerman was initially being put on the board by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

Michael Durden: The Panama City rail executive was previously one of the biggest donors for Scott’s state political committee Let’s Get to Work. Now he’s donated $39,300 to the federal fund.

Jim Henderson: The board chairman and CEO of insurance giant AssuredPartners donated $39,300 to the fund, as did wife Carole.

George Zoley: The founder and CEO of GEO Group, a controversial but highly successful prison company labeled as profiteers by the American Civil Liberties Union, Zoley contributed $39,300 to the fund, and so did wife Donna. Zoley also previously served on the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees.

Brian D’Isernia: The founder and CEO of Eastern Shipbuilding, a company that two years ago landed the largest U.S. Coast Guard contract in history to build a series of offshore patrol cutters, donated $39,300 to the fund.

Carlos Beruff: The Medallion Home founder (and close Scott ally) chipped in $39,300. Beruff is currently chair of the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission and waged an unsuccessful Republican primary challenge against incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio two years ago.

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen call for consequences in Nicaragua

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen say Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega must face consequences after protests of his regime turned deadly this weekend.

A new wave of violence broke out late last week as anti-Ortega protesters clashed with the government. The Nicaraguan Bishop’s Conference tells the BBC that one man died when police and paramilitary forces on Friday evening assaulted a Managua church where 150 students had converged.

Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, on Friday called Ortega a coward in a Spanish-language tweet. She condemned the regime and called for the international community to take action in response to the violence.

Rubio said Ortega should consider himself on notice. “If his violence leads to a bloodbath he will face consequences,” he tweeted Friday.

Rubio also said that he had spoken with Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada Colindres weeks ago, personally telling him an “opportunity still existed to avoid cycle of conflict with U.S. if they held early & fair elections. But Ortega/Murillo regime responded with more violence making very clear the path they have chosen.”

The tweet referenced Rasio Murillo, Ortega’s wife and vice president.

Rubio said he was closely monitoring the situation and awaited news of a promised release of students, journalists and clergy still trapped inside the church.

Nelson also tweeted in Spanish on Friday that the Nicaraguan people face repression from the Ortega regime. He expressed fear the country could follow the same path as Venezuela under President Nicolas Maduro.

And Florida Gov. Rick Scott chimed in as well, echoing concern that Nicaragua and Venezuela were on the same path to totalitarianism, while also expressing his belief that Cuba’s fate could be tied to that of those nations.

“What we are seeing in Nicaragua this weekend is scary,” he added. “We have to stand with the people of Nicaragua who desperately want freedom and safety.”

Violent protests in Nicaragua in April resulted in nearly 30 deaths, the deadliest political conflict in the nation since the close of the Nicaraguan Revolution, according to The New York Times.

Ros-Lehtinen in June led a Congressional effort urging President Donald Trump’s administration to strongly support the Nicaraguan people resisting totalitarianism. She and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat, penned a bipartisan, bicameral letter calling for action.

“We are calling on the Administration to target additional regime officials for designation under the law, so that Ortega and his cronies feel the real impact of their brutal policies,” the letter reads.

Eight other federal lawmakers signed onto the letter, including fellow Floridians Rubio, Nelson and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The State Department announced new sanctions on Nicaragua on July 5.

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