Phil Ammann, Author at Florida Politics

Phil Ammann

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist, editor and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing, reporting and management experience, Phil produced content for both print and online, in addition to founding several specialty websites, including HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range included covering news, local government and entertainment reviews for Patch.com, technical articles, and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine as well as advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as editor and production manager for Extensive Enterprises Media since 2013 and lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul. He can be reached at phil.ammann@gmail.com.

New GOP website blasts Andrew Gillum for ‘lobbyist slush fund’

Referring to a dubious bank deposit from 2016, Republicans are blasting Democrat Andrew Gillum with a new website calling out his “lobbyist-fueled slush fund.”

On Friday, the Republican Party of Florida launched ReleaseTheReceipts.com, a website that calls on the gubernatorial candidate — and front-runner in several polls — to “tell the truth about his luxury Costa Rica vacation in 2016,” as well as a “suspicious” $15,000 deposit.

“Ask yourself this question … would you trust an elected official that has a suspicious $15,000 deposit made into his personal account?” RPOF Chair Blaise Ingoglia asked in a statement Friday. “A deposit that large should have an easily explainable answer, but unfortunately we’re not getting receipts or answers these days out of Andrew Gillum.”

Earlier this month, Gillum’s campaign unintentionally released personal bank statements — part of what POLITICO called a “public relations transparency effort” — which shows Gillum receiving a $15,000 deposit during a period under investigation by the Florida Commission on Ethics.

The bank statement in question covers April 21 to May 23, 2016, during which Gillum took a questionable May 2016 trip to Costa Rica. While Gillum is not personally under investigation, the trip is being watched in an FBI probe looking into corruption at Tallahassee’s Community Rehabilitation Agency.

“Andrew Gillum refuses to come clean about the $15,000 deposit in his bank account and who really paid for his luxury vacation to Costa Rica,” said the RPOF’s Meredith Beatrice. “Gillum’s botched attempt to cover up the truth and hide his connection to the ongoing FBI investigation only resulted in a poorly-redacted bank statement. Does Andrew Gillum have a lobbyist-fueled slush fund? The voters of Florida deserve answers.”

Most recent polling from Reuters — Ipsos — UVA Center for Politics gives Gillum a 6-point lead over Republican Ron DeSantis in the increasingly combative Florida gubernatorial campaign. The survey found 50 percent of voters surveyed support Gillum, while only 44 percent back DeSantis.

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano congratulates Ed Hooper on big SD16 win

Senate President-designate Bill Galvano is cheering Ed Hooper on his victory in Senate District 16, which consists of parts of Pasco and Pinellas counties.

Hooper, a former state legislator from Clearwater, handily defeated Palm Harbor restaurateur Leo Karruli in the Republican primary, 79 to 21 percent.

“I would like to extend my congratulations to Ed Hooper tonight for his victory in Senate District 16,” Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said in a statement. “Ed is a proven, dedicated public servant and community leader, and the Florida Senate will welcome his commitment.”

Galvano continued: “In addition to being an advocate fighting for lower taxes and responsible spending, Ed is committed to stronger measures against criminals, ensuring Floridians have access to more affordable health care, encouraging the presence of law enforcement at schools to protect our students and protecting the financial security of seniors.”

Hooper next faces former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy, who currently enjoys a slight two-point advantage in a recent poll of SD 16 voters.

It’s not the party, it’s the after party: Where to find Tampa Bay candidates on Election Night

On Tuesday, election night parties will be held all over Florida.

For some, it’s a chance to pop some champagne corks, celebrate and gear up for the general election. For others, it will be a somewhat more somber affair, the last hurrah of a long, hard-fought primary campaign.

Want to party like a politician? Here’s a rundown of where some candidates will be as the polls close.

Governor

Republican Adam Putnam will celebrate election night at the Terrace Hotel, 329 East Main Street, Lakeland. Media Set Up: 6 p.m.; doors open: 6:30 p.m. Media must RSVP by August 28 at noon to meredithb@adamputnam.com. Visit AdamPutnam.com for more information.

Democrat Gwen Graham and Team Graham will host their election night party starting 8 p.m., The Social, 54 N Orange Ave. in Orlando. Those able to attend can RSVP to Casey at casey@gwengraham.com. Please include: “Election Night” in the subject line.

Democrat Philip Levine will hold an election night watch party at his campaign headquarters, 7:30 p.m., 2215 NW 1st Place, Miami. There will be parking accommodations and a workspace for members of the media. Media can RSVP to Max@MayorPhilipLevine.com.

Democrat Andrew Gillum is hosting his watch party at the Hotel Duval, 415 N. Monroe Street, Tallahassee. Risers, multi-box, and filing station will all be available on a first come, first served basis to RSVP’d media. Media load in begins at 5:30 p.m.

Democrat Chris King and his campaign will join supporters for an election night party at the Alfond Inn, 300 E New England Ave, in Winter Park. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., registered media will have access at 5 p.m.

Democrat Jeff Greene hosts his party beginning 7:30 p.m. at Tideline Ocean Resort — Malcom Ballroom (Upstairs), 2842 S Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach. Malt box, media riser will be available for broadcast journalists — all inquiries on logistics for media — please contact Kraig Pomrenke at (870) 351-1165. Parking available for media trucks; RSVP at press@jeffgreeneforflorida.com. will be watching returns from his home, with family.

Attorney General

Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody will hold her election night festivities at the Floridan Palace Hotel Grand Ballroom Florida, 905 N. Florida Ave. in Tampa. Doors open at 6 p.m. Registered media will have access at 4 p.m. and must be set up by 5:30 p.m.

Democratic candidate Ryan Torrens will host the “People’s Lawyer Primary election night Watch Party” at Sociedad La Union Marti Maceo Club, Ybor City’s historic Afro-Cuban club. That’s at 6 p.m.. 1226 E 7th Ave., Tampa.

Agriculture Commissioner

Republican state Sen. Denise Grimsley holds her watch party event at the Best Western Heritage Inn & Suites, 2727 US Highway 17 N, Bowling Green. Doors open at 7 p.m.

U.S. House

CD 19

Democrat David Holden invites supporters and friends to watch returns beginning 6 p.m., Lansdowne Street Pub, 24851 S Tamiami Trail, Bonita Springs.

Florida Senate

SD 16

Florida House

HD 64

Incumbent Republican James Grant will be holding a “Primary Election Victory Party” at 6:30 p.m., Catch Twenty Three, 10103 Montague St, Tampa.

HD 66

HD 70

Incumbent Democrat Wengay “Newt” Newton will hold his celebration at 6 p.m., 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House, 400 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg.

County races

Pinellas County Commission

It’s not the party, it’s the after party: Where to find candidates on Election Night

On Tuesday, Election Night parties will be held all over Florida.

For some, it’s a chance to pop some champagne corks, celebrate and gear up for the general election. For others, it will be a somewhat more somber affair, the last hurrah of a long, hard-fought primary campaign.

Want to party like a politician? Here’s a rundown of where many candidates will be as the polls close.

Governor

Republican Adam Putnam will celebrate election night at the Terrace Hotel, 329 East Main Street, Lakeland. Media Set Up: 6 p.m.; doors open: 6:30 p.m. Media must RSVP by August 28 at noon to meredithb@adamputnam.com. Visit AdamPutnam.com for more information.

Republican Ron DeSantis holds his election night celebration beginning 6 p.m. at the Rosen Shingle Creek 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando. To register, visit the Eventbrite page.

Democrat Gwen Graham and Team Graham will host their election night party starting 8 p.m., The Social, 54 N Orange Ave. in Orlando. Those able to attend can RSVP to Casey at casey@gwengraham.com. Please include: “Election Night” in the subject line.

Democrat Philip Levine will hold an election night watch party at his campaign headquarters, 7:30 p.m., 2215 NW 1st Place, Miami. There will be parking accommodations and a workspace for members of the media. Media can RSVP to Max@MayorPhilipLevine.com.

Democrat Andrew Gillum is hosting his watch party at the Hotel Duval, 415 N. Monroe Street, Tallahassee. Risers, multi-box, and filing station will all be available on a first come, first served basis to RSVP’d media. Media load in begins at 5:30 p.m.

Democrat Chris King and his campaign will join supporters for an election night party at the Alfond Inn, 300 E New England Ave, in Winter Park. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., registered media will have access at 5 p.m.

Democrat Jeff Greene hosts his party beginning 7:30 p.m. at Tideline Ocean Resort — Malcom Ballroom (Upstairs), 2842 S Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach. Malt box, media riser will be available for broadcast journalists — all inquiries on logistics for media — please contact Kraig Pomrenke at (870) 351-1165. Parking available for media trucks; RSVP at press@jeffgreeneforflorida.com. will be watching returns from his home, with family.

Attorney General

Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody will hold her election night festivities at the Floridan Palace Hotel Grand Ballroom Florida, 905 N. Florida Ave. in Tampa. Doors open at 6 p.m. Registered media will have access at 4 p.m. and must be set up by 5:30 p.m.

Democratic candidate Ryan Torrens will host the “People’s Lawyer Primary election night Watch Party” at Sociedad La Union Marti Maceo Club, Ybor City’s historic Afro-Cuban club. That’s at 6 p.m. 1226 E 7th Ave., Tampa.

Agriculture Commissioner

Democrat Nikki Fried will be at The Waverly Las Olas, 7 p.m., 110 N. Federal Hwy., #100, Fort Lauderdale. For more info or RSVP, call (954) 734-3799.

Republican state Sen. Denise Grimsley holds her watch party event at the Best Western Heritage Inn & Suites, 2727 US Highway 17 N, Bowling Green. Doors open at 7 p.m.

U.S. House

CD 2

Democrat Brandon Peters holds his election night watch party starting 7 p.m. at Midtown Caboose, 1406 N. Meridian Rd., Tallahassee.

Democrat Bob Rackleff will be at Waterworks — which will be serving “Blue Wave” cocktails — beginning 7 p.m., 1133 Thomasville Rd, Tallahassee. Register at the event’s Facebook page.

CD 5

Incumbent Democrat Al Lawson’s campaign office is holding a watch party at 7:30 p.m., 1680 Dunn Ave., Jacksonville.

CD 6

Democrat Nancy Soderberg will join supporters and volunteers for an election night event starting 7 p.m., Rock Bottom Brewery, 1864 Victory Circle, Building K, Daytona Beach.

Dr. Stephen Sevigny will hold a gathering for supporters of Sevigny for Congress at Frappes, 123 W. Granada Blvd., Ormond Beach, beginning shortly after polls close at 7 p.m.

CD 9

Incumbent Democrat Darren Soto is hosting his election watch party at 7 p.m., Ramada Gateway Hotel, 7470 Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy. 192, Kissimmee.

CD 18

Incumbent Republican Brian Mast‘s event will be in Martin County, 6 p.m., Flagler Place, 201 S.W. Flagler Ave., Stuart.

Democratic challenger Lauren Baer will hold an event at her office, 7 p.m., 1200 Town Center Dr., Suite 119, Juniper. For more info or RSVP, call (203) 747-4777.

CD 19

Democrat David Holden invites supporters and friends to watch returns beginning 6 p.m., Lansdowne Street Pub, 24851 S Tamiami Trail, Bonita Springs.

CD 27

Democratic state Rep. David Richardson will be at the Cubaocho Museum and Performing Arts Center beginning 6 p.m., 1465 SW. 8th St., #106, Miami. To RSVP or for more information, call (305) 853-6616.

Republican Maria Elvira Salazar will watch the GOP Primary Election with family and friends at  8 p.m. in her campaign headquarters, 3701 SW 87th Avenue, Miami. She will give remarks following the results of the election. For more info or RSVP, email press@mariaelvira.com or call (305) 972-2270.

Florida Senate

SD 16

SD 30

Incumbent Democrat Bobby Powell asks supporters to visit (after the vote) beginning 7 p.m., ER Bradley’s Saloon, 104 N Clematis St., West Palm Beach. RSVP by emailing votebobbypowell@gmail.com.

SD 34

Incumbent Democrat Gary Farmer will be watching results beginning 7 p.m., O Lounge, 333 East Las Olas Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale. For more info or RSVP, call (954) 646-3903.

Florida House

HD 36

Democrat David Perez will be at the Firefighter Building, 8000 NW. 21st St., Doral. For more info or RSVP, call (786) 255-5791.

HD 64

Incumbent Republican James Grant will be holding a “Primary Election Victory Party” at 6:30 p.m., Catch Twenty Three, 10103 Montague St, Tampa. More info is on Grant’s Facebook page.

HD 66

HD 70

Incumbent Democrat Wengay “Newt” Newton will hold his celebration at 6 p.m., 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House, 400 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg.

HD 79

HD 81

Democrat Tina Polsky is holding her election night event beginning 7 p.m., Miller Ale House, 9244 Glades Rd., Boca Raton. For more info or RSVP, call (609) 335-8226.

HD 89

Democrat Jim Bonfiglio will celebrate with supporters at his home, 7 p.m., 5616 N. Ocean Blvd., Ocean Ridge. For more info or RSVP, call (561) 262-1622.

HD 98

Democrat Andrew Dolberg will hold his watch party beginning 7 p.m., Bokampers Plantation, 1280 S. Pine Island Rd., Plantation. For more info or RSVP, call (954) 651-5954.

HD 105

Democrat Javier Estevez is holding his election night party to celebrate with his supporters, 7 p.m., 8502 SW 146 Court, Miami. for more info or RSVP, call (305) 297-6069 or email Javier@Javier2018.com.

Broward County Mayor

Broward County Vice Mayor Mark Bogen‘s watch party begins 7 p.m., Muddy Waters Restaurant, 2237 Hillsboro Blvd., Deerfield Beach. For more info or RSVP, call (702) 210-7545.

Orange County Mayor

Pinellas County Commission

Franklin County Tax Collector

Broward County School Board

Lori Alhadeff, the mother of a student killed in the Parkland school shooting, is holding her election night watch party at the Watercrest Clubhouse, 7 p.m., 11131 Watercrest Cir. W., Parkland. For more info, call (609) 335-8226.

Florida Chamber of Commerce

The Chamber will hold a primary election watch party at its Tallahassee office, 136 S. Bronough St. Festivities begin at 6:30 p.m.

Brevard County Democratic Party

Brevard Democrats are holding three watch parties, each starting at 7 p.m.: Harbor Isles Clubhouse, 600 S. Brevard Ave., Cocoa Beach (potluck/BYOB); Pour 4 Wine & Beer Bar, 3555 Bayside Lakes Blvd., Palm Bay (free pizza); Colors Restaurant & Lounge, 4910 Stack Blvd. SE, Melbourne.

Orange County Democratic Party

New Florida Vision

The activist group, which mobilized more than 150,000 Black and Latino voters to the polls for Democrat Andrew Gillum, is calling all supporters to watch results starting at 6 p.m., Grand Cafe, 12389 Pembroke Rd, Pembroke Pines.

Delegation for 8.24.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Early/mail vote results a precursor for the fall?

Are Democrats still seeking to flood the voting booths and turn enough Congressional districts blue to win the House? Will vulnerable Democratic Senators be able to survive and flip a couple of Republican seats to gain control of that chamber as well?

Lately, a Republican incumbent in California or other deep blue states is said to be becoming an endangered species. Is the Florida Democratic voter as motivated as those in blue states are purported to be?

Polls and turnout figures seem to indicate the answer is no. That could bode well for Gov. Rick Scott and targeted incumbents like Brian MastCarlos CurbeloVern Buchanan and Republicans running for open seats in District 6, 15 and 17.

Are early voting numbers a good sign for Rick Scott?

So far, Florida voter turnout participation is looking similar to the last midterm election in 2014. That was a good year for Republicans.

Figures provided by the Florida Secretary of State’s office show Republicans with a 62,000-ballot advantage in returned mail ballots as of Thursday. The GOP also had a 5,000-ballot lead in early voting.

Four years ago, Republicans returned 77,000 more primary mail ballots and broke even in early voting numbers. For the general election, the GOP had a combined 90,000-ballot advantage when polls opened on Election Day.

Perhaps Democrats are just waiting until November to vent their displeasure with Trump and the GOP. Or, they will vote in large numbers over the coming weekend.

But if the turnout is reflecting an ebb in Democratic enthusiasm or an increase among Republicans, it could affect the nature of the election. Scientific polls are based on turnout models, and if 2018 continues to look like 2014, polling numbers will become better for Republicans when likely voters become the focus of surveys.

If that remains to be the case, Nelson, as well as hopeful Democrats seeking to flip House seats, will need to sell themselves to independent voters while keeping their base happy.

Democrats often struggle in midterms but have believed for months this year would be different. It still could be, but they will need to turn out their numbers in South Florida far better than they did four years ago.

Among the ramifications of that failure was a second term for Scott, who would likely not be challenging Nelson, let alone leading him by 6 points (see below). Charlie Crist would have been governor again and not a Congressman from Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Perhaps the convictions or plea deals of former Trump associates will get Florida Democrats out to vote for those promising to thwart or impeach the president. If not now, maybe in the fall.

Or the independents could take a bigger swing in the direction of Democrats.

Barring that, 2018 could be déjà vu all over again.

Nelson, Rubio seek additional funding for algae response

While the blame game for the algae blooms in South Florida goes back and forth between Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, some bipartisan cooperation is coming forward. Nelson is joining with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to propose funding for targeted responses to combat the menace.

The Senators have proposed $1 million of funds assigned to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a current spending bill. Special priority to receive funding would be given to locations subject to a state of emergency designation within the previous 12 months because of blooms.

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson seek further funds for algae response. (Image via the Orlando Sentinel)

“Toxic algae blooms are choking Florida’s waterways, crippling our economy and making people sick,” Nelson said in a joint statement. “This amendment will provide the CDC additional money to more closely examine the health risks posed by algae.”

Among the things to be funded with the appropriation are public health education campaigns, building CDC programs for reporting blooms, and documenting and tracking illnesses and hospital stays related to algae exposure. Florida would have 13 counties that qualify for the funding.

“Floridians deserve to know the health risks associated with these harmful algal blooms,” Rubio said. “Our bipartisan amendment would provide additional assistance to identify health impacts to Floridians that may have been underreported and understudied in the past due to lack of available resources.

Scott slightly ahead in new FAU poll

new poll from Florida Atlantic University puts Scott 6 points ahead of Nelson. The challenger’s 45-39 percent lead is slightly better for the two-term governor, who led 44-40 in the last survey.

Scott received a 48 percent approval rating with 33 percent disapproving. Nelson has a 35 percent approval rating and 36 percent disapproval.

New polling shows Rick Scott inching ahead.

Of more concern to the three-term incumbent is the non-affiliated voters. Among independents, Scott holds a 44-25 percent advantage.

Immigration was the most important issue among 27 percent of respondents, while health care meant more to 25 percent. The economy (14 percent) and gun control (12 percent), were the only two other issues in double figures.

Trump received a 45 to 43 percent approval/disapproval rating in the survey.

With Nelson knowing he has work to do, his campaign and Democratic advocates have reserved more than $40 million worth of television time beginning next week after the primaries.

Bushes to raise money for Scott

Trump and the Bushes do not seem to agree on much, but they have one thing in common. The current president and former President George W. Bush, along with former Gov. Jeb Bush, want Scott to defeat Nelson for the latter’s U.S. Senate seat.

On September 14, the Bush brothers will attend two fundraisers to help raise large sums for Scott’s campaign. An evening reception in Palm Beach will follow a Tampa luncheon.

George W., Jeb Bush to fundraise for Rick Scott’s Senate bid.

“As a resident and former Governor of Florida, I understand the complexity and leadership it takes to serve as the chief executive of our state and the commitment it takes to bring real change,” Bush said in a Thursday email. “I also understand the importance of the election this November and how the outcome will affect the direction of our state and country for generations.”

Speaking on behalf of the former president, Jeb Bush said his brother “understands Rick Scott is the type of leader Florida needs now.”

It is not the first time Scott and the former president worked together. The governor was a part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball club when Bush was the principal owner.

Rubio, Yoho rebuke El Salvador’s move to cut ties with Taiwan

It did not take long for Congress to take notice of El Salvador’s recent decision to sever ties with Taiwan. Rubio and Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville warned the Central American nation that their move could backfire.

“It is extremely disappointing that El Salvador chose to sever diplomatic relations with democratic Taiwan and embrace communist China,” Rubio said. “This is a grave mistake that harms relations with the U.S. and will likely prove to be costly and shortsighted given what we know about China’s ‘debt traps’ and economic exploitation globally.

Ted Yoho warns El Salvador that breaking ties with Taiwan could backfire.

Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was joining an effort to block foreign assistance to El Salvador.

Yoho, who is chairman of the House Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee, also blasted the move.

“For the third time this year, a nation has been bought off by China,” Yoho said. “Not only has China bought one of Taiwan’s remaining 18 allies, but it is gaining alliances in our backyard. China is taking advantage of these countries to isolate Taiwan further and build influence in Latin America.”

Dunn rallies for Kavanaugh

Although he will not have a vote on his confirmation, Republican Rep. Neal Dunn joined a rally urging the Senate to confirm federal appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Dunn spoke last week before the rally organized by the Susan B. Anthony List, joining with organizers to proclaim the importance of the pro-life position.

Neal Dunn joins the Susan B. Anthony List last week to rally in support of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

“We are working with President Trump to put good, honest, conservatives who reflect the will and morals of the American people and fight for the unborn on the Supreme Court,” Dunn said. “As a father of three, a grandfather of three, and as a man of faith, I believe firmly that life begins at conception.

As a medical doctor, Dunn shared his personal experience with attendees.

“I have operated on unborn babies to save their lives – these are children – and I fight every day in Congress to protect them,” he continued. “These Supreme Court appointments will have effects on life in this country for decades to come, which is why I believe our senators should support Judge Kavanaugh.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to begin confirmation hearings shortly after Labor Day. Kavanaugh is visiting with Senators during the summer.

 Jacksonville preachers walk back Brown endorsements

Things are going downhill for former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown in his primary race against Democratic Rep. Al Lawson for Lawson’s District 5 seat. Earlier Brown was touting endorsements from “more than 30 faith leaders representing a large swath of the local faith community.”

This week, three of the preachers have retracted their endorsements, saying they should not have been included because their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status was at stake.

Preachers have second thoughts on their endorsement of Alvin Brown in CD 5. (Image via Getty)

Pastor Reginald Gundy of Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church said Brown made “an honest error” by including him. Rev. Robert Wendell Webster of New Fountain Chapel AME Church and the Rev. Tan C. Moss of the Greater Grant Memorial AME Church pulled their endorsements for the same reason.

“While I have known the candidate, Alvin Brown for many years and believe that he is a viable candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, District 5, I did not give permission to use the name of my church,” Webster wrote.

On Wednesday, the latest poll showed Brown trailed Lawson by 19 points. A University of North Florida survey had Lawson with 48 percent to 29 for Brown with 22 percent undecided.

CD 7 opponents tout endorsements

As businessman Scott Sturgill and Republican state Rep. Mike Miller head toward Tuesday’s conclusion of their primary race for the District 7 seat, some last minute endorsements entered the campaigns. The incumbent is first-term Democrat Stephanie Murphy.

Backing Miller is his colleague in the Florida House, state Rep. Jason Brodeur as well as Seminole County Property Appraiser David Johnson. Earlier, Miller gained the support of state Rep. Rene Plasencia, who along with Brodeur, are the only two legislators from the region taking sides in the primary.

An endorsement battle rages in CD 7.

“This seat is so important to Seminole County,” Brodeur said. “We need a congressman who will represent our values. We need the candidate with the best shot of beating Stephanie Murphy in November, and Republicans need to know that is Mike Miller.”

Sturgill may not have picked up an endorsement from the president, but some of his strongest supporters are joining in to help the Sanford businessman’s quest to win the nomination. Boots on the Ground Bikers for Trump announced Sturgill is their guy in the quest to defeat Murphy.

Sturgill is “a strong supporter of our president, our Constitution and especially the second amendment,” said George Colella, the group’s president.

The latest polls show Miller with a double-digit lead.

Murphy is facing Chardo Richardson in the Democratic primary on Tuesday. Despite Murphy being a firm favorite to move to the general election, Richardson was endorsed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the newly-minted Democratic celebrity, who pulled the biggest upset of the campaign season by toppling Rep. Joe Crowley of New York.

Shapiro leads Buchanan protest

For those who thought Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan might have smooth sailing to re-election, his Democratic opponent, David Shapiro and supporters have other ideas. The furor surrounding Buchanan obtaining a foreign loan to purchase a yacht at the time the GOP tax cut bill was becoming law in December is not going away anytime soon.

On Wednesday Shapiro and sign-toting protesters were outside Buchanan’s office. The central message was “people deserve to know the truth.”

David Shapiro drops anchor in front of Vern Buchanan’s office.

The controversy stems from the bank who gave Buchanan the loan, an American subsidiary of the Bank of Montreal, who lobbied in support of the tax bill. Buchanan disclosed the loan on his financial statements, but not the terms, which is legal.

“It’s deeply concerning that Vern Buchanan would take a $5 million loan for a luxury yacht just as he was writing a tax law that gives huge handouts to the foreign bank that gave him that loan,” Shapiro said in a statement following the protest.

The Buchanan campaign and his supporters fired back, calling into question some of Shapiro’s investments in what some call “dirty” stocks.”

“Shapiro publicly claims he supports clean oceans, but privately he buys stock in the very company responsible for the catastrophic oil spill of 2010,” said Max Goodman, Buchanan’s campaign manager. “Shapiro says one thing publicly but does another privately. Just like his investments in drug companies, assault weapons manufacturers, and greenhouse gas polluters.”

Shapiro’s campaign says these stocks were purchased as part of a retirement fund, and were not selected by Shapiro individually.

Parkland parent slams Diaz Balart

To the surprise of almost no one, the February 14 massacre at Douglas High School in Parkland has taken a prominent role in a political campaign. A new digital ad features the father of a slain student attacking Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami for accepting contributions from the NRA.

The ad, produced on behalf of Diaz-Balart’s Democratic opponent, Mary Barzee Flores, features Fred Guttenberg condemning the veteran incumbent for accepting NRA money for years, including after the killings. The one minute and 10-second video show Guttenberg, whose daughter Jamie was among the 17 victims, looking into the camera and speaking directly to Diaz-Balart.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

 

“Mario Diaz-Balart, after February 14, after my daughter and 16 others died, you had a choice to make. And you chose to take money from the NRA,” Guttenberg says. “You chose to take their money … you’re not worthy of service … you need to be fired.”

The ad references a $1,000 donation from the National Rifle Association of America Political Victory Fund. It also states Diaz-Balart has taken more money from the NRA than any other member of the delegation over the past 20 years.

“I will be working every day to support Mary Barzee Flores for Congress, because I want her to serve,” Guttenberg continued. “She will take common-sense gun safety seriously and be part of the solution.”

Guttenberg has been an outspoken critic of the NRA and has traveled around the country speaking on behalf of gun control.

While the ad is scheduled to run on digital platforms, the campaign said it could become a television ad later. As of August 8, Diaz-Balart had $1.5 million campaign cash on hand, while Barzee Flores had $577,000.

Former CD 27 candidate endorses Shalala

The crowded to race to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen now has one fewer candidate with the announcement that Republican Stephen Marks was ending his candidacy. Instead of staying silent or endorsing one of his former GOP primary foes, Marks took the step to support former Democrat Donna Shalala, the former University of Miami president.

Stephen Marks taps out, endorses Donna Shalala.

An internal poll from former Telemundo news anchor Maria Elvira Salazar shows her leading the GOP field by more than 20 points. Miami Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro’s own internal poll show also shows him trailing by double digits with Marks nowhere to be seen.

Marks is endorsing the Shalala, who is 77, primarily over the issue of health care. He feels the former Secretary of Health and Human Services is the right choice for that reason.

“Even if I disagree with a lot of the other stuff she does, I think she would be the best person to fight for senior citizens,” Marks said. “So, I made this radical decision to cross party lines.”

Marks, who supports Barreiro in the GOP primary, has been a political consultant for Republican campaigns for decades.

Shalala’s main challengers in the Democratic primary are state Rep. David Richardson and former Knight Foundation executive Matt Haggman. Democrats are heavily favored to flip the seat into their column.

Former Gaetz law partner appointed

Last week, Trump appointed veteran trial lawyer Larry Keefe as the new U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida. If confirmed, Keefe would become the top federal prosecutor for a district that covers 23 counties from Escambia in the west to Alachua in the east.

Keefe’s experience may not have been as a prosecutor, but having Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz as a backer does not hurt. Gaetz worked at the nominee’s law firm Keefe, Anchors & Gordon for a decade.

Larry Keefe of Keefe, Anchors & Gordon.

“Larry Keefe is widely respected in the legal community in North Florida. He will do a great job for us,” Gaetz told the Tampa Bay Times. Asked about his influence on the president, he said, “I try to always help Trump.”

The camaraderie between the Congressman from Fort Walton Beach and the president is well-known. Keefe has practiced in state and federal courts for 32 years.

Some in the conservative circles expressed concern that Keefe donated to the Hillary Clinton campaign. He wrote a check for $500 in December 2015 to the candidate who opposed the man that appointed him.

On this day in the headlines

August 24, 1972 – A tumultuous Republican National Convention closed in Miami Beach last night with the nomination of President Richard Nixon and Vice-President Spiro Agnew for a second term. During his acceptance speech, Nixon blasted “the policies of those who whine and whimper.”

Outside the convention center, police arrested 805 agitators, who blocked streets, damaged cars and set fires. Last month, Miami Beach was also the scene for the Democratic National Convention where South Dakota Sen. George McGovern was nominated to face Nixon in November.

August 24, 2012 – He wasn’t chosen to be Mitt Romney’s running mate, but Sen. Marco Rubio is getting the consolation prize of a prime-time speaking slot on the final night of the Republican National Convention to be held at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. Rubio will speak before Romney accepts the nomination for President and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan addresses the convention as the GOP nominee for vice-president.

Leading off the final night speakers is Rep. Connie Mack IV, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in the fall. Legendary actor and director Clint Eastwood will also take the stage Thursday.

 

Ashey Moody

Jacksonville, Collier sheriffs latest to endorse Ashley Moody for AG

Ashley Moody is adding the endorsement of two more Florida sheriffs, now with 42 of 49 Republican sheriffs supporting the former Hillsborough County circuit judge as the state’s next Attorney General.

New endorsers are Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk and Sheriff Mike Williams of Jacksonville, according to an announcement Thursday from Moody’s campaign.

“Judge Moody is the tough and honest Attorney General that Florida needs. As Sheriff, I understand the importance of prosecuting criminals and keeping them off our streets,” Rambosk said. “Judge Moody will do just that and that’s why I’m supporting her.”

Williams added: “I recognize and value the dedicated hard work required to keep our communities safe. We need an Attorney General that will help us do just that. I support Ashley Moody for Attorney General. She will be the partner that our law enforcement community needs.”

“As the only former prosecutor in this race vying to be the state’s top prosecutor, I understand firsthand the need for meaningful partnership with our sheriffs in order to aggressively fight crime and keep our residents and tourists safe,” Moody’s campaign said.

In addition to endorsements, Moody is also showing robust fundraising, with nearly $450,000 raised between her campaign and committee accounts last month. She took in $271,500 through her committee, Friends of Ashley Moody, with the balance raised via her campaign account — besting the other two Republicans in the race to replace Pam Bondi this November.

Bondi, term-limited from running again, has also endorsed Moody’s campaign.

Other Republicans in the race include Pensacola Rep. Frank White, who reported $97,000 in outside money last month; Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant showed just $1,640.

As reported earlier by Florida Politics, White had emerged as a big self-funder in the race — adding another $1.25 million into his campaign last month. This seven-figure “investment” adds to his already immense self-funding effort, giving him an advantage in on-hand cash.

Aakash Patel

Aakash Patel now running for countywide seat on Hillsborough Commission

Republican Aakash Patel has weighed his options for 2018 after incumbent Hillsborough County Commission Chair Sandy Murman decided to let a deadline pass without filing papers to resign from her District 1 seat.

Patel’s decision? Run for the open District 7 seat in 2018

For just over a year, Patel has been running for District 1, filing for the race on June 3, 2017.

On Friday, Murman essentially chose to complete her term through 2020, when she faces term-limits. Murman, who told the Tampa Bay Times she does not intend to run for another seat, has raised more than $180,000 for the race to date.

“There’s no doubt I was going to win,” Murman said. “But my gut was telling me to finish out my term.”

In a statement to Florida Politics, Patel said he wants to take the momentum he’s built campaigning for District 1 and transfer it a bid for the larger District 7.

“I have walked neighborhoods throughout District 1, I have spoken to nearly every Republican Club in Hillsborough County, and I have been honored by the outpouring of support from many voters outside of District 1,” said Patel.

Patel said he will file paperwork to officially enter the District 7 race on Monday and will also announce a strong list of conservative Republican endorsers.

So far, Patel raised $450,000 in contributions for the District 1 contest. Also running are Republican Todd Marks and Democrat Jen McDonald.

A seemingly logical option for current District 1 candidates is District 7, where Commissioner Al Higginbotham is retiring.

However, for political newcomers — all three running for Murman’s seat are first-time candidates — it would pose a greater challenge, since District 7 is countywide, requiring a vote from the entire population of Hillsborough County (just under 1.4 million) as opposed to District 1, with only about 400,000 residents in an area from Lutz through Ruskin and includes MacDill Air Force Base.

Calling it ‘political attack,’ NRA (wo)mansplains weapons permit snafu

File this under womansplaining.

Florida’s most influential gun advocate is countering reports that hundreds of people may have mistakenly received the state’s concealed weapons permits without proper background checks.

“The media isn’t getting it right, and anti-gun Democrats don’t want to get it right,” says Unified Sportsmen of Florida Executive Director Marion Hammer, a past president of the National Rifle Association and among the most powerful lobbyists in the state.

In an email Saturday to supporters, Hammer declares: “For some, it’s all about attacking a candidate for political reasons.”

The candidate in question: Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is now running for Governor and proclaimed last year to be a “proud NRA sellout.”

As reported Friday by the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DOACS) — the agency led by Putnam — failed to conduct complete criminal background checks on concealed weapons permit applicants.

The Times’ report also accuses the Bartow Republican of hiding the snafu for nearly a year.

In February 2016, an Office of Inspector General investigation found a “negligent” employee — later fired — admitted that because she wasn’t able to log in to the FBI database, 291 permits were improperly licensed. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is required to screen potential applicants for any disqualifying history in other states.

After a subsequent review, the Division revoked the licenses in question.

On Saturday, Putnam contacted the Times, saying the story was “flat wrong and misleading.” He noted that proper background checks were performed on all 349,923 permit applicants during the 12-month period.

The agency later identified 365 applications the employee oversaw as “problematic.”

Nevertheless, several Democrats — including Putnam’s opponents in the governor’s race — have called for his resignation from both his job and the Governor’s race. A few Republicans also criticized Putnam, including Gov. Rick Scott, whose office said it was “blindsided” by the news.

Enter Hammer, who is now attempting to set the record straight. The National Rifle Association has been a staunch supporter of Putnam in the past, and through his gubernatorial campaign.

“This issue is extremely important to all firearms owners and license holders,” Hammer says in the email. “Truth and facts matter. So here is what really happened.”

According to Hammer, the Division of Licensing under DOACS did perform background checks on applicants for licenses to carry concealed weapons or firearms.

“Background checks were done through FCIC (Florida Criminal Information Computer system) and NCIC (National Criminal Information Computer system — the national FBI fingerprint database) and they also did a NICS check, which is the name-based background check system,” she says.

Retail firearms dealers use the NICS system for background checks anytime a person buys a firearm.

And, as emphasis, Hammer proclaims — ALL THREE BACKGROUND CHECKS WERE DONE.

“The employee should have uploaded those 365 [questionable applications] into the internal computer system to stop the processing of those applications,” Hammer says. “She did not. So those 365 applicants got their licenses anyhow.”

Although those applicants did indeed receive licenses to carry firearms, Hammer makes an important distinction: “They still would not have been allowed to purchase a firearm from a firearms dealer because the same NICS background check would have been performed by a dealer and would have stopped them from purchasing a firearm.”

“A license to carry does not exempt a person from the background check required when you purchase a firearm,” she says. “The license ONLY exempts a license holder from the three-day waiting period.”

After the Division ran new background checks on those 365 applicants, Hammer says 74 were cleared and 291 still had disqualifiers. Their licenses to carry firearms were immediately suspended.

Hammer closes with something of a reaffirmation of her support: “The facts don’t fit narrative being pushed by the anti-gun political opponents of the Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam Putnam, who is a candidate for Governor.”

ZooTampa continues makeover, tapping Southern Strategy Group for lobbying assist

With rebranding and a host of upgrades, Tampa’s former Lowry Park Zoo is now adding a power player as its voice in Tallahassee.

The newly christened ZooTampa at Lowry Park announced it is bringing on governmental relations firm Southern Strategy Group as a strategic partner.

As one of the state’s most influential lobbying shops with locations across Florida, SSG has a regional office in Tampa led by managing partner Seth McKeel.

“We are thrilled to partner with ZooTampa at Lowry Park, a crown jewel in the City of Tampa. The Zoo is a true leader in species conservation in our state,” McKeel said Thursday. “We look forward to playing a part in ZooTampa’s mission to protect animals both locally and globally.”

After an extensive and comprehensive search, ZooTampa — one of 229 zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) — chose SSG to spearhead its government affairs efforts.

“We are excited to welcome Southern Strategy Group as an integral partner,” said ZooTampa CEO Joe Couceiro, praising SSG for its “deep local roots and a statewide presence.”

“Southern Strategy Group will be a key contributor in accomplishing our visionary goals for the future,” added Coucerio, a longtime marketing pro who recently came onboard after stints with both Busch Gardens and SeaWorld.

The addition of SSG is part of a renewed focus for the 65-acre zoo located deep in the heart of Tampa, including the biggest expansion in a decade.

In March, Lowry Park Zoo, which is operated by the nonprofit Lowry Park Zoological Society, announced its name change to ZooTampa at Lowry Park, in addition to several new features and renovations, including Roaring Springs, a water ride that takes visitors on a boat journey through Florida wildlife.

Roaring Springs, and the makeover of the surrounding area, will cost upward of $6 million, COO John Muller told the Tampa Bay Times.

Also new is Joe’s Diner, a restaurant that serves “classic Florida favorites with a twist.”

Other regular and seasonal events have been added, such as Creatures of the Night, Christmas in the Wild, ZooBrews festival, Zoo University and Yoga in the Wild.

As for the zoo’s increasing popularity, ZooTampa recently joined TripAdvisor’s Excellence Hall of Fame, making it one of the most popular zoos in the southeastern U.S., with more than a million visitors annually. In 2009, “Parents” magazine named Lowry Park Zoo among the best zoos for kids.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018, SSG operates five offices: Tallahassee, Tampa Bay, Orlando, Miami and Jacksonville.

Latest on the legislative staffing merry-go-round

With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements – both on and off – of the legislative merry-go-round.

Off: George Fossett is no longer legislative assistant for Miami Gardens Democratic Sen. Oscar Braynon.

On: Lurimar Cruz-Cortes is a new legislative assistant for Kissimmee Democratic Sen. Victor Torres.

Off: Lara Medley is no longer legislative assistant for Lakeland Republican Rep. Colleen Burton.

Off: Davis Bean is no longer legislative assistant for Neptune Beach Republican Rep. Cord Byrd.

On: Chesten Goodman is legislative assistant for Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jay Fant.

On: Emily Stapleton is a new district secretary for Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell.

Off and on: Pamila Briest moved from district secretary to legislative assistant for Dover Republican Rep. Ross Spano.

Off and on: Thomas Valeo moved from district secretary to legislative assistant for Wellington Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite.

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