Phil Ammann – Florida Politics

Phil Ammann

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range included covering news, local government and nightclub reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for an online metaphysical website among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for Florida Politics since 2013 and lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul.
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.

Jacksonville Bold for 6.1.18 — Signs and symbols

The literary field of semiotics, as articulated by French theorist Ferdinand de Saussure, boils down to a relationship between signs and their intended meaning.

The ultimate meaning of those signs is not fixed; rather, it moves with cultural interpretation.

As we find ourselves now less than three months before primary elections for the 2018 ballot, we will be inundated with signs — the symbolism of politicians either as square-jawed unstinting incumbents fighting the people’s battles, or hard-charging challengers devoted to storming the palace gates, animated by some quasi-populist crusade.

The local landscape in 2018 has its own wrinkles. A former Jacksonville mayor running to take Corrine Brown’s seat back in Congress, part of a group of Democratic primaries on the August ballot. A compelling GOP primary race to succeed Jay Fant in the State House (even as Democrat Tracye Polson presents a challenge in the general).

And so on.

What ultimately engages the mainstream media? Hard to say. The mechanics of politics doesn’t lead local TV, and the Times-Union is moving increasingly toward long-form investigations, as opposed to quick-hit coverage.

An ever-changing media landscape — and what it may (or may not) prioritize — dictates a certain randomness to which narratives will or won’t prevail.

In that context, an old lesson applies: Win every news cycle. Define the contest before it defines you.

Nelson spotlights Vilano renourishment

Sen. Bill Nelson visited Vilano Beach this week, spotlighting coastline restoration efforts as storm season begins.

Bill Nelson visits Vilano Beach to highlight beach nourishment efforts.

Per WJXT: “With the St. Johns County Coastal Storm Risk Management Project finally on the path to being approved, Nelson met Tuesday with Col. Jason Kirk, with Corps, and county leaders to talk about the project, and what’s being done to restore the county’s beaches.”

“The entire east coast of Florida, after we had Hurricane Matthew two years ago, it chewed up the beach like you can’t believe,” Nelson said.

“The property values are going to come back,” Nelson said. “You ask the question, ‘What you can do if you’re a homeowner?’ If you’ve got a dune, keep vegetation on that dune because the sand dunes are Mother Nature’s way of protecting the upland land.”

“The goal is to finish all this out about another mile south and then north of the St. Augustine Inlet,” Nelson said. “Vilano Beach, get that 3½ miles complete, and then they will be in pretty good shape here in St. Johns County.”

Jax Councilmembers hit with federal fraud indictment

Jacksonville hasn’t dealt with a politician’s fraud trial in roughly a year. Perhaps the city was overdue.

61-page indictment dropped in federal court Thursday for Jacksonville City Council members, Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown.

Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown. (Image via News4Jax)

Their first appearance was Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Alleged: a conspiracy to defraud, spread out over 38 counts.

In 2013 and 2014, Katrina Brown opened two companies — A-Plus Training and Consultants and RB Packaging — listing Reggie Brown as the principal.

According to the indictment, the companies were used solely as instruments of fraud, as attempts to siphon government money intended for economic development plans regarding a BBQ Sauce Plant that never appeared seriously meant to come to fruition.

Reggie Brown opened up bank accounts for the companies at a BBVA Compass location soon after forming the entities.

Before this, Reggie Brown — who was serving on the Council at that point — voted yes for what would be a fateful decision in 2011: to appropriate $640,000 for KJB Specialties, a Katrina Brown company, to create 56 jobs at a BBQ sauce plant in Northwest Jacksonville.

Those jobs, as reported previously, were never created — and both the federal government (on the hook for a $2.6 million SBA loan) and locals are still searching for their money back.

By the time Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown went into business together, the barbecue sauce plan was failing. And soon enough, per the indictment, malfeasance began.

Around the end of 2013, A-Plus Training was, the indictment says, used to funnel $12,500 in SBA loan funds, setting up a pattern. In 2014, $251,919 of those funds processed, with Basic Products and Katrina Brown getting over $166,000 of them, and Reggie Brown getting the remainder, prosecutors allege.

[Katrina Brown was elected to Council in 2015; Reggie Brown elected in 2010. However, some of this money went to Katrina Brown’s political activities, including a $3,500 loan from her campaign, and donations for former Mayor Alvin Brown and the Duval Democratic Party.]

The conspiracy boils down to Katrina and Reggie Brown secreting SBA money, with both Councilors engaging in fraud.

Cops snub Brown, back Lawson

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson’s re-election campaign rolled out local police union support in his primary challenge from Brown, a former Jacksonville mayor.

Al Lawson: Cops’ choice for Congress.

For Brown, this must feel like déjà vu.

Brown didn’t secure the FOP endorsement in 2011; that went to Mike Hogan.

In 2015, the FOP backed Lenny Curry over Brown: “In addition to demonstrating leadership and vision for restoring Jacksonville’s greatness, he has committed to fully support law enforcement and community leaders in their effort to eliminate crime by ensuring they have access to every resource necessary to fight crime … We are confident that the election of Mr. Curry will be Jacksonville’s best chance to help our members keep our citizens safe and move our city in a positive direction.”

While it came out sometime later that Curry had given the union assurances that he would protect defined benefit pensions, a factor not mentioned in the endorsement, the FOP nod conferred momentum upon the Republican’s challenge of the incumbent mayor.

Meanwhile, the state FOP endorsed Lawson in his race against former Rep. Corrine Brown in 2016, and there clearly was no reason for the union to deviate from established protocol this time.

Brown to get raise if elected to Congress

At last count, a member of Congress makes $174,000 per annum.

Former Mayor Brown, a current candidate for the primary nomination in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, would stand to receive a serious pay raise in 2019 if he wins the nomination and is elected, per his financial disclosure form.

Alvin Brown has made less than $10,000 this year, per his disclosure form. (Image via Facebook)

Brown has made minimal income in 2018, and 2017 also was a lean year.

In 2018, Brown brought in less than $400 in interest income, and $8,250 in consulting fees ($750 from the Westside Church of God in Christ, $7,500 from Gray Global Advisors).

2017, a pre-candidacy year for Brown, was financially healthier, with more honorarium and consulting cash.

Gray paid him $45,000; additionally, $13,000 in honorariums were paid out (Merck, Sharp and Dohme Credit Union was in for $10,000; Alliance of NC Black Elected Officials for $1,500 and Shiloh Baptist Church for another $1,500).

Incumbent Lawson has not filed a 2018 disclosure; however, 2016 paperwork showed Lawson, a busy lobbyist, raked in over $200,000 in 2015 and roughly $75,000 through the first part of 2016. He also had rental properties and a mortgage that was near being paid off at the filing of his previous disclosure.

A recurrent Lawson talking point has been that Brown “failed as mayor and a lot of people in Duval are saying he’s just looking for a job” by running for Congress.

Brown’s financial disclosure does not show truly steady work since he left office nearly three years ago, suggesting that Lawson’s verbal jab may have some truth to it.

Lawson works Jax Dems at town hall

U.S. Rep. Lawson was in Jacksonville Tuesday for a town hall, as he looks to repel a challenge in the Democratic primary from another moderate who hasn’t been afraid to blur party lines in former Mayor Brown.

The question for Lawson this campaign: Can he parlay incumbency and a primary opponent who has myriad flaws into consolidating support on the eastern side of the district?

The answer is, as yet, unanswered.

Al Lawson is still consolidating Jacksonville support ahead of his first re-election bid.

Lawson spoke a lot about bipartisanship, noting that after Hurricane Irma, he worked to “convince” House Speaker Paul Ryan of the need for FEMA reimbursements, while working well with Rep. John Rutherford and Mayor Curry.

Lawson noted that on hurricane relief and efforts to fix problematic Eureka Gardens, working across the aisle is key.

Unlike any other politician in this market today, Lawson expressed interest in crossing party lines repeatedly during the event.

Lawson was asked about a claim from 538.com regarding his voting with President Donald Trump more often than some might like: “If it’s good legislation, doesn’t make a difference if it comes from Trump or anybody. If it benefits this area, I support it.”

“The man is the president of the United States,” Lawson added, noting that he finds it perplexing when people castigate him for not voting with the Congressional Black Caucus on every roll call vote.

“Nobody in the Black Caucus voted for me. That’s why I don’t understand when people say [I] don’t vote with the Black Caucus,” Lawson said, noting that he votes for what his district wants.

In an activist year, as a candidate from the other side of the district, it’s interesting to hear Lawson pitching collaboration and cooperation.

Jax elite fall in behind Waltz for Congress

Rutherford and Curry were “honorary hosts” for a fundraiser for Florida’s 6th Congressional District Republican Mike Waltz Wednesday.

If Mike Waltz is elected to Congress, CD 6 will continue to have representation on Fox News.

The fundraiser, held at the home of JEA Board member Husein Cumber and City Council hopeful LeAnna Cumber, featured a number of interesting names on the host committee.

Among the luminaries: Jeb Bush, Jr; former Duval GOP Chair John Falconetti; power broker Michael Munz; and Total Military Management’s Kent Stermon.

Waltz is one of three Republicans vying to replace DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, a south-of-Jacksonville sinecure hugging the Atlantic coast in St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia counties.

The GOP race in CD-6, where candidates vie to replace outgoing Rep. DeSantis, has been an interesting one, with Waltz and John Ward both raising serious money for what will be an expensive primary straddling three media markets (Jacksonville, Daytona and Orlando).

Despite his ability to bring in money, Ward had a catastrophic news cycle last week, with comments he made at an April forum saying that Puerto Ricans shouldn’t vote in Florida drawing scrutiny and condemnation from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Gibson pushes back against rumors of divided Dem caucus

Florida Politics caught up with Jacksonville’s Audrey Gibson, as the incoming Senate Democratic Leader negotiates a restive caucus and a primary challenge from City Councilman Reggie Brown.

Audrey Gibson messaging about “Rick’s recession” before Memorial Day.

Thus far, 2018 has been interesting in ways that could not have been forecast less than a year ago, before Gibson replaced scandal-plagued Jeff Clemens.

As we reported last week, Democratic campaign consultants and other insiders see the creation of two recently formed political committees and associated fundraising as an indirect challenge to the Gibson’s leadership.

But she was quick to tamp down any rumors of discord that could challenge her leadership.

“I’ve called every single member of the caucus,” Gibson said. “Before the article came out, I had a couple of calls from some lobbyists who said ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”

hat was the first she had heard of it. Soon after, she made calls to her Democratic colleagues.

“After the article came out, just to, first of all, say ‘remember, our goal is to win in November.’ Because my understanding was some of it was about who the next leader would be.”

Gibson has a message to colleagues: “Let’s get the job done in November. And, everyone get to know each other.”

“The response I got, was ‘we’re all heading in the same direction. We just thought we’d form these entities to try to bring in more money.’”

Gibson told them it would be “good if we could do that in a coordinated way.”

“I hear what you all are saying,” she recounted, “but in public, it looks divisive. Make sure we rein in that because we’re all heading in the same direction.”

She continues to work on behalf of the caucus.

“It’s not a reflection of me not working, me not bringing the caucus together,” she said. “Ever since I was elected, I’ve done meetings and get acquainted stuff and balloons and all those types of things to bring people together.”

Gibson wants security at HUD complexes

Per WJCT, Sen. Gibson sent a letter to Congressman Lawson and Sen. Nelson asking the two to “sponsor legislation mandating HUD negotiate in housing contracts that affordable housing complexes located in high-crime areas provide security or that the policy be created as a rule within the agency.”

Audrey Gibson turned her attention to HUD properties this week.

Gibson, speaking at Eureka Gardens apartment complex, had some criticism for the new ownership making promises it couldn’t deliver on the facility rehab.

“I understand there’s anxiousness to do it all at one time and they should never have promised the residents that it would happen that way, but I think there should be some system of determining which apartments are in, if you will, priority disrepair and then make sure they’re communicating with all the other residents in the community,” she said.

Curry critics critique courthouse jazz fest stage

Jacksonville held another well-attended iteration of its yearly jazz festival over Memorial Day weekend, but critiques of a scheduling decision came from several local politicians.

City decision makers did not use the Jacksonville Landing as a location for a festival stage, in a move not altogether surprising given the continued legal back and forth between the city and Landing tenant Toney Sleiman.

Pols kvetched as crowds flooded the courthouse lawn.

Sleiman, a prominent political donor, set up an oppositional relationship with the Curry administration even before Curry was elected (by appearing in an ad for Curry’s 2015 opponent, then-incumbent Brown, concomitant with a Brown/Sleiman proposal to spend nearly $12 million on a teardown and rebuild plan for the declining Landing).

Since Curry’s election, the administration and Sleiman have not been able to agree on terms, and the city currently is moving to take possession of the waterfront mall from Sleiman, with each side claiming breach of contractual obligations.

While the back and forth continues in legal channels, politicians opposed to Lenny Curry used the move of a performance stage from the Landing to the “iconic” backdrop of the Duval County Courthouse as a launchpad pad for more holistic critiques.

Read more here.

Gaffney, peacemaker?

Per WJXT: Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney seeks to broker a peace between Curry and Jacksonville Landing tenant Sleiman.

Peace in our time? Reggie Gaffney thinks he can get it done.

“I am going to make one last attempt to try to bring them both together, see if I (can) get both of them in the same room,” Gaffney told News4Jax. “We can iron out whatever problems they may be having so we can move the Landing forward because nobody wins right now.”

There’s one consideration worth mentioning: Sleiman is bankrolling Gaffney’s re-election bid.

The Curry administration and Gaffney have a solid relationship. But is Gaffney really the person to broker a peace here?

KEYS 2 Drive rolled out

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson Wednesday rolled out the ‘KEYS 2 Drive’ (Knowledge Empowers Your Success) diversion program.

Mike Williams, Melissa Nelson has struck a conservative reformer path. (Image via Jacksonville.com)

The program will help those facing primary charges of driving without valid driver’s licenses, or suspended or revoked licenses, to get them reinstated.

Of the 12,000 people faced with that fate last year, estimates are that half of that number — at least — could have been helped by this program.

For Nelson, a proponent of “smart justice,” this program is a potential reprieve for many from “the cycle of license suspension … ballooning of fines and fees” and a “costly and complicated” process of license restoration.

Eligible offenses include misdemeanor driving while license is suspended or revoked, expired or otherwise invalid, or driving outside of classification.

Sex offenders are ineligible for the program, as are non-Florida residents and those with licenses suspended in major criminal traffic offenses.

JEA privatization bills pulled

Jacksonville City Councilmen Jim Love and Matt Schellenberg, both second-term Republicans, had expressed different visions for the future of Jacksonville’s public utility.

Schellenberg’s 2018-242 would encourage the Mayor and the JEA Board to explore a review of a potential sale; Love’s 2018-248 would represent Council opposition to a sale.

Both bills will not see the Council floor, after a Wednesday meeting in which both agreed to pull their bills.

Though Curry has clarified some confusion in his position, saying that he wouldn’t push legislation at this point in favor of a sale, the question is not considered closed by close observers of and participants in the City Hall scrum, despite a recent Moody’s FAQ on the under-construction Plant Vogtle asserting that “the potential to privatize was recently studied by the Mayor and City Council and rejected.”

Love and Schellenberg congregated Wednesday with a group of Councilors, including President Anna Brosche, former President Greg Anderson, Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, and Councilman Gaffney to solve the problem of legislation currently without a purpose.

Love noted the landscape has changed “radically” in relation to JEA, given a special committee and the lack of mayoral initiative on a privatization plan, as well as no board decision in favor of reviewing the option further.

Mind games continue between Curry, Dennis

Though the Jacksonville City Council is on its “fifth week,” a sanctioned break from committee meetings, the intrigue continues in the St. James Building.

On Tuesday, Curry met with a candidate for the legislative body: Marcellus Holmes.

Marcellus Holmes may be Garrett Dennis’ competition next year.

Holmes, a former professional football player, didn’t hone into specific policy proposals when we interviewed him in April.

If elected, he will be “bringing the community together” to “meet the needs of every community” and “get every issue solved.”

Lack of specifics notwithstanding, Holmes scored a Tuesday meeting with Curry.

On Wednesday, Florida Politics caught up with Dennis, who was amused by the meeting.

Dennis has been meeting with potential 2019 candidates for Mayor; he would not specify whether those candidates were in the current field, which includes Republican Jimmy Hill, Democrat Doreszell Cohen and NPA hopeful Connell Crooms.

Dennis, as of this writing, has not filed for re-election.

Discussion has lingered for months about the vehicle Curry’s political machine could use to exact revenge on Dennis, who has stood athwart many of the administration’s initiatives.

Perhaps the meeting is an augury of meaningful support to come.

Clay opioid raid yields no opioids

Per The Appeal: “Sheriff Darryl Daniels of Clay County … is positioning himself as a social media celebrity in the ongoing war on opioids. In January, Daniels’s office filmed the aftermath of a SWAT raid that he and masked officers carried out on a so-called narcotics house on a tree-lined suburban street in Orange Park … The video documenting the raid — in what the sheriff dubbed ‘Operation: You Were Warned’ — went viral, garnering 30,000 shares and 3.4 million views on Facebook.”

Could a Clay County drug bust have been little more than theater?

Sounds good! But …

“Despite the sheriff’s announcement, the ‘raid’ resulted in only five adult arrests and one juvenile arrest, according to Elaine Brown, a lead records specialist at the sheriff’s office. According to police records reviewed by The Appeal, the drug seizures from this ‘narcotics house’ were fairly small scale and did not include opioids. In an email to The Appeal, Sgt. Keith Smith, an office spokesman, clarified that during the raid, narcotics deputies found what they believed to be 1.2 grams of heroin and fentanyl after an initial field test, but subsequent tests revealed the seizure was not a controlled substance.”

The Clay Sheriff’s Office did find weed though.

Read more here.

Solar boom for JEA

Finally, some utility news that doesn’t read like a rejected plot of “House of Cards.”

(Photo via Florida Times-Union)

The Florida Times-Union reports that JEA “plans to team up with a private company for construction of five solar farms through 2020 that will collectively produce as much electricity as a small natural gas plant, turning JEA from a below-average utility in terms of solar power to a utility that is well above average for Florida, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.”

“Smaller utilities like Beaches Energy, which is owned by Jacksonville Beach and also serves Neptune Beach and Ponte Vedra, likewise are getting into the game. This month, Beaches Energy joined forces with 11 other municipal utilities to announce plans for 900,000 solar panels at three solar farms in Orange and Osceola counties. They would produce 223 megawatts by 2020,” adds the T-U report.

YMCA breaks ground on Jacksonville expansion

Northwest Jacksonville’s James Weldon Johnson YMCA has broken ground on a new expansion, reports WJCT. Among the renovations include an updated wellness facility, a new swimming pool, and doubling the teen program capacity with a new teen center.

Now serving around 30 to 40 teens daily, the completed center will increase that number to 100.

Rendering of a new common area for the James Weldon Johnson YMCA expansion, which program this week.

First Coast YMCA Social Responsibility VP and Johnson YMCA Executive Director Irvin Cohen tells WJCT: “We really, in this community, didn’t have a place where young people who were not athletically inclined could go. You either went to after-school programs after the school — which were primarily sports-related — [or] until nothing.”

Nearly all the $3.5 million for the project’s construction costs were through private donations. About 10 percent came from state funding; Cohen said it will cover programming costs.

“We all know in communities like this the consequences of idle hands can be deadly to say the very least,” Cohen added.

Local tie to NHL title hunt

Jacksonville is not known as Hockey Town, but the chair of a local company is just a few wins away from an NHL title via his ownership of a franchise.

Bill Foley, chairman of Fidelity National Financial, owns the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Bill Foley, the owner of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, has a Jacksonville connection. (Photo via Jacksonville Daily Record)

The Jacksonville Daily Record profiled him this week.

Foley expected a playoff team in three years, a title team in six — not a title run in the first season, he said.

Foley, 73 now, is dialing back his Duval business ties.

“He remains chairman of Fidelity’s board and is executive chairman of Black Knight Inc., the Jacksonville-based mortgage technology company spun off from Fidelity. But he said he will likely give up the executive chairman role at Black Knight, which carries more responsibility than chairman of the board of directors,” the Record reports.

Jacksonville Zoo extends popular dinosaur exhibit

“Dinosauria,” the popular dinosaur exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, will extend through Sept. 22. Beginning March 2, the program was originally slated to end July 2.

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, Imagine Exhibitions provided the dinosaurs, the first time that the company created a zoo installation. Previously, they were supplied by Billings Productions.

“The dinosaurs were just going into storage until their next exhibit,” zoo director Tony Vecchio told the Journal. “So, I asked if they could stay here. We’ve never had dinosaurs in the summer, and if we paid full price for them it wouldn’t be viable, but the fact they were just going into storage, the company was happy to do it at a discount.”

The popular “Dinosauria” at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, will extend through Sept. 22.

Initially, the exhibit was expected to help boost attendance during the zoo’s slow months – July and August – as a relatively inexpensive program. The 21 life-size animatronic dinosaurs in “Dinosauria,” Vecchio said, are larger and electrically powered, with smoother hydraulic motions than previous versions.

After its success, zoo officials decided to extend the project. The exhibit will now run through September and costs an additional $4 for the public and $3 for Zoo members.

Also returning is another popular program, called “92 at the Zoo,” offering half-price admission on select days when weather forecast but the temperature above 92 degrees.

Critics aside, coach likes where Bortles is headed

Despite a huge season that had the Jaguars only 5 minutes away from the Super Bowl, there are still those that want to complain. The biggest target of those complaints usually shows up on the back of quarterback Blake Bortles.

Blake Bortles has his coaches’ backing.

He certainly had his difficulties but improved overall from last season. During the playoff games against Pittsburgh and New England, he bordered on spectacular.

That only quieted some of the critics, but the fifth-year veteran from Central Florida is earning the praise of someone important. His offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, believes “the sky’s the limit” when describing the offensive production capabilities of his signal caller.

“The one thing that was consistent throughout the whole [2017 season] was Blake, and Blake getting better and better,” Hackett said Tuesday after offseason OTA (Organized Team Activities) Practice No. 4. “If he keeps progressing on that upward hill, good things are going to happen.”

Jacksonville is favored to win their second straight AFC South title for good reason. No one in the AFC gave up fewer points than the Jaguars and this year’s draft only made the defensive unit even stronger.

If Bortles and his supporting cast on offense can produce points like they did at the end of last season, there is every reason to believe they can take the next step. Hackett is seeing a quarterback that is beginning to understand how to be successful.

“I want Blake to play football,” Hackett said. “There have been so many times he’s gone out there and he hasn’t been able to just go out there and play, and really think about beating a defense. As the [2017] season went on, I think that’s where he went.”

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: Chris Hudtwalcker is no longer legislative assistant for Miami Democratic Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez.

On: Felecia Armstrong is a new district secretary for Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Kimberly Daniels.

Off: Troy Gras is no longer district secretary for Delray Beach Republican Rep. Bill Hager.

Off: Kyle Langan is no longer legislative assistant for Dover Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure.

Off and on: Troy Gras is replacing Katherine Bedley as district secretary for Coral Springs Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz.

On: Delphine Billups is a new district secretary for St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Wengay Newton.

On: Cory Dowd the new legislative assistant for Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva.

On: Sarah Craven is a new district secretary for Key Largo Republican Rep. Holly Raschein.

On: Patrick Hamor is a new legislative assistant for Naples Republican Rep. Bob Rommel.

Off: Colin Kirkland is no longer legislative assistant to St. Johns Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson.

David Straz taps Mark Hanisee to manage campaign for Tampa mayor

Hillsborough Democratic Party Executive Director Mark Hanisee announced Thursday he is leaving his post to manage the David Straz for Tampa Mayor campaign.

Hanisee, who will replace Susan Cleary, will start July 1.

“I am delighted to welcome Mark to the campaign,” Straz said in a statement. “Mark Hanisee’s deep roots and love for Tampa will guide him as we put together a strong campaign.”

“I am very excited to join the Straz campaign,” Hanisee said. “David Straz is a leader and a man of great stature and accomplishments. When I look at the tremendous impact he has had on the City of Tampa as a private citizen, I see great promise for what he will be able to accomplish as mayor.”

Also, the Straz campaign unveiled “Background,” a new introductory video in his bid to replace term-limited Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

In the video, Straz tells his “uniquely American story.”

“I have lived the American dream, and it started with a broom in my hand,” Straz says. “As Mayor, I will work with everyone as we continue to grow and prosper … The future is incredibly bright for Tampa and I want you to join and be a part of my campaign.”

Clary, from Winter Garden, was only campaign manager for about a month since Straz entered the Tampa mayoral race May 8.  She has worked on several Democratic campaigns, including that of U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

Hanisee, a third generation Floridian, spent the last three and a half years as executive director of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party. During that time, the HCDEC raised nearly $600,000 and successfully helped Andrew Warren become state attorney. As former chairman of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee from 2010-2014, Hanisee came on board in January 2015 to help lead the Hillsborough Democrats with fundraising efforts.

Working to elect Pat Kemp in 2016, Hanisee also helped preserved the at-large commissioner position, for which he was honored that year with the Chair’s Award for Most Valuable Player.

In Pinellas, Hanisee provided support for Rick Kriseman’s win as mayor of St. Petersburg in 2014, earning a Golden Gavel Award by the Florida Democratic Party.

Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Ione Townsend said in a statement

“Mark will be greatly missed. Over the past nearly 4 years we have righted our ship and are now on solid financial footing that allows us to support candidates and improve our GOTV efforts. Our membership has grown to 314 and we have implemented our 2018 ground game for voter engagement.

“While Mark’s primary responsibilities have been focused on fundraising he has also been a valuable resource to the team in our efforts to organize HC in a way that helps to elect Democrats. We wish Mark well. I personally will miss his collegial support and his counsel.

“I and my fellow officers are very confident that we have learned a lot from Mark and as we pull together with your support we will continue to thrive and move forward.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to call email me.

“Well wishes to Mark; I am sure will be appreciated by him.”

Straz faces former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, Tampa City Council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen, and businessman Topher Morrison.

To view the video, click here.

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.

On: Connie Ennis is a new administrative assistant for the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee.

On: Karina Pereira is a new legislative assistant for Fort Lauderdale Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer.

On: Elise Minkoff is the new legislative assistant for St. Petersburg Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson.

Off: Vanessa Thompson is no longer legislative assistant for St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes.

Off: Shawn Hall is no longer legislative assistant for Boynton Beach Democratic Rep. Joseph Abruzzo.

On: Kavanjote Birdi is the new district secretary for Miami Democratic Rep. Robert Asencio.

On: Brandon Johnson is the new district secretary for Ocoee Democratic Rep. Kamia Brown.

Off: Rebekah Hurd is no longer legislative assistant for St. Cloud Republican Rep. Mike La Rosa.

Off: Janine Kiray is no longer district secretary for Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala.

Off: Dylan Fisher is no longer legislative assistant for Ormond Beach Republican Rep. Tom Leek.

Off: Sarah Sims is no longer legislative assistant for Naples Republican Rep. Bob Rommel.

On: Shorty Robbins is the new district secretary for St. Johns Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson.

On: Melissa Santoro is the new district secretary for Wellington Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite.

Ron DeSantis hasn’t always been a full-throated supporter of Donald Trump

If there is one thing fueling Ron DeSantis’ ambition to be Florida governor, it is this: A full-throated endorsement (on Twitter, at least) from President Donald Trump.

But when Congressman Matt Gaetz takes to Breitbart to say “Trump knows he can trust DeSantis to make tough decisions,” it seems as if DeSantis also has the president’s back.

That has not always been the case

For DeSantis tosuggest he has always been a strong Trump supporter involves some revisionist history.

Looking back over the past few years, it’s clear DeSantis began bolstering the president only when it became politically expedient.

For example, as Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith noted in Sept. 2015, DeSantis sounded as if he favored Marco Rubio over Trump: “DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach tells The Buzz he is staying out of it, but in a recent 20-minute conversation he mentioned Rubio at least three times. When we suggested that he sounded like a Rubio guy, DeSantis acknowledged he likes the idea of Rubio facing Hillary Clinton: ‘He would be a good contrast, There’s no doubt about it.’”

A few months later, DeSantis was again hesitant to weigh in on Trump.

“No response so far to multiple requests for comment,” Smith wrote about asking DeSantis his feelings on then-candidate Trump’s call for a Muslim ban.

And during the Republican presidential primaries, DeSantis was still not a fan, telling “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren” Feb. 25, 2016, that he was NOT endorsing Trump.

“Sir, you haven’t endorsed anyone?” host Van Susteren asked. “No.”

DeSantis campaign spokesman Brad Herold later clarified to the Times: “DeSantis has long decided to remain neutral in the presidential primary and is focused on building a broad coalition for his Senate campaign.’”

In other words, he was not a Trump devotee at the time.

Soon afterward (March 14), the National Journal reported on DeSantis’ response to being asked point-blank if he would support Trump as the Republican nominee.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said: “I don’t think I could.” DeSantis, on the other hand, “refused to answer the question altogether, saying, ‘I just don’t want to. … You can either run your own race, or you can make comments about other races.’”

By May, instead of full-fledged support, DeSantis only offered a tepid approval, mainly because Trump was “the Republican nominee.”

Again, the Miami Herald noted the congressman’s long-standing reluctance: “… DeSantis plans to vote for Trump. ‘The congressman has been clear that he will support the Republican nominee,’ campaign manager Brad Herold said. As recently as March, DeSantis would not endorse.”

While an actual endorsement wasn’t forthcoming, DeSantis’ real intent was a little clearer.

On May 6, Mark Harper of the Daytona Beach News-Journal wrote: “…While the GOP is not rallying in full support of Trump-for-president, it’s more unified in a sentiment stuck to [suntan lotion magnate Ron] Rice’s door: STOP HILLARY. That’s how a statement from U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis reads. ‘Electing Hillary Clinton will continue America’s journey down the wrong track.’”

At that point, DeSantis’ only mention of Trump was anything but a ringing endorsement. In fact, it seemed more like resignation: “It is now clear that Donald Trump will accumulate the delegates necessary to be nominated by the Republican Party. If we want to defeat Hillary Clinton and have a chance to change the trajectory of our country, we need to unite behind the Republican ticket this November.”

Making matters worse for DeSantis comes by way of new reporting from POLITICO Florida.

On Monday, Matt Dixon noted the largest donation to DeSantis’ political committee in April came from Andy Khawaja, a major Democratic donor. Khawaja, a California payment processing executive and founder of Allied Wallet, gave the committee $100,000. His affiliated company, E-Payment Solutions, Inc., gave another $100,000 to DeSantis’ committee in February.

“This election cycle, he and his company have already given $1 million to Senate Majority PAC, which supports Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, including Sen. Bill Nelson,” Dixon writes. “The super PAC is funding $2 million in ads supporting Nelson, calling him ‘one of America’s most independent Senators.’”

In 2016, Khawaja and his company gave nearly $6.5 million to Democrats, including more than $1 million to Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Revisionist history – and $200K Democratic backing – is not a good look for DeSantis, a candidate who claims to proudly carry the conservative banner, as well as Trump’s support.

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