Phil Ammann, Author at 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 SaintPetersBlog since 2013 and lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul.

Email insights: Gwen Graham’s bold claim — more supporters than any Gov. candidate

In the race for Florida Governor, if anything, Gwen Graham is audacious.

As well as announcing a “strong fundraising streak” through November, a new email from the Democratic hopeful makes a bold declaration — her campaign “has more supporters” than any other candidate in the race, either Democratic or Republican.

That’s quite a statement for a Democrat in a state controlled by Republicans for the past 20 years.

“While [Republicans] Adam Putnam and Richard Corcoran continue to fill their campaigns with special interests’ donations, we are taking on Tallahassee’s self-serving politicians and building a grassroots campaign to put real Floridians back in charge of our state,” Graham said.

Graham is backing up her self-assurance with some solid numbers — more than $300,000 raised for eight consecutive months, bringing in more than $240,000 in her campaign account, as well as more than $100,000 for her political committee “Our Florida” — totaling more than $350,000 in November.

In her bid for Governor, the former North Florida congresswoman now has raised more than $4.36 million dollars, as with about $2.78 million on hand.

While those numbers are impressive, what about the statement of “more supporters than anyone else?”

Good question; Graham added more than 1,400 new grassroots donors in just the last month, meaning she now has more than 11,500 unique supporters — more people than any other candidate in the race.

According to Matt Harringer, Graham’s communications director, the numbers of supporters are solid — using state records —  and speak for themselves. Among Democrats, Philip Levine has 604; Andrew Gillum, 8,451 and Chris King, 1674. As for Republicans, Jack Latvala has 2681; Putnam, 10,133 and Corcoran, 569.

It is this metric that Graham’s campaign says will become the strong foundation to take the ultimate challenge in Florida — facing a Republican in the general election.

Graham takes a parting shot at “Tallahassee Republicans” who are preparing for the upcoming 2018 Legislative Session the same way they have for more than two decades — holding committee week fundraisers with lobbyists.

“While they’re partying in Tallahassee,” Graham says her campaign “traveling the state building support from real Floridians and talking about the issues that matter to them.’

This leads to her boldest statement of all — that she “will take back the governor’s office and set Florida on a brighter path forward.”

While it’s too early to tell how the Governor’s race will ultimately pan out, there’s little doubt Graham has an abundance of confidence in both herself and her campaign.

We’ll see if that’s enough.

The Delegation for 12.12.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Alabama Senate race heads back into uncertainty

Heading into the weekend, conventional wisdom seemed to lean toward a Roy Moore victory in Tuesday’s special election for an Alabama Senate seat. Even Democratic pundits were starting to go with “Roy Moore is going to win, but the GOP will be the big loser” line.

Or words to that effect.

President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee seemed to feel safe in endorsing Moore by words (Trump) and campaign aid (RNC).

In the Real Clear Politics average of polls, Moore had settled in with a lead of between two to three points. After the initial shock and outrage from the accusations of lurid behavior directed toward Moore settled in, his polling numbers stopped falling.

Roy Moore could win, but the big loser will be the GOP.

When prominent members of Congress and the U.S. Senate were also accused of misbehavior, Moore slowly began a comeback. His opponent, Doug Jones, has been irrelevant.

Which brings us to today. As people cast their votes in Alabama, uncertainty has returned. On the eve of the election, two polls revealed wildly different findings.

The Emerson College tracking poll had Moore ahead by 9 points.

At the same time, Fox News released a survey showing Jones with a 10-point lead. Who’s right?

Both are consistent. The last two polls from Fox show Jones averaging a 9-point lead. Two of the past three Emerson surveys show double-digit leads for Moore.

Sine the accusations against Moore surfaced, 11 polls show him with leads of various sizes, while 6 show Jones with an advantage.

Heading into the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign, conventional wisdom held that Hillary Clinton would cruise to victory. Trump supporters said there was a hidden, silent majority out there.

Only one poll, the one commissioned by the Los Angeles Times, consistently showed Trump in the game. In the Senate race, the Fox polls stand alone in showing broad support for Jones.

Who could have imagined Democrats would be rooting for a product put out by Fox News?

In 2016, a Republican won in true blue Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Could a Democrat really win a statewide race in crimson red Alabama?

If Moore wins, those supporting Jones should stay off Twitter if they want to avoid the spectacle of Trump doing a verbal touchdown celebration. If Jones pulls the upset, Fox can reveal how their pollster found the hidden, silent majority.

Then, the conversation turns to what it all means for the next 11 months.

Nelson seeks answers from VA on housing program

After the Veterans Affairs announced it was ending a $460 million housing program benefiting chronically homeless veterans, a large outcry quickly began. The VA said the funds would be shifted to VA hospitals, who would then decide how to use it.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson wrote to VA Secretary David Shulkin about the move. Nelson said some “clarification” was in order.

“I find your announcement to move over $460 million in funding for this program to be deeply concerning,” he wrote. “This program assists veterans that are in most need of help.”

VA Secretary David Shulkin.

Nelson was not the only one complaining. Veterans advocates were leading a charge to reverse the decision.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who partners with the VA on the program, was not consulted, nor were key veterans’ groups. Late last week, Shulkin reversed course.

“There will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless program,” Shulkin said in a news release on December 6.

Nelson said that was still not enough.

“Further, while I appreciate your statement from December 6 when you announced that ‘there will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs,’ I believe this does not go far enough and clarification is needed. I look forward to hearing from you or your assigned designee on this critical matter.”

Rubio: Tax bill will determine if GOP is “country club party”

Florida’s junior senator has a warning for his party. What they do with the final version of the tax reform bill was show whether the GOP is a “country club party” or whether they have something to offer lower-income Americans.

As House and Senate negotiators shape the final bill to be brought to both chambers for a vote, Rubio is warning there “are going to be problems” if negotiators only worry about the corporate tax rate at the expense of those who depend on the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

Marco Rubio evoked Ronald Reagan in defending the GOP tax plan.

As the Senate was voting on its’ version of the bill on December 2, Rubio and Utah Republican Mike Lee asked for the corporate tax rate be cut from 35 percent to 20.94 percent instead of 20 percent. This would allow lower income Americans to enjoy the full benefits of the CTC according to Rubio.

Their proposal as voted down.

On Friday, he tweeted some Ronald Reagan from 1977 to make a point. “The new Republican Party is going to have room for the man and woman in the factories, for the farmer, for the cop on the beat,” he said.

GOP leaders still believe they can have a final bill to the president’s desk by year’s end. With Tennessee Republican Bob Corker saying he will not be voting for the Republican bill, they can afford only one more defector.

House votes to end “pay for slay”

While Trump’s official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital met with favor among members of the delegation, the House took another bipartisan step in Middle East relations last week. The House’s passage of the Taylor Force Act sends a moral and financial message to the Palestinian Authority.

Sponsored by Colorado Republican Doug Lamborn, the bill earned numerous delegation co-sponsors from both parties. It targets the practice of the Palestinian Authority that rewards terrorists or their families for acts of violence.

The bill is named after Taylor Force, an American veteran of the U.S. Air Force, who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist. It passed the House on a voice vote.

“While the Palestinian Authority continues to incentivize violence and aggression against Israeli and U.S. citizens, the House of Representatives has made it clear it will not tolerate these activities,” said Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart. “Israel continues to be the best partner for peace, freedom, and democracy in the Middle East, and I am a proud ally of Israel.”

Mario Diaz-Balart draws a line for peace and stability in the Middle East.

Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch took to the House floor in support.

“We need trusted partners for peace in the Palestinian Authority,” Deutch said. “That starts by ending the subsidy program for acts of terrorism. I’m proud that Congress came together to produce a strong bipartisan bill to finally pressure the Palestinian Authority to stop their ‘pay for slay’ practice.”

Among the delegation co-sponsors in addition to Deutch and Diaz-Balart are Democrats Debbie Wasserman SchultzAlcee Hastings and Lois Frankel. Republicans include Gus BilirakisVern BuchananCarlos CurbeloRon DeSantisNeal DunnMatt GaetzBrian MastFrancis RooneyDennis RossDan Webster, and Ted Yoho.

A matching Senate bill, sponsored by South Carolina Republican Lindsay Graham and co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, is under consideration.

Two Floridians hitch ride with Trump to Pensacola rally

President Trump had a boisterous rally in Pensacola on Friday. He arrived at the Naval Air Station with two delegation members along for the ride.

Both Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz and Ponte Vedra Republican Ron DeSantis flew to the rally aboard Air Force One with the president. DeSantis and Gaetz both offered remarks before Trump’s appearance.

Ron DeSantis hitched a ride to Pensacola on Air Force One.

Gaetz posted a photo on Twitter “Riding on Air Force One with our outstanding President @realDonaldTrump!”

“He cannot wait to say thank you to all of the great folks in Northwest Florida who delivered the Sunshine State to President Donald Trump,” Gaetz told the crowd. “The stock market is up and unemployment is down. We are draining the swamp and rebuilding our military.”

DeSantis hit on themes popular with the crowd.

“We haven’t been living up to our potential as a country,” DeSantis said. “We have the best opportunity in my lifetime to do it right now, and that’s thanks to President Donald Trump.”

Trump spoke for nearly 90 minutes about Washington, the media and eventually, Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore just four days before Tuesday’s special election.

“We can’t afford to have a liberal Democrat (Doug Jones), who is completely controlled by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” Trump said. “We can’t.”

Lawson welcomes Perdue to Tallahassee

The first-term Democrat from Tallahassee joined Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to Tallahassee for a visit to Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University (FAMU). They were joined by university President Larry Robinson, who was recently named president of the university.

Lawson tweeted about the visit, saying he “was pleased to have an opportunity to welcome U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue … where we held a roundtable discussion on youth in agriculture.”

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue visits Tallahassee.

Perdue heard from students on ways to increase interest in studying agriculture and the career possibilities it contains. The three men were part of a roundtable of students, representatives from 4-H, National FFA Organization and extension officers.

Perdue told the roundtable he supports a bill in Congress that would more funding for recruitment and scholarships for land-grant universities.

“We believe we have money in USDA to support this,” Perdue said. “We think it will be a great investment in the future of agriculture.”

Bilirakis proposes improvements to airport safety

After a congressional delegation trip to Europe, the Palm Harbor Republican came away with some thoughts on safety measures he would like to see in major U.S. airports. Last week, he introduced the SAFE TECH Act, which would improve screening procedures at those facilities.

Bilirakis points to technical standards for safety and operating procedures at international airports being set by international agreements.  The standards set are generally broad; leaving vulnerabilities through inconsistencies with international partners.

Gus Bilirakis is calling for greater airport security.

He believes this legislation would address those concerns and improve the safety of all passengers.

“I have contended that if we are not safe, then nothing else matters,” he said in a news release.

Specifically, this legislation will provide an avenue for 3rd party testing of innovative technology screening capabilities to enhance airport security.  It will also assess the feasibility of linking compatible security technology utilized by the United States and international allies in order to augment screening checkpoints.

“During my recent fact-finding mission, I was startled by lack of consistency in international standards and gaps in technology that support precautionary measures to ensure passenger safety,” he said. “I am convinced this is something that needs to be immediately rectified, and I urge my colleagues’ support of this important bill with expedited passage,” he said.

Diaz-Balart, Crist slated to speak at Florida Defense Expo

Top officials and thought leaders from the U.S. defense and aerospace industries and the Florida companies that serve them will gather this winter when the Florida Defense Contractors Association (FDCA) hosts the sixth annual Florida Defense Expo. Providing attendees with educational sessions, industry networking and business development opportunities, the Expo will take place Feb. 20 at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando.

Charlie Crist is among the speakers at the 6th Annual Florida Defense Expo.

Among the confirmed Expo speakers is Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist. The Expo also will include a trade show representing small and emerging companies as well as global top-100 firms and the organizations that help support them.

“FDCA is uniquely positioned to lead a statewide business network on behalf of Florida defense contractors,” said FDCA Chair Noel McCormick, President of McCormick Stevenson.

The event will kick off at 9 a.m. on Feb. 20 at the Orlando Rosen Plaza Hotel.

Crist, Castor urge health care sign-ups as deadline looms

With just a few days left before Friday’s deadline to sign up for health care through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Tampa Bay area’s two Democrats met Monday at St. Joseph’s Hospital in West Tampa to get the word out before they head back to Washington.

“Time is short,” said Castor, repeating her frustration that the sign-up period for Obamacare this year was cut in half, from 12 weeks to six.

The administration also cut the advertising budget for Healthcare.gov by 90 percent, eliminated 40 percent of federal grant money to enrollment assistance groups and advised regional health officials to not participate in sign-up events sponsored by outside groups, all of which led to complaints by Democrats that the president was trying to “sabotage” the program.

Kathy Castor reminds constituents that the ACA deadline is nearing.

Yet those moves were barely mentioned at Monday’s press event, though Crist did call the reduced sign up period “a shame, and unfortunate.” Instead, the lawmakers concentrated on the positive aspects of getting signed up to the ACA.

“Do not listen to the folks in Washington who say the ACA is dead. It’s not true,” said Castor.

Over 800,000 Floridians have signed up for the program since Nov. 1, again leading the nation in new enrollees.

While attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed in Congress this year, the program is still under threat from the recently passed GOP tax reform plan that is about to go through conference.

Buchanan wants Lois Lerner’s secret testimony unsealed

The Sarasota Republican has become the first member of Congress to call for a federal court to unseal secret testimony from former IRS senior executive Lois Lerner.

Lerner and her immediate subordinate, Holly Paz, emerged as two key figures after it was discovered in 2013 that the IRS had given extra scrutiny to hundreds of conservative groups seeking nonprofit status leading up to the 2012 presidential campaign.

Lerner and Paz filed a motion with U.S. District Court Judge Michael R. Barrett last month asking that tapes and transcripts of their depositions be forever kept secret from the public, saying that they feared for their safety.

Vern Buchanan wants to unseal Lois Lerner’s testimony in the IRS scandal.

But an attorney representing Tea Party groups says that any instances of harassment took place nearly four years ago, and is arguing that the courts who’ll deny their request and open the docket for public inspection. The secrecy issues are among those remaining in a class-action lawsuit covering hundreds of Tea Party groups that faced illegal scrutiny in their nonprofit status applications.

“Lois Lerner betrayed the nation’s trust yet managed to avoid accountability and criminal charges,” says Buchanan, who chairs the oversight subcommittee responsible for the IRS. “Now she wants to keep her role in the illegal targeting scheme secret, free from public scrutiny. What is she hiding? The public deserves answers.”

The Justice Department, class action plaintiffs, and multiple news organizations including The Wall Street Journal and Cincinnati Enquirer have all since requested unsealing documents in the case.

According to a three-year investigation by the House Ways and Means committee, Lerner used her position to improperly influence agency action against conservative organizations, denying these groups due process and equal protection rights under the law.

She impeded official investigations by providing misleading statements in response to questions from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and may have disclosed confidential taxpayer information.

After the Justice Department told the House Ways & Means Committee in September they would not prosecute Lerner, Buchanan strongly objected.

Buchanan signs onto bill studying link between painkillers and veteran suicides

Suicide and drug overdoses are two of the biggest killers of veterans in America.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Suicide Prevention, an average of 20 veterans committed suicide every day in 2014. In fact, 18 percent of all American adult suicides that year were committed by veterans, even though veterans made up just 8.5% of the population.

Accidental overdoses, in particular, have hit veterans harder than the broader American populace, as Reuters reports, in part because veterans are more likely to be prescribed painkillers to treat injuries maintained during combat.

An average of 20 veterans committed suicide every day in 2014.

New legislation being co-sponsored by Sarasota area Rep. Buchanan would study the link between those two disturbing trends.

“The Veterans Overmedication Prevention Act would require the Veterans Affairs Department to review the deaths of all veterans treated by the VA who died by suicide or from a drug overdose in the last five years.

“The high rates of suicide and drug overdose deaths in the veteran community are unacceptable,” Buchanan said. “This legislation is critical to learning if prescription drugs, specifically opioid painkillers, are a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths among veterans.”

Introduced by Colorado Republican Mike Coffman, the bill specifically calls for a listing of “any medications that carried a black box warning, were prescribed for off-label use, were psychotropic, or carried warnings that include suicidal ideation.” The new information will be used to better treat veterans suffering from mental and physical injuries sustained as a result of their service.

Taxpayers funded $225,000 settlement to Hastings accuser

With growing numbers of new sexual harassment cases coming out of Washington, an older one resurfaced involving the Democratic Congressman from Delray Beach. In a story broken by Roll Call, a Capitol Hill publication, taxpayers funded a payoff to a former staffer who had accused him of harassment.

Winsome Packer, a staff member on a commission Hastings’ chaired, filed a complaint in 2011. The ultimate settlement in 2014 included a payout of $225,000 to Packer, which Hastings said was news to him.

A former female commission staffer received $220,000 settlement for a case against Democrat Alcee Hastings.

“Until (Friday) evening, I had not seen the settlement agreement between the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and Ms. Packer,” Hastings said in a statement to the Palm Beach Post. “This matter was handled solely by the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment. At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made. I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needless paid to Ms. Packer.”

Packer had accused Hastings of “unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments and unwanted touching.” A judge dismissed the individual claims against Hastings — but not the commission — in 2012. The House ethics committee cleared Hastings in 2014, but said in their report Hastings “admitted to certain conduct that is less than professional.”

Hastings is the co-chairman of the Florida delegation along with Sarasota Republican Buchanan.

Aronberg to testify before Congress

The State Attorney for the 15th Judicial Circuit, Dave Aronberg, will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday. The Committee is discussing the opioid addiction crisis and the growing fraud in the area of addiction treatment.

“Sadly, recent reports indicate that individuals known as ‘patient brokers’ are treating individuals seeking treatment for their opioid addiction as a commodity, rather than helping them receive legitimate treatment and ultimately achieve recovery,” the committee said in an announcement.

State Attorney Dave Aronberg will testify before Congress on the opioid crisis.

Both Aronberg and Chief Assistant State Attorney Alan Johnson will discuss their successful Sober Home Task Force that is aggressively targeting patient brokers.

“Our office has led the fight against fraud and abuse in the drug treatment industry, and I am honored to have the opportunity to testify before Congress on our strategy and recommendations to combat the opioid epidemic on a national level,” Aronberg said in a release.

Paulson’s Politics: Unforeseen factors that could impact the 2018 Florida Congressional elections

There are always several unanticipated factors that influence electoral outcomes. The candidates and parties that anticipate and try to counter these factors are likely to do best.

Among the unanticipated factors are:

Voter Purges:  Voter purges have been around for a long time. Some removals are mere attempts to diminish the likely success of certain groups or parties. For example, voter purges were commonly used in the South to weaken the ability of minorities to influence the political process. Once removed, it was often difficult to be restored to the voter lists.

Many states, including Florida, have legislation requiring purges to eliminate voters who have died, voters who have moved and voters who simply do not vote. Most everyone agrees that removing those who have died or moved is justified.

Voter purges could be one of the unforeseen factors in 2018 Congressional races.    

There is less agreement about removing those who have not voted for several elections. Florida law states that registered voters may be removed if they have not voted in two consecutive elections. The United States Supreme Court will hear a challenge to an Ohio law that allows purges of voters who have not voted, arguing that not voting is just as much a choice as voting.

In Florida, voter purges have hurt Democrats more than Republicans. From Jan. 1 until Aug. 31 of 2017, 114,000 inactive voters were removed. 55,000 more Democrats were removed then Republicans. Hillsborough County had twice as many inactive voters removed than any other county, and two Democrats were removed for every Republican.

Immigration. After the devastation of Puerto Rico due to hurricane Maria, Florida has experienced the influx of thousands of Puerto Ricans to the Orlando area. The Hispanic population of Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties has grown by 145,000 since Maria, with another 100,000 expected to arrive. The Hispanic population of the Orlando area has grown from 18 percent in 2000 to one-third of the population today. For every new Republican voter among the Puerto Rican immigrants, there are four new Democratic voters.

As much as Puerto Rican’s have transformed the Orlando area, senior citizens moving into the Villages in the Ocala area have changed politics there as well as statewide. The Villages have been the fastest growing metro area in the United States for four consecutive years. Overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly Republican, no statewide Republican can afford to ignore the Villages.

Reappointment and Gerrymandering. The United States Supreme Court just heard the case of Gill v. Whitford, a case directly challenging the legality of partisan gerrymandering of Wisconsin legislative districts. The Court will hand down its decision in spring 2018 and, if they strike down partisan gerrymanders, the decision will require the redrawing of state legislative and congressional districts in over one-third of the state’s, including Florida. Such a decision would transform American politics more than any other decision of the court.

Party Organization. Normally, the Republicans have been advantaged by a stronger party organization structure that resulted in recruiting better candidates, raising more money and doing a better job of turning out the vote.

The defeat of Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked candidate, Leslie Dougher, to lead the party by state legislator Blaise Ingoglia has helped decimate what used to be one of the strongest state party organizations in America. Scott urged supporters to no longer contribute to the party, but to his Let’s Get to Work Political Action Committee. Republican fundraising has slowed down so much that the Democrats have raised more than the Republicans in 2017.

The election of Stephan Bittel in January 2017 as head of the Florida Democrats bolstered the optimism of Democrats. That confidence was short-lived, as Bittel was ousted in November due to multiple charges of sexual harassment.

Gender and Race. We have long known that the parties have a gender bias. Males tend to vote Republican and females vote Democrat. The assumption was that gender differences between the parties canceled each other out. Is this the case?

Not really. While males in Florida vote 52 percent for Republicans, females vote 53 percent for Democrats. However, women make up 55 percent of the Florida electorate, so that slight difference actually amounts to several hundred thousand voters statewide.

A quick look at Florida’s congressional delegation shows the gender impact more clearly. Of the current 16 members of the Republican congressional delegation, only one is held by a female and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring at the end of this current session of Congress. Of the 11 Democrats in the Florida delegation, six are women.

Going into 2018, the Republicans will be without any females in their delegation, while the Democrats will add anywhere between one to three female members. Mary Barzee Flores is favored to pick up the seat of the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Nancy Soderberg in District 6 and Lauren Baer in District 18 could win seats in a wave election.

Finally, there are currently three Hispanics, all Cuban American, in the Republican delegation. One of these will retire. On the Democratic side, in addition to having six women in their 11-member delegation, they have four blacks, one Hispanic and one Vietnamese.

Will race and gender play a role in deciding the makeup of the Florida congressional delegation? Republicans must hope that voters prefer white males. It has worked for them so far.

Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters endorses Nick DiCeglie for HD 66

Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters is backing Nick DiCeglie in his bid for House District 66.

DiCiglie, who has been Pinellas County Republican Party Executive Committee chair since 2014, is seeking the seat of state Rep. Larry Ahern, a Seminole Republican term-limited in 2018. He is facing Berny Jacques in the GOP primary.

“Nick will bring to the Florida House of Representatives, great business and leadership skills,” said Waters, a former Speaker Pro-Tempore of the Florida House. “I know he will be a serious and conscientious legislator, who will represent the interests of business, education and families of House District 66.”

Waters is a Gulfport native who has lived in Seminole since 1979; she served in the House between 1998 to 2006, with her last term as Speaker Pro-Tempore. A graduate of Boca Ciega High School, Waters received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida State University. She is also founder of Leslie Waters Government Relations consulting firm, and works as an adjunct professor of political science.

“I’m honored to have the support of a leader like Mayor Leslie Waters,” said DiCeglie. “She’s had success in business and been a dedicated public servant to our community at both the state and local level for many years. Mayor Waters and I share the same conservative values and vision for the future of Pinellas county — I’m glad to have her on our team.”

Since announcing his HD 66 campaign, DiCelgie — who has owned Solar Sanitation, a Clearwater-based trash removal and recycling company, since 2001 — raised more than $60,500 through Oct. 31, according to the Division of Elections website. He has nearly $58,000 in cash-on-hand. Jacques, his opponent, has been raising funds since March, and has collected just under $87,000 through Oct. 31, with $70,000 on hand.

In addition, Jacques — by way of “Protect Pinellas,” his associated committee — raised $42,000 through Nov. 30, with a little more than $35,000 on hand. For the month of November, Jacques’ campaign announced raising a total of $24,025, with $10,000 coming from Protect Pinellas and $14,025 raised in his campaign account.

DiCelgie moved to Florida in 1996, and is now living in Indian Rocks Beach with his wife Erica and their two children, Livia and Carlo. He is active in the community, serving two terms as chair of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce. He also served as a gubernatorial appointee on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and as a member of the Indian Rocks Beach Planning and Zoning Board for six years. DeCelgie, named an Up & Comer by the Tampa Bay Business Journal in 2011, is also a member of the Pinellas County Economic Development Council.

Pasco GOP elite gather for Mike Wells fundraiser Tuesday

Several of Pasco County’s Republican élite will be gathering for a fundraiser this week to support Mike Wells in his bid for a second term on the Board of Commissioners.

Set for Tuesday, Dec. 12, the event begins 5:30 p.m. at the home of First National Bank of Pasco President Steve Hickman and his wife Lynn, 37402 Church Ave. in Dade City.

Listed among the host committee are many of the county’s top GOP leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, state Rep. Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills, Pasco School Board Chair Allen Allman, superintendent Kurt Browning and Wells’ father — former Pasco County Property Appraiser Mike Wells Sr.

In his first term representing Pasco County District 4, Wells — a 39-year county resident — was appointed to the Area Agency on Aging, the Department of Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board, the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties, the Engineering and Architectural Selection Committee, the Pasco Economic Development Council, the Pasco County Fair Authority and the Value Adjustment Board.

Wells, a 2006 alum of Leadership Pasco, is a member of the National Association of Realtors, West Pasco Board of Realtors, Florida Realtors and the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce. He also held roles at the YMCA of the Suncoast — James P. Gills Family YMCA Advisory Board, United Way, Volunteer Way, The Angelus, Sunrise of Pasco, Feeding Pasco’s Elderly, the Coastal Conservation Association. Wells is also a National Rifle Association member.

To RSVP, visit rsvp@votemikewells.com.

Will Weatherford endorses Mike Wells for Pasco Commissioner

Former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford is endorsing Republican Mike Wells for re-election to the Pasco County Board of Commissioners.

Weatherford, who represented eastern Pasco County from 2006 to 2014, became Speaker during his final two-year term in the Florida House. At that time, the 33-year-old was the youngest presiding officer for any state legislative body in America.

Weatherford, with two of his brothers, now runs Weatherford Partners, a Tampa-based venture capital and consulting firm.

“Mike Wells has been an exceptional advocate for the people of Pasco County as a member of our Board of County Commissioners,” Weatherford said Tuesday. “He has distinguished himself as a leader and has recently been elected Chair of the Board of County Commissioners. Mike works tirelessly and is a proven champion for our community. This election, Mike Wells has my full support and endorsement. I hope he can count on your strong support as well.”

Wells, a native Floridian and 39-year Pasco resident, is a member of the National Association of Realtors, West Pasco Board of Realtors, Florida Realtors, and the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce. He has been appointed as the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners representative for the Area Agency on Aging, the Department of Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board, the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties, the Engineering and Architectural Selection Committee, the Pasco Economic Development Council, the Pasco County Fair Authority and the Value Adjustment Board.

Wells, son of former county commissioner and the current property appraiser Mike Wells Sr., is a 2006 alum of Leadership Pasco and had worked as a regional manager at Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

The Delegation for 12.1.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Nelson rhetoric sent signal tax bill was about to pass … or was it?

There were telltale signs the GOP tax reform measure was about to cross a threshold. On the day before the final vote was scheduled to take place, the rhetoric from Senate Democrats ratcheted upward.

When moderate Republicans John McCain of Arizona said he would vote for the measure, the writing was on the wall. These announcements followed comments by Maine Republican Susan Collins that her concerns were being addressed (see “Nelson Unhappy” below).

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is known for his vocal opposition when he is passionate on an issue. He does not try to hide his disdain for this bill for purely economic reasons, but on Wednesday he sent a message to the large (and growing) contingent of Puerto Ricans living in Florida that all could hear.

John McCain is voting ‘yes’ on the GOP tax plan, which Bill Nelson vocally opposes.

Just before 9 p.m. Wednesday, he said: “Passing this GOP tax bill would be like sending another hurricane to Puerto Rico.”

Comparing Congressional legislation to a storm that killed people, destroyed homes and livelihoods and reduced Puerto Rico to an almost primitive existence, is quite a rhetorical leap. At the same time, few, if anyone, called out Nelson for the hyperbole.

When it became nearly certain the measure would pass, Nelson asked his colleagues to “reconsider their vote.”

While Nelson would have liked to kill the tax bill, The Wall Street Journal editorial board basically accused Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of trying to do just that. In an editorial called “The Rubio-Schumer Amendment,” the newspaper says “Florida’s Republican tries to blow up tax reform.”

Rubio and Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah are fighting to further hike the Child Tax Credit as part of the tax bill. They proposed cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 22 percent (instead of 20 percent called for in the bill) to pay for the increase.

The Journal’s opening argument says Rubio was someone, “who contributed nothing to the Obamacare repeal, and now aspires to dilute the tax bill.” The White House remained firm that it would not accept anything other than a 20 percent rate.

Most believe that in the end, Rubio will support the bill even if no further action is taken on the tax credit. The vote was scheduled to occur Tuesday night, but Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, and Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson nearly blew up the bill with last minute demands.

Debate is set to resume again on Friday morning and it would be wise to The drama is far from over. If it does pass, the House and Senate need to appoint members of a conference committee to come up with a final bill.

Democrats are so irrelevant in this process that it would not be a big surprise to see either House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, or Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — or both — decide to not even appoint conferees to represent their party. It would at least represent a symbolic protest sure to get plenty of media attention.

There would be little to lose. The remaining battles will be strictly Republican vs. Republican.

After a short respite, the rhetoric will commence next week. Perhaps Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will make things interesting by appointing Rubio as a Senate conferee.

If they get that far.

Nelson unhappy with Collins’ reasoning for softening stance on tax bill

As the GOP effort to make sweeping changes to the way Americans pay income taxes, Florida’s senior senator has been a staunch opponent. As the debate on the bill began, it became possible that Nelson could indirectly help the bill pass after working with a swing vote senator on an unrelated bill.

Maine Republican Sen. Collins can be counted upon to be a contrarian when partisan legislation is involved. The tax bill is no exception as Collins has expressed concerns with the provision that would end the health care mandate contained in the Affordable Care Act.

Bill Nelson is none too happy with Sen. Susan Collins, either. 

Collins has worked with Nelson on a bill to create a reinsurance pool to provide a health insurance backstop to make sure people do not lose health insurance if their insurance company fails. President Donald Trump told Collins this week he would support that bill, prompting a lessening of her concerns, holding out the possibility she might vote for the bill.

Nelson made it clear in a Wednesday interview on CNN, that Collins should not be making such a deal. He pointed out that Collins, a former state insurance commissioner like himself, should in no way consider voting to end the health care mandate.

“If she trades that off, that is not an even trade,” he said. “(Health) insurance premiums, out of necessity, go through the roof. That can’t be offset by all of these other good things that Susan and I are doing in our bipartisan legislation.”

Rubio, colleagues introduce bipartisan education bill

The second term Republican joined with Democrat colleagues to introduce updated legislation to help Americans better understand the costs and outcomes of higher education. Rubio, Virginia Democrat Mark Warner and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden filed the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act to arm prospective students with information to help them make choices about college.

The bill makes data available concerning schools’ graduation rates, debt levels, how much graduates can expect to earn and other critical education and workforce-related measures of success. Under the bill, these outcome measures would be available and broken down by individual institution and program of study.

Republican Marco Rubio joined with Senate Democrats on a bill over the cost of higher education.

It also protects student privacy by requiring the use of privacy-enhancing technologies that encrypt and protect the data that are used to produce this consumer information to students and families.

“A college education is one of the most important investments that many students and families will make in their lifetime,” Rubio said. “Students could benefit from a comprehensive system detailing the projected costs and financial outcomes of the school and area of study the student is planning to pursue — before they take out thousands of dollars in student loans.

A bipartisan group of House members, including California Republican Duncan Hunter, also filed a companion bill in that chamber. Rubio, Wyden and Hunter have filed this legislation in every session since 2012.

Delegation all in to protect Florida agriculture

In a significant move, the entire Florida delegation has put the Trump Administration and Congressional appropriators on notice that Florida’s agriculture industry is being shortchanged when it comes to disaster relief. During a delegation meeting this week, the members indicated they would withhold support for the upcoming disaster aid bill unless the state’s agriculture industry is included.

“The Florida Delegation is in agreement that Congress must include relief for Florida agriculture in the upcoming aid package,” said Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross. “As representatives of Florida, it is our duty to advocate for those who have been devastated by Hurricane Irma and citrus greening. We must join together to ensure that Florida is not left behind.”

Fall melons damaged by Hurricane Irma in St. Johns County.

If the delegation holds firm, 16 Republican votes and 11 Democrats would not be available to leadership to pass the measure. California’s delegation, with 14 Republicans and 39 Democrats, is also reportedly not happy with the lack of any funding following the devastating wildfires that state has endured over recent months.

Florida has requested $27 billion in assistance and the current request from the White House contains no money for agriculture.

Two House gun bills advance for floor vote

The House Judiciary Committee has advanced two bills involving firearms to the House floor for final consideration. The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which passed by a 19-11 vote, would allow citizens with state concealed carry permits to have the same privileges in other states.

As a committee member, Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford hailed its passage as common-sense and true to the second amendment. He is a former sheriff and one of 213 co-sponsors, all but three of whom are Republicans.

John Rutherford is among the delegation members praising the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which allows citizens with state concealed carry permits to have the same privileges in other states.

“We want good people carrying guns,” he said. “In my years in law enforcement, I have seen good, law-abiding citizens use legal firearms to stop dangerous people from harming themselves, their families, their neighbors, and other innocent lives. Law-abiding citizens who are authorized to carry firearms should have the ability to stop a violent incident before law enforcement can intervene.”

Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch offered an amendment to address his concern that those who harm animals would be able to carry around the country.

“This terrible bill allows animal abusers to take advantage of reciprocity in spite of their violent history,” he said in a statement. “Unfortunately, my amendment was voted down on a party-line vote.”

The Fix NICS Act would strengthen gun background checks by requiring federal agencies and states to have plans ensuring they properly update the federal NICS database. This bill, forwarded by a 17-6 committee vote, is in response to the mass shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where the gunman was able to purchase firearms after the U.S. Air Force failed to provide vital information to the database.

“Following the horrific acts of violence in Sutherland Springs and Las Vegas, we must do all we can to prevent these tragedies from happening again,” Rutherford said. “Had our existing background check laws been enforced, the tragedy in Sutherland Springs could have been avoided altogether.”

Committee members include Republicans Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra and Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach. Deutch is the only Florida Democrat.

Gaetz, judiciary colleagues demand answers from FBI

The first-term Republican from Fort Walton Beach is asking the new FBI director to look into what happened with the Hillary Clinton email investigation conducted by his predecessor and whether President Trump treated unfairly.

In a letter to Director Christopher Wray, Gaetz and fellow Republicans Louis Gohmert of Texas and Andy Biggs of Arizona ask for an explanation why Deputy Director Andrew McCabe tagged the investigation as “special.”

Matt Gaetz still wants answers on the Hillary Clinton email scandal.

“As you are aware, the FBI has recently released emails in which the Hillary Clinton email investigation was called “special” by current FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe,” they wrote. “The substance of these emails triggers the oversight function of the Judiciary Committee upon which we serve. Specifically, special treatment for any American undermines the cherished principle of equal treatment for all under the rule of law.”

They referred to the way the so-called “Trump Dossier” was handled, asking specific questions of Wray. Among the questions was whether the FBI helped pay for some of the information in the dossier and was it used to obtain wiretap warrants.

Gaetz and his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee have previously called for a special counsel to look into the Uranium One deal as well as any role played by the Clinton Foundation. They also seek special counsel Robert Mueller’s removal from the ongoing Russia probe.

Wray is set to appear before the Judiciary Committee on Thursday. The letter asks for answers to their questions before that time.

Spotted

Gaetz on FOX Business Network’s “Making Money with Charles Payne” discussing the new developments in the GOP tax reform proposal.

Tyndall AFB gets new drone warfare wing

Florida will now be the headquarters of an important new drone warfare unit. The U.S. Air Force announced this week that Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City will be the location of its new MQ-9 Reaper wing.

Panama City Republican Neal Dunn was understandably thrilled with the announcement. Tyndall is part of Dunn’s 2nd Congressional District.

Neal Dunn is ‘thrilled’ a new drone warfare wing is coming to Tyndall Air Force Base. 

“The Air Force’s decision is a wise one for our national defense, and it will bring a tremendous boost to our region,” Dunn said in a statement. “Tyndall is a perfect location for this new wing, and this community will welcome the new airmen and their families who come to live and work here with open arms.”

Tyndall was chosen over a number of other bases in South Carolina, California, and Florida. Among those bases in contention was Eglin Air Force Base, located in the Panhandle District represented by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz.

Both Florida Senators praised the Air Force’s decision.

“This is a big win for not only for Panama City, but for the entire state of Florida,” Nelson said in a statement. “The 1,400 airmen and their families that will soon be heading to the area will provide a tremendous boost to the local economy.”

“I have long advocated for the Air Force to base the MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft in Florida, so I am very pleased it decided to do so,” Rubio said in a release. “Florida’s military community plays a vital role in defending our nation, and the Reaper system is a key component of the Air Force’s global intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.”

According to Rubio, 24 drone aircraft are part of the new wing.

DeSantis wants to end secret payouts by members

With more revelations involving sexual harassment coming out seemingly every day, Capitol Hill is struggling to figure out what to do. The Republican from Ponte Vedra is certain on one thing lawmakers must do.

The accusations against Michigan Democrat John Conyers revealed another subplot. Over the last two decades, more than $15 million in taxpayer funds were used to settle harassment claims and other misconduct.

Ron DeSantis wants to end taxpayer money for sexual harassment claims.

DeSantis, along with a bipartisan group of colleagues, believe the payouts are bad enough, but Congress keeps the details secret. He believes that must change.

“The American people need to know why is their money being paid out for these settlements,” he told Fox News’ Sandra Smith. “And it’s not all sexual harassment. There are other claims that are made under this system. We have to bar tax dollars that are going to pay for effectively private misconduct of members and staff.”

He is joining with bipartisan members to pass legislation to make these changes.

Delegation colleagues target weapons sales to Iran

With the problems constantly caused by the radical regime in Iran, the two Tampa Bay area representatives seek to discourage U.S. allies from lending any assistance. St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist and Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis this week introduced the No Arms Sales to Iran Act.

The bill would prohibit U.S. military assistance to any country that sells restricted weapons or technology to Iran. Its purpose is to discourage other nations from derailing efforts to isolate or contain the rogue nation’s aggressive actions.

Charlie Crist joined Gus Bilirakis in filing a bill to end weapon sales to Iran.

“Iran’s aggressive actions remain a threat to America, Israel, and the rest of the world, said Crist. “As the top state sponsor of terrorism, Iran’s nefarious pursuit of restricted weapons further destabilizes the region.

Bilirakis spoke of a worldwide commitment.

“Despite the Iran Deal, Iran continues to demonstrate its commitment to tyranny through its continued support and spread of terror in an effort to destabilize the Middle East,” he said. “As we work with allies to keep the pressure on Iran, we must ensure that our efforts are not being undermined by other nations and, if so, that they are exposed and held accountable.”

Soto pushes Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands rebuild bill

The first-term Democrat from Orlando is joining with colleagues to help introduce a bill in the House that would seek to provide comprehensive rebuilding money and resources for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands beyond what is needed to address just the devastated from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

Soto announced this week he would be joining fellow Democrats Stacy Plaskett from the Virgin Islands and Nydia Velázquez from New York in sponsoring the House version of a U.S. Senate bill announced late Tuesday. The Senate bill, dubbed by some as the “Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico,” is sponsored by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and co-sponsored by several Democratic U.S. senators.

“The people of Puerto Rico have been living in a nightmare for far too long,” says Darren Soto.

The Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act goes beyond just providing immediate humanitarian relief from the storms, which is still needed two months after the storm. Instead, it addresses long-term rebuilding of infrastructure including the schools and power systems, and equity in how the islanders are eligible for federal benefits, including Medicaid and Medicare.

“The people of Puerto Rico have been living in a nightmare for far too long,” Soto said. “We talk about power to the people. The people of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands need power! I am proud to support this legislation that will help the islands get the lights back on and their economies going again. As we look to rebuild the islands, we have an opportunity to become an energy model for the 21st century if we invest right.”

Among the bill’s benefits would be addressing Puerto Rico’s massive debt, replacing the island’s antiquated power grid, and putting Puerto Rico on equal footing with the 50 states when it comes to Medicare and Medicaid benefits, among others.

“We will stand with the American citizens of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands,” Sanders said in introducing his bill Tuesday. “We will rebuild those islands better than before the disasters devastated them.”

Soto joins LGBT seniors’ bill

A bill aimed at offering some specialized senior services for gay elders picked up Soto‘s cosponsorship to go along with four other Florida Democrat members of Congress, who’ve already signed on, sponsors Crist and Deutch of Boca Raton, along with co-sponsors Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach.

The “The Ruthie and Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2017” recognize that gay senior citizens likely have spent a lifetime in the shadows or faced harsh discrimination, and sets out to amend the 1965 Older Americans Act to provide study and services specific to the conditions of elderly gay people.

“With inadequate access to support and health care services, LGBT Americans are more likely to face isolation, poverty, and poor health outcomes as they age,” Crist explained.

All the sponsors and co-sponsors are Democrats, however, A similar bill in 2015 never even got assigned to a committee.

Murphy touts defense bill

There was Stephanie Murphy, Winter Park’s Democrat in Congress, standing beside Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, smiling at his quips, applauding his signature. When it comes to military spending, Democrats and Republicans at least try to look like they’re getting along.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee Murphy, Murphy joined Democrats and Republicans Thursday for Ryan’s certification of passage of the National Defense Authorization Act. Besides the photo op, the ceremony gave Murphy a chance to tout her own contributions.

The bill includes money she got inserted for Defense Department simulation and modeling research that is centered in her District 7 in Orange County, as well as other provisions that make it easier for small businesses to do business with the Defense Department, and to improve treatment of servicemen and women, she said.

Save the date

Curbelo gets another boost from AAN

 The second-term Republican from South Florida’s 26th District is being applauded for supporting the GOP tax plan in a new ad produced by American Action Network (AAN).

Curbelo is one of the most vulnerable House incumbents in the nation and has been the subject of several TV and radio ads this year by the group, which has ties to Republican House leadership.

American Action Network announced earlier this year that they would spend $20 million attempting to get the GOP tax plan passed. This is at least the fourth ad in some form (radio, digital and/or television) directed toward voters in CD 26, which spans a part of Miami down to Key West.

AAN previously targeted Curbelo and other Republicans to support proposals in the House of Representatives that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“What a country and what a day,” Curbelo said two weeks ago after casting a vote in support of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. “Today we are one step closer for tax relief for every American family.”

Curbelo is one of 29 House Republicans being thanked by the group in the latest $2.5 million ad buy.

DC’s Florida House is getting face-lift

The home-away-from-home for Floridians visiting Capitol Hill is in need of some upkeep. To help raise the necessary funds, they have started a campaign called “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”

Each year 10,000 people visit Florida hands to shake hands or just drop by “for a cold glass of Florida orange juice.” The 44-year-old building has developed a rattle or two as it ages, therefore requiring repairs.

Florida House, in Washington DC.

The pitch comes when Floridians are asked if they “will help us roll to a face-lift goal of $5,000.”

Florida House is located at Number One Second Street, near East Capitol Street near the U.S. Supreme Court.

Photo du jour

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump light National Christmas Tree.

 

Jacksonville Bold for 12.1.17 — So much winning

In this issue of Bold, there’s not a lot of unwelcome news.

Today, there’s:

Travis Hutson potentially ascending to Senate leadership.

— The local paper’s editorial board finally noticed Hutson’s Senate colleague, Rob Bradley.

— A popular local politician — Sheriff Mike Williams — is (finally) officially running for re-election.

— If you read far enough, you’ll find the latest “big idea” in Jacksonville politics — a potential privatization of the local utility.

— And two new Sumatran tiger cubs — a “critically endangered” species — were born at the Jacksonville Zoo.

Some issues of Bold — and undoubtedly many future ones — will be packed with scandal and drama.

This one, luckily for the local political class, is not.

6th Congressional District race has Duval flavor

Though Duval County is now comfortably north of Congressional District 6, it’s worth watching as — at least by proxy — it could be argued to be a Jacksonville seat.

Incumbent Ron DeSantis has not decided whether to run for re-election or run statewide, yet wife Casey Black DeSantis is and presumably will continue to be a fixture on Jacksonville television.

The likely Democratic nominee — Ambassador Nancy Soderberg — has been a longtime professor at the University of North Florida.

Jacksonville-based candidates are eyeing the 6th Congressional District seat.

And a potential GOP candidate — former Green Beret Mike Waltz — was an alumnus of Stanton High School (Go Blue Devils!)

At a time when Congressional District 5 (a seat currently held by Tallahassee’s Al Lawson) may or may not be in play for a Jacksonville politician such as former Mayor Alvin Brown, it’s worth watching to see if CD 6 will end up as a Jacksonville seat by proxy.

Read all about it here.

Travis Hutson on leadership track?

St. Johns County Sen. Hutson may be on the Senate Leadership track.

But it’s going to take some time to find out, as Florida Politics reported this week.

The two front-runners to be potential Senate Majority Leader in 2022 are Hutson and Tampa’s Dana Young, according to more than a dozen sources, including several members. Beyond Hutson and Young, sources say Dennis Baxley and Greg Steube should be seen as dark horses.

And we typically get these things right. Florida Politics was first to report about the conclusion of the race between current Senate President Joe Negron and one-time rival Jack Latvala, as well as the eventual outcome of the recently concluded contest for House Speaker beginning in 2022.

There’s a lot of time between now and the 2020 vote. However, Hutson atop the Senate and Renner atop the House would make for a unique and welcome convergence for Northeast Florida.

Paul Renner previews Legislative Session, talks harassment

Palm Coast Rep. Renner — a Jacksonville lawyer who chairs Ways and Means and is on track to be Speaker in 2022 — spoke to a crowd on the Southside Wednesday.

While Florida has “the right policies,” is headed in “the right direction” and has a “bright future,” the state nonetheless faces challenges.

Among those challenges: population growth, including a near-term influx from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico and long-term expectations that Florida could add 6 to 8 million people in the coming years. And roads and other infrastructural issues.

Paul Renner covered a lot of subjects Wednesday in Jacksonville.

Renner also discussed the pervasive issue of sexual harassment in Tallahassee.

“Two points: one is that human beings being are who they are, in any organization you’re going to have five to 10 percent who can’t help themselves in their personal conduct. We need to identify that and ask them to return home because they’ve lost the trust of the people who elected them,” Renner said.

Renner’s second point: term limits.

“You see some of these problems. You look at John Conyers in Congress: he’s 88 years old and has had some serious allegations against him,” Renner added. “Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, there’s a period of time after which people become co-opted, happier to be there than to do what the people sent them there to do.

“They’d rather spend time drinking scotch at the club or doing things that they don’t have any business doing than to do the people’s business,” Renner added. “Do I think that’s widespread among elected members? I do not. But it is an issue, it is a problem, and it’s something we have to take seriously. And as these things arise, it’s something we have to address.”

Staff boosts for Jay Fant AG campaign

When it comes to the GOP race for Attorney General, Fant is in it to win it.

Is Jay Fant for real? These new hires suggest yes.

Fant faces former circuit court judge Ashley Moody and fellow Republican Reps. Frank White and Ross Spano in the GOP primary for AG, and has seen his campaign lag in recent months as his rivals, particularly Moody and White, have picked up steam.

The Jacksonville Republican’s revamp effort includes bringing in Randy Enwright and Jim Rimes of Enwright Consulting Group to lead his political team and turning to The Tarrance Group for polling. Former Rick Scott communications chief Melissa Stone is also coming on board via Cavalry Strategies.

Fant is also going all in on advertising with the Strategy Group, which helped President Donald Trump last election cycle and have worked on 11 other Attorney General campaigns nationwide.

Josh Cooper’s Strategic Information Consultants will be handling opposition research, while Strategic Digital Services, founded by Matthew Farrar and Joe Clements, will handle the digital media operations.

Fant has messaged to the right of the field, but has seen his credibility hamstrung by a shoestring operation. Now that problem has been solved.

Fant wants Franken gone

Rep. Fant — as is often the case — is holding forth on issues beyond the state Legislature in which he serves, and the Attorney General’s office in which he would like to serve.

Fant’s latest rhetorical broadside: a full-throttle smackdown on Sen. Franken, accused of letting his hands wander during photo ops.

Fant wants Franken gone.

No affirmations for Al Franken from Rep. Jay Fant.

“Senator Marco Rubio said yesterday that Senator Al Franken should resign, and I fully agree with him on this. Senator Franken has already admitted to mistreating women in a way that would be offensive to come from any person, but is completely out-of-bounds for an elected official representing our public trust. He must go,” Fant said.

“As the father of two daughters, I am sickened by public officials misusing the power of their office for harassment. Sexual harassment is wrong in any workplace,” Fant added, “but is especially disgusting when it involves someone who represents the public trust.”

Fant is embroiled in a crowded four-way race for the GOP nomination for Attorney General. Two of his opponents — White and Spano — are House colleagues. A third competitor, Moody, is a retired Hillsborough County judge.

Times-Union gives props to Bradley

Sen. Bradley was lauded by the Florida Times-Union editorial board last month, and — as it ran during the Thanksgiving holiday — some of our readers may have missed it.

The Times-Union issued plaudits for Rob Bradley, even as future of Tallahassee coverage in question.

Bradley, the current Senate Appropriations Chair, was celebrated for sponsoring a bill that would earmark $100 million for the state’s “Florida Forever” conservation program.

If this sounds like déjà vu, it’s probably because Florida Politics wrote about the bill two months ago.

“This ought to be easy. Florida voters approved that funding by a whopping 75 percent vote three years ago. But the Legislature has a maddening habit of ignoring the will of the voters,” the T-U ed board remarked.

With the Times-Union yet to announce a replacement for the respected Tia Mitchell, it will be interesting to see how the Jacksonville paper covers Bradley — and the Florida Legislature — in 2018.

Kim Daniels settles disputed election spending

Rep. Daniels cut a deal this week with the Florida Elections Commission. She will spend $1,500 to settle claims that she paid campaign money from her 2015 Jacksonville City Council re-election bid on promoting her book, “The Demon Dictionary.”

Rep. Kim Daniels spent campaign money … to support Rev. Kim Daniels’ book. But all is forgiven now.

As Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly reported in February 2015, Daniels spent $4,000 of campaign funds to promote her book, The Demon Dictionary, in a religious magazine called Shofar.

Daniels also offered editorials in the magazine, and no disclaimers marking the communiqué as campaign communications were included.

A local activist/journalist, David Vandygriff of JaxGay.com, filed an FEC complaint, and in March 2016, staff recommended to the commission that there was probable cause to believe that an election code violation might have occurred.

Daniels faces no opposition thus far in her 2018 bid for re-election.

Second Democrat jumps into HD 15 fight

Many connected Jacksonville Democrats are solidly behind Tracye Polson in her bid to replace Fant in House District 15.

But to get to the general election against a Republican (Wyman Duggan is the only one to have filed yet), Polson must fend off a primary challenge.

Tracye Polson will have to beat a primary challenger to get to the general election.

Jacksonville Democrat Matt McAllister filed last month for the seat.

McAllister is an unknown quantity for local Dems; Polson, meanwhile, has hosted fundraisers for Sen. Bill Nelson and the Duval County Democratic Party.

Mike Williams files for re-election

Jacksonville Sheriff Williams filed for re-election Tuesday, opening a campaign account and launching an operation well ahead of the 2019 vote.

Can Mike Williams be beaten? So far no one has filed against him.

Despite the formal filing for re-election, it’s clear that Williams has been working in that direction for months.

Williams’ political committee, “A Safe Jacksonville,” has raised $154,000, and has $131,000 on hand.

The committee’s spending in September and October reflected a nascent re-election campaign, with a $10,000 October spend with Jacksonville consultant Bruce Barcelo on constituent polling, after a September spend of $8,900 with Data Targeting Research for the same.

While we don’t have access to the internal polls, the most recent public poll shows that Sheriff Williams is popular, with 67 percent approval countywide … including 60 percent of Democrats.

Bad trip? Or hit piece?

The Florida Times-Union offered a long-form look at the political symbiosis between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan.

The Shad Khan/Lenny Curry connection was a long read on Thanksgiving weekend.

The subtext may be more interesting than the text.

Historically, there has been a pattern when the T-U would go in on Curry’s administration on one issue or another; a Cold War of some length, followed by rapprochement.

“Curry’s current travel practices have blown up the old system,” writes the T-U’s Nate Monroe, who adds that “Curry considers himself a reform mayor who championed hard-won changes to the old ways of doing business, often touting his interest in increased transparency and accountability for the massive consolidated government he oversees. But Curry might be sidestepping that goal when it comes to his own office.”

In a media market like this, with a few dedicated City Hall reporters between print and television, the relationship between Curry and the local paper is worth watching. While the T-U editorial board is pretty much on lock, the news side is more skeptical — as Monroe’s article suggests.

Curry faces no imminent challenges to re-election, and — as compared to Alvin Brown, who attempted to stay above politics — is exceedingly well prepared for a re-election campaign.

But the path forward can get more treacherous if articles like this one occlude the larger narrative.

Tree canopy tango

Jacksonville City Councilman John Crescimbeni introduced legislation this week that opposes a state bill (HB 521/SB 574) that would cut the heart out of the city’s protections of its tree canopy.

John Crescimbeni struck a blow for home rule with his recent tree bill.

The state bill, filed by Republican Greg Steube in the Senate and Democrat Katie Edwards in the House, would prohibit cities such as Jacksonville from stopping landowners from removing trees located on their own private property.

Crescimbeni’s Jacksonville City Council bill (2017-822) contends that the legislation is “harmful to the environment and contrary to the overwhelming wishes of Jacksonville citizens,” and that the state legislation is an “assault on home rule.”

The Crescimbeni bill, if it moves through committee, will be voted up or down by the full Council in 2018.

Price of sex discrimination to be paid by Jax taxpayers

WJXT reported on the city of Jacksonville getting ready to dole out almost half a million dollars to settle two sex discrimination cases.

“The city tried unsuccessfully to get both lawsuits dismissed, and in each case, the city’s general counsel said the agreed upon settlement would be far less than what the city might have to pay after a jury trial and lengthy court battle,” reports WJXT’s Jim Piggott.

For a taste of what these women had to endure, consider the example of 65-year-old Deborah Jones, a jail employee.

Jones claimed her boss called her an “old, demented, worthless whore” and who “didn’t need to worry about inmates hanging around a dark parking lot because ‘they don’t rape old, ugly women.’”

Reggie Gaffney raises $10K in re-election bid

It appears that, despite issues during his first two years in office, that Jacksonville City Councilman Gaffney will have the resources he needs to best lightly-funded opponents.

Four more years of photo-ops for gaffe-prone Reggie Gaffney?

October revealed fundraising that, while slow compared to many other candidates in the city, dwarfs opponents in Council District 7, which includes Downtown, Springfield and points north.

Gaffney brought in $9,100 in October, pushing him to $10,100 raised — with all but $228 of that cash on hand.

Gaffney’s money came in chunks: $2,500 in three checks from local dog track interests; $2,000 from three property management entities housed at the same address (437 E Monroe St. Ste 100); and $2,000 more from two property management companies with the same post office box in Yulee.

One opponent has $1,800 banked; the other has $0 in reserve.

Privatize JEA? Tom Petway says yes.

The big news out of Tuesday’s meeting of Jacksonville’s JEA Board wasn’t on the agenda.

Tom Petway delivered a ‘mic drop’ moment while leaving the JEA Board.

Board member Petway — one of the earliest supporters of the candidacy of Jacksonville Mayor Curry — announced his intention to leave the board Dec. 31. And he revived a major conceptual proposal on his way out.

Petway suggested that perhaps the time has come for the municipal utility to move into a “private sector marketplace” model.

“The majority of people in Florida are served by a private-sector marketplace,” Petway said, asking the board to consider where JEA “fits” in that emergent paradigm.

At a press availability Wednesday, Curry further discussed the audacious proposal by one of his staunchest political supporters.

“[Petway and] I’ve had abstract conversations about challenging the utility to think big,” Curry said. “Numerous times.”

“I’ve been about reform, challenge, changing the status quo,” Curry added. “And he certainly challenged the organization to think big yesterday.”

This concept has been floated twice in the last decade, and couldn’t get traction.

However, some City Councilors — notably, Council liaison to JEA Matt Schellenberg and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — are receptive, even as Council President Anna Brosche wants to know more.

This will be a 2018 story to watch.

Duval Dems Chair race to wrap Monday

Earlier this month, State Sen. Audrey Gibson — the next Caucus leader for Senate Democrats — resigned as chair of the Duval County Democratic Party.

Two candidates have emerged in the hopes of replacing Gibson.

The names: Lisa King, the county party committeewoman who lost a race for state chair to freshly-resigned Stephen Bittel; and Hazel Gillis, VP of the Duval Dems’ Black Caucus.

Lisa King is one of two Duval DEC chair candidates.

“Democrats can win elections in Jacksonville. To do so,” King said, “we must be brave, build trust and be ready to work.”

Gillis, in an email announcing her bid, noted that she will “work diligently to unify our party and work for inclusion.”

The party will choose Monday evening.

Scott reappoints two to Jacksonville Aviation Authority

Gov. Rick Scott announced the reappointment of Patrick Kilbane and Giselle Carson to the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.

Kilbane, 38, of Jacksonville, is a financial adviser with Ullmann Brown Wealth Advisors. He received his law degree from the University of Notre Dame. Kilbane is reappointed for a term beginning ending Sept. 30, 2021.

Carson, 49, of Jacksonville, is an attorney and shareholder with Marks Gray PA. Carson received her bachelor’s degree from McGill University and her law degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law. Carson is reappointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2021.

Wildlight UF Health facility plans filed

Wildlight LLC has filed plans with the St. Johns River Water Management District this week for a proposed University of Florida health and fitness complex at Wildlight, the master-planned community in Nassau County.

Karen Mathis of the Jacksonville Daily Record reports that Wildlight developer Raydient Places + Properties and UF is seeking to construct two medical office buildings, with parking facilities, on 6.38 acres in Yulee at Florida A1A and William Burgess Boulevard.

In August, Raydient — Rayonier Inc.’s real estate subsidiary — and UF announced groundbreaking would begin in 2018.

UF and UF Health said Wildlight is the first step in a multiyear project is to build the community’s first health care facility on Florida A1A.

Plans include a 23,331-square-foot medical office building and a 5,888-square-foot building. GAI Consultants of Jacksonville is serving as the project agent.

Wildlight is a 2,900-acre development with 7 million square feet of office, commercial, medical, industrial and residential space. The project will include 3,200 residential units.

Originally in downtown Jacksonville, Rayonier moved its headquarters to Wildlight, a new town that it refers to as “Florida Lowcountry.”

In all, Wildlight will offer homes, townhomes and rental apartments along with shops, restaurants, parks, gardens, playgrounds, a new elementary school that opened and a trail and pathway system to connect it.

JTA holiday bus offers free rides, candy canes, music

Weekdays through December 22, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) is offering a special holiday bus, located on any one of its routes during the holiday season.

If you find the holiday bus, you can ride for free.

JTA says riders on this holiday bus will also get holiday music, candy canes, and decorations.

For more information on the holiday bus, contact JTA customer service at (904) 630-3100.

Jacksonville Zoo celebrates birth of endangered Sumatran tiger cubs

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is celebrating the healthy birth of two critically endangered Sumatran tiger cubs. The cubs’ mother, 6-year-old Dorcas, gave birth at 11:40 a.m. November 20. The tigers’ keepers were able to keep an eye on the process using a closed-circuit camera system.

Both cubs are male; they are the second litter for Dorcas and father, Berani. The Zoo’s first Sumatran tiger birth in its 102-year history is big sister Kinleigh Rose, born on November 19, 2015 — two years and a day before the arrival of her little brothers.

“One of the biggest pleasures as the Zoo’s tiger-management program evolves, is watching the effect that it has on the wellness of our animals,” said Dan Dembiec, Supervisor of Mammals. “Dorcas started out as a skittish and shy tigress, but she is now a confident and skilled mother.  She is a natural at providing her cubs with the necessary care to help them develop, and this is reflective of the care that she has received from the staff at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.”

The cubs received their first medical exam on November 28. Zoo Animal Health staff were able to quickly and efficiently examine the cubs because of the exceptional bonding and training the keeper staff has conducted with the mother. Dorcas was willing and trusting to be separated from the cubs at the request of the keepers.

Did hotel CEO really have to humblebrag about post-Irma profits?

Marriott International, among other major hotel and hospitality chains, did a very respectable job during Hurricane Irma.

As the September storm forced many in South Florida to seek shelter points North, hotels and other services – like home-sharing Airbnb — stepped up in a big way to offer accommodations for victims and relief workers.

For that, we give hearty thanks to both Marriott and its President and CEO, Arne M. Sorenson.

Nevertheless, did Sorenson really have to humblebrag about how Irma (and Harvey before that) were great for Marriott’s bottom line?

In an earnings call Nov. 5, Sorenson noted that though the company’s budget process was not yet completed for the upcoming year, early indications show “growth will be similar to growth expected for 2017.”

He followed that up with this: “It’s a little bit counterintuitive, maybe … the impact of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, not counting the Caribbean, were a net positive in September, not a net negative.”

Net positive? Good to hear, Arne.

 

 

In all fairness, Sorenson did preface that statement with some sobering words about Marriott’s “eventful” third quarter – from Hurricane Harvey and its “historic flooding” in Texas, to hurricanes Irma and Maria and the destruction in the Caribbean, Florida and parts of the southeast, as well as two earthquakes in Mexico and devastating fires in Northern California, all within a seven-week period.

“We have a presence in these communities, and our crisis management and property teams have worked tirelessly to ensure associate, guest and property safety,” Sorenson said. “Not only have these events damaged property and upended lives, they have also impacted local economies, many of which are very dependent on tourism.”

“As these areas repair, rebuild and recover, we encourage you to support their efforts.”

In the leadup to Irma’s slog across Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott launched a campaign to warn companies against price gouging – and implied that everyone (particularly the hospitality industry) to do the right thing.

And while many would agree Marriott did the right thing, somehow, by increasing profits in the storm’s aftermath, Sorenson’s words feel (just a little bit) wrong.

“Probably, most dramatically so in Texas where that was one of the weakest markets we had in the United States for the last year or two years, and fairly quickly, within days, recovery efforts are beginning and people who are looking for housing are filling up hotels,” Sorenson concluded. “And so, the Houston market and Florida market drove a bit of the outperformance in Q3.”

What else are we supposed to think when a CEO humblebrags Harvey and Irma-related profits?

Of course, Marriott did earn its accolades for being there to support communities affected by the hurricanes.

But did it have to be such a “win-win” for Sorenson and Marriott, when Floridians and Texans lost so much?

Jacksonville Bold for 11.17.17 — Time for reflection

A frenetic year in Jacksonville politics — including the passage of the Human Rights Ordinance expansion, pension reform, and the Kids Hope Alliance — is ending.

And not a moment too soon.

The Jacksonville City Council meeting this week had nothing on the agenda was worth covering, even by the standards of our Jacksonville correspondent.

A superbug was going through Council, anyway, and at least one member was absent while another member fought the lingering cold — so it was just as well that they didn’t discuss hot-button issues.

At Bold, we are taking full advantage of the lull in the calendar — with no new issue this Thanksgiving.

We will be with our families, as you will, and we will think of what’s important — the real bonds that give meaning to the often-surreal world of politics.

Rick Scott drops budget in Duval

Gov. Scott released his final budget this week in Jacksonville, an $87.4B proposal with “historic” funding in any number of categories.

Rick Scott trumpeted more JAXPORT funding in his Jacksonville stop.

Throughout Scott’s remarks, there was a common theme: “historic investments” in area after area, a policy justified by an economy that is booming — on the macro level at least — as his eight years in Tallahassee near a close.

“We’ll have historic investments in education, historic investments in transportation, historic investments in the environment, and historic investments in helping those with disabilities,” Scott added. “On top of that, we’re all going to reward our law enforcement officers.”

Some new announcements were made for the Jacksonville market also, including a “historic $10.8 billion for transportation, including significant funding for Jacksonville, including the deepening of JAXPORT.”

Roy Moore accusations ‘disgusting,’ Scott says

Florida Politics was the first media outlet to ask Scott about Moore, the Alabama Senate candidate under fire for dating underage women while he was district attorney decades back.

Here’s what he told us exclusively in Jacksonville Tuesday: “If any of it’s true, he’s got to get out of the race.”

Roy Moore allegations are ‘disgusting,’ says Rick Scott.

“This is not partisan. This is about doing the right thing, and when I think about the things in Hollywood, I think about my daughters. And when I think about this, I think about my grandkids.”

“When my daughters were teenagers,” Scott continued, “I was worried about where they were. So, when you hear reports like this, they’re disgusting. So, if there’s any truth to any of this, he’s got to get out of the race.”

“Every voter, every citizen, every taxpayer deserves to have their elected officials live up to high standards. When you read the stories like this, whether the thing’s in Alabama or Tallahassee or D.C. or California,” Scott said, “you think about your family, and you think about how disgusting it is and you hope it would never happen to anybody.”

Audrey Gibson drops Duval Dems chair

On Monday evening, State Sen. Gibson — the next Caucus leader for Senate Democrats — resigned as chair of the Duval County Democratic Party.

Audrey Gibson spent a year in the chair. Are Duval Dems ready for 2018?

“As you may know,” Gibson wrote in an email to local Democrats, “last week I was elected Leader Designate of the Senate Democrat Caucus. I am deeply honored and realize the efforts I must give to winning more Dem seats will require 100 percent plus of my focus.”

Gibson thought the year she was chair was successful, noting that having “candidates ready to run” was among the party’s successes.

A new chair will be chosen Dec. 4.

Clay Yarborough pushes for FSCJ STEM $$$

Florida State College Jacksonville made an ambitious ask to the Duval County Legislative Delegation: $12 million PECO money for a downtown STEM building.

Jacksonville Republican State Rep. Yarborough will carry that one to Tallahassee, via a bill filed Monday.

Clay Yarborough will carry FSCJ’s top priority this year.

Per the appropriations request, the project will “accommodate the space and growth needs for the College’s STEM programs that focus on public and private sector-identified regional workforce needs.”

“The facility will help the region meet its workforce targets and will help citizens in the community get connected with affordable degree and certificate programs that will lead to employment opportunities,” the request continues.

The $12 million would allow for demolition and replacement of facilities on the college’s downtown campus, the request continues, and unspecified “major employers” in the Jacksonville region would attest to the utility of the project.

Jason Fischer files ‘Smart Cities Initiative’

A bill (“the Florida Smart City Challenge Grant Program”) filed Monday in the Florida Legislature would offer state grant money, via the Florida Department of Transportation, as an incentive for local solutions to transportation challenges.

Fischer filed the House version, HB 633; Republican Jeff Brandes is carrying the Senate version.

Jason Fischer proposes more ‘Smart Cities.’

“Florida’s transportation system is inefficient and faces many challenges, but we can overcome them by embracing innovative technologies and thinking differently about how we plan our communities. This bill will provide cities and counties throughout Florida the opportunity to leverage technology and private investment to re-imagine mobility solutions not just for businesses but also for seniors, people with disabilities and other underserved individuals,” Fischer said.

A wide swath of agencies would qualify for funding; in particular, any governmental body responsible for the movement of goods and services in Florida, including local governments, but also TPOs and state universities.

Money, power, respect

In October fundraising for this region’s representation in Tallahassee, what was clear: correlation between stroke and checks.

Palm Coast Rep. Paul Renner in HD 24 is on track to the House Speaker post. And Northeast Florida’s brightest hope in the House is also favored by donors outside the region.

Paul Renner won the money race in Northeast Florida last month.

Proof positive: the impressive October hauls of Renner’s two political committees, “Florida Foundation for Liberty” and “Conservatives for Principled Leadership.” They brought in $108,000 — much more than an incumbent running in a deep-red seat against an underfunded Democrat needs for re-election.

Also doing well: Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley. While not up for re-election, his fundraising was notable.

“Working for Florida’s Families,” Bradley’s political committee, reached a milestone with a $40,000 October, clearing $500,000 cash on hand.

Sen. Aaron Bean raised $36,000 between his committee and his campaign.

Except for Kim Daniels, who raised nothing and Cord Byrd, who raised just $2,000, virtually every other incumbent in the region did well.

The single open seat — in HD 15 — is competitive so far.

HD 15 Republican Wyman Duggan had a strong month:  $20,500 in October, bringing him to $84,600 raised, with nearly $77,000 on hand. Democrat Tracye Polson kept pace.

She brought in $14,090 off 64 contributions in October, bringing her total raised to $65,189, with over $64,000 of that on hand. Her committee has another $12,000 banked, giving her $76,000 raised.

Not doing well in October: Attorney General candidate Jay Fant, who brought in $12,000 between his committee and campaign accounts. Luckily, a $750,000 personal loan buys him time, but opponents Ashley Moody and Frank White are well ahead when it comes to donor and endorser interest.

Big debuts for Jax Council hopefuls

Two new Jacksonville City Council candidates made huge splashes in their first months on the trail. And one political veteran started a bit slow.

Bill Bishop is still getting his fundraising into gear, as October receipts show.

Well-connected District 5 hopeful LeAnna Cumber brought in $101,775 last month in her bid to succeed termed-out Lori Boyer. Cumber’s entry into the race has been discussed for some time, and with that kind of money, the Tim Baker/Brian Hughes team deploying it, and a Democrat opponent with $400 on hand, she’s the front-runner.

Also starting off strong: currently unopposed Beaches candidate Rory Diamond, who brought in $85,326, and retained just over $82,000 of such as cash on hand.

Off to a slow start: former Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop, with less than blistering fundraising in his first month against Ron Salem in At-Large District 2.

Bishop had a respectable first month — bringing in $13,325 off 24 contributions — though Salem almost matched him, with $11,125 collected.

Salem has just under $114,000 cash on hand, and it will be worth watching to see how Bishop closes the cash gap.

Lenny Curry talks D.C. trip, ‘relationship building’

Florida Politics caught up with Jacksonville Mayor Curry, and the main topic of conversation was his trip last week to Washington, D.C.

The Hart Bridge project is a priority of Lenny Curry — for a number of reasons.

Curry met with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as well as Billy Kirkland and Justin Clark, who handle intergovernmental affairs for the White House, U.S. Reps. John Rutherford and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Sen. Marco Rubio.

The primary goal of that trip: discussing the $25 million grant from the Department of Transportation that would allow the city to reconfigure off ramps from the Hart Bridge onto surface streets, allowing for more efficient movement of goods to and from the port.

And Curry, along with his team, made the pitch.

The in-person meeting, Curry said, had invaluable advantages, as a “face to face meeting” with the right people is inherently more meaningful than just presenting a paper with project specs and scope.

Curry recounted the case he made against the current configuration.

Its age makes it a “dinosaur” regarding design, one with safety issues that mandate changes.

The FDOT Study of the bridge conducted this year revealed the benefit to the port, another key benefit to the project.

The economic development for Bay Street the new traffic pattern would spawn, Curry said, was “gravy” — not the primary purpose of the project that some have suggested.

But the trip was about more than selling the project, Curry said. It’s about “long-term relationship building” as well, on this issue but others.

Jax councilors, mayor’s office discouraged from texting

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche revised the council’s texting policy to include official “discouragement” of texts between legislators and the Mayor’s Office during meetings.

The power struggle continues in Jacksonville City Hall.

Brosche says it’s about transparent government.

“The impetus for change is transparency, open government, and equal access. During our meetings, all Council members and, more importantly, the public should be part of the conversations taking place regarding legislation actively being debated,” Brosche said.

Brosche also noted that administration members have been texting Council members during meetings.

“While I have observed colleagues receiving texts from the administration during meetings, I am going to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that such communications were not about active legislation. My revision of the policy is a proactive measure to uphold the principles of transparency and open government and allow all Council Members and the public to know they are participating in all communications happening during Council meetings.”

The Mayor’s Office is OK with this, meanwhile.

“The mayor has always said he respects the Council and Council President’s roles in conducting themselves and setting policies as they see fit. The mayor has also been a proponent of transparency and accountability, and is always encouraged to see practices that support that,” asserted a statement from his office.

The mayor’s office and Brosche have clashed on various issues since she took over the presidency in July.

MLK breakfast troubles

First Coast News reports that the local NAACP and Southern Christian Leadership Conference have no interest in participating in Jacksonville’s Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast next year.

MLK Jr. birthday breakfast this year may go on without key civil rights groups.

The question they are asking: “What’s in it for the SCLC? What’s in it for the NAACP?”

At issue: economic disparity and resource allocation, with the civil rights groups claiming “One City One Jacksonville” is just a slogan — not a policy.

For its part, the Mayor’s Office contends that it has been making good faith efforts to meet with the local leaders of both groups, and has included them on the event host committee.

Revealed in 2017’s breakfast is a gap in rhetoric between the Mayor’s Office and the pastoral community. After that event, a boycott was threatened, per WJCT.

Opioid lawsuit imminent

Jacksonville soon may be one of the many governments suing Big Pharma in reaction to the opiate crisis.

Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel is vetting so-called “prestigious” law firms, with a decision expected early in December.

Jax mulls big suit against Big Pharma.

Earlier this year, the Jacksonville City Council approved a resolution OKing legal action.

“The general counsel’s approved it, and I don’t feel like there’s any impediment,” Gulliford said.

The city has absorbed real costs from the opioid epidemic.

Overdoses, at last count, end four times as many lives as homicides in Duval County, with 2016’s number of 464 casualties more than doubling 2015’s number of 201.

Caucasians represent 86 percent of the deaths, and over half of those passing away are in their 30s and 40s.

And things could get worse: a fentanyl derivative being used to cut heroin in the Ohio Valley doesn’t respond to Narcan.

What Aaron Bean is up to in November

On Friday, Nov. 17, the Fernandina Beach Republican will speak at the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the Sertoma Speech & Hearing Foundation’s new mobile audiology services van, which will provide pediatric hearing screenings and dispense hearing aids. That event begins 1 p.m. at the Hidden Hills Learning Tree, 12160 Fort Caroline Road in Jacksonville.

On Wednesday, Nov. 22, Bean will appear at the dedication of a memorial for Nassau County Deputy Eric Oliver, on the anniversary of his death in 2016 by a hit-and-run driver. The dedication begins at 7:30 a.m., 463779 FL-200 in Yulee.

Then, on Nov. 28, Bean will give a speech to members of the Downtown Business Professional Group and offer an update on the upcoming 2018 Legislative Session. The meeting starts 7 a.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Drive in Jacksonville.

Local veteran honored in Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame

Colonel Len Loving, United States Marine Corps (Ret.) and CEO of Five STAR Veterans Center, will be honored in the State of Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

The State of Florida began the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame in 2013 to recognize and honor military veterans who, through their works and lives during or after military service, have made a significant contribution to the State of Florida. In selecting its nominees, the Council has given preference to veterans who were either born in Florida or adopted Florida as their home state.

Colonel Len Loving, United States Marine Corps (Retired) and CEO of Five STAR Veterans Center, is the newest member of the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame.

In 1986, Loving founded the Marine Corps Blount Island Command, in Jacksonville, which has become a major economic engine in Northeast Florida. He was the Commanding Officer until his retirement in 1989.

In 2011, Loving began building and opening the Five STAR Veterans Center, where he continues to serve as CEO. The center gives food, housing, assistance securing veteran benefits, financial, mental health services provided by the Delores Barr Weaver Fund, and more to 30-plus homeless veterans monthly.

Loving has been chosen for the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame due to his positive impact on Florida’s most at-risk veterans and their families by 1) opening what is now the Five STAR Veterans Center, 2) going many extra miles to keep the doors open, and 3) making a lasting, life-altering impact on those who are most significantly affected by their years in service and have nowhere else to turn.

Today, five years after opening the doors, 199 veterans have lived at and benefited from the Five STAR Veterans Center; 35 veterans currently live at the center, and by January 2018 the center expects to reach their capacity of 39 veterans.

JAXPORT to expand vehicle-handling capacity

JAXPORT is beginning construction of a new automobile processing terminal, the first part of a multiyear project to increase the port’s vehicle-handling capacity 25 percent.

Once completed, the facility will add more than 100 acres of processing and storage space on JAXPORT’s Dames Point Marine Terminal, offering vessels direct waterside access for loading and unloading with major interstates less than 1 mile away plus the potential for rail capabilities.

After a record-breaking year, JAXPORT is expanding its vehicle handling capacity by 25 percent.

The expansion follows a year of highest-ever vehicle volumes at JAXPORT. In 2017, the port moved record 693,000 total units. With the port’s three auto processors and location in the heart of the nation’s fastest-growing auto consumer market, JAXPORT his responding to the increased demand for vehicle space.

“The steady growth of our auto business speaks volumes about our efficiencies,” said Roy Schleicher, JAXPORT Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. “We are committed to supporting our auto partners with the tools they require to continue to expand their businesses in Jacksonville.”

Jacksonville Zoo Breakfast with Santa

On the weekend of Dec. 2-3, Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens members and their families can enjoy a delicious breakfast buffet, and become among the first to tell Santa their holiday wishes. New this year: Breakfast will take place at the Shaba Terrace at Main Camp.

Members Only Breakfast with Santa begins 8 a.m., and costs $8 per member, ages 3 and up.

Those with a friend, 1 adult family + 1, family + 1 or family + 2 membership may bring the corresponding number of guests. A limited number of tickets will be sold on a first come, first served basis. More information available at Jacksonvillezoo.org.

It’s ‘Us vs. Tallahassee’ in Philip Levine’s first TV ad

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine says it’s “Us versus Tallahassee” in his first TV ad for the 2018 Florida governor’s race.

Released Thursday, Levine’s political committee All About Florida produced the ad, titled “Lead.”

The 30-second spot, which introduces the Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s vision for Florida, comes is part of an $800,000 ad buy across the state. The campaign will run for five weeks.

In it, Levine offers a direct message, senior adviser Christian Ulvert said in a statement Thursday announcing the ad, with a “call to action to do the right thing.”

“This election cycle will come down to which candidate puts forward a bold agenda and can back it up with an actual record of getting things done,” Ulvert added.

In the spot, Levine criticizes “Tallahassee” twice — the home of two of his Democratic opponents, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Mayor Andrew Gillum.

“Here in Florida, it’s time … to address climate change by addressing Tallahassee’s climate of denial. It’s time to restore power back to the level where people live, instead of Tallahassee, where politicians live,” Levine said.

“It’s time to make a day’s pay enough to avoid a lifetime of dread. Why a living wage? Because it’s the right thing to do.”

 

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