Bill Rufty, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 12

Bill Rufty

Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”

Cook Political Report puts CD 15 in play for Democrats

An open seat in Florida’s 15th Congressional District, held by a Republican since 1984, could be in play for Democrats and Kristen Carlson is the front-runner in the Democrats’ primary, according to the latest assessment by the authoritative Cook Political Report.

The report, which analyses congressional elections, has lowered its assessment of the race in the district, from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

Part of the reason is the disarray and competition among Republicans, the report indicates.

Five Republicans are competing for their party’s nomination for the general election to replace U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, who is not running for re-election.

But the report narrows the front-runners for the GOP to Rep. Ross Spano of Tampa and former Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City.

Left unsaid is that the race of the two front-runners mirrors the competition in the party between Polk County, which has had control of the district for decades and Hillsborough County, which after the last redistricting, has the most voters in the district.

Carlson, a former general counsel for the Citrus Commission and current counsel for citrus juice producers, joined the race two days before the qualifying deadline. She is running against Navy veteran Andrew Learned of Valrico and aviation instructor and retired police detective Ray Pena of Lakeland, both of whom have been in the race for more than a year.

She has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, a national organization that promotes and supports the election of women to Congress and state legislatures. In part, because of the endorsement, she has amassed a campaign war chest of almost a quarter of a million dollars, larger than any Democrat or Republican in the race.

Learned has also acquired campaign funds close to $200,000. The primary might also be a Hillsborough-Polk race on the Democratic side too.

However, the Cook Political Report notes:

“This district is well within the strike zone of plausible Democratic targets, and Carlson’s experience with citrus could make her formidable in November, particularly if Republicans struggle to unite.”

Kristen Carlson - CD 15

Kristen Carlson begins running TV, mail ads in CD 15

Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson has begun major ad campaigns this week in her quest for Florida’s 15th Congressional District seat that covers portions of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties.

Television ads featuring school children and Carlson began running on Facebook and in the regional areas of MSNBC and CNN. A former general counsel for the Florida Citrus Commission, Carlson discusses her role in exposing and stopping out-of-state orange juice manufacturers of tampering with their product sold in Florida.

At the time the Citrus Commission found the companies added sugar, diluted the juice (and thus the nutritional benefits) and possibly added harmful fillers to the juice.

Campaign manager Conor Hurley said the television ad buy was about $28,000.

In the same week, direct mail ads for Carlson are arriving at homes of registered Democrats in the district. Carlson is competing against Ray Pena of Lakeland and Andrew Learned of Valrico for the Democratic nomination.

On the Republican side, five candidates are seeking their party’s nomination for the post. Among them is former state Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City, whose campaign like Carlson’s started ads on Facebook first. But Combee said his campaign now is evaluating costs versus results before deciding to put the ads on television.

Progressive veterans group endorses Andrew Learned in CD 15

VoteVets, an organization of military veterans who identify themselves as progressives, has endorsed Democrat Andrew Learned of Valrico for the open seat for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Founded in 2006, the Political Action Committee defines its mission as electing veterans to public office, focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and “hold public officials accountable for their words and actions that impact America’s 21st-century troops and veterans.”

Learned, has served nine years as an officer in the U.S. Navy, including three Middle East deployments, and is currently a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve.

“Tampa has a chance to send a new generation of leadership, and true patriotic public servant, to the United States Congress, to stand up for Tampa’s working families,” Jerry Green, Florida Outreach Director for VoteVets, said in the group’s endorsement release.

CD 15 includes portions of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties.

Ross Spano

Ross Spano picks up Marco Rubio, Pam Bondi endorsements in CD 15

Republican state Rep. Ross Spano of Tampa received what could be a major boost Thursday in his six-way Republican Primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District with an endorsement by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Earlier, Spano’s campaign released a poll showing he was 12 points ahead of his closest competitor, former state Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City. But with six Republicans running for their Party’s nod to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, someone could when with only 25 percent of the vote, making the race still a tossup.

The Rubio endorsement could be an aid in getting higher than that 25 percent.

“It is certainly an honor and I think it validates the very hard work done by our grassroots organizing,“ Spano said. “I am more energized than ever after this.”

Rubio said Spano has a proven history of advancing conservative values and his credentials as a member of the Florida House.

Spano also has picked up the endorsement from Attorney General Pam Bondi as well as three Polk County Commissioners, in part because of what they called Combee’s meddling in the election to choose his successor to his House seat.

CD 15 includes portions of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties. The winner of the Aug. 28 primary will face the winner of the three-way Democratic primary in the general election.

Denise Grimsley

‘Cow cuddling’? Denise Grimsley talks agritourism at Polk Tiger Bay

Who would pay $300 to hug a cow?

Enough people to save the family farm, state Sen. Denise Grimsley told a luncheon of the Polk County Tiger Bay Club on Tuesday.

Agritourism will be a key component of her policies to save Florida agriculture if elected Agriculture Commissioner, the Zolfo Springs Republican said.

“I had a constituent tell me she had some people coming to her ranch and pay $300 to cuddle a cow,” she said when asked by a club member about agritourism.

“I had never heard of that before, but when you think about it, this is part of how you bring prosperity back (to small farms and rural communities). There are people in Miami or Tampa who may never have seen a farm or where their food comes from.”

Grimsley chairs of the Senate Agriculture Committee and sits on Appropriations, chairing the education appropriations subcommittee. Before being elected to the Senate in 2012, she served in the House eight years and was House Appropriations chair her last term there.

In addition to having run the family citrus and ranching business, she is the administrator for two hospitals, Florida Hospital Heartland Medical Center Lake Placid and Florida Hospital Wauchula and helped build a third.

There is also a need for the Florida Department of Agriculture to have urban gardening programs providing food and also education about agriculture for those in cities, Grimsley said, and a mentoring and “young farmer and rancher programs to keep rural kids’ interest in agriculture.

“There is a real digital divide between cities and rural, particularly rural towns may which have vacant storefronts and blocks. I plan to appoint a deputy commissioner for rural issues,’’ she said.

But the Agriculture Commissioner also sits on the Cabinet, which has overall control in several areas. Asked about the restoration of voting rights to convicted criminals who have served their time, Grimsley said nonviolent offenders should have automatic restoration of voting rights upon completion of their sentences.

“I think those convicted of violent crimes must take a longer route. But we have a broken system and a lot involves those leaving being able to have jobs. There is training in prison, but on release, the red tape can keep them waiting.”

Two major issues coming to the Cabinet that must be handled are water and infrastructure.

At the moment, the Republican primary for Agriculture Commissioner would seem to be the race that will decide who will follow Bartow Republican Adam Putnam, who is running for governor.

Grimsley is competing against two Republicans, former Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven and Rep. Matt Caldwell of Fort Myers. All three have hefty campaign war chests with Troutman leading with $3.2 million, Grimsley with $1.2 million and Caldwell with more than $704,000.

None of the three Democrats running for the post has more than $40,000.

Internal poll gives Kristen Carlson lead among CD 15 Dems

Lakeland attorney Kristen Carlson entered the Democratic primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District only two days before the deadline, but a poll released by her staff shows her ahead of her two opponents, each of whom has been running for the spot for a year or more.

The poll’s frequency count shows Carlson ahead with 25 to 14 percent for Andrew Learned of Valrico, with 10 percent for Ray Pena of Lakeland. Six-percent said, “someone else” (at least two other candidates dropped out before qualifying). Forty-five percent were undecided.

The poll was conducted June 14 -17 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, using 401 residents determined to be likely Democratic primary voters in CD 15. The margin of sampling error is near 5 percentage points. Live interviewers conducted the poll.

According to Source Watch, the Washington D.C.-based Greenberg Quinlan is a political research and campaign firm that works closely with the Democratic Party and has experience internationally, as well.

Researchers said that when voters learned of the three candidates after the initial question, Carlson’s numbers rose higher.

Carlson campaign manager, Conor Hurley, said the online biography posted by each candidate was read in its entirety before asking each voter for their preference a second time.

“I looked at the same things they put out and couldn’t figure out where that came from,” Learned said. “The campaign has barely started.”

EMILY’s List is endorsing Carlson. Her finances show a list of hefty donations from many regular donors.

Learned also has the support of several Democratic Party officials, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who has helped him in fundraising. Former candidate Greg Williams of Lakeland left the race to publicly endorse and work for Learned.

The rush by Democrats is the pending retirement of CD 15 Republican incumbent Congressman Dennis Ross of Lakeland and their assessment that the district is winnable.

The Democratic winner of the Aug. 28 primary elections goes on to face the winner of the heavily crowded Republican primary, which has six candidates in the race.

Tampa Tiger Bay Club to host bipartisan CD 15 candidate forum

The Tampa Tiger Bay Club will host all candidates who are running to fill the vacancy in Florida’s 15th Congressional District at a meeting Friday at the Ferguson Law Center in Tampa.

Tiger Bay officials invited the three Democrats and six Republicans competing to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland, who is retiring from the CD 15 after eight years.

By Thursday afternoon, all three Democrats — Andrew Learned of Valrico, Ray Pena and Kristen Carlson, both of Lakeland, had accepted.

Of the six Republicans who want the job, five had confirmed — Sean Harper and Ed Shoemaker of Lakeland, former state Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City, Danny Kushmer of Brandon, state Rep. Ross Spano, Dover. By late Thursday, Curt Rogers of Dover had not confirmed.

Both parties face tough primaries Aug. 28 before the two winners meet in the Nov. 6 general election.

Registration opens at 11:30 a.m., the event begins at noon. Chester Ferguson Law Center is at 1610 N. Tampa St. in Tampa. Tickets for members and first-time guests are $30; $40 for nonmembers. More information is at

Democratic hopeful Ray Pena hits CD 15 with old-school handshaking, retail politics

Ray Pena, of Lakeland, is running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for Florida’s 15th Congressional District as the first Hispanic-American to seek the district located in portions of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties.

He is doing it the old-fashioned way, handshaking every person he meets and appearing at all public candidate meetings. He enumerates the issues that he says are ignored by the other party, i.e., critical highway infrastructure needs, the total lack of interest in public education funding by the administration and repeal of the Republican Budget Act.

While both his Democratic Primary opponents, Andrew Learned of Valrico and Kristen Carlson of Lakeland have campaign war chests of more than $100,000, Pena reported campaign funds of less than $5,000 in the most recent report of the Federal Elections Commission.

Perhaps it is the lack of big-time contributors or the highly visible primary fight between Learned and Carlson over who should get the Democratic Party’s support that Pena is often unknown in spite of all his groundwork.

“I have been running for a year and a half,” Pena told Florida Politics Wednesday. “Do you know who was the first media outlet to sit down for a face-to-face interview with me? You are. Today.”

Learned has been running for a year, but has gained more attention now that Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland is stepping down from his Congressional District 15 seat and Democrats believe it is vulnerable.

The son of a Cuban mother and Puerto Rican father, Pena is a veteran of the Coast Guard and a 33-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department, retiring as a detective. He owns General Aviation LLC in Winter Haven. He is a commercial helicopter pilot

Pena embodies the belief that a person can still put themselves up for election and run on their ideas and by meeting people at post offices, the tax collector’s office, and small-town gatherings. But to meet the demands for electronic media and newspapers, big money is often a determining factor.

Unable to hold large fundraisers with Congresswoman Kathy Castor hosting as Learned has done or to have a group like EMILY’s List endorse and notify their heavy donors as was done for Carlson, Pena has gone on a marathon handshaking campaign.

“Quite seriously, I have met close to 30,000 people in the district since I started in February 2017,” he said.

One issue he says he would fight for in Congress is the repeal of the Jobs Act, which he said is unfair to middle class working people.

“Infrastructure must be addressed. I-4 is the most dangerous highway in the nation. Between 2011 and 2017, 164 people were killed on that roadway,” he said.

In education, more money is needed in every state, but particularly in Florida.

”I am against any tax dollars going to charter schools whether for profit or public. We must start investing in teachers and our school kids,” he said. “We also need to create tuition-free education for our public universities’ undergraduate programs. It’s done in the San Francisco area, New York City, and others, and students are required to stay in their area and work for a period of four years.”

And if the Democratic Primary isn’t rough enough, the winner will face the winner of a six-way Republican Primary for District 15.

“I am not worried,” he said of his opponents’ money, both Democrats and Republicans. “When people see a genuine person, they gravitate toward them. I would tell all candidates and elected officials everywhere, stop your maliciousness and just be honest to the people.”

“Ours is a genuine grassroots campaign. We certainly have the deep roots, but are waiting for the grass,” he said.

Ashey Moody

Grady Judd gives thumbs up to Ashley Moody for AG

Polk County Sheriff  Grady Judd is endorsing former Circuit Judge Ashley Moody for Attorney General.

Judd made the announcement at an early Tuesday morning news conference in Bartow.

Moody campaign says now there are 40 Florida sheriffs have now endorsed her for the office.

“For more than forty-five years, Grady Judd has served the citizens of Polk County and sought to keep them safe,” Moody said in a statement. “As Sheriff, he has implemented innovative approaches and programs to deal with evolving threats from human trafficking to the opioid epidemic. I am honored to add his support and his voice to my campaign.”

On Monday, Judd also endorsed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam (also a Polk County native) in his gubernatorial campaign, and the Sheriff was prominently featured in a new 30-second Putnam ad on immigration. The ad was produced by Putnam’s political committee, Florida Grown.

Moody, who once served the 13th Judicial Circuit Court, is running for the Republican nomination for Attorney General against state Reps. Frank White and Jay Fant.

Also in the race are Democrats Ryan Torrens and state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa.

CD 15 primary support puts Democratic groups at odds

EMILY’s List, the progressive organization that supports women candidates for office, has recommended Kristen Carlson, Lakeland attorney and 11th-hour entrant into the Democratic primary,  for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

The endorsement put two organizations that support Democratic candidates at odds with one another. At least one Democratic candidate, Greg Pilkington of Indian Lake Estates, withdrew from the race saying the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was sending aid to Andrew Learned of Valrico who had already had the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat.

“Kristen Carlson is a committed advocate for justice who is running for Congress to expand economic fairness and opportunity for Floridians. She helped save and protect the Florida orange industry from out-of-state companies’ wrongful practices and has since continued to serve her community as an attorney in private practice … The EMILY’s List community fully intends to support Kristen in her fight to win this seat and deliver the majority to Democrats,” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, said in a news release Thursday.

“They had urged me to run,” Carlson said, “So I am grateful for their support. This endorsement is very important to me and to the campaign.”

The Democratic Party won’t be split whoever wins the primary, Carlson said.

“I certainly plan to support Andrew or Ray (Raymond Pena of Lakeland, who has not campaigned very visibly) if either should win,” she said.

“We all have the same policy goals and we will all be together at the end of the primary and will make this a Democratic district,” Carlson said.

“Democrats already are together,” Learned said, adding it is with his campaign. “There is only one that isn’t with us (EMILY’s List). You have an endorsement from a national group that doesn’t recognize what is going on locally among progressives or understands local issues and policies,” he said. “Look at her stand on medical marijuana and the Trump tax plan.”

Learned said he had not seen any grassroots rallies or major gatherings held by Carlson since she began her campaign noting that he has been campaigning and visiting progressive groups and the general public for over a year.

Carlson campaign manager Conor Hurley said his candidate has been on the road nonstop.

“She is focused on the grassroots campaign. Most recently she was at the was at the Clermont candidate forum and she also attended the Bealsville Anniversary Dinner (in Hillsborough County) and I didn’t see him there.  Just because he doesn’t see her campaign activities doesn’t mean we aren’t out there working heavily,” Hurley said.

Carlson argued that there is little difference in Democratic policies between the two, adding it is “posturing.”

“It is only that he is positioning himself as farther to the left of me,” she said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version incorrectly listed candidate Raymond Pena as residing in Osceola County. Pena is a resident of Lakeland.

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