Bill Rufty, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 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.”

Two progressive organizations, but different candidates?

Many political junkies are questioning whether two different entities that support the same goal — a Democrat in Florida’s 15th Congressional District — are backing two different candidates in the primary.

Andrew Learned of Valrico has been a candidate for the post since June 23, 2017, and has the advice and help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and some well-known Democrats like Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Tampa.

Attorney Kristen Carlson of Lakeland opened her campaign May 2 this year, two days before qualifying deadline for federal office adding that she had been encouraged to run by local Democrats and Emily’s List.

One Democratic candidate, Gregory Pilkington of Indian Lake Estates, pulled out the primary days before federal qualifying for the ballot, accusing the DCCC of supporting Learned in the primary. Learned said he is being given advice from the committee and others, but only after Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross announced he would not run for re-election to the district.

A third candidate in the primary, Raymond Pena Jr. of Lakeland, has been largely quiet since qualifying.

And while Carlson said it was the urging of Emily’s List members that convinced her to jump in the race, she was not listed as being officially recommended among the organization’s 2018 list of 49 women candidates on its website Friday.

The DCCC, as its practice, has not openly endorsed Learned, but Castor’s hosting of a fundraiser for him likely would not have occurred without the tacit approval of the campaign committee.

Carlson sounds like a candidate full of confidence in her run.

“I met with Andrew sometime before I decided to run. I admire him for jumping in the race and the work he has done for a year, but then the gameboard flipped when Dennis announced that he would not run again,” Carlson said. “We have done our work. We have already identified and hired some staff members, but I am not going to release all the names until we have the full staff on board.”

Carlson said she does not believe having three Democrats in the CD 15 race weakens the movement to elect a Democrat there.

“The benefit of having more than one person in a (primary) race is that people get a choice for the primary as well as the general,” she said.

Learned, who began running for the spot more than a year before Ross announced he wouldn’t run said his campaign is perplexed by Carlson’s claim about Emily’s List support because he has seen no official endorsement. Some attending Castor’s Valrico fundraiser for Learned said the campaign expressed upset with the late entry.

“I wouldn’t say upset,” Learned said of his staff’s comments. “It’s just very confusing. If you are claiming (Emily’s List) support, then why isn’t she on the actual endorsement list?”

He said Carlson’s stances were not the same as many he is pushing forward.

“She sat on the bench on Parkland (shooting) and she wants to make the tax cut permanent. She is out of touch with the party of 2018,” he said.

Still, the two candidates’ shadow boxing with each other promises a vigorous Democratic primary for the seat, something lacking for a couple of decades in the heretofore solid-Republican district.

Polk Democrat Robert Doyel gets the unthinkable: party support

Former Circuit Judge Robert Doyel, a Winter Haven Democrat and candidate for Senate District 22, is receiving what no other Polk County Democrat has received in more than two decades: support from his state party.

No Democrat from Polk County — the historic home of three Democratic governors and four U.S. Senators along with one speaker of the House and three Senate presidents in the 20th century — has served in either chamber of the Florida Legislature since 2000.

This year, Doyel is receiving support and the party has marked his race against incumbent state Sen. Kelli Stargel as viable. He noted he had his campaign up and running several weeks before state party interest.

Doyel served 16 years as a judge, retiring in 2010. But he has remained very active in several social issues including domestic violence.

He is the author of The Baby Mama Syndrome, a book dealing with the problems faced by young, often unwed, mothers.

He has been featured as a speaker and quoted on television news programs in the Southeastern states for his expertise on domestic violence issues and violence against women and law enforcement mismanagement of rape kits across the nation.

In 2016, he ran for Florida House District 41 and received no support from the Democratic Party, but had large grassroots support from the county party.

But what a change in races and two years make. Doyel has support from the state party, the Florida Senate campaign committee and several noted consultants.

He hired as campaign manager Trinity Laurino of Lakeland, an experienced digital marketing and fundraising expert and a former CNN producer.

Doyel hired Tom Alte and his St. Petersburg-based Democratic consulting firm, Blue Ticket for digital campaigning. His direct mail expert is Matt Martz. All were hired before the entrance of the state party and the Senate Committee into his campaign, he said.

“This is a serious job and a 24-hour one,” he said, “and I am working it.”

Monday, the campaign was notified that it had collected the required signatures from 3,321 voters in Senate District 22 to qualify for the ballot without having to pay a filing fee.

Before he can face Stargel, Doyel must win the August Democratic Primary. Former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel of Auburndale is challenging him. Rangel represented northern Osceola County for a two-year term 2012-2014.

Stargel a has served in the state Senate since 2012 and has been noted for her strict conservatism in supporting abortion restrictions and her support of charter schools. Her votes on education funding brought opposition from some public-school teachers during the recent session of the Florida Legislature.

She also received angry replies from some over her statement that, during gun restriction debates. “thoughts and prayers” were the best way to stop the evil behind mass shootings like the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

But she has been a strong conservative in a previously strong conservative district.

Agriculture Commission candidates face busy week

Two of the heaviest-monied Republican candidates for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture are heading for a busy week.

Former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven plans to be in the Panhandle for the next two weeks beginning Monday with a visit to Fort Walton Beach.

State Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring also starts the week with an address to the Indian River Republican Women’s Club in Vero Beach. Planning a cross-state campaign week, she will be at a Tuesday night fundraiser at the Lake City Holiday Inn.

At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday (Central time) Grimsley will address the Walton County Republican Women’s Club luncheon in Sandestin. She plans to finish the week at Lakewood Ranch Friday, with an address to that community’s Republican Club luncheon.

Thursday, Troutman has a meet-and-greet scheduled at the Golf Club of Quincy.

Friday at 9 a.m., he will be at the W.T. Neal Civic Center in Blountstown.

According to state campaign finance reports, Troutman took in a little over $3 million through April 30, most of it self-funded ($2.8 million). Grimsley’s reports showed her with $1.9 million raised and $1 million banked through April.

Also running in the Republican Primary is Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell, who leads the field in fundraising when Troutman’s self-funding is thrown out. He hasn’t announced his campaign stops for the week, though his campaign travel — or “2LaneTravels,” as he calls it — is nearing the 65,000-mile mark since he filed for the race.

Democrat Gregg Pilkington drops out of CD 15 race, blames ‘rigged primary’

Accusing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee of meddling in the 15th Congressional District Primary, Gregg Pilkington of Indian Lake Estates said he is discontinuing his race for the seat.

“It would be against my principles to continue, knowing that this is a rigged (primary) election by the DCCC,” Pilkington said. He added that he wouldn’t pay his qualifying fee Friday, the last day to get on the ballot, thereby withdrawing from the race he began 14 months ago.

The opponent in the Democratic Primary who is getting special treatment from the party is Andrew Learned of Valrico, Pilkington said.

“The DCCC has not endorsed anyone in the Democratic primary” Learned said.

“Members only contacted me two weeks ago,” Learned said, “to offer advice aimed at the general election and to invite me to Washington.”

That was when Republican Congressman Dennis Ross announced that he would not run for the seat again.

While in Washington at the offer of the DCCC he confirmed that he had briefly met U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, minority party whip,

Congresswoman Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, is hosting a fundraiser for him, Learned said.

“Whatever happened to the party staying out of it until voters had chosen their nominee in the primary?” Pilkington asked.

Two other candidates in the Democratic primary are Raymond Pena and Kristen Carlson. Neither has been contacted or asked to come to Washington.

Three other Democrats did not qualify. A fourth, Greg Williams, a Democratic Party activist from Lakeland, pulled out several weeks ago to endorse Learned.

Two political science professors from Florida Southern College in Lakeland Zach Baumann and Bruce Anderson said it isn’t unusual anymore for both major parties to involve themselves in primaries.

“We do see parties getting more involved in primaries to make sure the most viable candidate wins,” Baumann said. “It isn’t as hands-off as it used to be, but it is still fair if you have something to say.”

While Learned, Pilkington and Pena have been in the race for more than a year, Anderson said Learned got out early and made contact with the right people in the district and beyond more than any other Democrat did.

“He is probably the most viable because of that. Do parties have preferences in a primary? Yes. Mr. Pilkington could be a viable candidate, but not by complaining,” Anderson said. “Get out and work.”

Another Democrat lines up for CD 15 race

Lakeland attorney Kristen Carlson has entered the Democratic primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Carlson, 64, is a former General Counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus and still counsel of record for the Florida Citrus Processors Association and District 1 of the Florida Department of Transportation.

She is a partner with the firm of Macfarlane Ferguson & McMullen headquartered in Tampa. She is a past president of the Polk Museum of Art and serves on the board of the Lakeland Boys and Girls Club for 12 years.

“Basically, I am running because of the unchecked hyper-partisanship in the House and Senate and the presidency, too. It doesn’t allow anyone to remain in the middle, to compromise and to think things through,” Carlson said.

She describes herself as a moderate.

“I am liberal on social issues, but I am a fiscal conservative,” she said. “I am not partisan. I look at candidates and policies (not ideologies) before making decisions.”

Bringing order to the federal government is crucial to the nation, she said Thursday.

With Friday as the last day of qualifying for the federal ballot, three Democrats and five Republicans have qualified to run for the 15th Congressional District being vacated by Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican.

DREAMers should earn citizenship, Dennis Ross tells Polk Tiger Bay

Undocumented aliens brought to the United States when they were children should not be deported, but given education and employment opportunities and a way to earn their citizenship, according to U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican often criticized by opponents for his deep conservative stances.

He made the pronouncement during questions Thursday at the Polk County Tiger Bay Club in Bartow.

It was Ross’ first public speaking engagement since he announced he would not run again for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, starting a Republican primary gold rush to get on the ballot before May 4.

Democrats, who were already in the race, took the announcement opportunity to claim credit for his leaving, but Ross had been discussing the possibility of not running for well over a year.

“It’s good to be back, but when you find yourself a stranger in your hometown, it’s time to reassess our priorities,” Ross told the heavily attended luncheon.

Ross’ stand on immigration, while still maintaining his conservative credentials, flies in the face of some in the “alt-right” Freedom Caucus who have called such a plan amnesty.

“I am a little disappointed. We have to make sure those who came here of no accord of their own are treated fairly. Let them earn their way to citizenship … That’s not amnesty; it is earning their way,’’ he said.

Immigrants who have a criminal history should be deported, but there must also be a plan for guest workers, especially for agriculture and Construction in Florida, he said.

“We are talking about this growing economy. Good luck finding workers (without a guest worker program).” Ross said.

Asked what his most disappointing time in Congress and he noted that one was he has always been a conservative, “But as the standard for conservatism got stricter, I am not a part, but a am still a solid conservative.”

Ross said he wasn’t leaving because of disagreement with his party’s policies and then proceeded to prove it. He is strongly opposed to abortion and said federal grant monies given to Planned Parenthood in no way goes to abortion in the organization.

He said there should be private options for health care, praised tax cuts as growing the economy.

“It is the lowest tax rate since World War II,” he added. “And the reunification of North and South Korea is more likely than ever before.”

If there was ever a law he wished could be passed but knows it never can be it would be “a law in which you are required to practice personal responsibility, but you can’t legislate that.”

Asked to give advice to the numerous candidates in the room, Ross said beware of allowing consultants to campaign negatively. He said he did so in his first run for the Florida Legislature and lost.

“But then these elected officials (who campaign brutally) come home and have to live with that,” he said. “Our country has no one party or one philosophy. Be anchored to something other than the political arena. And don’t read press clips and believe them.”

Ross told the crowd that after Congress, he plans to return to practicing law, but is most interested in returning civics and the process of government to the classroom.

In HD 39, the ‘blue wave’ barely causes a ripple

A ‘blue wave’ Democrats in Polk and Osceola counties had hoped for Tuesday barely made a ripple as Republican newcomer Josie Tomkow won over Democrat Ricky Shirah with a 60 percent victory in the special election for Florida House District 39.

The results contrasted with the surprise February election victory in Sarasota County in which Democrat Margaret Good, a Sarasota Democrat, defeated Republican James Buchanan and Libertarian Alison Foxall.

Tuesday’s election was to fill a vacancy incurred in November when then-Rep. Neil Combee, a Polk City Republican, resigned to accept a job with the USDA. Combee recently resigned the post to run for Congress.

Republicans said Wednesday the Tomkow victory is a bellwether for the state come November. Democrats said the wave is still building. A noted professor and columnist said it’s too early.

“This is a good snapshot of the fall elections,” said J.C. Martin, chairman of the Polk County Republican Party. “This is a district along I-4 and the I-4 Corridor has always been a barometer for Florida and the nation.”

Local Democrats, with very little help from the state party, had staged a last-minute effort for Shira, in a district that is more Republican but had more voters with no party than those in either party.

“This is a good sign that people, especially the unaffiliated, are going for Republican policies,” Martin said. “Neither party in the district had more than 40 Percent registration, and yet 60 percent of the vote went to someone who never ran for office and was never heard of before against a well-known candidate.”

Karen Welzel of Winter Haven, a former chair of the Polk County Democratic Party, blamed Shira’s loss, not on Republican ideologies, but on the massive war chest Tomkow ‘s campaign had amassed. Tomkow had received $168,185 to Shira’s $15,381.

“Unfortunately, money is important. She had big-time Republican fundraisers, the NRA and her connections to Neil Combee, Welzel said of Tomkow’s victory. “Statewide we have won more special elections this year by far,” Welzel said. “On the same day we lost this one, Javier Fernandez (a Democrat) was elected in South Florida. In a Republican district. Believe me; the blue wave is coming.”

“We did reach out to the state party to ask for help, but we knew there was not a lot of money and that they had to spend,” she said. “But we spent three months of grassroots campaign, and we added many precinct workers.”

Ironically, Welzel had run in a different house district in 2012 against a Republican incumbent who had ten times the amount of campaign money that she had without state Democratic Party funding and came within 2 percent of winning the race,

“The ‘Blue Wave is a bit of a ghost,” said Bruce Anderson a political-science professor at Florida Southern College and columnist in Lakeland. But so is the assumption that the District 39 special election is a repudiation of it, he had added.

“Winning in one district is not a bellwether. Thirty-nine is a stable largely Republican District. We know who the district was drawn for,” Anderson said referring to Combee. “And he kept his head down and locked in his seat.”

People will tend to vote for the person in that seat, he said. And Tuesday’s election is no indicator of how the I-4 Corridor will go in November

Democrats have had their victories mostly in open seats. Overall, Anderson said it is too early to predict a trend for the November elections.

“Republicans, I suspect, will continue to win where there is a long history of Republican incumbents. But if it is an open seat Democrats may win out.”

In HD 39, however, almost the same race will begin again in November, likely with the same candidates. Shira has said he will be a candidate for District 39 in the general election, which will decide who will serve a full two-year term.

Polk grassroots Democrats pick up the slack in HD 39

Ricky Shirah

While the hapless state Democratic Party has done almost nothing for the underdog campaign of Ricky Shira of Lakeland in preparation for Tuesday’s special election to fill a vacancy in Florida House District 39, local grassroots organizations did.

At the last minute, Shira received $280 in in-kind services from the state. But the county party, along with Democrats from Osceola and even Hillsborough County, volunteered for their “Weekend of Action” canvassing in Lakeland, Davenport, Auburndale and Osceola precincts and also manning a booth Saturday at  Bandaid 4 Puerto Rico, at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland.

The district includes parts of Polk and Osceola counties. It was left vacant by Polk City Republican Neil Combee in late November to accept an appointment to a USDA post in Gainesville, has a larger Republican registration.

Republican candidate Josie Tomkow of Lakeland had a total campaign collection of  $168,185 by the April 26 reporting date to $15,381 for Shira, which included a $6,000 loan to himself.

Katherine Sutherland, Membership and Precinct Organizing chair for the Polk Democratic Party said in a campaign release “Hopefully, it (the District 39 race) is the beginning of a Florida Blue Wave.”

Still, the last Democrat from Polk County elected to the Florida House was in 1998.

The strange election of House District 39

Voters in Florida House District 39 will go to the polls May 1 to fill a vacancy which has existed since Nov. 24 when then-Rep. Neil Combee, a Polk City Republican, resigned to accept a presidential appointment to a U.S. Agriculture Department agency in Gainesville.

But the winner will not sit in the House, because the Florida Legislature’s Session ended a month ago — unless a Special Session is called. And the new representative will have to stand for re-election in November.

The predicament makes for one of the strangest elections in recent history. While Combee left in November, the primary was not held until March, and the general election is May 1.

During the 2018 Session of the Florida Legislature, the residents of District 39 had no elected representation in the House.

Josie Tomkow

Early on, Combee supported Josie Tomkow, the 22-year-old daughter of a close agribusiness friend. She won the Republican primary over Jennifer Spath, 34, who had been endorsed by several Republican Party Polk County commissioners.

Tomkow, who graduated from the University of Florida in December, entered the race Nov. 7, 2017. Combee’s appointment was made public Nov. 6.

Spath, a public affairs spokesperson for an organization that sets policy for foster care entered the race Dec. 5.

Democrats and Spath supporters within the Republican Party accused Combee of violating the Hatch Act, which says federal employees cannot be involved in political campaigns.

Tomkow will face Ricky Shirah, 64, a Lakeland Democrat, in the special general election. The owner of a towing company, Shirah has run unsuccessfully eight times. He said he runs whenever he cannot find a Democratic candidate for a race because Shirah believes all races should give voters a choice.

And Shirah said he, too, has filed a complaint the Federal Election Commission alleging Combee violated the Hatch Act.

Ricky Shirah

But Combee, who is now a candidate in the Republican primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, said he has received a letter from the FEC stating no violation existed.

District 39 has been largely a farming and ranching area, in northern and central Polk County and the northern portion of Osceola County, which would appear to be more suitable to Tomkow, whose family has been in agriculture for generations. The district, however, now includes some suburban areas since changes made by the Legislature like Celebration, Champions Gate and the southern residential area of Four Corners, named because the region is where Orange, Lake, Polk and Osceola counties meet.

The district has been Republican since 1996. Voter registration records show that of the 113,916 voters in the district, 36 percent are registered Republican, 32 percent are Democrats, and 32 percent are registered as either no party affiliation or in a third party.

Tomkow has been able to raise contributions usually identified with an incumbent. In the last report filed, she has raised $134,980 including large agriculture organizations and many business groups including the Florida Hospital Association, the Florida Electric Cooperative, Florida Homebuilders, Florida Cable, and many Polk County contributors including Combee.

The Republican Party of Florida gave $12,000.

For all its declarations of trying to win back the Florida Legislature, the state Democratic Party did not give Shirah any money. He showed $9,975 in his last campaign report including a $6,000 loan to himself.

CD 15 Democratic hopeful puts focus on fixing public education

Public-school teachers should not have to pay federal income taxes, a Democratic candidate for Florida’s 15th Congressional District declared Thursday.

“It will be the Rewarding American Educators Act, and I will file it when I get to Congress,” said Gregory Pilkington of Indian Lakes Estate. “It will attract new teachers and keep those who then will be able to afford staying.”

Pilkington, 55, is one of six Democrats hoping to run to fill the CD 15 seat now held by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican who is not seeking re-election.

The erosion of the education system and infrastructure have hit the nation particularly hard, but it is even worse in the 15th District which includes portions of Polk, Hillsborough and southern Lake counties, he said. He promised to bring relief to the district and blamed Republican predecessors for neglect causing the conditions.

“We have problems that must be solved in our public education system. Tenoroc High School (in Lakeland) has a 50 percent graduation rate. And If you are an African-American male who drops out of school, you have a 90 percent chance of winding up in jail.”

Pilkington fills his policy discussions with more statistics than perhaps even the Census Bureau then quickly emails the names of the studies, dates and sample sizes.

It seems, because of his background, numbers and their proofs are natural things for him. A former executive at the World Customs Organization, in Belgium, and previous positions with DHL Worldwide Express and FedEx Express, he backs up claims with statistics. The ones that worry him, he said, are education and dilapidated infrastructure numbers.

“I support charter schools. They have they have a place, but no tax monies should ever go to for-profit charter schools. And we should not penalize public schools like (Tenoroc High) by sending the money it needs to charter schools,” he said.

Pilkington said that exempting the 3 million public school teachers, some of the poorest paid professors in the nation, from federal income tax would cost $19 billion, which could be immediately recouped by reducing the big tax cut to the wealthy by only 1 percent.

“We should revisit the tax cut to give it to the working people and not just to the wealthy,” he said. “The theory of trickle-down economy — the wealthy investing their additional money from tax cuts into the economy — has never proven to be true. That money largely goes offshore and to reserves. But the middle-class use that extra money for cars, kids’ education and expenditures helping local economies.”

Pilkington said that unlike some other Democratic candidates, he wouldn’t campaign against the departing Ross, but farther into the interview with Florida Politics, he couldn’t help it.

“If you look to the east, (U.S. Rep.) Darren Soto has obtained monies for improving business and health care for his district. To the west of us (Democratic Congresswoman) Kathy Castor has brought back grants and money to help the economy of her district,’’ he said.

“But if you look in the middle, our own congressman (Ross) has done nothing for us. And even the post office he renamed is no longer in the district,” Pilkington said.

He said the struggle for economic help in the CD 15 is partly due to lack of investment in infrastructure and the economy in the last decade and impacts to the quality of life.

“There are nine facilities of higher education in this district, but graduates can’t find a job here,” he said, adding that the flight of young graduates leaves the district older with less high skill trained people to attract business.

Currently, although living in Polk County for several years to be near his parents, Pilkington lives outside of the CD 15 but noted that he and his wife are actively looking for a home in Lakeland since it would be in the center of the district.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons