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.”

Baxter Troutman releases second statewide ad

The second television ad for Baxter Troutman, Republican candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, began running statewide Wednesday.

The ad for the Winter Haven businessman and grower is part of a $1.6 million television and digital ad package the campaign announced two weeks ago.

The first television ad featured Becky Troutman, the candidate’s wife, talking about her husband and his career and family.

The 30-second ad released Wednesday features the candidate himself discussing the issues facing agriculture and its importance to the state and nation.

The ad has been pared down to 15 seconds to run on Facebook and Twitter.

The campaign has other ads produced by The Strategy Group lined up for the future, said campaign manager Carlo Fassi.

Last one in; first one with votes, CD 15 candidate says

Republican Sean Harper believes that, in the era of Donald Trump, business expertise will win out over political experience.

That’s why the Lakeland contractor is running against five other Republicans for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, two of whom have experience in the state Legislature.

Harper entered the race May 2, two days before the filing deadline to fill the seat being left vacant by U.S. Rep Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican who is not running again. That was late, even by the three-week notice Ross gave.

It’s a crowded field with six Republicans running in the Aug. 28 party primary and three candidates in the Democratic Primary. In addition to Harper, the Republican field includes former state Rep. Neil Combee of Polk City, Danny Kushmer of Brandon, Curt Rogers of Dover, Ed Shoemaker of Lakeland and state Rep. Ross Spano of Riverview

It would appear to be a daunting task, but Harper already has three websites up and is building a campaign staff. The featured picture is of Harper’s campaign kickoff and a banner proclaiming “Conservative Outsider.”

His business experience will win over the public recognition of the politicians, he said.

“I have met with business leaders in Polk, Hillsborough and Lake counties many of whom are in construction and agriculture (two economic backbones of CD 15) They want someone who signs paychecks and understands the process of managing a business,” he said.

Harper said he plans to go to Washington to contribute and bring a business management to government and then return, “As our Founding Fathers intended.”

Despite his moniker as a conservative outsider, Harper makes his loyalties clear: “I like the job President Trump is doing and we need business logic in Washington, which is why I am running.”

The president’s promise to improve infrastructure is crucial to CD 15 and the I-4 corridor, he said.

Sean Harper and Adam Putnam. (Image via Facebook)

On his Facebook age, Harper makes it clear where he stands on the recent reports of Publix and the Lakeland-based supermarket’s massive donations to the gubernatorial campaign of Adam Putnam.

“Publix is a major part of this district and I’m proud to have them here. I stand with Publix, Adam Putnam and the NRA. My family and I are in Publix several times a week and do not plan on switching.”

A lifelong Harper has been a highly successful contractor, running Harper Construction, noting during a recent interview the company has seven houses under construction as well as commercial buildings. And it is this expertise needed in federal government, he said.

“Federal regulations, banking regulations and financing rules that often don’t make sense have really pushed small businesses to the edge,” he said.

But to get through the entangled rules, he first must get through the entangled Republican primary. Spano has already won the endorsement of Attorney General Pam Bondi, county commissioners in Polk and Hillsborough counties as well as state House members. Combee also has House member endorsements, as well as those of several Polk County mayors and from former state Sen. J.D. Alexander.

Looking toward November, SD 22 race turns up the heat

While most campaigns are concerned with the August primary elections, the general appears already to have started for Senate District 22 and the main issue is education.

The campaign of former Circuit Judge Robert Doyel, of Winter Haven, fired several blasts at Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, because she would not participate in a canvas of senators, seen by some as a move by Democrats, for a Special Session.

Statewide, Democrats believe they have a winning issue to use against Republican incumbents because of the GOP refusal to agree to the Special Session to increase funding for K-12 education.

Doyel, picking up on teacher dissatisfaction with funding from the recent Legislative Session, blasted what he said is leaving regular public schools shortchanged.

“I am disappointed that she couldn’t even be bothered to complete the survey. A majority of the senators who voted this week agreed that we need to get clear answers for our public-school teachers, students and parents, but Kelli Stargel doesn’t seem to care,” he charged in a prepared statement.

“It’s a timely reminder that she’s more interested in maintaining her relationship with her friends in the for-profit and charter school industries than she is in doing her job as a state senator,” Doyel said

Stargel said the increases (by the Republican-majority Legislature) are adequate and are having good results.

“The budget passed by the Legislature provides an unprecedented level of K-12 per-student funding, with a per-student increase of over $100,” she said. “The fact is that 45 percent of the per-student increase is unrestricted and can be spent by districts according to locally determined priorities, while 55 percent of the per-student increase is restricted for critical uses such as Mental Health, Safe Schools and Teachers Classroom Supply.

Ignoring the criticisms of shortchanging public schools, Stargel said: “Our investments are working. Recent NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores demonstrate that our Florida students continue to excel and outperform their peers across the nation. In fact, Florida students outperformed the nation in Grade 4 reading, Grade 8 reading and Grade 4 math.”

Doyel has assembled a formidable campaign staff, but he still has a primary opponent, former state Rep. Ricardo Rangel, who has been eclipsed publicly by the growing battle between Stargel and Doyel.

At the end of April, Rangel had a campaign account of $5,085 compared to Doyel with $75,650 and Stargel, with the power of incumbency, at $183,583.

But in Rangel’s successful 2012 state House race, the Orlando Sentinel complained he was running a stealthy — under the radar — campaign. He won that race with 68 percent.

Hitting the ground collecting in CD 15

Kristen Carlson of Lakeland entered the Democratic Primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District just over two weeks ago and has reported campaign donations of more than $100,000 already.

Her staff said most of it came in during the first 13 days.

Carlson, a former General Counsel for the Florida Department of Citrus, current counsel for the Florida Juice Producers Association and lawyer in the Tampa firm of MacFarlane Ferguson & McMullen, didn’t enter the race until May 2, Two days before the deadline to qualify for federal office.

The primaries for both parties in the district that includes portions of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties gained more candidates and more early activity after the incumbent, Republican Congressman Dennis Ross of Lakeland announced he would not seek re-election.

Carlson faces two others in the Democratic Primary, Navy veteran and school owner Andrew Learned of Valrico and retired California detective and aviation group owner Raymond Pena of Winter Haven, both of whom have been running for a year or more.

Almost everyone in the Republican Primary race for the seat has been running for less than a month in the traditionally Republican district. Ross announced his retirement just weeks before federal qualifying to get on the ballot ended.

“I am humbled by the outpouring of support we have received in this early stage,” Carlson said in an emailed quote. “Voters know that we need a Representative who will work for the people of the 15th District to lower health care costs, create good paying jobs, and cut taxes for the middle class, and I am honored so many believe I am that person.”

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.

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