Ryan Ray, Author at Florida Politics

Ryan Ray

Ryan Ray covers politics and public policy in North Florida and across the state. He has also worked as a legislative researcher and political campaign staffer. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

Brian Burgess to unveil Florida insider news app ‘The Capitolist’

Florida politico Brian Burgess is launching a new center-right political news aggregation platform called The Capitolist.

Burgess, a media consultant and former spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, is touting the new venture as the app for people “whose business is politics.” It will aggregate traditional and new media news stories and feature original content, usually with a conservative bent.

Burgess will serve as the publisher and editor-in-chief, while Texas-based political consultant and conservative journalist Sarah Rumpf will be editor-at-large.

“The idea is a one-stop shop for people who need local political information in the news,” Burgess told FloridaPolitics.com. He aims to bring readers “everything that’s out there in the cleanest, simplest way possible.”

He said sites like FloridaPolitics.com and POLITICO Florida have massively expanded the pool of what’s available for readers hungry for campaign and public policy stories in recent years, but felt there is a lack of an “authoritative conservative voice” to curate it.

Burgess is especially keen to bring local news to institutional players like lobbyists and campaign operatives about developments like candidates entering races, polling, and fundraising activity.

“That’s especially important for people who do this for a living,” said Burgess, “for folks to be able to make informed decisions about where they make political contributions, which matters a great deal to a lot of people in Tallahassee and around the state.”

Burgess is also hopeful he will be able to leverage his relationships with the Scott administration — where he maintains deep ties from his time in the governor’s office — as well as a substantial network of clients of his Right Hook Consulting firm to generate original news stories and perspective.

Burgess has a history of innovating in political media. While serving as a spokesman for Johnson County, Kansas District Attorney Phil Kline, Burgess brought in nascent techniques like mass emails and public town hall meetings to take his office’s message directly to the public.

Florida State University student Dennis Ragosta will also contribute writing and technical support to the platform.

The Capitolist app is available for iPhone on the iTunes or the Android app on Google Play.

Matt Gaetz vows to “fight back” against Washington in new TV spot

Rep. Matt Gaetz will hit the television airwaves in Northwest Florida for the first time in his run for the 1st Congressional District this week.

Gaetz’s campaign announced a new 30-second spot filled with red meat for conservatives as he takes on Sen. Greg Evers in a Republican primary that will almost certainly decide who replaces retiring U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller in the Panhandle district anchored by Pensacola.

Entitled “Fight Back,” the ad contains footage from Gaetz on the campaign trail, casting invective against the “spineless politicians” and “lawless bureaucrats” who populate the federal government according to the 34-year-old attorney and lawmaker.

“I’m not running for Congress because I want to go to Washington,” opens Gaetz, “I’m running for Congress because we can’t trust Washington.”

“Matt Gaetz will fight to pass open carry, kill Muslim terrorists, and build the wall,” says a dramatic narrator, referring to a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border like that favored by presumptive presidential GOP nominee Donald Trump.

The ad marks the first new development in the CD 1 race since Evers made national headlines last week by sponsoring a semi-automatic rifle giveaway.

Despite negative attention from gun control activists who said the move was in poor taste — just days after a gunman with a similar rifle killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub —  which was amplified by heavy press coverage, Evers vowed to follow through with the plan to raffle off an AR-15.

See the new ad from Friends of Matt Gaetz below:

Mary Thomas campaign says Neal Dunn has a ‘Bill Nelson problem’

Mary Thomas‘ campaign came out swinging against Neal Dunn Monday, alleging links between the Panama City urologist and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

In a memo addressed to reporters, Thomas claimed Dunn has a “Bill Nelson” problem, citing Dunn’s past support for Florida’s senior senator. According to a federal campaign finance filing, Dunn contributed to Nelson’s 2012 re-election campaign against former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV.

Mack himself has even chimed in, tweeting the following back in August 2015:

“Is Neil Dunn [sic] running in the Democrat primary? He supported liberal Bill Nelson and lobbied for expanding Obamacare coverage,” wrote Mack, who was trounced by Nelson by about 13 percent of the vote, 55-42.

Thomas and Dunn are squaring off against former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia in a heated North Florida Republican primary to replace U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who is leaving her 2nd Congressional District seat after a 2014 redistricting decision led to radical changes to its political composition.

CD 2 now among the state’s most conservative seats, with experts saying it favors Republicans by 20 points or more. That means any candidate’s hint of a liberal streak could jeopardize their standing with the rock-ribbed electorate there.

Thomas has gone on the attack against Dunn in the past, aggressively going after Dunn — once the presumptive frontrunner, endorsed by top Florida GOP brass — in a Bay County debate in March.

Thomas drew boos from some in the crowd by inveighing against Dunn early and often as a supposed “liberal” and one-time lobbyist for the Florida Medical Association.

“Neal, you can’t hide your liberal record,” said Thomas. “You served as a registered lobbyist, and these are the documented facts. You advocated for Obamacare in Florida, and you said you did not support Obamacare’s immediate repeal.”

Dunn, for his part, played down the charges and did not return fire. Instead, he chose to claim the moral high road and preached unity among GOP-ers.

“At the end of the day we need solutions, not just positions,” said Dunn in his closing remark. “I’m not going up [to Congress] the make a grandstand. I want to work toward solutions.”

The Republican field in CD 2 shrank last week when Ft. White businessman Jeff Moran dropped his bid and backed Sukhia, a social conservative who, like Thomas, is from Tallahassee.

Democrats Steve Crapps and Walter Dartland are also in the running to succeed Graham, though they face long odds in the deep-red district.

Florida campaign weekender, June 24-26

Qualifying week is over and the ballots are set in stone, but Florida’s 2016 electioneering industry is just getting underway.

Here’s a slew of campaign and political events going on this week across Florida, where the business behind the “people’s business” never rests.

Friday, June 24

The Orange County Democratic Party is holding its annual Kennedy-King Leadership Dinner tonight. The event will be held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Orlando Downtown hotel (60 S Ivanhoe Blvd, Orlando) from 5:30 pm until late in the evening.

Saturday, June 25

Republican John Couriel will hold a grand opening for his new campaign headquarters in West Miami, where he’s running for House District 114 to replace term-limited GOP Rep. Erik Fresen. The event is set to kick off at 10 am at the site of the new office (1000 SW 57 Ave #204, West Miami).

The Palm Beach County Democratic Party is holding a voter registration training this weekend in West Palm Beach, at the home of Emily Minor (606 Kanuga Dr., West Palm Beach). The event is slated for 10 am and organizers say it should run “about an hour.”

North Florida Democratic delegates for Sen. Bernie Sanders are holding a meet and greet, where local “Berniecrats” can get to know the electors who will represent them at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia next month. It’s scheduled to run from 11:30 am – 2 pm at the Leroy Collins Public Library (200 W Park Ave, Tallahassee).

GOP Seminole County Clerk of Court and Comptroller candidate Grant Malloy is holding a cookout and campaign fundraiser at the home of George and Mary Jane Duryea (235 Clermont Rd., Lake Mary, FL). Tickets cost $10-20 and are available here.

Tallahassee local candidates are holding a meet and greet in partnership with Advanced Driving Systems on accessibility problems for the disabled. More than half a dozen candidates will be on hand. The meeting is set for 1-3 pm at the offices of Advanced Driving Systems (662 Capital Circle Northeast, Tallahassee).

Sunday, June 26

The qualifying period for all local candidates in Palm Beach County expires on Sunday.

Miami-Dade Young Democrats are holding a “Sunday Funday” event from 1 pm – 6 pm at Roberto Clemente Park (101 NW 34th Street, Miami). The event will be a field day-style tournament featuring kickball, tug-of-war, sack races, and more. Food and drinks will be available for players and attendees with general admission ticket. Tickets cost $100 and are available here.

The Lake County Democratic Party is holding a canvassing event at their new  Leesburg Campaign Center (223 W. Main Street in Leesburg). Organizers will meet at 2 pm to knock doors for local and state candidates.

Got an event you’d like to see in the Campaign Weekender? Send an email to ryan@floridapolitics.com.

More than two dozen House members automatically re-elected

As of the close of business for the state Division of Elections, it appears candidates in some 29 state House seats — nearly a quarter of the 120-member body — are already headed to Tallahassee.

About 15 Republicans and 14 Democrats will have no need for a campaign manager this election cycle, according to a preliminary review of new state data.

Big names among those newly elected include Speaker-to-be Richard Corcoran, who will return to his House District 37 with no opposition, and Democratic Leader Rep. Janet Cruz, who also drew no opponent in House District 62.

Here’s a list of all the candidates with no opponent as of late Friday evening, along with the House seat they represent:

  • Rep. Halsey Beshears (HD 7)
  • Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (HD 17)
  • Rep. Clovis Watson (HD 20)
  • Rep. Larry Metz (HD 32)
  • Rep. Richard Corcoran (HD 37)
  • Don Hahnfelt (HD 33)
  • Rep. Daniel Burgess (HD 38)
  • Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (HD 44)
  • Rep. Cary Pigman (HD 55)
  • Rep. Jake Raburn (HD 57)
  • Rep. Janet Cruz (HD 62)
  • Rep. Jamie Grant (HD 64)
  • Rep. Jim Boyd (HD 71)
  • Michael Grant (HD 75)
  • Rep. Dane Eagle (HD 77)
  • Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (HD 78)
  • Sen. Joseph Abruzzo (HD 81)
  • Rep. Larry Lee (HD 84)
  • Rep. Bill Hager (HD 89)
  • Rep. Bobby DuBose (HD 94)
  • Rep. Kristin Jacobs (HD 96)
  • Rep. Jared Moskowitz (HD 97)
  • Rep. Katie Edwards (HD 98)
  • Rep. Evan Jenne (HD 99)
  • Rep. Joe Geller (HD 100)
  • Rep. Shevrin Jones (HD 101)
  • Rep. Sharon Pritchett (HD 102)
  • Rep. Cynthia Stafford (HD 109)
  • Rep. Kionne McGhee (HD 117)

Candidates had until noon Friday to qualify to be on the ballot. State elections officials said they expect all of the candidate qualifying information to be finalized by Friday evening.

Florida consumer confidence down for third straight month amid mixed economic news

Florida’s consumer sentiment is trending negatively for the third straight month, according to a University of Florida survey.

Consumers’ confidence in the wellbeing of the state economy dropped to 89, one point down from May’s report and tied with September 2015 for the lowest reading in the last year and a half.

Overall economic news was mixed, according to the survey, with three metrics decreasing and two improving.

Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago showed the sharpest drop, falling 3.5 points from 85.5 to 82. This decline was shared by all Floridians except those with income above $50,000, whose reading rose 4.3 points. In contrast, those with annual incomes under $50,000 dropped 7.4 points from last month, according to the report.

“The trend of these two components together over the past three months indicates that perceptions of current economic conditions have deteriorated among Floridians, but this pessimistic sentiment started a month earlier for those with annual incomes under $50,000,” said Hector Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Florida’s jobless numbers were slightly down again in May, dropping 0.1 percent to 4.7 percent. The number of jobs added in May statewide was 253,900, a 3.2 percent increase compared with last year, the report found. Florida’s economy is definitively growing, with more jobs added every month for 70 consecutive months.

Christopher McCarty, director of UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, said despite that, the mixed news is worth keeping an eye on in terms of politics and economics.

“While the decline in the sentiment index was marginal, it’s worth noting that this is the third straight month of declines,” said McCarty. “The national and international context may contribute to further declines over the next few months. As the campaigns for U.S. president get in full swing, it’s not unusual to see drops in sentiment as consumers hear negative economic opinions and anticipate what each candidate might do.”

U.S. Small Business Administration offers emergency loans after Orlando shooting

The U.S. Small Business Administration has approved a request by Gov. Rick Scott for a disaster declaration in seven central Florida counties, according to the governor’s office.

The declaration, announced Thursday afternoon, covers Orange, Brevard, Lake, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and Volusia counties.

It comes as local economies cope with the economic aftermath of last week’s fatal mass shooting in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, now the nation’s largest ever public gun attack.

Businesses in the aforementioned counties are eligible to apply for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans, publicly backed loans of up to $2 million to help meet “financial obligations and operating expenses that could have been met had the disaster not occurred.”

Distressed business owners in eastern central Florida can also apply for Department of Economic Opportunity’s Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program. Scott activated that state-funded mechanism back on June 17.

Businesses interested in applying for the federal SBA loans can do so at the agency’s website.

Jeff Moran drops out, backs Ken Sukhia in CD 2

Republican Jeff Moran dropped out of contention for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham Thursday morning, and is throwing his support behind former U.S Attorney Ken Sukhia.

Moran’s move cuts the four-way GOP candidate pool down to three, and helps Sukhia consolidate his support in the more-populous eastern half of the sprawling eastern Panhandle district.

“Spending as much time on the campaign trail as I have, you get to know the other candidates pretty well. I’ve gotten to know Ken Sukhia, and I’m endorsing him today because of his personal integrity,” said Moran. “His actions match his words. He has such a passion for conservative causes, there is no doubt in my mind that he will go to Washington and fight with integrity for all of us.”

Sukhia responded in kind with conciliatory remarks.

“I am humbled by Jeff Moran’s support and pledge to live up to his endorsement. During this campaign, Jeff has outlined a commonsense approach to solving the nation’s problems, something sorely missing in Washington,” said Sukhia.

Sukhia also highlighted the deadly mass shooting in Orlando which, in keeping with conservative doctrine, he ascribed to foreign Islamist forces rather than anti-gay attitudes.

“Last week’s terrorist attack in Orlando highlighted the urgent need for Congress to act to keep America safe. When elected, ending the threat of radical Islamic terrorism will be my No. 1 priority. It’s a fight we must win,” said Sukhia.

Moran’s campaign — which released its first ad earlier this month — had focused on his blue collar bona fides.

“I’ve worked with my hands my whole life, and that gives me a perspective that is quite different from others in public service,” Moran said. “I’m looking forward to finding ways I can apply my background to elective office in the next election cycle.”

“Dropping out of the race was a tough decision, especially so because I think it’s still anyone’s race to win. But I am drawn to public service, and I’m going to do everything I can to find a way to serve in elective office in the very near future,” continued Moran.

Sukhia will face Panama City urologist Neal Dunn and former Scott administration attorney Mary Thomas in the Aug. 30 GOP primary in CD 2. The redrawn district is now one of the state’s most Republican-leaning, meaning the primary will almost certainly decide the next representative.

Alan Grayson takes his crusade to Tallahassee

In 1517, German theologian Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, a move that helped spark the Protestant Reformation.

Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson taped a copy of Connecticut’s assault weapons ban to the door of the Florida House in an effort to kickstart a populist U.S. Senate campaign most observers are already counting out.

Grayson, Florida’s left-leaning congressional firebrand, made a pilgrimage from his 9th Congressional District in Orlando to the state Capitol in Tallahassee to file his qualifying paperwork for his Senate campaign — and, he might argue, a campaign for the soul of Florida.

His main Democratic primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, in many ways has been the object of Grayson’s zealotry as much as the conservative Republican the winner will go on to face in November.

But as Grayson took his unorthodox message and larger-than-life antics on the road Tuesday, his main focus was along party lines as he called for state lawmakers to pass tough new gun restrictions like the ones upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court Monday.

“We have to learn from the tragedies that occur and try make sure they never happen again, and make sure these people did not lose their lives in vain,” Grayson told reporters, referring to the Orlando massacre that killed 49 earlier this month, now the nation’s deadliest mass shooting.

Calling the country’s legal status quo on firearms “reprehensible,” Grayson called on generally gun-friendly Florida lawmakers to order a special Session aimed at banning assault-style semiautomatic weapons.

“It’s much too easy in America today to kill so many people, so quickly. As long as we allow such weapons of mass destruction to be purchased, we are all at risk,” said Grayson.

Pivoting to the ongoing Senate race, Grayson reaffirmed the central tenets of his campaign: expanding Social Security and Medicare, raising the minimum wage, and tweaking the Affordable Care Act to provide for universal coverage.

One recent poll found Grayson down against Murphy, a moderate establishment favorite from Jupiter, by a 31 to 23 margin, though many voters are undecided with three months left to go before the Aug. 30 primary vote.

Rick Scott: ‘disappointing’ Obama admin rejected emergency declaration following Orlando shooting

Gov. Rick Scott said Monday he finds it thoroughly “disappointing” Obama administration authorities have denied his request for a federal emergency declaration in the wake of last weekend’s deadly shooting at an Orlando nightclub.

Scott said the state of Florida will miss out on $5 million he requested, which he said would have funded “emergency response efforts, law enforcement response, emergency medical care, counseling services and other social services to assist victims.”

Federal officials have, however, approved $253,000 to help pay for overtime for hundreds first responders who worked long hours after the attack.

“It is incredibly disappointing that the Obama Administration denied our request for an Emergency Declaration. Last week, a terrorist killed 49 people, and wounded many others, which was the deadliest shooting in U.S. history,” said Scott, long a states’ rights advocate and staunch opponent of President Barack Obama.

“It is unthinkable that President Obama does not define this as an emergency. We are committing every state resource possible to help the victims and the community heal and we expect the same from the federal government,” continued Scott.

Scott pointed out several other times when federal officials saw fit to declare such a state of emergency, including the so-called Boston Bombing, a 2013 fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, and the president’s own inauguration in 2009.

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