Ryan Ray – Page 4 – 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.

Ken Keechl tops George Moraitis in May fundraising, still trails in HD 93

Democrat Ken Keechl still has a long way to go to close the fundraising gap with incumbent Republican Rep. George Moraitis in House District 93, but May did see Keechl cut into his lead.

Keechl brought in $17,247 during the May reporting period according to new campaign finance data, bringing his overall total to $38,445 overall. Nearly all of that sum remained on hand through May 31.

Moraitis, for his part, raised $8,075 in May for a total of $101,423 overall for the cycle. Of that, Moraitis’ campaign account boasted nearly $65,000 on hand.

Keechl, an attorney from Wilton Manors, is seeking to prevent Pompano Beach’s Moraitis from finishing out his fourth and final term in moderate, coastal HD 93.

A former Broward County commissioner and mayor, Keechl unsuccessfully sought office in the last three election cycles after ousting an incumbent to win a seat on the commission in 2006.

Though Moraitis has cut a moderate profile and established himself as a fighter for local priorities like beach renourishment and quality-of-life issues, national politics could well overdetermine this contest.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney narrowly won HD 93 in 2012, but based on HD 93’s relatively affluent, white make-up compared to most Democratic districts, Hillary Clinton will likely outperform President Barack Obama in November.

Truckers block downtown Tallahassee traffic to protest ‘deterioration’ of industry

A group of trucker owner-operators briefly held up traffic in Tallahassee’s busiest downtown thoroughfare to protest what they call the “deterioration” of the trucking industry.

The group convoyed from Miami, with around a dozen semi trucks bringing traffic at the intersection of Monroe and Tennessee streets — about three blocks from the Florida Capitol —  to a completely standstill for 15 minutes.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, two arrests were made at the scene of the protest. Javier Figueroa was booked by Florida Highway Patrol officers for blocking an intersection and resisting arrest without violence, while Magdiel Millar was arrested by LCSO for impeding the arrest of Figueroa and resisting arrest without violence.

In a memo released Monday, truckers Ponce Seoane and Alberto Cruz-Torres, two of the protest’s main organizers, said changes in the industry are leaving them with precious little to show for their work.

“We provide for an entire nation while barely providing for our own families,” they wrote in the trucking publication Overdrive Online.

The protestors cited decreasing wages, the rise of transportation brokerage firms who take a profit and limit the autonomy of owner-operators, and a lack of transparency in the rates of profit and driver payment in the industry.

One truck bore the slogans, “No more brokers, no more abuse” and “Say no to cheap freight.”

“We’ve just had enough. We feel like we should be compensated fairly for what we do,” they said Monday. “We want transparency from the brokers and a fair wage.”

Libertarian Rob Lapham enters CD 2 race

Libertarian Rob Lapham has joined Florida’s 2nd Congressional District campaign to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham.

Lapham, who has lived in Alaska and Texas in recent years, served on the Texas Libertarian Executive Committee. He ran for Congress in 2014, where he promised to abolish the IRS, cut military funding, and liberalize federal drug laws.

Lapham moved to Florida with his wife in 2015 and soon after helped establish a Libertarian group in Gulf County.

Though he received less than 2 percent of the vote when he ran in 2014, “I expect to get a better result this time,” Lapham told the Tallahassee Democrat. “It’s an uphill climb, but if you believe in your platform then you should run.”

Lapham joins four Republicans — former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia, former Scott administration attorney Mary Thomas, Panama City urologist Neal Dunn, and Fort White businessman Jeff Moran — in the newly redrawn seat, now one of the state’s most red.

So far, no Democrat has filed to replace Graham, though moderate state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda has been bandied about as a possible last-minute entrant.

Given the great ongoing Republican and Democratic crack-ups driven by contentious primaries, 2016 was supposed to be the year the Libertarian Party finally broke through.

So far it remains to be seen.

Rick Scott declares state of emergency in 34 counties ahead as Tropical Storm Colin touches down

Just six days into 2016 hurricane season, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 34 Florida counties ahead of Tropical Storm Colin’s landfall.

Scott issued the declaration via executive order shortly before noon on Monday, citing maximum sustained winds of at least 39 miles per hour and the potential for severe storm damage in counties from Sarasota in the Tampa Bay area all the way to Franklin in the state’s Panhandle.

Afterward, Scott addressed reporters at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. Scott and Department of Emergency Management Bryan Koon said while the risk of tornados and severe flooding appeared minimal, Floridians should use the occasion to prepare what could be a more impactful hurricane season than in recent years.

“Every person in our state needs to follow this,” said Scott. “Just like we do with a hurricane, just like we do with Zika, we get prepared.”

Scott repeatedly advised residents to make sure their storm supplies were at hand and to follow their local news. Scott added while many are focused on the immediate trajectory of Colin, the path of rain bands to the storm’s east would be equally or more severe.

Scott and Koons warned that despite a decade without a severe hurricane, residents should be wary of the storm and use the occasion to remain mindful of future severe weather events to come.

“Everybody’s got to watch this,” said Scott.

Scott said he had notified the National Guard with their 16,000 agents statewide to be on call.

Leon County, home of the state capital, was not listed among the 34 counties covered in the declaration. Nearby Wakulla and Franklin counties, both low-lying and coastal, were however.

Scott expressed concern that since recent Florida transplants have no recollection of the severe damage caused by Hurricane Isaac in 2012 or Hurricane Charley in 2004, for instance, they may be somewhat complacent in their attitude toward preparedness.

The counties for which the governor has declared an emergency are: Alachua, Baker, Bradford Brevard, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Franklin, Gilchrist, Hernando, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lake, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Nassau, Orange, Pasco, Pinellas, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Volusia, and Wakulla.

Scott said the administration relied on information from the National Hurricane Center and National Weather Service in demarcating those counties, and that additional counties could be added as needed.

Koons said $26.5 million in uninsured damage would trigger a federal declaration of a state of emergency, but that such a move would not come until later in the week if necessary.

Mary Thomas backed by House Freedom Fund in CD 2

Mary Thomas got the nod from House Freedom Fund in her campaign for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District on Monday.

The group is the political arm of the Freedom Caucus, the most conservative wing of the Republican House majority and the formal legacy of the Tea Party movement.

Caucus chairman U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said Thomas was the most conservative candidate in a decidedly right-of-center GOP primary.

“I’m proud to announce the House Freedom Fund’s endorsement of Mary Thomas (R-FL) for Congress in Florida’s 2nd district,” said Jordan. “Mary Thomas is a strong conservative, mom, attorney, and a first-generation American who will fight for our principles in Washington. She’s running to cut spending, repeal Obamacare, abolish the IRS, secure the border, and adopt term limits.”

“Mary Thomas is focused on fighting for less government and more freedom, and she’s the only candidate in this race that conservatives can trust,” Jordan continued. “The House Freedom Fund is supporting Mary Thomas in this race because she’s a principled conservative, she has strong support in the district, and she can win if she gets her message out.

The former Rick Scott administration attorney faces stiff competition in her bid replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, who was drawn out of the seat by the recent landmark redistricting decision.

Former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia, urologist Neal Dunn, and businessman Jeff Moran are also seeking the redrawn seat, which is now among the state’s most conservative-leaning.

The possible endorsement came up subject of a debate back in March, when all four candidates expressed fondness for the Freedom Caucus.

“Last year, I pledged to join the House Freedom Caucus if elected because I believe with all my heart that to save the American Dream we need new, true conservative direction in Washington,” said Thomas in a statement Monday.

“The House Freedom Caucus shares my values and policy positions and from my travels all across the Panhandle and North Florida it’s clear to me that the House Freedom Caucus exemplifies the spirit of the people in the Second District,” said Thomas. “I am honored to have this endorsement and I will fight every day on the campaign trail to win this GOP Primary election for We The People.”

The Republican primary is Aug. 30. Absentee ballots go out in July.

Gwen Graham fighting with GOP colleagues to bring F-35 fighter jet to Florida

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is reaching across the aisle in an effort to bring the F-35 fighter jet to Florida.

The freshman Democrat from Tallahassee co-wrote letters with U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen addressed to top Air Force brass asking them to consider expanding USAF’s presence across Florida.

“We must ensure that the Jacksonville [Air National Guard] base is armed with the most advanced fighter jet in the Department of Defense arsenal,” Graham and Crenshaw wrote to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. “We are confident that your review will show that the base in Jacksonville is capable of supporting these aircraft and that doing so would be beneficial to the region, state, and security of the nation.”

Graham, who holds a coveted spot on the House Armed Services Committee, made a similar argument in helping Ros-Lehtinen bring the F-35 to the Homestead Air Reserve Base in Miami-Dade County.

Bipartisanship has been a staple of Graham’s brief tenure in Congress. She has, to the chagrin of many of her supporters, refused to raise money to support Democratic colleagues against Florida Republicans, arguing such a move — common across the nation — would diminish cooperation among the state’s delegation.

“I believe we need to work together as a Congressional delegation in the best interest of our state, regardless of political party,” Graham said in a statement Friday.

“Florida military installations account for more than 750,000 jobs and contribute $73 billion to our economy — that’s more than nine percent of the state’s economic footprint. Expanding the Air Force’s presence with the F-35 is a smart move for the defense of our nation, and it will create jobs and grow our economy,” Graham continued.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alcee Hastings and Republicans Mario Diaz-BalartDavid JollyCurt Clawson, Carlos Curbelo, and Jeff Miller also signed on to the Homestead letter along with Graham.

Michael Steinger gets off to $400K start in SD 30 race

Democrat Michael Steinger came a bit late to the Senate District 30 race, filing on May 12. But the West Palm Beach personal injury lawyer made clear on Thursday he has more than made up for lost time when it comes to fundraising.

Steinger’s campaign account now boasts $400,000 on hand after just 20 days. $211,000 of it came from contributions from some 300 donors, while the remaining $200,000 came from personal funds.

The SD 30 seat, which leans heavily Democratic, is open after being redrawn in the wake of the landmark 2014 redistricting decision.

Steinger, senior founding partner at the Palm Beach Lakes law firm Steinger, Iscoe, & Greene, said in a statement the substantial haul will allow him to assemble a winning operation despite his late entry.

“I feel honored and humbled to have received so much support from the community,” said Steinger. “I believe voters are ready for a change from politics as usual and will connect with our message. I will be a senator who fights for the residents of Palm Beach County, and will make sure we have effective leadership for our local needs.”

Steinger faces an incumbent representative, Rep. Bobby Powell Jr., and Tony Bennett in the Democratic primary. Republican Ronald Berman is also seeking the seat.

Attorney and activist Emily Slosberg announced a bid for the seat back in January, but left in favor of running for her father Rep. Irv Slosberg‘s seat when he terms out in 2018.

Steinger likely takes the fundraising lead after May fundraising, though other candidates have not yet reported their figures. Berman also stroked a six-figure check to his campaign, loaning it $100,000, while Powell has raised $75,811 and Bennett has raised $25,645, including a $10,000 personal loan.

SD 30 consists of parts of north and central of Palm Beach County, including Jupiter, West Palm, and Palm Beach Gardens.

Jeff Atwater, state officials warn to prepare paperwork ahead of hurricane threats

Florida has been spared a major hurricane hit for the longest period in decades, but in a state surrounded by water on three sides, it’s only a matter of time until our luck runs out.

That’s why state officials are warning residents to get their papers in order as hurricane season begins.

“The risks are real,” said state CFO Jeff Atwater. “It’s not if a hurricane will again hit Florida; it’s when the next hurricane will hit Florida and how severe that will be, and are you prepared?”

Atwater and top insurance officials are telling Floridians to take measures to make sure their insurance documents in order. In a memo to the public, Atwater urged residents to download and print out a “hurricane preparedness toolkit” prepared by the Division of Financial Services.

The series of documents includes information on evacuation routes and road closures as well as a primer on assessing storm damage risk and consumer rights and responsibilities when it comes to mediating loss claims with insurers.

The Division of Consumer Services’ Tasha Carter said post-hurricane, the department will establish an “insurance village” in areas with widespread damage to handle claims for the 50 largest insurance companies.

Still, the greater part of the onus after a major hurricane hit will fall on the individual homeowner and policyholder.

Atwater advised Floridians to assemble important documents like bank account numbers and other proof of finances, and to ensure that physical damage mitigation practices like shuttering windows are seen to.

“Who is it going to take to help put up your shutters? How soon in advance must you start?” said Atwater.

“It’s our responsibility as citizens to be prepared.”

An Auburn license plate in Florida is a bad idea

A pair of eminent Florida politicos want to introduce legislation to create a specialty Florida license plate bearing the logo of Auburn University.

That’s a bad idea for several reasons.

No animus against Democratic strategist Kevin Cate, one of the kindest political people around, or Rep. Jamie Grant, who gives me courage despite my own receding hairline. But this is an idea whose time should never come.

Florida, for one thing, has enough trouble supporting its own institutions.

Historians and scholars studying Florida often point to a “placelessness” pervading the state.

This slippery, abstract idea has launched a thousand masters theses about identity and political geography, but what it comes down to is this: people come here from elsewhere and keep living like they never left home.

Native Floridians have all felt the slings and arrows of this phenomenon.

In Sarasota, you can find bars plastered with Indiana University and Michigan State banners, where patrons sing that dumb Chicago Bears fight song. Tampa Bay Rays fans are numbly accustomed to being outnumbered at home games when the Yankees and Red Sox — or even the Detroit Tigers — are in town. And it goes without saying that much of South Florida is an ad hoc menagerie of cantons whose cultures are almost entirely imported.

In other words the distilled spirit of Florida Itself, if it exists, is hard to come by. This bit of state-sanctioned carpetbagging won’t help.

A new Auburn vanity plate would also set an unwise precedent. No other out-of-state college has an official Florida tag.

Yes, it’s true our Georgia neighbors allow residents to sport their War Damn Eagle pride on a state license plate. But it makes sense there because an appreciable percentage of Auburn alums end up working in Atlanta or elsewhere in Georgia. (After all, the only growing sector of Alabama’s economy is legal defense for its political leaders.)

Not really so in Florida. Cate cites 15,000 Auburn alums living and working in Florida, as well as the influence of AU alum Jimmy Buffett among others on the state’s culture.

But that’s a drop in the bucket: a mere 0.075 percent of Florida’s population. Ohio State boasts more than 14,000 alums in Florida — I doubt any of us wants to see any more Buckeye plates on I-75. And, after all, Jimmy Buffett doesn’t live in Key West anymore.

Plus, Florida lawmakers have real work to do.

Sure, not expanding Medicaid doesn’t take much effort, but how about another go at banning Sharia law? That resolution apologizing to Donald Trump for endorsing Jeb Bush and/or Marco Rubio won’t draft itself. These things take time, and it is always in short supply in part-time Tallahassee.

Not to mention the excruciating minutes of “fun” frivolous debate the bill will require. TED Appropriations Chair and former Florida State lineman Clay Ingram will make a dopey joke about the 2013 National Championship Game, Bill Hager will introduce a joke amendment to create a plate for his beloved University of North Iowa Panthers — an argument that would have the same force as Grant and Cate’s, by the way —  or the interminable intra-SEC banter from the Legislature’s many Florida Gators.

Let’s not put ourselves through that.

Far be it from me to limit free speech. By all means Auburn Tigers, let your flag fly, unless it’s that flag.

But as Lawton Chiles said when he vetoed the “Choose Life” plate, Florida’s license plates are “not the proper forum.”

State architects group endorses Rebecca Smith in HD 60

Tampa businesswoman Rebecca Smith snagged an endorsement in her race for House District 60 on Wednesday, courtesy of the Florida Architects’ Political Action Committee.

“FAPAC is honored to offer its support and endorsement of Rebecca Smith to become the District 60 Representative to the Florida State Legislature,” said Mickey Jacob, an AIA Florida member and past president of the national AIA.

“Architecture is one of the most highly regulated and complex professions. With over 30 years of experience in the construction industry, Rebecca has a deep understanding of this industry and will work to to raise the level of awareness of and make a difference for architects throughout the political process,” continued Jacob.

Smith, who founded building contract firm A.D. Morgan Corporation in 1989, is running against engineer Jackie Toledo in a GOP primary to replace House Majority Leader Dana Young, who is leaving the seat to run for state Senate. Toledo mounted a bid for Tampa City Council last year, falling short in a close race to Democrat Guido Maniscalo.

Democratic attorney David Singer is also running for HD 60, which leans Republican.

“I am humbled and grateful for the endorsement from an industry that is so important to our community. I look forward to representing the interests of District 60 residents in Tallahassee,” Smith said.

HD 60 includes all of affluent South Tampa, much of south Hillsborough County, and the rural-suburban Town N Country area.

Architecture and construction are key industries in Tampa, where the economy is based less on tourism than the nearby St. Petersburg and Sarasota areas or agriculture as it is to the east of Hillsborough.

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