Ryan Ray – Page 5 – 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.

Gwen Graham hunts mosquitos, talks Zika on Bay County Workday

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham isn’t running for re-election in Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, but that doesn’t mean the signature Graham family workdays have come to a close.

Amid a major spending fight in Congress over funding to fight the Zika virus, the freshman Democrat from Tallahassee took to the west of her sprawling Panhandle district to combat the deadly disease where it starts: the places mosquitoes lay their eggs.

Graham joined the Bay County Mosquito Control Department on her most recent Workday to join workers searching for and eradicating standing water, and taking samples of mosquito larvae they encountered to see whether the insects are the same type that transmit Zika.

“My workday was about raising awareness around our state and country to what needs to be done now to avoid an epidemic,” said Graham. “Florida’s on the front lines in the fight against Zika. It’s time for Congress to do their job and pass full funding to fight this deadly virus.”

So far none of the 160 occurrences of the virus in Florida have occurred in Bay County, which have primarily been found in Miami-Dade and Broward. The state Department of Health says all incidences so far have been travel-related.

But Bay officials staffing up out of an abundance of caution, hiring more workers to do the sort of shift Graham performed.

Graham is fighting alongside senior members of the Florida congressional delegation Sen. Bill Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio in order to secure more funding to research and prepare for a possible large-scale outbreak of the virus.

“Let’s provide the funding that is going to be so needed,” said Graham. “We don’t have to spend it all, but let’s not be short-sighted. Let’s have the funding available so that if there’s research going on or a mosquito prevention activity that needs to take place, the funding is there.”

“That’s what we need to do — that’s what our job is in Congress,” said Graham.

See a video produced by Graham’s press shop Matt Harringer below:

Neal Dunn wins Leon Republicans’ straw poll

In a crowded 2nd Congressional District primary with three candidates from Tallahassee or east of it, it was Panama City’s Neal Dunn who managed to win the day among Capital City Republicans last week.

The urological surgeon won a Leon County Republican Executive Committee straw poll by five points over former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia and 17 points over former Rick Scott administration attorney Mary Thomas. Three percent voted for Ft. White businessman Jeff Moran and a few were undecided or chose “none of the above.”

“Neal Dunn continues to receive the endorsement and support that matters most to our North Florida communities,” said Sarah Bascom, Dunn’s campaign spokeswoman, after the vote.

Dunn is closing in on the status of “establishment favorite” in the CD 2 race to succeed Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, whose district was radically altered by the landmark 2014 redistricting case that has sent half a dozen Florida congressional incumbents scrambling.

Dunn has a quarter of a million dollars more than the next-highest fundraiser in Thomas, and has secured endorsements from big-name legislative Republicans like former Speaker Allan Bense and former Senate President Don Gaetz, among others.

But whether that will captivate rank-and-file GOP voters in a 2016 in the “outsider” cycle spurred by Donald Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders remains to be seen.

Thomas recently won the endorsement of FreedomWorks, a right-wing think tank affiliated with the congressional “Freedom Caucus,” an unofficial group all four CD 2 candidates have expressed fondness for during the campaign.

Still, Dunn maintains substantial advantages when it comes to metrics like fundraising and communication. He has taken to television airwaves  multiple times so far ahead of the summer and fall, when ad rates will rise amid the noise of the coming presidential contest.

The Leon REC vote wasn’t the first straw poll taken thus far in the campaign — Sukhia convincingly won another poll held at the Florida Family Policy Council earlier in May.

Solar groups to unite in support of Amendment 4

A pair of groups pushing solar energy-related changes to the state constitution will collaborate on an effort to pass Amendment 4 on the August 2016 ballot.

Florida for Solar, Inc., spearheaded by Sen. Jeff Brandes, and Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs will combine forces in order to try to surpass the 60 percent threshold needed for a ballot amendment to take effect.

“The continued collaboration of these two groups will enhance public awareness and give us the positive enforcement needed to pass Amendment 4 in August of this year,” said Chris Spencer, who also works as a legislative aide to Brandes. “We are excited to enhance the future of solar in Florida and we need voters to support this positive and forward-thinking effort.”

Brandes also expressed optimism about the effort.

“Growing the solar market offers great opportunities for our economy,” said Brandes, a St. Pete Republican. “Floridians will have additional clean energy options, lower energy bills and lower taxes on this investment. We look forward to our partnership with Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs and other groups to help move us one step closer to better options for renewable energy equipment in the state.”

A spokesperson for Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs responded in kind.

“We are thrilled to be working with Sen. Brandes and Florida for Solar to advance this important amendment that will lower energy costs and create new market opportunities for solar power in the Sunshine State,” said a spokesman. “I know this partnership, which has been cultivated for some time, brings the best chance of victory in August.”

The groups will unveil an online advocacy program in favor of Amendment 4 on July 1, about two months before the Aug. 30 vote.

Florida voters will also be voting in state and federal primary elections on the August ballot.

Ana Rivas Logan will run for Senate, mount primary challenge to Dwight Bullard

Sources close to Ana Rivas Logan confirmed the suspicions of many statehouse watchers around the state on Friday, saying she will run for Florida’s southernmost Senate seat in District 40.

As first reported by the Miami Herald, the move pits Logan against Republican Rep. Frank Artiles and incumbent Democrat Sen. Dwight Bullard in what figures to be a hotly contested race.

The redrawn SD 40 could have major ramifications when it comes to a possible Democratic Senate majority after redistricting following the 2020 census. An incumbency advantage on either side could tip the balance.

Insiders say the seat’s new orientation includes more moderate Hispanic voters who may eagerly support Bullard, a liberal African-American. Proponents of Rivas Logan’s entry into the fray also point to Bullard’s sluggish fundraising: he raised just $2,600 in April and has a paltry $22,000 cash on hand.

Artiles meanwhile has amassed some $238,000 in cash on hand. That money will fund crucial TV spots and direct mail, which can often decide a close legislative election.

Rivas Logan is a former Republican lawmaker and Miami-Dade School Board member. Echoing former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who ran as the Democrats’ 2014 gubernatorial nominee, her Twitter reads “new Dem/reformed Republican — Today’s GOP is not the party of my parents.” It also features a cut-up Florida voter card with a Republican registration.

The move will likely rankle progressives who like Bullard’s firebrand style in the Senate. He is a stalwart liberal on education, social, and environmental issues and is the only sitting senator who has endorsed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for President.

“Anyone else is entitled to throw her hat in the race, but I just think to be fully transparent: To leave a well-funded Republican with nothing to do while two Democrats go toe-to-toe all summer puts undue pressure on a Democratic establishment that’s already strained,” Bullard told the Times/Herald Friday.

The race tilts Democratic, but in an uncertain 2016 cycle could easily fall into Republican hands.

Rivas Logan is expected to file for the seat around June 1.

FreedomWorks endorses Mary Thomas in CD 2

In a seat where support from conservative activists could be crucial, Mary Thomas picked up the endorsement of Koch-backed FreedomWorks on Thursday.

The former Scott administration attorney is running against three fellow Republicans in a heated primary that will almost certainly decide who succeeds Democrat U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham in the newly redrawn 2nd Congressional District.

“Florida’s Second District is a great pick-up opportunity for conservatives. Mary Thomas is the true conservative running in this race. She realizes that heavy tax and regulatory burdens hurt the economy and limit opportunities for businesses and workers. She will work to advance free market policies and constitutional principles,” said FreedomWorks PAC Chairman Adam Brandon.

“We need conservatives like Mary Thomas in Washington to fight for limited government and economic freedom. She would be a great addition to the House, and we urge conservatives in the district to vote for her on Aug. 30,” Brandon continued.

The nod from the Tea Party-oriented group is an especially big coup since multiple candidates have expressed a fondness for FreedomWorks on the campaign trail.

Tallahassee businessman Jeff Moran touted the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, a founding member of the Congressional Freedom Caucus, which is unofficially associated with the group.

By way of attacking her opponent Panama City urologist Neal Dunn, Thomas said in a March debate she would join the caucus immediately upon being elected if she wins the GOP primary in CD 2.

Thomas heralded the group’s decision to support the ouster of former Speaker John Boehner on the grounds he was insufficiently conservative, a view Thomas said she shared.

Besides Dunn and Moran, Thomas also faces a significant challenge from former U.S. Attorney Ken Suhkia.

FreedomWorks was founded in 2004 via the merger of Citizens for a Sound Economy, founded by Charles Koch, and Empower America. The latter group was founded to advocate against then-newly elected President Bill Clinton.

Jeff Clemens announces raft of local endorsements

Though he may be running in some new territory this fall, Sen. Jeff Clemens says he is not short on support from across his redrawn Senate District 31.

The Lake Worth Democrat unveiled more than two dozen endorsements on Thursday from local elected leaders and advocacy groups.

Those giving the often left-leaning Democrat the nod included Palm Beach Reps. Dave Kerner and Bobby Powell, the county’s police union, Planned Parenthood, and the local arm of the LGBT rights groups Human Rights Council.

“It’s humbling to know other elected officials and advocacy organizations have confidence in the job I’m doing,” Clemens said. “Especially in places like Delray Beach and Boynton Beach, where I haven’t represented them previously.”

Ordinarily re-election wouldn’t be a pressing matter for Clemens, who is set to become Senate Minority Leader in 2018. But a landmark redistricting case has left fellow Democrat Sen. Maria Sachs without an uncontested district to run in. Sachs has said she will consider a challenge to either Clemens in SD 31 or Sen. Joe Abruzzo in adjacent SD 29.

Clemens also faces a primary challenger in Emmanuel Morel, who filed to run against Clemens back in April 2015.

See below for a full list of Clemens’ newly announced endorsers.

Rep. Kerner
Rep. Powell
County Commissioner Shelley Vana
County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay
Former County Commissioner Burt Aaronson
School Board Member Erica Whitfield
Boynton Beach Vice Mayor Mack McCray
Boynton Beach Commissioner Joe Casello
Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein
Delray Beach Commissioner Mitch Katz
Delray Beach Commissioner Shelly Petrolia
Lake Worth Commissioner Andy Amoroso
Greenacres Mayor Samuel Ferreri
Greenacres Commissioner Jonathan Pierce
West Palm Beach Commissioner Shanon Materio
Lake Clarke Shores Mayor Robert Shalhoub
South Palm Beach Mayor Bonnie Fischer
South Palm Beach Vice Mayor Joseph Flagello
Lantana Mayor David Stewart
Lantana Councilman Philip Arydas
Atlantis Councilman Michael LeCoursier
Riviera Beach Councilmember Terence Davis
Service Employees International Union Local
Palm Beach Police Benevolent Association
Florida Planned Parenthood PAC
Palm Beach Human Rights Council

Report: Alan Grayson padded fundraising with temporary loans

The internecine infighting between Democratic U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson continued Wednesday amid their heated battle for the open Senate seat vacated by Sen. Marco Rubio.

Murphy has now circulated a media report accusing Grayson of padding his fundraising figures by using temporary personal loans to his campaign account, then paying himself back using the same pool of contributions.

In the first three months of the year, Grayson both loaned his campaign $200,000 and also paid himself back for a previous $200,000 loan,” the Murphy campaign quoted Kevin Robillard of POLITICO Pro in a memo to supporters. “That boosted Grayson’s total fundraising to just over $1 million — but it did not actually add any money to his coffers.”

“Grayson had raised just over $1 million in the first three months of the year and spent slightly more than $800,000, leaving him with $430,000 on hand. But a quarter of his spending went toward paying back that earlier loan. Other candidates in the past have used a series of recycling loans to artificially boost their fundraising and cash on hand numbers,” the story continued.

The story concluded by noting Murphy had raised $2 million and carried $5.6 million on hand as of last quarter’s reporting period.

The Senate hopefuls have not been shy about stridently attacking one another.

Grayson has called Murphy a “Republican sock puppet” and, somewhat mystifyingly, a “lickspittle pillock” in attacks which have focused on his right-of-center roots and support from big-money banking and industrial interests.

Murphy, on the other hand, has pounded Grayson as an “unethical” pol who “put voters second to his pocketbook” over the offshore hedge fund Grayson manages.

The hedge fund remains open, as does an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into charges he improperly used his name and title to drum up business for it. Grayson, for his part, insists the charges are politically motivated and will go nowhere.

Grayson recently pointed out in a heated exchange with MSNBC’s Joy Reid, however, that the Congressional Ethics Committee has opted not to open up an investigative subcommittee into the charges. Historically, Grayson said, that means the chances of any eventual censure against him are slim.

Hotels group says Airbnb reaping millions in illegal South Florida revenue

The American Hotel and Lodging Association says Airbnb “landlords” raked in some $76 million on grey or black market transactions last year in Miami alone.

The group released the results of a new study on a conference call with reporters Tuesday, which looked at 14 major markets’ activity in the short-term rental sector, led by online outfits like Airbnb and other “sharing economy” actors.

In one South Beach zip code, the AHLA reported, some 1,427 Airbnb listings were recorded between October 2014 and September 2015, a substantial number of those by “full-time operators” who list their properties more than half the year.

The group’s concern, said a spokesperson, are not homeowners who occasionally rent out their homes to gain extra income, but the de facto landlords who operate multiple units as unregulated hotels.

Among the study’s key findings, per their report:

  • Full-time operators — those who listed their unit(s) for rent more than 360 days per year — accounted for more than $47 million, or nearly 40 percent, of Airbnb’s revenue in the Miami area, a higher percentage than in any of the other cities studied.
  • Three-quarters (76 percent) of Airbnb’s revenue in the Miami metropolitan area (more than $93 million) came from the nearly 30 percent of operators who listed their unit(s) for rent for more than 180 days per year.
  • Almost two-thirds (62 percent, the highest percentage of the 14 cities studied) of Airbnb’s revenue in the Miami region — more than $76 million — came from operators who listed multiple units for rent.
  • The five Miami-area ZIP codes with the most properties listed on Airbnb accounted for more than $79 million, or 65 percent of Airbnb’s revenue in the Miami metropolitan area.

The study was conducted by Dr. John O’Neill, professor of hospitality management and director of the Center for Hospitality Real Estate Strategy in the School of Hospitality Management at Penn State University.

A spokesman for Airbnb, however, took issue with the new findings.

“This factually inaccurate study, which was paid for by the hotel industry, is the latest example of the industry’s attempt to mislead and manipulate to stifle competition,” said Christopher McNulty, a spokesperson for Airbnb. “The AHLA is out of touch with the increasing number of consumers and cities embracing the tremendous benefits of home sharing. Vacation rentals have always been a driving force in Miami tourism and now home sharing is broadening that impact and bringing visitors’ dollars to new neighborhoods and small businesses.”

“In Florida, Airbnb collects and remits hotel taxes at the state level and in 27 counties. We continue to have productive conversations with officials to make it possible to collect and remit hotel taxes in Miami-Dade County and expect to reach an agreement soon,” McNulty continued.

The report was released just a week after fellow “sharing economy” leaders Uber and Lyft began operating in Miami after a years-long battle between the industry and municipal governments.

Jeb Bush to return as chair of Foundation for Excellence in Education

Former Gov. Jeb Bush is not one to stay out of public life for too long. On Tuesday, his plans for what comes next after departing from the 2016 GOP presidential primary came into focus.

Bush will again assume the reins as president and chairman of the Excellence in Education Foundation board of directors, an organization he created in 2007. In doing so, Bush takes over for former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

“One of the greatest challenges and opportunities we have in America today is to create a 21st century education system that ensures all students have the skills, teachers and educational options they need to succeed in life,” said Bush, known in Tallahassee as an ardent fighter for for-profit charter schools and against teachers’ unions.

“Too many children right now are failed by a deeply flawed bureaucratic system, but I’m optimistic about the future because I’ve seen the great results produced by states across the country. It is an honor to rejoin ExcelinEd as we continue to support states in bringing choice, innovation and accountability to the classroom. I am thankful to Dr. Rice and this exceptional board for their leadership over the past year,” said Bush.

Rice served as chair of the foundation’s board of directors starting in 2015. She will remain on the board.

Bush also takes over as head of the ExcelinEd in Action, an affiliated 501(c)(4) organization with a more political bent. Under federal tax rules, such groups need not disclose their donors, unlike 501(c)(3)s like the Excellence in Education Foundation.

Bush also maintains a government consultancy practice under the moniker Jeb Bush & Associates.

Edward James qualifies by petition in HD 72

Democrat Edward James is now the first candidate in House District 72 officially on the ballot.

The first-time candidate surpassed the threshold of 1,140 verified signatures on Monday.

James is locked in a competitive three-way race to succeed Republican Rep. Ray Pilon, who bowed out of a re-election race earlier this year to pursue a Senate seat vacated by GOP Sen. Nancy Detert, who is running for a Sarasota County Commission seat.

Medical industry executive Alex Miller and veteran TV reporter John Hill, both Republicans, emerged to challenge James, who was briefly unopposed after Pilon dropped out of the HD 72 race back in March.

It’s unclear whether James’ Republican opponents will also try to qualify by petition or if they will opt to pay $1,781.82 to the Secretary of State in order to secure a spot on the ballot.

The HD 72 seat has a moderately Republican tilt. The seat has been in the “R” column since Pilon ousted former Democratic Rep. Keith Fitzgerald there in the 2010 midterm cycle, and Gov. Rick Scott won the district by slight margins in both 2010 and 2014.

But with a looming Donald Trump factor many analysts expect to favor Democrats in November, the fate of the GOP hold on the seat is in jeopardy.

Sarasota Republican Party Chair Joe Gruters called James a “major threat” to flip the seat in a fundraising appeal to supporters late last year, while Democratic strategist Steve Schale corroborated that in a recent memo about 2016 statehouse campaigns.

“This is a major threat to the Republican seat and demonstrates that Democrats are serious about trying to turn back Republican control in Tallahassee,” wrote Gruters. “If they are successful, they will be emboldened to do it more so.”

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