Ryan Ray, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 95

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.

Rick Scott, Cabinet approve land conservation deal

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday OK’d a plan to buy still more conservation easements.

Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam approved the $6.6 million in deals at a Cabinet meeting.

The land, in Osceola County south of St. Cloud, will be set aside to forestall any development and preserve biodiversity.

Under the proposal the state would buy land within Adams Ranch, a fourth-generation cattle operation, and Camp Lonesome, another massive ranching area.

They will become “perpetual conservation easements” and the land will come under state management.

The land will be overseen by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Florida Forest Service Rural and Family Lands Protection Program.

The state will spend $5.4 million for a 3,245-acre plot and nearly $1.2 million for another 528 acres.

Under the terms of the deal, active ranches can continue to operate on their land.

The approvals create the 23rd and 24th perpetual conservation easements in the state. About 18,000 acres are now being preserved.

The Department of Environmental Protection already monitors thousands of nearby acres through the Adams Ranch Florida Forever project.

New state-managed land in Camp Lonesome will neighbor federal- and county-owned easements already in the area.

Capital correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this report.

Dana Young cited as ‘Republican force’ in Roll Call

In Tallahassee, Tampa Rep. Dana Young has long been considered a pol whose career may transcend the House.

Combine her political bloodline (grandfather was Senate president, uncle served in the House) and prowess on the campaign trail (soundly defeated all comers in a swing seat since 2010) and it’s not hard to see Young has more juice than the average mid-bencher.

That line of thinking recently got national attention when CQ Roll Call’s Elvina Nawaguna profiled the House Majority Leader and Senate District 18 candidate for a recent installment of “The Newspaper of Capitol Hill’s” Influential Women feature.

“Young is an attorney and conservative power-broker who has political ambitions in her home state,” writes Nawaguna.

After taking hard-right stands on both LGBT issues and immigration in moderate-leaning coastal Tampa Bay  — “You can’t get tough enough,” Young said about illegal immigrants, calling for an Arizona-style law in 2010:

She garnered 56 percent of the vote and then was re-elected twice, running unopposed each time.

Young moved into the leadership ranks and then Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli chose her as majority leader.

“She has the ability to be firm in her principles while still being able to find compromise with other members,” he said.

She has sponsored more than 20 bills that became law.

Mark Pafford, the Democratic leader in the Florida House, said he disagrees with Young on many issues, but appreciates her willingness to talk with colleagues across the aisle and help to create a collegial atmosphere.

Nawaguna acknowledges Young is heading into a potentially difficult election against Democratic lawyer Bob Buesing, who took her to task for her unapologetically pro-gun stances. “I want to send kids to school. She wants to make sure they get guns when they get there,” Buesing told Roll Call.

But in a year of apportionment when redistricting is forcing many state Republicans into difficult Senate matchups, the only one we know of getting Washington, D.C. ink is Young.

Ken Keechl blows out George Moraitis in April HD 93 fundraising

Wilton Manors Democrat Ken Keechl may stand to gain from a negative “Donald Trump effect” against a Republican incumbent in deep-blue Broward, but apparently he isn’t taking any chances.

Keechl is challenging third-term Pompano Beach state Rep. George Moraitis in moderate, coastal House District 93. Keechl took in $21,198 during the April reporting period while Moraitis raised just $3,700, according to new campaign finance data.

Keechl also spent just $139 to Moraitis’ $5,548, stretching Keechl’s net fundraising advantage to about $23,000 for April.

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.

A former county commissioner (2006-2010), Keechl mounted losing local campaigns in 2012 and 2014 after a narrow defeat in 2010 at the hands of current Republican Commissioner Chip LaMarca.

Keechl’s three consecutive runs in as many election cycles have earned him a reputation among some in Broward as a perennial candidate who can nary afford another “L” on his win-loss record.

But could this year — in a statehouse run with an unprecedented presidential race at the top of the ticket — be the year his luck changes?

Democratic strategist Steve Schale essentially said “maybe” in his new post on House races out Monday.

Another Florida Democratic insider told FloridaPolitics.com they appraise Keechl’s chances at “50/50.”

Schale noted Mitt Romney narrowly won the district 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.

“In no way yet can you say Moraitis is vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean he or the GOP can turn a blind eye to this race,” wrote Schale.

Cabinet aides tee up land deal for Tuesday vote

A plan for the state of Florida to buy $6.6 million in new state land easements took another step toward approval this week.

Aides to Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet officers heard plans to buy two huge swaths of land in Osceola County, south of St. Cloud, for conservation purposes. Such land is set aside to help stave off development and preserve biodiversity.

John Brown of the Florida Forest Service presented the plan at the Wednesday morning meeting, held in the Capitol’s Lower Level.

Under the proposal, the state would buy land within Adams Ranch, a fourth-generation cattle operation, and Camp Lonesome, another massive ranching area owned by Osceola County. Both would become “perpetual conservation easements” managed by the state.

Overseeing the land would be the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Florida Forest Service Rural and Family Lands Protection Program — “We should work on shortening that,” Brown quipped — with the state spending $5.4 million for a 3,245-acre plot and nearly $1.2 million for another 528 acres.

Under the terms of the deal, active ranches can continue to operate on the land.

An affirmative vote Tuesday would create the 23rd and 24th perpetual conservation easements acquired by the program. If approved, the deal would expand its purview to some 18,000 acres overall.

The Department of Environmental Protection already monitors thousands of nearby acres through the Adams Ranch Florida Forever project. New state-managed land in Camp Lonesome would neighbor federal- and county-owned easements already existing in the region.

Both tracts, Brown said Wednesday, scored in the most-favorable tier in a 2015 Rural and Family Lands study, which ranked prospective targets for state acquisition.

The unusual composition of Florida’s four-member Cabinet — last altered by voters in 1998 elections — means the deal will need any trio among Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater, and Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam to secure passage.

Ahead of Mother’s Day, Gwen Graham makes congressional visit to Afghanistan

U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham paid a surprise visit to Afghanistan this week to visit American mothers serving overseas and Afghan women working towards gender equality.

The visit was part of a bipartisan Congressional delegation to the war-torn nation, where a series of foreign occupiers and long-term civil strife has made life difficult for all Afghans, particularly women.

Graham saluted those women, as well as the American women in uniform who she said were fighting for a just cause.

“It’s difficult for anyone in our military to leave their family and serve overseas — and it can be especially hard on mothers serving in war zones,” said Graham, a freshman Democrat from Tallahassee. “It was an honor for me to meet with these brave mothers serving in Afghanistan. They deserve our respect, admiration and support.”

Joining Graham on the trip were three other congresswomen: fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Susan Davis of California and Republican U.S Reps. Martha McSally of Arizona and Martha Roby of Alabama.

In keeping with Graham’s moderate-tinged North Florida Way, the attorney and former Leon County Schools legal counsel had warm words for women seeking gender equity on both sides of the aisle.

“Women’s rights are human rights,” said Graham, who recently announced she will likely run for governor in 2018. “We’ve seen Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush both lead on this issue, because it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat — we all must stand up for oppressed women around the world.”

“The Afghan women I met, including the first lady, are risking their lives to fight for a society where their daughters and granddaughters will have equal rights. I stand in solidarity with them and will do everything I can in Congress to support their fight,” Graham said.

Graham, the daughter of iconic former Florida U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham, is the first woman to represent the Panhandle in Congress.

Florida Supreme Court

Supreme Court hears arguments on overturning death sentences

The Florida Supreme Court weighed arguments on whether the state will execute a convicted murderer or overturn his death sentence on Thursday.

Timothy Hurst‘s legal counsel argued errors in the sentencing process should invalidate his sentence in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that briefly invalidated Florida’s death penalty regime.

Attorneys for the state, on the other hand, said procedural problems — including too much deference to judges rather than juries and relatively low jury vote thresholds for death sentences — were not serious enough to grant Hurst a lighter sentence.

Hurst’s life hangs in the balance, as do nearly 400 other death row convicts whose sentences could also be thrown out, depending on the state justices’ ruling in his case. David Davis, Hurst’s lawyer, was careful to delimit his arguments to the facts of his client’s case alone, however.

Hurst was convicted in the 1998 murder of the manager of a Popeye’s restaurant in Pensacola where he worked as a 19-year-old. Court findings that Hurst had an IQ of 69 and other possible mitigating factors were not enough to prevent a jury from voting for a death sentence by a 7-5 vote, a lower standard than passes muster in most states.

A new law mandates at least 10 out of 12 jurors must vote to sentence a defendant to death. It also directs that a judge may not circumvent their will by imposing death against their recommendation. Under those circumstances, Hurst may well have gotten only life in prison, Davis argued.

Davis also cited a statute that says if the death penalty is overturned all death sentences should be commuted. But Assistant Attorney General Carine Mitz said the statute does not apply since the January case that briefly derailed the state’s capital punishment system only applied to the sentencing process, not the death penalty itself.

Justice Barbara Pariente and Justice Peggy Quince, both appointed by Democrats, peppered Mitz with questions over whether each aggravating factor — usually required for a penalty of death — must be explicitly affirmed by a jury and must outweigh any mitigating factors, like Hurst’s low IQ and mental disorders stemming from a traumatic injury.

Mitz said under the January Supreme Court opinion and a subsequent case, Kansas v. Carr, mitigation and weighing factors are not technically facts of the case, and so fall under a lower level of scrutiny than Hurst’s counsel prescribed.

Also at issue were potential problems with the new statute passed by the Legislature this past Session that patched up the state’s death penalty regime, but may itself later be invalidated, according to Davis.

Davis said unanimous jury verdicts in the sentencing phase, common in other states, were a matter of time, eventually tossing out Florida’s new “10 out of 12” rule for death sentences.

“Evolving standards are it should be unanimous,” said Davis. “If they approve the current statute then we are going to postpone the inevitable for 10-15 years until the U.S. Supreme Court takes another Hurst case.”

The justices did not immediately make a ruling on the case.

Tampa Bay is like America, but more so

Many red state politicians — and even POLITICO co-founder Jim VandeHei in a recent op-ed — often talk of a “real America,” a nation apart from the latte liberal denizens of our urban, coastal cities.

But new research has found one of the most “normal” cities in America is right here in Florida — the greater Tampa Bay area.

FiveThirtyEight’s Jed Kolko recently compared each major U.S. metropolitan area to the U.S. overall, based on age, educational attainment, and race and ethnicity, and discovered none other than the Big Guava is one of the most typical cities in America.

The Tampa Bay metro area, including Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, is nearly 92 percent similar to the makeup of the U.S. overall, second only to the Hartford-Milford, Connecticut area.

Others high up on the list may surprise “flyover country” denizens as well: Springfield, Massachusetts, Chicago, and Philadelphia also made the Top 10, each looking at least 86 percent like the U.S. writ large.

“Looking across metros of all sizes, the places that look most like America tend to be larger metros, though not the largest ones. The similarity index is highest, on average, for metros with between 1 million and 2 million people,” wrote Kolko.

“The metros that look least like America are those with fewer than 100,000 people,” he added, to drive the point home.

VandeHei and talk radio types do have a point when they speak of “normal” America, but only if you go by demographics from the Eisenhower administration.

Back then lily-white Ogden, Utah; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee were the most typical American metropolitan areas.

So the next time some sanctimonious New Yorker sees an anomalous news story, notes that it went down in Florida, and Tweets out a link with the sneering “Florida man” hashtag, just remember — Tampa Bay is exactly like the rest of the country.

Just more so.

Evan Power joins Ramba Consulting Group

Now that the dust has finally settled from the 2016 Session, Adams Streeters are retooling and getting ready for the next go-around.

The most recent personnel move: lobbyist Evan Power will join Ramba Consulting Group.

Power comes to the firm — helmed by eponym Dave Ramba —  after some 12 years of experience both inside and outside Florida government. Power served in the Florida House in both the Majority Office as well as the Procedures and Policy Office as a Legislative Analyst for former Speaker and current U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Power’s professional specialities include transportation and environmental permitting. He is also deeply political outside of work: aside from being the current Chairman for the Leon County Republican Party, he will also be a delegate at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

Power received a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s in Applied American Politics and Policy, both from Florida State University.

Founded in 2009, Ramba Consulting Group is located in downtown Tallahassee, in the shadow of the state Capitol.

According to the estimates based on the most recent available lobbying compensation reports, Ramba pulled down more than $1.2 million in revenue for 2015.

The firm also scored a coup during the 2016 Legislative Session wherein they played a key role in securing a possible raise for Supervisors of Elections and other county-level constitutional officers.

Adam Putnam, water specialists to address international agriculture summit Wednesday

Major agriculture players — growers, industry advocates, scientists, and policymakers alike — will congregate in West Palm Beach on Wednesday for the Palm Beach International Agricultural Summit.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is expected to join in, along with senior executives from farm machinery giant John Deere and leading food pantry operator United Way of New York, as participants take a deep dive into issues like Palm Beach County’s role in producing winter crops in the Northeastern U.S., new farming innovations, how to solve global hunger challenges, and sharing knowledge and best practices among agribusinesses worldwide.

Another heavy hitter in the ag world making the pilgrimage to Palm Beach is Dr. Shabtai “Shep” Cohen, who directs the Institute of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences at the Agricultural Research Organization’s Volcani Center in Bet Dagan, Israel.

Cohen said he spoke with event organizers and sugar industry representatives on Tuesday about water quality and water cycling, a key issue in South Florida, where acute problems in ailing waterways like the Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee River have made headlines statewide and nationally.

Cohen said, overall, agricultural methods have gotten far more efficient, and there’s enough data available to help farmers make better decisions both economically and ecologically. But as of today, there’s still a disconnect between that data and the actors on the ground who must implement that knowledge.

“I think where we lag behind is on decision support systems that can analyze the data and give farmers the right recommendations,” said Cohen. “I think the situation is now — the farmer can get the data. If they are an intelligent farmer, he can maybe learn how to use the data, but we don’t have the support to tell him what exactly what to do with the data.”

Cohen said this state of affairs is to be expected, “the way new technologies develop”: technologies almost always evolve unevenly. In this case, remote sensor technology allows observers to note nearly infinite points of data, but other research sectors have lagged somewhat behind. In other words, “We have more data than we know how to use.”

On the whole though, Cohen was bullish regarding the state of South Florida agriculture.

Around the corner are cheap structures that can alter agriculture climate to increase productivity.

“In the case of sugar production it’s tremendously efficient,” said Cohen. He said current sugar-farming practices like “no-till” harvesting prevent depletion of soil, and that water pollution from the crop itself is negligible or non-existent.

“I think in a way things have become much more agriculturally friendly. From what I’ve seen the agriculture here isn’t really challenging the environment,” said Cohen, though he stressed the need for preserves abutting farming zones to preserve biodiversity.

Cohen also said Florida has significant advantages over his native Israel, as well as states like California, where water rights and usage are regulated far more tightly in a rigid, top-down manner.

The summit coincides with the release of a report by Tony Villamil from the Washington Economics Group, who used data from the University of Florida and Florida Atlantic University. The report focuses on challenges facing Palm Beach County farmers, including the possible end to the Cuban embargo, as well as challenges such as citrus greening, which has hit Florida’s citrus crop exceedingly hard.

The summit is set to run from 8:15 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Wednesday at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

The full agenda can be found here.


Public affairs show ‘Facing Florida’ ends after five-year run

After 300 hundred episodes and five years on the air, the Sunday morning public affairs program Facing Florida called it quits last month.

Host and producer Mike Vasilinda told FloridaPolitics.com Monday that though he loved doing the show and felt it contributed to the political discourse around Tallahassee, the show was taking away too much from his other Capitol news and video production business.

“Every business has limited resources. In our case, Facing Florida was taking away time, energy and resources from rate paying clients, new and old, seeking high quality video production,” said Vasilinda, a longtime statehouse reporter and husband of Democratic Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda.

“As the volume of high-end production work increased this spring, we were forced to make a choice between providing excellent service to our clients and providing timely, educational information about Florida government to our viewers,” said Vasilinda.

Vasilinda said despite reaching up to 100,000 viewers a week in seven media markets via nine different TV stations, the business end of his Capitol News Service was never able to find the right sales representative to allow the show to live up its full commercial potential.

A longtime presence at the Capitol whose tenure has spanned 43 legislative sessions and 9 governors, Vasilinda said the move does not mean he is hanging up the microphone.

“Nothing is changing here. I will continue to provide informative, hard hitting news coverage to our network of television stations through the news service I founded in 1975,” said Vasilinda.

“In addition to continuing to report on Florida government and politics, I am exploring other ways to keep Floridians informed on issues of importance to them. Stay tuned. Facing Florida may have moved into the history archives, but the need for an informed population is greater than ever,” Vasilinda concluded in a memo.

Recent episodes included guests Senate President Andy Gardiner, Florida State University President and former lawmaker John Thrasher, and Boca Raton Rep. Irv Slosberg,

The show’s final episode, which ran March 27, featured former Florida Democratic Party chief Screven Watson and Pete Dunbar, former Chief of Staff to Gov. Bob Martinez.

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