Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, Florida Politics, Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of the quarterly INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, SaintPetersBlog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.
Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2018 Legislative Session
The Last 24
While the pundit class may gnash its teeth over President Donald Trump announcing a move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Gov. Rick Scott stands with his “partner in the White House.”
Meanwhile, Scott’s request for lawmakers to boost tourism marketing by $24 million next year might be a tough sell in the House.
House Speaker Richard Corcoranvisited the C-SPAN bus for an interview, saying Sen. Jack Latvala is “heading toward expulsion” and that the Clearwater Republican hasn’t resigned because of an “entitlement mentality.”
Corcoran also publicly supported a legislative push to make texting while driving a primary offense under state law. Now, officers need to have another reason before they can pull a driver over.
The House Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee passed HB 405, which gives the Public Service Commission “exclusive jurisdiction” to decide whether underground transmission lines are required for power plant projects. It was its second stop, and the bill is now on its way to a third and final committee.
The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a financial literacy bill, its third and final committee stop before heading to the Senate floor for the 2018 Session. SB 88, filed by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, would replace a half-credit of electives with a half-credit of required personal financial literacy instruction for students entering high school in the 2018-19 year.
And state Sen. DanaYoung is defending her fantasy sports bill for 2018, saying the Seminole Tribe’s criticism of her measure and related legislation is “off point.”
Quote of the Day
“It is time for you to decisively pursue justice.” — GOP candidate for Attorney General and state Rep. RossSpano, in a letter to Hillsborough County State Attorney AndrewWarren, on pursuing the death penalty against the alleged Seminole Heights killer in Tampa.
Bill Day’s Latest
A proposed constitutional amendment aimed at limiting gambling’s expansion in the state now has more than 1 million signatures, its backers said Wednesday. Voters in Charge, the political committee behind the amendment, said it’s still aiming for 1.1 million signatures to reach the required number to appear on the 2018 general election ballot. The amendment would “ensure that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” the ballot summary says.
John Sowinski, chairman of Voters in Charge, said they collected over 237,000 petitions in November.
Q: Were you surprised at the number of signatures your initiative received?
JS: We are grateful to the over 1 million Floridians who have taken the time to sign … That’s over 1 million voices saying it is time to restore the bright-line in our state’s constitution, which gives Florida voters — not politicians or bureaucrats — the ultimate authority to approve casino gambling in Florida.
Q: How many signatures have been verified so far?
JS: The Florida Division of Elections is currently reporting 503,607 petitions valid of the 766,200 needed to gain placement on the 2018 ballot.
Q: What do you think motivates people to sign on to your effort?
JS: Regardless of their individual positions on gambling, Florida voters have responded positively to the premise behind our amendment, which is to put voters back in charge of casino gambling decisions in the Sunshine State.
Tony Glover, formerly the state’s top gambling regulator, has registered to lobby for GREY2K USA Worldwide, a group that seeks to end greyhound racing.
Glover, who now has his own firm, was director of the state’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (DPMW). Before that, he was deputy director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT). Both are under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. (DBPR).
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider several issues, including potential changes in the management of bay scallops. That’s at 8:30 a.m., Best Western Gateway Grand, 4200 N.W. 97th Blvd., Gainesville.
The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a bill (SB 204), filed by Sen. Rob Bradley, that would lead to the state spending at least $75 million a year on springs projects and $50 million annually on projects related to the restoration of the St. Johns River and its tributaries or the Keystone Heights lake region. That’s at 9 a.m., 301 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
Sen. AnnetteTaddeo of Miami and Rep. LoriBerman of Lantana, both Democrats, will hold a news conference highlighting their resolutions to put the issue of Medicaid expansion to the voters. That’s at 10 a.m., outside the Senate Chamber, 4th-floor rotunda, the Capitol.
The Florida Supreme Court is expected to release its weekly opinions at 11 a.m.
Candidates in a special election in Sarasota County’s House District 72 are scheduled to appear at the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club. That’s at noon, Michael’s on East, 1212 East Ave. South, Sarasota.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee will take up a bill (SB 374), filed by Sen. Dana Young, that would make clear that fantasy sports contests are not subject to Florida gambling laws. That’s at 12:30 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
The Joint Administrative Procedures Committee will receive presentations about a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida and implementation of a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. That’s at 3:45 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
There is a scene in the always-watchable movie “The Late Shift” — a behind-the-scenes look at the network politics that embroil television executives responsible for late-night programming after 1991’s retirement announcement of Johnny Carson — in which Tonight Show producer Peter Lassally (played by Steven Gilborn) has a come-to-Jesus conversation with David Letterman in which he tells him he will not — nor should he want to — replace Carson in the 11:30 p.m. slot.
Letterman, of course, does not want to hear that. “Jesus, why are you doing this to me?” Lassally reminds him that he was the one who “moved heaven and earth” for Letterman to be in the position to replace Carson, so trust him when he says Letterman should not do it.
Sooner rather than later someone needs to have one with state Sen. Jack Latvala.
Latvala could have/can “beat” the sexual harassment charge leveled against him by Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers. Yes, it’s likely the special master will find that probable cause for the complaint to move forward exists, but it will essentially come down to a “he said, she said” situation. Latvala has repeatedly said he will fight all the way to a final vote on the Senate floor, which would require a two-thirds vote of the body to expel him.
Up until a week ago, Latvala may have been able to survive this. Whereas other reporters have suggested that the entire Democratic caucus would vote to expel Latvala, until recently, I was not sure about that. I have spoken to at least three who had serious reservations about voting to expel Latvala. I also believe a handful of Republican members — Wilton Simpson, Lizbeth Benacquisto — would have had to recuse themselves from a final vote. In other words, no one really knows the math behind an expulsion vote.
Enter Lauren Book‘s complaint.
There’s just no way Latvala can survive it. Frank Artiles was forced to resign because he said the wrong thing to another member in a late-night bar setting. What Book is alleging Latvala did is worse than that by a magnitude of five.
And remember, Book has more credibility on the issues of abuse than almost any other elected official, save Benacquisto. Period. If Book says something is inappropriate or wrong, you simply have to trust that she knows better.
So the reality for Jack Latvala is, yes, he may have been able to survive Perrin Rogers’ complaint, but he will not be able to survive Book’s.
I’ve moved heaven and earth over the last seven years to advance the political career of Jack Latvala, backing his return to the Senate in 2010 and his bid for the Senate presidency. I’ve supported his political allies here in Tampa Bay. And, just so we’re clear, I believe him when he says he hasn’t knowingly touched someoneinappropriately.
I’ve moved heaven and earth, but it’s time to end L’Affaire Latvala. His opponents have outplayed him.
Perrin Rogers decision to pre-emptively out her name last week to POLITICO Florida was a brilliant tactical move, whereas Latvala’s clumsy television interviews were a disaster. Latvala probably can’t be blamed for suggesting that Perrin Rogers’ husband, Brian Hughes, was working for a prospective gubernatorial campaign (who knew that Hughes had parted ways with another client?) but Latvala didn’t need to go there in the first place. What he should have done — and to be clear, this is what I suggested to him — was have his attorney ask Senate President Joe Negron to ask Benacquisto to recuse herself because Hughes is her political consultant. That’s an easy-to-understand conflict of interest. It could have been raised privately.
The irony is that Latvala has been so effective in raising questions about Perrin Rogers’ credibility that he has immolated himself in the process.
A month ago, I offered “Advice for Jack Latvala,” writing:
Shut up. No matter what else is reported … no matter how much you want to respond … don’t say another damn word! At least not for 48 hours. 72 hours of silence would be even better. The longer you go without saying anything, the less fuel there will be for the fire.
… Just go dark for the time being. It’s the last thing the political world expects from you right now.
Obviously, that advice was not followed.
Hopefully, this latest advice will be given its due.
Make a deal.
Perhaps you can make a deal that does not even involve you responding to Perrin Rogers’ complaint. Perhaps you can make a deal that ends the special master’s investigation before he delivers a ruling. Perhaps the deal could include sealing the special master’s findings.
But it’s time to make a deal.
Book’s complaint is the unkindest cut of all and cannot be survived.
Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
Breaking overnight — “Margaret Good defeats Ruta Jouniari for Democratic nomination in House District 72” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics — Siesta Key attorney Margaret Good has defeated businesswoman/activist Ruta Jouniari in the Democratic primary race in northern Sarasota’s House District 72 seat. With 97 percent of the votes in, Good led Jouniari by a massive 44 points, 72 -28 percent. Good had 6,144 votes to Jouniari’s 2,342. Good now advances to the special general election for the seat scheduled for Feb. 13. The battle was depicted as a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. Good is a mainstream Democrat who party officials think has the potential to flip the seat from red to blue next year.
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— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —
“HD 39 candidate Josie Tomkow raises $50K in first three weeks on campaign trail” via Florida Politics — Though Tomkow has not yet filed her November campaign finance report, her campaign announced the first-time politician brought in more than $50,000 last month. “We have a remarkable team. The outpouring of support from my friends and family humbles me. No one will work harder than I will to earn the trust and support of the people who live and work in District 39,” Tomkow said in a news release. Tomkow is running to replace former Rep. Neil Combee, who left the seat Nov. 24 to start a new job as Florida’s State Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. Combee endorsed Tomkow before exiting the House, even over another potential Republican candidate, Polk County Commissioner John Hall, who expressed interest in running.
Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White endorses Joe Wicker for HD 59 — “We have the chance to elect a common sense, conservative leader with real-world experience growing a business and protecting our country. Joe is passionate about serving our community and finding solutions to the challenges facing our county, region, and state. I wholeheartedly support him to be our next State Representative and I know without a doubt he will make an excellent Representative,” White said. Wicker served as a committee chairman in the Harbor Bay Development District and as a member of the Hillsborough County Citizens Advisory Committee-appointed by Commissioner Al Higginbotham. He is a supporter of Kiwanis Club of Brandon and LifeCare of Brandon in the Tampa Bay area. As a conservative Republican, Wicker also serves as a member of the Republican Party executive committee.
“Jose Mallea becomes fifth Republican to file for HD 119” via Florida Politics — Mallea filed paperwork Tuesday to run in House District 119, currently held by termed-out Republican Rep. Jeanette Nuñez. Mallea has an extensive background in politics, including running Sen. MarcoRubio’s successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2010. He also served as chief of staff to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and served stints in the federal government, working at the U.S. Department of State and the White House. His political pedigree helped him score endorsements from former Gov. Jeb Bush, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, state Sen. Rene Garcia, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce when he ran in the special election earlier this year.
— LATEST ON FLA. DEMS. CHAIR RACE —
“As election nears, Terrie Rizzo announces more endorsements” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics — Ahead of the Florida Democratic Party Chair election this Saturday, when 182 electors will cast their vote, Palm Beach County Chair Terrie Rizzo on Monday said she has secured the endorsements of 51 of them. Under the weighted system, there are a total of 1,237 possible votes to be distributed among the three eligible candidates: Rizzo, Alma Gonzalez and Stacey Patel. While Monica Russo has announced her bid to be the next state party leader, she is not eligible to run, under current party rules. JuanCuba, the chairman of the Miami-Dade Democrats, said he has asked members to vote early on Friday to get a sense of what the majority of the membership wants.
“Alma Gonzalez gets key support for Florida Democratic Party chair, but not from all progressives” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics — The race for the next Florida Democratic Party chair is not quite a done deal. Hillsborough County’s Gonzalez is touting new endorsements from the state’s Democratic black, Hispanic and Caribbean caucuses. And Brevard County’s Stacey Patel is getting some love from progressives in Gonzalez’ home territory … several members of the Tampa Bay Progressive Coalition told Florida Politics that they’re backing Patel, the Bernie Sanders-supporting Brevard chair who is the insurgent candidate in the campaign. Gonzalez serves as a Committeewoman for the Hillsborough DEC, but one member of the local Progressive Coalition expressed frustration with her role there, saying she didn’t represent the entire DEC’s stance on some issues, such as the “one party, one vote issue.”
>>>Florida is the only state in the nation whose votes are weighted in state party elections for the chair, meaning not a one man/woman one vote. Advocates say that is in direct violation of Democratic National Committee rules. When asked about this, Gonzalez admits that it was an issue between her and many Hillsborough DEC members.
— SIZING UP CHRIS KING —
The Tampa Bay Times’ interviewedWinter Park businessman and gubernatorial candidate Chris King to see how he’s approaching the race against his daunting Democratic primary opponents, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine.
The Times notes Tallahassee Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum as “once the buzziest candidate,” but “now has an FBI corruption looming over his City Hall and the aura of a dead man walking.”
The interview provides insights into the relatively unknown King and the progressive businessman niche he’s trying to carve out for himself. His top two priorities if elected? Ending sweeps of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund and introducing tuition-free community college and trade school.
Oh, and he played against NBA legend Vince Carter in high school.
— On potentially dropping out of the race or shifting to another office: “I am an unconventional candidate. And I embrace that … I’m running for Governor because that’s the office that can lead and execute a big new vision for our state.”
— On his uniqueness: “I’ve built a career around being a progressive entrepreneur — combining a business skill set to advance progressive goals.”
— On his strengths: “My candidacy represents a fresh vision for Florida, one that requires the sort of imagination that has been lacking in our party in recent decades.”
— On wild-card John Morgan: “I’d never underestimate John Morgan.”
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— L’AFFAIRE LATVALA —
“Lauren Book files complaint against Jack Latvala for interfering in investigation” via Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — Book, a freshman legislator and member of the Senate Rules Committee, filed the complaint with Senate Rules Committee Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto … The four-page complaint alleges that Latvala violated the Senate rules by using “undue influence” to interfere with the investigation against him and for violating the confidentiality agreement he signed with the Senate. “It appears the Senator may have engaged in behavior that violates the trust we sought to establish, and which every alleged victim of misconduct deserves, by potentially victimizing, or re-victimizing, the complainant,” Book wrote. “It appears by many accounts that Sen. Latvala and his legal team are engaging in the very same type of courtroom tactics practiced by criminal defense lawyers in sexual assault cases, both childhood and adult.”
“Florida Democratic Party: Jack Latvala ‘must resign’” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — The party now says Latvala “must resign” in light of “the numerous allegations of sexual harassment against” him. The party released a statement Tuesday through its spokeswoman, JohannaCervone. It follows calls from fellow GOP senators also calling for him to, or suggesting that he, step down from office. “Latvala’s behavior is unacceptable and there is no place for it in our government or our state,” Cervone said. “Using a position of power to harass, touch, demean and pressure women — or anyone else — is wrong, plain and simple … “Now, Latvala’s smear campaign against (Senate aide) RachelPerrinRogers has resulted in her needing armed security. He must resign.” Latvala responded to those calls on social media, reasserting his innocence and saying he will “keep fighting.”
Of course, @JackLatvala should resign. It’s insulting that he hasn’t yet. It’s equally infuriating that he has been allowed to abuse his political power to cowardly intimidate his victims.
Latvala responds to all of the criticism on Facebook: “I woke up this morning to quotes by several of my colleagues, who could end up being my judges and have not yet heard one word of sworn testimony, calling for my resignation. Then, I saw a column in my hometown paper saying I have been wrong to fight so hard to prove my innocence. At a pretty low ebb, I pulled into the Capitol. The first two people I ran into are both longtime Capitol staffers, one a public safety professional. One said, ‘we all know this is bullshit.’ The other said ‘we believe in you.’ I guess I will keep fighting!”
“Senate committee shoots down church carry, open carry bills” via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News — A series of bills designed to expand gun owners’ rights in Florida is headed toward the legislative boneyard after the Senate Judiciary Committee sent them packing, shooting them down with a bipartisan vote. One of the bills, SB 274, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel would have allowed concealed carry permit holders to bring their firearms to church for protection. One of the other bills, sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube would have allowed gun owners to bring and check their firearms to courthouses in Florida. Steube’s second bill would have allowed concealed carry permit holders to openly carry their guns statewide. Republican lawmakers have been pushing courthouse carry and open carry for years, but haven’t made much progress passing either measure on account of Miami-Dade Republicans, who for years have blocked the bills from going anywhere.
“Stop prosecuting kids as adults, advocates say” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics — Miguel Rodriguez is only 24, but he already lost nearly a decade of his life to the criminal justice system. He attended a Tuesday news conference at the Capitol to argue for changes to the way Florida prosecutes juvenile offenders, including what’s known as the direct-file process, in which some minors are charged and handled in adult court. Rodriguez was prosecuted as an adult when he was 15, he says, for breaking into and vandalizing a vacant house in his Tampa neighborhood with a group of high school friends. His odyssey through the system includes being sent to prison at 20 for three years for violating his curfew — because he ran late leaving his job at a restaurant. “We didn’t think we were hurting anybody,” Rodriguez told Florida Politics of his original arrest. “And we didn’t understand the consequences.”
“Support for new texting-while-driving law grows. So do concerns it will lead to more racial profiling” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times — As distracted driving crashes continue to rise steadily year after year, advocates say it’s time to give police more enforcement power to reduce traffic injuries and deaths caused by distracted driving. At least 25 local governments, including Miami-Dade County, also support making texting a primary offense. But African-American lawmakers, citing racial disparities in studies of traffic stops and acts of police violence against blacks, are very wary of the idea. “There’s a concern that it could be a pretext to stop certain individuals,” said Sen. Perry Thurston chairman of a 28-member legislative black caucus and an opponent of a tougher texting law. Thurston cited a 2014 study by the American Civil Liberties Union that found that African-Americans were nearly twice as likely as whites to be stopped for violating a state law that requires motorists to wear seat belts. “There is good reason to be concerned about more officer discretion,” said Howard Simon, director of the ACLU of Florida. “Racial disparities in traffic law enforcement are well-documented. Black and Hispanic drivers are far more likely to be pulled over than white drivers for the same behaviors and offenses, and once stopped, people of color are more likely to be subjected to a police search.”
“House aims to roll out slimmer version of budget than Rick Scott” via Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics – As Florida House members work to roll out their budget, the chairman of that chamber’s budget committee said Tuesday they are aiming for a simpler version of the massive $87 billion budget Gov. Scott has proposed. “Our goal is to pass a balanced budget — I don’t want to say one that is more conservative than the governor’s, but one that is more simplified,” state Rep. Carlos Trujillo said. When Trujillo was asked by reporters what he meant by a simpler budget, he implied that it would cover the state’s basic functions, but his chamber would likely not pack their budget with as many member projects sought by specific members.
“House Republicans target ‘certificates of need’” via the News Service of Florida — A key House committee approved a bill that would repeal the controversial “certificate of need” regulatory process for hospitals, as Republican leaders again take aim at the issue. The House Health & Human Services Committee voted 13-6 along straight party lines to approve a repeal bill (HB 27), sponsored by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen. The measure is ready to go to the House floor after the 2018 legislative session starts in January. House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other GOP leaders have long sought to repeal the so-called CON process, but the Senate has not gone along. Long-standing state law requires hospitals to get certificates of need before they can undertake projects such as adding new buildings. Fitzenhagen said ending the regulation would remove “barriers to entry” and increase competition in the hospital industry. “I think competition is healthy in almost all settings,” she said.
“Public union dues-or-recertification bill passes House panel” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A House committee voted along party lines to approve a measure to require most public employees’ unions to meet a dues-paying threshold or face recertification. The House Government Accountability Committee passed the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Scott Plakon, by a 14-9 vote, and now heads to the floor of the House of Representatives. HB 25 would require public employees’ unions [exempting police and firefighters’ unions] to annually report to the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission how many workers are in each bargaining unit, and how many of them actually pay dues. Any union that reports dues-paying members as less than 50 percent of the bargaining unit must be recertified as a union in order to continue to exist. That would require new petitions with at least 30 percent of all workers signatures, followed by an election, or else the commission would revoke the union’s standing.
“Senate health panel passes surgical center bill” via Legislative IQ powered by Lobby Tools— The Senate Health Policy Committee unanimously passed a bill allowing ambulatory surgical centers to keep patients up to 24 hours. SB 250 does not include a House bill provision to create “recovery care centers” that could keep patients up to three days. Sen. Greg Steube the sponsor, told members “ … I made a commitment that I would only do the 24-hour piece and not add the recovery care piece, which is why chair Young agreed to hear it in this committee, and I have that commitment moving forward.” The committee added an amendment that requires the Agency for Health Care Administration to create rules for keeping children overnight at those facilities.
Senate advances Ronald Reagan license plate — The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved a bill to create a specialty license plate honoring the late President Reagan, with proceeds from sales of the plate going to Alzheimer’s disease research and the Florida National Guard Foundation. SB 468, filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, would lead to motorists paying a $25 fee for the specialty “President Ronald Reagan” plate. “I think probably the philosophical question that I run into is, `Do you really want to start doing presidents?’ And I say I’m fine with honoring anybody, but you (the honorees) have to be dead to do it,” Baxley said.
“Dane Eagle announces bills to change concealed carry rules, TANF benefits” via Florida Politics – HB 39 would make a brief sighting of a firearm held by a person with a CCW permit a noncriminal violation with a $25 fine for a first offense and a $500 fine for a second offense. A third offense would go down as a second-degree misdemeanor. Current law sticks CCW permit holders whose weapons are seen by others with a misdemeanor on the first offense. Eagle also filed HB 751, which would make several changes to TANF, including boosting the penalties for recipients who don’t comply with work requirements and barring them from spending the benefits money in certain locations, including a medical marijuana treatment center or dispensary. Under the bill, the first noncompliance would result in benefits being stripped from families for 30 days rather than 10 days; a second violation would see recipients stripped of benefits for three months instead of one; a third violation boosts the penalty period from three months to six months; and a fourth violation bumps it from six months to a year.
— STATEWIDE —
Jimmy Patronis: ‘Increase cancer, PTSD benefits for firefighters’ — Patronis announced he will fight to increase benefits for firefighters who are diagnosed with cancers and post-traumatic stress connected with their job. “We have a responsibility to take care of our firefighter community the way they selflessly take care of us. Increasing benefits for firefighters with certain cancer diagnoses and PTSD is a top priority for my office,” he said in a statement. This legislative session, Patronis will push to change Florida law so firefighters who have been diagnosed with cancer and PTSD can receive benefits and treatment. “Over the next several weeks, Patronis will tour the state, meeting with firefighters and their families to learn firsthand how these issues have impacted them, and learn their top concerns,” according to a news release. This week, he will be heading to Tampa and Fort Lauderdale.
“Supreme Court rejects football workers’ comp case” via the News Service of Florida — A divided Florida Supreme Court refused to take up a dispute about whether a former Arena Football League player should receive workers’ compensation insurance benefits because of injuries suffered while trying to regain a roster spot with the Orlando Predators. Justices, in a 4-3 decision, turned down an appeal by Bryon Bishop, a former lineman for the Predators who was injured in July 2013 as he worked out with the team. A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal this year overturned a judge’s ruling that had supported workers’ compensation benefits for Bishop. The appeals court concluded that Bishop was not an employee of the Arena Football League. Bishop and a Predators coach had signed a contract, but the document had not been signed by a league official.
“City won’t pull Corrine Brown’s name from RTS facility — yet” via Andrew Caplan of the Gainesville Sun — Gainesville city commissioners won’t say if former U.S. Rep. Brown’s name should be removed from the city’s $35 million transit facility, in light of her 5-year prison sentence. Some city commissioners are still unsure if the name belongs on the Regional Transit System’s facility. Instead, they said they would like to hear from the community before deciding. Brown, 71, was convicted on 18 of 22 fraud-related charges in May after prosecutors said she used $800,000 from her charity, One Door for Education, which was aimed at sending poor children to college, for personal use. She was convicted on charges of fraud, lying on her taxes and lying on her congressional financial disclosure form. She was sentenced to five years in federal prison and to three years of supervised release. “I am hesitant to do much at this point,” Commissioner Harvey Budd said. “It’s a decision that the community as a whole needs to make. I’m looking for some insight from others to see what their moral compass is.”
“Venture capitalist champions private-school scholarships” via Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel — The number of children using a state scholarship to attend religious or other private schools in Florida soared by 21 percent last year to about 140,000 — the largest increase since the voucher programs started more than 15 years ago. No one has been more central to that growth than Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley. He influences an interconnected network of school-choice advocates, corporate donors and an aggressive effort to elect school board members and legislators who support his vision to remake public education in Florida. Even Kirtley’s critics say he has masterfully executed a plan that combines nonprofit work with big campaign checks — at the expense, some say, of traditional public schools. Kirtley says he is driven by a mission to give every parent the chance to choose where their children go to school. “My dream is that someday every low-income parent will be empowered to find the right learning environment for their children,” Kirtley wrote in an email. “Parents of adequate means already have choices.”
“Ed Turanchik looks again at Tampa mayor’s race” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times — “Six months ago, the answer was no. I’ve moved a bit on that topic and I’m actively taking a look at it and thinking about it,” he said. He’s been urged to do so, he said, by “people from a broad range of our community, largely unsolicited. People are saying I’ve always had a big vision for our future and you need to run to get it done.” Turanchik, 62, a Democrat, is a lawyer who practices in government relations, zoning and urban redevelopment. “I don’t need a job and I really enjoy what I do,” he said. “It’s not about the title or the trappings, but the ability to work and get things done.”
“Rick Baker vs. Rick Kriseman coda: No concession call, just a text” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times – “When Rick Baker lost a tight mayoral race to incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman last month, he didn’t call to concede that night. Nor did Baker, a former St. Petersburg mayor himself, mention Kriseman in his concession speech. It wasn’t until three days later — at 7:06 a.m. on Nov. 10, to be precise, the Friday after the election — that Baker finally conceded. He did so via text message. “Congratulations on four more years. I care a great amount for the people of our city so I hope for you to succeed in making the lives better for those who live here—especially those in the most need,” Baker wrote to Kriseman. That was 28 days ago. Baker still hasn’t called his opponent.
“Duke Energy vendor’s hack may mean stolen customer bank info” via The Associated Press — Nearly 375,000 Duke Energy Corp. customers may have had personal and banking information stolen in a data breach. The country’s largest electric company said customers paid a bill by check or cash at 550 walk-in payment processing centers in the Carolinas, Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky since 2008 … Those payments were processed by TIO Networks, which was hacked in an attack disclosed after the company was purchased in July by PayPal Holdings Inc. Duke Energy customers make up nearly a quarter of the 1.6 million TIO Network customers potentially compromised. The personally identifiable information that may have been stolen from Duke Energy customers includes names, addresses, electricity account numbers and banking information if a customer paid power bills by check.
“Grand jury examining FSU pledge’s death” via Karl Etters of the Tallahassee Democrat – A Leon County grand jury will consider whether to bring charges in connection with the death of Florida State fraternity pledge Andrew Coffey. The grand jury will meet in secret Dec. 18 and 19 to examine the Nov. 3 death of Coffey after an off-campus party. Tallahassee Police said early indications showed alcohol was involved in the 20-year-old’s death; however, the state Medical Examiner’s report has been completed but not yet released.
Patricia Mazzei’s final story for the Miami Herald — “She ended her abusive relationship but needs help for her autistic son” — The Elliott who recently greeted visitors with a big grin and a T-shirt declaring him a “Perfect Gentleman,” and proudly showed off a paper airplane that came close to flying, is far different from the Elliott who would have come to the door less than a year ago. That Elliott — the one still reeling from the years of abuse against himself, his siblings and his mother, the one who had yet to get behavioral therapy for his autism — would have violently rejected new people, said his mother, Hasina Brinson. Two years ago, Brinson, 37, kicked out her boyfriend of eight years, the father of her three children, after she accused him of grabbing her around the neck, pinning her to the bed and trying to strangle her until she lost consciousness — with her daughter watching it all. After obtaining the temporary restraining order, Brinson said she got help from Chrysalis Health center … after obtaining the permanent order, Brinson sought help for Elliott. Brinson has a home health aide, and support from her mother and sister, who live nearby. But the family still needs help from the Miami Herald’s Wish Book holiday program. Hurricane Irma did a number on the roof of Brinson’s gated pink house. Water leaks into her bedroom. A contractor estimated fixing the damage would cost about $7,000. “I was like, ‘Isn’t that a new roof?’ He said, ‘No,’” she said. “I don’t have that.”
— D.C. MATTERS —
“With five openings to fill, Donald Trump has opportunity to reshape federal bench in South Florida” via Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald — A panel of influential power brokers appointed by both U.S. senators in Florida recently pared down the list of 45 initial applicants to just 10. U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, a Republican and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, will interview them and recommend all 10 or just five to the president. The list of finalists, chosen from 24 applicants who qualified for interviews last week with the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, includes nine men and one woman. Seven of the finalists are currently serving on the state circuit court, mostly in Miami-Dade County, and three are current or former federal prosecutors in Miami — including the acting U.S. attorney. Only two finalists are from Broward County and none is from Palm Beach County. Not everyone is pleased with the lineup of finalists, noting the counties north of Miami-Dade are not well represented.
“Trump appoints former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to post” – via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times – Carroll was appointed by President Trump on Tuesday to the American Battle Monuments Commission. Also appointed was Luis Quinonez, a Vietnam veteran and businessman who lives in South Florida. Carroll was a surrogate for Trump during the campaign and appeared at his rallies as well as serving on his National Diversity Council. She served 20 years in the Navy.
Thank you Congressman @RepDeSantis for your tireless efforts in working to ensure @POTUS followed through with his promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem and declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Tomorrow will be a historic day cc: @RJC@mbrooksrjc
Assignment editors — Florida congressmen Matt Gaetz, Ron DeSantis and Ted Yoho, alongside U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Mark Meadows (North Carolina), Trent Franks (Arizona), Scott Perry (Pennsylvania), Jody Hice (Georgia), Andy Biggs (Arizona) and Louie Gohmert (Texas) will hold a news conference, demanding answers to questions they have raised about FBI’s treatment of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Trump during the 2016 election cycle. Event begins 9 a.m. at the House Triangle (East Front) of the U.S. Capitol.
“Longtime Ros-Lehtinen foreign affairs staffer is leaving Capitol Hill” via Franco Ordonez of the Miami Herald – Ros-Lehtinen‘s longtime staff director Eddy Acevedo is leaving. Ros-Lehtinen, and several members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where Acevedo is subcommittee staff director and senior foreign policy advisor for Ros-Lehtinen, took to the House Floor Tuesday to deliver tributes to Acevedo who is leaving to join the United States Agency for International Development. Acevedo, who worked for Ros-Lehtinen for nearly a decade, will be the new Deputy Assistant Administrator and Chief Legislative Strategist in USAID’s Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs.
— OPINIONS —
“Emmett Reed: Constitution is no place for special favors for clients or friends” via Florida Politics – In today’s charged political environment, the public has a right to expect the highest ethical standards from its public officials. Unfortunately, one appointed member of the Constitution Revision Commission seems to still be serving the master who pays him to be a lobbyist. Brecht Heuchan is a member of the Constitution Revision Commission, but for many years he has been a paid lobbyist for Wilkes & McHugh, a law firm that makes its living suing nursing homes … now Heuchan is trying to use (some would say abuse) his appointed public position to slip those same changes into the Constitution. Not only does Heuchan’s proposal not belong in the Constitution, but it’s entirely unnecessary. It would add zero new protections to residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and would only bypass decisions of the Legislature and expand ways that trial attorneys can sue. Heuchan says it’s a response to the terrible tragedy in which more than a dozen residents lost their lives in a South Florida nursing home during Hurricane Irma, but it wouldn’t do anything to fix or prevent what happened there. It would only give attorneys – his clients – more opportunity to sue. That’s just wrong. Wrong for the people of Florida, and wrong for the Florida Constitution.
— MOVEMENTS —
” ‘Alligator Ron’ says he’ll still be involved after not being reappointed to wildlife panel” via Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida – Former state Wildlife Commissioner Ron Bergeron said Tuesday he was disappointed at not being reappointed to the panel last week but he respects Gov. Scott’s decision. … Scott late Friday appointed Sonya Rood of St. Augustine and Gary Nicklaus of Jupiter to the seats held by Bergeron and Liesa Priddy for six years. Nicklaus is a former professional golfer and son of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus while Rood is the wife of John Rood, a former FWC chairman who now is chairman of The Vestcor Companies, Inc. The new appointments come amid other turnover at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and likely more new appointees in the coming months.
>>>Money quote from Bergeron in Ritchie’s story: “I’m 74 — but I’m in very good shape. I work out six days a week. I’ve done 1,000 sit-ups this morning and elliptical for an hour and lifted weights for an hour. So when you bite into me, you better hang on.”
Personnel note: Anders Croy to leave House Democratic Office communications post — House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa announced on Tuesday that Croy will be leaving the communications director position to work for an unnamed Democrat in a statewide race. Croy said he could not yet disclose who he will be working for, but said he will be leaving the House Caucus job at the end of the year. “I appreciate everything you have done for us, and I appreciate everything you have done for me, so thank you,” Cruz said during a House Democratic Caucus meeting.
“Pasco County school district picks former Gov. Rick Scott chief of staff as temporary lobbyist” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times — Superintendent Kurt Browning selected a group with Kim McDougal, Gov. Scott’s former chief of staff and legislative director, to advocate the district’s positions through June. McDougal is senior government affairs director for GrayRobinson, a Tallahassee-based law firm that was one of three to interview for the part-time job. Before joining Scott’s staff, she worked in the Department of Education, and previously advised Jeb Bush. “Because of the urgency to have representation for the upcoming committee week and session, this matter will not be brought to the Board for action,” Browning told board members in a recent email. “It is well within the cap allowing the superintendent to act.”
“Lobby up: TIKD hires Ballard Partners for traffic ticket ‘food fight’” via Florida Politics — The disrupter is TIKD Holdings, which will — get this — fight your speeding tickets for you in court. “Users … pay a one-time fee that’s always less than the original ticket,” CNN explains. TIKD then “goes to court in your place … If you get points on your license, you’ll get a refund and TIKD will also pay for the original ticket,” the CNN story adds. “The company says it has saved customers more than $100,000 in fines and nearly $4 million in avoided insurance costs.” Here’s the problem: “TIKD is not a law firm, but instead uses independent lawyers to resolve the tickets at a cost that is 15 to 20 percent less than the ticket fee,” a Miami Herald story says. With success comes notoriety: The Florida Bar soon opened an “unlicensed practice of law” investigation into the company after it was featured in the Miami Herald story.
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
George Anderson, Southern Strategy Group: The College Board
Chris Dorworth, William Turbeville, Ballard Partners: American Land Investments of Orange County, Atlantic Sapphire USA, Banksville of Florida, Nivesa of Florida
Diana Ferguson, Rutledge Ecenia: America Votes, Florida Public Advocacy
David Griffin: Florida Association of Broadcasters, St. John and Partners
Gary Hunter, Hopping Green & Sams: Stop the Beach Renourishment
Delman Lebel: Regeneron Pharmaceuticals
Jessica Love, Joseph Salzverg, GrayRobinson: College of Central Florida Foundation
Eva Regueira: Miami-Dade County Public Schools
James Spratt, CAS Governmental Services: Florida Aquaculture Assoc.
Austin Stowers: Department of State
Jessica Throckmorton: College of Central Florida
— ALOE —
“Olaf is being let go: Olaf short is being dropped from Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’” via Steve Persall of the Tampa Bay Times — Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, the 21-minute animated “short” preceding Disney-Pixar’s Coco in theaters won’t be part of the show starting Friday. Disney claims that was always the plan. If so, a limited run ending Dec. 7 wasn’t made clear in Coco’s advertising. Neither was the featurette’s running time. For some parents, Olaf’s departure isn’t a moment too soon. It isn’t just that the Tolkien-length ’toon starring Josh Gad’s voice plays like an infomercial for Frozen 2, due in 2019, or an ABC-TV special that wouldn’t cost anything to see. It’s that making children sit through 15-20 minutes of trailers then 21 minutes of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure before getting to Coco leads to restlessness. Coco then runs nearly two hours. Try keeping 3-D glasses on a preschooler that long.
“Skydiving Santa crashes on Florida beach with Elf on a Shelf” via The Associated Press — A skydiving Santa looking to make a grand entrance while taking an Elf on the Shelf to a 9-year-old girl crashed into a tree and light pole before hitting a Florida beach and breaking his leg … George Krokus was dressed as Santa Claus during a Saturday sky-dive to deliver toys to the Tampa Bay Beach Bums Operation Santa Charity Volleyball Tournament. Madison Spiers saw the crash and later found a note from the “elf” named Kristoff who visits her house during the holidays. It said, “As we were about to land this big tree jumped right out in front of us!”
Cape Coral Republican Rep. Dane Eagle announced a pair of bills Tuesday that would relax rules on conceal carry weapons permitholders whose firearms are seen, and another to “eliminate fraud” among Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients.
HB 39 would make a brief sighting of a firearm held by a person with a CCW permit a noncriminal violation with a $25 fine for a first offense and a $500 fine for a second offense. A third offense would go down as a second-degree misdemeanor.
Current law sticks CCW permit holders whose weapons are seen by others with a misdemeanor on the first offense.
“I am always committed to removing burdensome and unnecessary government intrusion, and in this particular case, this legislation will prevent law abiding citizens from being prosecuted as a criminal,” Eagle said. “A firearm becoming temporarily and openly displayed to the ordinary sight of another person by a license holder is not a criminal act and therefore should not be treated as a crime.”
The bill was filed in August by former Rep. Neil Combee, but was taken over by Eagle and Pensacola Republican Rep. Frank White now that Combee is no longer in the House. HB 39 would not apply in cases where a concealed weapon was intentionally displayed in an angry or threatening manner outside of the realm of necessary self-defense.
Eagle also filed HB 751, which would make several changes to TANF, including boosting the penalties for recipients who don’t comply with work requirements and barring them from spending the benefits money in certain locations, including a medical marijuana treatment center or dispensary.
Under the bill, the first noncompliance would result in benefits being stripped from families for 30 days rather than 10 days; a second violation would see recipients stripped of benefits for three months instead of one; a third violation boosts the penalty period from 3 months to 6 months; and a fourth violation bumps it from 6 months to a year.
“This bill will help eliminate fraud and ensure that tax dollars are only being spent on the truly needy – not those trying to manipulate the system or who are able to support themselves. We need to bridge the gap to self-sufficiency instead of perpetuating government dependence,” Eagle said.
The bill would set the reinstatement date for TANF benefits to the date when the recipient began to comply with work requirements or the first day of the month after the penalty period, whichever is later.
Sixty Days — A prime-time look at the 2018 Legislative Session
The Last 24
After House Democrats formally designated him as their next leader on Tuesday, Rep. Kionne McGhee asked his fellow D’s in the Republican-controlled chamber to stay hopeful and not “underestimate the power of the donkey.”
Sen. Bobby Powell and others argued for changes to the way Florida prosecutes juvenile offenders, including what’s known as the direct-file process, in which some minors are charged and handled in adult court.
Support is building across Florida for a stronger texting-while-driving law, but some black legislators say they’ll fight the idea, claiming that it will invite more abuses by police.
Rep. JayFant, a Jacksonville Republican running for Attorney General, filed what he calls the “Free Enterprise Protection Act” to prevent “discriminatory action” by any governmental entity in the state against businesses.
Legislation calling for a memorial honoring those who suffered from slavery in Florida advanced unanimously through a Senate committee after Sen. DennisBaxley explained why he was always for the bill — even though he voted against it last Session.
After facing down Democrats’ harsh questioning of the bill’s intentions, a Florida House committee voted along party lines Tuesday to approve a measure to require most public employees’ unions to meet a dues-paying threshold or face recertification.
The Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance passed legislation to delete some limitations relating to mental health benefits for first responders.
A divided Florida Supreme Court refused to take up a dispute about whether a former Arena Football League player should receive workers’ compensation insurance benefits because of injuries suffered while trying to regain a roster spot with the Orlando Predators.
Quote of the Day
“Don’t vote for it … We don’t want guns anywhere.” — Sen. LindaStewart, an Orlando Democrat, talking at a Senate Democratic Caucus meeting Tuesday about what she called a “guns everywhere” bill by GOP Sen. GregSteube.
Bill Day’s Latest
Sen. Tom Lee and state Reps. Erin Grall and Don Hahnfeldt, are pushing bills that would repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance system. On Tuesday, Lee’s bill was temporarily postponed. The legislation has received pushback because it could have a negative fiscal impact on hospitals, but one powerful company is lobbying for it: Uber.
Javi Correoso, a spokesman for the ride-hailing service, explains why.
Q: In a nutshell, why are you in support of repealing Personal Injury Protection (PIP)?
JC: We believe that repealing PIP and moving to a system that relies predominantly on required bodily injury coverage will result in lower auto insurance costs for most Floridians.
Q: Are you more in support of the House or the Senate bill? And why?
JC: Both bills are improvements over the current system that relies on PIP. Replacing this system with mandatory bodily injury coverage will be a positive result for Florida drivers including our Uber driver partners.
Q: How does your company stand to benefit from the passage of that bill?
JC: The bill will have very little impact on the commercial auto insurance that we are required to purchase. However, there are more than 100,000 Uber driver partners in Florida who face high costs. The cost of their personal auto insurance is important to their personal finances. These bills are an opportunity to lower that cost and see those drivers take home more of their hard-earned money.
Mark Flynn has registered to lobby for Christian Prison Ministries, headed by Lori Costantino-Brown.
She also runs Bridges International, the substance-abuse treatment and community re-entry program headquartered in Orlando.
Bridges was founded by her father, Frank Costantino, an ex-con who served over 22 years on burglary and other charges.
“Upon his release, he founded Christian Prison Ministries to share the Gospel with other prisoners,” according to a news release.
Then, in 1980, “Frank opened up the first aftercare resident program in Orlando” to provide the first ‘bridge’ for those fellow former prisoners trying to transition back into society.
The Next 24
The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee will receive a presentation about Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposed 2018-2019 budget at 8 a.m., 17 House Office Building, the Capitol.
The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will take up a bill (HB 471) that would ban flying drones over prisons and jails. That’s at 8 a.m., 404 House Office Building, the Capitol.
The House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee will receive a presentation from Visit Florida about the agency’s operating budget. That’s at 8 a.m., Reed Hall, House Office Building, the Capitol.
The House Health Quality Subcommittee will receive a presentation from Christian Bax, director of the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use, about the implementation of a medical-marijuana law passed in June. That’s at 8:30 a.m., 306 House Office Building, the Capitol.
Aides to Gov. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis will meet in preparation for a Dec. 13 state Cabinet meeting. That will be at 9 a.m., Cabinet meeting room, the Capitol.
The Florida Supreme Court will take up a number of matters, including a public reprimand of St. Lucie County Judge Philip Yacucci, being disciplined for his conduct in a long-running dispute with a local attorney. That’s at 9 a.m., Florida Supreme Court, 500 South Duval St., Tallahassee.
The Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee will take up a proposal (SB 440) that would allow veterans to receive services through the state Medicaid managed-care system as an alternative to the federal Veterans Health Administration system. That’s at 10 a.m., 37 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
The Florida College System Council of Presidents is scheduled to hold a conference call at 10 a.m. The call-in number is (888) 670-3525 and the participant code is 1326645713#.
The House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee will receive a presentation about Gov. Scott’s proposed 2018-2019 budget. That’s at 10:30 a.m., 404 House Office Building, the Capitol.
The House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee will hold a workshop on bicycle and pedestrian safety at 10:30 a.m., 102 House Office Building, the Capitol.
Rep. Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican, will hold a news conference to discuss legislation enabling Floridians to restore their constitutional rights through the courts as an alternative to the backlogged executive clemency process. That’s at 11:45 a.m., outside the House chamber doors, 4th floor rotunda, the Capitol.
Rep. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, will hold a news conference to discuss campaign finance reform legislation that would, among other things, prohibit political committees and electioneering communications organizations from making contributions to each other. That’s at 1 p.m., 4th floor rotunda, the Capitol.
The Florida Transportation Commission will hold a workshop and is expected to receive an update about issues related to hurricane response. That is at 1 p.m., Burns Building, 605 Suwannee St., Tallahassee.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will receive a presentation about Gov. Scott’s proposed $87.4 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. That’s at 1:30 p.m., 412 Knott Building, the Capitol.
The House Health Innovation Subcommittee will hold a panel discussion on pharmacy benefits management at 1:30 p.m., 306 House Office Building, the Capitol.
The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee will take up a bill (HB 165) that would seek to prevent people from making online threats to kill or injure other people. That’s at 1:30 p.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building, the Capitol.
The House Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee will take up a bill (HB 405) that would make clear the Florida Public Service Commission has “exclusive jurisdiction” to decide whether underground transmission lines are required for power-plant projects. That’s at 1:30 p.m., 12 House Office Building, the Capitol.
Florida State University President John Thrasher will offer his “State of the University” address during a meeting of the Faculty Senate. That will be at 3:35 p.m., Augustus B. Turnbull III Florida State Conference Center, 555 West Pensacola St., Tallahassee.
The House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee will receive a presentation on issues related to child support guidelines. That’s at 4 p.m., 12 House Office Building, the Capitol.
The House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee will consider a claim bill that would direct Orange County to pay $750,000 to Robert Allan Smith, a motorcyclist who was injured in 2006 when he was struck by a county van. That is at 4 p.m., 404 House Office Building, the Capitol.
The House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee will take up a series of measures that would make changes to the Florida Commission on Human Relations. That’s at 4 p.m., 17 House Office Building, the Capitol.
The House Post-Secondary Education Subcommittee will consider a proposal (HB 181) calling for the state to pay the tuition costs of many students at state colleges. That’s at 4 p.m., 306 House Office Building, the Capitol.
In what’s shaping up to be one of the 2018 Legislative Session’s “food fights,” an upstart Miami firm has hired Ballard Partners’ Brian Ballard and Mat Forrest.
It’s not so much a traditional food fight as usually riles the Capitol halls, but a David and Goliath battle of the “status quo” versus a “market disrupter.”
The disrupter is TIKD Holdings, which will – get this – fight your speeding tickets for you in court.
“Users … pay a one-time fee that’s always less than the original ticket,” CNN explains. TIKD then “goes to court in your place.”
“… If you get points on your license, you’ll get a refund and TIKD will also pay for the original ticket,” the CNN story adds. “The company says it has saved customers more than $100,000 in fines and nearly $4 million in avoided insurance costs.”
TIKD launched this year and already has helped over 5,000 people, the company says.
Here’s the problem: “TIKD is not a law firm, but instead uses independent lawyers to resolve the tickets at a cost that is 15 to 20 percent less than the ticket fee,” a Miami Herald story says.
TIKD founder ChrisRiley, a U.S. Navy commander-turned entrepreneur,told TBO.com he “got the idea for TIKD after he was caught going a few miles over the speed limit in Miami and was hit with hundreds of dollars in fines and costs.”
With success comes notoriety: The Florida Bar soon opened an “unlicensed practice of law” investigation into the company after it was featured in the Miami Herald story.
“A few months later, attorneys with The Ticket Clinic, a Miami firm that also handles traffic tickets, threatened to report two of TIKD’s lawyers to the Bar if they continued to work with the new company,” the TBO story said.
“Bar staffers issued an opinion suggesting that lawyers who worked with programs like TIKD’s could be in violation of Bar ethics rules,” it added.
TIKD has since filed suit against The Bar in federal court in South Florida. In the latest development, The Bar on Tuesday moved “to disqualify its former president RamonAbadin” from representing TIKD, according to the Daily Business Review.
The Bar argues “that during his 2015-16 term, Abadin ‘was provided attorney-client and attorney work-product communications and advice about and involving the specific antitrust issues and allegations asserted in this action.’ ”
Florida Democrats believe Friday’s news that the plea deal negotiated by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn points to bigger problems for President Donald Trump and his closest advisers. Several weighed in after the story broke.
“Flynn’s guilty plea is another significant step in making the case that there was collusion with the Russians,” declared Sen. Bill Nelson.
Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief, said the news tells her the Trump administration thinks it is above the law.
“As a 27-year law enforcement officer, it is deeply offensive to me that this administration has repeatedly hidden behind cries of ‘law and order’ while breaking the law themselves,” she stated in a release.
“Every American should be disturbed that the Trump administration considers themselves above the law,” she continued. “Before now, the question was whether this went all the way to the top. President Trump and his inner circle will have a sleepless night.”
Alcee Hastings of Miramar called Flynn’s deal “the latest step in uncovering the degree to which the Trump administration colluded with the Russian government.”
“Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has admitted to contacting the Russian Government, under instruction from President Trump’s transition team, and then lying about it to the FBI. Even though today’s guilty plea was not unexpected, it is still an outrageous and shameful admission of purposefully misleading the American people.”
Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said Flynn’s guilty plea only raises more questions about potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“As I have repeatedly said, Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller must be allowed to continue his work unobstructed by the White House, and the House Judiciary Committee must independently examine any possible obstruction of justice,” Deutch said.
Darren Soto of Orlando said, “Flynn has dodged this investigation from the start, so this perjury charge is not surprising. The information he may reveal could be, though.”
Florida Republicans mostly let the Democrats do the talking. They quietly pointed critics to the erroneous ABC News story that initially pointed to Trump directing associates to contact the Russians during the campaign.
ABC backed away from that assertion and suspended reporter Brian Ross for four weeks without pay. Trump supporters and Republicans say there is nothing wrong with a president-elect and his team communicating with any country’s representative.
To no one’s surprise, Trump was far from quiet on Twitter. Saying Flynn “did nothing wrong,” by contacting Russians, he left the impression he knew Flynn lied to the FBI, which veers into the obstruction of justice lane that Deutch discussed.
Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said on Sunday that Trump continues to “comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your own peril.”
A little criminal investigation is unlikely to stop the country’s most famous tweeter. If Mueller does not give Democrats plenty to comment on, Trump will likely fill any gap.
Correction: In Friday’s issue, the committee assignments for Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford were incorrectly stated. He is a member of the House Judiciary, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security Committee.
Shock poll: Nelson down 10 points to Scott in hypothetical matchup
In a shocking poll released Friday, the three-term Democrat seeking re-election in 2018 now trails the Republican governor by 10 points in a hypothetical matchup. According to the survey from the St. Leo University polling institute, Scott leads Nelson 41.8 percent to 31.6 percent.
Democrats will also be shocked by the poll showing Scott’s favorability, who has not announced a Senate run, has risen to 61 percent. The poll did not provide Nelson’s favorability rating.
“We’re still almost a year out from the 2018 elections, but Rick Scott is in the best position he’s been in yet against incumbent Bill Nelson,” said Frank Orlando, director of the polling institute. “It will be interesting to see if he can maintain the support while his party is hurting electorally throughout the country.”
Nelson’s team will point out the survey was conducted solely online with 500 respondents and between the dates of November 19 through 24. The last two days were Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
Still, St. Leo claims “a 95 percent confidence level” with a plus-or-minus 4.5 percent margin of error. They describe their process as “cutting-edge online methodology.”
Even if the margin of error is a bit larger, an incumbent sitting anywhere near the 30s has some work to do.
Trump’s sudden flexibility on tax rate irks Rubio
For months as the tax reform debate raged, Trump said time and again the drop in the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent was “non-negotiable.” On Friday, Florida’s junior senator sought an adjustment to 20.94 percent to enable “working families” to reap the full benefit of an increase in the Child Tax Credit.
His amendment failed by a vote of 71-29, but he went ahead and voted last week to pass the Senate’s version of tax reform.
“Tonight, the Senate missed an opportunity to help American working families by not expanding access to the Child Tax Credit,” Rubio said in a statement shortly after the bill’s passage. “By rejecting this amendment, the Senate failed to address the struggles facing American workers and their families.
“However, we did take a major step toward growing our economy,” he added. “This bill implements a series of reforms that will make our economy significantly more globally competitive.”
On Saturday, just hours after the bill passed, Trump signaled he would accept a rate of 22 percent if that is what “ultimately comes out.”
That disappointed the two-term senator, to say the least. On Saturday night, he tweeted his frustration.
“For days heard that anything more than 20% corp rate would be anti-growth & catastrophic. Less than 12 hours later 22% is now an option?”
A House and Senate conference committee will now work to craft a single bill to be voted upon in both chambers.
Assignment editors — Florida Republicans Matt Gaetz, Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis will join several GOP colleagues for a news conference at 9 a.m.Wednesday on Capitol Hill. They will discuss their demands for answers from the FBI on the separate investigations involving Hillary Clinton and Trump. Location: The House Triangle (East Front). RSVP: Jillian.LaneWyant@mail.house.govor call 202-225-4136.
Florida and Texas delegations tag-teaming to force more hurricane aid
Last week, the Florida delegation left no ambiguity: they were measurably upset by the Trump Administration’s latest proposal for disaster aid. At a delegation meeting, they threatened to withhold their support for the entire package unless substantial funding is included to help Florida’s citrus industry recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Irma.
Now we find out Texas is also unhappy with the proposal that they feel is insufficient to address damage caused by the massive flooding coming from Hurricane Harvey. There is now talk of members of the Texas delegation joining with Florida to gain leverage.
“Unless substantial changes are made, we are not going to support the CR,” said Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, “We will use the clout of both of our delegations. Without significant changes, this supplemental cannot be allowed to go through.”
Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents portions of flood-ravaged Houston, used the “s” word.
“We do not have the adequate resources and this is going to be on the verge of a government shutdown if Texas and all the other victims of these hurricanes do not have a compromise where we can work together,” she said at a Homeland Security hearing on Thursday.
The two delegations joined together to craft a letter to House leadership of both parties seeking the additional funding. Of the two delegations’ 63 members, 38 signed the letter — including 22 from Florida — while many of those not signing are supportive of the effort.
“Today I joined my colleagues from Florida and Texas in expressing our extreme disappointment in OMB’s [Office of Management and Budget’s] supplemental request,” said Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who signed the letter, in a statement. “I have made it abundantly clear that any supplemental I vote for must provide adequate funding in disaster relief funds.”
Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross said, “Florida agriculture is in crisis, and Washington must not allow Florida citrus to get washed away by Hurricane Irma.”
As if that were not enough, moderate South Florida Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo indicate they would not sign on to a long-term spending bill unless there is an agreement to protect undocumented young adults who came to this country as children.
December will not be a quiet month on Capitol Hill.
President coming to Florida Friday
Trump plans to hold a re-election campaign rally in Pensacolaon Friday, his fourth visit to the city since he first began campaigning for president in 2015. The Donald J. Trump for President campaign announced he would appear at a 7 p.m. rally at the Pensacola Bay Center.
“We are pleased to confirm that President Trump will be attending a campaign rally in Pensacola Friday evening,” Michael Glassner, executive director of the campaign said in a media advisory.
“Nothing inspires President Trump as much as connecting with hardworking Americans at campaign rallies across the country,” Glassner continued. “He especially enjoys meeting with our courageous veterans and their families at these patriotic events. As the President’s historic tax reform plan, which he has said will be like rocket fuel in our economy, gets closer to passage, the timing for our campaign rally in Pensacola could not be better.”
GOP Senate tax plan is either a ‘scam’ or will ‘boost economic growth’
Now that the Senate has passed its version of tax reform, the House will again resume their role in the process. A conference
Depending on members’ points of view, the tax reform bill Republican Senators passed on Friday will either be a big boost to the economy or is a scam that will harm entitlement programs.
“The American people should not be fooled,” said Boca Raton Democrat Deutch. “The Republican plan will trigger automatic $25 billion Medicare cuts at the end of the year and will set Republicans up for further cuts to hard-earned Medicare and Social Security benefits.”
“How do you spell #hypocrite?”, she tweeted. “R-E-P-U-B-L-I-C-A-N. Speaker Paul Ryan in his own words, ‘our debt is a threat to this country. The debt will weigh down the country like an anchor.’ CBO: Senate and House passed tax bill blow $1.5/$1.7 trillion hole in the deficit. #TaxScamBill”
Republicans talked jobs and growth. Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford summed it up for his party.
“I am encouraged that the Senate passed the much-needed tax relief bill,” said Republican John Rutherford of Jacksonville. “I look forward to negotiating with them to ensure tax reform focuses on middle-class families and spurs the creation of good jobs and economic growth.”
Republicans are attempting to get final legislation to the president’s desk before the end of the year.
In Friday’s issue, the committee memberships of Rep. Rutherford were incorrectly stated. He is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Veterans Affairs Committee, and Homeland Security Committee. We regret the error.
DeSantis introduces bipartisan slush fund bill
After it was revealed some Members of Congress were using taxpayer funds to settle claims of sexual harassment and other impropriety, the Ponte Vedra Republican vowed to pass legislation to stop it. Last week, DeSantis and a growing number of colleagues from both parties were making good on that promise.
Last week DeSantis introduced the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act. Within two days, the legislation already had 65 co-sponsors.
“What does it say about the sincerity of Congress in combating harassment when members and staff can have taxpayers cover for their misconduct while keeping it all secret?” DeSantis said. “This legislation will protect taxpayers by making congressional settlement data public, barring tax dollars from being used to bail out congressional misconduct and requiring reimbursement of the treasury by members and staff who have had taxpayer-financed settlements paid on their behalf.”
One of the bill’s co-sponsors echoed the need for the legislation.
“For far too long, Members of Congress and staff who have committed egregious acts of sexual harassment and assault have hidden behind closed doors, anonymity, and forced nondisclosure agreements, while taxpayers paid millions in settlements for their misconduct. This is outrageous and must end now. Enough is enough,” said Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.
Among the bill’s co-sponsors are 43 Republicans and 22 Democrats. Signing on: Florida Republicans Francis Rooney of Naples, Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, Ted Yoho of Gainesville, Bill Posey of Rockledge and Vern Buchanan of Sarasota.
Sabato: Crist re-election now ‘likely’; Diaz-Balart ‘safe’
Despite being an early target of national Republicans, the freshman Democrat from St. Petersburg now appears on his way to winning re-election. In the latest Sabato Crystal Ball(the prediction newsletter named after University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato), managing editor Kyle Kondik now moves Crist’s 13th Congressional District from “leans Democratic” to “likely Democratic.”
“Both Crist and (New Jersey Democrat Josh) Gottheimer represent ‘swingy’ districts, but these freshmen members are also raising boatloads of cash and benefit from the environment,” Kondik writes. “Crist does not have a viable challenger at the moment.”
Former Rep. David Jolly, the Republican Crist defeated in 2016, has previously said that he would declare whether he would run again for his former seat in January, but the odds look less likely that will occur. Never a prolific fundraiser, there is still considerable doubt whether the National Republican Congressional Campaign (NRCC) would come to Jolly’s financial aid next year.
The district was also substantially redistricted in 2015, making it much more Democratic in voter registration, as well as much harder for any Republican to win.
Add to the fact that Crist had more than $1.4 million cash on hand, and it does seem a safe bet to move the St. Petersburg Democrat into the “likely Democratic” category.
Other Sabato predictions include Republican Mario Diaz-Balart moving from “likely Republican” to “safe Republican” in District 25; Republican Brian Mast in District 18 staying “likely Republican;” Curbelo‘s District 26 seat being a “tossup” against an eventual Democratic nominee and Florida’s 27th Congressional seat — vacated after 30 years by Republican Illeana Ros-Lehtinen — leaning Democratic.
Buchanan touts veteran’s ID cards; VA system crashes
The Sarasota Republican was making sure his constituents who served in the military were aware they could order new identification cards through Veterans Affairs. Buchanan announced veterans could go to the VA website to order the cards.
“Every veteran — past, present, and future — can now prove their military service without the added risk of identity theft,” Buchanan said in a news release. “These ID cards will make life a little bit easier for our veterans and serve as a constant reminder that our brave men and women in uniform deserve all the care and respect a grateful nation can offer.”
Buchanan was the author of the Veterans Identification Card Act which passed Congress more than two years ago. While it took this long to get everything ready to accept and process the applications, perhaps the VA was not quite prepared.
The early popularity of the card is both a good thing and a bad thing. As of Monday, the system had crashed, and visitors to the site received the following message:
“Thank you for your interest in the Veteran Identification Card! Currently, we are experiencing a high volume of traffic. We apologize, and want you to know we’re working to fix the problem.”
Apparently, Buchanan’s House colleagues were touting the cards as well.
Former Rep. Corrine Brown receives 5-year prison sentence
The slogan of purported educational charity One Door for Education was “we make your educational dreams a reality.” On Monday, the former Democratic Congresswoman from Jacksonville and her co-conspirators in the yearslong scheme learned their fate.
After a legal ordeal lasting the better part of two years, Corrine Brown and her two co-conspirators in the One Door for Educationcase — former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and the former CEO of the charity, Carla Wiley — faced sentencing Monday morning in a Jacksonville courthouse.
The sentencing essentially gave voice to the jury’s verdict, with Judge Timothy Corrigan noting that Brown’s comments were “reprehensible” at times, such as when she said the Pulse massacre happened because the FBI was too busy investigating her.
Brown got a sentence that reflected a spirit of “general deterrence,” a sentence “in the mainstream” of public corruption cases in recent years. In other words, the judge did not go easy on her.
“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Corrigan said.
Brown got 60 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $62,650 to the IRS, and $452,000 of additional restitution, and $664,000 of forfeiture. She will appeal, though attorney James Smith has yet to determine if he will see that appeal through.
Brown was found guilty earlier this year of a laundry list of 18 charges. Among them: conspiracy to defraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, and fraudulent financial disclosures.
She has never admitted guilt, except for saying she trusted without “verifying,” in a November plea for “mercy and compassion.”
Southerland’s heads new group advocating North Florida water issues
Former Republican Congressman Steve Southerland of Panama City was in Tallahassee on Monday to announce the official launch of a North Florida regional conservation group and to challenge South Florida. Southerland is the chairman of Stand Up For North Florida, an advocacy organization dedicated to addressing the water and conservation needs of North and Central Florida.
“Stand Up For North Florida exists to ensure that the volume of our voices in Tallahassee is just as loud as those from the rest of the state,” said Southerland. “Florida is a big state with a lot of interests competing for attention here in the capitol, and we believe that the time has come for an organized, united effort to protect the vital natural resources and the best interests of the citizens of North Florida.”
Southerland and his organization are concerned with the region getting its share of budget dollars for water and conservation projects in the current and future state budgets.
“With 85 percent of the money designated for regional-specific projects in the 2017-18 budget going to South Florida at the expense of the rest of the state, up from 75 percent the previous year, it is clear that’s not right, and we have had enough.”
The group has filed to become a 501(c)(4) organization.
Paulson’s Politics: Can Democrats turn Florida’s Congressional Districts blue?
Last week, I profiled Florida’s two most vulnerable congressional districts. Republican Hispanics in Miami hold both districts. Republican Ros-Lehtinen has held District 27 since 1989. Ros-Lehtinen was able to hold the district due to her personal popularity, her constituency service, her moderate views and her dislike of Trump.
As soon as Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement, the district flipped from “leans Republican” to “likely Democrat.” If Democrats blow this opportunity, they have no chance of taking control of the delegation.
The second most vulnerable district is District 26, held by Republican Curbelo. The district has a +6 Democratic advantage and was won by 16 percent by Clinton in 2016. This will be a tougher flip for Democrats, but one that they must flip if they want to win control of the Florida delegation.
Even if Democrats win Districts 26 and 27, they must flip one more district while holding on to all 11 districts they currently hold in order to win control of the Florida delegation. At this point, Florida Democratic congress members appear more secure than the Republicans.
Originally, the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee targeted the seats of first-term incumbents Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy. First-term members are always more vulnerable than longtime incumbents. In my view, Crist has become a lock to win re-election. He has no announced opponent and has over $1.4 million in his treasury.
Murphy, who defeated longtime Republican John Mica 52-49 percent, with the help of $5 million from the DCCC and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, is facing a challenge from fellow Democrat Chardo Richardson who questions Murphy’s progressive credentials. Murphy has $700,000 in the bank compared to Richardson’s $12,000. Should Murphy survive the challenge, which is likely, she will face either Republican State Rep. Mike Miller or businessman Scott Sturgill in the general election. Political factors still favor the Democrat.
Vulnerable Republicans include the District 6 seat held by DeSantis. If DeSantis runs for governor, the seat becomes competitive with no incumbent. Republican John Ward, a Navy veteran and businessman, has already announced for the seat under the assumption DeSantis will run for governor.
On the Democratic side, former National Security Council member Nancy Soderberg is the Democrat’s preferred candidate. Soderberg now heads the Public Service Leadership Program at the University of North Florida and has raised $400,000 since announcing.
Vern Buchanan, the Republican in District 16, was second on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee “hit list” in April 2017. Buchanan has held his seat since 2006 when he defeated Democrat Christine Jennings by 369 votes.
Since his first election, Buchanan’s closest race was a 54-46 percent victory over Keith Fitzgerald in 2012. That campaign was dominated by ethical investigations of Buchanan including using campaign funds for personal expenses.
Buchanan’s $50 million net worth placed him ninth on Roll Call’s list of the wealthiest members of Congress. Buchanan has over $2 million in his campaign account, and that will scare away most Democrats.
Perhaps the most vulnerable Republican in the Florida congressional delegation, besides the District 27 and 28 seats, is the seat of Mast in District 18. This seat has flipped from Republican Allen West to Democrat Patrick Murphy to Republican Mast in the past three elections. Will “one and done” continue in District 18?
Mast, who lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, is likely to face Lauren Baer, a former member of the Obama administration and an adviser to Secretaries of State Clinton and John Kerry.
Mast raised more money in the third quarter than any other Florida congressional candidate, $411,183, and now has $921,000 in his campaign account. The Cook Political Report downgraded its rating in July from “solid Republican” to “likely Republican.”
Bottom Line: Democrats must win District 27. There is no Republican incumbent in a district which is very Democratic. If they lose District 27, there is no chance for a wave election.
Democrats should win District 27 and have a better than even chance of picking up District 26. If all the stars align, Democrats could pick up between 2-5 seats. The conditions have never been better for Democrats. Will they capitalize on the opportunity?
NEXT WEEK: Unseen political factors that could impact congressional races.
At around 6:30 p.m. Friday — the day Michael Flynn pled guilty in federal court, in case you’d forgotten — Florida state Senator and Democratic primary candidate in the crowded CD 27 field, JJR (née José Javier Rodriguez) sent an email with the subject line “Impeachment.”
Interesting, I thought, as JJR has the rap against him (one which I’ve previously written about) of being almost doctrinaire in his tendency toward moderation, even as he runs — for the first time in his career — in a competitive Democratic primary.
But it made sense: the primary electorate is both liberal and rabidly anti-Trump; one of JJR’s fellow candidates, former judge Mary Barzee Flores, came out forcefully for impeachment in a Miami Herald op-ed back at the beginning of November. Another candidate, state Rep. David Richardson, regularly sends out emails with subject lines like, “Impeachment isn’t enough,” and called for Trump’s resignation a few months ago.
Then I read the email.
After reading it a few times, I still can’t figure out whether JJR is for impeachment.
JJR prefaces his non-call for impeachment by saying that he’s “not one for hyperbole.”
First, Senator, based on that statement alone you might want to rethink a career in politics. Second, on that note, I most certainly AM one for hyperbole.
But after having read and reread his email from Friday, I don’t think it hyperbolic to say that JJR hasn’t explicitly come out for impeachment, nor does he appear to have a clear understanding of the impeachment process itself, the role Congress plays, or the authority of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
JJR says that the Flynn guilty plea is “the first step that could lead to Donald Trump’s impeachment.”
I get what he’s saying, but it’s just inaccurate. The first step — all the steps to impeaching a president — lie in the U.S. House of Representatives, the very body where JJR wants to get a new job.
But most mind-bogglingly, he closes with a pledge that, if elected to Congress, he will “make sure Robert Mueller can build the best case for Trump’s impeachment.”
There is virtually nothing that Robert Mueller and Donald Trump are likely to agree on, but one such thing is that the special counsel’s job is unequivocally NOT to “build the best case for Trump’s impeachment.”
Mueller’s ability to issue indictments doesn’t extend to the sitting President of the United States. That responsibility lies solely in Congress.
Indeed, Mueller’s inquiry could lead to a conclusion that Trump likely broke the law, but that too would not obligate or trigger impeachment. Likewise, the special counsel might leave Trump himself mostly unscathed, and he could still face impeachment in the House.
You would think that a lawyer, a graduate of Harvard Law at that, and an ostensibly experienced legislator, would have a high school social studies-level command of the United States Constitution.
You would think, but you’d be wrong.
It now seems increasingly likely that the Legislature will pass and send to Gov. Scott a bill reforming Florida’s “resign to run” law that would force JJR to abdicate his Senate seat to run for Congress.
If he continues to run the sort of campaign he’s been waging, JJR might want to consider staying put in the Senate.
Should he choose to keep pursuing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, he might want to brush up on his knowledge of what that body actually does.
If you want to blame someone, blame Charlie Justice.
Or, for that matter, you can blame the late C.W. “Bill” Young.
Because when the Florida Senate is reduced to proverbial ashes in early 2018, those still standing will be left to wonder where everything went wrong.
And that’s why you should start blaming Justice. Or maybe his then-political consultant, Mitch Kates.
Going into the 2010 election cycle, it was more than a rumor that Young, first elected in 1970, might not seek re-election. It was thought that all he wanted was to set the tone for a graceful exit.
Like several other Pinellas Democrats, Justice could read the handwriting on the wall, even if it didn’t tell the whole story about Congressman Young. A former legislative aide turned lawmaker, Justice was an affable first-term state Senator whose term would end in 2010.
Justice could have easily won re-election. He was damn near a unicorn: a scandal-free, white male Democrat with deep connections to the education community and the kind of legislative record that did not raise the ire of the business community.
But Justice was weary of the tone emanating from Tallahassee. He could see which direction state politics was turning and he was less and less interested in being part of it. He’d rather be in D.C., where Barack Obama was president, than Tallahassee, which has been dominated by Republicans for two decades. So, in April of 2009, Justice decided to challenge Young for the congressional seat the Republican held for nearly forty years.
Political observers speculated at the time that Justice wasn’t really interested in challenging Young as much as building up his name recognition for the inevitable day when Young really did retire, which Justice and local Democrats hoped would be in 2010. But somewhere along the way – probably in between the time Justice criticized his opponent for using campaign funds to purchase a car or produced an online video which attempted to link the veteran lawmaker with jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff – Young decided he would not be muscled out of his congressional seat. He would end up handily defeating Justice.
Unfortunately for Justice, he burnt his Senate seat at the shore of his congressional run. By announcing so early in the election cycle that he would not run for re-election, he essentially created an opening in the heart of Pinellas County. However, this battleground seat, which had flipped from Charlie Crist and Jim Sebesta to Justice, would not really be contested. Almost from the moment Justice announced he would not run again for the Legislature, it was clear who would succeed him in the seat.
Latvala had been termed out of the Senate in 2008 after a forceful career that saw him serve as a chief lieutenant to Senate President Toni Jennings and as a powerbroker who ended a bitter stalemate for the Senate presidency. He used his influence to dominate Pinellas politics in a manner not seen since the days when Charles Rainey held sway. His political consulting and mailhouse was a national powerhouse, aiding presidential candidate and dozens of state parties. Other than Young himself, no other Pinellas politician was as powerful.
Latvala dispatched his Democratic opponent in 2010 with ease and quickly pivoted to rebuilding his power base in Tallahassee. Although many former allies and seasoned lobbyists and staffers were content with Latvala back in the capital, there were more than a handful of insiders who had worked with Latvala during his first stint in the Senate who were not exactly excited to see him return. However, Don Gaetz, the incoming Senate President who would grow to become one of Latvala’s many enemies, made it clear that Latvala would be welcomed back by the Republican caucus.
‘He’s changed,’ hopeful staffers would say to one another.
But like the Pearl Jam song says, Latvala changed by not changing.
In an era of hyper partisanship, the Republican hailing from the county which gave birth to Florida’s modern GOP prided himself on being a moderate. He championed legislation benefiting police and firefighter unions; he torpedoed bills designed to privatize the state’s education and prison systems.
Yet, he was still a good Republican. He wholeheartedly backed Gov. Rick Scott‘s re-election in 2014, while donating to dozens of GOP candidates throughout the state.
Part of that donating was linked to Latvala’s effort to realize his dream of becoming Pinellas County’s first Senate President in more than a century.
It was a dream that would never come to fruition.
Latvala’s never-ending ambition to be Senate President has dominated the politics of the upper chamber for this past decade. It’s really part of what has led that body to where it is today.
Initially, it was Andy Gardiner who Latvala was competing against to be Senate President. But after a failed coup by John Thrasher – stymied in part by Latvala and his allies – Gardiner would win that race, while Latvala would live to fight another day against Joe Negron. That bitter intraparty scrum took years — and millions of dollars — to decide, with Negron eventually prevailing because, well, Latvala was his own worst enemy.
He backed a series of candidates running in Republican primaries and general elections who were defeated by, in most cases, younger, more tech-savvy candidates. Jeff Brandes defeated Jim Frishe. Aaron Bean defeated Mike Weinstein. Etc.
Make no mistake: Latvala had a band of colleagues who wanted to see him become Senate President, but, collectively, they were neither as numerous or as determined as the forces opposed to him leading the Chamber.
And so Latvala became the Dark Star of the Florida Senate, occasionally plunging it into a parliamentarian abyss, as he did when he helped obliterate the top priorities of President Mike Haridopolos and his conservative allies.
Yet, it cannot go unsaid that these past seven years have been one of the worst periods in the history of the Florida Senate. With the exception of one year of Don Gaetz’ tenure and the final days of Gardiner’s term, the Senate has been a dark, dark place. From the losses it suffered during the redistricting process and trial to the resignations of Frank Artiles and Jeff Clemens, it has been one catastrophe after another in the so-called upper chamber. Meanwhile, a line of House Speakers – Dean Cannon, Will Weatherford, Steve Crisafulli and RichardCorcoran – have essentially had their way with their colleagues across the hall, who end up sounding like they play for the Chicago Cubs: “Wait until next year!”
There have been very few constants during the Senate’s decline, but one of them has been the presence of the senior Senator from Pinellas County.
For all of his legislative successes … for all of the projects he’s secured funding for … for all of what’s he’s done for Tampa Bay … the situation for Latvala is almost a reverse “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Instead of George Bailey having never been born, what if Latvala had not served a second stint in the Florida Senate?
What if Justice had just run for re-election?
Instead, the Senate faces a nuclear scenario. On one side is the increasing level of forces arrayed against Latvala because of a singular public accusationof sexual harassment. On the other side is Latvala himself, the Kim Jong-un of the Florida Senate. The opponents of Latvala are powerful enough that they could easily destroy him if that’s what they wanted. Scott and Senate President Negron could release a joint statement calling on Latvala to resign and that would pretty much be game over. Enough of Latvala’s Republican colleagues could sign on to a petition seeking his resignation and that would tell Latvala it’s time to go.
And the United States could easily destroy North Korea in any exchange of weapons, conventional or nuclear.
The supreme danger in that scenario is the collateral damage. What missiles can North Korea fire off, preemptively or retaliatory, if it is about to be attacked or is attacked?
What missiles can Latvala fire off, preemptively or retaliatory, if he is attacked?
If the special master in the sexual harassment case finds probable cause (and how can he not as that threshold is so easy to reach) and L’Affaire Latvala heads to a “trial” on the Senate floor, what kind of damage will be done to an institution already reeling from a decade of losses?
Because Latvala has said, both publicly and more forcefully in private, that his colleagues will have to vote him off the Senate floor if he is to be expelled from the body. He won’t make a deal. He won’t resign.
Instead, he and his lawyers will conduct a full-throated defense that will involve the public questioning not only of his accuser but many members of the Senate. No one has more institutional knowledge about the Florida Senate than Latvala. No one knows where more bodies are buried.
God only knows what will come from that spectacle.
On Tuesday, Sen. Travis Hutson said that the Senate “is being burnt to the ground and I feel Senator Latvala is running around with the Napalm and the matches.” He’s now calling on Latvala to resign “so that we do not have to deal with this problem anymore.”
Hutson is wrong. Not about Latvala needing or not needing to resign, but of the incendiaries he thinks Latvala has at his disposal.
A nuclear war is coming and I don’t know if anyone knows how to stop it.
A new poll from St. Leo University found Gov. Rick Scott has surpassed U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup in for Nelson’s seat in 2018.
The poll, conducted online between Nov. 19 and Nov. 24, showed Scott with a double-digit lead over Nelson in the matchup, 42-32, with 8 percent preferring another candidate and 18 percent undecided.
Eight months ago Nelson held a 5-point lead over Scott, 39-34, and in September the Scott took a slim 35-33 lead.
Scott, a Republican, has not formally entered the race for U.S. Senate, but he is termed-out as governor and is almost sure to challenge Nelson, a Democrat, in his campaign for a fourth term next year.
“We’re still almost a year out from the 2018 elections, but Rick Scott is in the best position he’s been in yet against incumbent Bill Nelson,” said polling institute director Frank Orlando. “It will be interesting to see if he can maintain this support while his party is hurting electorally throughout the country.”
Scott has also made considerable strides over the last two months when it comes to voters’ perception of his job performance.
Back in March, about 56 percent of Florida voters said they had a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of the second-term governor, while about 39 percent said they viewed Scott, a Republican, in a “somewhat unfavorable” or “not at all favorable” light.
Last month, the positive view climbed to about 61 percent while the negatives had dwindled to about 31 percent. The other 8 percent said they were unsure how they felt about Scott.
The poll also touched on the leading candidates to replace Scott in the governor’s mansion, though the bulk of the survey was conducted when Orlando attorney John Morgan was still considering a run in the Democratic Primary.
Among all voters lumped together — Republicans, Democrats and independents — Morgan again came out on top with 24 percent support, followed by Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam at just under 19 percent.
About 53 percent of Democratic voters said they were unsure, leaving the race wide open for fellow Democratic candidates Andrew Gillum (6 percent), Orlando-area businessman Chris King (3 percent) and Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine (2 percent).
“No one has been able to rally establishment support and win the invisible primary. With some uncertainty removed as Morgan took himself out of contention, the process of winnowing the field might finally begin in earnest,” Orlando said.
Putnam, who has gone gangbusters on the fundraising trail, leads the Republican field with 15 percent support, though nearly 63 percent of GOP respondents were unsure.
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, not yet a candidate,was second-place among named options at 4.8 percent, followed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and embroiled Clearwater Sen.Jack Latvala, both with under 3 percent support.
“Adam Putnam isn’t in an insurmountable position, but he’s at least the leader in the clubhouse,” Orlando said. “Other prominent GOPers are busy fulfilling the duties of their office or in the news for the wrong reasons. It’s difficult to compare Putnam against Morgan at this point, as our results show that voters would still prefer someone else in the governor’s mansion.”
The poll took in responses from 500 Florida voters — including 181 Democrats and 166 Republicans — and has a 4.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level. More detailed information on the poll’s methodology and findings can be found on the St. Leo University polling website.