Staff Reports – Florida Politics

Staff Reports

Publix suspends political giving amid anti-NRA protest

The Publix supermarket chain says it’s suspending political contributions as it reevaluates its giving policy after students from the Parkland, Florida, high school where 17 people were killed called for a boycott because it supports a candidate aligned with the National Rifle Association.

Student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School staged “die in” protests at two Publix stores Friday. They are upset over contributions Publix made to Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, who has called himself an NRA sellout.

Publix announced earlier this week that it would “reevaluate” its donations amid the outcry. In another statement Friday it announced it would halt its contributions for now.

The statement emailed by Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said the company would “suspend corporate-funded political contributions as we reevaluate our giving processes.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Delegation for 5.25.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

The resurrection of Blue Dog Democrats?

When last seen in public, the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition went off to lick its wounds following the 2010 elections. The uproar from the passage of Obamacare wiped out most of the moderate-to-conservative Democrats and lurched their caucus further to the left.

Roll Call profile reminds that in its heyday, the coalition boasted 54 members. While progressives increased, so did Republican conservatives further polarizing Capitol Hill.

Florida’s most prominent Blue Dog at the time was Allen Boyd of Monticello. He was swept away in that 2010 red wave by Republican Steve Southerland of Panama City.

Allen Boyd, one of Florida’s last Blue Dog Democrats. (Image via Matt Burke for 850businessmagazine.com)

While the group did not entirely disappear over the last two cycles, they seemed to stay in their doghouse as the House Democratic leaders that presided over the disaster maintained their roles.

But this year, the group wants the political establishment to know the Blue Dogs are barking again. Membership is on the rise with the latest being Pennsylvania’s Conor Lamb, who won the shocking upset in a Pennsylvania special election a few weeks ago.

The Florida delegation is again represented with first-term Democrats Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. The membership now stands at 19.

There are some hurdles. Over their two-decade history, Blue Dogs have been described as staunch defenders of gun rights with members also falling into the pro-life camp.

In this era of school shootings that is a problem, with any contributions from the NRA a ticket for defeat in a Democratic primary. The Blue Dog PAC had accepted NRA money in the past, but Murphy was among the first to object to that in 2017, leading to an outright ban.

While one of the group’s longtime members, Minnesota’s Collin Peterson, acknowledges “we’re irrelevant, that’s true,” they still see an expanding role going forward. They hope to win enough seats to approach the numbers of the GOP’s Freedom Caucus, who hold 30 seats and a great deal of leverage with leadership.

The PAC will undoubtedly be trying to further increase their membership by spreading around endorsements and financial help to candidates that fit their criteria. More than $1 million has been raised to this point.

Should Democrats win back control of the House, Blue Dogs are certain to be among those flipping Republican seats. That would provide them with the clout needed to influence legislation.

If Democrats fail to win a majority, a leadership upheaval would inevitably follow. A Blue Dog on the leadership team would be a wise move.

Nelson proposes increased spending on mental health at schools

Following the Valentine’s Day shootings in Parkland, the narrative mostly focused on gun control. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson was part of a South Florida town hall that talked about getting assault weapons off the street.

Last week’s mass murders in Texas, carried out with a shotgun and a pistol, has elicited a broader desire for greater access to mental health care. Nelson revealed earlier this week he will file legislation to hire more mental health professionals on campuses across the country.

Bill Nelson spoke this week with Parkland shooting survivors David Hogg and Charlie Mirsky.

“We can’t allow what happened in Parkland and in Texas to become the new normal in this country,” Nelson said. “We have to do more to protect our kids in school and ensure that any student who needs mental health services is able to get them.”

The legislation would require the U.S. Department of Education to determine which areas of the country have a shortage of school mental health professionals. It also would provide federal education grants to colleges that partner with low-income school districts to train mental health professionals, and it would forgive student loans for those who work at least five years in low-income schools.

Nelson said last week’s shootings in Santa Fe, Texas created a new sense of urgency. He did not provide an immediate cost estimate, but following the Florida shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 dead, Florida lawmakers approved spending $69 million to provide additional mental health resources in the state’s schools.

Rubio, GOP push back against Trump trade plans with China

The ongoing back-and-forth between the U.S. and China on tariffs has brought the Chinese communications giant ZTE to the forefront. Trump’s apparent willingness to ease the impact on ZTE has several Capitol Hill Republicans, especially Sen. Marco Rubioboth incredulous and angry.

Rubio went to the Senate floor and offered impassioned remarks about the Trump team’s approach to ZTE and trade with China. While he has supported Trump’s moves involving North Korea, he reminded that the stakes are high.

Marco Rubio pushes back on Donald Trump’s deal to help China’s ZTE.

“This is not a political game … do we not understand where we are headed?” he said. “You know why China wins these negotiations? Because they don’t play these games. They know what this is about. They have a 10-year plan, a 20-year plan, 50-year plan. We can’t think 48 hours ahead.”

Some critics on Capitol Hill understand what the administration is doing regarding trade, but are puzzled by others. Legislation is circulating that would limit Trump’s ability to lift sanctions on ZTE.

“I would vote for that,” said GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “I’m all for the president making a deal with China, but I don’t like the ZTE part.”

Rubio put it in big picture terms.

“And if we allow China to cheat and steal their way into dominance, there will be more dictatorships and less democracies on this planet, and we will all pay a price for that,” he said.

Rubio, Nelson lament likely next round of Russian interference

Investigations into Russian interference continues on Capitol Hill, but that does not mean Vladimir Putin and those seeking to cause mischief in the U.S. are planning to stop. In fact, Rubio is among those warning Florida is especially vulnerable to hacks and possible vote-changing.

Trump administration officials held a closed-door briefing on Tuesday about another potential wave of threats targeting state and local elections. Florida was not specifically mentioned, but Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, bluntly warned Florida officials more than a month ago not to be overconfident.

Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio warn that Russian Influence is coming, again.

“I don’t think they fully understand the nature of the threat,” he said. “These are not people sitting in the basement of their mom’s house. These are nation-state threats. They have significant resources and assets at their disposal to do this.”

The Center for American Progress gave Florida an “F” for its readiness, citing the lack of paper backups and post-election audits. Indiana was the only other state that earned an unqualified failing grade.

Nelson sounded a note of pessimism when he said, “a private industry or a state or local government can’t prevent a sophisticated hacker if they are intent on hacking.” Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney talked of the potential devastation and shared Nelson’s acceptance of what is likely coming.

“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Rooney said. “And if we don’t prepare ourselves now, it’s going to be our fault. And all hell will break loose if they start changing numbers — especially in Florida where it’s purple.”

Gov. Rick Scott was quick to react. On Wednesday, Scott, who is challenging Nelson for the latter’s Senate seat, directed state officials to speed up the acquisition of a $19 million federal grant aimed at protecting the state’s elections systems from a cyberattack.

Floridians divided on cancellation of Kim summit

As word began to circulate that Trump had canceled the Singapore summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, the reaction within political circles began to pour in. As expected, Florida leaders had differing views.

“The cancellation of this summit reveals the lack of preparation on the part of President Trump in dealing with a totalitarian dictator like Kim Jong Un,” said Nelson. “We’ve seen similar lack of preparation by the president in dealing with the leaders of China and Russia,” Nelson asserted.

There will be no summit with Kim Jong Un, yet.

Nelson’s fall opponent saw it another way.

“Governor Scott believes the interests of the United States must always remain our first priority and he is sure the president and our military and diplomatic leaders made the right decision,” asserted Lauren Schenone on behalf of the Scott campaign.

Within 24 hours after blasting the Trump administration for its negotiations with China, Rubio offered effusive praise for Trump’s move.

“I one hundred percent support the President’s decision,” said Rubio. “For two weeks now, North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un has been trying to sabotage the summit and set the United States up to take the blame. He made a big show of freeing hostages and supposedly dismantling a nuclear site to make himself appear reasonable and conciliatory,” Rubio asserted.

Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch dealt directly with the stated reasoning for the cancellation.

“But today he canceled the summit because a low-level vice minister was not nice to VP Pence and called him a ‘dummy,’” Deutch asked. “This is not a show of strength, and this is not an adult way to conduct foreign policy.”

Gaetz, DeSantis to receive campaign help from Trump, Jr.

Two of Trump’s favorite Florida politicians will receive boosts to their campaigns from the First Family. Donald Trump, Jr. will appear sometime in June at a rally in The Villages with both Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach slated to be on hand.

A re-election rally is tentatively slated for August 2 somewhere in the Panhandle that is part of Gaetz’s district. DeSantis will also be in attendance.

Donald Trump Jr. comes to the aid of Matt Gaetz, Ron DeSantis.

“I know Ron and I are very grateful to have the support of the Trump family,” Gaetz said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “Don Jr. and other members of the Trump family draw great crowds.”

President Trump has often provided flattering comments toward Gaetz and reportedly calls the Congressman on occasion to talk policy. The president has already endorsed DeSantis for governor over Commissioner of Agriculture and former Congressman Adam Putnam.

Dunn’s veterans opioid bill passes House

A veteran-related bill sponsored by Panama City Republican Neal Dunn has cleared the House of Representatives. By a 377-2 vote (both “no” votes were from Republicans), the Veterans Opioid Abuse Prevention Act now heads to the Senate.

Dunn’s bill directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to connect VA health care providers to a national network of state-based Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs). These programs help track prescribing data to identify abuse patterns in patients.

Neal Dunn scores a win for veterans with opioid addiction.

Before the vote, Dunn went to the House floor to extol its virtues. He made the case that it is “unacceptable” the way the country is failing those who served in uniform.

“That’s why I introduced the Veterans Opioid Abuse Prevention Act — to ensure no veteran slips through the cracks,” Dunn said. “My bill increases opioid prescribing transparency at the VA and allows VA doctors to do what most private sector physicians already do — they access state databases listing all opioid prescriptions from all providers.”

Among the bill’s 40 co-sponsors were Republicans John Rutherford of Jacksonville, Ted Yoho of Gainesville, and Democrat Darren Soto of Orlando.

Murphy bill seeks personal accountability on Capitol Hill

Few argue that members of Congress end their careers much wealthier than they began. In fact, a 2011 book by Tallahassee-based author Peter Schweizer called “Throw Them All Out” detailed how politicians from both parties enriched themselves while in office.

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy has filed legislation designed to end perks by some members of Congress and move bipartisan bills higher on the pecking order. Murphy has joined with Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick to file the Fostering Accountability, Integrity, Trust and Honor [FAITH] in Congress Act.

Stephanie Murphy seeks more accountability for lawmakers.

The bill resurrects Murphy’s previous efforts to require Congress to forgo their salary if they fail to pass a budget. It would also require a recorded vote before any pay raises would go into effect.

One of the more dramatic provisions would prevent members of Congress from ever becoming lobbyists once their careers in elected politics came to an end.

“Members of Congress should be working for the people who sent them there, not lining their own pockets or refusing to do their jobs,” Murphy stated in a news release. “My bill would hold members of Congress accountable to the American people by reducing the power of special interests, promoting bipartisanship, rolling back congressional perks, and forcing them to do their jobs or they don’t get paid.”

Demings honors fallen officers during National Police Week

Last week, Capitol Hill and locations around the country celebrated National Police Week. First-term Congresswoman, and former Orlando Chief of Police, Val Demings, honored those that have fallen in the line of duty.

Demings revealed four central Florida police officers who will have their names included at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington. They will join those already etched into the Law Enforcement Memorial Wall.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is on the 400 block of E Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

Those remembered include Lt. Debra Clayton of the Orlando Police Department, Deputy Norman Lewis of Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Officer Matthew Baxter of the Kissimmee Police Department, and Sgt. Sam Howard of the Kissimmee Police Department.

Demings welcomed family members of the fallen to her Washington office and mixed with officers from around the country.

“It was my honor to welcome law enforcement officers from Central Florida to Washington, D.C., pay tribute to our fallen officers, and discuss legislation to keep officers safe and improve police-community relations,” she said in an email to constituents.

The first-term Democrat had other things to discuss during National Police Week. For example, the first-term Democrat recently teamed with Rutherford to gain House passage of the Protect and Serve Act, which provides enhanced penalties for the targeting of law enforcement officers.

Also, the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Wellness Act, which she also co-sponsored alongside Indiana Congresswoman Susan Brooks, was signed into law. This bill is designed to help local law enforcement agencies address mental health challenges faced by officers.

Crist laments blockage of his fair lending amendment

Normally, members of Congress issue releases celebrating the passage of one of their bills or a key provision being included in a larger bill. That was not the subject of a release from Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist.

Crist released a scathing statement after his amendment to protect data collection that prevents racial discrimination was blocked from inclusion in the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, otherwise known as the Dodd-Frank overhaul bill.

Charlie Crist’s fair lending amendment stumbles in the House.

“At a time when banks are still being penalized for redlining and other discriminatory practices, we need more data, not less, to fully address this problem,” said Crist. “We should be working together to move fairness forward, not rolling back protections for vulnerable communities.”

The bill went on to pass the House by a vote of 258-159. Many of the Blue Dogs, excluding Crist, wound up being among the 30 Democrats voting to send the measure to Trump. Also voting in favor was Alcee Hastings of Miramar and Al Lawson of Tallahassee (something that Lawson’s opponent, Alvin Brown, was happy to talk about).

Trump signed the bill on Thursday.

Buchanan constituent touts tax cuts before congressional committee

On Wednesday, restaurant owner John Horne of Bradenton appeared before the Tax Policy Subcommittee today to highlight the benefits of the recently enacted Tax Cut and Jobs Act.

Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, who chairs the Ways and Means subcommittee, invited Horne to Capitol Hill to discuss the impact the tax cuts have had on his business.

Restaurateur John Horne spoke to Congress on tax cuts at the invitation of Vern Buchanan. (Image via Bradenton Herald)

Horne employs more than 300 people at his four Anna Maria Oyster Bars in Manatee County. He testified that the tax cut has allowed him to purchase new equipment and give bonuses to his workers.

“Everyone’s feeling the effects of a stimulated economy,” said Horne, who was one of several small business owners invited to testify at today’s hearing. “Small businesses can get their staffs and their customers involved locally like no other business can. They’re already in their communities and they know the needs of their communities and they have a vested interest to make their communities better.”

According to figures provided by Buchanan, Wages are growing at their fastest pace since 2008; consumer confidence is at its highest level since 2000, unemployment claims are at their lowest since the 1960s and the economy grew 2.9 percent in the first quarter of 2018. Growth is expected to rise to 3.3 percent by the end of the year — a dramatic departure from the prior 2 percent growth status quo.

Also, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will create 900,000 jobs, raise wages by $1.2 trillion, and boost investment by $600 billion.

Mast, Dunn tapped for new Veterans Affairs Committee roles

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe of Tennessee had some big announcements on his committee’s structure this week and both involved delegation Republicans. Roe announced Dunn, representing District 2 in the Panhandle, would serve as chairman of the subcommittee on Health and also revealed Brian Mast of Palm City would join the committee immediately.

Dunn, a medical doctor from Panama City, earned a rare appointment for a first-term lawmaker. In this capacity, Dunn will oversee the Veterans Health Administration, which includes medical services, research, facilities, and compliance.

Brian Mast takes a new role on the Veterans Affairs Committee. (Image via TCPalm)

“I am honored to continue to serve America’s heroes in this leadership role on the Health Subcommittee,” Dunn said in a news release. “As a doctor and Army veteran, I have seen firsthand the red tape our veterans face on a daily basis. From problems getting treatment at local facilities to traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to qualify and receive organ transplants — our service members return from war only to find they have to fight government bureaucracy.”

Mast, a first-term representative and combat wounded warrior, replaces another Floridian, Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford, on the committee. Rutherford’s departure coincides with his appointment to the House Appropriations Committee.

“Our first-of-its-kind Congressional office in the West Palm Beach VA has resulted in more than 100 new cases that we’re taking a look at to help veterans in our community,” Mast said in a news release provided by the committee. “I’m excited that being on this committee will give me an even better platform to advocate for these veterans and my fellow veterans around the country.”

Mast will serve on both the Health and the Economic Opportunity Subcommittees.

On this day in the headlines

May 25, 1961 — In a pre-Memorial Day address before a joint session of Congress, President John F. Kennedy set an ambitious goal of sending a man to the moon before the end of the decade. Kennedy asked for a commitment of billions of dollars to put the U. S.into the lead in the space race.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth,” Kennedy said. “We go into space because whatever mankind must undertake, free men must fully share.”

May 25, 2010 — South Korea’s president ordered a slashing of trade to Communist North Korea and pledged Monday to haul Pyongyang before the United Nations for a torpedo attack that killed 46 sailors. President Barack Obama offered his full support for South Korea, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conferred with China, the top ally of the North Korean regime led by Kim Jong-il.

President Lee Myung-bak said North Korea “will pay a price” for the attack. Obama put American forces on alert, while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expects the U.N. to take “measures appropriate to the gravity of the situation.”

— 150 years of Memorial Day —

Monday (actual date is Wednesday) will mark the 150th anniversary of the first celebration of what is today called Memorial Day. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month.

“The 30th of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.

Celebrating 150 years of Memorial Day. (Image via Time)

The remembrance was first known as Decoration Day. On the first Decoration Day, General, and future president, James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery followed by the decoration of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.

May 30 was chosen, among other reasons, because it was not an anniversary of any particular battle. In 1968, Congress mandated Memorial Day would be observed on the last Monday in May, effective in 1971.

(NOTE: Delegation will not publish Tuesday, but will return Friday, June 1)

Flags at half-staff to honor Daytona Beach police officer

Flags will fly at half-staff on Friday to honor a Daytona Beach police officer who died following a training exercise.

Thomas Coulter, 25, had been with the Daytona Beach Police Department for only one week.

He “suffered a heart attack while conducting physical training in front of Police Department headquarters” last Friday, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Coulter

“He was participating in a team job with other newly hired police officers when he began to feel ill and collapsed,” he site said. “He was transported to a local hospital where his condition worsened.” He died Monday.

To honor Coulter, Gov. Rick Scott ordered the U.S. and state flags at half-staff at the Volusia County Courthouse Annex in Daytona Beach, Daytona Beach City Hall, the Daytona Beach Police Department, and the Capitol in Tallahassee from sunrise to sunset on Friday.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.25.18 — Game theory

We’ve reached the point in the primary cycle where, by now, campaign groundwork and infrastructure should be well underway.

Bold is offering evidence of that proposition.

Smart candidates are bringing out the big endorsements, and less seasoned candidates making career-killing gaffes.

The operatives are talking. If our Jacksonville correspondent isn’t typing, odds are good he is fielding a call from one or another.

Sometimes, what they say may even be true.

For those who have been reading Florida Politics in the Jacksonville market since 2014, what’s clear is that we much of the work — explaining why someone is winning (or losing).

Moments have predictive value. Trends emerge from specific phenomena. And the savvy players, whether donors, consultants, pols or endorsers are making rational transactional decisions.

Some like to sentimentalize politics. But they are soon disappointed when it is revealed (yet again) that the business is a discipline — and well-organized people, and operations, tend to do the best business.

Scott trumpets yet another record low crime rate

Tuesday morning, Gov. Rick Scott was in Jacksonville with what his office called a “major announcement” on “Florida’s safe communities” and the 2017 FDLE Crime Report.

Rick Scott, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, Mayor Lenny Curry talk crime-fighting.

Crime rates have decreased during the Scott era (from a 40 year low to a 46 year low and now, a 47 year low), and his trumpeting of the statistical decreases have become a yearly tradition, which allows the outgoing Governor and current Senate candidate to spotlight budget allocations for public safety measures.

“This year, our budget invested more than $5.2 billion in public safety, a more than $300 million increase over last year,” Scott said. “This investment includes $22.8 million to pay increases for state sworn law enforcement officers, which includes the 5 percent raise I signed last year.”

Scott also trumpeted a 10 percent raise for juvenile probation officers and increased funding for prevention programs for at-risk youth.

“As our economy continues to grow,” Scott said, “we continue to invest more money in law enforcement. These investments are clearly working. Crime in our state is at a 47-year low.”

“The crime rate dropped by 6 percent in 2017, including a reduction in violent crime of 3 percent,” Scott said.

Scott spotlighted several officers who died since mid-April, including Officer Lance Whitaker of Jacksonville, asking for a moment of silence in commemoration.

Scott was accompanied by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams, who spotlighted local efforts, including hiring more police officers and a 36 percent decrease in nonfatal shootings in Q1 2018.

Graham returns to Jacksonville

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham found herself on familiar turf Monday evening, addressing the monthly meeting of the Duval Democratic Party.

Gwen Graham works the crowd in Jacksonville Monday.

In Jacksonville, Graham — once seen as a prohibitive front-runner for the nomination — made at least one “comeback kid” posture, noting that in her 2014 race for Congress, some political reporters bet against her and others said she couldn’t win.

Graham also noted her commitment to progressive ideals in the remarks, including education, public option for health care, and gun control measures, before saying that “these things don’t matter if you can’t win.”

Graham espoused a commitment to the “67 county strategy,” a phrase also used by opponent Philip Levine. While a candidate has to do well in South Florida and the I-4 Corridor, “elections are won or lost north of Orlando.”

And Graham insisted that went beyond just Jacksonville, noting that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “did well in Duval but got beaten badly west of here,” by way of making the case that the key is to “not get beaten so badly in places where Democrats have lost in the past.”

“Look at the data, and you will see: the reality is you have to do well everywhere,” Graham added. “You can’t write off any part of the state and think there’s a path to victory.”

Curry backs Waltz in CD 6

A major regional endorsement from Mayor Curry went to Mike Waltz Monday in the three-way GOP primary in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The machine comes through again. [Photo: Jax Daily Record]

Curry and Waltz share some of the same political advisers; judging from the quotes of mutual admiration, there is ideological affinity as well.

“Michael Waltz is a leader and a warrior with a servant’s heart,” Curry said.

“From the battlefield to the halls of power, Mike has already demonstrated a deep reverence for the Constitution and a willingness to fight for the conservative values we share. Washington needs people who instead of saying what they want to do will simply get things done. Florida needs more conservative voices in Congress, and that’s why I am proud to endorse and support Michael Waltz for Congress,” Curry asserted.

“Mayor Lenny Curry is a true leader, visionary and champion for real conservative reform,” said Michael Waltz. “He has worked tirelessly to enact a positive conservative agenda with real results for the people of Northeast Florida. I am humbled by Mayor Curry’s support and look forward to working together in the months ahead.”

The GOP race in CD-6, where candidates vie to replace outgoing Rep. Ron DeSantis, has been an interesting one, with Waltz and John Ward both raising serious money for what will be an expensive primary straddling three media markets (Jacksonville, Daytona and Orlando).

Ward: Puerto Ricans shouldn’t vote here

John Ward, a Republican running to succeed DeSantis in CD 6, looks to have made the biggest gaffe of his political career recently.

John Ward’s comments drew fire from inside and outside his party.

According to Fox News, Ward asserted that displaced Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be allowed to vote in Florida.

“I don’t think they should be allowed to register to vote,” Ward said, given that “the Democrat Party is really hoping that they can change the voting registers in a lot of counties and districts, and I don’t think they should be allowed to do that,” Ward said at an April forum.

Instead, Ward added that Puerto Ricans “belong” in Puerto Rico.

Per the Orlando Sentinel, likely Democratic nominee Nancy Soderberg blasted the comments:

“Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, plain and simple, and every bit as American as John Ward,” Soderberg said in a statement. “Every American citizen, regardless of where they come from, deserve a vote.”

DeSantis — who took issue with Ward filing for the seat before he was officially running for Governor — blasted his would-be replacement via POLITICO, saying the comments were “beyond the pale.”

Gibson investigates ‘problem spa’

Per Action News Jax, Sen. Audrey Gibson investigated a “problem spa” on Jacksonville’s Southside late last week.

When she walked up to the building, Gibson’s reaction: “Who the hell would want to come here for a massage? It’s seedy!”

Audrey Gibson and reporter Tenikka Hughes (above) investigated a seedy spa late last week.

Gibson and reporter Tenikka Hughes had an interesting dialogue with spa staff, which we include below.

Gibson: “Do you know there’s been illegal activity at this place? Did you know about that?”

Worker: “I don’t know.”

Hughes: “You see, it says sweet, young Asian girls. None of these girls work here?”

Worker: “No, no, no.”

Hughes: “Did you know it was being advertised like this?”

Worker: “I don’t know. That’s the first time I saw.”

Gibson: “Can we come in and see your massage rooms?”

Worker: “No.”

Doubts of Gibson permeate Senate Dem caucus

Two new political committees speak to doubts about the way forward for Senate Democrats, for which Sen. Gibson is Leader-Designate.

Audrey Gibson. (Image via Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

This is the “latest, most indelible sign of a growing rift within the caucus and yet the divide may be improving the minority party’s chances of retaking the chamber.”

“In late April, Friends of Kevin Rader PC was established by David Ramba, a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist who administers dozens of political committees on behalf of a broad range of political clients. Also recently formed was Future Democratic Majority PC and, in addition to Rader, involves Sens. Randolph BracyLauren Book from Plantation, Linda Stewart from Orlando, Bobby Powell from West Palm Beach, and Darryl Rouson from St. Petersburg.”

Per one consultant: “It’s about a crisis of confidence in Audrey (Gibson) and a fear of what the caucus might become if Gary Farmer is eventually given the reins.”

Gibson faces a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown. What’s clear, however, is that the issues around the state are at least worthy of monitoring for the incumbent.

Expect big money for Hutson committee

Sen. Travis Hutson was this week supported at a fundraising reception for his First Coast Business Foundation, and Curry was the special guest at an event heavy on names of prominent politicos, donors and lobbyists.

Travis Hutson is consolidating regional support, which will allow him to reach out statewide.

Event chairs included Marty Fiorentino, former Congressional candidate Hans Tanzler (endorsed by Hutson in 2016), JEA Board member Husein Cumber, Jaguars’ lobbyist and all-around problem solver Paul Harden, and bestbet’s Jamie Shelton.

Among the standout names on the host committee: charter school impresario Gary Chartrand and the Jax Chamber mainstay Daniel Davis.

A similar group of players came together last year for a fundraiser in support of future House Speaker Paul Renner, whose political committee had a $261,000 month because of it.

Hutson is pursuing the Senate presidency in 2022, and fundraisers like this for his political committees will fuel the work to secure support for his bid.

In April, his Sunshine State Conservatives political committee got a boost reflective of similar support from different players.

The committee brought in $155,000 in April, with much of that money coming from other committees.

Firefighters back Polson in HD 15

Democrat Tracye Polson is still waiting to find out which of three Republicans will emerge from the August primary to face her in the House District 15 race.

Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters head Randy Wyse addresses a crowd downtown.

But she doesn’t have to wait any longer for the endorsement of one of Jacksonville’s most influential public-sector unions.

The Jacksonville Association of Firefighters gave its imprimatur to Polson, meaning that no matter what happens in the GOP battle, she can count on union backing.

“I am humbled to have earned the support of the men and women of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters. This endorsement is particularly meaningful to me. As a licensed mental health professional, I’ve spent many years treating victims of trauma and I know the critical impact first responders have when they arrive on the scene of fire and medical emergencies. District 15 continues to battle the opioid epidemic, having two ZIP codes with the highest rate of overdoses in the city,” said Polson.

“Furthermore, because of the stressors first responders are exposed to every day, they have increased rates of PTSD and suicide. And this impacts their loved ones and our entire community, too. I will be a staunch advocate for them and their families,” Polson added.

The local Fraternal Order of Police had previously endorsed Polson, giving her a public safety sweep.

Bowman, Wilson take Jacksonville City Council helm

The top job starting July 1 in the Jacksonville City Council will go to current Vice President Aaron Bowman, elected President-Designate Tuesday.

Aaron Bowman and Scott Wilson will lead the Council starting July 1.

There was little surprise: Weeks prior, Bowman had 13 of the 19 councilors pledging support.

Bowman, a VP for the Jacksonville Chamber‘s business recruitment wing JAXUSA Partnership, will represent a break from the chaotic, parlous dynamic between current President Anna Lopez Brosche and Mayor Curry.

Republican Scott Wilson took the VP spot — notable because he entered Tuesday with no pledges and overcame intense lobbying from the head of the Republican Party of Duval County for his opponent, Danny Becton.

BBQ botch

Earlier this month, the city filed suit against Councilwoman Katrina Brown, a first-term Democratic member of the Council’s Finance Committee, for breach of guaranty, relative to a defaulted loan of $380,000 to the Browns’ family business, CoWealth LLC. [COJ v Katrina Brown]

Questions remain about Katrina Brown’s political future after a city lawsuit was filed against her.

CoWealth defaulted on the loan after Jan. 1, 2017, per the filing, which noted that the city is owed over $346,000 in principal, in addition to interest, late charges and so forth.

The city has retained Burr and Forman LLP to represent its interests.

To recap, the city fronted CoWealth $380,000 of loans from the city of Jacksonville and $220,000 of grants in 2011 to build a BBQ sauce plant in Northwest Jacksonville. The grant money was conditional on the company creating 56 permanent jobs, but none were created.

The city won a default judgment against the businesses, but that was effectively worthless. Brown’s parents, including her mother who ran the businesses, filed for bankruptcy months ago.

This news is ill-timed for Councilwoman Brown, who has drawn no fewer than seven challengers for her District 8 seat.

Brown will stay on the Council, she said Tuesday, and will continue her run for re-election.

Another one bites the dust

Jacksonville’s latest Inspector General, James Hoffman, took all of six sentences in a terse resignation letter late Friday to end his twelve-month tenure.

James Hoffman. (Image via Jacksonville Daily Record)

Hoffman is the second permanent inspector general to leave the role in recent years, and the second one to last a year or less.

“I would like to thank you for the trust placed in me to lead the Office of Inspector General. The last 12 months have been personally and professionally rewarding. I have enjoyed learning and working in the consolidated government. I have been inspired by the professionals within the Office working tirelessly every day to make our government more effective and efficient. However, for personal and professional reasons, I resign as the Inspector General for the City of Jacksonville,” Hoffman wrote.

The resignation will be effective June 8.

Back in 2016, Thomas Cline left the position, after less than a year. Steve Rohan, a former city lawyer, also served on an interim basis in between the two permanent hires.

It took the Inspector General Selection and Retention Committee roughly that long to secure Hoffman as a permanent replacement.

Jacksonville City Council members, including the president of the body and the body’s chief advocate for an IG position, didn’t see the departure coming.

Land Trust honored for fort preservation

The North Florida Land Trust was recognized recently with the 2018 Florida Preservation Organizational Achievement award for the work they did to acquire and preserve the 1898 Spanish-American War Fort.

The property had been purchased at a tax deed sale, and the buyer had considered demolition. However, a combination of $162,500 in city funds, a $100,000 donation from the Delores Barr Weaver fund, and other support combined to meet the $400,000 purchase price.

NFLT brings home the hardware.

Per a media release: “NFLT was chosen for the Florida Trust’s Preservation Award in the organizational achievement category for the capital campaign they led to preserve the 1898 Spanish-American War Fort. NFLT partnered with the National Park Service in 2015 to serve as the acquisition and fundraising partner to save the fort. They negotiated with the landowner who had acquired the property at a tax deed sale and had planned to destroy the fort to build a house. The staff then set out on a yearlong capital campaign to raise the money needed to purchase the property and save the fort.”

“This is an example of what a community can achieve when we work together to save an important part of our state’s history,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “When we took this on in 2015, it was the largest capital campaign our organization had ever undertaken in its 16-year history. Our then small staff of six worked very hard to achieve our goal to save the fort. With help from the City of Jacksonville, the Delores Barr Weaver Fund and many in the community who contributed to the campaign, we were able to raise the money needed to purchase this property and save a piece of Jacksonville history.”

The National Park Service will be the ultimate custodians of the fort.

Tim Nolan takes helm of TOTE

Per media release: Tim Nolan has been named the next President and CEO of TOTE Inc., the parent company to TOTE Maritime and TOTE Services.

Tim Nolan, current President of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, will take over July 16.

“I am honored and excited to step into this new leadership role with TOTE,” commented Nolan. “The TOTE team is an exemplary group of people and I am confident that together we will make this a successful transition. I look forward to working closely with customers, vendors and key stakeholders as well as all of the TOTE companies.”

TOTE’s corporate headquarters is moving to Jacksonville, where both TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and TOTE Services are currently based.

Nolan will key in on selecting his replacement in his previous role: the next president for TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico.

Art attack

WJCT reports that Jacksonville’s decision to sell “Iva,” a painting by Joan Mitchell that had not been displayed in a decade, will mean big profits for city coffers.

“Leaders in the arts community now have $2.8 million in their pockets, thanks to the auction seller’s fees being waived by Christie’s grant of a 104 percent return.”

“Iva” by Joan Mitchell.

The money will be split 50/50 by the city and its Museum of Contemporary Art.

The city’s share will go toward its Arts in Public Places program, which has $700,000 in unmet maintenance needs.

Black Creek land deals cut

The state has acquired the land needed for a project to pump water out of Black Creek and into aquifers at Keystone Heights, reports the Florida Times-Union.

The Black Creek project is expected to replenish area lakes, such as in Keystone Heights.

“The project calls for using Black Creek — which floods frequently — as an alternative water supply to meet the region’s future water needs by helping replenish the Floridan aquifer, the state’s main water source. It is the first attempt in Northeast Florida to use water from a creek or river to recharge the aquifer.”

There are critics, including HD 19 Democratic candidate Paul Still.

Still got in the race against incumbent Bobby Payne in part because of the “Black Creek boondoggle,” and he still is unmollified.

“It should be clear that the wetlands associated with Black Creek at Penney Farms require frequent high creek levels to keep them functioning and that withdrawing water at the proposed rate for the Black Creek Project would harm those wetlands,” said Still.

Chambers wins eco dev award

Via a news release from the Jax Chamber: “Cathy Chambers, JAXUSA Partnership senior vice president of strategy and business development, was honored with the prestigious Eunice Sullivan Economic Development Professional of the Year Award at the 2018 Florida Economic Development Council (FEDC) Annual Conference on Tuesday.”

“The FEDC recognized Chambers as a leader of business development success and advocacy for the profession, the region and women in the field,” the release continues. “During her tenure at JAXUSA Partnership, Chambers spearheaded efforts to attract more than 10,000 jobs and capital investment to the Northeast Florida region, including significant projects such as Deutsche Bank, Macquarie, Citibank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Web.com, PNC Mortgage and EverBank, among others.”

“Cathy is a highly respected voice for economic development in the Northeast Florida region and the state,” said Jerry Mallot, president of JAXUSA Partnership and 1997 recipient of the Eunice Sullivan Award. “Many business decision-makers and site consultants have recounted that they are drawn to the region because of Cathy’s professionalism, credibility and knowledge. She consistently impresses our clients resulting in their investment in the region which is good, not only for them but also for our community.”

Jags’ Ramsey makes plans for fatherhood; trolls Bills’ QB

With Father’s Day just three weeks away, Jaguars’ cornerback Jalen Ramsey is looking forward to his first. He is already making plans for the future when it comes to the young Ramsey.

Whether he becomes the father of a boy or girl, he would like for the child to follow in the footsteps of his or her parents. He sees a potential track star in the 2030s.

Jalen Ramsey looks forward to Father’s Day.

Both Ramsey and his girlfriend both ran track in high school back in Tennessee. The former FSU All-American was also a track star in Tallahassee.

“Hopefully he or she will be a little track star,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ramsey is getting ready for training camp by doing something else he does well. One of the league’s best shutdown corners is also one of the league’s most prolific agitators.

The target this time was Buffalo Bills’ rookie quarterback Josh Allen. When the Bills spoke of the impending first pass of Allen’s career during a rookie workout, Ramsey retweeted “that’s a pick waiting to happen.”

Ramsey later deleted the post, but Allen was asked about it later.

Allen said Ramsey’s barb did not bother him at all. “That’s one of the best corners in the league,” he said.

One of the best talkers, too.

Donald Trump lauds NFL policy banning kneeling for national anthem

President Donald Trump praised an NFL policy banning kneeling during the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” saying that “maybe you shouldn’t be in the country” if you don’t stand for the anthem.

Trump spoke to “Fox & Friends” in an interview that aired Thursday. The policy forbids players from sitting or taking a knee on the field during the anthem but allows them to stay in the locker room. Any violations of the new rules would result in fines against teams.

New equipment should boost Lottery revenues, agency says

The Florida Lottery projects an increase in sales from new vending machines and other equipment provided through a new multi-million dollar agency contract.

Lottery representatives on Wednesday presented to the state’s Revenue Estimating Impact Conference, a roundtable of state economists. Lawmakers use their projections to craft the state budget each Legislative Session.

Details on the actual numbers should be available later Wednesday.

Agency officials said it was negotiating a deal with a “big-box retailer,” which it didn’t name, to sell even more Lottery tickets in the state.

That’s part of a push to increase the number of places where people can buy Lottery products, which now stands at 13,000 retailers and has been “stagnant” in recent years.

Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran had sued the Lottery last year, saying the Lottery was guilty of “wasteful and improper spending” and “signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.”

The contract is for new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network.

He won and the Lottery appealed. In December, the Lottery agreed to tweak the deal to require legislative oversight and approval. The appeal was later dropped.

The Lottery, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, disclosed changes in what was originally a contract worth $700 million over an initial 10-year period, with three available 3-year renewal options.

Among others, the changes include reducing the number of “full-service vending machines” and requiring the vendor, International Game Technology (IGT), to “support the Lottery’s marketing efforts” by kicking back $30,000 a month.

NFL owners approve team-by-team national anthem policy, will allow players to remain in locker room

NFL owners approved a new national anthem policy Wednesday that gives individual teams the authority to set their own anthem-related rules and permits players to remain in the locker room during the playing of the anthem, according to a person familiar with the deliberations.

The new policy eliminates the current requirement from the league’s game operations manual for a player to be on the field for the playing of the anthem, allowing a player to remain in the locker room. Teams would then have the ability to set their own policy for players who choose to take the field for the anthem, including the ability to discipline a player for any protest during the national anthem.

Teams would not have the ability to force players to take the field for the anthem, however.

The new policy also is expected to contain a clause that the league could fine a team for any protest by a player on the sideline during the anthem, according to a person familiar with the owners’ deliberations. Any team that wants to allow players to protest would have to be willing to pay a potential fine by the league.

The change will go into effect for the upcoming season.

“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a statement released by the league. “Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed.

“We believe today’s decision will keep our focus on the game and the extraordinary athletes who play it—and on our fans who enjoy it.”

There did not appear to be sufficient support among the owners for a league-wide requirement that players stand for the anthem. They could have left the previous policy unchanged. They could have sought a compromise by making the anthem policy a decision made by the home team for each game. They could have reverted to the sport’s pre-2009 approach and kept all players in the locker rooms until after the anthem is played.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said last season that he would bench any Cowboys player who refused to stand for the anthem. Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said at the annual league meeting in March that NFL playing fields are not the place for political statements. Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown reportedly told free agent safety Eric Reid this offseason that he plans to require Bengals players to stand for the anthem.

But other owners have said that while they would like players to stand for the anthem, they are not prepared to require it. That was the approach taken by owners when they met last October in New York and did not change the previous anthem policy. That previous policy, written into the game operations manual given by the league to teams, required players to be on the sideline for the anthem. It said that players should stand for the anthem but it did not require it.

The issue became a national controversy last season after President Donald Trump and some fans were sharply critical of protests during the anthem by some NFL players. The protests continued last season after being started during the 2016 season by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then with the San Francisco 49ers. He refused to stand for the anthem in protest of the treatment of African-Americans in the U.S. Kaepernick was out of the league last season and he and Reid have pending grievances accusing the league and teams of colluding to keep them unsigned.

“The efforts by many of our players sparked awareness and action around issues of social justice that must be addressed,” Goodell wrote in the statement. “The platform that we have created together is certainly unique in professional sports and quite likely in American business.  We are honored to work with our players to drive progress.

“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case.”

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Material from The Washington Post was used in this story.

Flags at half-staff for JSO officer killed in wreck

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff to honor Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Police Officer Lance C. Whitaker, a 17-year veteran.

Scott ordered the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Duval County Courthouse in Jacksonville, City Hall in Jacksonville, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in Jacksonville, and the Capitol in Tallahassee, from sunrise to sunset on Wednesday. 

Whitaker, 48, “was killed in a single-vehicle crash on northbound I-295, near Alta Drive, at approximately 4:30 a.m.” last Tuesday, May 15, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. “He was responding to another accident scene on the interstate when his vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree.”

“My wife Ann and I are heartbroken by the loss of Officer Lance C. Whitaker,” Scott said in a statement. “I spoke with Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams to express our condolences to him and everyone at the Sheriff’s Office.

“Everyday our brave men and women in law enforcement risk their lives to keep our communities safe and we must demonstrate our gratitude for their sacrifices. I ask every Floridian to join us in praying for Officer Whitaker’s family during this incredibly difficult time.”

Whitaker’s funeral service is today (Wednesday) at 11 a.m., Evangel Temple, 5755 Ramona Blvd., Jacksonville. A graveside service will immediately follow at Oaklawn Cemetery, 4801 San Jose Blvd., Jacksonville. A police vehicle procession will take place between the church service and graveside service.

Delegation for 5.22.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Delegation in the middle of farm bill fiasco

Last Friday, Capitol Hill was rocked by the unexpected defeat of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, otherwise known as the Farm Bill. The 213-198 final vote includes all 183 Democrats voting against it, joined by 30 Republicans.

The bill went down due to significant mistrust of House Republican leadership by the House Freedom Caucus. Conservatives demanded a vote on an immigration bill sponsored by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, which funds a border wall while also addressing the DACA fix.

When they did not get what they wanted, they torpedoed a major bill Speaker Paul Ryan and his team wanted. Sifting through the wreckage of the doomed legislation reveals the Florida delegation is in the middle of all the political intrigue.

Paul Ryan gets torpedoed on Farm Bill.

Conservatives wanted the vote because a discharge petition championed by Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo is nearing enough signatures to force a vote on the Goodlatte bill and three others (including the DREAM Act). In an email to his constituents, Curbelo described his activities as “leading the renegades.”

The farm bill was the sacrificial lamb, despite it having enough conservative provisions to cause Democrats to lament “cuts” to food stamp benefits and requirements for able-bodied beneficiaries to work for the aid. Democratic Rep. Al Lawson, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, described the bill as “denying food to those who struggle with hunger each day.”

Lawson, fellow Agriculture Committee colleague Darren Soto of Orlando and 181 other Democrats were joined by some Florida Republicans in rejecting the bill. Freedom Caucus members Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Bill Posey of Rockledge also voted no.

It probably would not be a good idea for someone running for governor to vote against a bill involving a major component of the state’s economy, no doubt prompting Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis of Marineland — a Freedom Caucus member in good standing — to vote “yes.”

Ryan himself voted “no,” but only to have the ability to bring up the bill later. A switch of 7 votes, including a yes from Ryan, would have brought the bill to passage.

Republican Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City, also a member of the Agriculture Committee, voted for the bill and express his disappointment. He said in a statement “the swamp swallowed a bill that President (Donald) Trump supports and America’s farmers depend upon.”

It is anyone’s guess as to what is next, but the odds are growing the House will eventually vote on DACA bills. Most observers are confident the Goodlatte bill would have failed last week and will fail when it comes up again.

The DREAM Act, which the Freedom Caucus describes as total “amnesty,” has some Republican support and could eventually pass, especially in an election year. It has 203 co-sponsors, but very little of what Trump wants, making its future uncertain even if it clears the House and Senate.

While the next steps on immigration will take shape in the coming days, the future for those depending on the farm bill is far less certain.

Democratic PAC to fund Nelson TV ad buy

With Gov. Rick Scott already on the air with numerous TV ads, Nelson was falling behind in the air wars. On Monday, he received a bit of missile defense with the announcement the Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC would shell out $2.2 million to help offset Scott’s early advantage.

The 30-second ad, which will air in several Florida markets, is titled “Served.” It will focus on Nelson’s service in the military, his mission as an astronaut and his service as an “independent” Senator.

To view the ad, click the image below:

“Bill Nelson’s life has been about service to others and to his country, and he continues that tradition of service every day as he fights and advocates for Floridians,” Senate Majority PAC Chris Hayden stated in a news release. “Nelson is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with powerful interests. From protecting Medicare and Social Security from privatization to standing up to insurance companies by stopping them from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, he never backs down from a fight.”

While the ad is designed to remind voters who Nelson is and what he is done, Scott’s campaign mocked the intent and the ad’s focus “on things Nelson has opposed, but not a single thing he’s accomplished.”

“After a half-century in office, shouldn’t Floridians know who Bill Nelson is?” asked Scott’s campaign communications director Ryan Patmintra. “It looks like Democrat party boss Chuck Schumer has had to come to the aid of his struggling foot soldier Bill Nelson.”

Rubio trolls China, sheds ‘not one tear’ for Chinese telecom companies

Venezuela has been a frequent target for criticism during Rubio’s tenure in the Senate, but he is now focusing on the Eastern Hemisphere, specifically China. The two-term Republican is a frequent commentator on the actions of the largest economic, if not military, rival of the U.S.

While Venezuela was having what Rubio and most observers believe were sham elections over the weekend, he was trolling China by promoting the interests of Taiwan. The U.S. considers Taiwan an ally that needs protection and support, while China considers the island a rogue, breakaway province.

Democrat Bob Menendez, Republican Marco Rubio team up to protect U.S. airlines against China.

First, Rubio and New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, led a bipartisan group of Senators reaffirming their support for U.S. airlines, who are being pressured by China to list Taiwan as part of China on their websites. In letters to the airlines, the Senators asked them to stand tough and not buckle to Chinese pressure as other American companies have previously.

Also last week, Rubio and Mendez led another group of Senators to write to the World Health Organization (WHO) asking their leadership to extend an invitation to Taiwan to fully participate in the upcoming World Health Assembly and future meetings.

“We urge you to restore Taiwan’s meaningful participation at the upcoming WHA and in the broader work of the WHO,” they wrote. “With so many emerging global health challenges, it is not only in Taiwan’s interest but also critical to the WHO’s mission of building a better and healthier future for people all over the world to include Taiwan in the 2018 World Health Assembly.”

At the same time, Rubio went on Fox News to comment on an apparent lessening of sanctions on the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. He criticized Trump’s apparent decision to accede to a request by Chinese leader Xi Xinping to soften the U.S. sanctions on ZTE as part of a trade deal.

“I do not shed one tear” for ZTE or Chinese telecom companies, he said.

Gaetz medical marijuana bill topic of discussion on Capitol Hill

The push by Gaetz to federally authorize medical marijuana research took another step forward when House Judiciary Committee members heard testimony from a Florida company licensed to produce medical cannabis. Gaetz recently launched the Medical Cannabis Research Act.

Jake Bergmann, Founder and SEO of Surterra Wellness of Ft. Lauderdale, told research should go forward with the help of the private sector for one simple reason. “The private sector grows better pot than the government,” he said.

Matt Gaetz’s medical marijuana bill has the ear of Capitol Hill.

Bergmann said passing the bill would provide the impetus for “hundreds of additional research studies,” and that existing “studies show cannabinoids as a substitute for opioids.”

“I implore everyone to support the Medical Cannabis Research Act and help us discover the secrets of the most powerful medical plant on the planet,” Bergmann added.

Gaetz has broken with many members of his party on the issue. His bill does not change federal or state laws, which he believes can help sell his bill to skeptics.

“The federal government has lied to the American people for a generation about the medical properties of cannabis,” Gaetz told the Tampa Bay Times. “We have a moral obligation to democratize access to research so that innovators can unlock cures to improve quality of life for millions.”

Lawson names Wounded Warrior Fellow 

Thanks to a program designed to create more employment opportunities for those who have served during wartime, a North Florida veteran will be working for his Congressman. Christian Cochran of Quincy has been selected as a Wounded Warrior Fellow for Lawson in his district office in Jacksonville.

“As a veteran, Christian has firsthand knowledge of the needs of our servicemen and women,” Lawson said. “His extensive military experience will prove to be a strong asset to our staff. I look forward to working with him during this fellowship.”

Al Lawson names a Wounded Warrior Fellowship for his district.

Cochran, who served in the United States Army Reserve, will assist with casework and provide support for veterans, active service members, and their families.

“What drew me to this Wounded Warrior Fellowship opportunity was that it is in the Fifth District — my home,” Cochran said. “There are several veterans in the area who need our assistance, and I will do my part to assure their needs are met. I look forward to serving our community.”

The Wounded Warrior Fellowship Program was established by the House of Representatives to provide employment opportunities for wounded and disabled veterans within member offices. The ultimate goal is training a new generation of veteran leaders for government service.

Curry backing Waltz in CD 6

One of the Republican candidates in the highly competitive Republican primary for Congressional District 6 bagged a key endorsement on Monday when Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry came out in favor of Michael Waltz. Curry, the former Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, praised Waltz’s past as well as his qualifications to succeed DeSantis.

“Michael Waltz is a leader and a warrior with a servant’s heart,” said Curry. “From the battlefield to the halls of power, Mike has already demonstrated a deep reverence for the Constitution and a willingness to fight for the conservative values we share. Washington needs people who instead of saying what they want to do will simply get things done.

Michael Waltz gets the nod from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

Both Waltz and businessman John Ward are raising large sums of money for what will be an expensive primary covering markets such as Jacksonville, Daytona and Orlando. Ward, a Ponte Vedra businessman, was the first quarter cash leader with $709,340 on hand compared to $653,354 on hand for Waltz.

But Waltz has lined up some key endorsements besides Curry. Republican Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville is backing Waltz, along with Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, St. John’s Sheriff David Shoar and Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri.

Waltz expressed his gratitude to Curry for supporting him by throwing compliments back at Curry.

“Mayor Lenny Curry is a true leader, visionary and champion for real conservative reform,” said Waltz. “He has worked tirelessly to enact a positive conservative agenda with real results for the people of Northeast Florida. I am humbled by Mayor Curry’s support and look forward to working together in the months ahead.”

After 3 years of trying, Demings announces anti-terror grant funding

Elected representatives relish the opportunity to tell constituents federal funds are coming their way. On Monday, first term Orlando Democrat Val Demings had that chance.

Demings, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, announced $1.5 million in Department of Homeland Security grants to help with anti-terrorism planning, organization, equipment, training and exercises in urban areas. Despite a major terror attack at the Pulse Nightclub in 2016, the Orlando area had not received any anti-terror grants for more than three years.

Val Demings celebrates the return of counterterrorism funds to the Orlando area.

“I am gratified that Orlando is back on the list to get the vital anti-terror funding we need and deserve,” Demings stated in a news release. “Our community thrives on tourism and travel. Enormous recreational hubs are magnets for economic activity and make us a world destination, but they also make us a potential target.”

Demings and other Orlando delegation members have tried different avenues for the funding, especially after the Pulse tragedy. Her colleagues shared in proclaiming the good news.

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy said, “as one of the nation’s most popular destinations, Orlando needs and deserves federal support to keep residents and visitors safe.” Soto, also of Orlando, said: “these federal funds are critical to strengthen public safety in central Florida.”

Crist bill supporting Israel gaining support

Back in February, Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg filed a bipartisan bill designed to help Israel defend itself from drone attacks. Joining with Republican Rep. Mike Johnson from Louisiana, the two lawmakers proposed the United States-Israel Joint Drone Detection Cooperation Act.

The bill authorizes the White House “to enter into a cooperative project agreement with Israel to counter unmanned aerial vehicles that threaten the United States or Israel.” It is now part of other pieces of legislation on Capitol Hill.

Charlie Crist’s bill supporting Israel is gaining steam in Congress.

Less than one week later, a Senate companion bill with 46 co-sponsors was filed by Rubio. In March, the Crist-Johnson measure was included in the United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, sponsored by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, which now has 233 co-sponsors.

Last week, the bill was also included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which cleared the House Armed Services Committee last week.

“To see our bipartisan proposal continue to receive broad support and swiftly move through Congress speaks to the urgent need to address the growing threat of drone attacks to U.S. and Israeli security,” Crist said in a news release. “This new partnership will further our vital alliance on defense and foreign policy strategy, greatly benefiting both our countries and keeping our people safe.”

Deutch, Curbelo, seek rejection of anti-climate provisions

The leaders of the House Climate Change Caucus are urging the leadership of the Appropriations Committee to reject any appropriations that would undermine efforts to combat climate change. Caucus co-chairs Curbelo and Deutch wrote to Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey and Ranking Member Nita Lowey of New York.

Ted Deutch, Carlos Curbelo make headwinds in the House Climate Change Caucus.

“Climate change is already a threat to life and property, rising temperatures, sea levels, and worsening impacts from severe weather events,” they wrote. “The bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, of which we are all members, is engaged in developing market-based solutions to address the critical issue of climate change.”

The caucus is made up of 78 members from both parties. Last week, five new members joined including three Republicans and two Democrats.

Delegation members in addition to Deutch are Curbelo are Democrats Crist of St. Petersburg and Murphy of Orlando, as well as Republicans Brian Mast of Palm City, Ros-Lehtinen and Gaetz.

Deutch and Curbelo are also co-founders of the caucus.

EMILY’s List supports Shalala in CD 27

The race to succeed the retiring Ros-Lehtinen in District 27 has drawn more than a dozen hopefuls, but for EMILY’s list only one candidate stands out. The pro-choice PAC has announced former Health & Human Service Secretary and University of Miami President Donna Shalala is their choice.

“Donna is running to fill retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat — a seat that is considered a key pickup opportunity for Democrats in our fight to take back the House,” said EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock.

EMILY’s List is going all in for Donna Shalala.

“She is a proven leader who is prepared to take her breadth and depth of experience fighting for others to the halls of Congress. EMILY’s List is proud to stand with Donna and show her the full support of our community to turn this red seat blue.”

The Cook Political Report has the seat “leaning democratic” despite being held by a Republican for more than two decades. Hillary Clinton won the district by 19 points in the 2016 election.

Schriock also argued Shalala’s previous government experience helps her stand out in the CD 27 primary. The group passed over another pro-choice Democratic woman candidate in Miami Beach city Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez.

In addition to Rosen Gonzalez, Shalala also faces former Knight Foundation Program Director Matt Haggman, current state Rep. David Richardson, and former University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn in the primary.

EMILY’s List has also recommended Mary Barzee Flores in her challenge to Republican Mario Diaz-Balart; Nancy Soderberg, who is trying to win the open seat currently held by DeSantis; Murphy of Winter Park, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is challenging Curbelo in District 26.

Roll Call analysis: 19 seats all trend toward Democrats

Despite a narrowing in the polling for the generic ballot, Roll Call has updated 19 House races that have all shifted toward Democrats. One of those 19 involves Crist’s Pinellas County seat.

Roll Call points to two districts held by Democrats that can no longer be described as competitive. Crist’s 13th Congressional District has moved from “Likely Democratic” to “Solidly Democratic,” the same movement seen by California Democrat Ami Bera.

California’s Ami Bera and 18 other seats moved closer to Democrats.

While Democrats should be pleased with any movement toward their candidates, they should not chalk up all 19 seats to their column. More than half are switches from “Solid Republican” to “Likely Republican.”

At the same time, there is room for some comparison to previous wave elections. In 2010, there were 68 vulnerable Democrats and 11 Republicans, leading to a 63-seat GOP pickup that year.

In 2006, there were 42 vulnerable Republicans and 11 vulnerable Democrats. Republicans lost 30 seats that year and control of the House.

According to Roll Call’s analysis, Republicans have 68 vulnerable seats in 2018 to only 10 for Democrats. For them to regain control, Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats.

One bright spot for the GOP is the trend in the generic ballot. Once down by double-digits, the Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Democrats with a four-point advantage.

On this day in the headlines

May 22, 1964 — Senate Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, confident he “will have the votes for cloture,” said the bipartisan package of civil rights amendments probably will be introduced in the Senate on Monday. He said it was “premature to say we have the votes,” but was confident the filibuster against the legislation could be broken.

Democratic Sens. Spessard Holland and George Smathers of Florida blocked a move by Illinois Democrat Paul Douglas to hold a vote on amendments involving jury trials. Holland said it would be “discourteous” to have such a vote while a compromise was being brokered. Smathers said he was “delighted” to object as well.

May 22, 1973 — President Richard Nixon acknowledged the existence of an apparent wide-ranging Watergate cover-up attempt by subordinates who he conceded could have misconstrued his national security directives. Nixon said he “should have been more vigilant.”

But he disclaimed personal knowledge of “unethical, as well as illegal, activities” that he said took place in his 1972 presidential campaign. Those implicated include his now-departed Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs John Ehrlichman.

Obamas reveal their next gig

Exactly 16 months after leaving office, former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have accepted a new challenge. They will be joining forces to produce films and series for Netflix.

The content will include scripted and unscripted series, documentaries and features. There should be plenty of ideas to keep them busy.

The Obamas’ new gig — Netflix.

One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience,” Obama said in a statement. ‘That’s why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix — we hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world.”

The Obama’s production company will be called Higher Ground Productions.

 

Rick Scott names four to circuit, county benches

Gov. Rick Scott announced several judicial appointments late Monday.

Stephen Pitre to the 1st Judicial Circuit

Pitre, 46, of Gulf Breeze, is a shareholder at Clark, Partington, Hart, Larry, Bond, & Stackhouse, P.A. He previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and his law degree from Loyola College School of Law.

Pitre fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Edward P. Nickinson III.

Angela Mason to the Okaloosa County Court

Mason, 41, of Fort Walton Beach, is currently an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit, and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit.

She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and her law degree from the University of Tennessee.

Mason fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge T. Patterson Maney.

Ramiro Christen Areces and Elijah A. Levitt to the Miami-Dade County Court

Areces, 35, of Coral Gables, is a solo practitioner, and previously practiced with Jorden Burt, LLP.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and his law degree from the University of Miami. Areces fills the vacancy created by the death of Judge Shelley J. Kravitz.

Levitt, 39, of Miami, is also a solo practitioner. He previously served as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and as an Assistant State Attorney for the 11th Judicial Circuit.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and his law degree from the University of Miami.

Levitt fills the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Spencer J. Multack to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court.

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