Staff Reports, Author at Florida Politics

Staff Reports


Sugar farmers label Bullsugar a ‘radical hate group’

Citing threats of violence and ongoing law enforcement investigations, the Florida Sugarcane Farmers are now calling the anti-sugar grassroots organization Bullsugar a “radical hate group.”

“As you may know, Florida’s sugarcane farming industry provides more than 12,500 jobs and contributes more than $3.2 billion to Florida’s economy,” Frierson Farms owner Ardis Hammock wrote in an email. “Our industry is made up of generational, family farmers that have planted, harvested, and processed sugarcane for generations, dating back to the early 1900s when Florida was just getting started as one of our nation’s largest farming states.”

Hammock went out to say sugar farmers’ way of life “is under attack by radical hate groups such as Bullsugar, which is driven by an agenda aimed at shutting down farming in Florida.”

The email cited numerous articles published by POLITICO, Sunshine State News, the Orlando Sentinel and other outlets describing the behavior of Bullsugar representatives and allies. Also included in a 15-page packet compiled by Florida Sugar Farmers were snapshots of posts on Bullsugar’s Facebook advocating violence.

“All of this crap should have been run through a filtration system before it was discharged, who ever did this should be shot on national television,” one of the comments reads, presumably referring to the sugar farmers Bullsugar blames for the toxic blue-green algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee.

Hammock noted that similar threats of violence directed at Glades farming communities have spurred the sheriff’s offices in Palm Beach, Hendry and Glades counties to open investigations into Bullsugar members.

Also noted was the dissonance between Bullsugar’s attacks on politicians who have received campaign funds from the sugar industry and the group’s own status as a 501(c)4 organization. Such organizations are not required to disclose their funding sources.

Bullsugar is one of several organizations that place considerable blame on the sugar industry for Lake O algal blooms, though most scientific research concludes that even though human activity is the root cause of the blooms that the agriculture industry’s role in the recurring environmental crisis is minimal.

Florida Atlantic University professor Brian Lapointe recently presented research concluding that the tens of thousands of septic tanks surrounding Lake O as well the state’s aging and inadequate wastewater infrastructure were responsible for most of nutrients behind the algal blooms rather than agricultural runoff.

“Where reducing fertilizers tremendously in the Sunshine State, so where are the nutrients coming from?” Lapointe asked in a presentation last month. “All you have to do is read the headlines.”

“Septic tanks are the major source of nitrogen. Around the Tallahassee area, 50 percent of nitrogen is from septic tanks and only 8 percent is from agricultural sources,” he said.

Hammock concluded the anti-Bullsugar email by asking readers to “consider these facts, and consider facts from independent sources showing sugarcane farmers are not to blame for coastal water quality issues. We appreciate your careful consideration of these issues.”

Florida Realtors endorse four more state legislative candidates

Florida Realtors PAC, the political arm of the state’s largest trade organization, announced Friday that it had endorsed four more candidates seeking election to the state legislature this year.

The nods went to four Republican candidates for the state House: Chuck Brannan, who is seeking to replace term-limited Rep. Elizabeth Porter in HD 10; Anthony Sabatini, the GOP nominee for HD 32; Mike Beltran, who is looking to replace exiting Rep. Jake Raburn in HD 59; and Ray Blacklidge, who is in a tough contest with St. Pete Democrat Jennifer Webb in HD 69.

The announcement marks the “fourth wave” of state legislative endorsements handed out by the Florida Realtors. The group has previously endorsed 108 legislative candidates running in the 115 elections that were not decided at the close of the candidate qualifying period in June.

Florida Realtors PAC has had to make some adjustments to its list of endorsements. In the “first wave” the trade group backed Marc Vann for HD 10 and Jeremy Bailie for HD 69, and in the “second wave” the PAC endorsed Shannon Elswick for HD 32. Sean McCoy earned the Florida Realtors backing in the “third wave.”

The trade association has also issued recommendations for four contenders in the statewide races for Governor, Agriculture Commissioner, Attorney General and Chief Financial Officer.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

Ardian Zika

GOP group names Ardian Zika an up-and-comer to watch

The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that works to elect GOP candidates to state legislatures, recently recognized Land O’ Lakes Republican Ardian Zika in its “18 in ’18 Races to Watch” List.

Zika, a first-time candidate for public office, is the Republican nominee in House District 37. The Pasco County-based seat is currently held by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is term-limited and cannot run for re-election.

“Republicans at the state level would not be reaching historical highs, without the growing diversity of our party, and candidates like Ardian Zika. Ardian represents the best from our Future Majority Project (FMP) and Right Women, Right Now (RWRN) initiatives,” said RSLC president Matt Walter. “The RSLC has invested over $20 million in these initiatives since 2011, electing 500 new female and 100 new diverse office holders in the process.”

Zika was the only Florida candidate recognized in RLSC’s list. Its decision to recognize Zika was based on the Kosovan immigrant “[pulling] himself up by the bootstraps and [emerging] as an example of an American Dream success story.”

HD 37 is a safe Republican seat that covers the majority of inland Pasco County, including Land O’ Lakes, Odessa, Heritage Pines, Shady Hills, Meadow Oaks and Moon Lake. Zika easily secured the GOP nomination in the August primary for the seat and now faces Democratic nominee Tammy Garcia, also of Land O’ Lakes, in the general election.

In addition to the district’s partisan lean favoring Zika, he has proved to be a prolific fundraiser.

As of Oct. 12, he had raised more $260,000 in hard money for his campaign and had $80,000 left to spend. Garcia, meanwhile, has raised about $16,500 and has a little over $8,000 in the bank.

Zika has also landed endorsements from a long list of GOP politicians, including nods from St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano and Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

Jimmy Patronis asks FCC to shield wireless networks against disaster

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis urged Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Friday to establish safeguards against wireless communications breakdowns like the one that followed Hurricane Michael.

“After more than a week of wireless service failures in Hurricane Michael’s hardest hit areas, I urge you to recommend industry-wide measures that would help prevent downed telecommunications for extended periods of time,” Patronis wrote.

“FCC recommendations on best practices to preposition equipment so companies are prepared to come in and make repairs quickly after a hurricane passes, for example, could ultimately save lives by getting communications back up to aid first responder search and rescue operations,” he continued.

“Additionally, FCC action to set industry-wide standards for carriers to open their roaming agreements after a disaster is declared would help expedite response efforts and make it easier for residents to call for help.”

Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson are among the state leaders who have complained about wireless failures that have rendered thousands of Panhandle residents unable to reassure loved ones outside the disaster zone that they survived — or to learn details about relief efforts.

Pai, himself, has denounced the carriers’ performance as “completely unacceptable.”

Patronis, a former member of the Florida Public Service Commission, reminded Pai that the number of wireline customers has declined by 17 percent since last year.

“We have quickly become a wireless-only society, so it’s incredibly important that carriers get disaster preparedness and resiliency right,” he wrote.

Read the complete letter here.

Delegation for 10.19.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Third quarter fundraising reports show big Democratic numbers 

The 2018 election cycle, like others before it is about money. This time, it is Republicans are facing a dynamic of being dramatically outspent by Democrats who have raised more than $1 billion this cycle.

A prime example was the incomprehensible $38 million raised in the third quarter by Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas in his challenge to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz. O’Rourke has indicated he will not share the wealth with others.

Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke brings incomprehensible fundraising to the U.S. Senate race.

Just during the last quarter, 60 Democratic House candidates raised more than $1 million. Two of those are from Florida.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is challenging Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo for the District 26 seat, hauled in $1.4 million between July 1 and September 30, nearly doubling the amount raised by Curbelo. He still held a two-to-one cash on hand advantage heading into the campaign’s final five weeks.

In District 18, Lauren Baer raked in $1.43 million during the quarter, also doubling the amount raised by incumbent Republican Brian Mast. Like Curbelo, Mast also has a two-to-one cash on hand advantage.

Other competitive Florida races also show Democrats winning the fundraising battle in the third quarter. This includes open seats and challenges to incumbents.

Nancy Soderberg’s $796,000 topped Michael Waltz’s $600,000 (which included a candidate loan of $155,000) in the District 6 open seat. Kristen Carlson took in $600,000 to Ross Spano’s $219,000 and had a three-to-one cash on hand lead entering October in the race for the open seat in District 15.

In District 25, Mary Barzee Flores raised 547,000 compared to incumbent Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s $286,000, although the incumbent has a three-to-one cash on hand advantage. Donna Shalala raised $866,000 in the District 27 race for an open seat, while Maria Elvira Salazar reported raising $521,000 in the quarter. Shalala entered the final stretch with a $57,000 cash on hand advantage.

Democrats have benefitted from a motivated base of voters who have also opened their wallets. A fundraising entity known as ActBlue has also helped generate funds from around the country into targeted races while organ.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson reported raising $5.29 million, bringing his total to $25.2 million and $8.6 million cash on hand. Gov. Rick Scott also had a $5 million quarter but supplemented that with $18 million of his own money. For the year, Scott reported $54.7 million raised with $38 million coming from personal loans. He had $2 million left on October 1.

Despite the disadvantage, Nelson has been on the air for weeks through ads financed by his campaign as well as outside groups such as Majority Forward and a recent $4 million attack ad on Scott by Vote Vets (see below), a progressive veterans advocacy group.

Republicans will still be funded by contributions and outside groups down the stretch but will need to rely on a strong get-out-the-vote effort. There is hope on that end.

During the 2016 cycle, the Republican National Committee (RNC) invested in a state-of-the-art data and voter turnout program. It was credited with playing a major role in helping President Donald Trump win the state (and other close states) by a little over one percent.

That program is still in place and the RNC is one Republican operation that is significantly outraising its Democratic counterpart. Republicans can only hope to find that real voters will overcome an avalanche of money.

Hurricane politics roiling Senate race

As the U.S. Senate race between Nelson and Scott is now in the final three weeks, when, if ever, will Scott return to the campaign trail? The Nelson campaign believes it should be immediately.

The campaign grew more bitter this week when Scott announced he was ceasing to campaign and would instead focus on hurricane relief for the Panhandle. First Lady Ann Scott and surrogates are filling in on campaign events.

Donald Trump joins Rick Scott in surveying damage from Hurricane Michael. (Image via Twitter)

Nelson’s campaign clearly understood the political advantages Scott would enjoy, but in a risky move, a campaign adviser characterized Scott’s decision as “a cynical attempt to avoid facing voters.” “We’re not going to let Rick Scott hide from voters in the last three weeks of a major election — especially while he’s significantly increasing his negative TV attack ads,” vowed Dan McLaughlin, who is also a former Nelson spokesman.

In his own words and tweets, Nelson criticized Scott for new ads highlighting his hurricane efforts, calling them “a new low.”

Scott did earn the praise of another Democrat for his efforts. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee saluted the Governor for his efforts following Hurricane Michael and other disasters.

“We will never know how many lives that he’s been responsible for saving,” Lawson said. “The first thing you hear about is somebody dying in a hurricane. But just think: if it hadn’t been for his leadership, how many other people would be in the same situation?”

A survey by St. Pete Polls gives Scott a 61 percent approval rating for his handling of the disaster with 21 percent disapproving. The poll also shows Scott regaining the lead in the race 49-47 percent, which is inside the margin of error.

‘Swiftboating’ Scott?

One of the lasting memories of the 2004 presidential election campaign between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry was a series of television ads by a group of veterans. The group, Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, ravaged Kerry, a Navy veteran who served on a swiftboat, for his service and his anti-war activities after his tour ended.

The episode created a campaign verb known as “swiftboating.” This time, a Republican is an apparent victim of the practice of veterans attacking veterans.

A progressive group known as VoteVets is blasting Scott in an ad pointing to his role in the Columbia/HCA fraud case that led to Scott’s resignation as CEO more than 20 years ago. The ad features Navy veteran Alan Madison, also wearing a Navy cap, who questions Scott’s honor for his role in what the ad claims was defrauding veterans.

To view the ad, click on the image below:

“Governor, this hat represents what the Navy stands for: Honor, integrity,” Madison says to the camera. “My question for you, sir? Where’s yours?”

The group has committed $4 million to the ad buy, which is running for 10 days in all media markets.

The ad’s potential effect is questioned by some pundits who note the issue has been part of Scott’s previous two winning statewide campaigns.

Rubio blasts Saudi royal family over Khashoggi

Before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed to Saudi Arabia and Turkey to try to get some answers into the likely murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, opinions were beginning to form. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has “got to go,” while Sen. Marco Rubio was a bit more measured, but suspicious.

He said the situation highlights a “fear we’ve had for a long time” that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is “a young and aggressive guy.” Rubio called the situation “catastrophic” and bigger than arms deals such as those touted by Trump leading up to Pompeo’s visit.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives in Saudi Arabia to talk about the Jamal Khashoggi disappearance.

“I don’t care how much money it is,” he said, “There isn’t enough money in the world to purchase back our credibility on human rights and the way nations should conduct themselves.”

Rubio also called out the Saudi Arabian royal family’s dubious statements of denial.

“Where’s the body? Why wasn’t the family notified?” he said during an interview on CNN. “Why have (the royal family) spent the better part of eight or nine days saying they didn’t know anything about it?”

Upon his return, Pompeo met with Trump and announced the U.S. would give the Saudis “a few more days,” to complete an investigation before deciding on a response.

Gaetz suspicious of caravan funding

growing caravan of migrants from Honduras heading for the U.S. border may arrive around Election Day unless Mexico intervenes. The Mexican government dispatched 500 federal police to its border with Guatemala on Wednesday.

The timing has many in the U.S., especially Republicans, suspicious. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz is among them.

On Wednesday, he took time out from hurricane recovery to post a video on Twitter of assembled potential migrants receiving cash as they are about to begin their journey. Those passing out the money indicated women would receive their funds first.

“BREAKING: Footage in Honduras giving cash 2 women & children 2 join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time,” Gaetz tweeted. “(George) Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigate the source!”

Murphy, Miller debate issues

On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park took the stage to debate her Republican opponent, state Rep. Mike Miller. They debated the 2017 GOP tax cuts, health care, economic growth and impeaching Trump.

Miller said the tax cuts helped spur the current surge in economic growth while Murphy countered that it “disproportionately benefitted the wealthiest among us.” Miller described Murphy’s effort to withhold Congressional pay if spending bills are not passed on time as “a gimmick.”

Mike Miller, Stephanie Murphy spar at Tiger Bay Central Florida.

Murphy argued that health care is “a fundamental right,” while Miller called it “a moral imperative,” but government cannot be charged with running the system. Neither argued over the existence of climate change, but Miller challenged the role of humans in creating it.

A point of agreement came on whether Trump deserves to be impeached. Both took the position they would vote to impeach the chief executive only if it was proved he had committed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” as stated in the Constitution.

For those looking for who landed the best blows, that distinction would go to the incumbent. Murphy intimated she would not support Nancy Pelosi as speaker, while Miller said he would get behind Andrew McCarthy. Murphy corrected him by pointing out the current Majority Leader’s first name is Kevin.

During a discussion higher education, Miller often mentioned his alma mater, the University of Florida for reaching the top 10 for public universities. Murphy called him out for not mentioning the University of Central Florida or other colleges within Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

Murphy is favored to win re-election.

Webster touts pre-existing condition bill

As Republican candidates make their cases for re-election, they point to achieving tax cuts, benefits for veterans, a water infrastructure bill and other issues. A vulnerability is health care, an issue that Democrats are using in the fall campaigns.

Rep. Daniel Webster of Clermont is one of those lamenting the fact the Affordable Care Act was not repealed and replaced by GOP-sponsored legislation. Webster and his Republican colleague David Schweikert of Arizona recently introduced legislation that would provide an affordable solution to cover those with pre-existing conditions.

Arizona Republican David Schweikert joins Daniel Webster in pushing a reasonable alternative to the Affordable Care Act.

“The result is that every patient has access to affordable health insurance coverage at the lowest possible rates as if they were perfectly healthy,” Webster wrote in a recent op-ed.

Under the Webster-Schweikert plan, states would eventually assume responsibility. He pointed to a similar program in Maine which “rescued itself from its health insurance market’s death spiral.

Crist bill tackles flood insurance

Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist introduced a new bill aimed at reducing flood insurance premiums in Florida by creating low-interest loans to help property owners better protect their homes. The State Flood Mitigation Revolving Fund Act (H.R. 7073) assumes that property-owner driven mitigation would ultimately reduce post-disaster claims.

“Bringing down flood insurance premiums while helping folks better protect their homes from storm damage is a win-win for Pinellas families and businesses,” Crist said. “Mitigation is key to reducing post-disaster relief costs, saving taxpayer dollars, and building more resilient communities in the face of more extreme weather and rising sea levels. The devastating storms we’ve seen within the last year speak to the urgent need for federal action on flood mitigation programs, protecting public safety and our economy.”

Charlie Crist is working to help lower flood insurance premiums.

Crist is a member of the House Financial Services Committee that oversees the National Flood Insurance Program.

Congressman Roger Williams, a Texas Republican, co-sponsored the bipartisan bill. Pew Charitable Trusts, the Association of State Floodplain Managers, Association of State Wetland Managers, Enterprise Community Partners, the Consumer Mortgage Coalition, and Union of Concerned Scientists all support the bill.

The bill is modeled after the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds. The program would offer low-interest loans to National Flood Insurance Program participants to better secure their homes, businesses and nonprofits from the effects of flood damage.

FEMA would offer flood insurance premium discounts commensurate with the mitigation efforts taken on participating property owners.

Buchanan cited by Florida Farm Bureau 

The Florida Farm Bureau recently gave awards to those committed to helping the agriculture industry. Several members of the delegation were honored, including Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, who earned a perfect score for his efforts.

Buchanan and seven colleagues were presented with the “Friend of Farm Bureau Award” last week. They were cited for their service on behalf of the agriculture community in the 115th Congress.

The Florida Farm Bureau recognizes Vern Buchanan as one of its ‘friends.’ (Image via Bradenton Herald)

“Rep. Buchanan was the only member of the Florida delegation to vote 100% with Florida producers in the 115th Congress,” stated John Walt Boatright, the Farm Bureau’s National Affairs Coordinator. “His flawless voting record, coupled with his relentless efforts to reform NAFTA for our specialty crop growers, sets him apart as a great friend of farmers and ranchers in the Sunshine State.”

Buchanan joined with 14 delegation members to urge protection for Florida growers from unfair practices in the renegotiated NAFTA.

“I am honored to receive this award,” said Buchanan. “Agriculture is vital to Florida’s economy and for a safe and affordable food supply. It is imperative that Congress continues to work hard on their behalf.

Also cited were fellow Republicans Neal Dunn of Panama City, Ted Yoho of Gainesville, John Rutherford of Jacksonville, Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Dennis Ross of Lakeland, and Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami.

“While we are blessed with many outstanding advocates in our Florida delegation, these members rose to nearly every challenge in the 115th Congress,” stated Florida Farm Bureau President John L. Hoblick. “We applaud their leadership and acknowledge their good work on behalf of Florida’s farmers and ranchers.”

Pelosi joins Deutch for gun control roundtable

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made a South Florida swing on Wednesday helping Democrats focus on issues important to voters. She visited Coral Springs with Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch to hold a forum on gun control.

Deutch moderated a roundtable of Parkland students and parents. The event was described as “part venting and strategizing.”

Nancy Pelosi greets Parkland father Fred Guttenberg at a gun control roundtable in Coral Springs City Hall. (Image via WLRN)

She promised that if Democrats win control of the House, gun control would top the agenda. Pelosi praised the students and activists who attended.

“I admire you so much,” Pelosi said. “You have the purpose, the generosity of spirit. You have the marchers — you have people who will go out there to make a difference — and you just have a relentless, persistent, dissatisfied approach.”

Among the parents of slain Douglas High School students attending was Fred Guttenberg and Manuel Oliver. Guttenberg’s daughter, Jamie, and Oliver’s son, Joaquin, told Pelosi of the need to arouse voters and take action.

Guttenberg started a foundation called Orange Ribbons for Jaime just seven days after the shootings. Orange is the color of gun safety and was Jaime’s favorite.

Oliver dyed his hair orange before the event and joined Guttenberg in a prediction of an “orange wave” in November.

Pelosi, Shalala get rude welcome

Following the supportive event with Deutch, Pelosi then went on Miami for what was supposed to be a campaign rally for Shalala. The mood was far different when they walked into an anti-Fidel Castro buzz saw.

Pelosi and Shalala were to be joined by California Rep. Barbara Lee, who was not a good choice for a rally in Miami. Castro-hating Cuban-Americans and Venezuelan exiles were outraged that the woman who said in 2016 that Castro’s death should be mourned would be coming to their community to campaign.

Protesters outside of a Nancy Pelosi, Donna Shalala rally in South Florida this week. (Image via Miami Herald)

Republican hecklers used the words “commie,” “witches,” and “go back to Cuba” to taunt them. Lee’s portion was eventually canceled.

About 57 percent of District 27 is comprised of Hispanics and Venezuelan exiles who were victimized by Castro cronies Hugo Chávez and Nicolas Maduro. There is also a growing presence of those who left Nicaragua under the socialist regime of Daniel Ortega.

Nelson Diaz, Chairman of the Miami-Dade Republican Party made it clear he was not personally calling Shalala those names, but said the campaign gaffe reveals something else.

Inviting Lee “reinforces our narrative that Donna isn’t from here,” Diaz said. “She doesn’t understand the community. She has no real roots. The Democrats were so clueless that they didn’t shut this down instantly. It’s crazy.”

Shalala is facing stiff competition from Republican journalist Maria Elvira Salazar in the race to succeed the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The most recent polling shows Salazar with a two-point lead in the Democratic-leaning district.

On this day in the headlines

October 19, 2011 — The Senate voted to effectively block the Justice Department from undertaking gun-smuggling investigations like the flawed “Fast and Furious” that was aimed at breaking up networks running guns to Mexican cartels. The operation lost track of hundreds of weapons, some of which were used to commit crimes in Mexico and the United States.

The 99-0 vote would block the government from transferring guns to drug cartels unless federal agents “continuously monitor or control” the weapons. The amendment’s sponsor, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, called the vote “just the first step toward ensuring that such a foolish operation can never be repeated by our own law enforcement.”

October 19, 2017 — Attorney General Jeff Sessions, facing some barbed questions from former Senate colleagues, once again denied any improper dealings with Russian officials while working with the Trump campaign. He also continued to defend the firing by Trump of former FBI Director James Comey.

Sessions stood firm in his refusal to reveal anything Trump told him about his reasons for the firing. The hearing served as a reminder of how questions about Russia continue to cloud the Trump administration and the Justice Department.

Jacksonville Bold for 10.19.18 — Betting on red

Jacksonville’s political class, with a Republican Mayor and Sheriff, is betting on red this year, all in for Ron DeSantis for Governor.

And if he wins, it will be another case of “Jax on the Rise.”

Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams endorsed DeSantis before the August primary, as did Duval-adjacent legislators like Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings.

This is a sharp contrast with most major cities in Florida, led by Democrats, where major players are obviously surfing the hoped-for ‘blue wave.’

One theory goes: If DeSantis wins, Jacksonville wins. And the most recent polling shows he is well-positioned.

Twenty days before Election Day, Democrat Gillum is at 47 percent, while DeSantis is at 46. However, among those who say they have already voted, DeSantis is at 49 percent, while Gillum is at 45 percent.

That four-point spread speaks to a trend that should concern Gillum and the Democrats. But should delight Jacksonville power brokers.

Curry has called DeSantis a “brother from another mother.” For those who have enjoyed current Gov. Rick Scott treating the relaxed Jacksonville media like a homecoming game, scheduling safe events here to get camera time and avoid the more aggressive media down south, expect more of the same if DeSantis wins.

Curry’s best political op, Tim Baker, is on Team DeSantis. So is campaign manager Susie Wiles, the Ballard Partner who has as deep a City Hall pedigree as anyone this side of Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

There aren’t a lot of DeSantis signs on Jacksonville streets. But if DeSantis wins, it likely is in no small part because of his draw in Jacksonville, which was a polling stronghold even when DeSantis was down big in polls, before weeks of attack ads defined Gillum for the voters who weren’t paying attention before Labor Day.

Cash-flush Soderberg seeks CD 6 flip

Democrat Nancy Soderberg is touting another strong quarter of fundraising in her bid to succeed DeSantis in the United States Congress.

Can Nancy Soderberg flip Ron DeSantis’ seat? If no, it’s not because of lack of funds.

The campaign announced last week that it had raised over $1 million in the latest quarter of fundraising, pushing it over $2.5 million raised.

This period includes August, September and October receipts.

Soderberg had over $500,000 on hand as of the filing.

“The support and energy we’re seeing for our campaign is incredibly inspiring,” Soderberg said. “What’s clear, now more than ever, is that Floridians are ready to elect a leader who listens to them, and who will stand up for them in Washington. A leader they can be proud of. I’m proud to fight to protect pre-existing conditions for families here and I’m proud of the movement we’re building together.”

The race between Soderberg and Republican nominee Mike Waltz has increasingly looked like a play for the center in recent weeks, and the most recent poll of the race shows Soderberg in a dead heat with Waltz.

Waltz raised $445,491 in Q3, which means that Soderberg has more ammo for television buys, many of which spotlight contrasts between the candidates on insurance for people with pre-existing conditions.

Lawson lauds ‘life saving’ Scott

Will we see U.S. Rep. Al Lawson in an ad for Gov. Scott? It’s possible he’s already recorded his testimonial during a joint appearance in Gadsden County this week in which Lawson lauded Scott’s post-storm performance over the last eight years.

“We will never know how many lives that he’s been responsible for saving,” Lawson said Tuesday.

Rick Scott couldn’t have asked for a better endorsement. Especially from a Democrat.

“The first thing you hear about is somebody dying in a hurricane. But just think: if it hadn’t been for his leadership, how many other people would be in the same situation,” Lawson asserted.

“When you’ve been around as long as I have, it’s very easy for you to understand people who take a proactive role in trying to preserve life,” Lawson added. “He’s done an excellent job … for many, many years.”

“It’s not about how much we get out of life, but how much we give, and he’s given a whole lot,” Lawson said.

Just as the Scott campaign ad Tuesday used news footage of storm recovery, it is quite easy to imagine this footage circulating in the commercial sphere.

Big money in HD 15

While most of Jacksonville-area state House races are settled in the primary (by dint of gerrymandering), an exception is in the one true swing district: House District 15 on the Westside.

With current Republican incumbent Jay Fant walking away this year, Democrat Tracye Polson and Republican Wyman Duggan are vying to replace him.

The Tracye Polson/Wyman Duggan war has been expensive and brutal.

Each week’s fundraising report has brimmed with narrative interest. This week’s story: Polson is both outraising and outspending Duggan, at least through Oct. 5 (the last day of current reporting).

Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, Polson brought in $16,060 to her campaign account. Of the $319,667 in hard money deposited, Polson has $35,483 on hand.

In addition to the nearly $36,000 in the campaign account, Polson has nearly $64,000 in the committee cash box. Polson has been spending heavily on television, running a second ad this week spotlighting Republican Duggan’s career as a lobbyist. With the ability and willingness to self-finance, Polson will undoubtedly be spending until the end.

She will have to.

Over the past three weeks, Duggan has brought in $76,500 in hard money, pushing him near parity with $85,000 on hand.

Between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, Duggan raised $10,850 to his campaign account, bringing that total to nearly $67,000 on hand.

Duggan also has roughly $18,000 in his political committee, though with no donations in the latest reporting period.

Duggan has also benefited from over $100,000 air support from the Republican Party of Florida, which has funded attack ads, including a bristling spot associating Polson with drum circles, flag burners, and other elements of The Resistance.

Carlos in Duval

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an East Orlando Democrat representing House District 49, fundraised in Jacksonville Tuesday evening, in another sign of his increasing prominence statewide.

The event, in the tony Avondale neighborhood, was hosted by Kevin Clair, the husband of local state House hopeful Polson.

Mr. Smith (Carlos G., that is) goes to Jacksonville.

Helming Smith’s host committee is yet another state Representative, HD 13’s Tracie Davis, who was unopposed for re-election.

Smith had roughly $83,000 in his campaign account as of Oct. 5. Ben Griffin, his Republican opponent, has just under $46,000 on hand.

Mostly funding Griffin’s campaign is the Republican Party of Florida, which doled out $50,000 in June. As well, two Northeast Florida power brokers took an interest.

Sen. Travis Hutson‘s Sunshine State Conservatives and Rep. Paul Renner‘s Florida Foundation for Liberty each cut $1,000 checks.

Rep. Smith is in little danger of defeat. His district is 41 percent Democrat, 26 percent Republican, with the remaining third of voters independent or registered to a third party.

The rest of the story …

In Northeast Florida, most of the live state House races and the only state Senate race are characterized by a fundamental cash disparity.

Republicans have serious bank. And Democrats are far behind.

However, this most recently reported week saw Republicans coasting while Democrats actually won the weekly tally battle (even as cash-on-hand was less buoyant for them).

Aaron Bean extemporizes as Billee Bussard looks on.

The Democrat running for state Senate, District 4’s Billee Bussard outraised incumbent Republican Aaron Bean, bringing in $4,445. Meanwhile, between his campaign account and that of his Florida Conservative Alliance political committee, Bean brought in just $3,250 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5.

However, Bean has roughly $93,000 in hard money and nearly $86,000 more in the committee coffers. This gives him a nearly 20 to 1 cash advantage over Bussard, who has roughly $9,000 on hand.

In majority-Republican House District 11, incumbent Cord Byrd is winning the fundraising battle with Democrat Nathcelly Rohrbaugh. Byrd has $53,000 on hand; Rohrbaugh $17,000.

Clay Yarborough, running for re-election in Southside Jacksonville’s Republican-plurality House District 12, had modest fundraising ($3,100 in the last week) and bigger spending ($9,043) as the election approaches. He has $98,000 on hand.

Democrat Tim Yost raised $1,258 during the same period and carries $9,000 into the final stretch of the campaign.

Similarly, HD 16 State Rep. Jason Fischer, first-term Republican, has had a consistent cash lead over Democrat Ken Organes.

Fischer did not fundraise between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5. Fischer had nearly $108,000 in his campaign account, and under $5,000 in the account of his political committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville.

Organes, meanwhile, brought in $1,225 over the same period, and has just over $26,500 on hand.

Curry heats up

Curry, the best fundraiser in Northeast Florida history, delivered a statement month in September, with the second best haul of his re-election bid.

The March election may need big money.

The first-term Republican raised $789,500 for his political committee (Jacksonville on the Rise), and another $26,600 for his campaign account.

Curry, a former chair of the state GOP, is now nearing $3 million on hand and $3.5 million raised, with plenty of time to raise more before the March 2019 first election (a blanket primary).

The committee has $2,415,000 on hand of the $2,928,000 it has raised. The campaign account has over $440,000 of the $455,330 raised.

Curry currently lacks much in the way of competition. His five March opponents have raised under $3,000 between them.

When does Anna Brosche or Garrett Dennis make a move? Inquiring minds want to know.


As the first October receipts came in, Republican Jim Overton maintained his lead in the money race with Democrat Mia Jones for Duval County Tax Collector.

Can a Democrat win countywide? Mia Jones is about to find out.

However, it was Jones who had the best take between Sept. 29 and Oct. 5, bringing in $19,375 from 59 donors, including former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund director Timothy Johnson, and Kids Hope Alliance board chair Kevin Gay.

Jones has raised $81,000 total and has nearly $31,000 on hand.

Overton, though he only raised $11,865 during the same period, still has the aggregate cash lead, with nearly $55,000 on hand of a total $162,834 raised.

UAE cuts a check

On Monday, Northside Jacksonville’s A. Philip Randolph Career Academies saw Mayor Curry receive the U.S. Ambassador from the UAE, Yousef Al-Otaiba.

Human rights concerns are less of a concern when capital is at stake.

Money was on the line. $2.775 million, to be exact (part of a $10 million grant to be divided between several cities hit hardest by Hurricane Irma.)

While local leaders appreciate revenue, there is a parallel story to the check: the UAE’s distressing and worsening human rights record.

The UAE has made a long-standing practice of storm relief, and there are those who believe it is a distraction from the regime’s human rights record, which is in keeping with the non-Democratic states of the Middle East.

In the context of an erosion of human rights backdropped against a wave of post-storm generosity, we asked the Ambassador and the Mayor if such donations were intended to gloss over a record not in accordance with the mores of liberal democracies.

“We’re here to talk about our gifts to Jacksonville,” Al-Otaiba asserted. “If you want to ask me a question about what our laws are, we’re happy to address that. But that’s not why we’re here today.”

Curry spotlighted the “two-million dollars, invested in vulnerable populations in Jacksonville.”

Regarding “foreign policy,” Curry said, “there’s experts in Washington, elected leaders in Washington who handle our foreign policy,” before pivoting to thank the Ambassador once more.

Applause filled the room.

JEA against the world

The Florida Times-Union reports that Jacksonville utility JEA is becoming the “bête noire” of the public utility world.

Jacksonville is falling out of favor with rating agencies. Can the city turn it around?

At issue: the utility’s attempt to get out of a 2008 agreement to subsidize construction of Georgia’s nuclear Plant Vogtle, a “hell or high water” deal that has no exit clause.

The utility and the city are on the same side of what looks to be an ill-fated federal lawsuit to get out of the deal, and credit downgrades are becoming increasingly routine for the two parties.

Moody’s Investor Services noted last week that one way for the city to reverse the impression that it’s not willing to honor its obligations would be to drop the federal lawsuit.

JEA sale OK?

A referendum authorized earlier this year, on whether Duval County voters should have a say on the sale of 10 percent or more of JEA or not, is on the November ballot.

This week, WJCT took a look at that measure.

The JEA question will be at the end of an exceptionally long ballot.

Bill sponsor John Crescimbeni, a skeptic of the privatization push that roiled City Hall earlier this year, asserts that “any conversation or any discussion or decision about selling the JEA should be made by the shareholders, the owners of JEA, and those are the citizens of Duval County.”

“So if the JEA board were to decide to sell more than 10 percent of JEA and the council reviewed that and also decided they agreed with the JEA board of directors, this straw ballot measure is taking the temperature of the voters, asking ‘would you want the council’s decision to then come to the voters in a subsequent referendum for you to vote on?’” said Crescimbeni.

“In the event that JEA was proposed to be sold by the JEA board and the City Council agreed, then whatever those terms and conditions were would go before the voters as an up-or-down vote,” the Councilman added.

“So, the voters are going to be asked a question Nov. 6, it’s a yes-or-no question. If they’re interested in participating in the final decision, in the event that there’s discussion about a possible future sale of JEA, they would want to vote yes” Crescimbeni summarized. “If they’re OK with the city council making that final decision, then they should vote no.”

CSX posts strong Q3, continuing trend

CSX Corp. posted a strong third-quarter revenue with $894 million in earnings, or $1.05 per share. It represents a 95 percent year-over-year improvement, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal, and a third-quarter operating ratio record.

The Jacksonville-based rail carrier had $3.13 billion in revenue, a 14 percent increase. Despite increased fuel costs and higher volume, expenses dropped 2 percent.

CSX is on the right track, earnings-wise.

Operating ratio — a measure of efficiency — improved 14 percent to 58.7, compared to 58.6 percent last quarter. This metric shows how much it costs to generate a dollar of profit. The company goal is for an annual ratio of 60 percent, which it expects to reach by 2020. (In the first quarter it was 63.7, on pace for 60.3 for the year.)

“Only eight months since the investor conference, by almost any measure, we are ahead of where I thought we would be,” CSX CEO Jim Foote said in the quarter’s earnings call this week.

Jacksonville Zoo’s year of innovation

About a year ago, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced a new 10-year master plan. In the subsequent 12 months, the zoo has unveiled a major new exhibit, several new baby animals and plans for more ambitious development.

Jacksonville Zoo’s year of innovation includes the ambitious African Forest Exhibit.

As the Jacksonville Business Journal notes, this year was the first for the traveling Dinosauria exhibition to stay throughout the summer; and one of the few times a new exhibit premiered in the fall and not the spring.

Some of the innovations over the last year include the Zoo’s newest master plan, with dozens of enrichment items, including large sculptures at a new main entrance, new exhibits (including manatees and orangutans) and more emphasis on animal enrichment and conservation as well as improved facilities for employees. Cost of the plan — which could take as much is 20 years to complete — is estimated between $50 million to $100 million.

The previous year also saw the construction of the Zoo’s latest exhibit, the African Forest, a $9 million, 4-acre project which incorporates wellness-inspired designs and a trail system that connects with a 54-foot tall interactive kapok tree.

Zoo director Tony Vecchio tells the Journal his team feels this new plan is necessary, and a “continuation of the upswing the zoo has been on for years now.”

The first part of the new plan — a remodeled Great Apes loop into the African Forest — completed in August 2018.

Jaguars need quick turnaround

The Jacksonville Jaguars are glad to be home this weekend. Having spent two disastrous weekends on the road, TIAA Bank Stadium will be a welcome sight Sunday when they take on the Houston Texans.

During the last two games in Kansas City and Dallas, the Jags were swamped by a combined score of 70-21. The 30-14 final against the Chiefs was one thing, but Sunday’s 40-7 humiliation delivered by the Cowboys showed a highly-promising season could be slipping away unless they turn things around.

Doug Marrone and the Jags have one more shot to save the season. (Photo via Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

“We earned the right to be where we are,” head coach Doug Marrone told the media Wednesday. “We’re the ones that put us where we are.”

The Jaguars are where they are after digging themselves into deep holes early in the last two games. In Kansas City, they trailed 20-0 at halftime, while the Cowboys carried a 24-0 lead into intermission.

Going into the season, the Jacksonville defense was ranked among the best units in the National Football League. After 6 games, they are ranked 31st out of 32 teams, while the offense is ranked in the middle of the league.

Marrone has worked them hard in practice this week, hoping to inspire a better performance on both sides of the ball.

“Doug and the coaches did a good job of pushing us and making sure we’re getting the quality work that we need to get done at this point in the week to be ready to go Sunday,” quarterback Blake Bortles said after practice. “That’s all part of our weekly preparation.”

Marrone says there is no magic pill. The best cure for getting better is hard work.

“You have to work hard,” Marrone said. “You have to go back there. You have to coach better. We have to play better. I have to do a better job.”

They had better … if they want to save their season.

Report: Everglades Trust board member dissents on Ron DeSantis endorsement

On Wednesday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis secured valuable support from the Everglades Trust.

But the endorsement hasn’t come without criticism. DeSantis was lambasted by another environmentally focused group, Florida Conservation Voters, upon news of the Trust’s backing. Now, reports the Gainesville Sun, one of the Trust’s three governing members is voicing disagreement with his organization’s decision to support the former congressman’s bid for the Governor’s Mansion.

And groups like the Florida Democratic Party have used the dissent in an attempt to offset DeSantis’ small victory, and redirect attention back to their candidates of choice, Democrat Andrew Gillum and running mate Chris King.

“I don’t want to discuss the internal position-making process — let’s just say I am supporting Gillum-King. I think they are the best environmental ticket and best for the Everglades,” Everglades Trust board member John Mills told the Sun. “Their responses on Everglades issues are exactly correct and I am optimistic they will do a good job in making environmentally related appointments.”

In announcing the endorsement of DeSantis, Everglades Trust Executive Director Kimberly Mitchell cited DeSantis’ unwillingness to cooperate with sugar interests in the state.

“Floridians have had enough of rhetoric and broken promises from our politicians,” Mitchell said. “‘I will stand up to the special interests,’ is what we’re told in an election year.”

In DeSantis, Mitchell added, “we now have a politician who has actually walked the walk and for the millions who depend on a healthy Everglades, and all the critters who call them home, it could not come soon enough.”

Lobby Up: Hurricane cleanup firm AshBritt Environmental hires Ballard Partners

AshBritt Environmental, a “rapid-response disaster recovery and special environmental services contractor” in Deerfield Beach, has hired Ballard Partners‘ namesake Brian Ballard and its Christina Daly Brodeur.

Veteran influencer Ron Book also remains the company’s lobbyist, according to lobbying registration records accessed Wednesday.

Daly Brodeur, formerly Secretary of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice under Gov. Rick Scott, joined Ballard’s firm last month.

The new registration comes as the Gulf coast cleans up and starts rebuilding after category 4 Hurricane Michael ravaged it and a swath of north Florida last week.

AshBritt rose to prominence in the disaster mitigation industry after Hurricane Andrew passed through South Florida in August 1992.

At the time, founder Randy Perkins and his wife were running a small landscaping company which borrowed two wood chippers to help with Andrew as a local hurricane cleanup contractor.

Since then, AshBritt has become one of the nation’s leading disaster-recovery and debris cleanup firms, assisting after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, 2012’s “Superstorm” Sandy and last year’s Hurricane Irma. 

The firm’s history is not without controversy. “With the company’s success came accusations that Perkins overcharged the federal government, stiffed a consultant and subcontractors and used campaign donations to influence politicians to give him no-bid government contracts,” TCPalm has reported.

And the Miami Herald last month reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general now “is conducting an audit of debris-removal contracts in the Florida Keys approved right after Hurricane Irma ransacked the island chain.” Contracts were with six companies, including AshBritt, the paper reported.

Perkins self-funded an unsuccessful bid for Florida’s 18th Congressional District as a Democrat in 2016. He reportedly was worth about $200 million as of last year. 

Former Congressman Patrick Murphy vacated the Treasure Coast seat to mount a run for U.S. Senate. Murphy lost to incumbent Republican Marco Rubio; Perkins later lost to Republican Brian Mast.

State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, is AshBritt’s general counsel and director of government relations, according to his member page

The company was named after two of Perkins’ daughters, Ashley and Brittany, who is now its CEO.

In 2016, Perkins stepped down as CEO “to focus on the AshBritt Foundation, his work with mental health, and other business and philanthropic endeavors,” his website says. “The AshBritt Foundation supports communities impacted by disaster or crisis and internal and external workforce development and job training programs, with a focus on working with veterans.”

Perkins also sits on the board of directors of Lauren’s Kids, the child sexual abuse prevention organization founded by Ron Book’s daughter, Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book of Plantation.

Remediation contractors insist AOB deals getting bum image

Amid post-Hurricane Michael warnings to homeowners against signing assignment of benefits (AOB) agreements comes a defense of these contracts from the Restoration Association of Florida.

“We are extremely concerned about multiple advisories warning homeowners not to sign any contracts containing assignment of benefits (AOB) language,” association spokeswoman Amanda Prater said in a written statement. The trade association represents water, fire and mold remediation contractors.

“The assignment of benefit language is perfectly legal and is an extremely common insurance practice,” Prater said. “Many homeowners we are meeting with understandably do not have the money to pay out of pocket for emergency services such as water dry-out, mold, tree service, roof repairs, etc.

“… The AOB language is there to allow covered repairs to be made to one’s property immediately — and the contractors will bill the homeowner’s insurance company directly.”

State officials have warned insurance policyholders to be wary of AOB agreements.

So have business organizations including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Realtors, and Citizens Property & Casualty Insurance Co., the state’s insurer of last resort.

As if on cue, the Chamber-backed Consumer Protection Coalition issued a fresh warning to Panhandle residents against signing assignment of benefits agreements. Its “multiplatform” campaign includes cautions by coalition personnel at “insurance villages” in Tallahassee and Panama City.

“Consumers need all the information they can get to help navigate making repairs to their homes and vehicles, and we’re working hard to provide resources to help prevent Floridians from becoming victims of AOB scams,” Chamber president Mark Wilson said.

Prater conceded that “there may be certain groups trying to take advantage of the current situation.”

Homeowners, she said, should “read all contracts carefully to ensure they are only agreeing to an assignment of benefits for a limited scope of services that are being provided by that specific contractor.”

But she added that “every one of our members are professionally licensed and only use contracts with this limited scope language.

“It is the mission of the Restoration Association of Florida to serve any homeowner with the highest quality service and we are willing to work with any homeowner and accommodate any concerns they may have with our contracts.”

Critics, including the Chamber, argue that unscrupulous contracts exploit the agreements to inflate claims and instigate costly litigation against carriers.

The coalition suggested consumers confer with their agents or insurance companies before signing anything, and avoid vendors who require an AOB before beginning work. It suggested they shun work crews that rove door-to-door soliciting business.

Delegation for 10.16.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Delegation focused on Hurricane Michael aid

Nearly a week after Hurricane Michael hit the northern portion of the Gulf Coast, local officials were still trying to account for everyone. Along with the local effort, state and federal officials were working together on behalf of a region devastated by the power of a near-Category 5 hurricane striking Florida.

As the storm gained strength, Gov. Rick Scott requested President Donald Trump declare parts of Florida a major disaster area. Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio joined with 20 bipartisan members of the delegation in supporting Scott’s request.

Rick Scott and Donald Trump talk with reporters after arriving at Eglin Air Force Base to visit areas affected by Hurricane Michael, Monday. (Image via Evan Vucci/AP)

Politics made its way into the looming storm. With voter registration closing last Tuesday, the Florida Democratic Party went to federal court after Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner agreed only to accept new registrations one day after his office reopened Monday.

“(Detzner’s) ‘solution’ is insufficient and confusing,” the lawsuit reads. “It does not adequately protect the voting rights of Florida citizens who cannot register to vote by the October 9 registration deadline.”

With Tyndall Air Force Base taking a direct hit, Nelson, Rubio and Republican Rep. Neal Dunn wrote to Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein. The request, written the day after landfall while the process of digging out had only begun, was intended to remind military officials they would help get any necessary funding through Congress.

Like they have on several issues before the hurricane, Nelson and Rubio continued to work in tandem.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to help these communities recover, but @marcorubio and I are doing everything we can to make sure folks affected by this storm get access to all the federal resources they need,” he tweeted the day following Michael hit Florida. In another, Nelson said: “Sen. Rubio and I are making sure all federal resources are available to help folks rebuild.”

Dunn, who represents the area taking the direct hit, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, and Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee, also had significant numbers of constituents directly affected. Along with both Senators, all three were visible throughout their districts following the disaster and either provided or forwarded information to those able to hear or receive it.

Lawson and delegation Democrats wrote to Scott requesting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other benefits for those affected in North Florida. The members said, “we implore you to consider all available federal food assistance programs … that are designed to root out hunger in the unfortunate instances of natural disasters and catastrophe.”

According to a Lawson tweet, Scott had already approved SNAP benefits for several Panhandle counties two days before the hurricane hit, but Gadsden and Leon County were not included. The two counties were subsequently added.

Trump, along with First Lady Melania Trumptoured the damage in Florida and Georgia on Monday. The President, accompanied by Scott during the Florida visit, described what he saw as “total devastation” and the day’s biggest goal was “just making sure everyone is safe, that they’re fed.”

Enthusiasm gap closing?

What are the chances Democrats gain the 23 seats needed to retake the House of Representatives and will Florida contribute to flipping some seats? The odds are in their favor for the former, but they may have difficulty even winning a seat most analysts have considered to be in their camp for a year (see CD 27 below).

Perhaps a better pickup opportunity comes from Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is now within a point of Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida’s 26th Congressional District, according to a recent Mason Dixon poll.

After the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Republicans seemed to be closing the enthusiasm gap. But polls tell a different story.

The Real Clear Politics average of polls have the Democrats with a slightly more than a 7-point advantage in the generic ballot. Much of that advantage is fueled by three recent polls, all taken after the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, which gives Democrats double-digit margins.

If Republicans were thought to have begun closing the enthusiasm gap following the Kavanaugh hearings, these polls would indicate that is not the case. Despite GOP donations spiking, all three of these surveys show Democrats with a huge advantage.

Republicans would point to the makeup of the surveys. The ABC/Washington Post poll of registered voters released on Sunday showing an 11-point Democratic lead, had a breakdown of 33 percent Democratic respondents, 25 percent Republican and 35 percent independent.

Pollsters, especially in the latter stages of campaigns, try to anticipate the turnout on Election Day, instead of merely polling an equal percentage of the parties. However, this same poll showed Hillary Clinton with a 12-point lead over Trump only two weeks before Election Day.

The CNN survey showing a 13-point Democratic margin, had a sample of 31 percent Democrat and a whopping 44 percent of independents in their survey to only 25 percent of Republicans. The independent figure is an outlier.

Finally, the Ipsos poll showing Democrats up by 12, also had 6 percent more Democrats than Republicans, but independents made up only 13 percent of their respondents.

I a sign of some GOP awakening, some of the battleground Senate races are tilting slightly toward Republicans over the past two weeks. Nelson clings to an inside-the-margin-of-error lead over Scott.

The House still favors Democrats. Real Clear Politics shows Democrats leading in 205 races, Republicans in 200 with 30 seats, mostly held by Republicans, rated as toss-ups.

In the end, if Republicans make up only 25 percent of the voters as these polls project, they will lose and lose big, putting more than one delegation seat in jeopardy. If the GOP really has closed the enthusiasm gap, control of the House could come down to a handful of seats in California.

Nelson sides with Trump (sometimes)

During the process leading up to the confirmation of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Nelson was under a microscope on how he would vote. We now know the three-term Democrat would have paid a steep price with the base had he joined West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin in voting “yes.”

Nelson has cast himself as a moderate who votes on an issue, not by party. In the era of “resist Trump” at every turn, a new analysis by CQ Roll Call shows he comes down on the same side as Trump on several occasions.

Bill Nelson insists he ‘resists Trump’ at every turn. His voting record says otherwise.

For example, earlier this year, Nelson agreed with Trump to extend warrantless spying in some circumstances. He also decided to roll back some banking regulations contained in the Dodd-Frank legislation that passed following the 2008 financial crisis.

While the previous two examples were not close votes in the Senate, Nelson bucked most members of his party and voted to confirm Gina Haspel as the Director of the CIA after Mike Pompeo left to become the Secretary of State. That vote was 54-45 for confirmation.

Overall, Nelson was on the same side as Trump 55 percent of the time over a 20-month period. Only 7 of the remaining 41 Senators in the Democratic caucus voted with Trump more often.

In 2018, he has voted with Trump 63 percent of the time. While it will not matter with most Republicans, Democrats and some independents will decide if that was a good thing.

Rubio promises consequences if Saudi journalist was murdered

As the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi grows, Americans, including members of Congress, want to know whether he was murdered in Turkey. Rubio wants the U.S. government to take a tough stand.

On the Sunday talk shows, he floated the idea that business as usual between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia should not go on. The Senator told CNN that Treasury Steve Mnuchin should not attend an upcoming investment conference in the kingdom.

Marco Rubio warns of repercussions if journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered.

“I don’t think he should go,” Rubio told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” adding that he doesn’t think any US officials should continue with their usual business in Saudi Arabia until Washington gets to the bottom of Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“I don’t think any of our government officials should be going and pretending it’s business as usual until we know exactly what’s happened here,” Rubio said.

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2. Many believe he was murdered while in the consulate.

If Khashoggi is found to have been murdered, Rubio promised “a very strong Congressional response.”

Parkland father endorses Scott in new ad

For Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter in the Valentine’s Day shootings in Parkland, the issue was not about gun control. Pollock has blamed the lack of school safety at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the tragedy that occurred.

He was heavily involved with the effort to get the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed, which was ultimately signed by Scott. On Monday, Pollack endorsed Scott for the U.S. Senate in a new ad called “Meadow,” the name of his murdered daughter.

To view the ad, click on the image below:

“I just didn’t want to believe it that out of all the people that it could’ve been my daughter on that third floor,” Pollack says in the ad. “And I also lost a big part of my life that day. I might as well have been buried with her because I’ll never be the same.”

That bill raised the minimum age to buy a gun in Florida from 18 to 21. It also banned bump stocks, the type of modification used in last year’s Las Vegas shooting, among other new restrictions.

Other Parkland parents have endorsed Nelson for his stance on gun control.

“Rick Scott wasn’t worried about the politics that came with that bill, and he did what he thought was right,” Pollack said. “We need a politician that’s going to do what’s right. I truly believe that, that Rick Scott loves this country, and he wants to get up to Washington and make a difference.”

Nelson and Scott were scheduled to debate on CNN Tuesday night, but Hurricane Michael forced a postponement. It could turn in to cancellation if Scott stops campaigning entirely to focus on hurricane recovery.

The Scott campaign said First Lady Ann Scott and surrogates would keep his campaign commitments at least for the next two weeks and possibly for the remainder of the campaign.

Climate change major topic on Sunday shows

The topic of climate change has long been an issue that has divided the two parties. On Sunday, it returned on prominent Sunday programs following the release of a U.N. report on climate change calling for placing a “high price on carbon.”

The UN Climate Change Conference believes the world should enact a “high price on carbon.”

During his appearance on CNN’s State of the Union, Rubio repeated his position that includes not denying climate change, but he is unconvinced of the scope of the role of human activities. Rubio told host Jake Tapper he would not “destroy the economy” through extensive government mandates to combat climate change.

For his part, Trump has previously called climate change a “hoax.” During a spirited 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl on numerous subjects, the President acknowledged the climate is changing, but will “change back again.”

Trump, like Rubio, does not wish to put the U.S. at a disadvantage with an aggressive government response.

Crist thanks USDA for considering rules to protect animals

Representative Charlie Crist is thanking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a letter for considering rules that would protect animals from inhumane breeding practices. The rule contains language similar to legislation Crist co-sponsored in Congress.

Charlie Crist’s animal welfare bill protects animals (real, not LEGO) from inhumane breeding practices.

Crist’s WOOF Act (Welfare of our Friends) would prohibit the issuance or renewal of licenses to breeders whose licenses had previously been revoked or suspended as a result of severe animal care violations. It would also prohibit immediate family members at the same address from obtaining a new license or license renewal.

“In some cases, commercial breeding facilities with multiple, serious [Animal Welfare Act] violations are able to maintain their license to operate,” the letter explains. “Breeders whose licenses have been suspended or revoked as a result of such violations can obtain a new license under another family member’s name.”

“This end-run around the rules allows bad actors to breed on the same property, committing the same abuses year after year.”

Crist described heartbreaking abuse including dogs with gaping wounds that go untreated, underweight dogs with their bones protruding and dogs caged without protection from frigid weather conditions.

He posted the letter to Facebook Sunday.

The USDA’s proposed rule stop breeders from side-skirting already existing laws protecting the welfare of animals. Crist offered his support for the rule and asked the USDA to expedite its approval process to protect dogs better.

Mast, fishing advocates celebrate new reservoir

The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) has cleared the Senate by a 99-1 vote, sending it to the President’s desk for approval. The Florida delegation and advocates for Everglades restoration, fishing and other environmental interests are pleased with the action.

Among the items authorized is the creation of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, which will absorb much of the discharges of toxic water from the lake. The schedule for the releases will also be adjusted, all of which is designed to stop the harmful algal blooms that are creating numerous problems in several waterways in South Florida.

Brian Mast is praising passage of the Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

“After years of hard work, passing this bill will help us send the water south and cut discharges! Now, our fight continues for funding and changing the Army Corps’ priorities to account for public health and safety,” said Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City. “Our fight is not over, but today is a momentous move in the right direction.”

Mast touted nine sections of the WRDA bill he authored. Last month, he joined with Nelson and Rubio to announce a deal that included the reservoir in the final legislation.

The American Sportfishing Association also praised the bill’s authorization of the reservoir as well as restoration of the Kissimmee River.

“Passing WRDA is a monumental step in restoring the Everglades and providing clean water for our fisheries, and we greatly appreciate the leadership of Florida’s Congressional Delegation in securing its passage,” said Kellie Ralston, Southeast Fisheries Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association. “We will continue to work with Congress to ensure that sufficient funding is available to carry out the Act’s provisions,”

Frankel introduces bill promoting education for girls

Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach has introduced legislation bringing attention to the system barriers preventing girls from accessing secondary education. The Keeping Girls in School Act, coinciding with the International Day of the Girl, was jointly filed by Frankel and Republican Rep. Susan Brooks of Indiana.

Frankel and Brooks are the co-chairs of the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

Lois Frankel and Susan Brooks (shown with Paul Ryan) are co-chairs of the Congressional Women’s Caucus.

“When girls are educated and given the skills to support their families, we uplift communities, reduce poverty, and create a more peaceful and prosperous world,” Frankel said in a news release. “This bill puts empowering adolescent girls front and center by addressing obstacles keeping them out of school, like gender-based violence and child marriage.”

Along with highlighting some of those barriers, the bill would “authorize a budget neutral funding mechanism where USAID is directed to enter into results-based financing and/or traditional grant project proposals to reduce these barriers adolescent girls face. These proposals will utilize public-private partnerships, development impact bonds, and other innovative financing mechanisms to leverage real results with measurable outcomes.”

 The bill would also require the review and update of the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls.

Poll: Salazar holds surprising lead

Florida’s 27th Congressional District was almost considered a slam dunk for Democrats after Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced she would end her long career in Congress. But according to a recent poll, the seat is up for grabs

In a district won by Hillary Clinton by double digits in 2016, a survey by Mason-Dixon revealed Republican Maria Elvira Salazar is slightly leading Democratic nominee Donna Shalala by two points. Pundits believed Ros-Lehtinen’s personal popularity enabled her to overcome such odds, but another Republican would not have the same ability.

Maria Elvira Salazar is taking a slight, yet surprising, lead over Donna Shalala.

An inkling that a close race may be on the horizon came last month when internal polls from both campaigns showed Shalala might have work to do. Salazar’s polls showed her up by 9 points while Shalala’s showed the former Clinton Cabinet member and University of Miami President leading by only four points.

The Shalala campaign described the Mason Dixon poll as “an outlier.” According to Shalala campaign spokesperson Mike Hernandez, the poll “does not match our internal polls both in terms of what the electorate will be or voter intention.”

The Salazar campaign, through campaign manager Jose Luis Castillo, said: “these numbers really reflect that her message, her ideas and vision are continuing to resonate throughout with voters in District 27.”

On Saturday the two candidates, joined by independent local attorney Mayra Joli, participated in a debate aired on Telemundo. Shalala pointed to her experience in Washington while Salazar highlighted her years as a journalist covering issues in the local community.

Heading into the primary, Shalala had a cash-on-hand advantage of more than two-to-one. As the latest fundraising reports were about to be announced, Salazar released a new advertisement touting her commitment to environmental protection.

On this day in the headlines

October 16, 1991 — The Senate barely confirmed Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, after his confirmation hearing was roiled by accusations of sexual harassment by a former employee. By a vote of 52-48, the narrowest margin in history, Senators decided that sexual harassment charges by a former employee should not keep Thomas from the nation’s highest court.

Eleven Democrats joined 41 Republicans, including Republican Sen. Connie Mack in voting for Thomas. Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, who voted no, said: “I must accept as essentially a factual statement of the circumstances that which was presented by Ms. (Anita) Hill … and with that, I cannot vote for Clarence Thomas to be a member of the United States Supreme Court.”

October 16, 2014 — In a weird start to their gubernatorial debate, Gov. Scott initially refused to take the stage because his opponent, former Gov. Crist, insisted on using a fan to keep him cool. Crist has routinely used a fan when speaking from a podium.

“Are we really going to debate about a fan? Or are we going to talk about education and the environment and the future of our state?” Crist asked. “I mean, really.”

Despite getting back on message as the debate progressed, Scott supporters fretted the fan incident could become a defining moment of the campaign. Both candidates got in some digs on their opponent.

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