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Staff Reports

Personnel note: Laura Lenhart joins Frontier Communications

Laura Lenhart is joining Frontier Communications as its head of government and regulatory affairs for Florida, the company announced last week.

“We are delighted to welcome Laura as a strong addition to the Frontier team,” said Allison Ellis, Frontier’s senior vice president for regulatory affairs, in a statement. “As we continue to execute our growth strategy in Florida, Laura’s regulatory and government affairs expertise will be a valuable asset in ensuring that state and local policies continue to encourage investment in and expansion of critical telecommunications products and services.”

Lenhart most recently served as the public affairs strategist at the Moffitt Cancer Center. In that role, she was responsible for administering the government relations social media, facilitating grassroots management and the continued growth of Speak Out Moffitt, and advocating for the Cancer Center before the Florida Legislature.

Before joining Moffitt as its public affairs strategist, she served a stint as a government affairs contractor and coordinator of “CCRAB” Florida’s Cancer Control and Research Advisory Council, which is housed within Moffitt. She also served as the governmental affairs coordinator for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Lenhart, who received both her bachelor and master’s degrees from Florida State University, will be based out of Tampa.

Daisy Baez drops out of SD 40 race

Rep. Daisy Baez is dropping her bid to replace Sen. Frank Artiles in the Florida Senate.

In a statement Friday, the Coral Gables Democrat cited her mother’s deteriorating health as the reason she decided to end her campaign.

“Just after announcing my intention to run for the Florida Senate, my mother’s health deteriorated and it became clear to me that spending time with her now is of utmost importance,” she said in a statement Friday. “As her daughter, caring for her is my number one priority. Therefore, I will not pursue a campaign for the Florida Senate.”

POLITICO Florida reported Friday morning that Baez was considering dropping out of the state Senate race. The news came just days after the Miami Herald reported that Baez doesn’t appear to live in the House district she represents. She also doesn’t live in Senate District 40.

Baez, a freshman House member, is one of three Democrats battling it out in the special primary to replace Artiles, who resigned earlier this year amid scandal. Annette Taddeo and Ana Rivas Logan have also filed to run for the seat.

Baez racked up big name endorsements — including from gubernatorial hopefuls Andrew Gillum and Gwen Graham — early on. But according to POLITICO Florida, pressure for Baez to quit has mounted in recent days after focus groups and Democratic polling showed she would come in thirds against Rivas Logan, a former state representative, and Taddeo, a perennial candidate who recently ran for the U.S. House in Florida’s 26th Congressional District.

Gov. Rick Scott announced earlier this month the dates for the special election to replace Artiles, who resigned in April after he made national news after he accosted two black colleagues at a private club in Tallahassee.

The special primary election is July 25, with a special general election on Sept. 26.

In her statement, Baez said she plans to spend the upcoming weeks with her family and “continue to use (her) voice in the Florida House to speak out clearly and forcefully to fight for better jobs, to protect our environment, to ensure we all have access to affordable health care, and to support our public schools.”

Florida League of Cities slams telecom bill

The Florida League of Cities on Thursday asked Gov. Rick Scott to veto a measure it says will “deprive cities of their authority to regulate the use of public rights of way.”

The bill (HB 687), sponsored by St. Cloud Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa, pre-empts to the state the regulation of telecommunications companies putting “small wireless facilities in rights of way.”

Such equipment, including antennas and related equipment, can be as big as a kitchen refrigerator.

“The bill may leave local governments minimal ability to control the aesthetics of their public rights of way, but it effectively hands significant control to the wireless industry,” League Executive Director Mike Sittig said in a press release.

“Florida cities embrace the deployment of 5G (wireless) technology in their communities (but) this bill offers deep discounts to multibillion dollar telecommunications companies at the taxpayers’ expense.”

Here’s more from the press release:

By setting this arbitrary and artificially low cap on the fee, Sittig wrote, cities could lose $50 million to $100 million a year in revenues they would otherwise receive if free-market rates were allowed to apply.

Sittig also criticized the reasoning behind a handful of exemptions written into the bill, including ones for the Florida Department of Transportation and for The Villages, a provision he called “both illogical and ultimately indefensible.” He wrote, “Why should the FDOT be allowed to monetize the infrastructure in its rights of way but cities not be able to receive fair market value for city-owned infrastructure that the taxpayers have invested in?”

Sittig noted that the apparent rationale for the exemption for The Villages was the community’s planned layout and culture, but said that describes each city in Florida. “All municipalities have a distinct personality and look, which are important to the quality of life of their residents. By their very nature, each city is unique and special,” he wrote.

Finally, Sittig noted that the telecommunications industry has acknowledged that the technology to enable 5G communications will not be ready to be deployed until 2022, and asked, “Why rush and pass legislation that creates and undercuts city police powers? Rather, Florida should protect the free market.”

A copy of Sittig’s letter asking the governor to veto the bill is here.

Pam Bondi wants to protect ‘military consumers’

Attorney General Pam Bondi on Wednesday announced a new consumer protection program “that will serve the unique needs of our military and veteran communities and directly assist with consumer protection-related issues.”

The Military and Veterans Assistance Program (MVAP) is Bondi’s “most recent effort to spread awareness of and stop deceptive business practices affecting military service members, veterans and their families,” according to a press release.

“Florida has more than 90,000 active duty and reserve military members and more than 1.5 million veterans,” she said in a statement. “To the men and women who have put on a uniform to protect our country, we will continue to do everything we can to protect you from these scammers. As Memorial Day approaches at the end of this month, I am honored to have the opportunity to assist the heroes who lay their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

Here’s more from the release:

Members of Attorney General Bondi’s MVAP team will provide resources and information to base JAG officers, county veteran service officers and other organizations across the state to help service members and veterans learn how to protect themselves from scams and file complaints.

As part of Attorney General Bondi’s efforts to protect military consumers, the MVAP team will also:
— Partner with military and veteran leadership statewide to provide education regarding emerging scams targeting active military and veterans and how to report them;
— Provide both internal and external assistance on consumer protection-related issues;
— Connect service members and veterans with legal aid offices or other agencies if needed; and
— Foster open communication between local, state and federal partners to help ensure complaints are being handled by the correct organization and new information is shared.

The Attorney General’s Office works tirelessly to ensure that all military members, whether active duty, returning from deployment, guard and reserve members or veterans of the Armed Forces, are protected from unscrupulous businesses and individuals.

Civil rights icon John Lewis endorses Gwen Graham

Gwen Graham has scored the endorsement of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis.

“Only one Democrat for Governor of Florida —my good friend Gwen Graham — has the passion and commitment, the track record and the leadership skills to stand up, speak out, protect our priorities, and get things done,” the Georgia Democrat said in a statement. “Gwen is a champion for the progressive values so many of us share, and I am proud to give Gwen Graham my strongest endorsement for Governor of Florida.”

The endorsement comes on the 60th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Give Us the Ballot” speech, according to the campaign. In the speech, King called for voting rights for African Americans.

Graham marched with Lewis and President Barack Obama across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, joined him and other House Democrats in a sit-in to demand commonsense gun safety, and co-sponsored legislation to protect voting rights while in Congress.

“Congressman John Lewis’s support and friendship mean the world to me. Marching with him to mark the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, sitting in with him to demand commonsense gun reform, and fighting for voting rights with him are among my proudest moments while representing Florida in Congress,” the former congresswoman said in a statement. “As governor, I will expand voting rights, pass gun reform to make our cities and streets safer and create opportunities for all Floridians.”

Graham, the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, is one of three Democrats running for governor in 2018. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King are also running.

Matt Caldwell releases first campaign video

Rep. Matt Caldwell is introducing himself to voters in a new campaign video.

Caldwell, who formally launched his bid for Agriculture Commissioner on Monday, released a video — which was first reported by POLITICO Florida — introducing himself to voters and explaining why he was running for the statewide office. The 2 minute and 30 second video features scenes from the event and portions of Caldwell’s speech.

“Running for office was about a choice,” he is heard saying. “I could sit idly by and shake my fist at the television screen or I could get out there and I could fight for what I knew right and just.”

First elected in 2010, Caldwell has spent much of his career in the Legislature focused on environmental and agricultural issues.

Caldwell, now the chairman of the Government Accountability Committee, proposed legislation during the 2017 Legislative Session that would have restructured Florida Forever’s funding formula and guaranteed funding for the next 20 years. The bill (HB 7119) passed the House, but did not get a hearing in the Senate.

“You look at the things I’ve been able to work on over the last … seven years in the process, and I think it demonstrates the ability to work on challenging issues, to work with a bipartisan coalition of folks, to work with folks across the aisle, to come together on some pretty tough things,” he said in an interview with

With about more than a year until the August 2018 primary, three Republicans — Caldwell, Sen. Denise Grimsley, and Paul Paulson — have already announced they are running for Agriculture Commissioner.

“Just like our first race, we are depending on folks like you to help us get our message out to all 20 million Floridians in all 67 counties,” the North Fort Myers Republican says in the video.

Lobby firms bring in more than $35.7M in first quarter to lobby Legislature

The numbers are out.

Registered legislative lobbying firms reported median earnings of more than $35.7 million in the first quarter of 2017. The Top 5 earners during the three-month period were Ballard Partners, Southern Strategy Group, Ronald L. Book PA, Capital City Consulting, and Greenberg Traurig.

If those rankings look familiar, there’s a reason for that. The five firms were ranked among the Top 5 firms each quarter in 2016. And according to LobbyTools Legislative IQ, it appears the pentad of firms started 2017 in the same spot on the earners’ list as the first quarter of 2016.

Ballard Partners and Southern Strategy Group led the pack in the first quarter, reporting median earnings of more than $2.4 million and $2.3 million respectively. Book’s firm reported median earnings of more than $2 million in the first three months of 2017.

Capital City Consulting reported median earnings of more than $1.6 million; while Greenberg Traurig reported media earnings of more than $1.2 million in the first quarter of 2017.

GrayRobinson, which reported more than $1.1 million; The Rubin Group, which reported $936,000; Floridian Partners, which reported $935,000; Johnson & Blanton, which reported $910,000; and Metz Husband & Daughton, which reported $882,000 rounded out the Top 10 earners during the first quarter of 2017.

Registered principals reported paying legislative lobbyists more than $38.4 million during the first quarter, according to LobbyTools Legislative IQ.

FCCI Insurance Group paid a median of $383,000 to legislative lobbyists during the first quarter, while AT&T paid a median of $275,00 during the three-month period.

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company paid a median of $255,000, followed by Associated Industries of Florida at $250,000. U.S. Sugar rounded out the Top 5, paying an estimated $243,000 to legislative lobbyists during the period.

Rick Scott announces Jackie Schutz Zeckman as next chief of staff

(Photo via LinkedIn)

Jackie Schutz Zeckman has been tapped to serve as Gov. Rick Scott’s right hand woman.

The Naples Republican announced Tuesday that Schutz Zeckman will serve has his chief of staff beginning July 1. She’ll replace Kim McDougal, Scott’s current chief of staff, who is departing to pursue opportunities in the private sector.

“Jackie has been on my team since my first year in office and has done a great job leading my communications efforts and conveying my vision of Florida as the best destination for families and businesses. Along with her work on my communications team,” said Scott in a statement announcing the promotion. “Jackie was an integral part of my reelection efforts and has continued to be a trusted advisor in all aspects of implementing our agenda for Florida. I have full confidence that she will do an outstanding job as my Chief of Staff.”

A Florida native, she received a bachelor’s degree in political science and religion from Florida State University, and her master’s degree from the London School of Economics. She worked on President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, spent time in Gov. Jeb Bush’s communications shop, and even worked in the House of Commons in the Parliament.

She joined Scott’s communications team in 2011, after nearly two years with CoreMessage. She worked her way through the ranks, serving as deputy press secretary and press secretary, before she was named the governor’s director of communications in 2014.

“Jackie is a huge asset to any organization, she was an incredible team member at CoreMessage,” said Cory Tilley, president of CoreMessage in a statement. “She will be a superb Chief of Staff for Governor Scott.  Jackie will bring absolute loyalty, a sharp policy and political antenna, dedication and a relentless work ethic as the new top staffer for the Governor. We certainly wish her the best.”

In 2014, she served as his re-election campaign’s deputy communications director.

Schutz Zeckman will be Scott’s sixth chief of staff in just over six years of office, and comes on board as Scott is believed to be mulling a 2018 U.S. Senate run. She’s a friend and ally of Scott’s top political advisor, Melissa Stone. Stone was recently tapped to serve as the executive director of New Republican, the federal super PAC that Scott chairs.

McDougal’s last day is July 1, according to the Governor’s Office.

Three Leon County officials endorse Gwen Graham for governor

Three Leon County officials are throwing their support behind Gwen Graham.

Leon County Commissioners John Dailey and Kristin Dozier, and Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor Tabitha Frazier have endorsed Graham for governor, her campaign announced Tuesday. In a statement, Graham said she was “proud to have the support” of the local leaders, and pledged to support “elected officials on all levels to diversify our economy, invest in our schools, and protect our land and water.”

Dailey has served in District 3 since 2006, and currently serves as the chairman of the board. Dailey said he got to know Graham while she was working for the local school district.

“She fought to find common ground and solutions to the challenges we faced, while always putting our children first,” he said in a statement. “She’ll bring that same approach to state government and work with cities and counties to get things done.”

Elected in 2010, Dozier represents District 5 on the Leon County Board of County Commissioners. She served a stint as chairwoman of the board for 2013-14.

“Gwen understands that to diversify Florida’s economy in the 21st Century, we must start by investing in education, from technical training in middle schools to robust community college programs,” said Dozier, who spearheaded the Domi Station incubator project in Tallahassee, in a statement. “As governor, Gwen will partner with local leaders to develop job training and create good-paying careers.”

Frazier, an environmental activist, said she was backing Graham because she “understands the environmental issues Florida is facing and genuinely listens to all the people she represents.”

“The North Florida farmers I work with as a Soil and Water Conservation Supervisor credit Gwen for taking the time to learn about and work on the issues affecting them on her Workdays and during her Farm Tour,” she said in a statement. “To meet Gwen is to love Gwen. She is passionate about protecting Florida’s environment while creating opportunities for its citizens. She has the ability, perseverance, and intelligence to be the honest change we need here in Florida and to bring a Democrat back to the Governor’s Mansion.”

Graham, a former congresswoman and the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, is one of three Democrats running for governor in 2018. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King have also thrown their hats in the race.

SalterMitchell launches ‘Fluent in Floridian’ podcast

There’s a new podcast on the block.

SalterMitchell is launching Fluent in Floridian, a new podcast featuring state leaders talking about issues important to the people of Florida and the people who visit the Sunshine State each year.

The podcast will tackle issues like economic development, environmental protection, transportation, tourism, politics and taxes. Released weekly, each episode features interviews with political leaders, influences and innovators from around the state.

“News is consumed so quickly now that it’s become hard to get to know our leaders and understand their motivations, so we’ve created a show that allows listeners to hear more than simply soundbites,” said Chris Cate, the podcast’s host and the senior public affairs director at SalterMitchell. “Fluent in Floridian is conversational, much like NPR’s Fresh Air, except we’re talking to Florida’s top leaders, innovators and influencers about their backgrounds and visions for our state.”

The podcast launched Tuesday, with SalterMitchell releasing episodes featuring interviews with Florida State University President John Thrasher, Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Adam Smith, and Sally Bradshaw, a longtime senior advisor to former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Future episodes include interviews with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum; Publisher Peter Schorsch; Florida Chamber of Commerce Chairman Syd Kitson; Attorney General Pam Bondi; ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon; and Craig Pittman, a Tampa Bay Times reporter and New York Times bestselling author.

Cate knows a thing or two about the inner workings of the capital city. He served as spokesman and speechwriter for former Gov. Charlie Crist, and as communications director for CFO Jeff Atwater and Secretaries of State Kurt Browning and Ken Detzner. He was also helped implement communications strategies for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation.

Prior to joining SalterMitchell, he served as vice president of corporate communications for 180 Communications, where he led media relations efforts and conducted media training and social media etiquette around the country.

April Salter, the company’s president and COO, and Peter Mitchell, the company’s chairman and chief creative officer, serve as the show’s executive producers.

Episodes are available on, or you can subscribe on Apple podcasts or on your Android devices.

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