Staff Reports – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Staff Reports

Hillsborough School Board member Susan Valdes considers run for HD 62

Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes is laying the groundwork to run for the House District 62 seat.

Patrick Manteiga of La Gaceta is reporting that Valdes resigned her seat Friday, to take effect November 6, the day of the general election.

“It’s our understanding that her school board seat will be open for qualifying with all the races for the 2018 election cycle from noon on June 18 through noon on June 22,” Manteiga writes. The primary is August 28.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz currently holds HD 62, which encompasses the entirety of Valdes’ school board district. Cruz is vacating the seat to campaign for Tampa Republican Dana Young’s Senate District 18.

Valdes, a Democrat, told Manteiga that she already received the endorsement of Cruz and Hillsborough Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez, who previously held the HD 62 seat.

Valdes won re-election to the board in 2016 and “should be considered the favorite” in the HD 62 race, Manteiga adds.

According to the Florida Division of Elections, already filed in the race are Democrats Michael Alvarez, Alicia Campos and Christopher Cano as well as no party affiliated Jason Stuber. Alvarez leads in fundraising with about $17,000, followed by Campos with about $2,700. Both Cano and Stuber have shown no fundraising activity.

Adam Putnam: No mores lapse in background checks

Florida’s agriculture commissioner promises his office will never again fail to do follow-up on certain national background checks that could disqualify people from gaining permits to carry concealed weapons.

Adam Putnam held a news conference on Saturday in Sun City Center, Florida, to defend himself against critics who say he should resign because of the lapse in checks. Putnam is a Republican candidate for governor.

The commissioner says “more seamless” communication between his agency and law enforcement, and “extra eyeballs,” are in place to make sure the incident never happens again.

He says a department employee failed to make follow-up inquiries into 365 applicants who were flagged for noncriminal reasons during three background checks from February 2016 to March 2017.

The state revoked 291 permits and fired the employee.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Remembering Anthony Bourdain at FSU

First known for cuisine and later his storytelling, chef and TV star Anthony Bourdain had a knack for traveling the world and telling the world about it.

After news broke Friday that Bourdain tragically ended his own life in France, the world mourned and celebrated his work — which, we’ve learned, brought him to all the nooks and crannies of the planet, even Tallahassee.

Highlighted on Twitter by Gus Corbella of Greenberg Traurig, a clip shows Bourdain speaking with a group of prospective writers at Florida State University in 2011. It’s worth watching:

“I started writing at age 44 after 28 years spent standing in kitchens,” Bourdain tells the students. “Who would want to read about the squalid life of a not-particularly-good cook? This subculture of chefs and cooks and dishwashers …”

He offered tips to the students as well: “I never read what I’ve just written if I can avoid it.” And at least one student interviewed in the clip said she was inspired by how late he began to document his experiences through prose.

Even Bourdain, who at the time had reached stardom and notoriety, walked away from the lecture with something to gain. He said the writing students at FSU were likely more serious about writing than he is, and that speaking with them was flattering.

“It just feels good,” Bourdain said. “I’m walking around thinking like, ‘Damn, I’m a writer.’ ”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew WilsonDanny McAuliffeJim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

State gets election security money — The Florida Department of State received $19.2 million in federal election security money this week following pressure from county and state leaders to apply for the funding. The money is part of a $380 million package approved earlier this year by Congress to enhance election security in all 50 states. In May, supervisors of elections in Florida first raised concerns that the state had not applied for the $19.2 million set aside for it, as reported by Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times. Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson applied further pressure on the Department to apply for the funding before the midterm elections. The Legislature will need to unlock the funds before the Department of State can distribute money to each county’s election office.

Tourism on record track — The first three months of 2018 saw a record number of visitors come to the Sunshine State, according to Florida’s tourism-marketing agency VISIT Florida. An estimated 33.2 million visitors traveled to Florida from January through March. The previous three-month high was 30.9 million visitors. In 2017, the Legislature appropriated $76 million to VISIT Florida for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The same amount was appropriated during the 2018 Legislative Session. The public-private agency has recently led efforts to advertise Florida tourism in Canada, and the number of visitors from that country was up 2.5 percent during the last quarter.

Judge lifts stay on marijuana smoking ban — Following her ruling last month that Florida’s ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional, Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers lifted the stay, or hold, on the ruling following the state’s immediate appeal of Gievers’ initial ruling. Gievers’ order now will come into effect Monday. But while smoking the plant for medicinal purposes will be considered legal, patients still can’t get smokable marijuana until the Department of Health finalizes new rules for Gievers’ decision. An attorney representing the state said the rule-making process could take months to complete.

Parkland panel meets again — A group charged with unearthing facts and recommending improvements to prevent another mass school shooting met again this week to review the Feb. 14 tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The fact-finding commission, which includes lawmakers, local authorities and citizens, was included in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed in the 2018 Legislative Session. Andrew Pollack, a former member of the commission, Thursday announced his resignation from the panel, citing the need to focus his efforts on electing members to the Broward County School Board. He is the father of one of the slain Parkland students. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who heads the commission, directed the conversation Thursday toward risk-assessment protocols that must be implemented ahead of the next school year, reports the News Service of Florida. Among them: Evidence-based youth mental health awareness and assistance curriculum, the Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool, and a student crime-watch program.

Scott’s disclosure set for appeal hearing — A lawsuit challenging whether Gov. Rick Scott properly disclosed his wealth will now be heard by the 1st District Court of Appeal. Scott’s office argues that the issue brought forward, which claims the Governor did not fully disclose the details of his personal wealth through the use of a blind trust, should be heard by the Florida Commission on Ethics. A circuit judge ruled otherwise earlier this year, and now the appeals court will have its say on what authority will consider whether Scott properly disclosed his finances. Filed in 2017, Scott listed a net worth at $149.3 million, including a blind trust worth $130.5 million.

Puerto Rico PD gets some backup

The Puerto Rico Police Department is now home to 25 Florida Highway Patrol vehicles.

“Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last year, I have visited the island six times to offer guidance, assistance and support. We’ve made it a priority in Florida to aid Puerto Rico in their recovery from this devastating storm,” Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday.

Florida is giving some mobile help to the Puerto Rico Police Department.

“I’m glad that the Florida Highway Patrol, on behalf of Floridians, has stepped up and honored a request to provide additional surplus police cruisers to the island. These 25 vehicles will assist law enforcement efforts as they work to rebuild. We will continue to do all we can to support Puerto Rico’s recovery.”

The cache of cruisers each had more than 80,000 miles of service in the Sunshine State, and had been out of circulation and awaiting surplus auction before they were donated to PRPD.

“The Florida Highway Patrol is proud to continue assisting the Puerto Rico Police Department following Hurricane Maria,” said FHP Director Gene Spaulding. “These donated vehicles are another way Florida is supporting the people of Puerto Rico in their recovery.”

Though, as the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas tweeted this week, “Oh so many questions this election year … @FLGovScott says he’s sending 25 used FHP vehicles to Puerto Rico. But his prison system struggles to have working vehicles to transport inmates. It’s received half of what it’s asked for in vehicle replacement.”

Veterans honor Putnam for outdoor initiatives

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was recently recognized at the Jacksonville Purple Heart State Convention.

Putnam, who also is vying for the Republican nod in the Governor’s race, was awarded the Military Order of the Purple Heart Distinguished Service Award.

Adam Putnam was recognized at the Jacksonville Purple Heart State Convention.

During remarks at the convention, the commissioner cited his work in Operation Outdoor Freedom, which gives certain veterans the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors at no cost.

Putnam said that camps across the state have served over 3,600 veterans so far, making it the only program of its “kind, size and scope,” at least to his knowledge.

“The therapy that’s taking place in those woods and around those campfires is extraordinary. We would not be able to continue to identify and promote this program without your help,” Putnam said. “We need to be able to let every veteran know that this is an opportunity for them and a small way for the State of Florida to say thank you for your service to our great country.”

Two camps currently operate: Camp Prairie and Peace River Camp. Both are overseen by the Florida Forest Service, which Putnam oversees. Putnam also has dedicated a Purple Heart Trail in the Withlacoochee State Forest.

Jimmy Patronis recognized for PTSD legislation

The Florida Professional Firefighters group this week honored Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis for helping champion a new law that gives first responders access to mental health care through the state’s workers’ compensation system.

Jimmy Patronis is being honored for PTSD legislation giving access to mental health care.

“I am proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish for our firefighters and other first responders. As Florida’s State Fire Marshal, I will keep fighting for those that serve and protect all of Florida. My goal is to also ensure cancer is a covered treatment, providing greater health care access to all first responders. I’m grateful that I was able to join the Florida Professional Firefighters this evening and receive this great honor,” Patronis said of the award.

Notably, the new law allows first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to receive care and treatment under workers’ comp provided by the state. First responders in Florida have suffered from PTSD as a result of their line of work. The disease has led many to take their own lives.

The CFO this week also presented more than $1 million in grant funding for firefighting equipment and facility updates across the state. The grants were awarded to Florida’s Firefighter Grant Assistance Program to Felda Volunteer Fire Department, Montura Volunteer Fire Department and Pioneer Plantation Volunteer Fire Department in the amounts of $55,414.60, and were accompanied by an additional $843,000 given to the City of LaBelle Fire Station.

“These grants will support our firefighters, improve their emergency response, and help them do their jobs safely and efficiently,” Patronis said in a prepared statement. “No matter the size of the community, fire service needs for families remain the same. Florida’s firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect our friends and family, and we must do everything to support their heroic efforts.”

Instagram of the week

Light lunch. #Alsace

A post shared by anthonybourdain (@anthonybourdain) on

RIP Anthony Bourdain.

CFO commends SEC for enlisting crypto chief

Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis said he was a fan of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to bring on its first-ever cryptocurrency adviser.

“The SEC’s appointment of a cryptocurrency chief is a forward-thinking and bold move. My office has been closely following cryptocurrency, and as with all emerging technology, there comes a new risk for consumers to be defrauded,” Patronis said in a news release. “With the Seminole County Tax Collector now accepting bitcoin as a form of payment and Tampa/St. Petersburg and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale ranking seventh and eighth in the top 10 bitcoin-friendly cities, it’s important we stay ahead of the game when it comes to consumer protection.”

The SEC named Valerie Szczepanik to oversee how securities laws apply to emerging cryptocurrencies.

The SEC announced the appointment of Valerie Szczepanik Tuesday. She’s tasked with overseeing how securities laws apply to emerging digital asset technologies, including cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and Ethereum.

Citing the recent consumer alert his office put out on cryptocurrency scams, Patronis said he’s already directed his staff to set up a call with Szczepanik “to discuss how we can continue to protect consumers in our state.”

The week in appointments

Martin County Court

Jennifer Alexandra Alcorta Waters will fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Curtis L. Disque. The 41-year-old from Palm City is a partner at Fox, Wackeen, Dungey, Beard, Bush, Goldman, Waters, Robison, van Vonno & McCluskey, LLC. She received an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and received a J.D. at the University of Florida.

Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees

Dr. Lee Mandel fills a vacant seat for a term that began this week and ends Sept. 10, 2020. Mandel, 53, of Fort Lauderdale is a physician with the South Florida Sinus and Allergy Center. He received an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and Pursued medicine at the University of South Florida.

Pasco-Hernando State College District Board of Trustees

Robin Schneider, 55, of Springhill and Al Hernandez, 46, of Odessa were reappointed for terms ending March 31, 2022. Lee Maggard, 31, of Zephyrhills, was reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2022.

New College of Florida Board of Trustees

Garin Hoover, 55, of Sarasota, fills a vacant seat for a term ending Jan. 6, 2023. He is the owner of Hoover Realty and a retired attorney.

Florida seniors earn National Merit Scholarship

The National Merit Scholarship Corp. announced this week that 4,000 students nationwide had earned a college-sponsored scholarship, including 300 Florida high school seniors.

“These students’ scholarship earnings clearly demonstrate that hard work pays off, and I am immensely proud of them for representing the State of Florida so well,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. “I also want to commend their educators and parents whose support and encouragement over the years have contributed to their success.”

The scholarships provide between $500 and $2,000 annually for up to four years of undergraduate study at the institution that awarded them.

It takes some work to earn a National Merit Scholarship — to make the grade, students must apply for the scholarship in their junior year, write an essay, score well on the SAT and lock down a recommendation from a high school official.

Mel Ponder recognized as Legislator of the Year

The Florida College System Council of Presidents (COP) and the Association of Florida Colleges (AFC) named Rep. Mel Ponder, a Destin Republican, as its 2018 Legislator of the Year.

The groups said they “recognize an exemplary legislator annually when his or her contributions during the Legislative Session significantly enhance and support the Florida College System.”

Mel Ponder: Florida Legislator of the Year.

Ponder sponsored HB 75, which now allows Florida colleges to waive certain postsecondary fees, not covered by the Department of Defense, for active duty members of U.S. Armed Forces using military tuition assistance.

“This new law will further open access to college for the men and women of the military to attend Florida’s top-rated colleges in the nation,” the groups said in a statement.

Ponder will be formally presented the award at the Council of Presidents annual meeting in Tampa June 11.

Benacquisto launches local photo contest

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is encouraging photography enthusiasts in her area to submit local pictures to be displayed to the public.

An email distributed this week from the Fort Myers Republican asks Southwest Florida photogs to snap their favorite spots and submit them by Aug. 31.

Lizbeth Benacquisto asks Southwest Florida photogs to snap their favorite spots to be displayed at the Richard H. Rush Library Gallery.

Submissions will have a chance to be displayed at the Richard H. Rush Library Gallery, as well as other areas around Lee County. The pictures also have a chance to get sent out in Benacquisto’s monthly newsletter.

Text from an email advertising the event reads, “There are beautiful places and unforgettable moments that take place across Lee County each day: Show us the ones that mean the most to you!”

Take a hunter safety class this summer

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds Floridians if they haven’t completed the state’s hunter safety course requirement, now’s a good time to sign up.

Many of these classes, offered statewide, fill up fast. And people born after May 31, 1975, must complete the FWC’s hunter safety class before they can buy the type of hunting license that allows them to legally hunt alone.

In Florida, safe hunting is no accident.

If one is new to our state, these classes will make new residents aware of Florida’s hunting laws.

For those who just relocated from inside the state, the FWC says the classes are “a great way to meet other hunters. You can make some new hunting buddies or maybe even get a line on a great hunt club that’s looking for new members.”

Register for a hunter safety class by going to or by contacting your nearest FWC regional office.

Florida Forest Service announces Longleaf Pine program

The Florida Forest Service announced this week that the Longleaf Pine Landowner Incentive Program is now accepting applications from eligible, nonindustrial private forest landowners. Applications will be accepted through Friday, July 13.

The goal of the program is to increase the acreage of healthy Longleaf Pine ecosystems in Florida by helping nonindustrial private forest landowners make the long-term investment required to establish and maintain this valuable ecosystem.

Florida Longleaf Pines.

The program offers incentive payments for completion of timber stand improvement, invasive species control, prescribed burning, planting Longleaf Pine, native plant understory establishment and mechanical underbrush treatments.

The program is offered for private lands in Florida counties located west of the Aucilla River and several counties near the Ocala National Forest.

Application forms and more information on program requirements and procedures can be found by visiting or by contacting your local county forester.

DHSMV: Drive slower, stay cooler this summer

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) has launched its Safe Summer Travel Campaign.

Partnering with the Florida Highway Patrol, Department of Children and Families, Department of Transportation, Florida Police Chiefs Association, Florida Sheriffs Association and AAA, the team offers a wide variety of advice, but all agree safety begins with easing up on the gas pedal.

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wants all motorists to drive safe and always ‘Arrive Alive.’

“There are more travelers on Florida’s roads than ever before, so it’s critical to remember to slow down, stay cool and be safe,” DHSMV Director Terry Rhodes said.

Besides slowing down, the groups encourage prevention methods, like making sure proper child restraints are in place.

However, the first line of defense should be checking your tires, according to the DHSMV. Data recorded by the agency showed there were more than 3,306 tire-related crashes last year, resulting in 285 serious injuries.

And with the hot summer sun upon the state, the groups warn to never leave children or pets in vehicles unattended. Moreover, suspicious or aggressive behavior on the roadways can be reported by dialing *FHP (*347).

VISIT FLORIDA unveils cooperative marketing effort

The state’s tourism marketing agency is now allowing industry partners to ‘buy into’ over 200 shared marketing opportunities and small business programs.

Developed with Miles Partnership, the cooperative marketing idea is expected to extend the marketing dollars of the 12,000 industry partners associated with the public-private marketing agency.

“Our new offerings allow all of our small, medium and large partners across the state to buy into unique opportunities that fit their needs and maximize their budgets,” VISIT FLORIDA CEO Ken Lawson said.


New programs include, per the agency, “nontraditional, such as a Google Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) content optimization program; North America, which includes tried and true sanctioned print and digital programs in publications such as AAA, Wall Street Journal and Golf Digest; International, which includes new Brand USA program packages; Regional, which focuses on brand development of regional parts of the state to build successful media plans; and Small Business, such as a video content production program to allow businesses to tell their own unique stories.”

News of the cooperative is timely, as it comes as businesses prep for the next fiscal year.

VISIT Florida and Miles Partnership designed the concept with the help of feedback and collaboration from industry partners at the agency’s Leadership Summit in December.

Florida Bar to hold convention in Orlando — with yoga

The Florida Bar will hold its annual convention June 13-16 in Orlando and will focus this year “on the importance of living and enjoying a balanced lifestyle.”

West Palm Beach attorney Michelle Suskauer will be sworn in as the Bar’s 70th president. Vero Beach attorney John M. Stewart will be sworn in as president-elect; he will become president in June 2019. The convention is being held at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.

West Palm Beach attorney and Florida Bar President-elect Michelle Suskauer.

“Living Well, Working Well: The Balanced Lawyer,” the theme of this year’s convention, emphasizes the positive effects of learning to balance family, work, health and fitness.

This will be the first time the convention offers health and wellness activities including yoga, meditation and more. Mindfulness, stress-management and integrating work-life balance are key themes the discussions and programs will focus on.

Other highlights include:

Judicial Luncheon— Held Thursday, June 14, the luncheon will feature Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga presenting “The State of the Judiciary.” Lawyer, author and mindfulness instructor Jeena Cho will be the keynote speaker. Justice Labarga’s remarks (starting about 12:30 p.m.) and Cho’s presentation (starting about 1:15 p.m.) will be streamed live on The Florida Bar’s Facebook page.

General Assembly— The centerpiece event June 15 will include installation of incoming Bar officers and Board of Governors members. Suskauer will be sworn in as the Bar’s new president, and Stewart will be sworn in as president-elect. The entire General Assembly from 9:30 a.m.-noon will be streamed live on The Florida Bar’s Facebook page.

50-year members — The Bar will honor 313 attorneys for 50 years of service at a special luncheon. Also honored will be 14 senior counselors, who have practiced for 50 years or more but have not been members of The Florida Bar for the entire time.

Harvard faculty to lead Executive Leadership course at Florida Poly

Business executives from all over Florida are invited to participate in a one-of-a-kind leadership course developed by Harvard professors and taught at Florida Polytechnic University this Aug. 5-10.

The immersive weeklong Florida Poly Executive Leadership Course is designed for mid-career professionals looking to improve their leadership skills. Attendees will learn how to better understand their market, execute creative change, and grow their organizations through flexible and adaptive leadership.

Florida Polytechnic University welcomes Harvard professors emeritus Drs. Earl Sasser and Paul Marshall.

The course is led by Harvard professors emeritus Drs. Paul Marshall and Earl Sasser to provide participants with the most advanced leadership strategies through hands-on activities, real-world case studies, group breakouts and self-reflection.

“What makes this course unique is that it is led by Harvard faculty and modeled by what people can find at Harvard,” said Florida Poly’s president, Dr. Randy K. Avent. “It’s also a resident program which brings the opportunity to build valuable relationships with leaders from other companies.”

Attendees will spend their evenings in a residence hall. The registration deadline is July 22. For more information, contact or 863-874-8614.

AARP Florida tracks lawmakers’ votes

How state legislators voted in the 2018 Legislature on issues of interest to older Floridians can be seen with the release of AARP Florida’s 7th Annual Legislative Voting Record.

This year’s voting record contains detailed, vote-by-vote information on key legislation important to those age 50 and older.

AARP wants to know how Florida seniors are voting.

AARP said it alerted legislators that it would consider their votes on certain proposals to be key votes for this voting record.

And because key decisions often occur at several stages during the long process of legislative consideration of a bill, the voting record tracks legislative committees’ actions as well as final votes.

The voting record provides information about legislative votes based on broad topics, such as regulated utilities, the state budget, health care and supportive services, prescription drugs, consumer protections and livable communities.

“AARP Florida’s Legislative Voting Record makes it easy to track legislators’ decisions on key issues that matter most,” AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson said.

The complete version of the 2018 voting record can be viewed and downloaded here.

Ports group highlights promising data

A five-year mission plan released by the Florida Ports Council bears good news: Cargo and cruise activity is increasing.

The nonprofit’s strategic plan, “Connecting Commerce: The 2018-2022 Five-Year Florida Seaport Mission Plan,” provides a few insightful data points. Among them: a 4.9 percent increase in Florida’s waterborne trade, and a $4.3 billion increase in the value of containerized cargo moved.

Gov. Scott added commentary to the news, citing the state’s $1.4 billion investment in ports since December 2010 — the month before he assumed office.

Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler.

“Florida’s hardworking businesses have created more than 1.5 million private sector jobs since December 2010. This job growth would not be possible without our incredible seaports,” Scott said.

Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler said continuing investments in ports will continue to contribute to economic growth.

“Now that Florida ports have the infrastructure to accommodate more cargo, we are seeing steady growth year after year in total cargo tonnage and value of cargo, as well as the number of cruise passengers,” Wheeler said.

“With $3.3 billion in capital improvements at Florida’s seaports identified over the next five years, we expect these numbers to continue to grow creating a stable economy for current Floridians and future generations.”

Florida Wildlife Federation praises ‘extraordinary generosity’

The Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) recognized philanthropists Sam and Betty Shine this week, after their donation of “a critical tract of land, over 6,000 acres in size, to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge south of Tallahassee on the Gulf of Mexico.”

The land donated by the Shines will expand the Refuge northward to U.S. 98, “thereby protecting this environmental jewel from development and pollution,” the FWF said in a statement.

Philanthropist Sam Shine, founder and former CEO of Samtech. (Image via Christopher Fryer/News and Tribune)

As a habitat, it will “provide a perpetual home for a wide variety of plants and animals, including the Florida black bear and the indigo snake.” The tract’s protection also affords increased water quantity and quality to the aquifer, which helps Apalachee Bay.

“This is the latest in a long line of environmental projects involving Sam and Betty, and the Florida Wildlife Federation greatly appreciates their altruism,” said Manley Fuller, FWF president.

Capital craft brewery gearing up for move

Renovations began this week at the new South Monroe Street home of Tallahassee’s Proof Brewing Co., the city’s first craft brewery.

The move is into a 70-year-old, 34,000 square-foot former Coca-Cola bottling plant a short drive from downtown. Proof outgrew its current location, a 7,500 square-foot former warehouse in the city’s Railroad Square Art Park.

Proof Brewing Co., Tallahassee’s first craft brewery, is making a big move.

“The support and encouragement we’ve received from our community about the news of our expansion has been incredible,” it said in an email. “It’ll be here before we know it.”

The company, owned and operated by Byron and Angela Burroughs, already has begun receiving new equipment, including 60-barrel fermenters, with more tanks slated for the future.

“Every square inch is getting positioned with something,” the email said.

“The new space will allow us to take on several fun new projects — from seasonal and year-round cans, to more barrel-aged beers.” It’s expected to be open no later than January 2019.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Adam Putnam sheds light on report of missed background checks

After a newspaper report published Friday revealed that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for more than a yearlong period stopped using a federal background check database in its concealed carry permits approval process, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam released a statement explaining his department took key steps to correct the issue once it was discovered, and that only a few hundred approved permits doled out during the gap would’ve actually required the use of the federal database.

The report, published by the Tampa Bay Times, details an Office of Inspector General investigation into the Department of Agriculture that found the Department did not use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, for a period lasting February 2016 through March 2017. The NICS database is used to make sure concealed carry permit applicants do not have a disqualifying history in other states.

Aaron Keller, a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, told the Times that the database is used to check for non-criminal disqualifications. He also said that during the gap period the Department continued use of two other background check tools: the Florida Crime Information Center database and the National Crime Information Center database.

The Times reports, “From July 2016 through June 2017, which covers most of the period when the system wasn’t accessed, 268,000 applications were approved and 6,470 were denied for reasons like an incomplete application or the state discovered they were ineligible, according to the state Agriculture Department’s annual concealed weapons permit report.”

But in a prepared statement, Commissioner Putnam said that only 365 applications during the gap would’ve required use of the NICS. And when the Office of Inspector General provided the results of its investigation to the Department, his office immediately backtracked and reviewed the 365 applications.

“Upon discovery of this former employee’s negligence in not conducting the further review required on 365 applications, we immediately completed full background checks on those 365 applications, which resulted in 291 revocations,” Putnam said. 

He emphasized Keller’s initial statement as well.

“To be clear, a criminal background investigation was completed on every single application,” Putnam said. 

The Office of Inspector General concluded that one employee, Lisa Wilde, was negligent. The Times reports that Wilde could not log in to the federal check system and ultimately stopped using it. Keller told the Times that Wilde was fired immediately after the Inspector General’s Office concluded she had been negligent.

Added Putnam on Friday: The former employee was both deceitful and negligent, and we immediately launched an investigation and implemented safeguards to ensure this never happens again.”

As for the National Rifle Association, a longtime Putnam supporter and advocate for gun safety, Florida NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer decried the lack of proper vetting.

“I’m almost speechless. Anyone would assume that checks and balances were in place so that something like this couldn’t happen,” Hammer told POLITICO Florida. “I imagine Commissioner Putnam is furious, I would be. Although the agency’s comments indicate they reacted quickly to correct this disastrous failing, it certainly leaves us with a bad feeling.”

With more than 1.8 million concealed weapons permit holders in Florida, nearly 268,000 applications were approved and 6,470 were rejected during the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2017. That was the period when background checks were not conducted.

According to POLITICO, this was the second time background checks were at issue in issuing permits. for a time, one in five mental health records were entered late into the background check database, a longrunning problem that could have resulted in people with known mental illness able to purchase a gun.

As the Florida Department of Law Enforcement explained: “The risk of late reporting of mental health records is that an individual who is prohibited from purchasing or possession [of] a firearm may be approved at the time of the background check if the disqualifying mental health record is not available.”

Delegation for 6.8.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Can Congress undo deal that saves ZTE?

Despite it being the fourth-largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, most Americans were likely unaware of the Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE. If Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has his say, and he is taking full advantage of the opportunity, that could change in the coming days.

In March it was revealed ZTE had violated U.S. export laws involving North Korea and Iran, leading the Trump administration to place crippling sanctions on an important cog in the Chinese economy. Chinese leader Xi Jinping has personally lobbied President Donald Trump for relief.

Can Congress undo the ZTE deal reached between Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping?

Rubio and some of his colleagues have railed against the thought of giving ZTE any breaks, calling them a national security threat. With Trump also placing tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum, Rubio and others are opposed to any link between ZTE and trade negotiations with China.

The two-term Republican has also railed for months about Chinese espionage and the theft of intellectual property. He also fears ZTE could use unfair practices to overtake U.S. companies.

On Thursday, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced a deal had been reached to allow ZTE to get back in business. He described the agreement as “the largest penalty [the department’s Bureau of Industry and Security] has ever levied” and said they impose “unprecedented compliance measures” on ZTE.

The agreement included a $1 billion fine and other penalties.

It did not take Rubio long to react. He quickly tweeted “This ‘deal’ with #ZTE may keep them from selling to Iran and North Korea. That’s good. But it will do nothing to keep us safe from corporate & national security espionage. That is dangerous. Now Congress will need to act to keep America safe from #China.”

With Trump heading for a summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore next week, speculation has increased that Xi’s assistance with Kim may have been tied to a ZTE deal. That will become clearer once the results, or lack thereof, play out following the meeting.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer indicated Democrats would try to undo the executive action, but that will be an uphill fight. Finding the necessary two-thirds majorities to override a certain presidential veto would be hard to achieve.

In other words, there may not be enough Rubios out there on the GOP side.

Nelson, Thune have a few more questions for Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg may have thought he finished interacting with Congress for the time being, but Sen. Bill Nelson and others are saying “not so fast.” Nelson, the Ranking Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Chairman John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, have a few more questions.

Thune and Nelson wrote to Zuckerberg this week asking about a New York Times story about impermissible access to private user’s date. Facebook’s denial of impropriety or negligence prompted the Senators’ letter.

Congress is not quite done with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“Given the Committee’s ongoing oversight of Facebook’s data privacy and security practices in the wake of the revelations surrounding Cambridge Analytica earlier this year, we write to request a further explanation of this issue,” they said.

The Senators then asked for specific answers to five questions prompted by the Times’ story. Most focus on sharing agreements the company signed with device manufacturers.

In a tweet, Nelson said: “Americans deserve to know what data security safeguards are in place and whether Facebook adequately protected user information from unauthorized use and storage.”

Rubio blasts Obama administration for Iran deception

On Wednesday, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued a majority reporting finding the Obama Administration authorized Iran to access the U.S. financial system, then misleading the public and Congress. Rubio and other Republicans jumped on the news.

Among other things, the report points to former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who appeared before Congress in 2015 and 2016 while the complicated machinations of transferring billions to Iran were taking shape. Lew did not disclose what many call the improper access to the U.S. system.

Marco Rubio blasts the Obama administration (again) over Iran access to financial markets.

“This report reveals that the Obama Administration misled Congress and the American people about going beyond the nuclear deal’s terms to grant Iran’s terror-sponsoring regime access to the U.S. financial system,” Rubio said in a statement released by his office.

The unfreezing of Iranian assets was one of the provisions of the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama Administration.

Rubio recalled urging Lew in early 2016 to block Iran from accessing the U.S. system. Lew assured Congress “The administration has not been and is not planning to grant Iran access to the U.S. financial system.”

Democrats scoffed at the report with Ranking Democrat Thomas Carper of Delaware saying the Obama administration “followed the law” and made an agreement that halted Iran’s advance toward nuclear weapons. “That’s what leaders do,” he said.

Trump names first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney in South Florida

For the first time, a woman will serve as the top federal prosecutor for the Southern District of Florida. On Thursday, Trump nominated Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan to be the next U.S. Attorney.

Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan. (Image via Miami Herald)

She replaces Benjamin Greenberg who was appointed just six months ago. The Southern District of Florida, stretching from Key West to Fort Pierce, has a national reputation for prosecuting major drug-trafficking, fraud and terrorism cases.

Fajardo Orshan had the support of Gov. Rick Scott, who had appointed her to the bench in Miami-Dade. She has previous experience as a state prosecutor, but not the federal justice system.

She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and her law degree from Nova Southeastern’s Shepard Broad Law Center. Her nomination now goes to the U.S. Senate for confirmation.

 Dunn, Webster among Republicans thanking Trump for signing veterans’ bill

On Wednesday, Trump signed the VA MISSION Act, which targets long delays in veterans receiving medical care. The bipartisan measure passed the House 347-70 and the Senate by a 92-5 vote.

Republicans were quick to praise Trump’s action, including Central Florida Republican Daniel Webster. In an op-ed on, Webster described the bill as a “victory for veterans.”

Daniel Webster, shown with conservative columnist Ben Shapiro.

“Veterans fought for the freedoms of complete strangers, they fought for individuals they never met,” he wrote. “They fought for the oppressed, for their parents, for friends and neighbors, for their own children and grandchildren to come, for you and me. We owe our veterans a debt we can never repay.”

Webster was one of four Florida Republicans who signed on as co-sponsors of the House legislation. Joining him were John Rutherford of Jacksonville, Neal Dunn of Panama City, and Bilirakis. Rubio co-sponsored the Senate version which became law.

“Today with President Trump, we took a big step in improving care and choice for our veterans,” said Dunn. “The VA MISSION Act gives certainty to our veterans, increasing benefits to our nation’s heroes and expanding options to seek care outside of the VA.”

Media pans Bilirakis Women’s Summit

On Saturday, Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis from Palm Harbor is holding what is billed as the annual Women’s Summit. The event will feature University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft, who “will discuss her unique experience as a woman who rose to a position of power leading one of the nation’s fastest-growing universities for almost two decades.

Gus Bilirakis is taking heat for a women’s summit featuring an item on ‘losing weight.’

Among the topics on the agenda are “Finding a Work/Life Balance,” “Becoming Involved in Government,” “Community Health Care Resources,” and “Women of Faith.” Media previews of the event painted a narrow picture of the agenda.

Two of the 12 agenda items are “Community Gardening,” and “Losing Weight and Pursuing Wellness.” The Tampa Bay Times asked readers “So what are the critical issues facing women that Bilirakis will highlight in breakout sessions? Gardening, weight loss and ‘a woman’s guide to financial planning,’ according to the event flier.”

The Hill newspaper took a similar approach. Neither included a link to the flier containing the other topics, nor mentioned Genshaft’s role.

A Bilirakis spokeswoman said the Community Gardening topic was not about growing flowers, but growing communities. Bilirakis said the issues came from a “stakeholder session” he held four years ago.

The summit begins at 10:30 a.m. at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs.

Castor calls out delegation Republicans on discharge petition

Much has been written of the discharge petition intended to force votes on pending legislation designed to legalize undocumented young immigrants known as DREAMers. Among the movement’s leaders in the House is Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall.

Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor has been a vocal advocate for DREAMers, specifically the DREAM Act that would put them on a path to citizenship. Three other bills would be affected by the petition.

Kathy Castor (center) calls out the delegation on a forced vote for the DREAM Act.

All Democrats are signing the petition and Republicans are beginning to come on board slowly. Castor is trying to help put the effort over the top. In addition to pointing out the effort is “only three signatures away from forcing a vote,” she is calling out delegation colleagues who have yet to sign.

“View a list of my Florida colleagues who have and have not joined me in signing and supporting this discharge petition,” she said in a newsletter to constituents.

In addition to Curbelo, delegation Republicans signing the petition are Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami.

Castor added that gaining enough signatures will “overcome the refusal of Speaker (Paul) Ryan to allow a vote on the DREAM Act.”

 T. Rooney sides with Ryan, FBI in “Spygate” controversy; Gaetz reacts

Several Republicans, including Rep. Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, have chosen not to run for re-election his year. Many are going quietly, but do not count Rooney among those.

In one of the many Russia investigation spinoffs known as “Spygate,” Trump has tweeted about an embedded spy in his 2016 campaign. That notion has backing among many Republicans, but a slowly growing number, including Rooney, say that is not true.

Matt Gaetz criticizes Republicans — without naming names — who oppose ‘Spygate’ claims.

“What is the point of saying that there was a spy in the campaign when there was none?” Rooney said in an interview with POLITICO on Wednesday. “You know what I’m saying? It’s like, ‘Let’s create this thing to tweet about knowing that it’s not true.’ … Maybe it’s just to create more chaos, but it doesn’t really help the case.”

Until recently, South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy was the only Republican to hold a different meaning of the word “spy.” On Wednesday, speaker Paul Ryan joined Gowdy in saying the FBI “did what it was supposed to do.”

Now add Rooney, a key member of the House Intelligence Committee. He expects to receive significant criticism from within his party.

“Look, if you want to disagree with what we were briefed on and say that it was a spy? That’s fine, I guess. We would just disagree with that,” he said. “And if that makes us RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) because we have a different opinion about what the FBI was doing, then I guess we’re RINOs.”

Other Republicans are waiting for more information from the FBI and the Justice Department before weighing in. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach blasted all three without naming names.

“It is shameful to see House Republican Leadership emphasize support for FBI and DOJ intelligence collection on the Trump Campaign, Gaetz said in a statement. “Our leadership should be setting impeachment hearings for those who refuse to produce documents. Instead, some are carrying water for a Justice Department that has already resisted congressional oversight, misrepresented material facts to a FISA court, improperly redacted documents and failed to disclose spying on a presidential campaign. Sad!”

Deutch joins with Hirono in effort to expand social security

Under the backdrop that Social Security benefits are at risk within two decades, Deutch and Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie K. Hirono renewed their efforts to convince Congress to strengthen and improve the Social Security Program. The Social Security Administration (SSA) released its annual Trustees Report this week, which indicated that the program can meet its obligations now, but improvements should still be made.

Ted Deutch to fight for Social Security expansion.

Deutch and Hirono are blaming the GOP tax cuts for clouding the program’s future.

“When Congressional Republicans sold their tax scam to the American people they left out the fact that while the windfalls mostly line the pockets of corporations and the wealthy, the deficits they used to pay for them will fuel their threats to cut Social Security,” Deutch said. “Now is the time Congress should prepare for the future, not by threatening workers’ benefits,

“I’m proud to lead the fight to protect and preserve Social Security with Senator Hirono. No cuts. No retirement age increases. No chained-CPI.”

Last year, Deutch and Hirono reintroduced the Protecting and Preserving Social Security Act, which would strengthen and improve the Social Security program by “restoring fairness” in contributions and providing more accurate measures to determine annual cost of living for beneficiaries.

“Social Security continues to serve as the cornerstone of retirement for millions of individuals and families around the country, including thousands in Hawaii who rely on the program every day to survive,” Hirono said. “I will continue to fight for working and middle-class families to ensure that their hard-earned benefits are preserved, and to oppose efforts to privatize Social Security and Medicare.”

New ad applauds Curbelo’s climate change efforts

In his race for re-election, Republican Rep. Curbelo of Kendall is the beneficiary of a new ad highlighting his efforts on behalf of climate change. The 30-second spot, released by the Alliance for Climate Solutions, replays parts of a speech that he gave on the House floor regarding the conversation around climate change.

“Enough of the demagoguery. Enough of the fact-less conversation.” Curbelo said. “Let’s focus on what’s happening in the world. And let’s try to make this situation better.”

“Neither the deniers or the alarmists have much to offer. It’s the men and women who are willing to sit at the table and have a sober conversation that can really help solve this problem,” he said.

All of this is an effort to thank Curbelo for his work on the Climate Change is Real Act, a bill on which he is a co-sponsor. According to the bill it would “require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to reinstate information about climate change that was removed from, or redacted on, the Agency’s website, and for other purposes.”

Curbelo is the co-founder and co-chairman, along with Deutch, of the bipartisan Climate Change Solutions Caucus.

The ad can be seen by clicking the image below.

 On this date in the headlines

June 8, 1982 — To cries of “Hear, Hear!” from members of Parliament, President Ronald Reagan saluted Britain’s fighting force in the Falkland Islands and challenged Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev to a “competition of ideas and values” through an exchange of television broadcasts.

Reagan’s speech was described as advancing issues such as freedom of the press, saying it would “be a march of freedom and democracy, which will leave Marxism and Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”

June 8, 2005 — Republican Rep. Katherine Harris, Florida’s most famous member of Congress, declared her candidacy for the U.S. Senate, hoping to unseat Bill Nelson, the only remaining statewide elected Democrat. Harris, the controversial former Secretary of State whose name became synonymous with the 2000 presidential election, made her intentions known through telephone calls to reporters by consultant Adam Goodman.

As Secretary of State in 2000, Harris pushed to halt the recount in several Florida counties against the wishes of supporters of Democratic Vice-President Al Gore. Eventually, the courts intervened.

 Facebook and hackers

This week’s issue included the news of a letter from Nelson and Thune to Facebook’s Zuckerberg regarding personal data security. The social media giant argues they have done nothing wrong, but the letter went out anyway.

No joke.

The contents were in the public domain within minutes, but whether it actually went out in snail mail is unclear. Just in case, Nelson’s and Thune’s committee staff put the street address of Facebook’s corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley on the address line. It is:

1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park, CA 94025

We’re not making this up.

Until Tuesday …




Jacksonville Bold for 6.8.18 — Tribal warfare

Two of our top stories this week deal with primary battles for Congressional seats.

They are interesting for what is said — and what is not.

Mike Waltz is pushing fellow Republican John Ward to withdraw from the race in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

Waltz, like many across the political spectrum, believe that Ward saying that recent Puerto Rican arrivals shouldn’t vote in Florida was disqualifying rhetoric.

The Ward gaffe, ironically, comes after months of his maintaining that he is the Trumpiest candidate in the race.

While the sense of that gaffe was pretty Trump-like, at the moment, he’s seriously wounded.

In the Democratic race in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, moderate Democrat Alvin Brown is looking to topple fellow moderate Al Lawson.

Brown and Lawson have both cut centrist paths through Democratic politics, laden with bipartisan rhetoric. Naturally, they both have gone negative throughout the campaign.

The latest was last weekend. Lawson retweeted President Donald Trump. Quickly, the tweets were deleted. Lawson charged that Brown’s team hacked his Twitter.

Alvin Brown’s team, meanwhile, put out a fundraising email, “Lawson Retweets Trump.”

Would there be major policy differences between Ward and Waltz, or Brown and Lawson?

Probably not.

But you wouldn’t know it from the pyrotechnics of the primary fight.

Waltz urges Ward to drop CD 6 run

Candidates in Florida’s 6th Congressional District are beginning to reach a consensus: Ward needs to get out of the race.

Ward has been under fire for weeks for comments made at a forum in April.

John Ward is facing fire from the left and the right over comments many consider racist.

His take was that displaced Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be voting in Florida, and one by one, candidates have been issuing statements rebuking Ward’s take

Waltz, one of three Republicans running to replace Ron DeSantis in the St. Johns/Flagler/Volusia district, was the latest to call for Ward’s withdrawal Monday.

“As a Green Beret Commander who served multiple combat tours overseas, it’s outrageous to me that politician John Ward would say certain American citizens shouldn’t be able to vote in our country,” Waltz said.

“In combat, no matter where we came from, we all served under the same flag and fought to ensure we all had the same rights. For John Ward to suggest otherwise makes him unfit to serve,” Waltz added.

“There is no place for politician John Ward in this or any campaign and that’s why I’m calling on him to withdraw his candidacy immediately. I urge fellow Republicans to join the chorus of conservative leaders in Florida to demand the same,” Waltz added.

Democrats Nancy Soderberg and John Upchurch have already called for Ward to withdraw. Republican Fred Costello and Democrat Stephen Sevigny likewise have condemned the comments.

Hackers in CD 5?

Saturday afternoon saw a couple of atypical retweets from the personal account of Rep. Lawson.

The RT action went to President Donald Trump, in what was either a remarkable crossing of party lines in a contested primary — or perhaps a compromised account.

After deleting the tweets, Lawson asserted the “campaign accounts” were “breached” and “hacked,” an example of “dirty politics at best.”

Lawson’s team is looking for the hackers, we are told.

Lawson’s opponent, former Jacksonville Mayor Brown, wasn’t buying the hack claims: “Years ago, Al Lawson hacked into right-wing, extreme Republican policies — that’s why he’s been supported by the NRA, applauds Trump’s agenda and drains billions of dollars from our public schools. Try as he might, he can’t fall back on sad excuses after years of selling out Democratic values.”

The tweets were not in keeping with Lawson’s public positions, even as he has indicated willingness to work with the president.

The first RT saw Lawson’s account support Trump’s allegations of Democratic corruption, cooperation with Russia and bashing of the “fake news media.”

The second RT saw Lawson’s account support Trump’s imposition of tariffs against traditional U.S. allies in Mexico, Canada and the EU, a tweet that condemned “stupid trade.”

Each of these were at odds with Democratic orthodoxy.

Brown, running against incumbent Lawson in North Florida’s sprawling, east-west Congressional District 5. has already messaged on a perceived Lawson affinity for Trump,

Monster May for Hutson

Travis Hutson‘s campaign is heating up, posting monster May fundraising numbers in his Senate District 7 re-election bid.

All smiles: Travis Hutson is going to be a player in 2018 elections statewide with this haul.

The Palm Coast Republican brought in $332,000 last month for his two committees: Sunshine State Conservatives hauled in $85,000, and First Coast Business Foundation took in the balance.

The FCBF money is of special interest, as it offers evidence of regional consolidation behind Hutson, who is pursuing the Senate presidency in 2022.

The May fundraising reception for his First Coast Business Foundation saw Mayor Lenny Curry as the special guest at an event heavy on names of prominent politicos, donors and lobbyists.

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

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

A similar group of players came together May 2017 for a fundraiser in support of future House Speaker Paul Renner, whose political committee had a $261,000 month because of it.

Hutson had hoped to raise $500,000 this cycle to help other Senate Republicans; nearing that goal, he wants to raise $200,000 more, and to that end has a golf event booked this month, and a fishing event in July.

Money where the Mouse is for Bradley

Republican state Sen. Rob Bradley is doing his part to stem the impending “blue wave” in Florida politics, via a fundraiser on the open waters.

Specifically, a July 20-23 Disney Cruise, booked in May via the Fleming Island Republican’s Working for Florida Families political committee.

Those dates indicate the cruise will be aboard the Disney Dream, christened by Jennifer Hudson in 2011. The itinerary shows the vessel plans to anchor in Nassau on the second day of the journey, followed by a stop at Disney’s private island Castaway Cay on Day Three.

The second night of the three-night fundraiser will give attendees the opportunity to “party like a pirate” — not the scary kind, of course.

Party like a pirate, helping Rob Bradley’s re-election campaign, that is.

Per Disney’s description, the celebration of all things swashbuckler encourages guests to dress up like a buccaneer and “eat like a scalawag” — options include “Jolly Rogers Barbecue Rib Salad” and “Pirates Gold-en Pot Stickers” — before hitting the deck with their mateys for a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed party and fireworks show.

The booking, including event venue, lodging, food and beverage, came in at $65,260.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman told us Thursday that the expenditure covered “costs associated with an upcoming fundraiser” for the committee, with “all proceeds [going] toward 2018 Senate races.”

This will be a group sail, not a charter, Bradley added.

There is a recent precedent for a Disney cruise fundraiser.

Per the Miami Herald, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli organized a similar event in 2013. The buy-in then was a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida.

Disney and subsidiaries have donated over $45,000 to Bradley’s committee since its inception, illustrating a shared political vision.

Contributions to Bradley’s committee swelled after he was named the Senate budget chair in November. Working for Florida’s Families pulled in back-to-back-to-back six-figure hauls heading into the 2018 Legislative Session, and since Bradley’s District 5 seat isn’t up this cycle, much of that cash is indeed likely to go toward boosting the re-election campaigns of his fellow Republican Senators.

Indicted Senate candidate raises zilch in May

Suspended Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown, currently facing 32 federal counts in a scheme to defraud with another suspended Council colleague, is still an active primary opponent in Senate District 6 for Minority Leader-designate Audrey Gibson.

Reggie Brown leaves federal court in Jacksonville with lawyer ahead of him.

Brown told media he was not suspending his campaign at his indictment a week ago, and proof of that active candidacy could be found in his May campaign finance filing: the fourth straight month in which Brown reported no fundraising.

Given that he faces, if all maximum penalties prevail, 601 years and an $8.275 million fine, perhaps explaining the reluctance.

At the end of April, which was her most recent filing, Gibson had nearly $132,000 cash on hand.

“I have not made any comments about the opponent in the race and I have none today. I continue to do my legislative duties, work to get more Senate Dems elected as Leader-designate, and focus on my re-election campaign,” Gibson said last week after the indictment dropped.

The winner of the primary campaign will face nominal November opposition from a write-in candidate.

Baker challenges Bean

Sen. Aaron Bean will face a general election challenge in Senate District 4, a Duval/Nassau district leaning heavily Republican.

The Bean Team faces a third-party challenge this year.

Monday saw Joanna Liberty Tavares file for the seat as a Libertarian.

Tavares, per SunBiz, is an officer for Sweet Freedom LLC,

The business address, at River City Marketplace, corresponds with Smallcakes Cupcakery, a well-regarded pastry shop that has 4 stars on Yelp.

Between his campaign account and his political committee, Bean had nearly $200,000 cash on hand at the end of April and will certainly be well-positioned to fundraise further (if needed), given the incumbent’s allies in the region.

Tavares joins a number of Libertarian candidates running in the region, including state House candidates Ken Willey and Ryan Ramsey. They are running in House Districts 18 and 19 respectively.

A second opponent also filed this week to face Bean — Democrat Billie Bussard.

Renner launches re-elect

Palm Coast Republican Rep. Paul Renner is kicking off his bid for a second term in House District 24 with a hometown fundraiser later this month.

Paul Renner (Image via Flagler Live)

The campaign launch event will be held at the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, 1500 Central Ave., from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. June 21. The reception will likely double as a celebration for qualifying for the ballot — Renner hit his required signature total for HD 24 a couple of weeks ago.

The first-term Republican, slated to take over as House Speaker following the 2022 elections, faces Democrat Adam Morley in the fall. Morley has is also set to qualify for the ballot by petition, though Renner likely isn’t quaking in his boots. HD 24 is a Republican stronghold, and Renner’s campaign and committee accounts are stocked with cash.

To that end, the kickoff event suggests a light $25 contribution to his campaign account to make the guest list. Those willing to part with that sum can send in an RSVP via

Save the dateGibson backs Polson in HD 15

Sen. Audrey Gibson, leader-designate for Senate Democrats, endorsed fellow Jacksonville Democrat Tracye Polson in House District 15 Tuesday.

Audrey Gibson
Audrey Gibson had two choices: Endorse Trayce Polson or nobody at all. 

Polson, the sole Democrat in the race, will face one of three Republicans in the general election in November.

Via media release from Polson, both her and Gibson offered quotes of mutual approval.

“Tracye has the experience and expertise to represent Jacksonville as State Representative for District 15. She is versed in issues concerning veterans and their families, removing barriers to the successful education of our children, and quality mental and physical health of communities,” stated Sen. Gibson. “Her business acumen is a big added plus to the multiple qualities she would bring to the Legislature, and she certainly has my support.”

“Senator Gibson was very influential in my decision to run for this seat. Her expertise and knowledge of Jacksonville issues and politics have been extremely helpful in guiding my campaign thus far. I am so proud to have earned her endorsement and look forward to working with Senator Gibson in Tallahassee,” Polson asserted.

Polson’s campaign has been atypically strong for that of a Democrat running for a Republican House seat. She hopes to succeed Rep. Jay Fant.

No 4th Circuit appointment

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports a setback for Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott sought to appoint a replacement for retiring Judge Robert Foster, but 2nd Judicial Circuit Judge Charles Dodson halted that process, and ordered the reinstatement of Jacksonville lawyer David Trotti to the ballot.

Retiring Judge Robert Foster. (Image via Herald-Tribune/ Dan Wagner)

The public, Dodson ruled, has a “constitutional right” to pick Foster’s successor.

City website helps Holland builds cash lead over Kraft

Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland turned heads in April with $100,000 raised. In May, he added another $10,550 to the mix.

He has over $110,000 on hand and has yet to spend money.

Former elections supervisor Jerry Holland broke a cardinal rule of incumbency.

Holland, a popular Republican in his first term on the job, faces nominal opposition: Democrat Kurt Kraft, who is largely self-financed and has just over $260 on hand.

To counter Holland, who has been winning Jacksonville elections for decades, Kraft spent over $1,900 in May, with the bulk of that spend being on signage.

Holland likely won’t have to spend that kind of money.

Read more here.

Post-indictment path clear for Council?

On Thursday, Jacksonville City Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown were indicted on a 38-count conspiracy to defraud, after both allegedly misused city and federal funds intended for economic incentive purposes.

Who’s smiling now?

Friday saw Gov. Rick Scott suspend the two less than a year before elections, leaving the Jacksonville City Council to scramble in terms of figuring out how the constituents of the two Northwest Jacksonville Democrats would continue to have representation.

Monday morning saw the Council President-designate, an at-large Councilman, and the current Finance Chair outline the path forward.

President-designate Aaron Bowman is “hopeful we’ll have two replacements by the middle of July,” which is when Council gets back from its summer break.

Bowman will “lean on past presidents of the council” to help get those gubernatorial appointees up to speed.

“It’s easy for someone to step in and understand what’s important for their district, but understanding how the process works is a different story,” Bowman added.

“This is the governor’s decision,” Bowman said. “He’s had to do this before and he’s very confident in [the way he does it].” (Curry had a similar take).

Bowman expects the appointee to be a Democrat, but notes the appointee can move to that area if appointed.

Sam Newby, meanwhile, said he and current President Anna Brosche (two at-large members) would help with constituent issues during the suspension and before replacements were appointed.

The first wave of names, meanwhile, was reported by WJXT this week. Among the hopefuls: filed candidates Tameka Gaines Holly in District 8 and Celestine Mills in District 10.

District development ready for full Council vote

A second and final Jacksonville City Council committee approved Tuesday an ambitious plan to develop 30 acres that formerly housed JEA’s Southside Generating Station.

This approval tees the bill up for Tuesday’s agenda of the full council.

Artist’s rendering of The District.

The District (2018-313) could transform the Southbank with its radical redevelopment of 30 acres at the former Southside Generating Station property next to the Duval County School Board building.

“The District will encompass approximately 200,000 square feet of retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space, 1,170 apartments/condominiums, and a 150-200 key hotel,” per a dedicated website to the project.

Politically connected developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz have a deal via their Elements Development to buy the land for $18.6 million from the JEA Board. That deal closes July 18.

Among the incentives for developers: a $30 million capital improvement plan and a Rev Grant (75 percent for up to 22 years capped at $56 million).

The Rev Grant extends to 2040 when the Southbank CRA sunsets.

The total post-construction-assessed value is expected to be just shy of $216 million.

Strong metrics in Jax debt affordability study

It’s rare that a Debt Affordability Study qualifies as a good-news story, but in the case of Jacksonville, most metrics are bullish.

Debt service costs and debt per capita are below targets, while reserve funds are trending toward their targets.

Mike Weinstein and Sam Mousa go through a Jacksonville departmental budget.

“Through recent strong financial management, as recognized by the ratings agencies, a strong economy, low-interest rates, and a consistent trend in reducing our debt outstanding, these metrics have continued to improve,” the report from the city’s CFO, Mike Weinstein, asserts.

And they have needed to. As the report says a bit later on: “Jacksonville has a higher than average debt burden and a slightly below average level of reserves. As will be seen later on in this study, the City has been improving in both areas over the last five years. Continuing the trend of paying down debt and increasing reserves will be viewed favorably by the ratings agencies.”

Since Fiscal Year 2013 (during Mayor Brown’s administration, when the city dealt with the hardest hits of the recession), the city has paid off $354 million in outstanding debt and has kept debt service at a consistent level. Though that debt service, a function of non-negotiable fixed costs, is described within the report as “tight,” with payments being 11 percent of each of the last two budgets, expectations are that it will become less of an impact as city revenues grow in the coming years.

“Jacksonville continues to enjoy strong budgetary flexibility to meet any future fiscal challenge,” the report maintains. “Jacksonville’s modest tax rates and average tax burden form the foundation for the City’s financial flexibility while maintaining its desired service levels. This revenue capacity and flexibility underpin the market’s positive view of the City’s debt.”

Budget strong, investments weak

Through the first six months of FY 17-18, the Jacksonville city budget is in good shape, showing a positive variance, per a recent report from the Jacksonville City Council auditor.

Hurricane Irma projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $83.1 million.

“The City is projected to experience an overall favorable budget variance of approximately $9.3 million within the General Fund/General Services District (GF/GSD). Revenues are projected to be $0.4 million more than budgeted and expenditures are projected to be $8.9 million less than budgeted,” reads the Jacksonville City Council auditor’s report.

Those savings realized in the current budget may have real-world application, as the city is still waiting on payback from the federal government for hurricane-related costs.

Regarding Matthew, 2016’s tropical nuisance, “The latest Hurricane Matthew projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $47.0 million. As of May 8, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $28.8 million related to Hurricane Matthew.”

With the Feds poised to pay back 87.5 percent of that $47 million, an extra $7 million slid into a contingency account this budget year should make up for that.

Irma in 2017 was another matter.

“The latest Hurricane Irma projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $83.1 million. This could result in an estimated $10.4 million negative impact to the GF/GSD in the future. As of May 8, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $54.2 million related to Hurricane Irma.”

Expect a contingency for Irma in the next budget. One wonders if the city will start planning for these storms as potential yearly impacts.

Speaking of impactful storms, city investments are starting to hit a lull.

“The Operating Portfolio experienced a net of fees return of negative 0.30% for the quarter ending March 31, 2018, which outperformed the Blended Benchmark by 27 bps. Performance of the portfolio over the last year was a positive 1.25 percent, after fee deductions. During the past three and five years, the portfolio has earned an average annual return of 1.15 percent and 1.31 percent, respectively.”

Expect anemic performance to continue: “Achieving positive returns in equity and fixed income markets has become increasingly challenging due to elevated price levels and stubbornly tight spreads.”

Homeless rights bill on pause

On Monday, the Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Development, Public Health, and Safety committee deferred the “Homeless Bill of Rights,” legislation that could codify civil rights for the city’s dispossessed populations.

Many of the bill’s new rights — but not all — are already in the code. (Image via WJCT)

Ordinance 2018-308, filed by currently-suspended Councilwoman Katrina Brown, contends that “the basic rights all people should enjoy must be guaranteed for homeless individuals and families,” and attempts to “assure that basic human rights are not being trampled simply because someone happens to be homeless.”

The bill would guarantee the right to move freely for homeless people, as well as rights to be “protected by law enforcement,” to prayer, to voting, to quality emergency health services, to “occupy” legally parked cars, and to have a “reasonable expectation of privacy over personal property,” at homeless camps and the like.

The right to live in one’s car and the protection of personal property, said a city lawyer, are currently the ones not protected by the municipal code.

Those proved to be the sticking points.

Councilman John Crescimbeni noted with concern that the bill could be used to justify homeless camps in public parks.

Council President-designate Aaron Bowman likewise questioned the efficacy of the legislation.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has pushed for this legislation, and Councilwoman Brown’s bill aligns with the goals of that organization.

Becton, Hazouri launch re-election bids

Two first-term councilors, Danny Becton and Tommy Hazouri, want four more years.

Becton, who represents the Baymeadows area and points south, faced no competition in 2015.

Danny Becton is ready for another term.

The filing comes just weeks after Becton lost a close race for Council VP-designate to Scott Wilson, a loss that saw familiar divides on the Council surface yet again, with most of those who voted the year before for President Brosche falling in behind Becton.

Hazouri, a political veteran who has been everything from Mayor to State Rep and School Board member, filed for re-election Friday.

Hazouri, who scored more votes than any other citywide candidate in his decisive May 2015 victory over Republican Geoff Youngblood, is running unopposed for the office.

If re-elected, downtown development and citywide infrastructure will be priorities, as will river activation and library funding.

Hazouri’s primary legislative achievement was one of his campaign promises last cycle: a vow to expand the Human Rights Ordinance to protect LGBT people in Jacksonville from employment, housing and public accommodations discrimination.

Neither has ballot opposition yet.

Anheuser-Busch employees spend World Environment Day cleaning up St. Johns River

Employees at America’s best-known purveyor of cold ones braved the heat Saturday to participate in a St. Johns River cleanup event.

The Jax branch of Anheuser-Busch’s canning operation, Metal Container Corporation, and its wholesale partner, North Florida Sales, were joined in their efforts by employees of other major First Coast businesses in honor of World Environment Day, the lesser-known cousin of Earth Day that’s been celebrated every June 5 since 1974.

Jacksonville Anheuser-Busch employees on World Environment Day.

“We were proud to celebrate World Environment Day over the weekend by taking part in the cleanup of the St. Johns River alongside our local wholesaler partner, North Florida Sales, as well as our colleagues from MCC and Nutri-Turf,” said Craig Tomeo, general manager of Anheuser-Busch’s Jax brewery.

“This month, Anheuser-Busch breweries across the United States have organized and participated in over 20 watershed cleanups, in partnership with the River Network and Living Lands & Waters; and, we’re pleased to do our part and give back to our local Jacksonville community by helping to preserve the beautiful St. Johns River.”

For the beverage behemoth, helping keep the waters clean isn’t just good PR, it’s good business — water is the most integral ingredient in a good brew.

Jaguars’ stadium: What’s in a name?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That can be said of the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In what has become a ritual with community-owned sports stadiums, the names often change due to changes with corporations holding naming rights. In the case of the Jags, they will be playing at TIAA Bank Field in 2018, while EverBank Field becomes part of the team’s history.

A rose by any name …

The change comes as a result of TIAA Bank buying out EverBank in 2016 which also included the stadium’s naming rights. EverBank has held the naming rights for the past 8 seasons.

“Our bank’s relationship with the Jaguars — on and off the field — goes back to 2010, and we’re very proud to continue this great partnership for years to come at TIAA Bank Field,” said Blake Wilson, president and chief executive officer of EverBank,” in April.

Jacksonville Municipal Stadium originally opened in 1995 on the grounds of the old Gator Bowl. In 1997, it became Alltel Stadium after the communications giant purchased naming rights.

Alltel Stadium hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005 when the New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles. A total of four playoff games have been played in Jacksonville, including January’s 10-3 win over Buffalo.

Some in the Jaguars’ fan base was underwhelmed, but realize changes come. Others do not, with a few die-hards still calling it the Gator Bowl nearly a quarter of a century later.

With season ticket sales up for 2018, TIAA Field will be likely be rocking as the Jaguars look to take the next step and qualify for their first Super Bowl.

Belinda Keiser

Belinda Keiser campaign plays fast and loose with facts

From the outside it looks like there’s a tough Republican primary brewing in the special election to replace Senate President Joe Negron in SD 15, but a closer look at Belinda Keiser’s campaign messaging raises a lot of questions.

Cast aside the fact that she lives 80 miles south of the Martin- and St. Lucie-based district and her past financial support of Democratic Party politicians, and even still Keiser looks as though she’s undergoing a desperate and rapid shift to make herself palatable to Republican voters on the Treasure Coast.

According to most reports, the Keiser University chancellor has been a member of the Republican Party since 2007, and there’s no doubt that she is, indeed, a Republican right now — she’s received numerous board appointments during the GOP’s reign over the Governor’s mansion, most recently from Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed her to the Constitution Revision Commission.

But according to Keiser, she’s always been a conservative even though she hasn’t always been a Republican. After going through the spin cycle of her campaign she’s decided that she joined the GOP in 2001, though according to that timeline the flip would have come just months after she mounted a failed Democratic primary campaign for a state House seat. Talk about a sore loser.

As her first campaign mailer puts it: “Inspired by the vision of our most trusted leaders, in 2001, Belinda finds a home in the Republican Party and leans on the conservative values we cherish to build a successful life and business.”

That explanation euphemistically sidesteps saying she “joined the Republican Party,” and is oddly contradicted by appearing under a title line that reads “Coming soon…”

It’s not the only doozy printed in the multi-page monster that’s started hitting SD 25 mailboxes in recent days.

One page claims the Broward pol was raised on “traditional conservative values: put family first, help her neighbors, and give back for the blessings bestowed by God.” If that’s too ambiguous for die-hard Republican voters, she also claims to have been “raised to live like Christ and love America.”

That’s sure to offend many, even in today’s environment. Let’s just hope that’s two parental directives rather than one, else it raises questions about what apocryphal text served as the basis of her upbringing.

Looking past the cringe, the mailer is riddled with numerous errors small and large.

On the front page of the mailer, Keiser attempts to tout her early support of President Donald Trump. That’s sure to be a winner among GOP faithful, yet whomever slapped the mailer together couldn’t even spell her name right.

Keiser faces Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell in the primary. Stuart Democrat Rob Levy has also announced declared for the seat. The special elections will be held concurrently with the regularly scheduled Aug. 28 primary election and Nov. 6 general election.

Keiser’s mailer is below.

Solar-as-a-service coming to Sunshine State

Floridians who want solar panels on their rooftop but are skittish about the cost will soon have an option: Sunrun.

The solar-as-a-service biz is coming to the Sunshine State this summer with plans allowing customers to start generating their own electricity for as little as $0 upfront.

And thanks to the company’s home battery, “Brightbox,” that power can be used rain or shine — a convenient option during hurricane season, no doubt, and much cleaner and less noisy than your typical backup generator.

“Freedom is a value Americans hold dear. In offering Floridians solar-as-a-service, households in the Sunshine State are given the freedom to make, control, and store their own energy,” said Sunrun CEO Lynn Jurich. “Unfortunately, too many Floridians have experienced firsthand the effects of extreme weather and power outages.

“Home solar and batteries provide peace of mind and backup power when disaster strikes, keeping food fresh and the lights on.

“Affordable and resilient, home solar also contributes to a healthier environment for households and communities across the state. Home solar is already playing a major role in America’s future energy system, and Sunrun is thrilled to lead the industry as Florida embraces this technology.”

The company is rolling out its service to Central Florida and Tampa Bay residents first — if it says TECO, Duke or OUC on your bill, you’re in luck — with plans to expand service to the rest of the state shortly.

Lawmakers from the region heralded the company’s arrival, with Orlando Sen. Linda Stewart saying the company “will give Central Florida residents greater access clean energy choices, lower energy costs, and continued momentum for local job growth in our state’s renewable energy market. This is the Sunshine State and Floridians should be able to take full advantage of an abundant, emissions-free energy source that contributes to a healthier community while remaining affordable.”

St. Pete Sen. Jeff Brandes added, “As an advocate for consumer choice, I am excited to see new options for Floridians that will make solar more affordable and accessible to residents across the state. With our population projected to grow by five million people by 2030, the time for Floridians to invest in energy diversity is now.”

Those interested in the service can check out the available plans on Sunrun’s website, and those in the initial service area ready to make the plunge can give the company a call at 1-888-GoSolar.

Not Just A Body Of Water — A briefing about Tampa Bay politics — 6.5.18

The wait is almost over.

We’re finalizing our sixth annual ranking of Tampa Bay’s most powerful politicians. It will be published next Monday. As has been the case in years prior, the results are rooted in the opinions of leading political consultants, activists, bloggers, operatives and local lobbyists around the Bay area who reached out to us with their own lists.

The rankings will be published on our main site, Florida Politics, and will include pols from Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco — and maybe some from Hernando, Polk or Sarasota — if the politicians from those counties impact either Pinellas or Hillsborough.

Be sure to check next week to see if you or your favorite official made the cut. In the meantime, feel free to peruse last year’s list here.

Sprowls draws Democratic foe

Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls is drawing a Democratic challenger for his re-election bid in House District 65. Palm Harbor Democrat Sally Laufer opened a campaign account to try to unseat Sprowls in HD 65 according to the state Division of Elections website. Laufer entered the race about three months after Palm Harbor Democrat Alex Stephen Toth opened an account, though Toth had only raised $183 by the end of April. Sprowls will become House speaker in 2020 if he is re-elected in his district. He had raised $151,780 for his campaign account as of April 30 and had about $900,000 in cash on hand in a political committee known as Floridians for Economic Freedom.

Castor backs Pilon in SD 24

Former Florida Education Commissioner and USF President Betty Castor is endorsing Carrie Pilon for State Senate District 24. Castor is a former state Senator and had been President of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. “Now more than ever Tallahassee isn’t working for everyday Floridians. Republicans are gutting the funds of our public schools in favor of for-profit charter schools … I know that Carrie will be a champion for public schools and will fight to keep our children safe.” Pilon, a graduate of Northeast High School and Florida State University, is a former prosecutor who runs an injury law firm. She will face incumbent Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes is St. Petersburg.

Sink also supporting Pilon

Former Florida CFO Alex Sink is also endorsing Pilon in her bid for SD 24. “It is time for our representatives in Tallahassee to reflect the will of the voters they represent when it comes to public education, the environment and the local economy,” said Sink. “Carrie is a small-business owner and understands that small business is the fabric of the Pinellas economy.” Pilon welcomed Sink’s endorsement as she “continues to build a campaign focused on holding special interests accountable, investing in public schools, and protecting natural resources.” “Thanks to 20 years of Republican rule, Tallahassee is working nonstop for special interests and big business,” Pilon said. “It’s time to make Tallahassee work for everyday Floridians.”

Retailers back Hart for HD 61

The Florida Retail Federation (FRF) PAC is endorsing fellow retailer Dianne Hart, a Democrat running for election in Tampa’s House District 61. “Dianne has successfully run a small retail business for 30 years all while making a significant difference in her community, and we are confident she will continue to support her fellow retailers,” said FRF President and CEO R. Scott Shalley. “Dianne is a great example of a business and community leader and we feel she’ll make a big impact in the Florida House.” Hart owns Ms. Dee’s World of Beauty in Tampa. Rep. Sean Shaw currently holds HD 61; he’s leaving the seat to run for Attorney General.

Flowers, Lerner endorse Heeren

Pinellas County School Board members Rene Flowers and Linda Lerner are endorsing Alex Heeren in his race for House District 66. “I truly believe that Alex understands the need for impactful and empowered legislation — focused on launching our scholars beyond anything they could ever imagine,” Flowers said. Lerner added: “For too long, the Legislature has expected educators to do more with less, and it’s time for that to end.” Heeren, a Technology Integration Coordinator with the Pinellas School District, will face the winner of the Republican primary between Pinellas  GOP chair Nick DiCeglie and attorney Berny Jacques, and Reform Party candidate Paul Anthony Bachmann, for term-limited Larry Ahern’s seat.

Treasure Island Commissioner endorses Bailie

Treasure Island City Commissioner Tyler Payne is supporting Jeremy Bailie in his bid for House District 69. “Bailie is a solid conservative, sharp professional and intelligent on public policy. We need leaders with Jeremy’s depth of understanding of the issues facing our community in Tallahassee to represent Treasure Island,” Payne said in a statement. Bailie will face Raymond Blacklidge in the Republican primary for the seat currently held by state Rep. Kathleen Peters, which covers Redington Beach, Madeira Beach, Treasure Island, South Pasadena and Gulfport. The winner will face Gulfport Democrat Jennifer Webb. Also endorsing Bailey are Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Property Appraiser Mike Twitty and Court Clerk Ken Burke, among others.

South Pasadena Mayor endorses Blacklidge

South Pasadena Mayor Max Elson is endorsing Ray Blacklidge in his bid for House District 69. “Ray Blacklidge will be an excellent legislator, and I am proud to support him,” Elson said in a statement. “He understands what makes for a strong economy, and I look forward to working with him to increase opportunity in our area.” Elson has served as mayor since 2016, after a five-year stint on the City Commission. He is a member of the Florida and Suncoast League of Cities, the Rotary Club of St. Petersburg, and the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. Elson is retired from a career in the food and beverage industry.

Krassner files for re-election

Pinellas County School Board member Terry Krassner filed for re-election to the nonpartisan District 2 at-large seat. “I will continue to be an advocate for our children by strengthening the safety and security of our schools, providing them the best resources available, and ensuring our educators have the tools they need,” Krassner said in a statement. Krassner, a third-generation Pinellas County resident and graduate of Northeast High School, was elected to the school board in November 2010 and re-elected in 2014. She served as a teacher of elementary and middle school grades; as assistant principal at Starkey Elementary School; and, as principal at Westgate Elementary School, where she retired in 2008.

Avery joins Fish & Wildlife Foundation board

Tampa Bay businessman and civic leader Paul Avery has been appointed to a three-year term on the board of directors of the nonprofit Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida. Avery serves currently as president and CEO of World of Beer Franchising, Inc. and has been CEO and principal of Avery Management Group since February 2010. Avery is also a director of Health Insurance Innovations, Inc. and serves on the board of directors at SunTrust Bank — Tampa Bay, and as a trustee for Paul Smith’s College in New York. He is chair of the board of directors of the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance and was chair of Take Stock in Children, Inc.

LLW celebrates new St. Pete office

Florida-based legal firm and lobbying house Lewis Longman Walker is celebrating a new St. Petersburg location at 100 2nd Ave. N., Suite 501-S. LLW is a Top Ranked Law Firm by Martindale-Hubbell — the highest rating Martindale-Hubbell awards. Seven of the firm’s attorneys have been listed as Florida Super Lawyers; since 2011, six attorneys have been named Legal Elite by Florida Trend Magazine. LLW has six board-certified attorneys specializing in State and Federal Government and Administrative Practice; Real Estate; and City, County and Local Government Law. The firm has five registered lobbyists, two certified mediators and holds licenses to practice in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Alabama and the District of Columbia.

Wife of WingHouse founder sues

Melissa Ker, 47, has been married since 2000 to 56-year-old former NFL player and WingHouse founder Crawford Ker. Melissa Ker sued for divorce in 2016; the case is active. In a lawsuit filed May 9, Melissa Ker says Third Lake Capital paid $63-million for the Largo-based restaurant chain in 2014, or about $41-million after expenses and taxes. As a beneficiary of two trusts that owned a stake in the company, Melissa says she is owed millions. However, according to the suit, husband Crawford Ker hasn’t transferred a penny to either trust. Melissa is seeking damages for breach of trust and breach of fiduciary duty. She also wants a full accounting of her husband’s assets.

Free PAL reading camp for Tampa students

A group of elementary school students will take part in a free summer reading and sports camp at the Police Athletic League in Tampa, thanks to the support from AT&T and the Yob Family Foundation. Twenty-five students are participating in the nine-week summer Winning Reading Boost program, funded by the Yob Foundation and AT&T Pioneers, a volunteer network of current and former AT&T employees. The Boost program is through a partnership between the University of Florida College of Education’s Lastinger Center for Learning and Sue Dickson, an award-winning author and publisher. PAL board member Janelle McGregor said: “This summer we wanted to also focus on academics, to help build student-athletes.” 

Delegation for 6.5.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

2018: Year of the Woman redux?

The 1992 elections were dubbed the “Year of the Woman” as voters elected more new women to Congress than any previous decade. Among the 24 women winning House seats, 15 were Democrats.

Included among the nine Republicans were incumbent Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and the late Tillie Fowler of Jacksonville. Not since that year has there been as much discussion about this generation’s Year of the Woman.

Will 2018 be another ‘Year of the Women?’

Talk of a surge in women voters or candidates usually is not a good thing for Republicans. The GOP is trying to get into the conversation in 2018.

As they try to mitigate midterm election losses or even hold their own, House Republicans have doubled the number of female House candidates this year.   In 2018, 103 Republican women, including incumbents, are running for House seats, compared to 48 just two years ago.

“The number of female candidates on the Republican side doubling is not an accident,” said Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist. “That is a result of a disciplined effort to recruit strong female candidates, both from the party directly, but also from outside groups that believe female candidates give them a better chance to hold, and perhaps expand, their majority.”

That does not mean they have reached parity with Democrats.

In fact, three times as many Democratic women are on primary or general election ballots in 2018. In the era of the #MeToo movement, 305 Democrats, including incumbents, are seeking election to a House seat.

Of those 305, a total of 19 come from Florida, including incumbents Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Val Demings of Orlando, Kathy Castor of Tampa, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Debbie Wasserman Schulz of Weston and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens.

Republicans have seven women running for Congress, five of which are in District 27 as the GOP seeks to hold the seat currently held by Ros-Lehtinen. Maria Elvira Salazar is battling front-runner Bruno Barreiro, and other Republicans, for the GOP nomination.

Democrats point to at least four seats which they believe hold pick up opportunities. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is challenging Republican Carlos Curbelo in District 26; Donna Shalala is among the front-runners in District 27; Lauren Baer is raising big money to take on Brian Mast in District 18, and Nancy Soderberg is trying to win the open seat in District 6.

If they would win all four, taking the House is a slam dunk. But their prospects are slightly less bright than they were four months ago.

The generic ballot, once a sizeable double-digit advantage for Democrats, is shrinking as good economic news continues. The Real Clear Politics average of the generic ballot is now down to three points.

Democrats held a slight lead in the 2016 generic ballot on Election Day and picked up six seats. Will they pick up the 23 needed to flip the House and Senate?

Ask the women.

Nelson fears trade war

Friday’s jobs report for May had great news for the economy. Jobs are up, unemployment is down, but Nelson, Democrats, and skeptical economists believe Trump’s tariffs on both friends and foes threaten a now thriving economy.

“Starting a trade war with our closest allies is the last thing we should be doing,” Nelson said Friday in Jacksonville. “No one wins in a trade war, especially hardworking families who may have to pay more for the goods they buy every day,”

Nelson noted that the 25 percent steel tariff and the 10 percent aluminum tariff would affect local businesses, including the community’s Budweiser plant.

Bill Nelson warns of a trade war.

“They produce 3.3 billion,” Nelson said, “cans a year. Multiply that by 25 percent tax, add to that, that adds up to real money. If this starts an international trade war, Florida is going to get hurt.”

At the same time, the three-term Democrat is hopeful Trump finds some success in dealing with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un but is keeping expectations low.

“It’s always better to talk to your enemy than to be shooting,” Nelson said, though acknowledging skepticism on North Korea making significant concessions.

“He will get what he wants, to be on an equal playing field with the United States,” Nelson said of Kim Jong Un, “and will bob and weave.

The “canceled” summit is now back on again with Trump and Kim set to meet in Singapore on June 12.

Rubio joins colleagues in brief vs. Planned Parenthood

Rubio and House colleagues have weighed in one of the many controversial legal matters involving Planned Parenthood and abortions. On Thursday, he joined with 23 Republican Senators and 67 House members urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take a case known as Gee v. Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

The case involves whether states can withhold Medicaid funds to a provider that provides abortions. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the states, prompting the appeal to the Supreme Court and the amicus brief from the 90 lawmakers.

Marco Rubio joins Republican colleagues on a Planned Parenthood SCOTUS case.

Among the House members joining the brief was Ted Yoho of Gainesville, Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and Daniel Webster of Orlando.

In the amicus brief, the Senators and House members challenge the Fifth Circuit’s ruling based on their interpretation of congressional intent in the Medicaid Act and state sovereignty in granting Medicaid provider status. They argue the Supreme Court should hear the case because circuit courts have offered contradictory opinions in similar cases.

“Amici Members have an interest in seeing courts restrained from speaking where Congress has not spoken,” the brief states. “The (Fifth Circuit) decision contravenes the constitutional authority of Congress to dictate the contours of the Medicaid Act.”

Scott makes sixth trip to Puerto Rico since Maria

Last week Gov. Rick Scott traveled to Puerto Rico as the storm-ravaged commonwealth still tries to get back on its feet after the devastation brought by Hurricane Maria more than 8 months ago. While Scott maintains politics are on the back burner, tying his 6 visits to his campaign to unseat Nelson arise in almost any interview.

“Well, first off, anything that happened with Puerto Rico should not be about politics,” Scott told Fox News’ Martha MacCallum. “I’m going back there (Thursday) for my sixth visit. And I’m going back there to try to help them. I work with the governor.”

Sixth time’s the charm: Rick Scott visits Puerto Rico, again.

Even before Maria, the Orlando region was home to thousands of Floridians who are either Puerto Rican natives, or still have family ties there. Now, many thousands of displaced Puerto Ricans remain in Florida, either in homes of friends and relatives or in hotels.

While Nelson has not made as many visits to the island, he has frequently joined Rubio and Orlando area delegation members working on their behalf. Both Scott and Nelson have been praised by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello for their efforts on behalf of Puerto Ricans.

For his most recent visit, Scott brought Florida Department of Economic Opportunity director Cissy Proctor and Wes Maul, the head of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, to interact with local authorities.

Dems lament SCOTUS ruling for Colorado baker

One of the most highly-anticipated Supreme Court cases, whether a baker could refuse on religious grounds, to make a wedding cake for a gay couple was decided Monday. In a 7-2 ruling, the high court held that accommodations must be made for an individual’s right to religious freedom and free expression.

The ruling stated that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had a “hostility” toward the religious beliefs of bakeshop owner Jack Phillips. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the opinion for the majority, said “the Commission’s hostility with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”

Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips decorates a cake inside his store in Lakewood, Colorado.

While delegation Republicans rather quietly applauded the decision, Democrats voiced strong displeasure despite liberal justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan voting with the majority. They called for a vote on the Equality Act that analysts say would conflict with the court decision.

“No one should be allowed to discriminate based upon their race, sex or marital status and loving couples should not have their dignity questioned in court,” said Castor of Tampa. “As part of the LGBTQ caucus, I am urging Speaker (Paul) Ryan to allow a vote on the Equality Act — which has already been co-sponsored by 190 of my colleagues — so that the law protects all individuals and loving couples from the type of discrimination we saw in this case.”

Frankel of West Palm Beach tweeted “When someone walks into a store, they shouldn’t have to worry they will be denied service b/c of who they love or who they are.”

Other important rulings, including one on gerrymandering, the rights of labor unions, and the Florida v. Georgia water rights case will soon be decided as well.

Gaetz, Dosev in Twitter war

In recent months, Trump and Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach have become members of a mutual admiration society. Trump calls Gaetz from time to tie, and the president has no bigger supporter than Gaetz.

Trump is well known for his frequent tweets and occasional Twitter battles. Gaetz is now getting into the act.

Cris Dosev is challenging Matt Gaetz to a Twitter war.

The Fort Walton Beach Republican recently got involved in Twitter banter with his primary opponent, whom Gaetz defeated in 2016. GOP challenger Cris Dosev started everything off by criticizing Gaetz for inviting Charles C. Johnson, a reported Holocaust denier, to Trump’s State of the Union address.

“Didn’t you lose by like 16 points the last time you ran against me? President Trump likes winners. That’s why he isn’t supporting you,” replied Gaetz, who won the crowded 2016 primary in this western Panhandle district.

Gaetz’ response came on Memorial Day. Dosev, a former Marine officer who served in Iraq, made note of it, tweeting that while “President Trump was laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, @mattgaetz busied himself by hurling insults at a veteran on Twitter.”

Gaetz came back on May 31 a tweet that said “Hey @crisdosev — I’ve noticed your campaign makes fun of me for being a “mommas boy.” Just wanted you to see the amazing woman who will be sitting next to me when I take your election night concession call (for the second time). #ProudMommasBoy

Your move, Mr. Dosev.

T. Rooney: NRA not ‘reasonable’

Heated criticism of the National Rifle Association (NRA) has become more pronounced since the Valentine’s Day murders at Majority Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. That criticism has mostly come from Democrats, but now a Florida Republican wishes the NRA would be a bit more practical.

Retiring Rep. Tom Rooney of Okeechobee criticized the NRA for refusing to accept “reasonable” gun control regulations. During his career, Rooney has earned an “A” rating from the NRA.

Tom Rooney: NRA is ‘not being reasonable.’ (Image via Getty)

In an extensive piece in Sarasota Magazine, Rooney laments fighting over raising the minimum age for purchasing an “assault rifle,” which he believes is a reasonable restriction. The NRA believes it is unconstitutional.

“The problem is with the political arm of the NRA,” Rooney said. “I don’t know in the last 10 years whether there has been any compromise with guns by the NRA.”

Rooney announced in February he would not seek another term in Congress. He is one of 44 Republicans not seeking another term, blaming a toxic atmosphere.

“(Republicans are) in control, but we’re fractured,” Rooney said.

Richardson picks up endorsement for CD 27 

In the crowded Democratic primary for Congressional District 27, candidates are looking for any advantage. State Rep. David Richardson has recently landed an endorsement from the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus.

Richardson is competing against four others for Democratic nomination, including former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary and University of Miami President Donna Shalala. The seat has been held for more than two decades by the retiring Ros-Lehtinen. 

Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus President Terry Fleming.

“David has been a champion for equality in the Florida House and has distinguished himself working to hold the Florida prison system accountable and protecting the environment,” said caucus President Terry Fleming. “Florida needs a fighter like David Richardson to represent us in Congress.”

Richardson, one of the first openly gay representatives elected to the Florida House, thanked the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus in a statement following the endorsement.

“It is an honor to be endorsed by the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus,” said Richardson. “I have made it a priority to fight for the rights of the LGBT community — a community that has been long overlooked and discriminated against by policymakers.”

Richardson and Shalala each had more than $1 million cash on hand as of March 31 while Matt Haggman had $870,000. The primary is August 28.

Delegation weighing Brightline future

A speedy passenger train that could link Orlando and South Florida may sound appealing, but some among the delegation are not happy with the current effort, while a bipartisan faction supports it. All Aboard Florida and Brightline, a privately-owned effort, recently received a 7-month reprieve to sell $1.15 billion in private equity bonds to keep the project moving.

Opponents, led by Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida, have been fighting the issue over concerns for safety for the communities it passes through, as well as local communities being on the hook for long-term costs. There also is a political effort seeking to stop it, led by Mast.

Another pedestrian was killed by a Brightline train, this time in Boynton Beach. (Image via Palm Beach Post)

Mast and other Florida Republicans that include Bill Posey of Rockledge, DeSantis, and Gaetz have joined with Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina to ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to suspend approval for public activity bonds. Meadows chairs the powerful House Government Operations Subcommittee.

On the other hand, a bipartisan group has come out to support Brightline Those include Republicans Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen, John Rutherford of Jacksonville, and Dennis Ross of Lakeland.

Democratic supporters include Darren Soto of Orlando, Wilson and Frankel. who have joined together to urge the project to keep moving forward.

The opponents’ safety issue was brought home again last Friday with yet another death when a man walking along the tracks was struck and killed by a Brightline train in Boynton Beach. He was the 6th person killed by the trains in the past year, and they didn’t start running in earnest until January. 

On this day in the headlines

June 5, 1968 — Just minutes after declaring victory in the California primary, presidential candidate and Democratic Sen. Robert Kennedy of New York was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. “Sen. Kennedy’s condition is still described as extremely critical as to life,” said his press secretary, Frank Mankiewicz.

Among the delegation, Democratic Rep. Claude Pepper said “We must root out violence as a way of handling any of our problems,” while Republican Rep. Edward Gurney said “This terrible deed puts in sharp focus the sickness in our society — a never-ending and ever-increasing lawlessness.”

June 5, 1998 — The Supreme Court, spurning a request from independent counsel Kenneth Starr, refused to speed up action on two legal disputes that have delayed his investigation of an alleged White House cover-up. The ruling makes it unlikely the matter will be resolved before the November elections.

Earlier this week, Starr hinted for the first time that he is considering making an impeachment referral to Congress, which would then be forced to consider whether to exercise its authority to remove President Bill Clinton. Many Republicans in Congress have been queasy about receiving a report from Starr before the midterm election.

Fallon offers light moment at Douglas High commencement

On Sunday, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School held commencement ceremonies for the 2018 graduating class. Four students, Nicholas Dworet, Joaquin Oliver, Meadow Pollack and Carmen Schentrup, victims of the Valentine’s Day murders, had their diplomas accepted by family members.

Jimmy Fallon gives a lighthearted moment to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduation ceremony. (Image via Getty)

Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, whose constituents include the graduating students saluted them.

“I want to congratulate every senior who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas today,” he said. “You have endured a tragedy, yet you’ve shown so much resiliency and courage. I am certain that the future is bright and the possibilities are limitless.”

Students and attendees were surprised by the appearance of comedian Jimmy Fallon as the commencement speaker. He spent several minutes offering encouraging words and his admiration for what they have done since the tragedy but gave them a light moment to remember.

“And if I could give you one last piece of advice, it’d be this,” Fallon said. “Don’t ever get off your parents’ wireless plan. Ride that train as long as possible. It’s expensive.”

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