Staff Reports, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 162

Staff Reports

Irma memories spark call for homeowners to check their insurance

Hurricane Irma should have been warning enough, but insurance regulators in Tallahassee are underscoring the imperative for homeowners to make sure they’re carrying enough insurance, including flood coverage.

Most flood policies typically take effect 30 days after purchase, officials said in a written statement issued last week. With the 2018 hurricane season nearing its peak, there’s no time to waste.

“As we approach the time of year when tropical activity is at its highest, complacency is not an option,” Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said.

“Last year, reports indicated a vast majority of Florida’s residences were inadequately insured,” he said.

“Floridians must review their insurance policies, understand their coverages, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure they are adequately covered. Prepare now, and protect your property for when the next storm arrives.”

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who oversees the Office of Insurance Regulation, recalled the damage Irma inflicted up the length of Florida last summer.

“The images of the flood damage and losses I saw when traveling the state following Hurricane Irma will forever be ingrained in my memory,” Patronis said.

“Remember, flooding isn’t just a coastal concern, but a statewide issue,” he added.

State leaders have been encouraging private insurance companies to offer flood policies, often at comparable or lower prices than offered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

The number of companies eligible to write these policies increased from 20 to 26 between June 30, 2017, and March 31 this year — and, as of April, they’d issued more than 30,000 policies.

Basic homeowners policies tend not to cover flood damage. The insurance office offered this link to private flood insurance writers.

Additionally, the insurance office maintains a Hurricane Season Resources webpage, and Patronis has his own Disaster Preparedness site.

Also available is Patronis’ Insurance Consumer Helpline: 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).

Delegation for 8.10.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Primary races picking up steam

Primary elections are less than three weeks away. Most have little drama, but some, especially on the Democratic side, will be fun to watch. Republicans have far fewer tight races.

President Donald Trump has weighed in on a few races, most notably his full-throated endorsement of Rep. Ron DeSantis for governor. He has also made a couple of safe choices for House seats.

He backed Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach in his three-way primary in Florida’s 1st Congressional District. On Thursday, he came out in support of Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville in CD 3.

Full-throated: Donald Trump is all-in for Ron DeSantis.

Neither Gaetz nor Yoho expect to face significant difficulty in their re-election races.

Pundits will be watching Districts 6, 7, 15 and 17.

Democrats have some great primaries. The race in District 5 between former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee seems to make news every day. The state’s Stand Your Ground Law (see below) is the latest high-profile issue in the campaign.

In CD 6, former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg is up with her first ad of the campaign. Titled “Hurdles,” it is an introductory piece taking voters through her life as a diabetic who was refused health insurance, and a lengthy diplomatic career one “who helped bring Northern Ireland’s opposing sides together,” and among the first to say “let’s get (Osama) bin Laden.”

Soderberg, who is running against John Upchurch and Steve Sevigny, has nearly $400,000 more cash on hand than any of her opponents from either party in this GOP-leaning district currently held by DeSantis. The winner among three closely matched candidates running on the Republican side will be slightly favored in the fall.

The matchup between Rep. Darren Soto and former Rep. Alan Grayson is heating up. Soto is leading by 7 points in a recent poll.

The most competitive, and most costly, primary race is the free-for-all for the CD 27 seat held by the retiring Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Democrats are favored to flip the seat into their column and the top three candidates have each raised $1 million.

One of those candidates is bucking the national Democrats who have told their members to stop talking about impeachment of Trump. National Democrats have tried to quash talk of such action, but state Rep. David Richardson is out with a new ad that uses humor to get his message across.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:


Standing in front of the U.S. Capitol, Richardson utters the impeachment word three times, only to have it bleeped out each time. Richardson appears to be calling out front-runner Donna Shalala for not taking a stand.

Shalala is touting two new ads. One talks about health care, an issue where she has come under attack for not supporting universal health care as well as her investment in a for-profit health insurer.

Another is in Spanish and serves as an introduction to Hispanic voters. Coral Gables Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli is the narrator.

Fellow Democrat Matt Haggman earlier put out a 15-second video that said he would work to shut down the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. He also took a poke at Shalala saying “She’s had her chance. It’s time for a new day.”

On August 28, all of the winners can celebrate. Some represent a district that virtually assures their win in November.

For others, it’s back to raising money and appealing to independents for the following two months.

Nelson, Scott in rare agreement

The race between Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson seemingly grows more bitter each day. Scott ads criticize Nelson for “cutting Medicare” by way of his support for the Affordable Care Act; a supporting group now says Nelson “is too old” for the rigors of being a Senator.

Republicans are asking if Bill Nelson is getting ‘too old for this s**t.’

Nelson is focusing on his stands relating to current issues like gun control and the environment. He went after Scott’s environmental record recently by blaming the governor for asking EPA to delay implementation of stricter water quality standards, which have a role in the recent algal bloom outbreak in South Florida.

The Tampa Bay Times may have taken away that advantage for the three-term Senator. The newspaper revealed that Nelson wrote a similar letter to the EPA before Scott weighed in asking them to finalize the water quality standards “in a deliberative manner.”

Nelson said he did not recall the letter but freely admitted that he wanted Floridians to have time to comment on the standards. He supported their implementation.

Rubio slammed for endorsement

Rubio recently endorsed a Republican South Florida blogger who is one of three Republicans challenging Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch for his District 22 seat. Deutch claimed he was not upset that Rubio endorsed one of his opponents, but he was upset that it was Javier Manjarres, who Deutch claimed insulted the father of a Marjory Douglas High school shooting victim.

“If Rubio wants to endorse in this race because it’s important to him, it’s his prerogative, but for him to choose to endorse someone who has cruelly attacked a grieving father and regularly mocks student survivors, I think that just surprised a lot of people,” Deutch said.

Marco Rubio is taking heat for supporting a shady South Florida congressional candidate. (Image via Getty)

Deutch has also said that he was surprised to see Rubio “wade into” the primary to endorse a candidate. He has suggested that the endorsement could mean that Rubio agrees with the comments Manjarres made about the victims of the shooting.

Deutch pointed to comments Manjarres made on Twitter during exchanges last month with Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime Guttenberg was one of 17 people killed during the massacre.

“C’mon Fred. I can’t only imagine the pain you are feeling over the loss of your daughter, but stop exploiting her death in the name of some political agenda. Your daughter was shot by some lunatic who had an AR-15, not by the gun itself. #Fixit #VoteJavi,” Manjarres wrote.

Deutch claimed that since Rubio endorsed Manjarres, publisher of the conservative Shark Tank blog, he must share the views of the candidate.

“I don’t know why (he endorsed),” Deutch said. “If this is some signal about the beliefs that Senator Rubio has, I think he ought to be more upfront about them because it’s certainly not the image that he puts forth. I was very surprised about that.”

Rubio’s office is declining comment.

Nelson’s phenomenal elections claim

Trump finally conceded the Russians tried to influence the 2016 elections directly. Now two Congressional committees have concluded they are working at it again.

Nelson claims they already have.

“They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free reign to move about,” Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times. It marked the second time this week he made such a claim.

Bill Nelson makes a wild (and as yet unsubstantiated) claim about Russian meddling in Florida.

Nelson’s claim takes previous warnings to the next level. Last month he joined with Rubio to warn the state and the 67 elections supervisors in a letter urging them to be wary of hacking activities.

Nelson would not elaborate saying the information was “classified.” State elections officials are puzzled.

“The Florida Department of State has received zero information from Senator Nelson or his staff that support his claims,” agency spokeswoman Sarah Revell said in a statement. “If Senator Nelson has specific information about threats to our elections, he should share it with election officials in Florida.”

Rubio, a member of the Intelligence Committee, has raised alarms himself. He also continues to express concern, though not as overtly.

VA clinic renaming draws big guns

Congress routinely names government buildings, post offices and Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities after local politicians or other individuals. On Tuesday, the Tallahassee VA clinic was renamed for a Monticello World War II soldier, but it was far from routine.

The recently confirmed VA Secretary, Robert Wilkie, flew to Tallahassee for the ceremony to rename the facility the Sergeant Ernest I. “Boots” Thomas VA Clinic. Joining Wilkie was Nelson and the two delegation members who represent the area in Congress; Lawson and Republican Rep. Neal Dunn.

The Tallahassee VA facility, newly renamed for Sergeant Ernest I. “Boots” Thomas.

Sgt. Thomas was part of the famous group, who raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945. While four of his group raised the flag, Thomas and a handful of others served as protectors. Thomas was killed the next week, just 7 days before his 21st birthday.

“Thank you for rededicating this wonderful facility in the name of a man from a generation that continues to inspire,” Wilkie said.

Nelson and Lawson were credited with responding to requests from Jefferson County residents to honor Thomas and carrying the bills through Congress. Opening originally in 2016, the clinic serves more than 16,000 veterans in North Florida and South Georgia.

Everglades Foundation asks McConnell for reservoir vote

With the algae outbreak in South Florida continuing to infect local waterways, residents and advocates believe the need for the proposed Everglades Reservoir is greater than ever. The Everglades Foundation is going directly to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to speed things up.

In a letter to McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg urged McConnell to schedule a vote on a bill that would authorize a vote on the reservoir when the Senate returns to Washington next week.

Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation. (Image via Ricardo Rolon/

“There is no other way to say this,” Eikenberg wrote. “Florida is being ravaged by a perennial algae crisis that is destroying our beaches, fisheries, tourism and real estate industries, and we are desperate.”

The area is prone to algal blooms each time highly polluted water is released from Lake Okeechobee. A proposed reservoir south of the lake that would create nearly a quarter-million acres of dynamic water storage gained the approval of the White House last month.

“On behalf of Florida’s 20 million citizens and the countless millions of other Americans — many of them from Kentucky — who visit or call our state a second home, I implore you to save Florida from its perennial algae crises,” Eikenberg added. We cannot afford to wait any longer.”

Yoho honors Korean War vets

When the remains of Korean War soldiers returned to the United States two weeks ago, Vice-President Mike Pence spoke of these veterans as “forgotten no more.”

This week, Yoho joined the effort to remember Americans who served, including those who never made it home, at a ceremony that included a high-level representative of the South Korean government.

Ted Yoho honors Korean War soldiers whose remains returned to the U.S.

Korean War veterans were honored at Camp Blanding in North Florida at the ceremony, which included South Korea’s Ambassador to the U.S., Cho Yoon-Je. Cho presented the Ambassador for Peace medal to each veteran attending the ceremony.

“There is simply not enough we can do for our veterans and today is no exception,” Yoho said during his remarks. “While today we are exceptionally hopeful for reunification of the Korean Peninsula, we are ever mindful of the service of those who fought during the Korean War. Thank you for your service.”

Camp Blanding leadership helped to arrange transportation for the veterans seeking to attend the ceremony. In addition to the media from South Korea, Yoho also presented them with a Congressional challenge coin.

Black caucus endorses Lawson, who changes on SYG

Lawson got a big boost this week from some of his colleagues in Congress. On Tuesday, 37 members of the Congressional Black Caucus jointly announced their endorsement of his bid for re-election.

“I am honored to have the endorsement of so many of my colleagues in the CBC,” Lawson said in a news release. “They understand, as I do, the importance of fighting against some of the unfair policies of this current administration, protecting affordable health care for all Americans, protecting voting rights, ensuring access to a quality public education, and strengthening marginalized communities all across the nation.”

Al Lawson gets backing from most of the CBC. (Image via Roll Call)

Lawson is one of 49 members of the caucus, which makes almost one-fourth of the House Democratic Caucus.

For his part, Brown has hammered Lawson for his support of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, while Brown favored repeal. Lawson pointed out the legislation passed unanimously in the Florida Senate and would only go as far as saying the Legislature needs to “look at it.”

On Wednesday, at a rally in Tallahassee advocating the law’s repeal, Lawson officially changed his position and now seeks to repeal. Joining him was Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a candidate for governor committed to the law’s repeal.

“It’s been used to let people get away with murder,” he said. “We’re not going to let that happen in the state of Florida.”

Crist bill to legalize medical pot for vets working for feds

Medical marijuana is gradually becoming more mainstream in some states. Florida placed its use into the state Constitution in 2016.

It is technically not legal on the federal level, but Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg wants to take the step of making it available to veterans serving as government employees. As part of a roundtable featuring veterans and cannabis industry representatives, Crist announced he had filed the Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act.

The act would apply to states like Florida that have legalized medical marijuana.

Georgia Republican Drew Ferguson. (Image via Time magazine)

“Medical marijuana is an issue of compassion, and in the veterans’ community, access is even more important as more and more veterans are turning to cannabis to address chronic pain and PTSD,” Crist said. “At the same time, the federal government is the largest employer of veterans; however, private cannabis use even in states that have legalized medical marijuana is prohibited in these positions,” Crist said.

Georgia Republican Rep. Drew Ferguson joined Crist in filing the bill. He said “no one should face unemployment for choosing to pursue private legal medical treatment,” including the veterans who make up one-third of the federal workforce.

“Our bipartisan bill would protect federal employment for those in compliance with their state’s cannabis laws, because our veterans shouldn’t have to choose between treatment options or job opportunities,” Crist continued.

Realtors endorse Steube

In the battle to win the CD 17 seat currently held by the retiring Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, two Republicans are running in a highly competitive primary. State Rep. Julio Gonzalez and state Sen. Greg Steube have raised similar amounts of money and each claiming endorsements worth noting.

This week, Steube gained the backing of the American Realtors organization. The National Realtors PAC announced they were supporting Steube for his service as first a member of the House and now the Senate.

National Realtors give the nod to Greg Steube for Congress. (Image via Phil Sears)

“Greg Steube has a varied background of public service and experience, which will help make him a strong leader and a voice for Realtors and property owners,” said Ann DeFries, chair of Florida Realtors PAC Trustees. “His desire to serve, to listen and to work hard makes him the Realtors’ choice.”

The group cited Steube for his stances on behalf of property rights and low taxes.

“I have been a champion of private property rights, low taxes, and low regulation during my time in office,” said Steube. “I am proud to receive this endorsement.”

White House Hispanic comms chief moves on

Helen Aguirre Ferré of Miami, the White House head of communications for Hispanic media, has quietly left her position, according to Univision. She has not spoken publicly about her departure.

“We greatly appreciate Helen’s work, service and dedication during her time in the White House,” Mercedes Schlapp, White House Director of Strategic Communications, said in an email to Univision. “She will continue to work for the Administration in a different capacity.”

A quiet exit: Helen Aguirre Ferre, director of media affairs, departs the White House.

Schlapp, also a native of Miami, would not divulge what future role Aguirre Ferré would play. Rumors are she may head to the National Endowment for the Arts,

Her exit from the White House comes at a tumultuous time when the administration was dealing with the aftermath of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy, but Aguirre Ferré has not commented publicly on the controversy.

In June, she said: “I support the President’s efforts in securing the border, and I support the President’s efforts in ensuring that the laws are enacted properly.”

At one time, both Schlapp and Aguirre Ferré were Trump critics, especially over some of his statements toward women. But they later came around after Trump won the Republican Party’s presidential nomination; he was preferable to Hillary Clinton, they concluded.

On this day in the headlines

August 9, 1974 — Facing certain impeachment from the House of Representatives, President Richard Nixon became the first chief executive to resign from office. Vice-President Gerald Ford was sworn in and told the American people “our long national nightmare is over.”

“To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American,” Nixon said in his farewell remarks. “In leaving it, I do so with this prayer: may God’s grace be with you in all the days ahead.”

August 9, 1998 — Democrats worry that independent counsel Kenneth Starr will drop an “October surprise” just before this year’s midterm elections. Starr is said to be wrapping up his Whitewater investigation that morphed to include the Monica Lewinsky scandal that involves President Bill Clinton.

Normally, midterm elections are years of losing House seats for the party in power, but Republicans say the report should be released when it is finished and not wait. Ohio Rep. John Boehner, Chairman of the House Republican Conference, said the report should be made public regardless of its proximity to the election.

(NOTE: Democrats defied history by gaining five seats in the fall elections.)

Trump backer/Never Trumper trade jabs

Tallahassee-based Republican consultant Rick Wilson and Republican Rep. Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach have a couple of things in common. In addition to being Republicans, both have a sense of humor that can add a humorous touch to any story.

Wilson is among the country’s most vocal “Never Trumpers.” He has written a book called “Everything Trump Touches, Dies …” In it, he mentions Gaetz, one of Trump’s biggest supporters.

Renowned ‘Never Trumper’ Rick Wilson mixes it up with Matt Gaetz.

“You’ve seen Matt on a hundred cable news shows,” Wilson wrote. “Young, dark-haired, and slowly going to seed, he looks like a frat boy wearing his father’s suit.”

Gaetz had a measured response.

“Three things happen to #NeverTrump Republicans — they lose, disappear from relevance, or get a job at MSNBC/CNN,” Gaetz said. “I’m glad Rick got the best of these options. I’ve always liked him.”

Wilson is a frequent CNN commentator.

Tallahassee murder investigation now includes insurance fraud charges

An alleged murder conspiracy in Tallahassee has spun off charges of insurance fraud.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has leveled three felony counts against Denise Williams, accused in the death of her husband, Mike Williams, nearly 20 years ago.

“The Williams case is a tragedy that has shocked the Tallahassee community and reverberated across the nation,” Patronis said in a statement. “The insurance fraud charges are just one part of this case, and I assure the community we will work diligently toward a successful prosecution.”

“Insurance fraud is a very serious crime … It’s especially disturbing when an individual is attempting to profit off someone’s death. I am proud of our dedicated insurance fraud team for their commitment to bringing criminals to justice.”

An investigation by the state Division of Investigative and Forensic Service concluded that Denise Williams fraudulently listed her husband’s death as accidental drowning on insurance claims forms involving three policies when she knew the cause was homicide. She collected $1.75 million.

Brian Winchester, Mike William’s best friend, has turned state’s evidence and has testified that he plotted with Denise Williams kill her husband.

He told investigators he first tried to drown Mike Williams in Lake Seminole, and shot him when that didn’t work. He subsequently married the widow, but the marriage ended in divorce.

More stormy weather for Jim Van Fleet, ‘bartering’ legal bills on WTSP suit

After a stalled effort to sue his employer, former 10Weather WTSP meteorologist Jim Van Fleet faces another legal storm, attempting to “barter” payment of his legal bills.

Van Fleet, 43, served as chief at WTSP-Channel 10 in St. Petersburg from 2011-2016. He currently works as the chief meteorologist for Royal Caribbean International.

In 2016, Van Fleet sued WTSP, accusing the station of planting false rumors of drug use and other misbehavior, which he called a “conspiracy to oust him from his job.” Tampa-based Solomon Law attorneys Stanford Solomon and Gabriel Pinilla represented him — billing Van Fleet at $500/hour.

According to a July 30 lawsuit filed by Solomon Law in Hillsborough County, Van Fleet told the firm that he couldn’t afford to pay them quickly — first promising $500 a month, then lowering it to $300 — because Royal Caribbean paid him $55,000 less per year than what he made at WTSP.

Now living in Miami, Van Fleet claimed rents are higher there than in the Tampa Bay area.

However, according to the court records, Solomon points out that there were some months when Van Fleet didn’t pay a dime.

Documents attached to the filing show Van Fleet urged Solomon to accept “in-kind payments” in lieu of cash.

For example, Van Fleet suggested he could help the firm grow its client base — and counteract negative online reviews — by publicly endorsing the firm, in exchange for an 80 percent reduction of his balance.

Van Fleet also claimed people would naturally think Solomon helped him win a big settlement, despite neither winning nor losing his case against WTSP. Records show Van Fleet dismissed the case on Sept. 20, 2017. He also offered to help repay his debt by becoming an expert witness — for free — on meteorological issues.

Stanford Solomon rejected each suggestion: “I just want you to pay the outstanding g [sic] invoices as you keep promising to do. I am not interested in barter.”

In an April 2018 email, Van Fleet then offered to pay Solomon back at the reduced rate of $300/month.

“I paid $1,000 last month and quite surprisingly got a very nasty email in return,” he wrote. “I shouldn’t have been surprised though given all the reviews and feedback regarding Sandy and warning to stay far away.”

In 2015, Van Fleet’s landlord sued him and girlfriend Kenlie Reed in Pinellas County for unpaid rent.

According to an online docket for Van Fleet’s divorce case, ex-wife Gillian Van Fleet is still trying to get him to make court-ordered payments. The couple split in 2010.

Solomon Law says the weatherman owes $57,931 in legal fees, plus 12 percent annual interest. It is seeking payment.

Jeff Greene launches new ads on wages, seniors

Seniors and the push for higher-wage jobs are the subjects of a pair of new ads from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene.

The first 30-second spot, “Fighting for Seniors,” highlights the Palm Beach billionaire’s commitment to protecting seniors from Republican efforts — specifically President Donald Trump — to privatize Social Security and Medicare, prevent insurers from providing care for those with pre-existing conditions, and to thwart Medicaid expansion.

In “Wages,” Greene pledges to transform the “low-wage, low-skill economy” created by current Gov. Rick Scott, into “higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs.” He also touts creating “thousands of jobs” through his real estate business and educating future works at this need-blind private school he founded in West Palm Beach.

Both ads come less than a day after all five major candidates in the Democratic field — Greene, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando businessman Chris King — participated in a forum of one-on-one interviews in Jacksonville with News4Jax reporter Kent Justice, sponsored by WJXT and Jacksonville University.

Most recent polling is putting Green in third place, behind Graham and Levine. As reported earlier by Florida Politics, a survey commissioned by Levine’s campaign from Public Policy Polling puts Graham at 26 percent and Levine at 22 percent; Greene sits at 16 percent. The poll also gives Gillum 13 percent and King 4 percent, with only 19 percent of likely Democratic primary voters remaining undecided.

Greene is also facing heat after a five-year-old police report surfaced describing Greene smacking a waitress working at his Omphoy Beach Resort in West Palm Beach on the arm to get her attention. The Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women is calling on him to “immediately drop out of the race.”

Jacksonville Bold for 8.10.18 — Contenders, pretenders

We’ve hit the stretch of the primary season; where the money is being spent, not raised.

Where ads are cut, and voters engaged.

And where candidates know if they are still in the game.

No one comes out and says “well, it looks over.”

But losing candidates seem different.

We saw it with Adam Putnam, who won a Potemkin straw poll Monday in Jacksonville, but clearly seemed to be losing the war, even ahead of Wednesday’s debate.

Adam Putnam wins a Jacksonville-area straw poll, but is it enough?

We see it with Alvin Brown, whose campaign — and political career — seem to have gone up in smoke.

The Democratic candidates for Governor — well, four of them will lose, despite all maintaining a brave face in Thursday’s forum.

Optimism of months ago? Gone.

Soon enough, the cycle begins anew, with the necessary polarities of the general election.

But for now, we see the endgame of what has become a very long primary season.

Nelson, DeSantis win St. Johns straw polls

More than 550 votes were cast in straw polls from the St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections office during the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce’s “Politics in St. Johns” series of events.

Candidate meet-and-greet style events were in Ponte Vedra on July 16 and St. Augustine on August 1.

While the polls were informal, there was at least one interesting result: Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson took a 19-vote victory over Gov. Rick Scott for the U.S. Senate contest.

Ron DeSantis takes the lead in a St. Johns Chamber straw poll.

In the race for Governor, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis enjoys a 6-point lead, according to the straw poll, with 26 percent of the total vote. This result over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam more closely reflects the nine-point lead DeSantis enjoys in a statewide done held by the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative.

The leading Democratic vote-getter — Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — took 19 percent of the total vote, leading the next closest Democratic candidate Gwen Graham, who earned 13 percent.

Republican Congressman John Rutherford also led his Democratic rival, George “Ges” Selmont, by 40 votes. In Florida’s 6th Congressional District, former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg took a significant lead over the field, besting the next highest vote-getter, Republican Michael Waltz, by nearly 40 votes (96-47).

The Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican Rep. Paul Renner in House District 24 race, Adam Morley, also scored a 10-vote victory.

Combined, the Chamber estimates nearly 1,000 people attended Politics in St. Johns events in 2018, the largest attendance since the Chamber launched the series in 2012.

“I am very pleased to see how this series has grown over the years; it means that people are becoming more engaged. We are proud to be able to provide a platform that will help St. Johns County residents make an informed voting decision,” Chamber President Isabelle Renault said.


Just hours after U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Brown threw elbows in a meeting with the Florida Times-Union editorial board, the two Democrats made their respective cases at a Jacksonville AME political forum.

Alvin Brown and Al Lawson seemed subdued Monday night.

The two have jousted throughout the campaign, exchanging jabs on everything from Lawson’s positions on Stand Your Ground and ICE, and Brown’s closeness to Corrine Brown and his alleged “failure” as Mayor.

After the two sat patiently through almost two hours of forums for school board and tax collector candidates, they finally got mic time (along with Republican Virginia Fuller, who is the party’s nominee by default) as the 9 p.m. hour approached.

Judging from the mailed-in performances, it may have been past all of their bedtimes. There was no new ground in answers. No new attacks. Just sedentary pantomimes of the kind of fiery oratory seen more often in these candidates’ news releases than their live deliveries.

Neither Brown nor Lawson was on his game. Brown had the gaffe of the night, however, saying he backed a “living wage — 15 cents an hour.”

He corrected himself.

“Fifteen DOLLARS an hour,” he amended.

Supplementary reading: Is Alvin Brown a hypocrite on charter schools?

CBC backs Lawson

On Tuesday, the majority of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed Lawson ahead of the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District against Brown.

Is Al Lawson in position to run out the clock? (Image via Roll Call)

“I am honored to have the endorsement of so many of my colleagues in the CBC,” Lawson said. “They understand, as I do, the importance of fighting against some of the unfair policies of this current administration, protecting affordable health care for all Americans, protecting voting rights, ensuring access to quality public education, and strengthening marginalized communities all across the nation.”

Alvin Brown, according to sources who saw him in D.C. last year, was making the rounds of CBC members with former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown to solicit D.C. support. The en masse endorsement of Lawson suggests that strategy failed. Brown got one CBC endorsement, from Missouri U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.

Brown has pilloried Lawson as “Trump’s favorite Democrat,” painting him as out of step with the Democratic Party on some issues. The two have jousted throughout the campaign, exchanging jabs on everything from Lawson’s positions on “Stand Your Ground and ICE, to Brown’s closeness to Corrine Brown and his alleged “failure” as Mayor.

Lawson’s endorsements include prominent names, some with connections to Brown’s political past. One such: CBC chairman, Rep. Cedric Richmond, is especially notable support given that Richmond campaigned for Alvin Brown in Jacksonville in 2015 when he lost his re-election bid for Mayor.

Still another endorsement for Lawson that must feel like a cruel cut: the backing of Brown’s former political mentor, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who Brown also namechecked during the Monday evening forum.

Bradley, Cummings back DeSantis

In a sign of the changing times in the Republican gubernatorial race, state Sen. Rob Bradley and state Rep. Travis Cummings endorsed U.S. Rep. DeSantis for Governor on Wednesday.

These endorsements, rolled out hours before DeSantis debated Putnam in Jacksonville, show the influential Clay County Republicans breaking with many Jacksonville elected officials and Republican activists, who fell in line behind Putnam when he seemed certain months back.

Count Rob Bradley on #TeamDeSantis.

“I’m proud to endorse Ron DeSantis for Governor of Florida.” Sen. Bradley said in a statement. “Our state needs strong, dependable leadership and Ron DeSantis is a proven conservative who will make a great Governor. He’s an Iraq veteran with a solid conservative record and the support of our President.”

“He’s demonstrated a fierce commitment to principle in Congress, and he will bring the same values to Tallahassee. I look forward to working with him to strengthen our economy, improve our education system and bring accountability to our government,” Bradley, who serves as the Senate Appropriations chair, said Wednesday.

“Ron DeSantis is a proven conservative leader with a strong record of service to our country both in Congress and in the military.” asserted Cummings, who chairs Health and Human Services in the House.

The open question: Will other Jacksonville-area endorsements fall into line for DeSantis?

While many Jacksonville pols, including U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, state Sen. Aaron Bean, and Jacksonville City Council Vice-President Aaron Bowman, have backed Putnam, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has — at least up until now — reserved an endorsement.

Bradley defends MMJ law

Despite a Tallahassee judge declaring significant parts of the state’s medical marijuana law unconstitutional, the law’s chief architect on Tuesday said he was confident the law would be affirmed.

No smoke, no problem, says Rob Bradley, who stands behind medical cannabis law on books.

“The trial court ruling injected unnecessary uncertainty into the emerging medical marijuana marketplace,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican. “I’m confident that our appellate courts will uphold (its) constitutionality.”

In 2017, lawmakers passed, and Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure (SB 8-A) into law to implement the state’s medicinal cannabis constitutional amendment, passed by 71 percent of voters the year before. Bradley was the primary sponsor.

In recent months, however, judges have been chipping away at the law, beginning with Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ ruling that Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner can grow and make juice of his own marijuana.

In another case, Gievers struck down the law’s ban on smoking medical marijuana, saying that conflicts with the amendment. The state is appealing both of those rulings.

Bradley disagreed: “Medical marijuana is being grown, processed and sold in a safe, orderly fashion today in Florida,” he told Florida Politics.

“As more companies come online, and the Department (of Health) fully implements an integrated seed-to-sale system and a delay-free ID card system, the system will develop into a model for other states,” he added.

The department regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

“Floridians rightfully expect to have access to safe, quality medical marijuana, and also expect that the product be regulated properly like any other medicine,” Bradley said. “SB 8-A accomplishes both goals.”

Senators’ green to keep Tallahassee red

Two influential Northeast Florida Senators, Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley and Regulated Industries Chair Travis Hutson, spent big in late July as part of an effort to maintain the Republican majority in the chamber.

Rob Bradley and Travis Hutson share hugs … and an interest in a GOP Senate majority.

On July 25, Bradley’s “Working for Florida’s Families” committee moved $150,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, the vast majority of the committee’s spend in the week between July 21 and 27.

Defraying much of that spend was $70,000 worth of contributions from six groups, including the Florida Medical Association PAC and Florida Power & Light.

Bradley’s committee has nearly $800,000 on hand, suggesting flexibility for further support to the FRSCC or other friendly interests down the stretch.

Hutson’s First Coast Business Foundation committee also ponied up $50,000 on July 27.

Hutson’s two committees, FCBF and Sunshine State Conservatives, have between them $371,761. Hutson also has another $67,000 in his 2020 campaign account.

‘SYG’ Special Session?

Senate Minority Leader-designate Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, submitted her petition to call the Legislature into special session to address problems with the “Stand Your Ground” law.

Audrey Gibson’s “SYG” gambit won’t fly in a GOP state capital.

“Today I signed a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner to poll members of the Legislature for a special session to amend or repeal the ‘Stand Your Ground’ provisions in Chapter 776, Florida Statutes,” Gibson asserted.

“I signed the letter because a little boy watched his father be shot, and then die, after defending his mother from an irate man. The current statute has enabled murderous behavior, subjective interpretation, and questionable application by a sheriff, allowing an individual to potentially exact another murder in the same fashion as he roams free,” Gibson added.

“This presents a public safety hazard and is counter to the protections that should be afforded to all Floridians. While the Governor has the power to act through a Declaration of a State of Emergency in matters of public safety, his silence on Markeis McGlockton’s murder is clear indication that he is ignoring public safety and will do nothing.”

Michael Drejka killed McGlockton July 19 after a dispute over a parking space at a convenience store in Pinellas County got physical.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Drejka’s response to the altercation conforms with his read of the “Stand Your Ground” statute: “I’m not saying I agree with it. I don’t make the law. I enforce the law. Others can have the debate if it is right or not.”

Worst Democrat in Florida?

One of the smartest electoral analysts in the state, Democratic analyst Matthew Isbell, isn’t stoked about Rep. Kim Daniels winning her open Democratic primary this month against Duval County School Board chair Paula Wright.

Matt Isbell may complain, but Kim Daniels looks well-positioned.

“On Aug. 28, voters will go to the polls in Florida to cast votes in the primary election. The gubernatorial primary and a slew of congressional primaries are dominating the news. In an era where a politician can lose a primary for either being ‘not conservative enough’ or ‘not liberal enough’ — despite no other scandals — it is a shame to see one Florida politician appearing to escape serious threat: Kim Daniels,” Isbell notes.

“The frustrating thing for folks like myself is that Kim Daniels appears set to win reelection despite years of controversy and unacceptable views. Daniels only got an opponent at the last minute, and the primary wasn’t closed, ensuring Republicans could play spoiler in a race between two Democrats,” Isbell adds.

“Meanwhile, as conservatives flood in to aid Daniels, liberal aid has been more modest. The race just does not appear to be on the radar of Florida’s left-wing interests. State Democrats do not like Daniels at all, yet little effort is being made behind the scenes to aid Wright. Wright is fighting an underfunded and uphill battle against an incumbent mired in scandal and controversy. Daniels may well win on Aug. 28, despite being the least deserving of reelection of any Democrat in the state,” Isbell notes.

Daniels has a fundraising edge and has been hard to beat in Northwest Jacksonville. In this case, she is positioned to end Paula Wright’s political career.

Freeman Friday

Jacksonville’s motion to intervene in a legal challenge filed last month to a City Councilman appointed by Gov. Rick Scott will be heard in a Duval County hearing room at 2 p.m. Friday.

Terrence Freeman is settling in, but the legal challenge continues.

Judge Waddell Wallace, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999, will decide whether the city has legal standing regarding the case of Terrance Freeman, whose residency in District 10 is under challenge after the announcement of his appointment in July.

Filing the challenge is Brenda Priestly-Jackson, a Democrat and former Duval County School Board chair who was passed up for the appointment to fill the unexpired term of suspended incumbent Democrat Reggie Brown,

Priestly-Jackson says Freeman, who established residency in the district by renting two rooms in a private home the day he was appointed, was not a legitimate pick because he moved to Northwest Jacksonville solely to serve on the Council.

The city contends it has leeway to determine residency and that the suit names Freeman as a defendant in his official capacity.

“However, the city contends the controlling law clearly establishes that City Councilmembers’ terms in office do not commence until they have sworn the required oath, among other things. As such, application of city laws, policies and procedures will be a critical component of this litigation,” the filing contends.

“While Plaintiff purports to bring her allegations against Councilmember Freeman in his individual capacity, by alleging that he assumed his mantle as an active member of the City Council immediately upon appointment, Plaintiff has actually sued Councilmember Freeman as an active, sitting member of the City Council in his official capacity,” the filing adds.

Wallace to JAXBIZ

According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, Downtown Investment Authority CEO Aundra Wallace is on the move: he will be president of the JAXUSA Partnership starting in October.

Aundra Wallace. (Image via Folio Weekly)

He will replace outgoing Jerry Mallot.

Wallace, observed Daily Record commentator David Cawton, has been involved in much of the downtown development action the last five years — a time that included a drastic change in the Mayor’s Office.

However, Wallace was impervious, working well with the Curry administration on priority projects — most recently, the District development, which donor Peter Rummell will have city incentives to help him get going on the Southbank.

Man in the mirror

In 1984, there was no more prominent pop icon in the world than Michael Jackson. With the songs from 1982’s Thriller still resonating on the charts, he and his brothers thought the time was right for a family Victory tour.

Michael Jackson’s philanthropy will finally be put to use in Jacksonville.

The tour came to Jacksonville: a three-night Gator Bowl stint in a metropolitan area much less populous than it is today, with $30 tickets a measure of what a hot gig it was.

The concert was out of Jacksonville’s league, but proving that some things never change, the city spent $275,000 to make the gig happen.

That era is long gone now. The King of Pop has passed on. In a strange twist of fate, a small piece of his legacy will remain, to impact Jacksonville youth with musical aptitude.

Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa says Jackson “gifted the city $100,000 for music scholarships to deserving Duval County students seriously interested in and actively pursuing the study of music. The funds were placed in a City of Jacksonville Trust Fund; however, only the interest earnings therefrom may be spent on scholarships.”

“To the best of my knowledge and research,” Mousa asserted in an email last week, “no scholarships have been provided from the trust fund.”

The fund has earned $73,600 in interest, Mousa said. And while the $173,600 must remain in the fund, the city can use an anticipated $5,500 of projected interest this next fiscal year for scholarships, administered via the Kids Hope Alliance, Mayor Lenny Curry‘s reformed structure for children’s programs that budget at $41 million this year.

Airbnb follies

Unlike the majority of Florida counties, the city of Jacksonville can’t figure out what to do about Airbnb taxes. A recent audit suggests missed opportunities, with Duval County losing out on $366,000 in taxes due to an inability to match municipal code with reality.

The losses, a recent audit showed, are substantial: “$366,000 in Tourist Development and Convention Development Taxes just from Airbnb in the calendar year 2017 alone.”

Additionally, there are other companies like Airbnb so that collections could be more.

The problem: Single-family homes, per the city’s zoning code, do not permit what one city councilor called “transient” housing.

However, finding a solution won’t be so easy, Mousa said, noting that the arrangement is fundamentally illegal in Jacksonville.

Mousa is “reluctant to chase tourist development taxes” of “rentals in violation of ordinance code.”

To “chase the tax,” Mousa noted, is to “validate their existence … like going to the corner to the guy selling marijuana and asking where’s my sales tax.”

Mousa did not elaborate on where such corners may be.

However, other counties have figured it out. A misconception expressed in Council committees was that Airbnb would be averse to audits and the collection of back taxes. However, other counties have negotiated such deals, and it’s a mystery why Jacksonville can’t figure it out.

Expect movement on this issue in the coming months from Council President Aaron Bowman. For now, however, the city is left out of revenue collection, much as is the case with vehicles for hire — another gap in the code that has been unaddressed for years.

Too late

A state appeals court has blocked a Clay County judicial candidate from appearing on the ballot because she filed her paperwork too late.

“We recognize that the public policy of Florida generally favors letting the people decide the ultimate qualifications of candidates,” the 1st District Court of Appeal concluded Wednesday, in an opinion by Judge Kent Wetherell II. Judges Ross Bilberry and Kimberly Thomas concurred.

“However, absent special circumstances, public policy considerations cannot override the clear and unambiguous statutory requirement that all of the candidate’s qualifying paperwork must be received by the filing officer by the end of the qualifying period.”

The court upheld a ruling by a trial judge from the 7th Judicial Circuit, who heard the case because it originated in a motion filed by incumbent Clay County Judge Kristina Mobley.

According to the court record, Lucy Ann Hoover arrived at the county supervisor of elections office at 11:55 a.m. on May 4, just shy of the noon deadline. She filed her qualifying check at 11:57, but her candidate oath at 12:01 and her financial disclosure form at 12:12. The office accepted the late documents, and certified Hoover as a candidate, under a policy of requiring only that prospective candidates be physically present and filling out their paperwork before the deadline falls.

Mobley is a Rick Scott appointee. Joe Mobley, her husband, is a member of the Fiorentino Group.

Downtown Jax plans $63M ‘innovation corridor’

Plans are emerging for a multimillion-dollar high-tech corridor to run through downtown via Bay Street, connecting Jacksonville’s budding transportation center to TIAA Bank Field. The Jacksonville Business Journal reported that a bid for federal grant funding by city agencies include a $62.9 million plan for an “innovation corridor” — with 15 autonomous shuttles deployed between the Skyway infrastructure to surface streets, as well as an array of sensors that could detect gunshots, flooding and more. The corridor would also provide an incubator for emerging technologies.

A $63 million ‘innovation corridor’ could be down Bay Street. (Image via Jacksonville Business Journal)

The joint proposal — from the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization, JEA, the City of Jacksonville and Jax Chamber — is seeking $25 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation in a competitive grant program.

The innovation corridor is meant to be a proof of concept for two current initiatives: JTA’s Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) — the evolution of the Jacksonville Skyway system — and the TPO’s Integrated Data Exchange. A fleet of autonomous vehicles would descend from Skyway’s 2.5-mile elevated infrastructure via offramps onto surface streets throughout downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, transforming the people-mover system into a 10-mile network.

JIA speeding security with bomb-sniffing dogs

Beginning this week, bomb-sniffing dogs are being employed to help speed up security checks at Jacksonville International Airport.

Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Sari Koshetz told Jenna Bourne of Action News Jax, that the dogs are helping travelers get through security lines faster. Passengers standing in line who are cleared by the dogs could move into an expedited security lane, eliminating the need to take off shoes, belt or jackets and leaving laptops in bags.

(Image via Action News Jax)

Dogs will also sniff passengers and airport employees at the gate.

TSA K-9 handler Donald “Bubba” Deason told WJAX that travelers should not be frightened by his K-9, Boomer.

“Some people have a fear of dogs. And they look at the dog and then they get, ‘I don’t want to go near the dog. I don’t want to go past the dog,’” Deason said. “And basically, we tell them the dog’s not going to hurt you. It doesn’t attack. All it wants to do is sniff.”

JIA to welcome new VIP lounge

A new VIP lounge is coming to Jacksonville International Airport, Jacksonville Aviation Authority unanimously approved this week.

Will Robinson of the Jacksonville Business Journal reports that the Authority agreed to enter a contract to develop a premium lounge, which will be available to customers from multiple airlines and customers who are willing to pay for a day of access.

A new premier lounge is heading to JIA.

“I think we’d be the smallest airport in the country with two VIP lounges,” said JAA CEO Steve Grossman.

Club JAX will open February 2019. It will be a 2,726-square-foot facility featuring a buffet with menus from local chefs, restrooms with showers and a children’s play area.

Texas-based ALD Development Corp. will spend at least $1 million to develop, manage and operate the 49-guest lounge,” Robinson noted. ALD is the nation’s largest developer of independent shared-use lounges, with 18 airport lounges in 13 airports internationally.

First-class passengers can use the lounge as part of an airline or card member rewards programs. Day passes will also be available.

“We are very confident this will be a busy lounge even without Frontier, JetBlue or Allegiant,” Graham Richards, ALD director of strategic network development, told the Business Journal. This includes airlines that don’t yet have lounge reward programs.

JAA will receive part of the lounge revenue, or $80,000 for the first contract year, whichever is higher. The initial agreement will be for seven years, with options to renew every year.

T-U praises JAA for inclusion

A Florida Times-Union mini-editorial is praising the Jacksonville Aviation Authority for winning a “nice award” from a leading airline industry trade group.

The JAA received an Inclusion Championship Award from the Airports Council International-North America for its promotion of local small businesses and workforce diversity.

“The JAA has held workshops, forums and other events to make business opportunities available for small businesses — and particularly for minority entrepreneurs.”

The Authority also won the inclusion award for embracing diversity within its organization.

Flagler Hospital employing AI for better patient care

Saint Augustine’s Flagler Hospital is turning to artificial intelligence to reduce costs and provide better care for patients.

Will Robinson of the Jacksonville Business Journal reports that Flagler is licensing software from California-based Ayasdi, an AI and data science company, for a Clinical Variation Management (CVM) application.

St. Augustine’s Flagler Hospital.

CVM will help standardize frequent care conclusions — pairing antibiotics with certain infections, length of stay decisions and defining appropriate testing, among others.

Clinical variations make up as much as 30 percent of typical health care costs, according to the Institute for Medicine. AI examines big data, taken from electronic medical records, billing and more, to help lower costs.

“We are delighted to engage with Ayasdi on this mission-critical task of creating clinical pathways for our patient population,” said Flagler chief medical informatics officer Dr. Michael C. Sanders. “Our ability to rapidly construct clinical pathways based on our own data and measure adherence by our staff to those standards provides us with the opportunity to deliver better care at a lower cost to our patients.”

New way to watch Jags games this year

Per WJCT, for the first time this year, Jaguars fans can watch preseason games on their smartphones, simply by visiting

The technology was rolled out Thursday for the game against the Saints, and will be used for the rest of the preseason — a useful and long-awaited add for those who might not have access to television or radio.

Almost as good as being there? Smartphone streaming available for preseason games.

“This season, the NFL has allowed us to expand access to our preseason game broadcasts via a digital stream, affording the Jaguars the opportunity to connect with more fans on multiple platforms and in more than one language,” said Jaguars President Mark Lamping in an email to WJCT News.

The Jaguars have been playing one home game in London since 2012. “The demand for NFL football continues to grow internationally, and the Jaguars have benefited from our aggressive support of the league’s global movement,” said Lamping.

Coaches get a good look at many players in preseason opener

The first preseason game brought excitement to fans, coaches and players for different reasons. Jaguars fans are looking to see those players who took them within an eyelash of last year’s Super Bowl.

Most of those in attendance knew that guys like quarterback Blake Bortles, running back Leonard Fournette and cornerback Jalen Ramsey were likely to play only the first quarter. Those watching on television knew the same thing leading some to go on to do or watch something else.

The Jacksonville Jaguars may have looked good, but looks aren’t everything. (Image via Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

Doug Marrone and his coaching staff already knew what those three and other starters could do. They were anxious for the second and third strings to show why they should be on the team or on the starting unit.

Obviously, those players wanted to show the coaches what they could do.

Going into Thursday’s game against the Saints, one of the questions was who would be Fournette’s backup on opening day? Would it be T.J. Yeldon or fourth-year back Corey Grant?

Would backup quarterback Cody Kessler look like he could fill in if Bortles missed any time during the season? How about impressive rookie wide receiver D. J. Chark, who has looked great in training camp?

Bortles looked terrific in his brief appearance, leading his team on a 79-yard touchdown drive to start the game. For those who stuck around, Kessler was poised during his two-plus quarters of play.

Yeldon maintained his hold on the backup running back position, while Grant was only able to gain 6 yards on 8 carries. Third-string receiver Shane Wynn showed a lot of speed, meriting a closer look.

The Saints won the game, 24-20, but Marrone will consider the night successful, if for no other reason than avoiding major injuries. Next Saturday, the Jaguars travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings.

Remaining counties file for federal elections security grants

The last of Florida’s 67 counties now have submitted applications for federal election security grants, which qualify them to receive $14.5 million of the $19 million allowed to the state, Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday.

“As we approach the 2018 election season, there is nothing more important than ensuring the security and integrity of Florida’s elections,” Scott said in a written statement.

“In Florida, we are focused on 100 percent participation and zero fraud, and this additional funding will help Supervisors of Elections build on their existing infrastructure and enhance security measures so that we can ensure Florida has another successful election in 2018.”

Scott announced approval of the initial 49 grant applications in July.

Thursday’s announcement came one day after U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said that Russian operatives have breached elections systems in some counties ahead of the midterm elections. He did not identify which ones, and elections officials said they could not confirm Nelson’s claim.

The Florida Department of State, which oversees elections, will send the money to local supervisors of elections, Scott said.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis will cut the checks.

“Cybersecurity must stay a top priority, especially in our elections process,” Patronis said. “My office will continue to speed up the payment process for our local officials so that they are equipped with the resources they need to protect our elections process.”

Secretary of State Ken Detzner oversseethe application process.

“The Department of State and county supervisors of elections have been working diligently to strengthen protections for our elections and ensure the safety of voter information,” Detzner said.

“I applaud all Supervisors of Elections for working quickly to submit their grant applications in a timely manner so that we can get the funding approved and distributed to them before the 2018 elections.”

Here is a list of local grants.

Instead of tax cuts, GOP candidates motivate with anxiety

There’s a border crisis in Pennsylvania. The radical left is surging in New Jersey. And Nancy Pelosi is a threat to New York.

Republican candidates in the nation’s premier midterm battlegrounds have embraced a central message in their fight to maintain the House majority this fall — and it has little to do with the surging economy or the sweeping tax cuts that the GOP celebrated as a once-in-a-generation achievement just eight months ago.

Instead, as Republicans enter the final month of the primary season, they’re looking ahead to a general-election strategy of embracing anxiety as a tool to motivate voters. That was clear this week as the GOP’s closing message in an Ohio special election questioned Democrat Danny O’Connor’s connection to Pelosi, the House Democratic leader and preferred super villain for Republicans.

“We wish it got the pitch forks out and it doesn’t,” GOP ad maker Will Ritter said of the Republican tax cuts.

Some Republican strategists are frustrated the party isn’t focused on the tax law or the broader health of the economy in the run-up to Election Day. Others concede that in the Trump era, there’s no better motivator than fear of the other side, particularly the prospect of Pelosi returning to the speaker’s chair.

Ohio State political science professor emeritus Herb Asher explains how Tuesday’s election that was too close to call may encourage Democrats to consider a push in other districts with slim margins. (Aug. 8)

The plan had some success in Ohio: The race was too close to call Wednesday as Republican Troy Balderson maintained a razor-thin advantage over O’Connor, staving off an embarrassing GOP defeat for now. Going forward, the debate over highlighting the tax law will help determine whether Republicans will maintain control of Capitol Hill after November.

While Republicans are reluctant to engage on tax cuts, it’s a fight Democrats — and their voters — want.

“The tax cuts were for the top … income earners,” said George Stringer, a 58-year-old Democrat who lives in Detroit. “The rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer.”

In Ohio, which hosted the season’s final special election, O’Connor railed against the tax cuts as a giveaway to the rich that threatened Medicare and Social Security. While his Republican opponent may prevail, the 31-year-old Democrat trailed by less than 1 percentage point in a district that’s been in Republican hands since before he was born. On the defensive, Balderson appeared in a late ad sitting next to his ailing mother and promising that he wouldn’t dismantle the social safety net.

It’s somewhat similar to the problems Democrats faced in 2010, when they controlled the White House and Congress and managed to pass the most significant health care legislation since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid. They celebrated with President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden, only to run from it in the midterm elections that became a disaster for the party.

President Donald Trump, plagued by scandal and wed to his Twitter account, sits atop the struggle.

Republican pollster Frank Luntz said Trump energizes the Republican base, but that his broadsides and distractions will also alienate the swing voters who tip battleground House districts.

“This is political malpractice,” he said. “You can’t find me a time in modern times when the economy was this strong and the governing party was headed toward a potential political disaster like this.”

Republicans are also reluctant to embrace their tax cuts because the benefits don’t change the household budget for many Americans. The party predicts that will change next year when families file their first tax returns under the new law. But as electoral strategy, that’s akin to Democrats in 2010 insisting voters would like the health care law once they understood it.

The tax debate comes amid new evidence of a Democratic surge in early elections across America.

Michigan Democrats will feature the state’s first all-female statewide ticket this November following Tuesday’s primary elections. Democrat Rashida Tlaib also won a race to run unopposed for the Detroit-area House seat vacated by John Conyers, making her poised to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. In Kansas, 38-year-old attorney Sharice Davids won her congressional primary and became the state’s first Native American and gay nominee for Congress.

Both Davids and Tlaib campaigned aggressively against the Republican tax cuts.

Beyond avoiding the tax law, there has been a consistent theme for Republicans across House battlegrounds: casting the Democrat as too liberal.

A National Republican Congressional Committee ad in Ohio tied Democratic candidate O’Connor to Pelosi and “the liberal resistance movement.” A super PAC backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan charged that it was O’Connor who would cut Social Security and Medicare by $800 billion; fact checkers have questioned the accuracy of the attack.

In central Kentucky, GOP Rep. Andy Barr is reminding voters that Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot, voted for President Barack Obama and opposes Trump’s proposed border wall. In suburban Pennsylvania, vulnerable Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has warned of “a border in crisis” and demanded a surge of immigration enforcement agents. And in New Jersey, Republican Rep. Leonard Lance featured an ad in which Democrat opponent Tom Malinowski calls himself a “lifelong progressive Democrat” over and over. Lance also warns of his “dangerous policies” like abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Anthony Brindisi, Democratic nominee in an upstate New York district, is the target of an ad from Rep. Claudia Tenney claiming that Pelosi is “bankrolling” Brindisi “because he’ll support their radical immigration agenda.”

Brindisi blasted the Tenney ad as dishonest, repeating his general support for border security and opposition to Pelosi continuing as Democratic leader. “I’d think after almost two years of being in Congress, the first advertisement that my opponent would run would be something about her accomplishments,” Brindisi said.

He’s running his own tax ad, localizing the law by highlighting Tenney’s campaign support from the cable giant Charter, whose New York subsidiary, Spectrum, has raised rates and spent hundreds of millions on stock buybacks after getting a tax windfall. “I want to point out to the voters that when we talk about the swamp, this is the worst kind of example,” Brindisi told The Associated Press.

Republicans aren’t apologizing for their tax votes, even if it’s not at the forefront of their campaigns.

Rep. Mimi Walters, a vulnerable Republican in southern California, said in a recent interview that she plans to use it in her paid advertising this fall. But her ads so far this year have focused on other topics.

“In the beginning … there was a lot of pushback. That’s just natural. You’re making a big change, and people weren’t sure,” said Walters, who represents one of 25 districts nationally that sent a Republican to the House in 2016 but opted for Hillary Clinton over Trump in the presidential race.

“Now that people have started to see the benefits … people come up and thank me,” Walters said, adding that she’s “results oriented” and pointing to economic growth figures that she says prove “we made the right decision.”

Material republished with permission from The Associated Press.

‘Stand Your Ground’ session likely doomed

Florida lawmakers have until noon Friday to respond to a proposal by Democrats to call a special session to revisit the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law.

As of Wednesday evening, responses have largely fallen along party lines. House Republicans, expected to reject the idea of holding a session, made up 43 of the 44 recorded ‘no’ responses. Retiring Democrat Katie EdwardsWalpole also rejected the idea.

House Democrats, expected to back the idea of holding a session, made up 24 of the 25 ‘yes’ responses thus far. Rep. Shawn Harrison, a Tampa Republican, also supported the idea.

A total of 48 responses are still pending from the state House. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, responded ‘no.’

In the Senate, 12 Democrats have responded ‘yes’ while 11 Republicans have said ‘no’ as of Wednesday evening. Responses from 16 senators are pending.

All 16 Senate Democrats and 23 of the 41 House Democrats signed a request by Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, that triggered the state Department of State to poll the entire Legislature on holding a special session.

The proposal needs three-fifths support in each of the GOP-dominated legislative chambers, which would equate to 70 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate, according to the state department.

The request to revisit the self-defense law came in response to the July 23 shooting death of Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store. No charges have been filed against the shooter, with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri saying the gunman is protected under the long-controversial law.

Material from the News Service of Florida is used in this post with permission.

Father blames ‘Stand Your Ground’ in son’s parking-lot death

Michael McGlockton is convinced that two things killed his son in a Florida parking lot last month: The man who pulled the trigger and the state’s polarizing “stand your ground” self-defense law.

Markeis McGlockton, 28, died a few yards from his children and girlfriend at a store in Clearwater after a confrontation over a parking spot that reignited the debate over the law. The local sheriff said that under “stand your ground,” Michael Drejka was justified in the killing.

In an interview with The Associated Press — his first one-on-one with a news outlet since the shooting — Michael McGlockton said that if the law didn’t exist, his son might have gone home the night of July 19, or Drejka might have been arrested. Instead, McGlockton said, he buried his firstborn while the killer walked free.

“No law should be able to protect somebody to the point that they kill somebody on the street and they can lay in the bed the same night,” McGlockton said. “To me and my family, that’s a slap in the face. (Drejka) would’ve thought twice before he pulled the trigger. With the law, he knew that he could hide behind that.”

The law received international attention in 2012 when black teenager Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. In the end, Zimmerman did not argue a “stand your ground” defense and was acquitted anyway. Critics say the law unfairly allows young black men to be victimized by gun violence.

Michael McGlockton is convinced that two things killed his son in a Florida parking lot last month: The man who pulled the trigger and the state’s “stand your ground” law that he believes emboldened the shooter. (Aug. 8)

The dispute with Drejka started when he yelled at McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs — who was in a car with two of the couple’s small children — outside a store for parking in a handicapped space. McGlockton, who was black and unarmed, pushed Drejka, a white man, to the ground. Drejka pulled out his handgun and killed him.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has declined to press charges. State prosecutors are considering whether to charge Drejka, 47.

“I didn’t make the law, and I do not do what people want because of outrage,” Gualtieri said. “If you’re outraged by the law and don’t like the law, then change it.”

The case drew hundreds to a rally last weekend in Clearwater.

Instead of scrapping the law, Florida lawmakers have strengthened it to force prosecutors to prove the shooting doesn’t fall under a “stand your ground” defense. Previously, defendants had to prove why that defense applied.

A 2015 American Bar Association task force report on “stand your ground laws” found the statute is unpredictable, results in racial disparities, and undermines victims’ rights. Additionally, the report said there was widespread confusion among law enforcement as to when shootings were justified.

Georgetown University law professor Paul Butler said the law does have a racially disparate effect that devalues black life. Because the law is predicated on the belief that an imminent threat exists, shootings are more likely to be considered justified by a judge or jury when white people shoot blacks, he said.

“White fear is seen as more reasonable than black fear,” Butler said.

Dennis Baxley, a Republican legislator from Ocala and an initial “stand your ground” sponsor, says the law’s intent was to make it clear that when people are attacked, they have a right to defend themselves.

“I don’t think anyone should be raped or beaten because they think they would get in trouble for defending themselves,” Baxley said.

Baxley called the Clearwater case a “tough call” but said it’s up to the sheriff and prosecutor to decide whether a crime was committed.

Markeis McGlockton was 23 when Martin was killed in 2012. It was the first time Michael McGlockton, a lifelong Florida resident, had heard of “stand your ground.” He said he thought the “messed-up” law should be changed but never imagined it would strike so personally.

McGlockton said it is his son who was defending himself and his family against a threat.

“Every man raises his kid to be that ultimate man for his family,” McGlockton said. “That’s exactly what he was doing, standing up for his family. I’m so proud of him because he did exactly what I taught him to do.”

Nearly 30 years ago, McGlockton was sitting in Spanish class as a high school junior when he got the call that his girlfriend was in labor.

He rushed to the hospital, but by the time he arrived, Markeis had already entered the world. It was the best day of Michael’s life.

“I stayed with him all night, crying,” Michael McGlockton, now 46, recalled. “I was just happy.”

Father and son were close. He chided his father for babying him, even as an adult. Warning him away from the mistakes he had made was simply McGlockton’s way of showing love — a word he began using with his son only a few years ago.

“A lot of grown men don’t really say that to their sons,” McGlockton said.

Their hometown, Clearwater, known for its beaches and sunshine, bills itself as “a progressive city committed to enhancing residents’ lives.” McGlockton wouldn’t disagree, and seldom thought of Markeis’ safety as the father of a black son.

But “this law does not work in favor of black people,” he said.

Like Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, Michael McGlockton and Monica MooreRobinson want justice for their son’s killing. He no longer wants or expects an apology from sheriff Gualtieri and regrets voting for him.

McGlockton hopes for a different outcome from prosecutors.

“Everybody in America can see that tape,” McGlockton said, referring to the video of the confrontation. “I’m hoping the state’s attorney can see the exact same thing.”

McGlockton’s family is focused on pushing for Drejka’s arrest, prosecution and conviction. Then, he said, he’ll focus on pushing to change the law.

“He didn’t have to pull that trigger,” McGlockton said. “But because of ‘stand your ground,’ this is what happens.”

Material republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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