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Staff Reports

Jacksonville Bold for 10.12.18 — Control needing control

As poet, novelist and pop culture icon William S. Burroughs once noted: “Control needs control to control.”

That observation holds in all hierarchical structures, especially politics, and particularly after voting begins.

In a typically Republican area like Northeast Florida, recent history shows it’s been rare to see so many competitive races as we are seeing this year on the November general election ballot.

An observation by William S. Burroughs applies to today’s politics, especially as ballots are cast.

Democrats are fielding candidates — serious ones — in unlikely places. And whether they can win or not, it’s worth noting that they are competing and signaling that there are no giveaway offices. Not anymore at least.

While it’s not likely that Cord Byrd, Jason Fischer, or Clay Yarborough will be leaving office anytime soon, the fact that Democrats are playing matters.

Also crucial down the stretch: Control over narratives.

The Ron DeSantis for Governor campaign has an increasingly Jacksonville flavor. Operative Tim Baker came aboard in a senior role, joining recently hired campaign manager Susie Wiles.

Baker and Wiles (as well as the rest of the team) will win or lose based on how effective they are when it comes to defining Andrew Gillum as just another Democratic candidate in a state where most poll stories have headlines of “dead heat” or “too close to call.”

Republicans have controlled narratives in this region for generations. To maintain control of the process, they will have to continue writing the script.

Baker joins DeSantis campaign

With four weeks before the primaries, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis brought on yet another seasoned hand for his campaign’s stretch run.

Florida Politics learned Monday evening that operative Baker joined the campaign in a senior leadership role, offering strategic and political guidance.

Thumbs up: Tim Baker with Lenny Curry and Brian Hughes. (Image via News4Jax)

Baker, one of a series of staff moves in DeSantis World that included bringing on another op with a Jacksonville portfolio in campaign manager Susie Wiles, asserted that the campaign is “starting to hit stride” and “we are all working like crazy.”

Baker’s skill: targeting voters and moving them.

Recent campaigns have seen specific appeals made to medium-propensity voters, to female homeowners between the ages of 35 and 46, and to other blocs of voters, where support could be firmed up and maximized.

One can already see evidence of such appeals in the DeSantis campaign, which smartly and in a timely fashion went up on TV last week to pillory Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for botched storm response after 2016’s Hurricane Hermine.

Such ads can be seen as part of a larger strategy to define Gillum in the “traditional major party candidate” way. Baker notes that Gillum emerged unscathed from an oppo-free Democratic primary, while DeSantis was “pounded in the primary,” as support from President Donald Trump drove a narrative that went well beyond Florida borders.

The choice, Baker believes, will come down to one of “leadership” (DeSantis) versus a “feel-good choice without substance.”

Clark backs Soderberg

No real surprise here, but former Clinton Administration alum Nancy Soderberg picked up an endorsement in her Congressional race from former 4-star general and 2004 presidential candidate Wes Clark.

Wes Clark and Nancy Soderberg have been allies since the 1990s.

“I worked closely with Nancy when she was on the National Security Council and U.N., and I’ve watched her defend American interests around the globe. She has fiercely fought for our values; building peace in the Balkans, forging a cease-fire in Northern Ireland, standing up to terrorists, and so much more,” Clark said.

The Clark endorsement was part of a raft of military endorsements for the Democrat running to replace DeSantis in Congress. The nods from two 4-Star Generals, three Lieutenant Generals, one Brigadier General, one Colonel, one Captain and three Rear Admirals “highlight the respect Nancy Soderberg earned from leaders in our military over her decades of work safeguarding our national security,” asserted a media release.

Soderberg is up against Mike Waltz in the general election in the Daytona-centric district that nonetheless has a lot of Jacksonville flavor in the campaign, with donors and interests in the 904 monitoring this swingy contest.

Bean beefs up

Republican state Sen. Aaron Bean, whose Senate District 4 encompasses all of Nassau and part of Duval County, continued to pad his campaign account during the last full week of September receipts.

Aaron Bean continues to bank.

From Sept. 15-28, Bean raised $22,200 between his campaign account and that of his political committee, Florida Conservative Alliance.

Among the donors on the committee side: Florida Blue and the Florida Pharmacist Political Committee.

The campaign account donors included Southern Gardens Citrus, U.S. Sugar, and Comcast.

Bean has $89,908 in the committee account and $107,567 in the campaign account, giving him $197,475 to work with during the campaign stretch run.

Bean maintains comfortable leads over his opponents. Democrat Billee Bussard has $6,558 on hand after raising $5,760 in the same two-week period. Libertarian Joanna Tavares does not fundraise and has roughly $40 on hand.

The district is nearly half Republican. With just over 360,381 registered voters, 174,580 Republicans and 100,307 Democrats call SD 4 home. The remaining voters are either NPA or third party, including 1,466 registered Libertarians.

Bean last faced a competitive general election in 2012, when he defeated former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg 62 percent to 38 percent.

Byrd flies high

Freshman Jacksonville-area Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd continued to maintain strong cash leads over his Democratic challenger as September closed.

Cord Byrd flying high in fundraising for the home stretch.

Byrd, whose majority-Republican House District 11 includes coastal Duval and all of Nassau County, brought in $8,100 of new money between Sept. 15 and 28, pushing his campaign account over $49,000 on hand. Comcast and Duke Energy PAC were among the $1,000 donors.

Byrd also has over $10,000 in his 1845 political committee.

His general election opponent, Nathcelly Rohrbaugh, mostly kept pace with Byrd in late September receipts, bringing in $4,442 of new money, pushing his campaign account over $16,000 on hand.

Labor money, including from a Sheet Metal Workers local and the North Florida Central Labor Council, added to Rohrbaugh’s haul.

No bitter pills for Yarborough

First-term Jacksonville-area Republican state Rep. Yarborough continued to maintain a healthy cash lead over his Democratic challenger as September ended.

Clay Yarborough continued to amass resources as September ended.

Yarborough, running in Southside Jacksonville’s Republican-plurality House District 12, brought in $6,000 between Sept. 15 and 28.

Of that haul, $4,000 came from the biggest companies in Big Pharma: Eli Lilly, Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer and AstraZeneca all cut the Arlington Republican checks.

All told, he has raised $171,225, with $103,918 of that on hand.

Yarborough faces Democrat Tim Yost, who took in $610 during the same period. All told, Yost has $11,225 on hand of $17,558 raised.

Yarborough made news last week for becoming the regional head of the Yes on 3 campaign, designed to make expansions of casino gambling contingent on citizen referendums.

Polson seeks debate

The general election race to replace outgoing state Rep. Jay Fant in Jacksonville’s House District 15 is beginning to heat up, with a pattern established last week.

Democrat Tracye Polson is determined to push back against what she sees as distortions of narrative and distractions from the campaign of Republican opponent Wyman Duggan.

Debate or no? Trayce Polson takes umbrage with attack ads in HD 15.

One such example: challenging Duggan to debate, in the wake of a pyrotechnic attack ad that linked Polson to Resistance protesters, with stock footage of a flag burner catching the Democrat’s ire.

The ad said Polson is “with them, not with us.”

In that context, Florida Politics has learned of the second line of attack being mulled by the Duggan campaign, one focusing on Polson being a recent arrival to House District 15, a group of deep-rooted communities ranging from Riverside, Avondale, and Ortega to the more bucolic stretches of Jacksonville’s Westside.

The contrast would be implicit, between the deeply rooted Duggan and Polson, a candidate who moved to the district much more recently, according to voter registration records.

Polson registered in HD 15 in November 2016, records show. Before that, she was a registered voter in St. Johns County.

We asked Polson about this potential issue, and she framed it as yet another distraction put forth by the Republican campaign to distract from his career as a lobbyist.

Duggan, meanwhile, is starting to rebuild his campaign war chest, raising more than $56,000 between Sept. 15 and 28 between his campaign account and that of his political committee.

All told, he has roughly $82,000 on hand, a number that is still behind the Polson campaign, which had as of its most recent campaign account and committee filings approximately $123,036 on hand after having raised and self-financed about $125,000 during the same period.

Polson is spending big on television, and her ability to finance her campaign has gotten her into the game. The next four weeks will show if her campaign can go toe to toe with a Republican machine with deep tentacles into GOP power structures in Jacksonville and Tallahassee both.

Overton builds cash edge

As September ended, a familiar narrative continued.

Republican Jim Overton maintained his lead in the money race with Democrat Mia Jones for Duval County Tax Collector — even though she was the choice of almost 47 percent of voters in the August blanket primary.

Jim Overton continues to lead Mia Jones in the money race.

The latest filings to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections run through Sept. 28.

Overton (a former City Councilman and Property Appraiser) now has over $43,000 on hand after raising $16,034 in the two weeks leading up to the 28th.

Among the latest donors: Peter Rummell, the Jacksonville developer closely aligned with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry; Hans Tanzler; and a couple of entities associated with Jacksonville Landing developer Toney Sleiman, currently feuding with Mayor Curry.

Jones was less productive from Sept. 15 to 28, raising just $3,835 and giving her nearly $20,000 on hand. Prominent backers include the AFSCME union and local trial lawyer Wayne Hogan.

Democrats enjoy a registration advantage in Duval County. Of the just over 600,000 registered voters, 244,542 are Democrats, compared to 219,850 Republicans.

However, that advantage doesn’t translate to wins in citywide races. All constitutional officers in Duval County are currently Republicans.

DeFoor stretches cash lead

In the race to succeed Republican Jim Love on the Jacksonville City Council, Love’s fellow Republican Randy DeFoor expanded her cash on hand lead after September receipts.

Randy DeFoor keeps banking for the March election.

But in what could be a preview of a runoff election, Democrat Sunny Gettinger is keeping pace.

As of the end of September, DeFoor had roughly $157,000 on hand between her campaign account and her Safe and Prosperous Jacksonville political committee.

DeFoor brought in $10,050 of new money to the campaign account, and an additional $5,000 to her political committee.

First Coast Energy was the big donor this cycle; its CEO Aubrey Edge is a supporter of Mayor Lenny Curry, and DeFoor is aligned with that political operation.

Gettinger, meanwhile, saw declining receipts for the fourth straight month. Her September haul of $4,245 was the slowest month of her campaign, giving her over $96,000 on hand.

Her key donors last month included connected local businessman Walt Bussells and Jon Heymann, the longtime leader of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.

DeFoor and Gettinger are better positioned financially than the two male candidates in the race, who have yet to report September numbers.

Republican Henry Mooneyhan had roughly $12,000 on hand at the end of August. Democrat Jimmy Peluso had approximately $36,000 at his disposal.

Jacksonville municipal races see a first election in March. If no one takes a majority in that blanket primary, the top two finishers move on, regardless of party, to the May general election.

Vogtle sparks Moody’s downgrade

Moody’s downgraded $2.1 billion of Jacksonville debt, pinning a negative outlook on issues resulting from the city’s misadventures with utility JEA.

At the root of it all: the still-under-construction Plant Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, from which the city committed to buying power in 2008, and as of late wanted out of the deal, citing conditions ranging from flat revenue streams, escalating costs to getting cheaper power elsewhere.

JEA agreed to bankroll 41 percent of MEAG’s share for 20 years. However, the utility and the city have groused of late.

Plant Vogtle is causing Jacksonville rating headaches.

And now the credit rating agencies are taking notice.

“The downgrade of the city’s debt reflects our concurrent downgrade of JEA’s electric, water and sewer and District Energy System utility debt ratings,” Moody’s contends.

Affected were a series of bonds, spanning a spectrum of city expenditures.

Jacksonville’s issuer rating dropped to A2 from Aa2, Special Revenue Non Ad Valorem Covenant bonds to A3 from Aa3, Better Jacksonville Sales Tax Revenue bonds to A2 from A1, Capital Projects bonds to A2 from Aa3, Excise Taxes Revenue bonds to A2 from Aa2, Capital Improvement bonds to A2 from Aa3 and Transportation bonds to A2 from A1.

At issue: “The city’s participation as a plaintiff in litigation with JEA, a component unit of the city, against Municipal Energy Authority of Georgia (MEAG), in which JEA and the city are seeking to have a Florida state court invalidate a ‘take-or-pay’ power contract between JEA and MEAG.”

COJ OK on ADA, says DOJ

After over five years of work by the City of Jacksonville to meet Americans with Disabilities Act goals, the city got the all-clear from the Department of Justice Friday.

The Justice Department declared the 2013 agreement fulfilled last week.

The DOJ Civil Rights division wrote city officials, noting that the city had fulfilled the terms of its voluntary, pre-litigation Project Civic Access agreement.

The agreement, per a 2013 post by the Justice Department, was wide-ranging:

“During the compliance review, the Department reviewed 64 of the city’s facilities. The agreement requires the city to correct deficiencies identified at the 64 facilities and requires Jacksonville to review and correct identified deficiencies at hundreds of additional facilities.”

Those facilities had all been built or modified since 1992, and included libraries, community and senior centers, a boat ramp, fire stations, athletic fields and sports complexes, City Hall, parks, the Jacksonville Zoo, detention and corrections facilities, parking garages and polling places.

The city had to improve accessibility, ranging from parking to drinking fountains.

Efforts for Braille and sign-language translations and translators likewise were mandated. Barriers at polling places and to emergency services similarly had to be removed, and sidewalks and other public infrastructure required work also.

JAXPORT nabs major ocean carrier

JAXPORT is adding Zim Integrated Shipping Services, the world’s 11th largest ocean carrier.

First reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Israel-based company will come to Jacksonville as the vessel operator for 2M, among the largest vessel-sharing alliances in the world.

The additions will bring containers from North Asia through JAXPORT, which has recently focused on Asian container imports, with an average annual growth of 21 percent over the past five years.

Zim Integrated Shipping Services, the world’s 11th largest ocean carrier, is heading to Jacksonville.

Zim’s entry into the Jacksonville market will further diversify JAXPORT ocean carriers and boost its growing container business. Container volumes year-to-date are up 28 percent over last year, and volumes handled by JAXPORT in July and August were the highest in the port authority’s history for the same time frame.

Existing ocean carriers also increased their average capacity at Jaxport by almost 13 percent in August, the Journal noted.

Jacksonville as a port-of-call is another new step Zim, an independent carrier facing challenges in the ocean carrier industry. Zim and other ocean carriers have often netted quarterly losses in the face of oversupply — despite increased volume and revenue increases — as well as declining rates and rising costs.

On October 3, Zim USA President George Goldman explained to the Jacksonville Propeller Club that the world’s top 11 carriers lost money 25 out of the last 42 quarters.

“That’s not really sustainable,” Goldman warned, adding that the industry has gone through several acquisitions, mergers and bankruptcies.

Goldman admitted that much of the industry’s operational challenges are self-inflicted, especially when it came to oversupply. He called the industry collectively “dumber than a bag of rocks.”

“Individually, we’re pretty smart people,” Goldman added. “The problem is when we get together … Without a doubt, we are our own worst enemies.”

Zoo celebrates endangered gorilla birth

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens announced a new addition — its 22-year-old, Western lowland gorilla Kumbuka has given birth to a healthy infant.

The 4.8-pound female was born Friday, Sept. 28 at 1:30 p.m.

Kumbuka’s initial maternal behavior toward the baby was perfect and healthy, Zoo officials said. However, Kumbuka was cradling and carrying the youngster improperly — similar to the way she behaved before she lost two previous offspring at another zoo.

Welcome to a baby gorilla, as yet unnamed.

Zoo staffers believe Kumbuka’s hearing disability may prevent her from detecting when her youngsters are in distress. Faced with a life-threatening situation, the staff decided to remove Kumbuka’s baby — for short-term assisted rearing by gorilla-care staff.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla SSP (Species Survival Plan) group supports the decision.

The Gorilla SSP recommended she join the Jacksonville Zoo troop to learn maternal behavior from the other mother gorillas and participate in a maternal training program.

After Kumbuca’s arrival in 2014, Jacksonville gorilla care staff began suspecting she might be hearing-impaired. By 2017, her condition was confirmed through consultation with audiologists from Nemours Children’s Specialty Care.

The diagnosis provided valuable for developing a specific birth plan to improve Kumbuka’s chances for maternal success. Throughout Kumbuka’s pregnancy, keepers worked to teach her the correct way to position an infant — as well as other essential maternal skill — while also preparing for possible intervention, if necessary.

The training will continue as keepers show the proper way to hold and carry the infant. Kumbuka is the most genetically valuable female in the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP), and pairing with Jacksonville’s silverback Lash, she conceived in early February 2018. Lash, 42, was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and came to the Jacksonville Zoo in Gardens in 1998.

The new infant is very important to the entire North American program, which relies upon cooperative pairings of gorillas already in human care. Wild gorillas are no longer captured for zoos.

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens recently opened the newly-renovated home for the great apes, African Forest. The $9.5 million renovation features a 50-foot-tall kapok tree that animals can climb and swing on, a mixed-species exhibit, a trail system that allows the animals to roam the area as they choose, and many more wellness-inspired design elements.

The infant gorilla is not yet named.

Jaguars Job One 

As ESPN’s Michael DiRocco notes, the Jaguars defense faces a specific challenge against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday: stop Ezekiel Elliott.

After falling to the Kansas City Chiefs offense (led by Patrick Mahomes) and loaded with playmakers, the Jaguars face a Cowboys offense led by running back Elliott, which ranks near last in the NFL for passing.

That relieves the pressure just a bit. And as DiRocco writes, “It’s going to be an old-school, smash-mouth kind of game.”

Jaguars’ Job One: Stop Ezekiel Elliott.

“The New York [Giants] week got us ready for this week in the sense of saying they’re going to try to go through the running back,” Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith told ESPN. “We know the offense flows through the running back. They’re going to try to get him going. We’ve just got to go out and execute and play.”

Elliott, who coach Doug Marrone calls “probably the best running back in the league,” leads the league rushing with 480 yards and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also leads the Cowboys in receptions (22), and his 635 yards of total offense accounts for 41 percent of the Cowboys’ total yards.

That is despite turning in his worst performance of the season Sunday: 54 yards on 20 carries in the Cowboys’ 19-16 overtime loss to Houston.

“Great out of the backfield, great hands, great in space,” Marrone continued. “There’s probably not a run that he can’t do. He can run people over. He can run by them. I’ve seen him run over them. He has a great stiff arm.

“Can’t say enough good things about the guy.” The Jaguars’ run defense is ranked No. 14 (101.2 yards per game), allowing the Chiefs to rush for 126 yards. Nevertheless, the Cowboys’ pass game is not even close to what the Chiefs brought to Jacksonville. In nine of the last 13 games, QB Dak Prescott passed fewer than 200 yards, without a touchdown pass in seven of those games.

For the Jaguars, stopping the run is a top priority, but handling Prescott is not far behind, mainly due to his mobility.

Prescott is one of eight quarterbacks who rushed more than 100 yards this season (with 121).

Bottom line: The Jaguars success this week will rest on how they deal with Elliott.

Million dollar haul: Nancy Soderberg banks big in Q3

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

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

This time period includes August, September, and October receipts.

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

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

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

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research survey, conducted Oct. 1 through Oct. 4, found the candidates locked in a 45-45 dead heat.

The money quote from the polling memo: “Waltz is failing to motivate his own base, earning just 75 percent of the vote among registered Republicans. Soderberg receives 82 percent of the vote among registered Democrats. Soderberg also leads Waltz among self-ascribed independents by 20 percentage points and voters who are undecided more closely resemble Soderberg supporters than Waltz supporters.”

More detailed numbers will be posted by both campaigns by Oct. 15. We reached out to Waltz for an indication of what we could expect, but response was not forthcoming by press time.

The district includes parts of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties on Florida’s Atlantic coast, and has had a GOP lean. President Donald Trump won CD 6 by 17 points in 2016; DeSantis likewise won re-election that year by 17 points.

The pollsters and pollwatchers don’t expect a flip.

The Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato both see the district as “likely Republican,” while Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight puts the odds of a flip at less than 25 percent. Their forecasting model currently expects Waltz to win 52-48  in November.

 

Former St. Pete City Council candidate Lorraine Margeson files for divorce

Former St. Petersburg City Council member Lorraine Margeson is suing her husband, Don Margeson for divorce, according to documents filed in Pinellas County court.

Margeson unsuccessfully ran for St. Pete City Council in 2013 against Jim Kennedy who won his second and final term on the board. That seat is now held by realtor Brandi Gabbard.

Margeson is an outspoken advocate for environmental policy and an avid bird protector. She was also the office manager for Concerned Citizens, the group that successfully forced the referendum that ultimately cancelled the Lens design for the St. Pete pier. That referendum asking voters whether the city should cancel its contract to build the futuristic, tiara-shaped pier overwhelmingly passed the same year Margeson was on the ballot against Kennedy, who favored the Lens.

According to lawsuit documents, Margeson says her marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

The husband and wife are already living apart at separate homes in St. Pete. The couple married in late 1997.

Margeson lists her self-employed income at $18,000-$22,000 per year with $1,700 a month net income. Despite the low income, Margeson listed a bank balance of $70,000, which she indicated was hers, not her husband’s.

The couple co-founded Donlo Communications, but that company was administratively dissolved in 2016. The couple lost their home to foreclosure the same year.

Both Margesons have been previously married.

Since losing her City Council bid, Margeson has been less active in St. Pete politics, but still maintains a regular presence in the birding community as shorebird nesting volunteer. She’s currently working to help birds that become sick from red tide that’s currently impacting Pinellas County beaches.

In a Facebook post Wednesday, Margeson called on beach-goers to notify volunteers if they saw any sick birds because Hurricane Michael had pushed red tide closer to the beach rather than breaking it up as some had hoped. 

Meet Debra Kaplan, Democrat running for House District 31

Just like in 2016, we’re again asking every candidate, including incumbents, to complete a questionnaire we believe offers an interesting, albeit, thumbnail sketch of who they are and why they are running. 

If you are a candidate and would like to complete the questionnaire, email Peter@FloridaPolitics.com.

Significant other? Kids?

Two dogs.

Education background? Professional background?

AA Mass Media Becker College 1972, 27 years as journalist at The Hartford Courant (Litchfield reporter); WOTW AM/FM covered 1976 Presidential Primary and sold advertising; reporter for Thomson Newspaper Chain in the Lower Naugatuck Valley in CT covering politics, city and regional governments, politics and homicide and police/courts; created entertainment and business sections for now-defunct Ansonia Evening Sentinel.

Reporter in Florida at now-defunct Sun Newspaper Group in Orlando and the Apopka Chief and Planter.

National bylines exclusives on Ronald Reagan presidential run in 1980, Abbie Hoffman interview after prison release for cocaine conviction and several feature pieces on Hot Air Ballooning, a Day in the life of a circus clown and awards for series on living with cancer; series on domestic violence and a series on AIDS.

Won Florida Newspaper Association sports reporting on a wheelchair athlete from Apopka and Best Series on Middle-Class People living without health insurance and using community health centers for care from the National Community Health Associations of America for best medical series from a small newspaper while at the Apopka Chief.

Wrote freelance pieces for the Amerasia News, Heritage Community News and other weeklies.

Worked in public relations and promotions doing movie product placement and tie-in events for Subway sandwiches for Lethal Weapon 2 and Bull Durham. Oversaw national tie-ins and events with the March Of Dimes, American Cancer Society and other groups.

Worked in promotions for the Villages including the opening events for the Rialto Movie Theater, the Senior Professional Bowling Association competition on CBS at the Community’s bowling center, events at Katie Belle’s and the Senior Mrs. America competition in the Villages.

Worked as a Senior Business Development Agent for the former HIG, PRC and now Alorica winning qualified business opportunities for high-tech and financial clients.

What was your first job?

Picking tobacco in Connecticut when I was 14. Worked that as a summer job over two summers. Also worked as a newspaper stringer for the Waterbury Republican when I was 16 as a summer job.

In 25 words or less, why are you running for office?

I believe the working people in this district have not been well represented. I feel public education has not gotten the financial support it deserves.

Did you speak with anybody in your political party before deciding on running? Receive any encouragement? From whom?

I spoke to many people in leadership including Nancy Hurlburt, Lake DEC chair and Jane Hepting, candidate development chair.

Who do you count on for advice?

My steering committee.

Who is your political consultant? Campaign manager?

None.

Who was the first person to contribute to your campaign? Why did they donate?

Connie Albright, She believes in my candidacy and she feels I would better serve our district.

Who, if anyone, inspires you in state government?

Anyone willing to work for the betterment of all citizens, not just their donors.

Why do people mistrust elected officials and what are you going to do about it?

Big donations from Big Sugar, Koch Brothers, and other special interests that get all of the attention and the ear of elected officials like the incumbent.

I believe that we must be open and accessible as well as accountable to the residents of this district, as well as speak to our mayors and chiefs of police and school officials. I have signed pledges I will not take money from the big donors.

What are 3 issues that you’re running on? (You’re not allowed to say education or “improving the schools”)

Bringing common sense to Tallahassee and working for the betterment of all citizens including protecting our water and acquirers from pollution, septic system leakage and fertilizer runoff; common sense educational funding by sunsetting programs which are not working and using those funds for public education and expanding vocational education; common sense gun laws which protect the second amendment but closes the gun show loophole.

We must keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have one. If you can pass a background check and take a course on safe gun handling you should be able to get a concealed weapon carry permit.

What is a “disruptive” issue (i.e., ride-sharing) you are interested in?

Do more to end the school to jail pipeline and juvenile justice reform.

What does your legislative district need from Tallahassee?

More access to their state Representative and a commitment to listen to voters no matter who they are because our job is to listen and act in the best interests of all.

Who was the best governor in Florida’s modern history?

Lawton Chiles

If you could amend the Florida Constitution, what would you change?

The process of deciding what amendments are included. Stop bundling disparate concepts because it is confusing to voters.

Are yard signs an important part of campaigning in your district?

Yes and no. A lot of Homeowners Associations prohibit them. I prefer billboards.

What’s the first thing you read each morning?

My emails.

Where do you get your political news?

Online, newspapers NPR.

Who do you think will be the next President of the United States?

I do not know. I am more concerned about this year and state races.

60 Minutes or House of Cards?

60 minutes

Social media presence? Twitter handle?

Facebook and @writer61752 on Twitter.

In 140 characters, what’s a Tweet that best describes your campaign message?

Common sense Kaplan bringing common sense back to Tallahassee.

Hobbies?

My dogs, Pinterest, writing, exercising, going to Broadway touring shows and rock concerts.

Favorite sport and sports team?

Football and basketball. Follow the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars. Follow LeBron James.

Andrew Gillum issues ‘cease and desist’ over latest GOP attack ads

As Hurricane Michael approached Wednesday, Florida Democrats took umbrage over a brutal attack ad in the Governor’s race.

The spot running in North Florida attacked Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum over an ongoing FBI investigation in the city. The spot was first reported Tuesday evening by CNN’s Ryan Nobles.

On Thursday, the Gillum campaign upped the ante, with counsel Glenn Burhans, Jr. calling on television stations running the “demonstrably false” spot to cease and desist.

“Audio stating ‘Andrew Gillum is running for Governor and also from the FBI’ combined with the text ‘Andrew Gillum FBI Investigation’ intentionally make the false statement of fact that Mayor Gillum is the subject of an FBI investigation from which he is running away from,” the letter asserts, adding that “it has been widely reported that the Mayor has been advised by the FBI that he is not the subject of an investigation.”

Charges of “illegal trips with lobbyists” likewise are overblown, claims the letter. While an ethics complaint may allege that, repeating the allegation as fact is “classic defamation.” As are claims that Gillum is “corrupt.”

Allegations that “Andrew Gillum refuses to disclose who paid him” are likewise false, the letter asserts, because Gillum “did not accept any money and was not paid by anyone.”

The Democrats followed up with a media call with federal and state prosecutors (an interesting choice, given DeSantis’ own history as a JAG prosecutor in the Navy) that pressed the case that the ad amounted to defamation, even as they conceded the courts likely wouldn’t get involved in this one.

Dan Gelber, Miami Beach Mayor and former deputy United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, called the ad “despicable” and an example of “low-life tactics.”

“Ron DeSantis exploited Florida hurricane victims by sending them untrue ads while they were glued to their TV sets during the storm,” Gelber said, calling DeSantis a “say anything, do anything candidate.”

Marcos Jimenez, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, concurred, saying the spot had “racist undertones.”

Republican Party of Florida officials said Wednesday the ad will no longer run, even as they stand by the spot.

“The order to take the ads down in the affected areas was made,” said Meredith Beatrice, RPOF Communications Director. “Any statement to the contrary is simply wrong.”

The affected areas, per Beatrice, were the Panhandle and Big Bend.

Republican Gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis did not want to discuss the ads or the campaign when asked Wednesday afternoon, saying he was focused on hurricane relief.

However, by Wednesday evening, he was excoriating Gillum on Fox News, raising questions about his expressed desires earlier in the day to avoid discussing the campaign.

Jacob Ogles and A.G. Gancarski contributed to this post.

Delegation for 10.9.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Hurricane politics will play a big role in campaigns’ final month

As Hurricane Michael approaches the Florida Panhandle, residents and visitors are making plans and hopefully following the instructions of state and local leaders. The personal stakes for residents are high as are the political stakes for top-of-the-ticket candidates such as Gov. Rick Scott and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who hopes to succeed Scott.

(NOTE: To be clear, there is nothing more important than the personal safety of those in the storm’s path. This is a political publication, which reports on and speculates about the political ramifications of real-life events.)

Weather politics? Rick Scott suspends Senate campaign as Hurricane Michael threatens the Gulf Coast.

Successfully navigating through a storm of Michael’s magnitude will not necessarily win the Senate election for Scott or the Governor election for Gillum. On the other hand, a botched response or a fundamental blunder can lose it. Both passed the first test by quickly leaving the campaign trail.

Scott generally received high marks for his performance during Hermine in 2016. He also earned praise for his efforts before and after Hurricane Irma last year, but was also attacked by Democrats for the deaths of 12 residents of a Hollywood nursing home.

Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz and others blasted Scott for the pace of debris cleanup following Irma, but Scott has been comfortable enough with his legacy to run a campaign ad for his U.S. Senate run highlighting his actions taken as Governor at the time.

During Hermine, Scott got into a public battle with Gillum over the speed of Tallahassee’s city government in restoring power. The city owns the electric utility.

Fairly or unfairly, the mayor, with Scott’s help, faced scrutiny for not fully deploying resources from out of town who stood ready to help residents. A television ad currently running repeats those allegations.

The two are likely to have an encore performance and may be called upon to tango on behalf of their common constituents.

President Donald Trump, who was in Florida on Monday, will tell Floridians that FEMA will be there for them and pledge to give Scott everything he and North Florida needs.

Meanwhile, Scott’s opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson is doing what Senators do by sharing information, offering assistance, and encouraging constituents to follow the guidance of local authorities. He and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio know they will be taking a back seat to Scott and will more than likely be standing behind him during briefings but demanding quick federal action once the storm passes.

Gillum’s opponent, Rep. Ron DeSantis, has no official role after resigning from Congress in September. He will have to be satisfied with loading and unloading supplies during visits to affected areas, most likely with his former GOP House colleagues Matt Gaetz and Neal Dunn.

A picture with Gaetz helping distressed citizens would help change the story following the controversial remarks from Saturday’s joint rally (see below).

The hurricane politics will start after the storm passes, but for now, everyone is a nonpartisan Floridian.

Delegation reacts strongly to Kavanaugh

The saying that “it’s all over except for the shouting” applies somewhat to the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. The narrow 50-48 vote in the Senate led to even more shouting and a pledge by New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler to investigate Kavanaugh for perjury if Democrats win control of the House.

Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton agreed, saying “If we take back the House, the judiciary committee (of which Nadler would become chairman) I serve on is going to be busy doing all the things we should have been doing for the past two years, which is to provide oversight of (the Trump) administration.”

Brett Kavanaugh’s swearing-in provokes a strong response from the Florida delegation.

Some members of the Florida delegation offered their views, while some remained in the background. Rubio, who was one of the 50 votes for Kavanaugh on Saturday, spoke for many on the Republican side who were pleased with the outcome but offered sorrow for the status of today’s politics.

“Just terrible for America,” he tweeted.

Nelson, who is in a tight race for re-election with Scott and one of the 48 “no” votes, remained quiet after Kavanaugh was confirmed. His sole official utterance was a tweet earlier in the week that simply said, “I will vote no on Judge Kavanaugh.”

Scott called the Kavanaugh nomination “a complete mockery” of the process and cited the need for term limits and called out Nelson for allowing “partisan politics to take precedence over the U.S. Supreme Court …”

Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, co-chair of the Bipartisan Women’s Caucus, said the vote “sends a horrible message to survivors of sexual violence that their experiences and voices don’t matter.” She also described Kavanaugh’s testimony as “raging partisan conspiratorial accusations at Democrats …”

Wasserman Schultz claimed Kavanaugh “repeatedly obfuscated or lied about his past behavior and revealed himself to be the unabashed partisan that so many had feared him to be.”

Justice Kavanaugh’s first day on the court was Tuesday.

Rubio bill on corrupt drug centers passes Congress

While the raging process of confirming Kavanaugh continued, the Senate managed to accomplish a significant achievement in bipartisan fashion. Last week, a bill offered by Rubio and co-sponsored by Nelson to combat opioid addiction passed the Senate by a 98-1 margin and heads to the President’s desk.

The House overwhelmingly passed the measure earlier.

Rubio’s bill is designed to crack down on companies who profit each time a concerned parent or loved one tries to help a patient find a drug treatment facility for an individual addicted to opioids. The bill would take away the incentives for call centers to make money and instead focus on helping individuals beat their addiction.

Working with advocates such as Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg, Rubio introduced the bill in July. The speed at which it moved through Congress was welcomed, but highly unusual.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg was among the advocates for a new opioid bill sponsored by Marco Rubio.

“The way this place works, to get from an idea in June to a law in October is not common. I don’t think I’ll be saying this much,” Rubio said. “We were brainstorming what we could do at the federal level and came up with a federal law that goes after the middlemen who make all this money. They’re basically trapping people and they put them back into rehab.”

The bill was placed into a larger package that included measures from other members, including Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan, who sponsored a bill establishing a national database of pain medication providers.

“Opioid abuse impacts far too many of our friends and neighbors,” Nelson said. “I’m glad to see Congress finalize this bipartisan package to help combat this terrible epidemic.”

Nelson hails judge’s ruling on TPS deportations

Another federal judge has thwarted attempts by the Trump administration to send noncitizens back to the countries of their origin. By ending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for an estimated 240,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Sudan, Nicaragua and Haiti.

The administration had declared situations in those four countries had improved enough to require them to return home, but lawsuits were filed to seek an injunction against the action. U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California stopped any deportations, basing his decision on Trump’s “animus against nonwhite, non-European immigrants.”

A federal judge puts up a roadblock to the deportation of Haitians with temporary protection status.

Nelson hailed the ruling, specifically on behalf of Haitians with TPS living in the U.S.

“This lawsuit is good news for the more than 60,000 Haitians with Temporary Protected Status living in the US. They deserve more than fear and uncertainty about whether or not they will be forced to return to a country that can’t support them. This lawsuit is good news for the more than 60,000 Haitians with Temporary Protected Status living in the U.S.,” he tweeted. “They deserve more than fear and uncertainty about whether or not they will be forced to return to a country that can’t support them.”

The status of Haitians became even more dire with last week’s earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.

Nelson said he was “praying for all those affected by the earthquake in Haiti and our deepest sympathies are with the families who have lost loved ones.”

Gaetz attack draws strong reaction

DeSantis and Gaetz have campaigned together on occasion, but none generated the statewide attention as the one in Sarasota on Saturday. While making the case that Gillum leads a city with the state’s highest crime rate, Gaetz said: “I don’t know whether to call him Andrew Gillum or Andrew ‘Kill ‘em.”

Matt Gaetz steps in it with an off-hand comment about ‘Kill-em’ Gillum.

“Ron DeSantis’ closest political ally, Matt Gaetz, today made a racist and despicable attack on Mayor Andrew Gillum,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terri Rizzo. “Ron DeSantis must immediately condemn this racist attack on Andrew Gillum and stop weaponizing race.”

Gaetz fired back at a critic on Twitter who questioned why the veteran Congressman had not been banned from the social media site.

“This is the new left. They don’t like what you say? They can’t defend bad ideas? They get confronted with the bad results of their policies? They push for the suppression of your speech,” Gaetz responded. “Grow up.”

DeSantis did not respond to calls from Democrats to rebuke Gaetz.

Waltz keeping Trump at arm’s length, for now

As plans for a Monday rally with Trump and DeSantis were in the works, another Republican nominee said he would not be there if it came about. Michael Waltz, who is campaigning for the Congressional District 6 seat formerly held by DeSantis, said to count him out.

Plans for the rally fell through, but Trump was in Orlando on Monday for an official event. Scott, who is giving Sen. Nelson his toughest challenge ever, was with Trump at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in his capacity as governor, not as a candidate.

Mike Waltz is keeping his distance from Donald Trump in the CD 6 race, at least temporarily.

DeSantis did not attend the convention because he would not have an official function.

The Waltz campaign said that despite the appearance of shunning Trump, they are all in on his policies.

“Michael Waltz proudly supports the many successes President Trump has achieved on behalf of the American people and has said EXACTLY THAT in dozens of interviews on FOX News, on the campaign trail and in campaign ads,” the campaign said in a written response to POLITICO. “Michael Waltz is determined to make his case directly to the voters of this district based on his own experience as a decorated combat veteran and small-business owner who’s dedicated his entire adult life to serving this country.”

Waltz, who supported Rubio for President in 2016, harshly disparaged Trump during the campaign, but is behind his agenda now. He is slightly favored to defeat Democrat Nancy Soderberg, but she is running a strong campaign to flip the district.

Murphy touts affordable housing grants from HUD

Affordable housing in the Orlando area got a big boost last week with the announcement of a significant grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park announced a $20 million in federal assistance is on the way to Central Florida.

According to Murphy, Orlando will receive $7.4 million of the HUD funds through the Community Development Block GrantEmergency Solutions GrantHOME Investment Partnerships and Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS programs. The remainder of the federal money will be split between Orange County ($9.7 million) and Seminole County ($2.8 million) through the CDBG, ESG, and HOME programs.

Stephanie Murphy is celebrating new affordable housing grants.

“Central Florida is among the fastest-growing regions in the country, but the supply of affordable housing has not kept pace,” Murphy said. “These targeted federal investments will not only help more families find affordable housing, but they will also make our community stronger for everyone by reducing crime, strengthening our economy, and enhancing our overall quality of life.”

CDBG funds help recipients construct quality housing, improve public infrastructure, and expand economic opportunities for working families; ESG grants are used to help families find permanent housing after they experience a housing crisis or homelessness; HOME grants fund housing costs for low-income families; and HOPWA program grants fund projects that benefit low-income individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

Murphy is running for a second term to represent District 7. She is being challenged by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller in November.

Crist’s FAA safety compliance bill passes Congress

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act, which included an amendment by Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, passed last week following a bipartisan compromise in the House and Senate. Crist offered the amendment following a seven-month investigation by 60 Minutes over safety issues plaguing Allegiant Air.

Under the Crist amendment, the U.S. Government Accountability Office will now investigate the effectiveness of the FAA’s “compliance philosophy” that prioritizes communication over enforcement concerning passenger safety.

Charlie Crist, shown speaking with Sade Reed of the SEIU, had a key FAA safety bill pass Congress. 

“Our number one responsibility as members of Congress is to keep our constituents safe,” Crist said. “The Tampa Bay Times and 60 Minutes raised troubling questions over whether current FAA policy is working to do just that.”

The 60 Minutes investigation and Tampa Bay Times reporting found that AAR Aircraft Services, the company that performs maintenance for Allegiant, was not fined and no action was demanded after pilots nearly lost control over a plane taking off from Las Vegas in August of 2015. The plane had been flying for weeks with serious mechanical issues that could have caused it to crash.

Allegiant has been the subject of several safety incidents and investigations and the FAA has been criticized for taking any meaningful action.

Crist’s amendment had support from the Transport Workers Union, the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, the AFL-CIO union, Travelers United and Consumers Union.

F. Rooney joins Climate Solutions Caucus

The Climate Solutions Caucus has two new members, including a conservative Republican from Southwest Florida. Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples is the latest to join the bipartisan group co-founded and co-chaired by Deutch and Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo.

Francis Rooney, the newest member of the bipartisan Climate Change Caucus.

Rooney was added along with progressive Democrat Ro Khanna of California. Membership is expanded only when a member of one party is matched by the other.

“I joined the Climate Solutions Caucus because environmental issues are critical for our Southwest Florida community,” Rooney said. “To safeguard our future, proactive planning is necessary to mitigate effects of rising sea levels and increased intensity of flooding. I look forward to working with a bipartisan group of my colleagues on solving the problems of sea-level rise.”

Besides the two founders, there are five other members of the Florida delegation in the caucus: Republican Reps. Gaetz, Mast and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen along with Democratic Reps. Murphy and Crist.

Deutch, Democrats demand reversal of new LGBTQ diplomat policy

Last week, the Trump administration announced the U.S. would no longer issue visas to same-sex partners of diplomats unless they were legally married. Under the new guidelines, diplomats regardless of sexual orientation will need to be married by the end of the year for their partners to receive visas.

Democrats are pressuring Mike Pompeo to reconsider the State Department policy on LGBTQ diplomats. (Image via Getty)

The administration argued that it was making the change to bring policy in line with the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

Democrats, led by Deutch and a few of his colleagues, blasted the action. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 119 members argue that several diplomats would find it impossible to meet the requirement.

“Only 26 countries — a mere 13 percent of member states — allow same-sex couples to marry,” they wrote. “In reversing the State Department’s 2009 decision to provide visas to same-sex domestic partners, your department fails to acknowledge that in most of the world, same-sex domestic partners do not enjoy the possibility of marriage — and your decision undermines the validity of these diplomats’ relationship.”

Deutch did not hold back in his criticism of the administration’s action.

“This Administration has an offensive record when it comes to equal rights for the American LGBTQ community, and now it appears they’re set to endanger the lives of LGBTQ foreign diplomats and U.N. employees working in the United States,” said the Boca Raton Democrat.

Joining Deutch in signing the letter was Frankel, Wasserman Schultz, Crist, Darren SotoKathy CastorAlcee Hastings, and Frederica Wilson.

The new policy would also include employees of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

GOP blames Shalala for Hurricanes’ football decline

As Hurricane Michael bears down on Florida, the University of Miami football program is factoring into the race for Congressional District 27. According to a new ad from the American Opportunity PAC, the university’s former President, Donna Shalala, is the reason the Miami Hurricanes suffered through a down period on the field.

The Democratic nominee for the seat currently held by the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is attacked in the ad for actions that “wrecked” football program, which is only now coming back into prominence. The Hurricanes were riding high with multiple national championships until 2002.

“Then Donna Shalala came to town,” the narrator says. It blames her for taking $500,000 from “Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro,” which led to the program suffering through sanctions imposed by the NCAA. Shapiro had also provided impermissible benefits to athletes in prior years.

The PAC’s executive director, Christian Camara, also criticized Shalala for the decision to move home games to Hard Rock Stadium north of Miami and away from the Orange Bowl that is much closer to the university’s campus in Coral Gables.

“Republicans never allow facts to get in the way of a false narrative,” responded Mike Hernandez, a spokesman for the Shalala campaign. “The city of Miami forced the University of Miami football program out of its lease at the Orange Bowl, not President Shalala.”

Whether the move was ultimately inevitable, records show the City of Miami offered funding to renovate the Orange Bowl and keep the Hurricanes there. In announcing the move to the north, Shalala said the city’s effort “wasn’t enough.”

Perhaps the good times are returning after Miami broke a long home losing streak to Florida State on Saturday with a 28-27 come-from-behind victory.

Shalala is running against Republican Maria Elvira Salazar.

On this day in the headlines

October 9, 1981 — With three former Presidents by his side, President Ronald Reagan said the American people stand with the people of Egypt in mourning Anwar Sadat and “in redirecting ourselves to the cause for which he gave his life.” Sadat was assassinated on October 6 while reviewing a military parade.

In a brief ceremony at the White House, Reagan bade farewell to the American delegation consisting of former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Richard Nixon. The gathering was the first in this century, perhaps ever, that four U.S. Presidents met. Reagan was advised not to attend due to security concerns.

October 9, 2001 — In a windowless space 10 paces from the Oval Office, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge reported for duty Monday at the new Office of Homeland Security. His assignment: figure out where America is vulnerable to terrorist attack and try to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

In an executive order, President George W. Bush instructed Ridge to bring all federal, state and local agencies together in drawing up a plan to “detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States.” Commenting on the enormity of his mission, Ridge quoted the motto of the Army Corps of Engineers: “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer

Tampa Bay Times appoints new D.C. Bureau Chief

The Tampa Bay Times has named Steve Contorno as their Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief. He replaces Alex Leary.

Congrats to Steve Contorno, who replaces Alex Leary at the Tampa Bay Times.

He formerly covered Hillsborough County government for the Times and spent time with PolitiFact. Contorno also covered Congress and Virginia politics for the Washington Examiner as well as state and local government for the Green Bay Press and Gazette.

Warning: Hurricane Michael may bring AOB scammers in its wake

Hurricane Michael’s impending arrival has prompted a warning from the business community for homeowners to be wary before signing any assignment of benefits agreements with repair contractors.

Meanwhile, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis activated his Disaster Fraud Action Strike Team to “get ahead of” and post-storm fraud. He also activated seven out of eight of the state’s firefighting and search and rescue teams as Michael approached landfall.

Patronis serves as state fire marshal.

The Consumer Protection Coalition, comprising insurers and other business interests organized by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, directed home and auto policy holders to its website to view ads warning against AOB agreements.

These are contracts whereby a policyholder assigns the right to enforce a policy to a contractor before beginning repairs. Critics, including the coalition, argue that unscrupulous contractors can inflate restoration costs, forcing litigation with insurance companies that drive up insurance premiums.

“As we saw last year following Hurricane Irma, consumers should be on alert for scam artists seeking to profit off people in times of crisis,’’ Chamber president and CEO Mark Wilson said.

“Residents whose homes or vehicles are damaged during Hurricane Michael should review carefully all documents they are asked to sign and not feel pressured to sign an assignment of benefits contract.’’

He suggested policyholders call their agents or insurance company first to report any losses; hire only licensed, reputable companies; and shun strangers who call or knock on your door seeking to do inspections or seek personal information.

Make sure you know what you’re signing, and who would be responsible for paying the vendor — you or your insurance company.

Finally, you can call the Florida Department of Financial Services consumer hotline at 1-877-693-5236 if you suspect skullduggery.

Patronis said operators at that number also can assist consumers in filing insurance claims.

Rick Scott closes state offices in 35 counties as Hurricane Michael draws near

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered state offices closed in the 35 counties covered by his emergency declaration for Hurricane Michael.

The office closure was to run from Tuesday through Thursday.

Scott announced the move Monday, via his Twitter feed.

Also on Monday, Scott asked President Donald Trump to declare a federal pre-landfall state of emergency. That would bring federal resources to the state’s assistance, including money, Scott said.

Earlier, Scott had placed 26 counties under emergency orders. On Monday, he added Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, and Union counties.

“Florida is recovering from the impacts of hurricanes Irma, Matthew, and Hermine,” Scott wrote in his request to Trump.

“Additionally, Florida provided significant assistance to Hurricane Maria survivors under a host state agreement with FEMA. Together, these incidents strained the resources of the state and local governments.”

The request seeks direct federal assistance “in the form of personnel, equipment, and supplies,” plus financial aide through FEMA’s public assistance program.

Any shift in the forecast track to the East could trigger the evacuation of millions of people along the West Coast of Florida,” the document says.

Gulf Power ramps up for Hurricane Michael, stalls economic summit

Gulf Power Co.’s annual Economic Symposium is off pending further notice, as the utility company began bracing for Hurricane Michael and urging its customers to do the same.

“Right now, all of our focus must be on this storm,” company spokesman Gordon Paulus said Monday in a written statement. “Postponing the symposium is the right thing to do for our customers and the safety of our attendees.”

The symposium was to have run from Thursday through Friday — and Michael’s expected to make landfall between Pensacola and Apalachicola as a Category 2 or 3 huricane Wednesday afternoon.

Nearly 1,200 Gulf Power employees and 330 contractors were bracing to restore power following the inevitable outrages. The company has lined up another 1,350 crew member from sister utilities.

“Customers should prepare for the possibility of losing power for an extended period when tropical storm to hurricane force winds and storm surge or flooding occurs,” said Paulus said.

“We have our storm plans in place and are ready for any scenario.”

The company quickly restored power following Tropical Storm Gordon in September, but Michael promises a bigger blow, Paulus said.

In advance of the storm, Gulf Power suggested cranking down the A/C — the cool will linger for a couple of days if you keep the doors and windows shut. Charge your phones and other electronic devices. Keep freezer doors sealed. Turn off major appliances if the power goes out, to avoid damage from a power surge when it comes back.

Additional tips here. Video explainer about the power restoration process here.

Monitor updates on Gulf Power’s Facebook page. You can receive free alerts by texting REG to MyGulf (694853), or visit the Preference Center in the My Account area of MyGulfPower.com to choose between texts alerts, emails or phone calls with outage updates.

Farmers, ranchers, sportsmen now oppose dog-racing ban

A coalition made up of Florida’s farmers, ranchers and sportsmen have teamed up to oppose a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at ending live dog racing in the state, according to a Monday press release.

But a main supporter of the racing ban said their argument doesn’t hold water.

Amendment 13, which would need at least 60 percent approval on the November ballot, would ban betting on greyhound racing by the beginning of 2021.

The coalition — made up of Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Cattlemen’s Association, the NRA, Unified Sportsmen of Florida, Future of Hunting in Florida and Florida Sportsmen United Political Committee — asks Floridians to “consider the impacts on our businesses, our food providers and our rights to hunt and fish, and vote no on Amendment 13.”

“Amendment 13 could have wide-ranging impacts on Florida’s farmers and our ability to provide food for Americans,” said Dr. Liz Steele, a veterinarian in Zolfo Springs, a member of the Florida Farm Bureau and a member of the executive committee for the Florida Cattlemen’s Association.

“I am seriously concerned about adding language like this to our state’s Constitution,” Steele added. “For our farms, for our families, for our dinner tables, vote ‘no’ on Amendment 13.”

Using a previous argument of the Florida Greyhound Association, the coalition notes that the amendment itself says the “humane treatment of animals is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida.”

“This type of vague, undefined declaration in Florida’s Constitution is likely to be exploited by activist groups to bring lawsuits against family farms and sportsmen,” the release says.

“Amendment 13 could seriously hinder the rights of Floridians to hunt and fish,” said Bill Marvin, chairman of the Future of Hunting in Florida.

“Adding this language to the Constitution could destroy our culture,” Marvin said. “Not to mention, it would eviscerate our state’s reputation as the Fishing Capital of the World, which draws thousands and thousands of tourists to our waters every year.”

It calls Amendment 13 supporters “extreme animal rights activists who have expressed their desire to shut down family farms and ban hunting and fishing.”

“This amendment is a Trojan Horse,” said longtime Tallahassee NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer. “We cannot be fooled. This is an attack on our rights as Floridians and as Americans.”

Carey Theil, Senior Advisor to the Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign, said greyhound breeders “have lost the debate over whether dog racing is cruel and inhumane.

“As a result, the industry is now trying to fool voters by hiding behind this phony ‘coalition’ which is, in reality, a stalking horse for the greyhound industry,” he said in a statement.

“The Florida Constitution already states that the inhumane treatment of animals is a concern of Florida citizens. Further, the false argument being promoted by these front groups was rejected by the Florida Supreme Court only a few weeks ago.

“In a 6-1 decision, the Court found that the purpose language ‘bestows no rights, imposes no duties, and does not empower the Legislature to take any action.’ ”

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