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Staff Reports

Delegation for 5.18.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Re-election races bringing out ‘bipartisanship’

This week, two issues began to break through the fog of personal “collusion” between Stormy Daniels and President Donald Trump, as well as the still unproven “collusion between Trump and Russia. Both issues involve some bipartisanship, but tough re-election battles have placed two prominent Floridians at the center of the action.

The first issue surrounds the confirmation of CIA Director nominee Gina HaspelOn Wednesday, she earned a positive bipartisan referral from the Senate Intelligence Committee with a 10-5 vote, sending her nomination to the Senate floor.

Break out the bipartisanship: Senate Intelligence Committee gives the nod to Gina Haspel.

Despite the announced defection of Arizona Republicans Jeff Flake and John McCain, along with Rand Paul of Kentucky, Haspel was confirmed on Thursday by a 54-45 vote. Those defections were more than offset by the support of a handful of Democrats representing red or purple states.

Among those was Bill Nelson, who announced his support on Tuesday. Nelson, in a tough re-election fight with Gov. Rick Scott, said: “the brave men and women who work at the CIA deserve a career professional, like her, to lead them.”

After attacks from Scott’s campaign that called Nelson a party line guy, the reason for the three-term Democrat’s support is obvious. At the same time, he runs some risk that his Democratic base will have a hard time swallowing a seat-saving vote.

In an AP story titled “Confirmation vote for CIA chief brings out Democratic rift,” a spokeswoman for a liberal activist group said any Democrat voting for Haspel is “a vote they’re going to have to explain for a long time to come.”

The far left may also want Nelson to explain his being one of only five Democrats to vote for the confirmation of Mike Pompeo as the new Secretary of State. In addition, he was criticized by liberal activists in January for voting to end the brief government shutdown without a fix for undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers.

While Democrats are in a rift over Haspel, DREAMers are creating a schism within House Republicans. A prominent Florida Republican is at the center of an effort to force a vote on DACA, which would legalize this group of immigrants.

In a story published in The Hill titled GOP split on immigration is a crisis for Ryan’s team, House Speaker Paul Ryan is trying to fend off an intraparty insurgency trying to force a vote on DACA.

Three weeks ago, Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo was not even a co-sponsor of the DREAM Act, but has since signed on and is now a leader in the effort to get 25 Republican signatures on a discharge petition that would force a vote on that bill and three others.

Curbelo is classified as one of the more endangered Republicans in 2018, which helps explain his decision to take on his party leadership in a big way. According to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, if the discharge petition goes forward, Republicans could lose the majority in the fall. Leadership is working on an alternative plan.

“Clearly we have had a positive impact on leadership and on this institution because now this issue is being taken seriously,” Curbelo told reporters following a Wednesday meeting in Ryan’s office. “We have our plan, we’re sticking to it, but we’re willing to see what theirs looks like.”

As of Thursday, Curbelo and his allies had 20 Republican signatures. If five more sign on and all Democrats join, the four competing DACA bills will be forced onto the floor.

If that happens, some real incumbent protection will break out. Stay tuned.

Nelson applauds Senate vote on net neutrality

On Wednesday, the Senate voted to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules. The 52-47 vote was as narrow and partisan, percentage-wise, as the commission’s 3-2 vote in December.

This was good news to Nelson, who has long railed against the FCC for even contemplating such action. He said the rules had been established for a reason. Before the vote, he addressed Senators from the Senate floor on the need to repeal.

Bill Nelson approves of the Senate vote protecting Net Neutrality. (Image via Getty)

“The public understands how vital it is to have a free and open internet,” Nelson said. “They do not want to have websites blocked or internet access slowed. And they certainly don’t want internet providers making these decisions.”

The House is not expected to take up the repeal, meaning the Senate vote will have no lasting impact. Democrats are hoping at least for some political gain.

Many Americans do not understand what net neutrality means, but younger voters, who spend far more time on the internet than older voters, know more about what is at stake. Democrats are counting on this being an issue that will help drive millennials to the polls.

Rubio goes after State Department nominee

More than 6 months after her nomination as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, Susan Thornton is yet to be confirmed. If Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has his way, she never will be.

Reports are emerging that Thornton’s nomination is in trouble and could be withdrawn. She is coming under fire for taking conciliatory positions on China, something sure to draw the ire of Rubio, who has indicated he plans to place an indefinite hold on her in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

If Marco Rubio gets his way, Susan Thornton will not be confirmed.

“During the confirmation hearing and in written answers, the current nominee obfuscated or evaded when answering important questions about her troubling record of undermining America’s allies like Taiwan, failing to stand up to China’s efforts to impose its authoritarian will beyond its borders, including in the United States, downplaying human rights abuses in China, and favoring smooth relations with Beijing over ‎a bilateral relationship grounded in reciprocity and reality,” Rubio told the Washington Free Beacon.

On Thursday, things got worse when reports surfaced Thornton was responding to North Korean threats to pull out of the summit with Trump by indicating a partial surrender of nuclear weapons would be sufficient to keep progress going. Rubio was having none of that.

“She is in Tokyo undermining (Trump) by advocating for partial surrender for partial surrender of nukes is unacceptable,” Rubio said.

If Rubio was ready to put a hold on her nomination over China, he made it clear late Thursday that her chance to be confirmed had all but disappeared.

“This is why I will do all I can to prevent Susan Thornton from ever being confirmed as Asst. Secretary of State for E. Asian & Pacific Affairs,” he tweeted.

Calls among other Republicans for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to pull her nomination are likely to grow.

Delegation Democrats call Scott to take action on health care

Florida Democrats are bringing health care back into the 2018 campaign season by calling on Scott to use his authority to increase access to coverage for Floridians that have lost, or will lose, health coverage due to rising costs.

In a letter to Scott, led by Kathy Castor of Tampa and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton signed by all 11 House Democrats and Nelson, they point to six areas where the governor can take action that does not directly involve expanding Medicaid. The lawmakers are anticipating the announcement in the coming weeks of insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that may put health coverage out of reach for many Floridians.

Kathy Castor joins Ted Deutch and other Florida Democrats in blasting Rick Scott for a failure to expand Medicaid.

“There are a number of actions at the state level that you can take to help increase health coverage and increase the affordability of care for families that will mitigate the harm and higher costs facilitated by Republicans in Washington,” they wrote. “We urge you to work to implement some or all of these options to help ensure stability and lower costs for our neighbors.”

They pointed out that 1.7 million Floridians are enrolled in health care through exchanges under the ACA, with 9 out of 10 of those receiving assistance to pay premiums. They closed the letter with a pledge to work with Scott and “thank you for your consideration.”

Wednesday a big day for Rutherford

Wednesday was a busy day for the first-term Republican from Jacksonville. Not only did Rutherford get a high-profile bill passed in the House, he was appointed to one of the chamber’s high-profile committees as well.

The Protect and Serve Act, sponsored by Rutherford and co-sponsored by Orlando Democrat Val Demings and Panama City Republican Neal Dunn, increases penalties for those who target law enforcement officers for injury or death.

It was a big week for John Rutherford.

On the House floor, Rutherford noted 87 law enforcement officers have been shot this year, 28 fatally.

“For this reason, I introduced bipartisan legislation with my good friend and former Orlando Police Chief, Representative Val Demings, that will ensure that there are the strongest possible penalties for anyone who decides to target and harm not only federal law enforcement officers but also local and state officers.”

The bill passed the House by a large bipartisan majority of 382-35. Among the delegation, only Democrats Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel voted against it.

Earlier on Wednesday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, a New Jersey Republican, announced Rutherford’s appointment to the committee. He currently serves on the Veterans Affairs, Judiciary, and Homeland Security Committee.

“With the retirement of one of our great Subcommittee Chairmen, Charlie Dent, we needed to bring a new Member on board, and have made additional changes in Subcommittee leadership as well,” Frelinghuysen said. “We welcome Rep. John Rutherford to the Committee, and I look forward to working closely with him over the next weeks and months to complete all 12 Appropriations bills in the House, and to fulfill our fiscal commitments to the country and the American people.”

Biden weighs in with CD 6 endorsement

Earlier this week, Democratic Congressional hopeful Nancy Soderberg received her biggest endorsement to date. As she tries to win the nomination in District 6, Soderberg was endorsed by former Vice-President Joe Biden.

Biden said he is supporting Soderberg after knowing her for 30 years, dating back to her service as a staffer in the Senate. He also pointed to her service in the White House and the State Department as an Ambassador to the United Nations.

Joe Biden gives his approval for Nancy Soderberg, a former ambassador in the Bill Clinton’s White House.

“I’m supporting Nancy because she’s a problem solver, and will fight for the values of the 6th District: growing the middle class, creating jobs you can raise a family on, ensuring every family has access to affordable health care and every child can get an affordable education,” Biden said. “She has the knowledge and experience to make a difference and get things done for the people of the 6th District.”

Soderberg has one plausible Democratic opponent in the primary, making Biden’s support a big plus among intraparty voters.

“I am honored to have the support of Vice-President Biden, who has dedicated his life to standing up for American men, women and children,” Soderberg said in a statement.

Soderberg has raised nearly $1 million and had $595,000 cash on hand as of March 31. Her primary opponent, Stephen Sevigny, has $227,000 on hand.

The winner will likely face either John Ward or Michael Waltz, both well-funded, in the general election. District 6 is a GOP-leaning district currently represented by Republican Ron DeSantis of Marineland, who is leaving the seat to run for governor.

Soto nabs endorsement of civil rights icon

A civil rights legend has weighed in on the District 8 Democratic primary between former Rep. Alan Grayson and first-term incumbent Darren Soto. Georgia Democrat John Lewis revealed on Thursday he is backing Soto, calling Soto “a champion of civil rights.”

Civil rights icon John Lewis of Georgia is standing with Darren Soto.


Darren Soto is exactly the kind of leader we need in our country today,” Lewis said in a statement. “He brings a passion for fairness, justice, and equality for all. Against a tide of hatred, Darren knows that only love can save our country,”

Lewis was one of the leaders of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and has served in Congress since 1987. He called Soto a “rising star.”

“He has my full support and I hope the people of Central Florida will send him back to Congress because we need him,” Lewis said.

The winner of the Soto-Grayson primary will face Republican businessman Wayne Liebnitzky.

Mast joins Veterans Affairs Committee

Last week, rumors circulated that Palm City Republican Brian Mast was under consideration to be the new Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A “White House official” confirmed Mast was under consideration to lead the agency with 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.

That now seems unlikely because, on Wednesday, Mast was tapped for a seat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He will continue to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee as well as the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Brian Mast meets with acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

“Brian is already a tireless advocate for veterans, and — as a veteran himself — is keenly aware of the challenges our nation’s heroes face,” said committee chairman Phil Roe, a Tennessee Republican. “Representative Mast will be an excellent addition to the committee, and I look forward to working with him to reform VA.”

While not serving on the committee during his first 16 months, Mast has been active in issues involving veterans. He has been involved in the Warriors Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members who have served in combat.

On Thursday, caucus members welcomed acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to Washington, where they met to discuss ways to improve service to veterans. They also discussed the bipartisan VA MISSION Act of 2018, which passed overwhelmingly Wednesday.

“I’m really excited to have the opportunity to serve our veterans on the Veterans Affairs Committee,” Mast said in a news release. “Our first-of-its-kind office in the West Palm Beach VA has resulted in more than 100 new cases that we’re taking a look at to help veterans in our community, and being on this committee will give me an even better platform to advocate for my fellow veterans.”

Diaz-Balart touts Everglades funding in water project appropriations 

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a $44.7 billion funding bill that would provide significant funding for the Everglades and Florida water-related projects. Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, a senior member of the committee, could not be happier.

With the committee’s approval of the 2019 Energy and Water Development funding bill, projects within the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan totaling $67.5 million would receive federal funding. Another $96 million would go toward funding necessary repairs on the Herbert Hoover Dike on Lake Okeechobee.

Mario Diaz-Balart, shown here at a House Appropriations Committee meeting this week, touts new funding for the Everglades.

“The Everglades is the heart of the Sunshine State’s ecosystem, and we must do everything we can to preserve it for future generations,” said Diaz-Balart in a news release. “Not only will these projects sustain the Everglades and the tourism it supports, but it will also protect Floridians’ access to clean drinking water and mitigate against future floods.”

The bill provides $200 million for flood and storm damage reduction, along with another $140 million for maintenance and improvements for Florida waterways.

Other delegation members on the committee are Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney and Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

Shalala Center will be minus one Shalala on Saturday

While some Congressional races garner more news than others, District 27 covering Miami is getting a lot of attention this week. The biggest news involves a Democratic debate scheduled for Saturday.

In one of those you-can’t-make-this-up moments, the scheduled debate is slated for the Donna E. Shalala Student Center on the campus of the University of Miami. Most of the contenders will be there with the exception of Donna Shalala.

A Democratic candidate forum at the Donna E. Shalala Student Center Saturday will be short one Donna Shalala.

This will mark the second consecutive debate the former Clinton Administration official and president of the University of Miami has missed. She skipped another debate Tuesday night to attend a film screening.

“Donna ‘No-Show’ Shalala is consistently disrespecting the people of this district by missing these debates, especially one at a building named after her,” said state Rep. David Richardson, one of her opponents. “Donna Shalala says she’ll be ‘ready on day one,’ but she is not even ready to debate the other candidates. This is not how elections should be run.”

Shalala, who pledged to attend a July debate, dominated a February poll where most respondents were unfamiliar with the other candidates.

One of the candidates who is attending the debates, has another issue besides Shalala. Kristen Rosen Gonzalez has been accused of defamation for public comments she made last year.

Last fall, Rosen Gonzalez accused former Miami Beach Commission candidate Rafael Velasquez of exposing himself to her. He confirmed the lawsuit this week.

More than a dozen candidates from both parties are running to succeed retiring Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.


It’s infrastructure week (again), and some trade groups across the nation are asking for something unique from Washington: money for park maintenance projects.

In a Tuesday letter to Congress, 12 Florida trade groups joined a national coalition of 40 organizations asking members to dedicate funding to the National Park Service’s $11.6 billion maintenance backlog. The ask comes as White House officials and Congress consider a nationwide infrastructure spending plan.

Florida trade groups join a coalition calling for ‘rebuilding and fixing the National Park System.’

“Rebuilding and fixing the National Park System will help to employ thousands of American workers, support continued tourism and economic development in hundreds of park gateway communities, and ensure that our national treasures are preserved for generations to come,” the letter reads.

Don’t take their word for it: A study commissioned in 2017 found that investing in maintenance projects could create or support more than 2,467 jobs in Florida, and 110,169 jobs nationwide.

Numbers talk: The more than 10 million visitors to park sites in the Sunshine State in 2017 spent $613 million in nearby areas.

Signatories include: The Florida chapters of the American Institute of Architects, American Planning Association and American Society of Landscape Architects, along with the Asphalt Contractors Association of Florida, Inc., Associated Builders & Contractors, the Florida Engineering Society, Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association, Florida Surveying and Mapping Society, Florida Transportation Builders Association, National Association of Women in Construction of Greater Palm Beaches, National Association of Women in Construction – Tampa Chapter #36, and the Suncoast Utility Contractors Association.

On this day in the headlines

May 18, 2001 — President George W. Bush released a blueprint plan that calls for the U.S. to find and develop new sources of energy. The plan prompted fears of new oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coast.

Democratic Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa said if the administration seeks to move oil rigs closer to the coast, “they have a huge fight on their hands.” Republican Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young of St. Petersburg said, “There will be a bit of a battle if there is an attempt to rescind the Florida moratorium” on drilling.

May 18, 2011 — The vehicle that will usher the shuttle program into retirement was given a rock star-like escort in Cape Canaveral. Flanked by hundreds of Kennedy Space Center workers and led by its four-man crew, shuttle Atlantis made a final trip from its processing hangar to the vehicle assembly building.

The crew and KSC employees took their time admiring the last shuttle that will fly in orbit. The shuttle program will officially end following the mid-July mission.

‘Thin blue line’ to be honored at The Capitol

Current and former law enforcement officers from all over Florida will be honored Saturday at the Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Tallahassee.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) announced the event Friday.

“The Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame was created by the 2014 Florida Legislature to recognize and honor law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line for the safety and protection of Florida’s citizens and visitors through their works, service and exemplary accomplishments,” a press release said.

The 2018 inductees are:

Robert E. Blackburn, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

— Donald F. Eslinger, Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

Ernest W. George, West Palm Beach Police Department.

Frederick A. Maas, Sunny Isles Beach Police Department.

James W. Smith, Miami Beach Police Department.

FDLE Assistant Commissioner Jennifer Pritt will preside over the ceremony, which is at 2:30 p.m., in 412 Knott Building, The Capitol.

For more information, call FDLE at (850) 410-7001.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.18.18 — Relationship business

As Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is fond of saying: politics is a “relationship business.”

So, this edition of Bold spotlights the utility of political friendships.

Whether running for Congress or state or local office, you’d better have your friends’ endorsements (well-timed) and the interest of the donor class (early, and often).

In each category, there will be examples of the haves — and have-nots.

File this edition away, come back to it in 100 days or so. You will see a direct correlation (if not causation) between who got the help they needed and who had juice with the voters.

Biden backs Soderberg for Congress

Ambassador Nancy Soderberg rolled out her most high-profile endorsement for her Congressional race yet Monday, with former Vice President Joe Biden backing the Clinton administration alum.

Nancy Soderberg was instrumental in Bill Clinton-era foreign policy.

“I’ve known Nancy for three decades since she first started her work in the Senate,” said Vice President Biden. “She is a lifelong public servant who has served at the highest levels of government. At the White House and as an Ambassador to the United Nations, Nancy brokered international peace deals and helped develop and promote U.S. national security policy. She understands what it’s like to bring both sides to the table and solve complex issues. She’s been tested and she’s delivered.”

Biden is “supporting Nancy because she’s a problem solver, and will fight for the values of the 6th District: growing the middle class, creating jobs you can raise a family on, ensuring every family has access to affordable health care and every child can get an affordable education. She has the knowledge and experience to make a difference and get things done for the people of the 6th District.”

Soderberg, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Vice President Biden, who has dedicated his life to standing up for American men, women and children.”

Florida’s 6th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Ron DeSantis, extends from St. Johns County south to Volusia on Florida’s east coast.

Dems rally behind Lawson

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson hinted earlier this month about a swath of endorsements from Florida Democratic colleagues in Congress, and Monday he delivered.

Rep. Al Lawson (shown with French President Emmanuel Macron) trumpeted a swath of Congressional endorsements this week.

In total, eight endorsements came his way: Reps. Darren SotoVal DemingsCharlie CristKathy CastorLois FrankelTed DeutchDebbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

“I am humbled to receive the support of my colleagues as we continue to make our economy stronger, communities safer and produce results that all North Florida families can be proud of,” Lawson said.

These endorsements come at a key time for Lawson. Alvin Brown, the former Jacksonville mayor currently primarying Lawson, enjoyed a two-to-one fundraising advantage during the first quarter of 2018.

And that means that Brown has pulled close to incumbent U.S. Rep. Lawson in terms of cash on hand.

For the quarter, Brown brought in $167, 088, while Lawson hauled in $83,866.

Lawson had $100,000 cash on hand at the end of 2017 before Brown got in the race. Now Lawson has just under $160,000 and Brown has just over $127,000.

A. Brown lauds Ramadan; decries anti-Muslim discrimination

As incumbent Lawson collected endorsements, challenger Brown staked out the high ground.

Former Jacksonville Mayor and current 5th Congressional District Democratic hopeful Brown became the first and so far only North Florida candidate this cycle to laud the beginning of Ramadan.

Alvin Brown made his first public statement in his career on Ramadan this week.

In a statement released this week, Brown lauded the beginning of the annual celebration, while decrying discrimination against American Muslims.

“At sunset, Muslims in my district and across America will begin their monthlong celebration of the holy month of Ramadan. The month is an auspicious time for the Muslim community when the faithful will use the month to not only fast from dawn to dusk each day but also spend time to renew the spirit of their faith,” Brown asserted.

“Our nation is founded on the creed ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and this creed affirms that diversity is our national strength. We celebrate that diversity by recognizing religious pluralism as foundational to our national unity,” Brown added.

“At a time when the American Muslim community is facing unprecedented bigotry and discrimination, I join all Americans of goodwill and conscience to uphold the dignity of all our citizens. May this Ramadan be a source of blessings and joy to all those who choose to celebrate this month. Santhea and I wish all my American Muslim neighbors a very Blessed Ramadan,” Brown concluded.

Gibson stretches lead over hapless primary challenger

Jacksonville political watchers are beginning to wonder about the strategy of City Councilman Reggie Brown, who opted to primary Democratic Senate Minority Leader-Designate Audrey Gibson in August but has not yet actually raised any funds.

Reggie Brown is having problems getting traction against a heavily backed incumbent.

Through April, Gibson was far in the lead fundraising wise with more than $132,000 banked, with Brown far behind, closing the month with just $4 on hand.

Gibson has been quiet about her challenger but has committed to fundraising, with strong April receipts measuring over $17,000, pushing her over $156,000 raised and to the aforementioned $132,000 cash on hand.

Gibson brought in receipts from unions, such as the police and fire locals, as well as racing interests, Crowley Maritime, and traditional Republican donors such as John Rood and John Baker.

FOP crosses party lines in state House races

Jacksonville’s local Fraternal Order of Police went bipartisan with its latest swath of endorsements for state House, including choosing a Democrat over a field of Republicans running to replace Jay Fant.

In House District 15, the FOP endorsed Tracye Polson over Republicans Wyman DugganJoseph Hogan and Mark Zeigler.

The language of the endorsement lauded Polson’s “dedication to her community.”

Trayce Polson continues to build momentum in what has been a disciplined campaign.

Polson is the safest bet of the four candidates in the race, in that she is unopposed for her party’s nomination. Between her campaign account and that of her “Better Jacksonville” political committee, she has raised $211,000, with $135,000 on hand.

The FOP offered two other endorsements in the latest rollout, backing incumbent Republicans over underfunded Democrats.

In HD 11 and 12, the union went with Cord Byrd and Clay Yarborough.

Democratic opponents in both those races are struggling with real fundraising, which augurs poorly for their challenges to safe Republican seats.

Moran backs Polson over Republican field

In 2011, which was a different time in Jacksonville politics, Republican Audrey Moran was a strong candidate for Mayor.

Audrey Moran. (Image via Wave Magazine Online)

Though Moran fell short of the runoff election, her candidacy is still seen by many as an intersection of purpose and politics.

Moran’s days of running for public office appear to be over; however, she is still active in the scene, and crossed party lines to endorse Polson in HD 15.

“Dr. Tracye Polson will bring fresh ideas and strong leadership to Tallahassee,” said Audrey Moran in a statement from the Polson campaign.

“She is smart, collaborative and courageous. Tracye is a first-time candidate for public office and a breast cancer survivor. She knows our community and is ready to fight for what Jacksonville needs. Tracye will represent all of the people in her district and I am proud to endorse her,” Moran added.

“Earning the trust and support of such an influential community presence is an indication our campaign continues to extend its reach, connecting with a wide range of voters including business leaders. Because of her experience and insight, Audrey’s counsel will be invaluable and I am deeply grateful to have her endorsement,” said Polson.

Davis pads coffers, Jackson lags

Duval Democrats are noted for their internal wars, and a good current example of such is the House District 13 Democratic donnybrook between Rep. Tracie Davis and Roshanda Jackson, a former district secretary for state Rep. Kim Daniels.

Tracie Davis wants two more years.

The Davis/Jackson contest is one of two major primary votes awaiting some Jacksonville voters, the other being Davis’ political ally, Sen. Audrey Gibson, being challenged by Daniels’ ally, Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.

The Gibson/Brown contest is one-sided in terms of cash-on-hand, $132,000 to $4.00 in favor of the incumbent. And at least in the early going, the Davis/Jackson contest is lopsided in favor of the current officeholder.

Davis raised $3,100 in April, pushing her over $40,000 on hand out of $41,815 raised. Her top donors, at the $500 level: AT&T Florida PAC, Florida Dental PAC and Fiorentino Group.

Davis, who had a fundraiser in Springfield Monday evening at Crispy’s on Main Street, looks to have a stronger May than April.

Jackson, meanwhile, has raised $830 in her two months in the race and has $800 of that on hand.

Per LobbyTools, the seat “is safely blue with Democrats outnumbering Republicans 54,686 to 22,554 with another 15,550 registered as independents.”

Developer dosh finds K. Brown

Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown has drawn no fewer than seven challengers for her District 8 seat.

Katrina Brown will have access to capital her many opponents won’t.

Six of them were from her own Democratic Party. One of the challengers died soon after filing, leaving five Democrats and one NPA candidate in the mix.

Brown, who dealt with bad news cycles including issues with her family business defaulting on city-funded economic development loans and grants, and an altercation with local police when a Council colleague was arrested, nonetheless is running for re-election.

And April’s receipts indicate that Brown will have help from developers in her re-election bid.

In her first month of actual fundraising, Brown raked in $7,000, from $500 and $1,000 checks.

Advocates for Business Growth ponied up, as did developers (the Sonoc Company, Leone Development and Nocatee Development, along with Sleiman Holdings), and attorneys interested in development (Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne & Diebenow).

Brown is still in a distant third place in terms of total money raised. The leader, Tameka Gaines Holly, brought in $3,458 in April (much of the money from within the district), leaving her with roughly $19,000 on hand.

Another shot for Daniels

Recent electoral setbacks weren’t the last call for the peripatetic political career of Jacksonville’s Jack Daniels, as he again has filed to run for the Jacksonville City Council.

Daniels, who shares his name with a consumer product, has taken many shots at public office. Yet, despite his efforts, the glass has come up empty time after time.

Still, he continues his efforts. And in 2019, he will get an electoral rematch against District 2 Republican Al Ferraro, the man who beat him three years prior.

Al Ferraro will face Jack Daniels, again.

Daniels, who raised less than $8,000 for his race, had good ROI: he got 27 percent of the vote.

“Since I hadn’t accepted any political money, my campaign for city council consisted of almost nothing but a year of door-to-door visits. In contrast, since my opponent accepted it, his campaign consisted of paid advice from expert political consultants, continuous paid advertisement promoting his candidacy in the media, numerous paid campaigners for him who made thousands of door-to-door visits to frequent voters, a multitude of campaign signs, many mailings to frequent voters promoting his candidacy, etc.,” Daniels contended.

Despite all of this drama, Daniels endorsed Ferraro — the “opponent.” Daniels told The Florida Times-Union that Ferraro is “a really hard worker, and I think he’d be a very good person to be a council person.”

 Daniels begins the race with a considerable financial disadvantage to incumbent Ferraro, who has over $35,000 on hand after raising $7,105 in April.

Sunshine Law charges cloud Council prez race

A public notice meeting Tuesday morning called by Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis addressed “allegations made by Council Vice President Aaron Bowman on the topic of Sunshine Violations for the upcoming Council Leadership vote.”

Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis were the only two city officials to show up.

The vote comes Tuesday; Bowman has the majority of Council’s support pledged to him as he chases the top job.

However, clarity was not to be provided this week, as Bowman was not at the meeting. And neither was the head of the city’s ethics office, Carla Miller, expected to be at the meeting.

Bowman was “told by multiple sources that Dennis has been [negatively] talking about [Bowman’s] leadership endeavor.”

Dennis called the meeting to confront his “accusers,” but except for Council President Anna Brosche, no one was there.

In remarks to the media after the brief, inconclusive meeting, Dennis would not say directly that Bowman violated the Sunshine Law.

“I’ve been instructed by the General Counsel not to say that,” Dennis said.

Dennis, who chairs the Finance Committee, likely won’t have that prerogative next year. Bowman, per Dennis, is a “staunch supporter of the Mayor” — Dennis’ political enemy.

As well, with re-election campaigns looming ahead of the March 2019 “first election,” Dennis may see his opponent backed by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce — for which Bowman is a VP for the business recruitment arm, JAXUSA.

Newby drops VP bid, leaves three candidates

The clouded picture in the race for Jacksonville City Council vice president cleared up Tuesday, with Sam Newby dropping out to focus on his re-election bid.

Sam Newby, an ally of Lenny Curry, opted to stand down in the VP race.

Newby, an at-large Councilman, faces one opponent thus far for re-election.

The first-term Republican’s exit from the race leaves three candidates standing: Democrat Tommy Hazouri and Republicans Danny Becton and Scott Wilson. And thus far, none of the candidates have galvanized much support.

Hazouri, a political veteran who has been Jacksonville Mayor as well as a State Representative and School Board member, sees the VP role as the logical next level. However, he hasn’t been put in the spotlight during his time on Council, and pledges have eluded him.

Becton, a fiscal watchdog from the Southside, is a Republican in his first-term. Jim Love is a pledged supporter.

Wilson, likewise a Republican in his first term, sought the VP role last year but was steamrollered in the vote by current VP Aaron Bowman.

Council votes on these offices Tuesday, and pledge meetings will take place throughout the next week.

New officers take control July 1.

Bean, Daniels present check to YMCA

State Sen. Aaron Bean joined state Rep. Daniels this week to present a $250,000 check on behalf of the state of Florida to Eric Mann, president and CEO of YMCA of Florida’s First Coast, the YMCA’s Metropolitan Board of Directors and the YMCA’s Senior Leadership Team.

During the 2018 Legislative Session, Bean and Daniels worked together to help secure state funding for teen programming at the James Weldon Johnson Family YMCA in Northwest Jacksonville.

Aaron Bean, Kimberly Daniels present a $250K check in state funding to the Johnson Family YMCA.

“The YMCA is consistently a leader in advocating for Florida’s youth by providing programs that positively impact their lives and give them the opportunities needed to succeed,” Bean said. “This funding will allow the YMCA to increase programming for at-risk adolescents in the most underserved areas of Jacksonville, which will truly change lives and benefit our entire community.”

Daniels added: “It was an honor working with Senator Bean on the Johnson Family YMCA appropriation … This facility is strategically placed between Cleveland Arms and Washington Heights, which are high crime housing areas. The youth in these neighborhoods will benefit from the program expansion, and I am excited about what is ahead for our community.”

The funding will allow the Johnson Family YMCA to launch new programming and grow programmatic opportunities for teens and pre-teens in Jacksonville’s most disadvantaged areas. The Johnson YMCA will also use the funding to provide life skills training, job and career preparation, health education and summer employment opportunities for teens. These new programs will serve approximately 120 additional youth in the community.

Not so fast on ‘no sale’ bill

On Monday, the Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety committee deferred a bill expressing opposition to selling the local utility, a hot-button issue in recent months.

The bill will be considered in three weeks when committees next convene.

2018-248, a resolution introduced by Councilors Jim LoveJoyce Morgan and Reggie Gaffney, would put the kibosh on moves to potentially sell JEA.

This discussion comes at a time when moves to sell or privatize all or part of the utility find a phalanx of detractors and no public advocates in the present tense.

Though official positions of both JEA Interim CEO Aaron Zahn and Jacksonville Mayor Curry boil down to advocating a pause of some indeterminate length in a discussion of privatization of the utility, many observers of the process do not take those assertions at face value.

The deferral motion from Councilman Love seemed to catch co-sponsor Morgan and Councilman Garrett Dennis by surprise.

Dredge, baby, dredge

The Jacksonville Business Journal reports that “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is soliciting bids for the second phase of the harbor deepening project, estimated to cost between $125 million and $200 million.”

Dredging continues in Jacksonville.

This phase, “Project B,” is expected to cost $187 million and will deepen miles 3-8 of the shipping channel.

Project A, still in progress, is expected to be wrapped next year.

Federal funding, which has been in place, is not assured for this part of the project. Jaxport could front the funds in hopes of eventual federal reimbursement.

The dredge, all told, will go from 11-13 miles, deepening the channel to 47 feet.

C. Brown drama lingers

A year has passed since Corrine Brown was found guilty of various counts of fraud and tax evasion related to her former nonprofit, “One Door for Education.”

Brown is imprisoned, yet the appeal process continues, predicated on whether the removal of a juror who claimed to be guided by a “higher power” was the reason she was found guilty.

Corrine Brown’s defense and appeals have been fruitless thus far.

This week, prosecutors again rejected the proposition that the discharged juror was the difference maker.

“The decision to remove a sitting juror is a significant one that justifiably warrants careful, albeit deferential, review by this (appeals) court,” the document said. “The district court’s decision here handily withstands that review. The court took this issue very seriously and removed the juror only after having carefully considered whether that juror would be able to follow the court’s instructions and decide the case based on the evidence. And the court did so only after having concluded that the juror’s decision — that he had been told by the Holy Spirit before deliberations had even begun, that Brown was not guilty of all 24 charged crimes — was not based on the juror’s evaluation of the sufficiency of the evidence.”

Brown, who was convicted last year on 18 felony counts and sentenced to five years in prison, has focused her appeal on the decision by U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan to dismiss the juror.

Bestbet doubles down

In another gambling case that could reach the state Supreme Court, a Jacksonville casino is appealing the state’s decision to end its quest for a slot machine license.

Bestbet doubles down on slots hopes.

Jacksonville Kennel Club, which does business as bestbet, filed a notice of appeal Tuesday to the 1st District Court of Appeal after the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) turned down its application last month. The department regulates gambling through its Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering.

Any expansion of slots is opposed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which pays the state millions each year for the exclusive right to offer slots at its casinos outside South Florida.

And a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this November would require the statewide approval of voters before any expansion of gambling — and its backers say the measure would have retroactive effect.

The crux of the Jacksonville appeal is last May’s Supreme Court decision denying slots to a track in Gretna, Gadsden County, and in other counties that passed local referendums allowing them. Duval was one such county; bestbet Jacksonville wants to add slots to its poker and simulcast wagering.

Jags’ Bortles plays a little defense

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was in the rare position of playing defense last week. Not on the football field, but in his own home.

News4Jax reported that a young neighbor, Joseph Horton, was able to get into Bortles’ truck parked outside his home while the quarterback was hosting a party. The 18-year-old Horton tried to steal the truck, but was unable to navigate through multiple cars belonging to those attending the party.

Blake Bortles is playing defense at home.

Not satisfied to take Bortles’ wallet, which was in the truck along with the keys, the teenager went into the house full of partygoers and went upstairs. When no one recognized him, police were called.

When they arrived, Bortles and two friends were standing guard over the young man, who claimed to enter the house in search of a girlfriend. No one had heard of her.

In the end, Horton was arrested, where it was later learned that he lived in a multi-million-dollar home with his parents on the Intracoastal Waterway. He was charged with burglary, trespassing, and grand theft and later released on bond.

A Twitter account called Blake Bortles Facts used the incident to take a gratuitous slap at the Cincinnati Bengals tweeting “Blake Bortles has prevented more truck thefts (1) than the @Bengals have Playoff wins since 1991.”

For the record, the Jaguars and Bengals do not play each other this year.

Rick Scott earmarks federal Hurricane Irma block grant for housing, infrastructure

Florida wants to spend $616 million in post-Irma federal emergency money to repair damaged homes, build new affordable housing, and to help businesses that suffered damage in the storm.

The money would come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through a disaster-recovery community block grant. Gov. Rick Scott submitted his plan for the money to federal officials on Wednesday.

“Even before Hurricane Irma made landfall, we began working with the federal government to express the diverse needs our state would face following a storm of this magnitude and how best to address those needs,” Scott said in a written statement.

“Since the storm, we have worked tirelessly alongside community and business leaders to build stronger communities that are better prepared for future disasters. I’m glad that DEO submitted this plan to help families in our state,” Scott said.

The Department of Economic Opportunity worked with local officials in the hardest-hit areas to develop the plan, the governor’s office said.

The program is designed to kick in after other federal assistance, including FEMA and Small Business Administration grants, and private insurance are exhausted.

HUD requires the state to direct 80 percent of the money to the areas that suffered the most damage — Brevard, Broward, Collier, Duval, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Polk and Volusia counties, and ZIP codes 32136, 32091, 32068 and 34266.

“We are thankful to these communities for their commitment and partnership to determine the best way to use this funding to make a difference across the state,” DEO director Cissy Proctor said. “We are committed to helping Floridians recover, particularly families who do not have the resources to rebound as quickly after a disaster.”

HUD has 45 days to evaluate the state’s plan, which includes the purchase of land for affordable housing.

The state hopes to use some of the money for economic and infrastructure projects, especially in the Florida Keys, and to assist people who moved to Florida from Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

The feds have allocated $117 million under the CDBG-DR program to help Florida cope with damage from hurricanes Hermine and Matthew.

Rick Scott rolls out new Spanish language campaign ad, spends $3.2M on air this week

Gov. Rick Scott continues his full court press of Florida airwaves in his bid for Senate against Bill Nelson, with a new Spanish language ad released Wednesday.

“Cambiar,” a Spanish language ad running in South Florida, spotlights Scott’s efforts in job creation, with citizens extolling his efforts.

Among the kind words from various speakers: “Rick Scott has created more opportunities in Florida … There are more jobs in Florida thanks to Rick Scott … As a veteran, I’m very grateful to Rick Scott. He has created jobs and he’s put people back into the labor force, and that’s why I support him.”

Scott for Florida has spent $3.2 million on ads this week, and $8 million since the Governor entered the race.

This week, Scott has rolled out an ad per day.

Monday saw the release of another Spanish language spot, touting his efforts on behalf of Puerto Rico and providing praise for him from Puerto Rican Floridians.

That 30-second spot,  “Presente,” is running on Spanish TV stations in Tampa and Orlando.

Tuesday saw the release of an English language ad. “Party Line” features people complaining that incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is a “party line voter.”

Builders’ plea to Congress: Rebuild Florida’s national parks infrastructure

Construction, engineering, and contracting firms urged Congress on Tuesday to begin paying off the $262.2 million maintenance backlog in Florida’s national parks.

Organizations including the American Institute of Architects, the Florida Engineering Society, and Florida Transportation Builders signed an open letter marking “Infrastructure Week” — an effort by similar groups and labor unions to promote investment in national construction projects.

“Rebuilding and fixing the National Park System will help to employ thousands of American workers, support continued tourism and economic development in hundreds of park gateway communities, and ensure that our national treasures are preserved for generations to come,” the letter says.

They pointed to a 2017 Pew study, Restoring Parks, Creating Jobs: How Infrastructure Restoration in the National Park System Can Create or Support Jobs, suggesting that such investments could mean 2,467 jobs in Florida and more than 110,000 nationally.

The total backlog in maintenance at the country’s national parks has been estimated at $11.6 billion in 2017.

Florida’s 11 national parks generated more than $600 million for neighboring communities from visitors last year, the groups said. That contributed to 8,960 jobs and a total economic boost in the state of $904 million.

Signatories include 40 national organizations and groups from 25 other states.

President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to increase investment in infrastructure, but this $1.3 trillion plan includes only $200 million in federal funding and counts on states, cities, and private investment for the rest.

Additional Florida signatories include chapters of the American Planning Association; American Society of Landscape Architects; Asphalt Contractors Association of Florida; Associated Builders & Contractors; Florida Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association; Florida Surveying and Mapping Society; National Association of Women in Construction – Greater Palm Beaches and Tampa; and Suncoast Utility Contractors Association.

Delegation for 5.15.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Scott, DeSantis celebrate new Jerusalem embassy

On Monday, the United States was well represented for the official opening of its new embassy in Jerusalem. Some key Florida-based elected officials joined Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and others for the ribbon cutting.

The controversial action comes 70 years to the day the U.S. recognized the Jewish state (see “On this day in the headlines”). Monday’s events were a big deal.

In Jerusalem, Monday was a huge deal.

With the U.S. leading the way seven decades before, under a Democratic President, a Republican is making a similarly bold move. President Harry Truman shocked the world in 1948 while President Donald Trump did the same in December when he announced this country’s go-ahead to make a move from Tel Aviv.

A string of bipartisan pledges to move the embassy have been a part of U.S. presidential elections for decades. Trump made the same promise, but in the end, was the only one to keep it.

It was Trump’s second chance to make a move. One year ago, he punted away that opportunity leading Marineland Republican Ron DeSantis to criticize the president sharply.

Describing Trump’s action as “deeply disappointing,” DeSantis, a Congressional leader in the movement to relocate the embassy, wound up in the mostly uncharted territory of being on the opposite side of a policy issue with Trump.

Fast forward one year and the embassy is now in Jerusalem and Trump has endorsed DeSantis, who attended the opening, in his bid to succeed Rick Scott as Governor of Florida. DeSantis interviewed with Fox News from Jerusalem but otherwise did not hype his break from campaigning to join the festivities.

Scott was not shy about telling everyone he was among the celebrants on Monday. Before the event, he posed for a photo op with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which will no doubt be seen again during his campaign against Sen. Bill Nelson.

Trump’s decision also earned some bipartisan support. Nelson, Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz of Weston agreed with the move, as did Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. 

Opponents, based largely on the potential for violence, saw their fears confirmed as dozens of demonstrators (or rioters depending on the news source), were shot and killed by Israeli forces along the fence separating Israel from Gaza.

On the political side, former presidential candidate and Utah Senate hopeful Mitt Romney blasted the choice to deliver the opening prayer at the embassy opening. Romney called the Rev. Robert Jeffress a “religious bigot” who has criticized the Jewish, Muslim and Mormon faith in the past.

With mixed emotion present in the U.S., that is not the case in Israel, where “Trump Make America Great” signs adorned Jerusalem light poles. On Sunday, Jerusalem’s soccer team announced it will now be called Beitar Trump Jerusalem.

Seventy years after Israel was recognized, there is no sign of peace in the Middle East. Monday’s violence surrounding a ceremonial diplomatic ceremony shows there is little prospect for calm even in the distant future.

Trump aides excelling

Michael Cohen isn’t the only person with Trump’s ear.

CNBC’s Brian Schwartz reports former Trump campaign adviser Scott Mason is reaping the benefits of his insider connections in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist for Holland & Knight, a firm that brought in $22 million in 2017 with the help of Mason’s influence.

While Michael Cohen gets the headlines, Scott Mason has real pull under Donald Trump’s presidency.

New business: With Mason on board, Holland & Knight added Google parent company Alphabet, Tesla and Peabody Energy to its client roster.

Shots at Cohen: In Schwartz’ story, Mason draws a stark contrast between Cohen and others in the influence biz. Cohen isn’t a registered lobbyist. “It’s unfortunate what he did, and it tarnishes what we have been doing for 20 years,” Mason says.

Sweet nothings: Schwartz notes Mason isn’t the only ex-Trump aide excelling under the president’s reign. Others, like Corey Lewandowski, have had success — coming to be known as the ‘Trump whisperers.’

Nelson, delegation Democrats accuse Scott of cutting Medicaid

A proposal by Scott to hasten the deadline individuals have to apply for the Medicaid program caught the eye of Nelson, Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor and 11 other delegation Democrats. The move, according to Nelson, would cut nearly $100 million from the program.

“I rise here today because the state of Florida has again proposed to harm thousands of seniors and folks with disabilities who rely on Medicaid for their health care,” Nelson said on the Senate floor.

Bill Nelson, Democrats blast Rick Scott for Medicaid cuts. (Image via AP/Mark Wallheiser)

Nelson and House Democrats wrote to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Director Seema Verna asking her to reject the Scott administration’s request to require Medicaid enrollments occur within 30 days of a medical event instead of 90 days.

“Retroactive eligibility is designed to protect Medicaid beneficiaries — including seniors, pregnant women, individuals with disabilities, and parents — and their families from the steep costs of medical services and long-term care,” they wrote. “Importantly, this protection was also designed to minimize uncompensated care costs faced by hospitals and other health care providers who take care of our neighbors and are already challenged by the state’s low reimbursement rates.”

Nelson tweeted “The state of Florida is trying to cut $100 million from Medicaid. That’s unacceptable. And that’s why @USRepKCastor and I have joined forces today in calling on the federal government to block the state’s outrageous plan.”

Scott did not respond directly, but Mallory McManus, spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration (AHCA), issued a statement saying it was “categorically false” to say the proposal affects the care received by Medicaid beneficiaries. Requiring quicker enrollment will result in “better-coordinated fully integrated care, as well as access to preventive services.”

Rubio praises Iran actions

Late last week, the U.S. Treasury Department took action designed to disrupt a currency exchange network in Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the rogue regime was able to procure and transfer millions of U.S. dollars to their Revolutionary Guard (IRGC-QF). Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was quick to praise the efforts of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and department regulators.

“The Iranian regime and its Central Bank have abused access to entities in the UAE to acquire U.S. dollars to fund the IRGC-QF’s malign activities, including to fund and arm its regional proxy groups, by concealing the purpose for which the U.S. dollars were acquired,” said Mnuchin. “Today we are targeting Iranian individuals and front companies engaged in a large-scale currency exchange network that has procured and transferred millions to the IRGC-QF.”

While praising the efforts of the Trump administration, Rubio was critical of the cooperation between the U.S. and Iran during the Obama administration.

“We must stop the international flow of Iranian terrorist funding that the flawed Iran nuclear deal unleashed,” he said in a statement. “I applaud the Treasury Department for acting swiftly to impose sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities that enabled the regime and the Central Bank of Iran to convert and flood the Revolutionary Guard and its terrorist proxies with hundreds of millions in U.S. dollars.”

Farm bill splits delegation Agriculture Committee

House Republicans are working to get a massive farm bill out of committee this week. After emerging from the Agriculture Committee, it is now slated for the Rules Committee to consider dozens of amendments.

The bill covers multiple subjects from overhauling the sugar program along with keeping farm supports and crop insurance, to name just a few provisions. What is making this a partisan bill is increasing for those receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps).

Al Lawson (shown with French President Emmanuel Macron) is pushing against a massive farm bill.

Democrats, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi want to torpedo the bill mainly because of that provision. Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Darren Soto of Orlando are also against the proposal.

“I am disappointed Republicans have chosen to mark up a partisan Farm Bill that includes severe cuts to nutrition assistance for Americans in need,” Lawson said. “Moreover, this Farm Bill fails to invest in rural development and bioenergy programs and undermines conservation efforts.”

Committee Republicans, including Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City and Ted Yoho of Gainesville, have a different view.

“We all depend on a thriving agriculture industry, and this Farm Bill works to ensure that we will continue to have safe and affordable food on our tables,” Dunn said in a newsletter to constituents. “From protecting crop insurance to streamlining burdensome regulations, we are fixing the Farm Bill to protect and support the agriculture industry.”

According to POLITICO, the bill’s sponsor, Texas Republican Mike Conaway, did not have the votes Friday but expects to have them by midweek.

Gaetz salutes Armed Services Committee for test range funding increases

As the National Defense Authorization Act moves through Congress, several delegation members touted the benefits they were able to get into the bill that provides tens of billions of dollars in funding. Add Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz to that list.

Gaetz is applauding the Armed Services Committee for adding a $41.9 million increase for military test ranges, which includes the Gulf Test Range in his district. The Range, which covers 120,000 square miles of overwater airspace, is important to many forms of training and testing.

Matt Gaetz applauds the final markups on the National Defense Authorization Act to increase funding for the Gulf Test Range.

The committee passed the funding bill by a vote of 60-1.

This is a great bipartisan first step. I look forward to the House passing this bill, and continuing to rebuild our great military,” Gaetz said.

Assignment Editors — Republicans Greg Steube and Julio Gonzales, who seek to replace retiring GOP Rep. Tom Rooney, will take part in a candidate forum on Tuesday evening. The NOVA Republican Club is hosting the event beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Nokomis Community Center, located at 234 Nippino Trail in Nokomis.

Wilson: Briefing ‘traumatized’ widow of Niger ambush victim

Late last week, the Pentagon released their report on what happened to a Miami soldier and his colleagues who were killed in an ambush in Niger last October. Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson, who has regularly called for an accounting as to what happened to Sgt. La David Johnson and his colleagues, attended a private Pentagon briefing with Johnson’s family.

The report reveals that after coming under attack, Johnson and fellow soldiers took cover and returned fire. The group became separated, and Johnson wound up more than one-half mile away from the original attack site before being killed.

A Pentagon briefing ‘traumatized’ the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, says Frederica Wilson.

“The widow, she is still traumatized from the briefing,” Wilson said. “They expected more closure as to his remaining hours and days because he was missing for two days.”

The Army said it took longer to find Johnson because he was so far away from the original attack site where other victims were discovered.

Johnson was a constituent of Wilson’s who participated in a program founded by the longtime legislator called the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, which mentors African-American boys and young men in Miami-Dade County. She became embroiled in controversy with Trump and Chief Staff John Kelly, which began with the dissatisfaction of Trump’s call of condolence to Johnson’s widow.

South Florida Republicans seek forced DACA vote

As 2017 gave way to 2018, Congress was working on a bill to provide those involved in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program some form of permanent status. A judge’s ruling in February against executive action by Trump removed some of the urgency.

Several bills, including the DREAM Act favored by nearly all Democrats and some Republicans, were awaiting hearings or some action. Last week an effort primarily led by South Florida Republicans took drastic action to get things moving.

Carlos Curbelo joins Florida Republicans to force a vote on DACA.

Carlos Curbelo of Kendall, who recently came out to fully support the DREAM Act, along with Miamians Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen filed what is known as a discharge petition designed to force a debate on the issue. They need 218 members to sign the petition to force action.

In other words, they need 25 Republicans to join all Democrats to begin debate. Along with the three Floridians, four other Republicans have joined the effort.

We’ve taken this aggressive action in the U.S. House because quite frankly we are tired of waiting,” said Curbelo. “I am sick and tired of the politics of immigration. Both sides use the issue to help them with their base voters.”

Ros-Lehtinen noted, “the time to act is now.” Diaz-Balart said, “I also gave (leadership) plenty of time to bring other common-sense bills to the floor through regular order, but enough is enough.”

It should be noted that it is extremely rare for members of the party in power to try to force a vote on their own leadership.

According to news reports, Speaker Paul Ryan had an “animated” discussion with Curbelo on the House floor.

“I don’t think that’s the right way to go,” Ryan said when asked about the strategy a few weeks ago. “I don’t want to bring up legislation that won’t get signed into law. I don’t think it makes any sense to bring a bill through a process that would produce a bill that will get a presidential veto. I just don’t think that’s in anyone’s interest.”

Under House rules, all of the pending bills would be debated and the one earning the most votes would be dubbed “queen of the hill.” If it then secures a majority, it would pass the House and earn the title “king of the hill.”

Along with the more progressive DREAM Act, another one of the four bills is sponsored by Virginia Republican Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The Goodlatte bill is far more conservative than the other three.

NFIB unveils brand-new look

A well-known advocate for small business and a major player on Capitol Hill is getting a new brand and a new look on the web. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) this week rolled out their new logo and a new website as part of their effort to reaffirm their status around the country.

NFIB unveils new logo, website.

The new brand and website launch as NFIB prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary in June. They cited the recent effort to help pass the Republican tax cuts in December as a big win for small business.

“Our new brand captures the strength of NFIB and our drive to stand up for small and independent businesses,” said Juanita D. Duggan, NFIB president and CEO. “But this new brand is much more than a new look. It is the public visual of our continuous commitment to our members to serve as the voice of small business for the next 75 years and beyond.”

The new brand and updated website are at

On this day in the headlines

May 15, 1948 — President Harry S. Truman, in a move that surprised the world, tonight recognized the new Jewish State of Israel in Palestine a few minutes after it was proclaimed. The news caused intense elation among the Zionists, stunned the Arabs, and threw the United Nations into turmoil.

“The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel,” Truman said in an official statement. Later that same day, the Soviet Union recognized the existence of Israel.

May 15, 1969 — The resignation under fire of Justice Abe Fortas from the U.S. Supreme Court opened the way for the appointment of two Supreme Court Justices by President Richard Nixon in the immediate future and the possibility Nixon might name a majority of the court during his term in office. Chief Justice Earl Warren had earlier announced his intention to retire.

Fortas acknowledged he had accepted a $20,000 annual fee from a convicted stock manipulator’s foundation, but insisted his judicial duties were not compromised. Fortas is the first high court justice to quit the court under fire in the history of the nation.

(Note: Nixon appointed, and the Senate confirmed, Warren Burger as the new Chief Justice. After Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell of Tallahassee were rejected by the Senate, Harry Blackmun was confirmed to replace Fortas.)

May 15, 1972 — Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a candidate for president, was shot and gravely wounded just after completing a campaign speech near Washington, D.C. Doctors were confident Wallace would recover but feared paralysis.

A white man identified by police as Arthur Bremen, 21, of Milwaukee, was arrested at the suburban shopping center where the shooting occurred and was quickly brought under Maryland and federal charges.

D.C. too cool?

The nation’s relationship with its capital could be distorted by ‘coolness.’

That’s the gist of a Washington Post Magazine cover story by David Fontana, who offers a historical glimpse of the capital city and argues its financial and cultural trends in the past few decades — especially recently — have distanced it from the country as a whole.

Writes Fontana, “We should all be willing to consider the possibility that the forces of wealth and coolness are distorting Washington’s relationship with America — and that what is good for Washington as a city might, in the end, be bad for it as a capital.”

A panoramic view of Seventh and H streets NW in Washington’s Chinatown. (Image via Sam Kittner/The Washington Post)

The ‘govster’: Just as hipsters have emerged in San Fransisco, New York and Los Angeles, the nation’s capital has produced ‘govsters,’ or people who are “able to enjoy the benefits of living in a cool city while also working for the federal government or somehow exercising influence over the direction of national politics.”

Numbers: The average single-family home price increased 317 percent between 1991 and 2016. Between 2000 and 2010, D.C. contracting dollars more than doubled. Between 2009 and 2012, more millennials moved to the nation’s capital than anywhere else.

Prose for thought: “ … while progressives recognize that place causes poverty or prosperity, they often struggle to consider the possibility that place might also cause politics — that the culture of the city that governs the country might be an impediment to fixing the nationwide inequality that progressives rightly despise.”

TaxWatch stumps for property-tax cap on November ballot

Asked for a 30-second ‘elevator speech‘ on why voters should choose ‘yes’ for Amendment 2 in November, Florida TaxWatch president Dominic M. Calabro didn’t blink.

“If you don’t vote ‘yes,’ either you or your neighbors will see massive tax increases and great deal of property tax dissatisfaction … anger even, if we see property taxes jump by 20 percent,” he said Tuesday, at a press conference in Tallahassee.

The proposed constitutional amendment by the Legislature would cap property tax hikes at 10 percent on properties that don’t have a homestead exemption, such as vacation homes, apartment complexes and undeveloped lots.

“If approved, the amendment removes the scheduled repeal of such provisions in 2019 and shall take effect Jan. 1, 2019,” according to the ballot summary. Voters passed a non-homestead 10 percent tax cap in 2008.

“Failure to make permanent the non-homestead exemption cap could result in Floridians paying as much as $700 million more in property taxes annually,” the organization said in a follow-up press release.

When asked whether that would mean $700 million less in tax revenue for government services, TaxWatch vice president of research Kurt Wenner said a vote for the amendment just means keeping current law intact.

“This is what’s happening now, so it’s not a question of taking money away from government,” he said.

Not passing the amendment “would take money out of the economy,” Calabro added, saying property owners would have less spending power.

The measure also is supported by the Florida Association of REALTORS® and by the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“It allows business owners to plan for the future by having a better grasp on their budgets, so they can expand and create more jobs,” said Carrie O’Rourke, vice president of public policy for the REALTORS, in a statement. “It helps renters continue to afford their housing as they save to one day purchase a home.”

“Before the non-homestead tax cap, nearly three out of four non-homestead properties in Florida had taxes increases of more than 10 percent year to year,” O’Rourke added. “In 2006, 30 percent of non-homestead properties were hit with an 80 percent hike from just the year before. Florida cannot continue to move forward with these kinds of tax hikes.”

TaxWatch’s report on the amendment’s impact is here. It’s one of 13 proposals voters will decide in the Nov. 6 general election.

Doreen Caudell ends Pinellas Commission campaign

Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell is dropping out of the race for the countywide District 2 seat on the Pinellas County Commission.

Caudell, a Republican, told the Tampa Bay Times Monday that she will serve out the remainder of her term on the Clearwater City Council, which runs through 2020.

“I feel compelled to dedicate my full time and attention to continuing to passionately represent Clearwater and its citizens” she said.

Caudell’s exit leaves incumbent Commissioner Pat Gerard unopposed in her quest for a second term, though another candidate could still file for the seat up until the end of the qualifying period, which runs from noon on June 18 through noon on June 22.

Gerard finished April with more than $120,000 raised for her re-election campaign and $95,870 on hand. Caudell leaves the race after raising $76,322 for her campaign since filing in June 2017. She has $48,645 on hand in her campaign account.

The District 2 seat is one of three county commission races that will be on the November ballot along with District 4 and District 6.

Republican Commissioner Dave Eggers is currently unopposed in the District 4 race, while Treasure Island Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters is so far leading the four-way race in District 6, currently held by four-term Republican Commissioner John Morroni.

Districts 1, 3, 5 and 7 will be on the 2020 ballot.

Flags ordered at half-staff for Highlands County deputy

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff Tuesday to honor the Highlands County sheriff’s deputy killed on duty May 7.

Deputy William J. Gentry Jr., 40, had served with the the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office for nine years, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Gentry was shot and killed “while responding to an animal abuse call  … in which a homeowner’s cat had been fatally shot with a pellet gun,” the page said.

Gentry “and a deputy he was training responded to the victim’s home,” it said. “During the investigation, Gentry went to the suspect’s home, a convicted felon who lived next door, to make contact with him. As he stood at the front door the suspect opened fire on him, shooting him in the head.

“The 69-year-old subject was taken into custody at the scene and charged with numerous counts. Gentry was flown to Lee Memorial Hospital where he succumbed to his wound the following day.”

Scott directed the U.S. and state flags to be flown at half-staff at the Highlands County Courthouse in Sebring, Sebring City Hall, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office in Sebring, and the Capitol in Tallahassee from sunrise to sunset.

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