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Staff Reports

Personnel note: Rick Scott appoints Ben Gibson to State Board of Education

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed a former aide to the State Board of Education.

Scott announced Friday that Ben Gibson, a Tallahassee attorney, will join State Board of Education for a term ending Dec. 31, 2020. Now in private practice, Gibson has held positions in the Governor’s Office, House of Representatives and with with Republican Party of Florida.

Gibson served as the deputy general counsel in the Executive Office of the Governor from April 2016 until June, when he struck out on his own. Prior to being named deputy general counsel, Gibson spent nearly four years as the assistant general counsel in the Governor’s Office.

The 33-year-old previously served as a staff attorney in the state House Office of the General Counsel and Community & Military Affairs Subcommittee. He worked at the Republican Party of Florida from 2008 until 2010, serving as a special assistant to the House Speaker-designate.

Scott also appointed Katherine “Katie” Cole to the St. Petersburg College District Board of Trustees for a term ending May 31, 2021 and Creston Leifried to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation for a term ending Nov. 13, 2018. All three appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Scott also reappointed Michael Vallencourt to the Clay County Utility Authority for a term ending Sept. 30.

Report: Richard Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC hires Jamestown Associates

House Speaker Richard Corcoran continues to grow his political team, despite staying tight-lipped about his 2018 plans.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Friday that Watchdog PAC, the Land O’Lakes Republican’s political committee, has hired Jamestown Associates.

The Philadelphia-based Republican firm helped shape Donald Trump’s television ad campaign during the 2016 election cycle. The Tampa Bay Times reported Larry Weitzner and Barney Keller are expected to provide strategic advice to Corcoran. They join Tony Fabrizio, a Fort Lauderdale-based pollster who has advised Gov. Rick Scott, and will provide insight as Corcoran mulls a 2018 gubernatorial bid.

Watchdog PAC reported raising more than $2 million in June, according to state campaign finance reports.

Brian Mast campaign says it raised more than $700K in Q2

Rep. Brian Mast will report raising more than $700,000 in the second quarter of 2017, his campaign announced.

The Mast campaign said Thursday it raised $733,964 between April 1 and June 30. That three-month fundraising haul brings his total raised to more than $1.12 million this cycle, according to the campaign.

“While national Democrats desperately dump money into the 18th District with lies to undermine Brian Mast’s service to our country, people obviously aren’t buying it,” said Brad Stewart, a spokesman for Mast, in a statement. “With 92% of all donations being small dollar and a median donation of $25, it’s clearer than ever that there is broad grassroots enthusiasm for Brian’s agenda to upend the status quo in Washington and restore fiscal sanity to our country.”

Federal campaign finance reports are due to the Federal Election Commission by July 15.

Mast is one of 59 Republicans the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee identified earlier this year as incumbents the group will try to oust in 2018. The Palm City Republican defeated Democrat Randy Perkins in 2016 to replace Democrat Patrick Murphy in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

Panhandle House delegation unanimously backs Matt Caldwell for Ag Commish

Rep. Matt Caldwell has the unanimous backing of his colleague from the Panhandle for Agriculture Commissioner.

Caldwell’s campaign announced that the entire Panhandle House delegation — Rep. Brad Drake, Clay Ingram, Mel Ponder, Frank White, Jay Trumbull, and Jayer Williamson — has endorsed him for Agriculture Commissioner. The endorsements were billed as the first wave of Panhandle endorsements, and come as Caldwell continues to travel the state to build support for his campaign.

“I am excited and truly humbled to receive endorsements from an exceptional group of leaders in the Florida Panhandle,” said Caldwell in a statement. “I hope to have the opportunity to serve the people of the great State of Florida as the next Commissioner of Agriculture and it is with God’s blessing, and the outpouring of support we have received, that our campaign will be successful.”

The North Fort Myers state representative is one of four Republicans vying to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in 2018. He’ll face Sen. Denise Grimsley, former Rep. Baxter Troutman, and Paul Paulson in the August 2018 primary.

Caldwell’s colleagues from the Panhandle praised his work in the Legislature, with Drake saying he has “no doubt that he would do an incredible job if he is given the opportunity to serve Florida families.”

“Matt’s discipline, work ethic, passion, and desire for knowledge have resulted in continued success for him and those he works with during his service in the Florida House,” said Ponder in a statement. “Matt is the candidate I am supporting to serve as our next Commissioner of Agriculture.”

First elected in 2010, Caldwell has spent much of his career in the Legislature focused on environmental and agricultural issues. As chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee in 2013, he backed a plan to help pay for Everglades restoration. As chairman of the State Affairs Committee, he carried legislation, which the governor also signed into law, in 2016 that addressed how state lands are used.

“We have an important decision to make in the race for Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and I am proud to support Matt Caldwell,” said White in a statement. “Water is a precious asset in Florida and our next Commissioner of Agriculture must work to balance the demands of growing cities with the needs of our farmers and our environment. Matt has proven leadership and has championed issues that affect our environment and the agricultural industry.”

Trumbull called Caldwell the “most qualified candidate in the race,” and said he was proud to support him. Those feelings were echoed by Ingram and Williamson, both of who said they were excited to support Caldwell.

Bill Nelson campaign says it raised more than $2.1M in Q2

Sen. Bill Nelson brought in another $2 million during the second quarter of 2017.

The Orlando Democrat’s campaign announced Wednesday it will report raising more than $2.1 million between April 1 and June 30. The $2.13 million haul, according to the campaign, comes on top of raising nearly $2.1 million during the first three months of the year.

While Nelson’s fundraising remained steady, the campaign said the total number of donors has risen quarter-to-quarter.

According to the numbers released by the campaign, Nelson received more than 25,000 donations from nearly 21,000 individual donors in the past three months. That’s up from 4,500 donors who contributed to Nelson in the first three months of the year.

Gov. Rick Scott is expected to challenge Nelson in 2018. Scott has not publicly said he was running for office and has not begun raising money for a campaign. The Naples Republican did, however, announce he was taking charge of a federal super PAC, which is largely expected to help fuel his eventual U.S. Senate bid.

Nelson, according to his campaign, now has more than $5.1 million in the bank.

Gwen Graham now taking on Adam Putnam over drilling

Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham is now making offshore drilling an issue in the race, calling out Republican candidate Adam Putnam for not opposing President Donald Trump‘s efforts “to expand drilling off Florida’s beaches.”

“Representing the Gulf Coast in Congress, I saw the long-lasting negative effects the BP oil spill had on our state’s economy,” she said in a statement. Graham represented the state’s 2nd Congressional District in 2015–17. 

It cost us jobs and hurt real Floridians,” she said. “Can you imagine a spill closer to our coasts? Banning drilling off our beaches is vital to our military, economy, and environment.

“Drilling will only benefit oil companies and Wall Street. Every Floridian, regardless of party, has a responsibility to speak out against Trump’s dangerous proposal.”

Here’s the rest of her release:

A report in Tuesday’s Tampa Bay Times highlighted the military’s opposition to drilling off Florida’s coasts, citing a letter from Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson[, a Democrat].

Goldfein wrote that the Air Force needs the certainty of a drilling ban to guarantee it can carry out its testing and training missions in the Gulf of Mexico.

While in Congress, Graham was the only Florida Democrat to serve on the House Armed Services Committee. She represented Tyndal Air Force Base and heard firsthand from Air Force generals and airmen who opposed drilling off Florida’s beaches.

“I was proud to stand up for our military in Congress, and, as governor, I will continue to fight for the bases and service members in Florida,” Graham said. “Open waters are vital to the Air Force’s operations. Limiting their mission could put our airmen at risk, endanger national security and cost our state jobs.”

Graham supported Nelson’s efforts to fight drilling and co-sponsored bipartisan proposals with Reps. Patrick Murphy and David Jolly to ban exploration off Florida’s beaches.

In stark contrast, Adam Putnam has flipped flopped on the issue over the course of his long career in politics.

In 2006, he led congressional Republicans in an effort to expand drilling as close as 50 miles from Florida’s beaches. And as Trump and congressional Republicans have pushed for drilling off Florida’s beaches, the gubernatorial candidate has remained silent on the issue.

“Adam Putnam shouldn’t have to wait for a poll or measure political winds to stand up to Trump. After 20 years in politics, it’s time for Putnam to put Florida first and oppose any drilling off our beaches, once and for all,” Graham said.

Report: Stephanie Murphy raises $410K in Q2

First-term U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy reportedly raised more than $400,000 in the second quarter of 2017.

Murphy’s campaign will report raising more than $410,000 in second quarter of the year, according to POLITICO’s Morning Score. Second quarter fundraising numbers were not available on the Federal Election Commission website late Wednesday morning. Congressional candidates have until July 15 to submit their second quarter, which ended June 30, reports.

Federal campaign finance records show Murphy raised $286,052 in the first three months of the year toward her re-election campaign. She ended the first quarter, according to federal campaign reports, with $256,688 cash on hand.

The Winter Park Democrat defeated Republican Rep. John Mica, who spent 24 years in Congress, in Florida’s 7th Congressional District in November. She won with nearly 52 percent of the vote, and received the backing of national Democrats, who pounded Mica with negative advertisements.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has listed the district as one of 36 districts its hoping to flip in 2018. And earlier this year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee deemed the district vulnerable, allowing Murphy to benefit from its incumbent protection program.

Republicans are already eyeing the seat. State Rep. Mike Miller announced he was running for the seat; and state Sen. David Simmons has also said he is weighing his options.

Jack Latvala pledges to raise $50K over next six months to Florida GOP

Sen. Jack Latvala is stepping up to help the Republican Party of Florida, and he’s calling on others to follow his lead.

The Clearwater Republican took to Twitter on Wednesday to say he plans to raise $25,000 to the Florida GOP in both the third and fourth quarter, for a total of $50,000 in the final six months of 2017. Latvala, a prolific fundraiser, then challenged others to match it.

The pledge, and subsequent challenge, comes on the heels of dismal second quarter fundraising numbers for the state party.

State records show the Republican Party of Florida raised $338,942 between April 1 and June 30. The three-month fundraising period pales in comparison to previous fundraising periods by the Republican Party of Florida. The Florida GOP raised more than $4.1 million in the second quarter of 2016; one year earlier it raised more than $1.9 million in the same three-month fundraising period.

State campaign finance records dating back to 1996 show this year’s quarterly numbers are the the lowest in more than two decades. Records show the next lowest fundraising period was Nov. 1, 1996 and Dec. 31, 1996, when the party reported raising $572,531. There were three fundraising periods, state records show, where the state party reported raising no money.

POLITICO Florida reported that after the numbers were released, some party members took aim at Blaise Ingoglia, the party chairman and a Spring Hill state representative. According to the report, party officials encouraged state committee members not to lash out publicly and instead discuss “things like a family.”

On Wednesday, Latvala, who is mulling a 2018 gubernatorial bid, tweeted that Ingoglia called him to ask for money for the state party. After he read the party raised the lowest amount in decades, Latvala wrote that he decided to do his part.

“I’m stepping up,” he tweeted. “$25K this quarter. $25K next quarter. Challenge others to match.”

Latvala’s political committee, Florida Leadership Committee, raised $458,303 between April 1 and June 30. Records show his committee raised $410,649 between June 1 and June 30.


Vern Buchanan: Stop rewarding Palestinians for terrorism

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan today urged Congress to pass legislation that will cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority for its despicable practice of rewarding terrorism.

The Palestinian Authority currently pays hundreds of millions of dollars a year to jailed terrorists and the families of so-called ‘martyrs’ who die committing acts of terror in Israel. Buchanan is a co-sponsor of the Taylor Force Act, legislation that withholds economic assistance to the Palestinians unless the Secretary of State certifies that the PA has terminated the payments to terrorists. Read more

The Florida Bar

Personnel note: Five join Florida Bar’s Citizens Advisory Committee

Five new members have joined The Florida Bar‘s Citizens Advisory Committee, including recently retired St. Petersburg College president Bill Law, the organization announced Tuesday.

Law had been the state college’s leader since 2010. Before that, he was a college president in Springfield, Illinois; The Woodlands, Texas; and in Tallahassee, as head of Tallahassee Community College.

The committee is “an advisory group of 12 citizens with varied interests and backgrounds who provide two-way communication between the state’s major citizen constituencies and the Bar’s Board of Governors,” a press release said.

“The committee also helps to inform and educate the public about significant legal-justice issues.”

The other new members are Ash Benzo, treasurer for the city of Fort Lauderdale; Maggie McGowan Davis, a licensed clinical social worker in Pensacola; Steven R. Maxwell, president and owner of Maxwell’s Sanibel Lime-elo, a Florida citrus company; and Lorene Wilson, a Tallahassee retiree.

The committee “meets three times a year, often in conjunction with Board of Governors meetings,” the release said.

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