Staff Reports – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Staff Reports

Adam Putnam unveils plan for vo-tech program for Florida students

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam is rolling out details of his top priority if elected — a plan to boost vocational and technical education in middle and high schools.

“I want every Floridian to have the education, skills and experience they need to find their version of the American Dream right here in the Sunshine State,” Putnam said, during a visit to Ring Power in Riverview Monday, where he highlighted his Florida Jobs First Agenda.

He says that if Florida is going to continue job growth, it needs to better prepare students who don’t pursue a four-year college degree to get jobs in trades.

Part of the proposal is to create apprenticeship programs for students, and to allow them to earn professional certification in trades while in high school. Students would also be able to gain college credits for vocational training, similar to Advanced Placement classes.

“As Governor, Putnam’s top priority will be to build a robust education pipeline that puts vocational and technical education back into middle schools and high schools, providing Florida’s students with the tools and practice necessary to find their piece of the American Dream here in Florida,” a Monday press release announced.

And at another appearance on Monday in Panama City, Putnam added, “The American dream is not simply reserved for those who have a four-year degree. There are many pathways to becoming successful in this country.”

Putnam’s “jobs first” policy is aimed at the 28 percent of Florida’s workforce who do not go on to earn post-high school degrees. He noted more than half of the 460,000 jobs expected to be created in the state’s fastest-growing employment sectors by 2025 will require advanced training but less than a four-year college degree.

But Putnam said in Panama City that in recent years “the pendulum has swung too far toward solely college prep” to the detriment of many students who may find success through vocational or technical training.

He noted that Florida has never honored a technical or vocational instructor as a teacher of the year.

“That is the most powerful example I am aware of, of how we have treated career and technical education like a second-class citizen,” Putnam said.

He also pointed to the Bright Futures scholarship program where a little over 1 percent of the 97,000 awards went to vocational students in the 2016-2017 academic year. He said at one time the “Gold Seal” vocational program provided some 11,000 scholarships a year.

“It has imploded,” Putnam said. “Part of the reason these are so underused is because of the stigma attached to career and technical education.”

At the Eastern Shipbuilding company in Panama City, Putnam noted it, like others in Florida, has trouble finding skilled workers, including welders and heavy-equipment operators.

“In every corner of our state, this is a challenge,” Putnam said.

To reform the system, Putnam said he wants to bring more technical and vocational programs back into middle and high schools.

“This is not your father’s shop class. This is a modern version of it,” Putnam said. “It involves laptops, coding, cybersecurity, health care, as well as the traditional construction trades.”

Putnam, now term-limited as the state’s Agriculture Commissioner, has telegraphed his interest in vocational training, including at a campaign stop last month at Haney Technical Center in Panama City.

“Haney Technical reinforces my vision for what I’d like to do as Governor,” he said then. “We have to restore more respect and more honor in vocational, technical and career training.

“We need to give young people a range of information about what they could earn repairing motors, building the next generation of Coast Guard cutters and working in aviation and aerospace. This is where they’re going to get the education that will result in high-paying careers.”

Putnam’s visit to Ring Power in Riverview is the start of a two-week, statewide tour highlighting his Florida Jobs First Agenda. Other stops on the tour include: Panama City, Orlando, Ft. Myers and Jacksonville.

Putnam faces U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination to replace outgoing Gov. Rick Scott.


Material from the News Service of Florida and the Associated Press was used in this post.

Paul Ryan says Trump will be an asset for Republicans

House Speaker Paul Ryan said Saturday he thinks President Donald Trump will be an asset to GOP candidates this fall in states like Wisconsin that he narrowly won, even as he warned fellow Republicans that a “blue wave” could wipe out advancements made during his presidency.

Ryan addressed about 600 people at the Wisconsin Republican convention, his final one after 20 years in office. The state’s entire GOP congressional delegation, along with Gov. Scott Walker, honored Ryan, who received a standing ovation and chant from the audience of “Thank you, Paul!”

Ryan told delegates he was surprised on election night in 2016 when it became clear Trump was going to win Wisconsin — the first Republican to carry the state since 1984. Trump won by less than 1 point.

Ryan told reporters later he doesn’t think controversies surrounding Trump are resonating with voters in states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“The president is strong in these states,” Ryan said. “He’s an asset. … Whether I’m running around southern Wisconsin or America, nobody is talking about Stormy Daniels. Nobody is talking about Russia. They’re talking about their lives and their problems. They’re talking about their communities, they’re talking about jobs, they’re talking about the economy, they’re talking about national security.”

Ryan defended his and the Republican record in Congress, including the tax overhaul law he championed, saying “we have gotten a ton of things done.”

But he, like other Republicans speaking at the convention before him, warned it could all be quickly be undone.

“The blue wave, as they say it, they want to take it all away,” Ryan cautioned.

He also reminisced about his career, telling reporters after his convention speech “I never thought I’d be here in the first place. I wanted to be an economist.”

Walker presented Ryan with a personalized Green Bay Packers jersey with a number “1″ on the back. That is the number of Ryan’s southeastern Wisconsin congressional district.

Ryan has not endorsed anyone in the race to replace him, saying he didn’t know if he would. Candidates have until June 1 to file.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Ritch Workman lands job at Palm Bay City Hall

Former state Rep. Ritch Workman has a new job.

The Melbourne Republican recently started as a special projects manager at Palm Bay City Hall, where he is tasked with managing the Brevard County city’s effort to make its facilities more energy efficient.

Workman’s new gig was first reported by Rick Neale and Wayne T. Price of Florida Today.

“I did project management for Keiser and really that was the favorite part of that job. That type of work really is one my attributes, that I enjoy and do well,” Workman told Florida Today.

“At the end of the day, Palm Bay has decided to do the right thing, both for the taxpayer and the environment,” he said of the project he oversees.

The salary for Workman’s new job is $62,000 a year. Palm Bay City Manager Gregg Lynk said Workman came “highly recommended” from county level officials.

Workman held a seat in the Florida House from 2008 through 2016, and near the end of his tenure had ascended to the chairmanship of the powerful House Rules Committee.

Facing term limits in the House, he attempted to move up to the Senate in 2016 but came up 7 points short in a three-way primary won by now-Sen. Debbie Mayfield.

Outside of the Legislature, Workman owned and operated a mortgage company for nearly 20 years before being hired as Keiser University’s business development director in 2014, a position he held until earlier this year.

Last year, the former lawmaker attempted to get back into state politics by seeking nomination to the Public Service Commission, the regulatory body overseeing commercial utilities.

He ended up receiving Gov. Rick Scott’s nomination, but he stepped down before his first day after Fort Myers Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto publicly accused him of making vulgar and inappropriate comments to her at a  2016 charity event. Workman did not recall the event but said he didn’t want to be a “distraction” and stepped aside.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — On hypocrisy and Parkland reforms

On hypocrisy and Parkland reforms

The 2018 Legislative Session is behind them, but Florida Democrats aren’t relenting in opposing a plan to arm non-teacher personnel in schools.

As school districts statewide determine whether to implement the optional Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, the Democrats are using the opportunity to dish out arguments critical of their Republican colleagues.

Shevrin Jones wants tighter control over the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program.

During a conference call with media Thursday, Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones of West Park harped on what he sees is a lack of state control over how districts implement the Guardian Program, should they choose to do so.

According to the new law, participating local law enforcement must appoint ‘guardians’ who have a valid driver’s license. They also must pass a psychological exam and drug test, complete 132 hours of training and 12 hours of diversity training.

Jones worried Guardian vetting might fall short in some local governments, who have leeway in not only adopting the Guardian Program but choosing how they’ll appoint Guardians beyond what’s been put forth by the state.

Jones expressed concerns that ‘Guardians’ could profile students, and that some appointees could slip through the cracks.

“Someone like George Zimmerman could get a job,” said Jones, referring to the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin on a Sanford street in 2012. He was later acquitted.

Jones also mentioned Omar Mateen, the shooter killed by police after gunning down 49 people in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016.

He also said the Republican-led Legislature’s decision to give local governments so much discretion is contradictory, given their staunch support of pre-empting gun control issues to the state.

“If that’s the case, Republicans are hypocrites,” Jones said.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew Wilson, Danny McAuliffe, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

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

Corcoran opts out — House Speaker Richard Corcoran surprised everyone when he announced Wednesday that he wouldn’t enter the Republican gubernatorial primary or any other race in 2018. Instead, the term-limited Land O’ Lakes Republican endorsed Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “Adam is sincere, he is authentic, he is principled, he is passionate,” Corcoran told media. “He loves this state.” Corcoran’s remarks over the past year, along with his hefty fundraising and spending totals as an undeclared candidate, led many to assume his entrance into the Governor’s contest was a given. An affiliated PAC had raised close to $7 million on his behalf and spent a large chunk of that money promoting the Speaker’s Conservative ideologies in ads earlier this year. But early polls had Corcoran in single digits, while Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Ponte Vedra Beach Republican also in the hunt for the Governor’s Office, stumped along and surpassed Corcoran’s fundraising totals and poll numbers with ease.

Advocates eye prison funding — News broke earlier in May that the Department of Corrections would be slashing funds to substance abuse and mental health treatment in facilities and re-entry programs. The department needs to cover a budget shortfall. Now activists are calling on Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature to find funding for such programs. The Tampa Bay Times reported that St. Petersburg saw the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform, alongside the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, host a news conference pushing state government to address the issue. The cuts to substance abuse and mental health treatment come at a time when the opioid crisis is wreaking havoc on the state. The cuts to those programs total $9.1 million, or 40 percent of prior funding for such services.

Agency staffing decisions scrutinized — The Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) faces criticism after a newspaper report raised questions regarding recent employment decisions of key personnel inside the agency. As The Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas reports, former staffers of Gov. Scott’s Office of Policy and Budget were recently given jobs inside DOR, which is “overseen by Scott and three independent Cabinet officers, making it a safer place to guarantee job security than the governor’s budget office, which will get a new chief executive after the November elections.” Klas reports that most top staff members within DOR’s Office of Property Tax Oversight have been replaced with new employees who are close to DOR head Leon Biegalski and Scott. Biegalski refused an interview with the Herald, but issued a statement saying: “I’m proud of the highly qualified team we have in place with a demonstrated history of successful public service that I know will directly benefit everyone we serve.”

State recognizes flaws in gun checks — State officials are now acknowledging that a delay in entering mental health issues into a background check database is cause for concern and a risk to public safety. Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida reports, the delays were discovered in a 2016 audit and when crafting gun restrictions during the 2018 Legislative Session — which resulted in laws restricting those with a history of mental health issues from purchasing guns. The results of the audit “went unnoticed by state lawmakers and the governor’s office until POLITICO asked about the issue.” Now, officials are requesting the Department of Justice to fund a pilot program to enter mental health information into the background check database in a reasonable time frame.

Health companies challenge Medicaid contracts — Twelve health plans have filed challenges to the way the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration doled out Medicaid contracts estimated at $90 billion, reports Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida. The newly approved contracts edge out companies that have previously administered the managed-care programs. Attorneys for one company, Magellan, claim a competitor was chosen “despite not submitting a bid” for the area in which it seeks to practice, Sexton reports. Other companies filed complaints alleging that competing health plans were “out of order” and that AHCA skimped on an internal agreement to extend the bid deadline in one company’s case.

Putnam: Help on the way for Florida citrus

On the heels of another dismal citrus production forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Putnam reminded state growers that aid is coming soon.

“Today’s citrus crop forecast is another reminder of the continued struggles of Florida’s iconic citrus industry since Hurricane Irma inflicted unprecedented damage last year,” Putnam said in a statement. “But thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Department of Agriculture, Florida’s agriculture industry and our elected leaders, a much-needed disaster relief package is on the way to help growers get back on their feet.”

Putnam also thanked the federal government in a Facebook video, which you can see by clicking the image below:

The package Putnam refers to is the $2.36 billion in federally authorized funds going into the 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program. In April, Florida leaders, including Putnam, Scott and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, increased pressure on USDA head Sonny Perdue to release details of the program.

Since then, Perdue has offered a rough timeline of the disaster aid program. His agency plans to hold a ‘sign-up’ no later than July 16. An additional $340 million federal block grant will be made available to Irma-affected Florida growers.

Patronis launches fraud investigation into Tallahassee case

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has directed his Division of Investigative and Forensic Services to investigate potential insurance fraud following the arrest of Denise Merrell Williams, who was charged this week in the capital city with the first-degree murder of her husband, Mike Williams, almost 20 years ago.

Denise Merrell Williams collected $1.75 million worth of life insurance following her husband’s death. Mike Williams purchased the policy from Brian Winchester, who later married Denise Williams, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

Jimmy Patronis is launching an insurance fraud investigation into accused murderer Denise Merrell Williams.

“As a result of the recent findings surrounding Mike Williams’ death, I have directed my office to investigate whether his death was part of a scheme to fraudulently profit from his life insurance policies,” Patronis said in a statement.

Those with any information about the case are asked to contact the CFO’s Fraud Tip Hotline by calling 1-800-378-0445. Anonymity is offered, and potential cash rewards are available.

‘Balance billing’ ban restricted

A federal appeals court has left the family of a child killed in an auto accident on the hook for more than $17,000 in air ambulance fees not covered by his Florida personal injury protection insurance.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that the federal Airline Deregulation Act pre-empts a Florida law that forbids such “balance billing.”

Air Methods Corp. transported Lamar Bailey to a West Palm Beach hospital following an accident in 2013. The boy later died of his injuries. His parents’ insurers, adhering to reimbursement rules under Florida’s PIP laws, paid nearly $16,000 of the company’s nearly $28,000 bill.

A three-judge panel said the company could go after the parents for the balance.

“The ADA pre-empt the application of the balance billing provision to air carriers,” the court said. “Because Bailey’s claims invoke the balance billing provision as a means to guide and police AMC’s rates, the ADA pre-empts his action.”

Instagram of the week

Andy, Camille Gardiner recognized with honorary doctorates

Former Senate President Andy Gardiner and his wife Camille got some more recognition for their work to improve the lives of disabled Floridians.

Beacon College in Leesburg, a school aimed at educating “students who learn differently,” announced this month that it awarded honorary doctorates to the Orlando couple in recognition of the former lawmaker’s work expanding what’s now known as Gardiner Scholarships.

Beacon College awards honorary doctorates to Andy and Camille Gardiner.

The Gardiners were named as honorary degree recipients alongside Sheikha Jameela, the VP of the UAE’s Supreme Council for Family Affairs.

College President George Hagerty said all three honorees “embody the true character of civic leaders by virtue of their vision, perseverance and humility.”

“Sen. Andy Gardiner and his wife Camille have shared a common pursuit — that of improving the quality of educational and life experiences for Floridians with disabilities,” he said.

The college announced the honorary degrees May 1 and awarded them during its 29th Commencement Exercises May 5.

The week in appointments

Polk State College District Board of Trustees

Mark Turner, 55, of Winter Haven, is a partner at Straughn & Turner, P.A. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his juris doctorate from Stetson University College of Law. Turner is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2021.

Teresa Martinez, 63, of Lakeland, is the president and founder of the Institute of Spanish Communication Inc. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida. Martinez is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2021.

These appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Statewide Drug Policy Advisory Council

Dotti Groover-Skipper, of Tampa, is the anti-trafficking director for The Salvation Army Florida Division. She is reappointed for a term ending September 6, 2021.

John Van Delinder, of Callahan, is the executive director of the Sunshine State Association of Christian Schools. He is reappointed for a term ending September 6, 2021.

Florida Trauma System Advisory Council

Dr. Mark McKenney, 59, of Miami Beach, is a professor of surgery at the University of South Florida. He is appointed for a term ending April 30, 2021.

Florida Center for Nursing Board of Directors

Dr. Michele Heston, 58, of Avon Park, is the dean of health sciences for South Florida State College. Dr. Heston was recommended by the State Board of Education pursuant to s. 464.0196, Florida Statutes. She succeeds Dr. Louise Pitts and is appointed for a term ending June 30, 2020.

DEP celebrates ‘Clean Air Month’

Gov. Scott has proclaimed May as Clean Air Month, “recognizing the importance of clean air for Florida’s public health, environment and economy,” the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said in a news release earlier this week.

“Maintaining good air quality is vital to our state’s public health and natural resources — which is why it is a focus of the work we do at DEP,” said Jeff Koerner, director of DEP’s Division of Air Resources Management. “By monitoring air quality, promoting pollution prevention and coordinating with local, state and federal clean air programs, Florida continues to enjoy some of the cleanest air on record.”

The DEP celebrates Clean Air Month in Florida.

Because the success of this work depends on public awareness, DEP is launching a Clean Air Florida initiative this month to help educate Florida’s residents and visitors on clean air, pollutants, and the science behind maintaining good air quality in Florida.

The initiative will remind Floridians of simple steps to help in the effort:

— Change home air conditioner filters monthly. The system will run more efficiently year-round and use less energy.

— Plant a tree in honor of Clean Air Month. Trees play a vital role in cleaning our air by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. They also save energy by providing shade in the summer and allowing sunlight in the winter.

— Properly inflate tires to improve gas mileage and reduce emissions.

Learn more about Clean Air Month here, including the state’s efforts and how Floridians can do their part to protect Florida’s air quality.

Registered School Nurses honored

On May 9, Florida’s School Nurse Day, the Florida Department of Health honored more than 1,177 registered professional school nurses serving Florida’s 2.8 million students.

“This special day is an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the efforts and accomplishments of Florida’s registered professional school nurses,” said Secretary and state Surgeon General Celeste Philip in a statement.

Florida Department of Health Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip celebrates Registered School Nurses. 

“We know that healthy students are better learners, and Florida’s hardworking school nurses are dedicated to minimizing all health barriers to learning that public school students might face,” she said. “The Governor’s proclamation serves as a reminder of the important role school nurses play in ensuring the long-term health and success of our students.”

During the 2016-2017 school year, 724,573 chronic and complex student health conditions were reported by local school health programs, according to the department.

Also during the 2016-2017 school year, Florida’s school nurses and the staff they supervise provided 26,154,777 health services in Florida’s schools. These school nurses are employed by local school districts, county health departments and community partners.

School nurses develop individualized health care plans for students with health conditions to ensure they receive needed services, referrals and resources to reduce health barriers to learning. These health care plans promote health equity so the students of all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds have the same opportunity to enjoy their highest level of health.

Nicholas Duran presents funding to Little Havana Centers

This week, Democratic Rep. Nicholas X. Duran of Miami presented a check to the Little Havana Activities & Nutrition Centers (LHANC) Child Care Program for $100,000 to support a child care subsidy program for working families.

These funds are dedicated to subsidizing childcare costs for struggling families. LHANC’s program will allow children 5 years of age and under to have a quality learning environment and offers an array of resources to both children and their families.

Florida cuts a big check to fund the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers.

“We need to continue investing in programs that alleviate the burden of child care and provide meaningful care in the early years of development,” Duran said in a statement. “By offering these subsidies, we ensure more families in our community will be able to access child day care services and have a level of peace-in-mind that their children are safe and learning while they are at work.”

LHANC will be moving to a state-of-the-art facility capable of nearly doubling its child care capacity for families in the South Florida area.

Florida Tech Council positioned to influence

At its annual board meeting in Tallahassee this week, the Florida Tech Council repaid its funds owed to lobbying groups and elected a new board of directors, priming the association to begin influencing the Legislature.

“When Florida established the Agency for State Technology, as the fourth iteration of a Florida state technology office, we had a good idea of where things were headed,” said lobbyist Claudia Davant of Adams St. Advocates. “The state needed an unbiased advocate speaking on its behalf or we would soon head back down a familiar path, placing Florida further and further behind technology leaders in Texas, Michigan and Florida.”

Looking ahead to 2019, members at the Council’s three-hour meeting reviewed “sponsor-ready legislation providing protection and support for technology-focused education and existing Florida tech businesses,” a news release stated.

Also discussed: “a much-needed technology economic impact study concentrated on tech job growth, higher wages and a stronger technology education base to support an already existing need for qualified employees.”

The Florida Tech Council has doubled its size each year. Forty-three members, board members and guests came out this week, but the Council boasts that its membership is 50-plus strong.

Report: Underrepresentation in census could cost state

Florida TaxWatch is warning that an undercount in the every-10-years U.S. Census “could cost the state billions of dollars,” it said in a statement this week, citing its newest report.

“Although most people think of the 2020 census as a long way off, Florida’s state and local officials need to immediately start ensuring the accuracy of the count by participating in existing intergovernmental processes to verify addresses and residences,” it said.

To wit: “Florida’s population was undercounted in both the 2010 census and the 2000 census, which prevents the state and residents from receiving a fair distribution of federal funding because the data from each census helps determine how annual (that) funding is allocated among the states.”

These federal programs touch nearly all facets from everyday life, including education, health, transportation, water and waste infrastructure, assistance to low income, elderly and disabled persons, affordable housing, economic development, job training, the arts and the environment, the organization added.

In fiscal year 2015, for example, the Sunshine State received fewer grants per capita than every other state in the nation. If Florida received the national average in per capita federal grants, the state would get back $14.6 billion more in taxpayer money, TaxWatch said. The report is here.

Free-market proponent defends Leon County charters

Dr. Bob McClure, president and CEO of The James Madison Institute, a conservative think tank in Tallahassee, isn’t too happy about the Leon County School Board’s decision to block two new charter schools.

In a recent column published in the Tallahassee Democrat, McClure says the School Board is abusing its power, and that the move to block the charters will actually take more money away from non-charter, public K-12 schools.

James Madison Institute CEO Bob McClure is taking issue with the push against Leon County charter schools.

“(W)hen the Leon County School Board inevitably loses this case on appeal,” writes McClure, “you and I will end up having to pay not just the (school board’s) attorney’s fees, but the attorney’s fees for the charter schools as well!”

In April, when the School Board voted down the two charters, it was framed as sending a message to the state — the idea being that the Legislature should focus on funding other public schools, rather than expanding charters.

There were also concerns expressed by the School Board that charters would segregate the school district.

McClure wrote that “charters are open to all students, regardless of race or income. Unlike conventional public schools, they cannot discriminate based on neighborhood or ZIP code. As such, charters are philosophically more inclusive than conventional public schools.”

Jaber takes home Tallahassee Women Lawyers award

Gunster lobbyist Lila Jaber was recognized with an award from Tallahassee Women Lawyers during the group’s diversity event earlier this week.

TWL, a group dedicated to promoting the status of women in the legal community, said the former PSC chair was their pick for the Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Award due to her efforts to “value, promote, and celebrate diversity within the energy sector.”

Lila Jaber is being recognized as an outstanding Tallahassee attorney.

“Jaber identified an area where gender diversity is a challenge and made a commitment to a wonderful initiative,” the group said. “TWL also greatly appreciates [Lila’s] leadership in promoting diversity and inclusion through her mentorship and education of others within the legal and energy sectors.”

Those efforts include launching Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum, aimed at celebrating the success women leaders in the energy industry and their role in diversifying the industry.

Gunster touted the TWL award on Jaber’s behalf this week in an email listing off some of her other recent accomplishments, including an appearance on the Tallahassee Democrat’s list of “25 Women You Need to Know.”

Leon County first to sign Sierra Club Clean Energy Initiative

Leon County has furthered its commitment to clean energy and sustainability by signing the “Mayors For 100 Percent Clean Energy” endorsement, according to a news release this week. Previously only available to cities, Leon County is the first county in the nation to sign this endorsement.

Launched by the Sierra Club in 2017, the Clean Energy endorsement has been signed by 196 cities across the United States. The endorsement declares support for transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy in the community and pledges the County to work with community partners and citizens to realize the goal.

Leon County is leading the way on the Sierra Club Clean Energy Initiative.

“As local leaders, our Board is committed to supporting a vision of a healthier, stronger future that includes 100 percent clean, renewable energy for all,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox in a statement. “We know firsthand that taking steps to reduce carbon emissions will lead to clean air, strengthen the economy, and improve our quality of life.”

For more than a decade, Leon County has demonstrated its commitment to clean energy through multiple initiatives: Retrofitting one of the first Net Zero government buildings in the nation, performing energy upgrades to buildings that save more than $1 million in utility costs annually, and expanding solar energy on several County facilities.

Leon County hosts 9th annual Safety Fair

The yearly Safety Fair will be held Saturday, at the Governor’s Square Mall, 1500 Apalachee Parkway, near the J.C. Penney parking lot, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Hosted by Leon County Emergency Medical Services, the event will feature free exhibits and activities to help educate children and families on bicycle safety, including a bicycle rodeo, a bike helmet giveaway and CPR demonstrations.

EMS personnel will host a child safety seat checkpoint; parents and guardians can have car seats inspected.

Attendees will also have the opportunity to engage with first responders and explore emergency response vehicles. Other presentations and activities include first aid demonstrations, thank-a-veteran letter writing booth, and other educational activities.

Face painting will be on-site, and an appearance by Leon Lifesaver — a small robotic ambulance — will teach children about calling 911 and ‘stranger danger.’

Tallahassee honored with Governor’s Sterling Award

Dubbing it a role model for other local governments, Gov. Scott this week honored the City of Tallahassee Underground Utilities & Public Infrastructure with the Governor’s Sterling Sustained Excellence Award.

It marks the city program’s second recognition from Scott, who in 2015 honored the utility with the Governor’s Sterling Award. The city department is now a first-time recipient among all private or public utilities to have received the Governor’s Sustained Excellence Award.

Also recognized this year was the Florida Department of Health in Broward County.

In congratulating the two, Scott said the winners “reflect our focus of making Florida the best state in the nation to live, work and raise a family.”

Scott also suggested the award incentivizes government programs to operate with prudence, saying the honor is “an efficient tool for all organizations that save Florida businesses millions of dollars annually.”

Serving the capital city, the merged utility provides effective water services to approximately 72,000 customers. It’s managed to keep wastewater nitrogen levels exceptionally low. The Tallahassee utility also was recognized for effectively marketing natural gas services, reducing carbon monoxide levels.

Progress continues toward Urban Forest Master Plan

More than half of Tallahassee is covered with trees. At 55 percent, Tallahassee’s tree coverage is the highest on record among comparable cities throughout the nation, according to an Urban Tree Canopy Analysis that was performed using high-resolution satellite imagery.

Further analysis shows the community’s tree canopy has increased by 60 percent since 1954, while Tallahassee’s population has grown over six times.

Tallahassee is moving closer to finalizing an Urban Forest Plan.

As part of the City of Tallahassee’s commitment to responsible tree management, the City Commission voted last year in favor of developing an Urban Forest Master Plan to help balance the needs of the community’s iconic tree canopy with growth and infrastructure needs.

This week, the Commission heard an update on the status of the plan, which includes working with community members, as well as a consultant, to assess the current state of the tree canopy and to determine the community’s priorities for preservation and planting.

Information gathered thus far from the Urban Tree Canopy Analysis, sample inventory, community feedback and other sources will be used to develop recommendations for the plan’s goals, which will come back to the Commission for review later this year. New goals will likely include species expansion and reduction of invasive species. Specific strategies will then be developed to accomplish the outlined goals, along with a timeline for achievement.

The final Urban Forest Master Plan is expected to be completed this fall.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:


Delegation for 5.11.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

A good week for Trump, GOP candidates

In the era of President Donald Trump, there is no longer anything called a news cycle in a normal sense. We are housebroken to breaking news.

Things that are normally big headlines only remain that way for a short period of time, because someone, or something, takes its place. Most of the time he is doing what he said he would do.

On Tuesday, those who care (and everyone should) were waiting for a 2 p.m. announcement on whether Trump would pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. Candidate Trump often referred to the controversial agreement as “the worst deal ever negotiated” and promised to “tear it up” if elected.

Donald Trump pulls out of the Iran Nuclear Deal; its effect will be felt in the Florida Senate race.

He kept that promise and reimposed tough sanctions on the rogue regime. The issue has a chance to play a role in the fall Senate race between incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Nelson strongly condemned Trump’s move, calling it a “tragic mistake.” He took to the Senate floor, saying Trump’s action is “the exact opposite of what we should be doing” and accused the president of deciding to “back off Iran.”

Scott lauded Trump’s move by saying, “The President made the right move today by scrapping the Iran deal and reimposing sanctions against the Iranian regime. The deal has done very little to stop Iran from staying on the path of developing a nuclear regime.”

Among House Democrats weighing in was Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, who acknowledged the threatening actions of the Iranian regime, but said Trump’s decision was “shortsighted and misguided.” Crist’s Democratic colleague, Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, a consistent critic of Iran, said: “I regret the President’s decision to weaken American leadership around the globe.”

Even before Trump announced his decision, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio urged Trump to “not hesitate to nix this flawed and dangerous agreement that is beyond fixing.” GOP Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City said, “I commend President Trump for keeping his promise and I continue to support stronger sanctions against Iran.”

While all of that was still being processed, Trump was at Joint Base Andrews at 3 a.m. Thursday welcoming home newly-confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with three Americans freed from North Korea. A few hours later, Trump announced the historic summit with Kim Jong Un will take place on June 12 in Singapore.

Slipped between those two events was the confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee for CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel. It got rowdy at times (see Rubio below), but many now believe Trump will get his way and the CIA will have the first-ever woman director.

This was a good week for Trump and by extension, Republican candidates. Even before the pictures with freed prisoners and showing an enemy the middle finger, the president’s poll numbers were on the rise and the generic ballot was getting closer (see Poll Watch below).

Of course, Trump can also put out a tweet that negates his gains, but for now, things are trending slightly in the GOP’s direction.

Democrats will vote to confirm Haspel, thereby offsetting the opposition from Republican Senators John McCain and Rand Paul.

Nelson seeks cut in student loan interest rates

For the second year in a row, student loan interest rates are set to increase. Nelson believes those rates are going the wrong way.

He is calling on the Senate to take up legislation he filed last year that would cut interest rates for new student loans and allow those with existing loans to refinance under better terms. On Wednesday he wrote to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Bill Nelson’s letter calling for cuts in student loan rates.

“Higher education is becoming unaffordable for low- and middle-income individuals, and the federal government shouldn’t be putting it further out of reach,” Nelson wrote. “I strongly urge you to include S. 1521, the Student Loan Relief Act of 2017, as part of any upcoming Higher Education Act (HEA) reauthorization to help provide some much-needed relief to both future and past student borrowers across the country.”

Nelson filed his legislation last summer to cap federal student loan interest rates for undergraduate students at 4 percent, graduate students at 5 percent, and PLUS loans at 6 percent. The legislation is currently pending before the committee chaired by Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander with Washington Democrat Patty Murray serving as ranking member.

According to Nelson, more than 43 million Americans currently have outstanding student loan debt. In Florida alone, students graduating with a four-year degree leave college with more than $24,000 in student loan debt on average. Federal student loan interest rates are set annually, with new rates taking effect on July 1 of each year.

Rubio responds to Haspel protester

Wednesday’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee for CIA Director nominee Gina Haspel went pretty much as expected. She was grilled by Democratic members, politely questioned by most Republicans, and received shouted attacks from protesters.

GOP Sen. Marco Rubio offered Haspel his full-throated support and criticized his Democratic colleagues for what he described as partisanship.

Marco Rubio gives Gina Haspel his full-throated support.

“Ms. Haspel, you embody everything that I respect and admire about the men and women of the Central Intelligence Agency and I support you not just because of your qualifications but because I want a young CIA trainee … to know that they too can one day be sitting where are you sitting today and have the opportunity to lead this agency,” Rubio said during the confirmation hearing.

“If someone like you cannot be confirmed to head this agency, then who can? If someone like you is smeared in this process, what message are we sending to the young men and women who are today serving our country in the same role in which you once served our country?”

During the hearing, protesters yelled “What do you do to human beings in U.S. custody” at Haspel for what they believe was her role in waterboarding terrorist captives. Rubio had a response.

“To answer the protester at today’s hearing who shouted at Haspel ‘What do you do to human beings in U.S. custody’, we treat them much better than they treated the innocent people they beheaded on video or killed on 9/11 or in some other terror attack,” he tweeted.

The Trump administration has expressed confidence that enough Democrats will support Haspel’s confirmation to offset the committed “no” votes of Republican Senators Paul and McCain.

Judiciary Committee passes FIRST STEP Act with Gaetz amendment

This week, the House Judiciary Committee passed the FIRST STEP Act, a bill designed to lower recidivism rates among prisoners through rehabilitation. Included was an amendment from Rep. Matt Gaetz, a committee member.

The amendment from the Fort Walton Beach Republican implements youth mentorship and dog training programs in at least 20 federal prisons for 5 years, doubling the number of prisons and the time frame provided in the original bill.

A Matt Gaetz amendment made it successfully into a prison rehab bill. 

In mentorship programs, young inmates are paired with volunteers from faith-based or community organizations, as well as former inmates. In dog training programs, inmates train dogs in various skills, ranging from basic obedience to skills required to be a service or therapy dog.

“I am proud that the Judiciary Committee passed the FIRST STEP Act today, and even more pleased that the bill received such widespread bipartisan support,” Gaetz said in a news release. “This bill makes important improvements to America’s prison system, and it will help keep prisoners from returning to a life of crime upon their release.”

The bill passed out of the committee by a 25-5 vote. It has the support of Trump as well as daughter-in-law Lara Trump, a longtime advocate for prison reform and dog programs.

“I am grateful that the FIRST STEP Act passed; this humane bill improves America’s prison system,” said Lara Trump. “The pilot programs authorized by the bill, and strengthened by Mr. Gaetz’s amendment, will improve inmates’ quality of life, and the lives of our four-legged friends.”

Dunn’s bill passes VA committee

On Tuesday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee passed another bill sponsored by a delegation member. The committee unanimously approved the Veterans Opioid Abuse Prevention Act sponsored by Dunn.

The bill directs Department of Veterans Affairs’ health care providers to share prescribing data across a national network of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP’s).

The House Veterans Affairs Committee passed another bill sponsored by Neal Dunn.

“Veterans across our country are suffering from addiction and opioid abuse,” Dunn said in a release. “As a doctor and a veteran, I have met heroes who need help but aren’t finding it at the VA. We can change that.”

The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis issued a preliminary report in July of 2017 that mentioned the lack of cooperation between states as one of the significant shortcomings of state PDMP’s. Dunn’s legislation cooperates with the White House’s recommendation that the VA lead efforts to have all state and Federal PDMP’s share information.

“Our veterans are true American heroes, let’s give them a fighting chance and ensure no one slips through the cracks and becomes a victim of the opioid crisis,” added Dunn.

Rutherford, Demings file law enforcement protection bill

Two bipartisan delegation members who both headed Florida law enforcement agencies before their election to Congress have introduced a bill designed to protect law enforcement officers. Republican Rep. John Rutherford, and Democratic Rep. Val Demings, this week introduced the Protect and Serve Act of 2018.

The bill would create federal penalties for individuals who deliberately and maliciously target local, state, or federal law enforcement officers with violence.

John Rutherford (shown with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) signed on a key law-enforcement bill.

“With an uptick in ambush attacks on law enforcement, like we saw last month in Trenton, Florida, we must ensure that there are steep consequences for anyone who targets our law enforcement officers,” said Rutherford in a joint release. “The Protect and Serve Act will serve as a significant deterrent for anyone who deliberately targets officers with violence.”

During the first four months of this year, 87 officers have been shot in the line of duty, 28 of whom lost their lives.

“There has been a 75 percent increase in officers shot and killed this year. Ambush-style killings have taken numerous officers’ lives,” said Demings. “Last month, two sheriff’s deputies here in Florida were assassinated while eating lunch. We must give our officers the tools, training, and protections needed to be safe on the job. I call on my colleagues in Congress to do our job so our officers can do theirs.”

The Protect and Serve Act has the endorsement of the National Association of Police Organizations, Major County Sheriffs, Sergeants Benevolent Association, and the National Fraternal Order of Police.

VA committee passes 3 Bilirakis bills

The House Veterans Affairs Committee was busy this week passing legislation designed to help veterans in different ways. Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who serves as vice chairman, been involved in several bills that passed out of the committee on Tuesday.

Among those was a measure that rectifies the exclusion of Navy veterans, known as Blue Water Navy Veterans, who have been excluded for presumptive status for exposure to Agent Orange. This has prevented them from receiving benefits and care for which they would otherwise be entitled.

Gus Bilirakis managed to get a trio of bills through the House Veterans Affairs Committee. 

“This was an important and long overdue step forward in the fight to get justice for these heroes,” Bilirakis said in a statement. “But we are not finished. I will continue to shepherd this bill throughout the remainder of the legislative process.”

The Committee has also passed legislation that has made improvements to the “Choice” program, which allows veterans to seek private care within their community when the VA is unable to treat them properly or meet their needs within a certain amount of time. While expressing commitment to “a strong VA system of care,” Bilirakis said veterans deserve options when their needs are not being met.

Finally, the committee advanced Bilirakis’ SITREP bill which disqualifies veterans from penalties when their place of education receives a late payment from the VA when processing their GI benefits.

“Today was a good day for our nation’s heroes. All of these initiatives will help improve the lives of those who have sacrificed so much on behalf of our country,” Bilirakis noted when speaking after the hearing.

Deutch joins bipartisan gun violence bill 

On Thursday, Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton joined with three colleagues from both parties to introduce the Jake Laird Act. The bill is named after an Indianapolis police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty by a man with mental illness.

The bill provides grants to encourage states to adopt laws, similar to Indiana’s 2005 Jake Laird Law, that enable local law enforcement, with probable cause, to seize and retain firearms from individuals who are determined to be an imminent danger to themselves or others. Families of the victims of the February 14 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School wrote a letter to the bill sponsors in support of the bill.

Ted Deutch joined a bipartisan group to pass the Jake Laird Act, which takes away guns from people with mental illness who pose a danger to themselves and others.

“I made a promise to the Stoneman Douglas community that I’d do everything I can, work with any Member of Congress, and consider all options to help prevent gun violence,” said Deutch. “The Jake Laird Act is based on an existing state model that was passed with bipartisan support after the tragic death of Officer Laird. We are introducing this successful model in Congress, also with bipartisan support, to help the remaining states and territories without gun violence restraining order laws pass what could be life-saving tools.”

Joining Deutch as bill co-sponsors were Republicans Susan Brooks of Indiana and Fred Upton of Michigan, along with Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell.

Delegation impacts national defense funding bill

On Thursday, the House Armed Services cleared the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), directing billions into the country’s military and homeland security operations. Within the bill are provisions from three delegation members.

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy and Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo inserted a provision to help active duty personnel transfer to the civilian workforce. Murphy was the sponsor and Curbelo the co-sponsor of the BATTLE for Servicemember Act, which was woven into the NDAA.

Stephanie Murphy signed on to a bill to help active duty veterans transition into the civilian workforce. (Photo via Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call)

“I’ve worked hard on the Armed Services Committee to ensure this bill supports our troops and veterans; combats emerging threats like cyber; and strengthens Orlando’s modeling, simulation, and training sector — all as part of a bipartisan effort to keep our country safe,” Murphy said.

“We owe it to our service members, and their families, to better help them transition back to the civilian job market,” Curbelo said when the original bill was launched.

Murphy worked with Palm City Republican Brian Mast to earlier file the Deterring and Defeating Rocket and Missile Threats to Israel Act. The provisions of that bill were also incorporated into the NDAA.

“Following my time in the Army, I chose to volunteer alongside the Israeli Defense Forces because our countries share the common ideals of freedom, democracy and mutual respect for all people,” said Mast. “This bipartisan legislation makes a strong statement that we will always work with Israel to promote peace and global security.”

The NDAA also contains language from Murphy’s Microloan Modernization Act which allows entrepreneurs more access to low-interest loans up to $50,000 and her proposal to send $20 million to the National Guard Bureau to combat opioids.

Poll watch: Trump, Scott, GOP trending up

Some polls of interest have come out in recent days that should be of interest to Florida politicos. Combined, they show some good news for Republicans, but they still have a tough road ahead to even maintain their status quo.

poll from Florida Atlantic University shows Trump’s job approval rating has come up to nearly even. A total of 43 percent of Floridians give him favorable marks while 45 percent have an unfavorable opinion. Over the past 6 months, his approval has risen by two points and disapproval has dropped by two points.

Both Rick Scott and Donald Trump are seeing bumps in the polls.

At the same time, 49 percent of respondents would rather have Obama as president with 43 percent preferring Trump. All of these poll numbers reflect neither public opinion of Trump’s decision to leave the Iran deal nor the release of three American citizens from North Korea, for which Trump is earning significant credit.

The same FAU poll showed Scott leading Nelson 44-40 percent in their race for the U.S. Senate. Just two months ago, Nelson held a 10-point lead over the yet-unannounced Scott.

CNN survey announced this week shows Democrats holding a 47-44 percent lead in the generic ballot and a Reuters/Ipsos poll showing only a one-point advantage. Less than three months ago, Republicans trailed in the CNN poll by a 54-38 percent margin, prompting predictions for a Democratic tsunami.

While the Real Clear Politics average of polls also shows the gap shrinking, it is still at 6.1 percent.

Florida Chamber flies-in

Florida’s delegation and leaders of federal agencies will be visited by members of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which holds its latest “D.C. Fly-In” May 14-16.

According to the Chamber website, the Fly-In is a “dynamic event … to support private-sector job creation, regulatory reform, and creating opportunities for economic prosperity.” Previous meetings included Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Vern Buchanan, and others. Among the topics is common sense regulatory reform, lowering health care costs, economic growth, creating better outcomes, investing in infrastructure, entitlement and pro-business tax reform.

The cost to attend is $495 per person. Reservations are now available on; space is limited and invitations are nontransferable.

On this date in the headlines

May 11, 1973 — Former Attorney General John Mitchell and ex-Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans were indicted Thursday on charges of influence peddling, conspiracy and perjury. The charges were based on a secret $300,000 contribution to President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign.

U.S. Attorney Whitney North Seymour, Jr. said there was “nothing to indicate” President Nixon knew of the purported conspiracy. Seymour had tears in his eyes as he announced the indictment of his old Justice Department boss, Mitchell.

May 11, 2013 — The Internal Revenue Service apologized Friday for what it acknowledged was “inappropriate” targeting of conservative political groups during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status. IRS agents singled out dozens of organizations for additional reviews because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their exemption applications, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees the tax-exempt group.

“I call on the White House to conduct a transparent, governmentwide review aimed at assuring the American people that these thuggish practices are not underway at the IRS or elsewhere in the administration against anyone, regardless of their political views,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Flight delayed; baby was early

Airline delays can be annoying, inconvenient, or sometimes costly. For Army Specialist Brooks Lindsey, it was life-changing.

As Brooks was rushing home to hopefully catch for the birth of his child, who was arriving early, he was told his flight had been delayed. Not to worry.

Army Specialist Brooks Lindsey watches the birth of his first child over FaceTime as his flight was delayed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. (Photo via Jane Carpenter/Facebook)

While sitting at the gate, his mother contacted him through FaceTime. Brooks was then able to watch his daughter’s birth via video chat.

Upon hearing the first cries of the newborn little girl, Brooks’ fellow passengers forgot about their agitation with the status of their tardy flight and broke into cheers.

Jacksonville Bold for 5.11.18 — Buy the ticket, take the ride

August primaries are close to three months away. Vote by mail ballots will go out sooner than that.

What that means is the time is now for candidates to show what their operations on the state and federal level really look like. And on the local level, where elections are still farther away, it’s infrastructure-building time.

In federal races, we have already seen pretenders separate themselves from ostensible pretenders. State qualifying is next month; some will take passes on those races, too.

Adding to the intrigue: An opening in the Duval County Tax Collector office. While not a thrilling position, it has four candidates (as of this writing) who have real political resumes. And that election, a special, is on the August/November schedule.

As the saying goes, “buy the ticket, take the ride.” Through next May, it’s all elections, all the time — that’s when Jacksonville’s municipal races finally close out.

Rutherford seeks federal penalties for targeting police

Rep. John Rutherford is a congressional co-introducer of legislation to make it an additional federal crime for criminals to attack law enforcement officers.

John Rutherford, a former Sheriff, has a personal stake in this legislation.

House Resolution 5698, the “Protect and Serve Act of 2018,” would create federal penalties for people who deliberately target local, state, or federal law enforcement officers with violence.

In addition to any sentences they may receive for the standard crimes, the fact that the crime was committed against a law enforcement officer could add 10 years, or a life sentence if the officer dies, or the perpetrator kidnapped the officer during the course of the crime.

“As a career law enforcement officer and sheriff of Jacksonville for 12 years, I know what officers go through every day when they put on their uniform, say goodbye to their families, and go out on the streets doing the important work of protecting our communities,” Rutherford stated in a news release from his office.

“With an uptick in ambush attacks on law enforcement, like we saw last month in Trenton, Florida, we must ensure that there are steep consequences for anyone who targets our law enforcement officers. The Protect and Serve Act will serve as a significant deterrent for anyone who deliberately targets officers with violence. I want to thank my friend, Congresswoman Val Demings [a co-sponsor and former police chief] for her leadership on this bill and for her support of law enforcement officers across the country.”

Hutson makes moves

Sen. Travis Hutson is pursuing the 2022 Senate presidency, and recent activity for his primary political committee (Sunshine State Conservatives) reflects that long-range goal.

The committee brought in $155,000 in April, and much of that money came from other committees.

Travis Hutson’s goal: Senate presidency.

The “Free Speech PAC” and “Citizens First,” both of 5730 Corporate Way Suite 214″ in West Palm Beach ponied up $40,000 each.

“Florida Jobs Alliance” and “Conservative Choice,” each of which share an address with Sunshine State Conservatives, were in for another $25,000.

These committees all appear to be pass-through committees, with money coming from other committees, and so on.

Also of interest: The contributions, dated April 27, represent a break from previous contribution trends for the committee, which predominantly (though not exclusively) has been from corporate and industry PACs.

The committee doled out $10,050 in April, including contributions to campaigns of Sen. Kelli Stargel, Rep. Joe Gruters, and a secondary Hutson committee, “First Coast Business Foundation.”

More significant spending could be found in March for the committee, which gave $50,000 to the FRSCC, to help with fundraising efforts.

As the race for the eventual Senate leadership continues to unfold, expect more interesting committee transfers … and, if April receipts for this committee are an indication, they will at least sometimes be hard to track.

Yarborough, Byrd pad cash leads

April told a familiar story in House Districts 11 and 12, where Republican incumbents Cord Byrd and Clay Yarborough expanded leads over Democratic challengers.

In HD 11, Byrd raised $3,470 in April, bringing his cash on hand to $38,500. Among his donors: the Fiorentino Group.

While less than $40,000 cash on hand doesn’t sound like much, thus far his Democratic opponent (Nathcelly Rohrbaugh) has yet to show real fundraising prowess.

Cord Byrd and Clay Yarborough both increased their money leads. 

Rohrbaugh raised $560 in April and has $1,010 on hand.

HD 11 is solidly Republican, with 66,830 of them compared to 30,574 Democrats as of 2016.

Though there are rumors that Byrd may face a primary challenger, thus far they have been all sizzle and no steak.

HD 12 saw a similar scenario: an entrenched incumbent continuing to plug away against a Democratic opponent in a deep-red district.

Though Yarborough brought in just $1,000 (and spent more than that on consulting), he nonetheless has over $103,000 on hand.

Yarborough, who was a two-term Jacksonville City Councilman representing a big swath of his current House district, is also one of the better grassroots candidates in the area.

Even with just $1,000 coming in, Yarborough outraised Democrat Tim Yost, who brought in only $745 off eight contributions.

Yost has nearly $4,000 cash on hand.

Polson continues to bank in HD 15

In Jacksonville’s House District 15, Democrat Tracye Polson continues to stack chips in her campaign account, with the hope of flipping the seat from red to blue.

Trayce Polson may prove the naysayers wrong, flipping a red seat blue.

Between her campaign account and that of her “Better Jacksonville” political committee, she raised $36,983.03 in April. The total raised is over $211,000 now, which is far and away the biggest nest egg for any Jacksonville state House candidate, Republican or Democrat.

However, given that the seat was uncontested by a Democrat in recent campaign cycles, and given that in most other local Republican-held seats Democrats are not well-funded, Polson’s campaign stands out as one with sufficient resources to make the race competitive.

“When I got into this race, we knew people wanted change, improvement over the same politicians and lobbyists who fail to provide results that improve the lives of working families in Jacksonville,” Polson said in a media release.

Democrat fundraises for Fischer challenge

House District 16, on the Southside of Jacksonville, is typically a secure Republican hold.

The district leans Republican with a 55,593 to 35,171 voter registration advantage over Democrats, according to LobbyTools.

Ken Organes’ family is willing to help him overcome a Republican registration advantage in HD 16.

Rep. Jason Fischer faced no Democratic opposition in 2016. And predecessor Charles McBurney had the same luck.

However, 2018 is a different matter, with Ken Organes carrying the Democratic banner.

Organes, buoyed by $7,500 of his own money, tallied $11,743 off 34 total contributions. Aside from the candidate’s stake, the vast majority of donations were $100 and below.

The former CSX employee still has a way to go to catch Fischer, who recorded no April fundraising either for his campaign account or that of his Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville political committee.

The campaign account has $82,000 on hand, and the committee has nearly $35,000.

Elsbury to replace Korman Shelton

Jacksonville’s director of intergovernmental affairs, Ali Korman Shelton, is moving on as of the end of next week.

And Monday, the office of Mayor Lenny Curry revealed the path forward for the team, with one promotion and two internal hires effective May 21.

Jordan Elsbury, a previous “30 under 30” honoree on this site, will replace Shelton going forward.

Leeann Krieg and Jordan Elsbury, pictured here with Councilman Greg Anderson.

Elsbury had already been working with Korman Shelton in intergovernmental affairs. A veteran of the campaign side who moved over to policy when Curry got elected, Elsbury has been a quick study in both the politics and personalities of City Hall.

Additionally, the team will be boosted significantly with two key hires from City Council staff to serve as Council liaisons.

Leeann Krieg, the Council assistant for Greg Anderson, and Chiquita Moore, the assistant for Sam Newby, will be moving over as coequal “Council liaison” positions.

Moore and Krieg will be charged with helping to move the Mayor’s agenda through Council, a process that may get easier at the end of June when Council President Anna Brosche relinquishes the gavel to Curry ally Aaron Bowman.

Tax collector special election

The position of Duval County Tax Collector is poised to open up in the coming weeks.

Incumbent Michael Corrigan is moving on, to become CEO of Visit Jacksonville. His resignation letter suggests that he couldn’t serve his entire term before taking that position.

While Michael Corrigan is moving on, taxes won’t collect themselves; hence, a special election.

Providentially, a group of Republican hopefuls, including Councilman Doyle Carter, former State Rep. and City Councilman Lake Ray, and former Councilman and Property Appraiser Jim Overton (who staked his campaign with $51,000) are already filed to run on the Republican side.

One Democrat has filed, and she is a major one: former Councilor and State Rep. Mia Jones.

There will be a special election.

The first election would be on the August ballot. If no one gets a majority of votes, the general election ballot in November would be decisive.

Qualifying for this race will occur between June 18 and June 22.

White ready to replace Carter on Council

Jacksonville City Councilman Carter was already termed out in 2019 before he threw in for the soon-to-be-vacant Duval County Tax Collector position.

And Carter made it clear that he backed his old friend Randy White for the Westside seat.

Doyle Carter is backing old friend Randy White as his replacement. (Image via Jax Daily Record)

Like Carter, White is a Republican. And despite the absence of any real competition for the seat, White has maintained consistent fundraising of the sort that would discourage any late-breaking challenge for the political newcomer.

White, now in his sixth month as an active candidate, brought in a relatively modest April haul: $3,700, highlighted by donations from Duval Teachers and Nassau County Fire and Rescue employee funds.

The candidate has raised $83,386 and thus far has spent just $1,402 of that sum.

Conry presses advantage over Boylan

April continued what is becoming a familiar narrative in the two-person race in Jacksonville City Council’s District 6.

Rose Conry still holds the money lead over former WJCT CEO Michael Boylan, as the two Republicans vying to succeed termed-out Matt Schellenberg.

Rose Conry continues to build a cash lead over her fellow Republican opponent.

And cash on hand sees Conry with an almost 2-1 advantage.

Conry brought in $8,050 in April, which pushed her over $77,000 raised and $70,000 on hand.

Among notable donors for the first time candidate: Michael Munz and a political committee associated with State Rep. Jason Fischer.

Worth noting: Fischer and Conry share a political consultant, Tim Baker.

Boylan lost ground during the month in the money race, bringing in $6,250, pushing him over $48,000 raised and $36,000 on hand. Not only is Boylan raising less money than Conry, but he’s also spending more of it.

Boylan is in a more precarious position than he might expect. Conry’s political operation is situated to make attacks down the stretch count. He will want to step up his fundraising, lest he becomes unable to counter them.

Soft April for Newby

Jacksonville City Councilman Sam Newby won his at-large seat on the Jacksonville City Council three years ago on a shoestring budget of just over $9,000, defeating a candidate who raised 15 times what he did in the May 2015 unitary general election.

Fundraising is only part of the formula for Sam Newby’s political career. Connections help also.

And, if his first month in the race is any indication, Newby figures he can win re-election without eye-popping fundraising totals.

Newby brought in just $4,600, with a $100 personal loan and $4,500 in outside contributions from five donors.

Nevertheless, those donors are noteworthy.

Among them, a “big three” of sorts: the Orange Park Kennel Club, the Jacksonville Kennel Club, and Jacksonville Greyhound Racing.

All three gambling entities gave the maximum of $1,000, as did Sleiman Holdings, which is currently in a legal imbroglio with the city of Jacksonville over busted docks and other issues at the Jacksonville Landing.

These donors suggest that if Newby needs to raise more serious money going forward, he could.

However, he didn’t in April.

Newby has one opponent currently, Democrat Chad McIntyre, who thus far has yet to report fundraising.

Another Bishop belly flop

When then-Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop finished a strong third in the 2015 mayor’s race, the Republican vowed that he would run for Mayor again, before endorsing Democrat Alvin Brown over Curry, the eventual Republican winner.

Bill Bishop is struggling in his latest campaign [Photo: WJXT]

Both the early declaration of a mayoral redo and the cross-party endorsement of Brown seemed like a safe bet at the time to many.

Bishop has long since abandoned his dreams for the mayor’s office and settled into a bid for an at-large City Council seat.

But fundraising continues to elude him, as another distressing tally in April suggests.

Bishop brought in just $1,225 during the month … much less than he is spending on campaign management ($3,000), via the RLS Group.

April was the second straight month in which the belly-flopping Bishop campaign spent more on campaign management than it raised.

The leading fundraiser in the race, Republican Ron Salem, continued to bank in April. He added $4,000 to his political committee and an additional $2,850 to his campaign account.

The committee has $11,000 on hand after April receipts; Salem’s campaign account, meanwhile, is over $150,000 cash on hand.

New judges in Duval

Two unopposed judge candidates will move on to the bench in Duval, reports the Florida Times-Union.

Assistant State Attorney Collins Cooper, a former Gators kicker who has faced criticism from supervisors over his perceived incompetence, will be one of Jacksonville’s newest circuit judges … Katie Dearing, a respected business attorney and the daughter-in-law of retiring Probate Judge Peter Dearing, was also unopposed and will assume office next year.”

Duval lawyers are likely to be hangin’ with Judge Collins Cooper next year.

There is one contested election: “Former state Rep. Charles McBurney and former prosecutor Maureen Horkan will face off in an election this fall for circuit judge.”

McBurney, recall, ran afoul of Marion Hammer and the National Rifle Association when he sought a gubernatorial appointment to a judgeship in 2016.

Do they have long memories?

Jacksonville Medical Examiner exits

The “challenging” tenure of “embattled” Duval County Medical Examiner Valerie Rao, per the Florida Times-Union, is at an end.

Rao wrote Gov. Rick Scott last week signaling her intentions.

Valerie Rao dealt with bad press from the start.

Rao’s tenure went from bad news cycle to bad news cycle, with early issues of employee turnover due to what the T-U summed up as “conflicts.”

“Rao, ironically, is retiring before she was ever reappointed to the position. She was up for reappointment in 2012, but Gov. Scott never reappointed her. Instead, he said he wanted more names to consider. Eventually, in 2014, the Medical Examiner’s Commission recommended two more candidates, but both ended up accepting other jobs. Since 2012, Rao has served as interim medical examiner.”

Record tourism for Jacksonville

Per Visit Jacksonville, 2018 is on a record-setting pace for local tourism.

Tourism is booming in Jacksonville, convention traffic a driver.

Behold, the highlights of a news release on the subject.

Total hotel revenue: up 12 percent year over year. Occupancy: up 3.5 percent. And average room rate is also up $5 year over year, to $96.39.

March hotel occupancy: 82.2 percent, with 462,000 rooms sold in the county, leading to $45.7 million in revenue.

Good news for policymakers counting on the bed tax. Convention traffic has been a driver, with 52 meetings through March locally. Targeted marketing and advertising, per Visit Jacksonville, have worked.

UF Health dumping outpatient dialysis

Tourism may be up … but it’s not helping the fiscal picture at Jacksonville’s UF Health.

Money’s tight at UF Health; changes are in the offing.

In a letter to Jacksonville City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche, CEO Leon Haley notes that the hospital is negotiating to sell its outpatient dialysis service to a national, not-for-profit provider by the end of June.

The seeming deciding factor seems to be that the move is made necessary by what Haley calls “significant federal and state funding shortfalls.”

State funding, per Haley, has dropped by $31 million in the last three years. Additionally, $12.7 million in federal cuts will happen this calendar year.

Feds fund ferry

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority announced Tuesday a $3,356,900 Passenger Ferry Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration.

A big win for Jacksonville, courtesy of the Donald Trump administration.

The money is earmarked for improvements for the ferry slips, the vessel and terminal.

JTA took over the ferry’s ownership and operations two years ago, noted its CEO.

“We have made a lot of improvements since JTA assumed ownership and operations of the ferry on March 31, 2016,” said JTA Chief Executive Officer Nat Ford.

“Ridership continues to grow, and improvements to the ferry’s infrastructure will continue thanks to grant awards that the JTA has received from the FTA,” Ford said. “With this recent award, the JTA will continue to strengthen the ferry’s infrastructure, and give our riders a safe and reliable service.”

In a media release, JTA thanked Florida’s Senators and Jacksonville’s two Congressmen, Rutherford and Al Lawson, for their work on behalf of the project.

Homeless rights bill filed

The Jacksonville City Council will consider in the coming weeks a “Homeless Bill of Rights,” legislation that will codify civil rights for the city’s dispossessed populations.

Jacksonville to enter the national conversation about homeless rights.

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

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

Undoubtedly, at least some of the enumerated prerogatives will be major talkers in City Council committees.

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

Smackdown for hit-free zone

A solid month of deliberation over a bill that initially intended to make all of Jacksonville’s public spaces “hit-free zones,” then was gradually watered down to just include City Hall and still make spanking permissible, ended with a 9-9 vote and the bill being killed Tuesday.

Big government won’t get in the way of parental spankings in City Hall.

Two weeks ago, the bill was deferred, with concerns about everything from “big government” overreach and inhibiting parental discipline to effects on employees tasked with stopping people from hitting each other in offices like the tax collector and supervisor of elections shops.

Last week, the legislation slogged through committees. Two panels voted the bill up 4-3; the third group downed it 3-4.

On Tuesday, despite the changes, the bill couldn’t get over the hump. As has been the case for a month, Council members defended the use of spanking to discipline children during the discussion, while fretting about unintended consequences of the legislative proposal.

Councilman Garrett Dennis, the bill sponsor who has been at odds with the Mayor’s Office, hasn’t been shy about saying that his bills aren’t getting a fair hearing because of City Hall internal politics.

This was the latest example.

Oddsmakers still unconvinced about Jaguars

The NFL draft is history, the first rookie minicamp is yet to begin. The regular season is still four months away. Many of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ players, coaches and management can’t wait.

After coming within five minutes of heading to the Super Bowl and adding some core skill players, the Jags and coach Doug Marrone believe they can take the next step. Those giving odds believe their chance is average at best.

Oddsmakers still not sold on Doug Marrone and the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Photo via Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The bookies at Bovada place three AFC teams ahead of the Jaguars and one alongside when it comes to winning the conference championship. The team that kept Jacksonville out of the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots, are again favored to defend their title in the next one.

Bovada has the Patriots as 9-4 favorites to win the AFC, but the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom the Jags defeated twice in Pittsburgh last year, are second at 9-2. The Houston Texans face 10-1 odds followed by Jacksonville and the Los Angeles Chargers at 11-1.

As the season progresses, Jacksonville’s odds will improve if the play of quarterback Blake Bortles resembles the Bortles displayed in the playoffs against the Steelers and Patriots.

With the draft providing Bortles with more help on offense, as well as fortifying an outstanding defensive unit, the Jags know they can now play with anyone. With the talent with the confidence and swagger — exemplified by shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey — they have a chance to prove last year was no fluke.

If betting were legal in Florida, the Jaguars might be worth risking a few bucks.

Gambling amendment supporters steaming ahead

The political committee behind a proposed constitutional amendment limiting gambling Wednesday said it “continues to gain momentum in critical areas of the effort, including fundraising, grassroots and social media.”

Voters In Charge sponsored the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment, which will appear on the November ballot as Amendment 3.

The amendment would tie the hands of the Legislature by “ensur(ing) that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” according to the ballot summary. It needs at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution.

The group said in a press release it had “raised $10 million in April, bringing total contributions since fundraising began in October of 2015 to over $16 million.”

Division of Elections records show Disney and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, who both have a stake in limiting the expansion of gambling in the state, each chipped in $5 million last month.

The committee says it still has $10.1 million cash on hand as it begins “raising funds to buy advertising for the final advocacy phase of the campaign.”

“We have the support of over 1.1 million Florida voters who signed petitions, strong voter support, a growing regiment of grassroots leaders across Florida, committed donors and an experienced team in place,” said John Sowinski, chairman of Voters In Charge. “Where we are today is just the tip of the iceberg in terms what our campaign will look like as Election Day approaches.”

He also heads the anti-casino expansion organization, No Casinos, but that group and the political committee are separate entities.

“In addition to robust fundraising, Voters in Charge also announced it is making strong progress in other key campaign activities, including a social media presence of over 23,000 Likes on Facebook, and an organized grassroots effort with teams of volunteers and paid professionals actively working in every region of the state,” the release said.

“A poll released in February showed 76 percent of likely voters supported voter approval to authorize casino gambling in the state when initially asked about the amendment,” it added. “That number increased to 84 percent when respondents were presented with balanced arguments for and against the amendment.”

Donald Trump considering Brian Mast for VA secretary

President Donald Trump is considering an Army veteran who is a Republican member of Congress for the position of Veterans Affairs secretary, part of a lengthening search for a nominee following the abrupt firing of David Shulkin in March.

A White House official on Thursday said Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, who was elected to the House in 2016, was among the list of candidates for the job heading an agency of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.

The White House official would not say if Mast is the leading candidate for the VA position. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Mast is the first member of Congress to open a lawmaker satellite office in a VA facility, setting up shop in the West Palm Beach VA to meet with veterans. He was wounded when serving in Afghanistan in 2010, which resulted in the amputation of both of his legs.

Mast, 37, has often voted along with Trump on key issues in Congress, more recently announcing he supported an assault-weapons ban following the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Trump is seeking a nominee to lead the VA after White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson withdrew his nomination for the post last month.

White House officials have met with former Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, a Republican who once led the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Ron Nichol, a senior adviser to The Boston Consulting Group, who helped organize the president’s transition.

Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, a former Pentagon undersecretary for personnel and readiness, and Samuel Spagnolo, the president of the National Association of Veterans Affairs Physicians and Dentists, are also under consideration for the post.

VA officials have told some veterans groups they are preparing for the possibility that the agency won’t have a permanent VA secretary in place for another three months, as Trump mulls over replacement candidates. The VA faces problems demanding immediate attention, including a multi-billion dollar revamp of electronic medical records now in limbo that members of Congress fear will prove too costly and wasteful, and a budget shortfall in the coming weeks in its private-sector Veterans Choice program. The House is slated to vote on a wide-ranging bill next week that would give veterans more freedom to see doctors outside the VA health system and fill the budget shortfall, a major step toward fulfilling Trump’s promise to expand private care for veterans.

Trump originally chose Jackson, a career military doctor who lacked significant management experience, to replace Shulkin, a decision that surprised veterans groups who had not been previously told that his name was under consideration. While Jackson was well-liked in Washington and drew praise from Obama administration officials he’d treated, even many Republicans were skeptical of his ability to lead the VA.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

‘False advertising’ lawsuit against John Morgan dismissed

A federal judge in Philadelphia has closed a lawsuit over a false advertising claim against John Morgan and his Orlando-based Morgan & Morgan law firm.

The order for dismissal did not include any terms of the settlement. Court records show a settlement conference that had been scheduled for May 22 was canceled.

Requests for comment were emailed Wednesday to lawyers for both sides.

A complaint was filed last September by the competing Rosenbaum & Associates personal injury firm.

Its suit said Morgan’s well-known advertisements, also running in southeastern Pennsylvania, were “misleading” potential clients.

The suit said the ads, ubiquitous on billboards and buses in the Sunshine State, wrongly give the impression that the firm “actively litigate(s) claims in Pennsylvania” when its personal-injury practice there is actually “nonexistent or minimal.”

In a statement last year, Morgan called the lawsuit “utter nonsense,” adding, “This guy (Rosenbaum) doesn’t like competition. Sorry, it’s the American way.”

Delegation for 5.8.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Post-qualifying, congressional campaigns begin next phase

Without a single vote being cast, Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa have been re-elected to another term in Congress. As last week’s federal candidate qualifying period came to an end, no one stepped up to challenge either Democrat, thereby ensuring their return to Capitol Hill.

Three other Democrats including Val Demings of Orlando, Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens face only token primary challenges and no Republican opposition. The best Democratic primary features former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown taking on incumbent Al Lawson of Tallahassee (see below).

Re-elected without opposition: Lois Frankel.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott must get by a primary challenge, before the much-anticipated slugfest against incumbent Dem. Sen. Bill Nelson. If Democrats are to flip the Senate from the current 51-49 GOP advantage Nelson must hold off Scott.

Frankel and Castor are the exceptions and stand in stark contrast to District 27, where 15 candidates will appear on the ballot to replace the retiring Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Among the five Democrats are front-runners David Richardson and Donna Shalala, while 9 Republicans also qualified including former state Rep. Bruno Barreiro.

Democrats are expected to flip the seat, which went strongly for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

In District 26, which also went for Clinton, Kendall Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has a primary opponent, but Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is the real threat to his drive for a third term.

If Florida is to contribute to the much-ballyhooed Democratic wave in November, the dominoes will need to fall their way. The opportunity is there with two vulnerable incumbents and four GOP open seats.

In addition to Curbelo, Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City will have a three-candidate primary, before taking on who many believe will be Lauren Baer in November. Mast is slightly favored.

The other open seats, in addition to Ros-Lehtinen’s, involve districts 6, 15, and 17. Those are currently held by Reps. Ron DeSantisDennis Ross, and Tom Rooney, respectively.

District 6 is a Republican-leaning district, but Democrat Nancy Soderberg is expected to roll to the Democratic nomination and pose a strong challenge to whichever of the three Republicans win the primary. District 15 is also a majority Republican district, where three Democrats and 6 Republicans qualified (see below).

District 17 saw two Democrats and three Republicans qualifying to succeed Rooney. State Sen. Greg Steube is the early favorite.

The delegation currently stands at 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Should Democrats manage to defeat Curbelo and Mast while picking up Ros-Lehtinen’s district, they will have a majority, making it a good bet they will pick up the 23 seats needed to win the House.

It turns into a rout if districts like 6 and 15 and a shocking upset of someone like Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key takes place. It is those kinds of surprises that led to the GOP flipping 54 seats in the 1994 wave and 63 seats in 2010 (plus 6 Senate seats).

While Democrats are excited about their possibilities, they need to hope they nominate quality challengers. If they are counting on an anti-President Donald Trump platform, it is worth noting Trump’s job approval numbers are ticking up to the mid-40s.

There is still a long way to go before November.

GOP Congressman calls out Rubio for tax cut comments

Nearly two weeks after his comments on the GOP tax cut, GOP Sen. Marco Rubio is still feeling some of the after effects. A Republican Congressman is the latest to criticize Rubio’s statement that there is “no evidence” that workers are benefiting from the tax cuts.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Rep. Erik Paulsen offered a mild rebuke of Rubio’s assertion. Paulson dismisses the notion that a smaller cut for corporations would have led to a better deal for workers.

Erik Paulsen rebukes Marco Rubio on tax cuts, albeit weakly.

“Sen. Rubio is right to want to ensure that America’s economic policy favors working families — that’s why I supported him during his presidential primary campaign,” wrote Paulsen. “But as we continue to work on Americans’ behalf, we should recognize the success tax reform has already achieved and use it as a foundation to go further.”

As expected, Democrats and editorial cartoonists jumped on the comments, crowing they “could not have said it better.” Rubio has sought to mitigate the damage by touting the positive portions of the tax cuts in an op-ed published in the conservative National Review.

Petersen is the Chairman of the bicameral Joint Economic Committee.

Rubio bill seeks to curb Chinese economic aggression

There is bipartisan agreement that China has aggressively targeted the U.S. through the theft of intellectual property, conducted cyberattacks, and flooded the American markets with artificially low priced products. Trump is taking a tough public stance with China for these policies and now Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is looking to add a tool to help in the fight.

Rubio is introducing the Fair Trade With China Enforcement Act that will accomplish several goals. Among those include banning the sale of intellectual property to Chinese entities, impose a withholding tax on Chinese entities profiting in the U.S. and impose duties on Chinese goods products covering several sectors.

Marco Rubio warns of ‘Chinese aggression’ from President Xi Jinping.

“The American people can see China’s malevolent economic behavior most clearly in its theft of our intellectual property,” Rubio wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed. “Chinese theft of American IP alone costs the United States nearly $600 billion annually, eclipsing the combined profits of the top 50 companies on last year’s Fortune 500 list.”

The issue is one of the higher-profile bipartisan efforts in Congress. Meanwhile, Beijing is certain to be looking to find a way to blunt some of the Trump administration trade threats, but Congress is becoming even more hawkish toward the Chinese government.

Nelson campaign has yet to fully engage

With the race for Senate officially underway for less than a month, comparisons on the content and approach of the campaigns for incumbent Democrat Nelson and GOP challenger Scott. Most would agree that Scott has had a strong start, while many would also agree that Nelson’s campaign has looked average by comparison.

Nelson has been doing his job as a Senator, and some say that is the best way to campaign, but perhaps not against a well-funded and aggressive opponent. Nelson has held few, if any, campaign events.

Compared to Rick Scott, Bill Nelson’s campaign seems average.

For example, Scott is spending millions on early television advertising. The Tampa Bay Times used the word “overwhelming” when describing Scott’s television and campaign activities when compared to Nelson’s.

Next week, Scott is traveling to Israel, which should serve as a signal to an important voting bloc. Nelson made another official visit to Puerto Rico recently, but Scott has also made his share of visits, making his case, along with Nelson, to another voting group in the state.

Melania’s poll numbers surging

While Donald Trump’s favorability ratings are inching toward the mid-40s, First Lady Melania Trump is surging in popularity. According to a new CNN poll released Monday, she now has a 57 percent favorability rating, up 10 points from a similar poll in January.

Respondents gave her a 27 percent disapproval rate with 14 percent offering no opinion. Among men, Melania earned a 60 percent approval mark, while 54 percent of women had the same view.

As Donald Trump sags, Melania Trump’s popularity soars.

She has climbed 15 points among Democrats with her approval level now at 38 percent with 40 percent disapproving. Republicans provided an 85 percent favorable view while 56 percent of Republicans gave her positive marks.

Melania made other news on Monday by announcing the First Lady’s official initiatives. The “BE BEST” campaign focuses mainly on children.

“As a mother and as first lady, it concerns me that in today’s fast-paced and ever-connected world, children can be less prepared to express or manage their emotions and often times turn to forms of destructive or addictive behavior such as bullying, drug addiction or even suicide,” she said.

Rutherford joins national park advocates to seek funding for upkeep

National parks located in Florida have millions in unmet needs. Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford has joined his colleagues in calling for necessary funding to provide upkeep for the parks in his state and around the nation.

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, 11 National Park Sites (NPS) in Florida are in need of $262 million in repairs, with 11.6 billion needed around the country.

Barbara Goodman, who is the former superintendent of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve and now serves as president of the Timucuan Parks Foundation; Pew Charitable Trusts senior officer Tom St. Hilaire; and Rep. John Rutherford.

During a tour of Kingsley Plantation at Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, Rutherford and park advocates stressed the need to fund park upkeep and improvements.

“Florida’s national parks preserve an irreplaceable part of our shared history and culture for future generations,” said Rutherford. “That is why I joined my colleagues in Congress to co-sponsor the National Park Service Legacy Act, which would help reduce the ever-increasing deferred maintenance costs of our national parks through innovative revenue streams to protect these historic landmarks for generations to come.”

Rutherford is one of 10 delegation members co-sponsoring the bill.

Assignment Editors: The Democratic candidates for the nomination in Congressional District 6 currently held by Republican Ron DeSantis will make a joint appearance at the Volusia Tiger Bay on ThursdayNancy SoderbergStephen Sevigny and John Upchurch will all be in attendance. The event begins at noon and the address is 1000 Champions Drive in Daytona Beach.

Lawson goes after ‘failed’ Brown

Primary races often take some time before candidates start going at each other. Not Congressional District 5, where incumbent Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown have traded barbs almost from the beginning.

Brown quickly began going after Lawson and touting his credentials to Jacksonville residents, where the largest concentration of district voters reside, but Lawson is making his own push. Lawson, who defeated the disgraced former Rep. Corrine Brown, lost Duval County two years ago, but built up strong majorities throughout the rest of the district to pull out a victory.

Al Lawson isn’t all smiles when it comes to Alvin Brown.

Lawson said he feels “very good” about his chances in the Jacksonville side of the district, where he earned only 20 percent of the vote in 2016.

“I’ve been in office a year and four months, and I’ve been coming over here several times a month,” Lawson said, adding that he and Rep. John Rutherford “have been able to do quite a few things here.” “We’ve got people thinking about Jacksonville. In Congress,” Lawson said, “they don’t refer to me as from Tallahassee. They refer to me as ‘Al Lawson from Jacksonville’.”

After taking several barbs from Brown over the past few weeks, the former 28-year member of the Florida legislature fired back.

“We’d like to see his record. I’ve got a long record in politics,” Lawson said. “He only has four years, and it looks like it was a failed administration, simply because he couldn’t get re-elected.”

Demings receives honorary doctorate

This is the season for college graduations, where students hear from academics, elected officials or private citizens of high accomplishment. Over the weekend, Demings gave an encouraging message to the graduates of Bethune-Cookman University and received something in return.

Val Demings: “Words cannot express how humble and grateful I am to receive an Honorary Doctorate from Bethune-Cookman University during their 2018 Commencement Exercises.”

While giving advice, Demings could also relate to many of those who heard her remarks. She was the first in her family to earn a college degree.

B-CU spokeswoman Joy Jones said Demings and the day’s other speaker, civil rights activist Henry Thomas were “highly relatable figures.” Demings spoke at the morning ceremony while Thomas was the afternoon speaker.

Following her remarks, Demings was honored by the university with a presentation of an honorary advanced degree.

“Words cannot express how humble and grateful I am to receive an Honorary Doctorate from @bethunecookman during their 2018 Commencement Exercises,” she posted on Twitter.

‘Rigged’ race for CD 15 heats up

It took a little while to process the news Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross would retire from Congress. Just a few weeks later, the race to replace him is beginning to take shape with Republicans beginning to confront each other and one Democrat calling the race “rigged.”

On the Republican side, former state Rep. Neil Combee will enter the GOP primary race this week. Combee left the Florida House around Thanksgiving to accept a presidential appointment at the USDA, but he was quick to put his name down for CD 15 after Ross made his announcement.

Former Democratic candidate Gregg Pilkington believes the CD 15 primary is ‘rigged.’

Combee faces several opponents in the Republican Primary, including Dover state Rep. Ross SpanoSean HarperCurt Rogers and Ed Shoemaker. Thonotosassa Sen. Tom Lee was rumored to run, but announced last week that he’d stay on the sidelines.

Businessman Gregg Pilkington, who announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination more than a year ago, has ended his candidacy. He accused the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) of favoring Andrew Learned of Valrico.

“It would be against my principles to continue, knowing that this is a rigged (primary) election by the DCCC,” Pilkington said. He added that he wouldn’t pay his qualifying fee Friday, the last day to get on the ballot, thereby withdrawing from the race he began 14 months ago.

Despite inviting Learned to Washington to meet with the DCCC, Learned said the committee had not endorsed anyone. Pilkington, or the other three Democrats in the race, did not receive an invitation to meet with the DCCC.

Learned said Tampa Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa will soon be host a fundraiser for him.

Anti-Defamation League honors Ros-Lehtinen

Miami Republican Ros-Lehtinen is set to receive the Anti-Defamation League’s highest honor.

The ADL is granting the CD 27 representative their “America’s Democracy Legacy Award.” The prestigious award has gone to U.S. presidents in the past, including John F. Kennedy in 1963 and George W. Bush in 2014.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is being celebrated by the ADL.

According to the ADL website, the award was set up more than 50 years ago to recognize “those precious few individuals who have helped make our nation a place where freedom, equality and democracy are cherished rights forever.”

Ros-Lehtinen said she was “honored” to receive the award. She’s slated to speak today at the ADL’s two-day Washington summit. Her planned topics include ways to combat anti-Semitism and her support for Israel.

Ros-Lehtinen, who represents a portion of Miami-Dade County, is set to step down after her current term ends.

Florida Chamber flies-in

Florida’s delegation and leaders of federal agencies can expect a visit by members of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which holds its latest “D.C. Fly-In” May 14-16.

According to the Chamber website, the Fly-In is a “dynamic event … to support private-sector job creation, regulatory reform, and creating opportunities for economic prosperity.” Previous meetings included Sen. Marco Rubio, U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Vern Buchanan, and others. Among the topics are common sense regulatory reform, lowering health care costs, economic growth, creating better outcomes, investing in infrastructure, entitlement and pro-business tax reform.

The cost to attend is $495 per person. Reservations are now available on; space is limited and invitations are nontransferable.

Vice President Mike Pence, right, administers the oath of office to Carlos Trujillo as the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States in the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. Trujillo is joined by his wife Carmen Mir and three of their four children. (Image via AP/Susan Walsh)

On this date in the headlines

May 8, 1998 — Shocked by stories of taxpayers who were harassed or abused, the Senate voted unanimously on Thursday to overhaul the Internal Revenue Service and make it more “customer friendly.” Almost every politician in Washington, including President Bill Clinton, has piled onto the IRS-reform bandwagon after hearing an endless stream of taxpayer complaints at forums in Florida an across the country.

“Taxpayers have had their businesses raided by armed agents, their lives turned upside down, and their reputations ruined,” said Republican Sen. Connie Mack. “Last week’s hearings exposed a corrupt culture permeating IRS management which will require a major housecleaning at the service.”

May 8, 2014 — The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to hold Lois Lerner, a former IRS official accused by Republicans of abusing power, in contempt, laying bare the bitter divide over which much of the midterm elections will be fought.

It was a moment of high drama, complete with Republicans’ allegations that the White House orchestrated a Watergate-style cover-up that helped steal a presidential election, along with Democrats invocations of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his delusions of a huge conspiracy.

Haspel hearing, not a Warner Bros. production

On the eve of Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, organized groups opposed to her nomination for CIA Director have begun to target committee members. One such group is making robocalls in Virginia.

Opposition to Gina Haspel heats up the phone lines.

While highlighting the reasons why Haspel is not fit, the call ends with “tell Senator John Warner” to vote “no” on her confirmation.

Geoffrey Skelly of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics reminds the robocallers that John Warner retired from public life 10 years ago. Sen. Mark Warner, who is the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, was elected to the seat thereafter.

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