Headlines – Florida Politics

Dave Aronberg goes after ‘sham’ write-in candidates

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg told Florida Politics on Thursday he is filing elections and ethics complaints against several of what he calls “sham write-in candidates.”

Aronberg said he is pursuing the following write-ins:

— Barbara Hulse Brooke, running for Walton County Commission District 4.

Joseph Patrick Hoffman, running for 20th Judicial Circuit State Attorney.

 Valion Joyce, running for State House District 61.

— William Kruse, running for Nassau County Commission District 4.

Jared Brice Reddick, running for Marion County Commission District 2.

— Josh Santos, running for State Senate District 30.

Richard Hal Sturm, running for State Senate District 34.

— Jose Vazquez Figueroa, running for State House District 62.

Aronberg, a Democrat and former state senator, says he believes the candidates were recruited by campaigns strictly to close a primary contest.

One candidate vehemently denied the accusation.

“This is news to me,” said Vazquez Figueroa, a registered Democrat and frequent candidate. “I have run before; I have a track record. I run to deliver my message. I run to make sure voters have another choice.”

Aronberg unsuccessfully tried to get the Constitution Revision Commission to consider a proposal to open primary elections to all voters in which a major-party candidate has only write-in opposition.

“For too long, sham write-in candidates have been able to disenfranchise millions of Florida voters without any consequences,” Aronberg said. “Prompted by political consultants, these write-in candidates exist not to seek votes but to deprive others of their constitutional right to vote.

“It’s unethical and undemocratic, and it must stop,” he added. “Public disapproval and critical editorials have not deterred sham candidates, so maybe ethics and elections complaints will.”

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Capitol correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

Chris Nocco endorses Agriculture Commissioner hopeful Denise Grimsley

A popular Republican from Pasco County is throwing his weight behind Denise Grimsley in the race for Agriculture Commissioner.

“Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture serves farmers, ranchers and more,” said Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco in a Thursday news release. “She must protect consumers. And there’s just one candidate I trust with that job: Denise Grimsley. Denise isn’t a politician – she’s a warrior. And she’s got my vote.”

With Nocco’s nod, Grimsley, a state Senator representing Sebring, now has the backing of 33 county sheriffs. She’s also received endorsements from the Florida State Fraternal Order of Police and Florida Professional Firefighters.

“Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture must be prepared to not only fight for our state’s farmers, but also our state’s consumers,” Grimsley said in accepting Nocco’s endorsement. “As a third-generation farmer and a first-generation nurse, I am ready to be that advocate for farmers and ranchers, and also fight alongside our sheriffs and first responders to protect and serve Florida consumers.”

Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 appointed Nocco as Pasco’s sheriff. He won the election in 2012 and ran unopposed in 2016. State House Speaker Richard Corcoran appointed Nocco to the 2017 Constitution Revision Commission, which wrapped its work in May.

While Grimsley has close to half of Florida’s county sheriffs backing her bid for the Cabinet seat, she isn’t the only candidate racking up local support.

On Wednesday, state Rep. Matt Caldwell, one of Grimsley’s Republican primary opponents, announced a slew of endorsements from municipal leaders across the state, including one from former Pasco County Sheriff Bob White.

Grimsley, Caldwell, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman, and retired U.S. Army Col. Mike McCalister all are competing for the Aug. 28 Republican primary. The winner of that race will go up against one of three Democratic hopefuls: Nikki Fried, Jeff Porter and David Walker.

Chris King’s health care plan expands Medicaid, boosts telemedicine

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King on Thursday morning unveiled his full health care platform, which includes accepting Medicaid expansion, pushing insurers to compete more, and making it easier for doctors to provide telemedicine.

King also announced the start of a campaign tour to promote the plan. It kicks off  with several stops in St. Petersburg this afternoon including a 5 p.m. visit to the Warehouse Arts District. Events in Sarasota and Punta Gorda are planned for Friday and Saturday.

King’s health care plan, which he calls “Florida’s Promise,” starts with the standard of all Democrats’ platforms: accepting the federal offer of Medicaid expansion in Florida, which would provide coverage for low-income working Floridians who make too much money to qualify for standard Medicare but not enough money to qualify for ObamaCare subsidies. Estimates typically say 800,000 to 1 million people fall into the poverty gap. King says 400,000 individuals would qualify immediately.

Citing reports from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, King declares in his platform statement, “If we expand Medicaid, we can lower costs for people shopping in the Florida marketplaces, too. States that have expanded Medicaid have 7 percent lower marketplace premiums than states that do not.”

The marketplace is the area where the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare, provides policy options to people not receiving health care coverage elsewhere. In Florida that marketplace has been plagued by high costs and limited competition, with many counties having only one insurance company participating.

King notes that in those counties there typically still are three or four insurance companies providing policies through Medicare and Medicaid, and he vowed to use “carrots and sticks” to encourage them to also provide Affordable Care Act coverage there as well. He also said he would push to increase enrollments, including using public spaces to do so, with the anticipation that with more people participating more insurance companies would show interest, and costs would fall through competition.

“If we achieve universal participation from insurance companies, Floridians in the highest-cost counties could pay close to 40 percent less for insurance,” King stated, citing an analysis of marketplace plan premiums in Florida.

King cited the growth of telemedicine to provide basic health care between doctors and patients and said it has been hampered in Florida by licensing requirements.

“I will propose rational improvements to our state licensing laws. We will propose ways to take down barriers through the use of interstate licensing compacts, model rules and agreements, and legislation that promotes license portability, especially for providers in military families,” he stated.

He proposed using the state’s Cancer Drug Donation Program as a model for a new statewide program to provide donated unused prescription medicines to Florida’s neediest patients.

And he called for considering marijuana among other alternatives to opioids in treating patients, to address the opioid addition epidemic.

Since Parkland shooting, youth voter registration has soared

In 2018, youth could possibly rock the vote.

According to a new analysis of voter registration data from Target Smart, there has been a significant surge in 18- to 29-year-olds registering to vote in the months since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

Nationwide, the under-30 slice of the electorate has increased by more than 2 percentage points. Pennsylvania led the nation with young adult registrations jumping 16 percent and making up a whopping 61 percent of new voters — like Florida, the Keystone State is holding a gubernatorial and U.S. Senate election in the fall.

But young Floridians haven’t skipped out on registering to vote.

Target Smart found that new registrations for young millennials and older members of Generation Z have spiked by 8 percent after Parkland compared to the same length of time before the shooting. While that surge could be partially attributable to the shooting itself, there have been many voter registration efforts in its aftermath.

Activists groups NextGen America, Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, and Everytown for Gun Safety announced less than a two weeks after MSD that they would spend a combined $1 million to boost youth registrations nationwide, with an emphasis on Florida and California. Parkland survivors launched their own voter registration effort shortly after the school year ended.

How many voters that 8 percent bump represents mathematically requires a deeper dive into the voter rolls, but according to a June report from the Sun Sentinel, at least 30,318 people age 18 to 21 — a fraction of the age range examined by Target Smart — registered to vote between Jan. 1 and April 30.

The number of new youth voters could be higher on the other end of the age range as well, since that data omits 17-year-olds who have pre-registered to vote.

Overall, the Florida Division of Elections says there were 228,327 new voter registrations between the beginning of the year and May 31. During the same stretch, 128,243 voters were removed from the rolls either due to loss of eligibility or inactivity. Still, a net increase of 100,000 voters through May is already much greater than in 2017, when the voter rolls shrank by nearly 12,000.

Whether these new voters end up exercising their franchise remains to be seen. The same could be said about their partisan lean since Democrats have shed a few voters this year while Republicans have seen a slight gain.

Party affiliation or no, Target Smart thinks guns will be an issue for young voters who show up at the polls. The group pointed to a recent poll out of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics that showed nearly two-thirds of voters under 30 favor common-sense gun reforms.

Complaint asks how AG candidate Frank White got $2.75 million

Where did the money come from? That’s the question being asked about a Republican Attorney General candidate and his campaign finances.

A complaint filed with the Florida Elections Commission this week casts doubt on the legality of the self-financing of candidate Frank White.

The White campaign asserts there’s nothing to the complaint, which they deem a political stunt.

White, a Pensacola state representative, has given his campaign $2.75 million in recent months.  Raymond Mazzie of Tallahassee (best known for a quixotic write-in campaign for Senate downstate in 2016) wonders where White got the cash.

Mazzie’s complaint cites White’s 2015 and 2016 financial disclosures, noting that to have made the first $1.5 million contribution to his campaign, he would have had to “liquidate more than 50 percent of his personal assets” as White had only $57,040 on hand as of the 2016 filing.

White’s spokeswoman, Erin Isaac, claimed White’s wife contributed the money from a stock dividend, which also raises questions. The contribution of $1.5 million was 50 times over the legal limit.

A second cash infusion of $1.25 million deepened the complainant’s concern. To come up with the total $2.75 million, White would have had to liquidate all of his personal assets and come up with $285,000 from somewhere.

The complaint then cites White’s 2018 Form 6, which reflected a worth of $4.327 million (minus the $1.25 million check, which had not cleared). The complainant’s concern: “Nothing in his income sworn to his Form 6 explains how White was able to contribute more than his net worth to his campaign without reducing his assets in the last 17 months.”

“Instead, the Form 6 shows an infusion of cash into Frank White’s personal accounts other than from Frank White’s income or investments,” the complaint contends.

The complaint cites case law asserting that money from family members is still subject to contribution limits ($3,000 in state races), going on to say that there is probable cause to question the source of the $2.75 million White dropped into his own campaign, and a “reasonable ground of suspicion that he obtained the money for the purposes of influencing an election.”

These “contributions from indirect sources,” according to the complaint, evidence a “violation … knowingly or willfully made.”

On behalf of White, Erin Isaac offered a statement.

“It’s a shame that Ashley Moody would attempt to manipulate the legal process for political gain. This is the first we are seeing of this alleged complaint from the press, so the intent is purely political, and not legal,” Isaac asserted.

“When desperate candidates like Ashley Moody are down in the polls and stalling in fundraising, they roll out the old stand-by: an elections complaint with bogus accusations. It’s pretty clear, Ashley Moody’s taxpayer-funded campaign is in turmoil, incapable of defending her abhorrent record of being soft on child predators, suing Donald Trump and supporting pro-abortion democrats,” Isaac added.

“Once again, Ashley Moody has demonstrated that she places her own liberal opinion over that of the law and believes she knows better. It’s sad,” Isaac said.

Education board signs off on ‘Hope’ scholarships rule

The Florida Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously approved a rule to help move forward with a controversial new program that will let bullied students transfer to private schools.

With some 2.8 million students returning to their classrooms next month, “Hope” scholarships will allow students who are victims of bullying or other violence to receive public funding to move to private schools or other public schools.

The program, a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, was approved this year by lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott. Under it, once an incident is reported to a school principal, the school district must notify the student’s parents about the scholarship opportunity within 15 days or upon the completion of an investigation, whichever occurs first.

The rule approved by the state board includes a “notification form” that will be sent to parents if a student is involved in an incident that could qualify for the scholarship. The form specifically cites 10 types of incidents including bullying, harassment, hazing, threat or intimidation, physical attacks and fighting. Potentially more-violent incidents include battery, kidnapping, robbery and sexual offenses.

Tom Grady, a member of the state board, asked what provisions are in place to prevent fraud or abuse in the new voucher-like scholarship program.

“What prevents someone who would just like to have a scholarship to attend another school from simply claiming they are the victim of the incident that would give rise to the scholarship?” Grady asked.

Adam Miller, director of the Department of Education’s Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, said in addition to the specific eligibility categories cited in the new law, there is an additional “evaluation process” for schools that have a higher number of transfers.

If a school reports 10 or more students have used Hope scholarships to leave, it will trigger an independent evaluation of that school, Miller said.

“A third party actually goes in and evaluates the climate of school, will evaluate the investigation process that takes place at the school district. And some of that (possible abuse of the program) comes to light through that evaluation process,” Miller said.

Grady also asked how qualifying incidents are defined. Miller said the school districts will use standards already in place under the state’s “school environmental safety incident reporting system.”

For instance, bullying is defined as “systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students or employees that is severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.”

The Hope scholarship plan drew heavy debate during this year’s legislative session, with many Democrats arguing it is more about expanding school vouchers than addressing problems with bullying.

In the 2015-2016 school year, districts reported more than 47,000 incidents that could qualify under the new scholarship program, with nearly 22,000 fighting incidents being the most common.

However, funding for the scholarships is unclear, at least in the first year, and could limit their use.

The program will rely on voluntary contributions made by Floridians when they buy new or used vehicles. Beginning Oct. 1, motorists will be able shift up to $105 from the sales taxes they would normally pay on vehicle transactions to the Hope scholarship program.

But state officials and Step Up For Students, a nonprofit agency that will administer the scholarships, do not expect to start seeing the actual contributions until late November or early December.

State analysts project 7,302 partial-year Hope scholarships being awarded in the 2018-2019 school year, with some $27 million in funding. The scholarships will be awarded on a “first-come, first-served” basis.

Once fully implemented for private-school transfers, the scholarships, which are based on the statewide per-student funding level, would be worth more than $7,112 for high-school students for a full year, $6,816 for middle-school students and $6,519 for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

The program provides up to $750 in transportation costs for students transferring to other public schools.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Democrats talk algae, quality of life issues in Fort Myers Governor debate

As the five dominant Democrats running for Governor shared a debate stage in Fort Myers, discharges from Lake Okeechobee rose to the top of a list of progressive causes discussed.

The debate participants universally promised to fight Big Sugar and find solutions to the closely watched environmental issue.

“If you don’t have the political courage to stand up to the industry that has had a vice grip on environmental politics in the state of Florida for 20 years, paying off politicians all throughout the state of Florida, you are now willing to hold this office,” said Orlando businessman Chris King.

All the candidates promised not to take sugar money. King zinged former Rep. Gwen Graham for accepting money in the past, but she noted that one had all gone to help the Indian River Lagoon.

“I am proud sugar money is being used to clean up the mess they created,” Graham said.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said stopping Big Sugar influence would involve more than environmental regulation. He said fixing problems around Lake Okeechobee also offered the chance to help redefine the economy of communities that now rely on the industry.

“We need to put the interests of everyday people first,” he said. Gillum noted areas around Lake Okeechobee, many communities of color, will need new economic drivers, a problem that cannot be solved within the “elite towers of liberalism,” and that the next Governor will need to take a New Deal approach to job growth.

Quality of life and education issues also loomed large in the debate. Standing at a podium next to billionaire Jeff Greene on the debate stage for the first time, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine stressed his public and private sector success while taking a thinly veiled shot at his primary opponent.

“Don’t elect someone just from the private sector who was never tested in the public sector,” Levine stressed.

Greene, though, said his financial success would allow him to help Democratic candidates all the way down the ballot, including in Senate and House races, to be elected. And he said his background made him the best candidate to stand up to President Donald Trump.

“I’ve been fighting with Donald Trump as long as I’ve known him,” Greene said.

Green also promised to put an end to state funding of charter schools, suggesting it’s the lobbying and political influence of professionals in the industry who led to a sudden interest in Tallahassee in expanding charter options.

As for working with the president? Gillum, while calling Trump “uniquely unqualified” for his office, said he’d work with him on high-speed rail. Graham said she’d push for a Medicaid expansion in Florida — and accept the funding.

A message pushed repeatedly was ending the Democrats’ losing streak. Graham frequently talked of the 20 years of Republican rule in Florida, noting she had won a Panhandle congressional seat during a red wave year in 2014.

King reminded people the last time a Democrat won the governor’s mansion was his freshman year in high school.

Levine promised to deliver results in both the election and in the job, noting past success passing a living wage rule in Miami Beach before Gov. Rick Scott put a stop to it.

Gillum appealed to history, noting that the Aug. 28 primary this year will occur on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” and the day Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president.

Moderating the debate were WINK News anchors Chris Cifatte and Lois Thome; it was at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Matt Caldwell piles on 16 endorsements for Ag. Commish bid

Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell let loose another torrent of endorsements for his Agriculture Commissioner bid Wednesday, this time from county constitutional officers in all corners of the state.

Backing him in the four-way Republican primary to succeed Adam Putnam are Monroe Sheriff Rick Ramsay, Lee Sherriff Mike Scott, former Pasco Sheriff Bob White, Walton Tax Collector Rhonda Skipper, former Duval Tax Collector Mike Corrigan, Lee Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson, Lake Property Appraiser Carey Baker, Walton Clerk Alex Alford, Lee Clerk Linda Doggett, Duval Clerk Ronnie Fussell, former Flagler Clerk Gail Wadsworth, Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White, Clay Commissioner Gavin Rollins, St. Johns Commissioners Henry Dean and Jeb Smith as well as Jax Councilman Matt Schellenberg.

“I’m proud to endorse Matt Caldwell because he will bring his brand of proven, conservative leadership to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. I ask that all Floridians join me in voting for Matt Caldwell,” Stacy White said in the announcement.

Caldwell has tended to release his endorsements in “waves” throughout his Cabinet bid. Past palettes of patrons have included the state House delegations from the Panhandle, Northeast Florida, Central Florida, Southwest Florida and South Florida. He also recently locked down the backing of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

“I’m thankful to have the support of these leaders in our bid to serve as Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. I will continue to work hard to earn the trust and support of voters across the Sunshine State, who deserve a Commissioner that has the leadership and policy experience to lead in Tallahassee on day one,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell is running against Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley, retired U.S. Army Col. Mike McCalister and former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman in the Republican primary. Nikki FriedJeff Porter and David Walker are competing for the Democratic nomination.

To date, Caldwell has found the most success on the fundraising trail with nearly $2.2 million raised and about $1.2 million banked between his campaign and political committee, Friends of Matt Caldwell. Troutman, however, has bolstered his bid with more than $3 million of self-funding and has more than $1.4 million on hand.

The primary election is Aug. 28. The general election is Nov. 6.

Frank White’s pro-life cred earns him Family Research Council backing

Another major pro-life group announced Wednesday that it was backing Pensacola state Rep. Frank White for Attorney General.

The new endorsement came in from the political arm of the staunchly-Christian-conservative Family Research Council, which takes hard-line stances against abortion and LGBTQ rights and in favor of increasing the role of Christianity in public life.

“During Rep. Frank White’s tenure in the Florida House of Representatives, he has stood boldly for life, family, and religious liberty. As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, he sponsored a bill that requires H.H.S. to partner with organizations that support and promote childbirth. He also supported a bill that allows parents to challenge politicized public school curricula, a bill that provides pregnancy and wellness services to women in need, and a bill that bans dismemberment abortions,” said Jerry Boykin, the executive vice president of FRC Action PAC.

“FRC Action PAC is confident that Rep. Frank White will be a dedicated advocate for limited government, for individual liberties, and for strong family values. He is the leader that Florida needs, and we are pleased to offer our endorsement of his candidacy for election to Attorney General of Florida,” concluded Boykin.

FRC Action PAC joins Florida Right to Life, another stalwart anti-abortion group, in endorsing White, who has already made his pro-life views the subject of a TV ad.

White is one of two Republicans running to succeed term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi in the fall. He faces former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, who has Bondi’s support, in the primary.

White is up seven points, 26 to 19, in the most recent public poll of the race and he holds a fundraising lead thanks to more than $2.7 million in self-funding. At last check-in, White had raised $3.95 million including self-funding and had $2.15 million banked, while Moody had raised $3 million and had $2.3 million banked.

The winner of the Republican contest will likely face Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw in November, who leads both Republicans in two recent polls.

Donald Trump Jr.: Ron DeSantis was with us from the start

Rising rapidly in the Republican gubernatorial primary polls under President Donald Trump‘s balloon, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis brought a little of the president’s family mojo to Orlando Tuesday, as Donald Trump Jr. reminded an appreciative crowd that DeSantis had been with his father from the start.

“Ron DeSantis was there from Day 1. He got it. He saw it. He went on TV. He was with us when it wasn’t cool to be with us,” Trump declared to several hundred exuberant people packing the B.B. King‘s Blues Club in Orlando.

In a Republican Party in which President Trump rewards loyalty, DeSantis is soaking it up, shooting well past Republican rival Adam Putnam in the polls and using that chip to draw large, loud crowds dedicated to Trump, fueled by every attack on him, and convinced that he is making America great again.

Trump Jr. was there on International Drive Wednesday to drive those points home.

“There is not a single matrix in existence, economic or otherwise, where we are not better off than we were four years ago under the previous administration. Not a one,” Trump Jr. told the crowd. “So what I see the Democrats running on: doing everything against Donald Trump.”

For his part, DeSantis provided much of the speech he’s been using since taking his campaign on the road three weeks ago. He railed against crony capitalism in Tallahassee, against illegal immigrants, against the sugar industry’s influence over water and natural resources, against Common Core curriculum guidelines in schools, pushing for creating a curriculum to study the U.S. Constitution, and taking shots at Putnam on every issue, including declaring him to be “in the pocket of big sugar.”

Putnam’s name drew boos in this crowd.

“Adam Putnam, though I respect him, he is somebody who is a career politician. He’s been in office since he was 22 years old. He’s a transactional Republican. And he is the choice of every insider in Tallahassee. He is the crown prince of crony capitalism. He’s the toast of Tallahassee,” DeSantis said.

“I, on the other hand, am an Iraq veteran,” DeSantis declared, drawing a huge cheer. “I am a principled, proven conservative leader. And I am endorsed by the president of the United States.”

That drew show-stopping applause.

DeSantis also appears to have found a winning issue with conservatives with his talk of adding U.S. Constitution curriculum to the schools; this crowd thundered when he spoke of it.

“We gotta get the Constitution back in the classroom. It can’t be a day or a week. I think it really needs to be a comprehensive study about the principles that make our country unique,” DeSantis said. “Because when you think about it, we have different religious denominations. We have different ethnic ancestries. But the thing that’s supposed to unite us is the belief that we serve enduring truths and fundamental principles. We need to be teaching the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. If you don’t have that foundation, then I don’t think you are fully prepared for citizenship.

“So we’re going to make that something that is an emphasis. And if there are teachers that excel in that, let’s pay them more,” he said.

DeSantis also praised Gov. Rick Scott, saying “We have a chance to build off what Rick Scott has done,” and then painted Scott’s predecessor, Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat Charlie Crist as the king of cronyism, and implying that Putnam was the same.

“None of that is possible if we go back to the days of Charlie Crist, when the good old boys ran the show,” DeSantis said.

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