Headlines Archives - Florida Politics

Former Vice President Joe Biden endorses Sean Shaw

The statewide race for the open Attorney General post is attracting national involvement.

Calling state Rep. Sean Shaw a “fighter with a proven track record of standing up for the little guy,” former Vice President Joe Biden is throwing his political weight behind Florida’s Democratic option for Attorney General.

In an endorsement announced on Tuesday, the former two-term Vice President said, “Sean Shaw will be the kind of Attorney General that the state of Florida desperately needs.”

Shaw responded, likening himself to the former Veep.

“Much like Vice President Biden did during his time in the White House, I plan to give issues surrounding common-sense gun reform and tackling sexual assault, the focus, and attention that they deserve,” Shaw said. “The grace with which Vice President Biden has carried himself, through both triumph and tragedy, is a lesson in the resilience of the human spirit.”

This isn’t Biden’s first wade into races down the ballot. He’s offered support for candidates running in special elections during the past two years, even going as far as recording robocalls to go out ahead of February’s House District 72 race, which saw Democrat Margaret Good secure an upset victory.

Shaw faces former Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Ashley Moody, a Republican who’s long carried support from term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi. Moody faced a brutal primary challenge from Frank White, which exhausted much of her campaign funds. Currently, Shaw leads in the money chase with $1.2 million on hand, while Moody’s close behind at $870,000 — although her weekly hauls have recently topped Shaw’s.

State waits to consider possible election changes

Secretary of State Ken Detzner said Monday he’s waiting for requests from elections supervisors in hurricane-ravaged counties before considering any changes for the Nov. 6 election.

“The department is in regular communication with supervisors of elections in affected counties, and they are still in the process of assessing potential damage to early-voting and election-day voting sites as well as any other impacts that could affect voters in their area,” Detzner said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with supervisors and provide any needed assistance, as well as ensure updates are communicated to voters and the media once more information is available.”

Detzner traveled to hard-hit Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf and Liberty counties on Monday.

“I saw firsthand the devastation Hurricane Michael brought to these areas and my heart goes out to them,” Detzner said.

The deadline to register to vote in the November election was last Tuesday. But Detzner granted a partial extension to counties where elections offices were closed that day because of Hurricane Michael, which hit Wednesday as a Category 4 storm.

Counties where elections offices were closed last Tuesday will be able to accept paper voter-registration applications to the day they reopen.

As of Monday afternoon, more than 334,000 people statewide had cast vote-by-mail ballots for the election, including 121,594 by Democrats and 152,191 by Republicans.

But Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Liberty, Jackson, Holmes, Washington and Gadsden counties hadn’t updated their vote-by-mail numbers since before Michael came ashore.

Early voting statewide runs from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3, though county supervisors can add some extra days.

AIDS Foundation, Governor’s office argue over records

Attorneys for the nation’s largest non-profit AIDS health-care provider squared off Monday against Gov. Rick Scott’s administration over Florida’s broad public-records law and how it applies to the governor’s travel records and meeting schedules.

The Scott administration does not dispute that information the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is requesting is a public record. Instead, the administration argued to a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal about the timing of the release of the information.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation in July requested the governor’s travel schedule, including his overnight accommodations, for three months in advance. The foundation requested the information after the Scott administration made contracting decisions that locked a foundation health plan, Positive Healthcare, out of the state’s Medicaid program for the next five years.

In legal briefs filed with the 1st District Court of Appeal, Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard, representing the Scott administration, argued that while the schedule isn’t exempt from the public-records law, there is a law that exempts from review “any information revealing surveillance techniques or procedures or personnel. “

“If you tell a person where the governor is going to be every time three months in advance — what time he’s going to arrive ,what time he’s going to leave, where he’s going to be lodging — effectively you are giving them the opportunity to learn the surveillance techniques, procedures and personnel,” Richard told The News Service of Florida. “Because all you have to do is get there ahead of time and watch the (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) and how they are setting up their surveillance perimeter.”

Richard said the governor’s office releases Scott’s schedule daily and that the current distribution cycle “balances the public policy of open public records with the necessity of protecting the safety of public officers and law enforcement personnel.”

But AIDS Healthcare Foundation attorney Brian Finnerty said the Scott administration is citing an exemption that doesn’t apply.

“This is a very unusual case for us, and it’s because the executive office of the governor is not claiming these records are not public record,” Finnerty told the court. ”They’re just claiming that there’s a time component or a public policy component that should be read into the particular exemption that they have cited that would preclude them from having to produce the records that we requested.”

Judge Joseph Lewis Jr. asked Finnerty whether the release of the information could give people an opportunity to access surveillance-related information, but Finnerty said it would not.

“It simply would allow somebody to know what the governor’s plans are, and I think it’s consistent with the Sunshine law,” he said, referring to Florida’s public-records law.

The Scott administration took the case to the appeals court after Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled Sept. 5 that the information was a public record. Dodson initially ordered Scott’s office to provide it within 10 days, but the appeals court delayed the effect of the decision while it considered the case.

The lawsuit is part of a series of legal battles that came after the state Agency for Health Care Administration did not renew a five-year Medicaid contract with the foundation’s Positive Healthcare to provide Medicaid services in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

In one of the other cases, the foundation is asking a judge to nullify Medicaid managed-care contracts. The Agency for Health Care Administration tried unsuccessfully to have the case tossed from administrative court, and a decision in the case is pending, according to the state Division of Administrative Hearings website.

Also, another case has been filed in Leon County circuit court arguing that the Scott administration is violating the public records law.

Both parties agreed last month to push back a hearing in that case, saying they were working on a possible agreement.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation attorney Ryan Andrews, however, said progress on that case has slowed. Andrews said he would give the state additional time to respond to his client’s request for information because Tallahassee was affected by Hurricane Michael. But Andrews said “it may be brought back up.”

Kelsey Grammar stars in new ad in favor of ‘Marsy’s Law’

Emmy Award-winning actor Kelsey Grammer is starring in a new spot advocating for passage of Amendment 6, which supporters say would grant increased rights to victims of crime.

Grammer himself has felt the effects of violent crime on numerous occasions throughout his life. He uses the 30-second ad, which was launched by Marsy’s Law for Florida, to talk about those tragedies.

“My dad was gunned down at his home at the age of 38,” Grammer begins.

“Six years later, my sister Karen was brutally raped and murdered. She was 18. When my father’s killer was released, I found out through the National Enquirer. It seemed like a cruel joke.

“In my sister’s case, I have been allowed a voice in the parole hearings of her killers, but that’s not always true in Florida. Amendment 6 gives crime victims and their families a voice in the process and the equal rights they deserve. Please vote ‘Yes’ on Amendment 6.”

Advocates say the bill was modeled after Marsy’s Law, which was enacted in California back in 2008. Among the purported benefits of passage would be increased participation for victims in case proceedings, prevention of disclosure of victims’ information, and other protections.

Greg Ungru, state director of Marsy’s Law for Florida, says Grammer’s past tells the tale of why Amendment 6 is needed.

“Kelsey Grammer’s story is far too familiar for many Floridians,” Ungru said.

“Without clear, enforceable protections in the state constitution, Florida crime victims and their family members often find their rights considered sub-par to those of the accused, which is unfair and unjust.”

But critics argue victims are already protected under Florida law and worry the Amendment could supersede the constitutional rights of defendants.

Ungru dismisses those concerns.

“A person accused or convicted of a crime should always be entitled to his or her constitutional rights, but crime victims deserve the same consideration,’ Ungru argued.

“Amendment 6 balances the scales of justice while preserving due process, and we are incredibly grateful for Kelsey Grammer’s steadfast support and dedication to this cause. We hope all Floridians will stand up for crime victims and vote yes on Amendment 6.”

As with all constitutional amendments in Florida, 60 percent of voters must approve the measure in November in order to pass.

Supreme Court rules Rick Scott can’t name 3 new justices

The state’s Supreme Court ruled Monday that outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott cannot appoint replacements for the court’s three upcoming vacancies.

“The governor who is elected in the November 2018 general election (most likely Democrat Andrew Gillum or Republican Ron DeSantis) has the sole authority to fill the vacancies that will be created by the mandatory retirement of Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince,” the court’s one-page unsigned order said.

Two progressive groups, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause, had filed suit against Scott. They sought to block his nominations; he’s said he would have picked conservative jurists.

Scott

The next justices will likely determine the ideological balance of the state’s highest court: Pariente, Lewis, and Quince are regarded as the liberal-leaning contingent; Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson are the conservatives. Justice Jorge Labarga is often a swing vote.

The court’s ruling suggested they bought into the group’s argument that Scott shouldn’t be able to replace the outgoing justices because their terms don’t end till the last minute of Jan. 7, his last day in office, but the new governor will be sworn in earlier that morning.

Its order was contingent on the fact that the three justices “do not leave prior to the expiration of their terms at midnight between Jan. 7 and Jan. 8, 2019, and provided that the (next) governor takes office immediately upon the beginning of his term.”

“The people will have a very important say in this matter, especially because both candidates have staked out very different positions on the kinds of people they are looking to appoint to the court,” said John Mills, attorney for the plaintiffs, in a statement.

“Andrew Gillum has said he will ‘appoint diverse, qualified judges who represent the breadth and depth of people in this state,’ ” he added. “Ron DeSantis has said he will ‘appoint constitutional conservatives’ who will be very different from the retiring justices, who he characterizes as ‘liberal’ and accuses of ‘legislating from the bench for the past 20 years.’ Voters now have the opportunity to factor these positions into their choice for governor.”

Further, the court found that Scott “exceeded his authority by directing the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (‘the JNC’) to submit its nominations to fill these vacancies” by Nov. 10.

That panel was planning on interviewing all 59 applicants for the three vacancies on Nov. 3 and 4 in Miami, and Nov. 8 and 9 in Tampa. (One of those applicants, Jeff Burns, later on Monday sued to disqualify Pariente, Lewis and Quince from the case for an “objective economic conflict of interest.”)

The 60-day period “after nominations have been certified within which the governor is required to make appointments, as set forth in … the Florida Constitution begins to run only when the governor with the authority to appoint has taken office,” the court said. “As the JNC is an independent body, it is not bound by Gov. Scott’s deadlines.”

The court also set oral argument for Nov. 8 on “the issue of when the JNC can certify its nominations.”

In recent weeks, Scott tried to defuse the litigation by offering to confer with his successor on candidates, taking a page from the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, who reached a similar accord with incoming Republican Jeb Bush in 1998. Quince is the last justice appointed through such consultations.

Geoff Burgan, then the campaign communications director for Gillum, spurned the offer, saying: “In our understanding of the Constitution, the next Governor will appoint the next three Supreme Court justices.”

In a statement later Monday, Gillum said he was “pleased the … Court has brought closure to this important issue, finding — as we have consistently stated — that the next Governor of Florida will appoint the next three Supreme Court justices.

“It is a duty I take extremely seriously and, as Governor, one of my top priorities will be to restore integrity to the judicial nominating process,” he added.

DeSantis tweeted: “If (Gillum) is elected, out-of-state, radical groups would pressure him to appoint activist judges who would legislate from the bench to fit their own ideology. The consequences would be dangerous and felt for generations.

“I promise to only appoint judges who will uphold the Constitution and follow the law as it is written. We must secure Florida’s future.”

Scott, a Naples Republican who is term-limited as Governor, now is running to unseat incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, first elected in 2000.

The present suit had been first filed last year but the court said it couldn’t step into the controversy then because the Governor hadn’t taken any action yet.

In that decision, Labarga joined with the court’s conservatives. Pariente and Quince concurred, but Lewis dissented and called Scott’s proposed actions “blatantly unconstitutional.”

The court’s Monday decision also means the court could be short on justices for a while: The nominating and appointment process can take as long as four months, including background screening and reviews of The Florida Bar’s disciplinary records.

And the court itself tweaked its own rules last year regarding how and when retired justices can serve as “senior justices.”

A controversy erupted when then-Chief Justice Labarga allowed retired Justice James E.C. Perry to finish work on opinions, following decades of court practice. This was after Lawson, a Scott appointee, replaced Perry.

Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran prepared a legal challenge to Perry’s continued work, saying among other things that Perry was an unconstitutional “eighth justice” on the seven-member court.

Ex-felon voter restoration Amendment 4 gets $5M ad buy

With vote-by-mail underway and early in-person voting just a week away, the Second Chances Campaign announced a $5 million broadcast ad buy Monday.

The pro-Amendment 4 group’s television and radio spots will include personal stories from reformed felons who are still denied spent, and from experts in favor of restoring civil rights for those who have done their time.

“We are excited to share stories with people all across Florida as we approach the start of early voting in Florida,” stated Floridians for a Fair Democracy Campaign Manager Jackie Lee.

“Floridians from all walks of life have been energized by this grassroots campaign,” Lee added, “and with this ad buy we are bringing the message of second chances to voters across the state.”

These messages include stories of Alan Rhyelle, a Vietnam veteran with a Purple Heart but no right to vote due to being convicted of cannabis possession, as well as former Assistant State Attorney Gary Winston of Miami-Dade County.

Of the nearly $5 million, over $500,000 will go to a Spanish language TV buy, and $700,000 will go to what the media release calls “radio stations serving minority communities.”

The spots will be live in every media market in the state, and the hope is that they help continue the momentum established in recent polling that shows Amendment 4 on track to pass with 71 percent support.

Rick Scott might not campaign anymore; Ann Scott to take over

Gov. Rick Scott‘s U.S. Senate campaign announced Monday that he expects to be so busy with Hurricane Michael recovery that he might not do any more campaigning before the Nov. 6 election and that First Lady Ann Scott will take over his campaign appearance commitments for at least the next couple of weeks.

The campaign held out the prospect that the governor might yet return to the campaign trail before Nov. 6, but cautioned against it.

“Gov. Scott will be focused on response and recovery from the devastating hurricane that hit the Panhandle for the foreseeable future. It’s unclear, at this point, whether he will hold any campaign events before the November 6th election, though it is still possible closer to election day.” the campaign announced in a news advisory Monday.

“Florida’s wonderful First Lady, Ann Scott, will be taking over his campaign schedule for the next few weeks. There is no better advocate for Governor Scott and his agenda to make Washington work than the First Lady,” the campaign added.

The campaign also expects to rely on other surrogates who are being dispatched to an “aggressive schedule of surrogate events for the coming weeks to make sure that Gov. Scott’s message is getting out across the state.”

Outside money now at $42 million in Florida’s U.S. Senate race

Outside groups have spent almost $17 million just in the past two weeks on advertising and other campaigning in the battle between Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and his opponent Republican Gov. Rick Scott in Florida’s U.S. Senate election.

That spending ramped up from an already impressive $25 million that outside groups previously had spent in 2018, fueling waves of television commercials, stacks of campaign mailers, and other campaign support, according to the latest U.S. Senate independent expenditure reports, through last Friday, posted by the Federal Election Commission.

Nelson continues to be the biggest beneficiary of outside money, as more than $10.3 million was spent in the past two weeks either supporting him or attacking Scott, while $6.6 million was spent supporting Scott or attacking Nelson.

The grand total in outside spending so far: $25.6 million spent to support Nelson or oppose Scott; $17 million to support Scott or oppose Nelson.

Yet the spending is led by the pro-Scott New Republican Political Action Committee, the PAC that Scott set up as an outside group to support his campaign, and then left. It spent $5.4 million in the past two weeks and now has spent $14.8 million overall.

Not far behind was the Senate Majority Political Action Committee, the Democrats’ PAC supporting Nelson, which spent $4.5 million in the past two weeks, and now has spent $11 million in Florida, mostly bashing Scott.

Two other PACs, the Democrats’ Majority Forward and Priorities USA Action, each spent more than $2 million for Nelson’s benefit since the Sept. 30 reports, while Americans for Prosperity Action dropped more than $1 million to aid Scott’s campaign.

Priorities USA now has spent $6.4 million overall, and Majority forward, $4.5 million. Americans for Prosperity and several of its related groups have combined to spend about $1.2 million so far in Florida.

Ten other political committees have spent at least $100,000 apiece on the Nelson-Scott race. Most of them support Nelson or oppose Scott.

Though with three weeks to go, the 2018 outside spending still has not eclipsed the record set in 2016 when outside groups, mostly supporting Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and attacking Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, combined to spend $54.2 million. In 2012, the last time Nelson ran, the outside spending reached only $22.5 million.

Missing this year, compared with 2016 when Rubio last ran, is any major participation from the two primary groups supporting Republicans running for the U.S. Senate, the Senate Leadership Fund and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In 2016 the Republican leadership PACs combined to spend more than $18 million to aid Rubio. This year the Senate Leadership Fund has spent just $18,000 on online advertising to support Scott, while the NRSC has not entered the Florida contest.

The Sunshine State is not the biggest national battleground for outside groups, although it is close. The FEC reports show that more than $53 million has been spent in the U.S. Senate race in Missouri, and $42 million also has been spent in the U.S. Senate race in Indiana.

Hurricane Michael claims begin streaming in to state insurance office

An “extremely preliminary” report from the Office of Insurance Regulation shows that roughly 38,000 Hurricane Michael-related claims have come into Florida carriers thus far, and that paid losses have reached $5.7 million.

“These numbers are extremely preliminary and will continue to rise in the days and weeks to come,” office spokesman Jon Moore said via email.

The office has ordered property insurers to submit claims data on a daily basis until further notice.

“Through Hermine, Matthew and Irma, Florida’s industry has indicated an ability to respond to these types of events, and we expect the response to Hurricane Michael from the industry will be strong,” Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said in a prepared statement.

My office will continue working to ensure every possible step that can be taken to assist those impacted by Hurricane Michael will be executed as soon as possible.”

Those efforts began well in advance of the storm, when Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, whose Department of Financial Services contains the insurance office, conferred by conference call with insurers likely to be affected.

The officials wanted to make sure carriers had resources in place to service claims, and to assess damage and pay quickly. The carriers are to report problems doing that as soon as possible, and report claims data to the insurance office.

Additionally, Gov. Rick Scott has invoked emergency authority to give policyholders — many still unable to return to their property, or to access records from the wreckage, 90 days to update carriers on their situations.

The same order bars insurance companies from canceling or non-renewing residential policies subject to Michael claims for at least 90 days, and freezes rate increases for the same period.

“OIR’s Incident Management Team remains fully activated and will have representatives at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee,” Moore said.

“OIR team members will be actively working throughout the recovery phase with consumer advocates, industry stakeholders and entities licensed under OIR’s regulatory authority.”

Note: This story has been updated to reflect fresh numbers from the insurance office.

Ashley Moody adds $720K, Sean Shaw $275K in Attorney General race

Ashley Moody posted her best fundraising numbers since winning the Republican nomination to replace term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi, with a combined $720,000 raised between her campaign and committee accounts.

The former circuit court judge and prosecutor is up against state Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat and the state’s former insurance consumer advocate, in the Nov. 6 general election. Also running is unaffiliated candidate Jeffrey Marc Siskind of Wellington.

Moody brought in about $182,000 of the new cash via her campaign account. The Sept. 29 through Oct. 5 report, due to the Florida Division of Elections Friday, listed 155 contributions. The top spot on the campaign report was held by the State of Florida, which tossed the Tampa Republican another $13,375 in matching funds.

The state campaign matching funds program, open only to candidates for Governor and Cabinet positions, matches contributions of $250 or less from individuals who were state residents at the time of making the contribution. To date, Moody has received nearly $400,000 through the program.

The campaign report also included 32 checks for $3,000, the maximum allowable contribution for statewide races. Donors included lobby firm Akerman, U.S. Sugar, and Florida Jobs PAC, a political committee tied to the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber committee also showed up with three checks totaling $157,500 in the finance report for Friends of Ashley Moody. Also showing up above the fold were a pair of committees linked to the Associated Industries of Florida — Florida Prosperity Fund and Voice of Florida Business Political Action Committee.

Those two PACs gave $95,000 between them, while health insurance company Florida Blue chipped in $75,000, and U.S. Sugar, private prison company GEO Group, lobby firm Holland & Knight and University of Florida Board of Trustees Chair James Heavener gave $25,000 apiece.

Moody also spent about $760,000 during the week, with $605,000 of that money heading to the Republican Party of Florida. Other major expenditures included a $136,200 payment to Maryland-based Mentzer Media Service for a media buy.

As of Oct. 5, Moody had raised more than $6.2 million for her AG bid, though much of that money was burned getting through the primary election. She has $870,000 on hand.

Shaw showed $275,000 in contributions between his campaign and committee, Sean Shaw for Florida, during the same stretch. The committee account collected $177,500 of those contribs, while $ 97,451 headed toward the campaign account.

Wagmore Foundation President Gladys Cofrin cut Shaw a check for $75,000, making her his biggest donor by a mile. Coral Gables law firm Grossman Roth Yaffa Cohen followed with a $50,000 contribution, while Miami attorney Stuart Ratzan tossed in $25,000.

On the campaign side, Shaw picked up a $11,338 matching funds check as well as ten $3,000 contributions. His donor list included 432 names, though well over half donated $50 or less.

As of Oct. 5, Shaw had raised more than $2.3 million between his two accounts. Unlike Moody, Shaw only faced a light challenge in August, leaving him with a cash lead in the early goings of the general election. That trend is continuing, as Shaw finished the reporting period with about $1.2 million in the bank.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce put out a poll of the Attorney General contest and other statewide races earlier this month and found Shaw leading Moody 35-33 percent while Siskind earned 9 percent of the vote. The remaining 20 percent of voters were undecided.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

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