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Richard Corcoran, Ron DeSantis, Jose Oliva attend Koch brothers retreat in Colorado Springs

Three of Florida’s top conservative lawmakers — including potential Republican candidates for Governor — attended a Colorado retreat this weekend hosted by the influential Koch network.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and state Rep. Jose Oliva are listed among the big-name Republican politicians and donors at a three-day event held this weekend in Colorado Springs.

Presenting the conference is the Seminar Network, one of the satellite organizations of billionaires Charles and David Koch. The goal of the weekend is to strategize ahead of the 2018 election cycle.

In January, at a similar gathering in California, Seminar announced the Koch organization will invest as much as $400 million in the 2017-18 election cycle, up from about $250 million spent in the 2016 campaign. The spending boost, according to The Washington Post, makes it clear “they intend to deal with [Donald] Trump and congressional Republicans as they have every other administration — which could mean an impending confrontation with GOP leaders.”

“This weekend our focus will be on how to expand opportunity for those most in need and applying the principles of a free and open society to take on some of our nation’s biggest challenges,” said Seminar Network co-leader Mark Holden in a statement to The Denver Post. Holden also serves as general counsel for Koch Industries.

Held in the exclusive Broadmoor resort at the base of Pikes Peak, the annual event draws hundreds of the nation’s top conservative donors and marquee Republicans.

At last year’s Colorado Springs Koch event, the featured guest was U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. This weekend, the guest list includes Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas, Matt Bevin of Kentucky, Doug Ducey of Arizona, and Eric Greitens of Missouri. Also in attendance were such Republican heavyweights as U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, Corey Gardner, Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz.

In addition, Vice President Mike Pence — a noted Koch ally — stopped by Colorado Springs Friday for a series of fundraisers. The following day, a motorcycle cop was injured in a crash escorting Pence’s motorcade to the airport.

With Corcoran and DeSantis mingling among the GOP elite in Colorado, it only adds fuel to speculation on their future ambitions — most notably in the Florida Governor’s race.

In May, Corcoran launched a new political committee, Watchdog PAC, which some speculate could help fund a campaign for Governor in 2018.

Americans for Prosperity Florida, the state chapter of the Koch-funded activist network, had been big supporters of Corcoran’s push in the Florida House in 2017 to end a pair of Gov. Rick Scott‘s favored job incentive programs, which they called “corporate welfare.”

“Those are the only two choices — Governor or not run for office,” the Land O’Lakes Republican said about his new fundraising arm to the Tampa Bay Times in April. “If I can’t raise the money, I can’t raise the money, and if I raise the money and I don’t want to run for governor, I don’t run for governor.”

At the same time, DeSantis is also hearing rumblings calling him to run.

The Miami Herald reported in April that the conservative group Madison Project, which backed the Ponte Verde Beach Republican’s short-lived U.S. Senate campaign in 2016, issued a statement urging DeSantis to consider a bid for Governor. The declaration appeared on The Resurgent, a popular conservative website by political commentator Erick Erickson.

On April 12, The Resurgent ran results from a poll, conducted by Republican pollsters WPA Intelligence, showing DeSantis could fare well statewide against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is now raising money in his own race for Governor.

“While DeSantis may trail Putnam at this early date,” post said, “with 52 percent of voters undecided — and 51 percent not knowing who he is — this race is wide-open.”

Gov. Scott to appoint Jimmy Patronis as state’s Chief Financial Officer

Public Service Commissioner and former state Rep. Jimmy Patronis will be named state Chief Financial Officer to replace the outgoing Jeff Atwater, the Governor’s Office confirms.

An announcement will be made Monday in Panama City.

The Panama City Republican and ally of Gov. Rick Scott beat out state Rep. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican and another friend of Scott, for the interim position.

“CFO successor has been identified and known since Atwater originally resigned,” a source familiar with the workings of the EOG told FloridaPolitics.com this week. “Has only been one name the entire time, regardless what others have said, reported, or assumed.”

Atwater, first elected in 2010, is leaving office early to become chief financial officer of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. His home and family are in Palm Beach County. His last day with the state is June 30.

Atwater’s background was in finance—he was president and CEO of Florida’s Barnett Bank, acquired by NationsBank in 1997—while Patronis is a small businessman. With his brother Johnny, he owns the Capt. Anderson’s restaurant in Panama City Beach.

According to his online bio, Patronis also has been “a bank director, hospital trustee, as well as a board member for many charitable and nonprofit organizations.”

As CFO, Patronis will oversee the Department of Financial Services, be the State Fire Marshal and sit as a member of the Florida Cabinet. The department also includes the state’s insurance department and treasury.

Scott appointed Patronis, who was term-limited out of the House in 2014, to the Public Service Commission, the body that regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities. He joined the panel in 2015 for a four-year term.

He has served on the Florida Elections Commission and Bay County-Panama City International Airport and Industrial District.

Patronis also was appointed by Scott this year to the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which convenes every 20 years to review the state Constitution and consider possible amendments.

The Bay County native got his undergraduate degree in political science from Florida State University.

Former Florida Supreme Court justice dies at age 93

Parker Lee McDonald

A former Florida Supreme Court justice who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race has died.

Court spokesman Craig Waters announced that Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday at his home in Tallahassee. McDonald was 93.

McDonald, who was born in Sebring, was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1979 by then-Gov. Bob Graham. McDonald served 15 years on the court and retired from the court after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

He authored the decision regarding jurors in 1984.

He was nicknamed the “Whistling Justice” because a security guard stopped him on his first day and told him no whistling was allowed in the court building. McDonald told the guard he could do what he wanted since he was a justice.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida politics lopsided despite required fair districts

Florida has more registered Democrats than Republicans, but the balance of power in government doesn’t even come close to reflecting that.

Despite a 2010 constitutional amendment aimed at preventing political gerrymandering, Republicans dominate Florida politics. Democrats only hold 41 of 120 state House seats, 15 of 40 Senate seats and are outnumbered in in the U.S. House 16-11.

While it would be easy to say Republicans built their power because they draw the political boundaries for Congress and the Legislature, it’s not as simple as that. Yes, observers note, it has contributed to the lopsided political numbers in a state where presidential elections are often seen as a tossup. But they point out Republicans are at this point just better at raising money, recruiting candidates and winning races in districts that should be more competitive.

The Associated Press analyzed all 435 U.S. House races and about 4,700 state House and Assembly elections last year using a statistical method of calculating partisan advantage designed to detect potential gerrymandering. Florida was found to be one of the states with the largest Republican tilts in the state House. While it also showed Florida Republicans’ advantage in Congress was slightly more than should’ve been expected, it wasn’t to the point that clearly indicated gerrymandering.

The analysis examined the share of votes cast for Republican and Democratic candidates in each district and projected the expected number of seats each party would gain if districts were drawn so that neither party had an overall advantage. In Florida, Republicans had about 11 more seats in the state House than would be expected, one of the largest margins in the country.

Political maps are redrawn every 10 years after a new U.S. Census. Republicans helped gain dominance in Florida by controlling that process in 2002. Democrats controlled it in 1992 when they commanded the Legislature. Then Republicans flipped enough seats to take control by the time Republican Gov. Jeb Bush was elected in 1998.

“Republicans really put their foot on the gas when Bush got elected,” said Steve Schale, a Democratic political consultant.

The state House went from a 71-49 Democratic majority in 1994 to an 81-39 Republican majority after the 2002 election when districts were redrawn by Republican lawmakers. Schale said Republicans drew maps with highly concentrated Democratic districts so that they could create more Republican-strong districts that weren’t as concentrated.

As a result, Schale said, districts seen as competitive still have a slight Republican edge: “Even the places that are competitive aren’t truly like jump balls.”

Republicans acknowledge the 2002 rewrite favored their party.

Former Republican state Rep. Jeff Kottkamp sat on the House committee that redrew House maps. Kottkamp, who later served as lieutenant governor, said lawyers warned lawmakers that there were still rules that had to be followed. “You knew that the district had to be as compact as possible, contiguous. You tried to keep communities of interest all together. It just wasn’t always possible,” he said.

But he said every legislator tried to push for districts that increased their chances for re-election.

“Obviously if you’re the party in power and your members wanted to draw districts that helped themselves get elected, to a certain extent that’s naturally going to benefit the majority,” Kottkamp noted.

The 2010 “fair districts” constitutional amendment was aimed at preventing that practice. It requires lawmakers to draw maps that don’t benefit incumbents or political parties and to try to keep communities from being divided for political purposes.

Those behind the amendment successfully sued to have U.S. House and state Senate maps redrawn because they didn’t meet constitutional muster, but state House maps went unchallenged.

So, if the maps are fair, why do Republicans still dominate the state House? University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith said Republicans are better at fielding candidates and running campaigns — particularly in about 30 truly competitive districts.

“Republicans have done a good job of targeting those areas and getting good candidates and putting a lot of money into marginal districts, which they tend to win,” he said.

Likewise, he said state Senate maps are drawn fairly, but Democrats underperform in districts they should win.

Part of the problem with Democrats is institutional, said Schale. He said the party has no discipline and doesn’t recruit candidates as aggressively as it should.

“Too often we’ve settled for the first person who raised their hand, and that was not always the best option,” Schale said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Philip Levine says his authenticity is a quality voters want from their leaders

When setting out a game plan to become elected governor of the third largest state in the nation, it’s probably not in the playbook for a political candidate to get into a shouting match with a news reporter in front of other members of the press.

But that’s Philip Levine.

Last month, the Miami Beach Mayor got into a spat with a bar owner at a press conference where he was announcing a proposal to limit alcohol sales and reduce outdoor noise on Ocean Drive.

“I think that what people want and what they’re missing in a lot of their elected leaders is a really unique word called authenticity, saying how you feel, being a little less filtered,” Levine told POLITICO Florida reporter Marc Caputo in a discussion Friday morning at the U.S. Conference of Mayors kicked off at the Fontainebleau Hotel.

“For me, I always say I’m authentic,” Levine said regarding his dispute with bar owner Daniel Wallace. “I am which I am, and as a business guy and an entrepreneur, I speak his language pretty loud and clear.”

Levine’s proposal to limit alcohol sales at outdoor venues along Ocean Drive will go before the voters in November.

The 55-year-old mayor is playing host this weekend to more than 250 mayors from across the country who have descended upon Miami Beach for the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting, the first time the city has hosted the event since 1962.

Levine is currently in the “testing the waters” phase of a potential gubernatorial candidacy. Although a Democrat who campaigned extensively for Hillary Clinton last year for president, Levine surprised much of the Florida political establishment last month when he announced at a Tampa Tiger Bay meeting that he was considering a run as an independent.

“I tell everyone, I’m a Democrat, but I’m a radical centrist, I’m an American before I’m anything, and that’s the most important thing,” Levine told Caputo when asked about his gubernatorial aspirations. “I’m not left or right, I’m forward. If that’s a Democratic hat, great? If not, we’ll see, and I haven’t made any decisions.”

Levine’s visible expressions of anger haven’t been limited to heckling bar owners. The mayor has also reacted brusquely with Florida political reporters on Twitter.

“You learn in this game of politics that people love to grandstand, they like to go after you for different things,” he said. “I came in with a thinner skin. My skin now is kind of like alligators.”

Although not calling him out by name, Levine took a shot at Florida Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran on a couple of occasions in the interview.

Referring to his campaign to strip funding for “corporate welfare” public agencies like Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, Levine said he sided with Scott on the months long dispute between the state’s two top elected Republicans in the state.

“I can’t vouch whether it’s well run, well funded, it should be changed, but I know the concept is good,” he said of Enterprise Florida, which ultimately received $85 million in state funding in the FY 2018 budget. “It’s unfortunate that the governor was caught in a situation where folks were playing politics with him,” he said, adding that he felt the same about Visit Florida.

“One thing that people are sick of is people playing politics with good things, and the only one who suffers in the people.”

Levine has also been involved in a high profile spat with Airbnb in Miami Beach. While he was dueling with executives of the short term rental startup, the Florida Legislature was working on a proposal that would have limited the ability of local governments to regulate short-term vacation rentals.

Although that proposal fizzled, Levine still resents the idea that Tallahassee knows best.

“What works in Miami may not work in Pennsylvania, and vice versa, so I think it’s a local issue,” he told Caputo, “but unfortunately, we have a state that seems to be thinking that the old Soviet style of central planning from Moscow is the way to go and it’s not the way to go, it’s better to have local control.”

 

Jeb Bush, Romney join forces to pursue Marlins

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has switched sides in pursuit of the Miami Marlins, and he’s trying to beat out former teammate Derek Jeter.

Bush has joined forces with businessman Tagg Romney in a group trying to buy the Marlins, two people familiar with the negotiations said Friday. The people confirmed Bush’s new role to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the parties involved in the sales talks aren’t commenting publicly.

One of the people said South Florida businessman Jorge Mas has contacted the Marlins to say he’s leading a group interested in buying the franchise, meaning at least three groups are pursuing a deal.

Bush and Jeter, the 14-time New York Yankees All-Star shortstop, led rival groups earlier this year. They then joined forces, but Bush dropped out in May.

Now they’re rivals again, and Jeter is still exploring financing options.

The Romney-Bush group also includes Quogue Capital investment fund founder Wayne Rothbaum, Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine and former Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart.

The Romney and Jeter groups have bid about $1.3 billion to buy the team from Jeffrey Loria but have not yet raised the money needed. Jeter met Thursday with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and Marlins president David Samson, and told them he doesn’t yet have the necessary money and is still seeking help from other investors.

Loria bought the Marlins for $158.5 million in 2002 from John Henry.

Mas is the chairman of the board and co-founder of MasTec, an infrastructure construction business, and chairman of the board of the Cuban American National Foundation, a Miami-based organization committed to bringing democracy to Cuba.

Bush also lives in Miami, served two terms as governor from 1999-2007 and was an unsuccessful candidate last year for the Republican nomination for president.

Romney, the son of former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, is a Massachusetts businessman and venture capitalist.

One of the people confirming Bush’s withdrawal from the bid with Jeter in May said the former governor didn’t put up enough of his own money to have the controlling interest he sought. The commissioner’s office wants the purchasing group to demonstrate it has enough cash both to close the deal and operate the team.

The value of the franchise has climbed dramatically even though the Marlins haven’t been to the postseason since 2003, the longest current drought in the National League. They were last in the NL in attendance 11 of the past 12 years despite a 2012 move to Marlins Park.

A sale requires approval of at least 75 percent of the major league clubs.

Ted Yoho gets pushback for challenging HUD’s ‘Housing First’ policy

Last week, North Florida Republican Ted Yoho co-signed a letter — along with 22 of his Republican colleagues — calling on Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson to review the agency’s ‘Housing First’ policy.

The lawmakers claim Housing First puts a tough strain on homeless shelters in Florida and across the nation.

GOP lawmakers say that policy, which actually began in the George W. Bush administration under former HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, “removed any incentive for independent housing programs to operate under a model that includes mandatory services, accountability, or sobriety.”

“In doing this, the Department has effectively used its administrative and regulatory power to impose national priorities on communities, forcing communities and providers to maximize services for certain populations — chronically homeless adults — at the expense of other equally worthy populations — families, youth, and children — and particular program models, regardless of local circumstances, needs, or a program’s effectiveness to lift participants out of poverty,” the legislators write.

Housing First emphasizes finding secure shelter in the community first, in contrast to homeless programs that insist on preconditions such as sobriety or psychiatric care and moving through transitional housing.

Yoho and his cohorts complain that HUD’s current procedures in proving such assistance have come at the detriment of homeless families, youth, and children at risk.

Dawn Gilman is the CEO of Changing Homelessness based in Jacksonville. She submits the Continuum of Care grant application for Duval, Clay and Nassau counties, which is in Yoho’s district,  where veteran homelessness has dropped in her region by over 80 percent since adopting the Housing First policy.

Regarding the criticism by Yoho (and others) that families and youth are not being served as well under Housing First, she considers that as more of a resource issue.

“We have limited resources, so each community has to prioritize,” she says. “HUD gives us an incentive, to prioritize for those most vulnerable.”

Similar reductions in homelessness in communities using Housing First has been duplicated around the nation.

For example, under Housing First, the state of Utah has reduced their number of homeless people from nearly 2,000 people in 2005 to less than 200 as of the end of 2015, according to an NPR report.

In Colorado, officials reported a 73 percent reduction in emergency service costs for chronically homeless individuals with disabilities, for a 24-month period, as compared to the 24 months before entry under Housing First in 2012.

Sara Romeo is the CEO and executive director of Tampa Crossroads. She said it would be the absolute worse move by HUD to return to the old model to fight to end homelessness.

“The Housing First Approach is proven and we could actually see an end to homelessness in a few short years if everyone is following this new practice,” she says. “For over 50-years the shelter model did not end homelessness. The housing first model is actually working to humanely serve and assist homeless families. We have used this model to end veteran homelessness in Hillsborough County where our vet population has decreased from over 3000 to under 200 over the past 5-years. We should not continue to fund any agency who thinks the emergency shelter model is a means to ending homelessness.”

Over the years, Films has met with members of Congress like Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio, Al Lawson and John Rutherford, each of whom have been interested in what Changing Homelessness has been doing. She’s scheduled to meet with staffers from Yoho’s office soon.

Gilman says that while Florida definitely has a higher number of homeless families with children than in other parts of the country, there are better, more effective ways of dealing with that issue then to jettison the Housing First approach.

Medical marijuana implementation bill signed into law

As expected, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office on Friday announced he had signed into law two closely-watched medical marijuana bills.

Scott approved both the bill (SB 8-A) that implements the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, passed by voters last year, and a companion measure (SB 6-A) that exempts caregivers’ personal information from public disclosure.

With Scott’s signature, the 78-page bill is effective immediately. That means personal-injury attorney John Morgan, who backed the constitutional amendment, could file suit as early as next week. He has said he will sue because lawmakers would not allow medical marijuana to be smoked.

“I’ll be filing my lawsuit for smoke as soon as it goes into law,” Morgan tweeted on Wednesday. Vaping and edibles are acceptable under the measure, however.

On Friday night, Morgan followed up, also on Twitter: “Thank you @FLGovScott for doing your part! I’ll be in Tally soon to file my suit. #NoSmokeIsAJoke.”

“We don’t believe you smoke medicine,” House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues said earlier this month. “We believe that smoking causes as much harm as the benefits, particularly when we’re offering vaping, which provides all of the benefits and none of the harm.”

The legislation also grandfathers in seven existing providers, now called medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs), with ten more online by October to serve those with qualifying medical conditions.

Until 2020, when these limits sunset, here are the rules: With each additional 100,000 patients, four more MMTCs will be added. Each MMTC will be allowed 25 retail shops, capped at a regional level. MMTCs can add five more for each 100,000 new patients.

The bill allows for caretaker certification, and makes the cannabis and attendant paraphernalia tax-exempt—a key consideration for the Florida House.

The bills, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Rob Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, were definitely going to be signed; Scott had confirmed as much to news media.

 

Ashley Moody adds a political committee to her Attorney General bid arsenal

Former Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, who filed in the Republican Primary for Attorney General this month, also launched a political committee this month.

The name: “Friends of Ashley Moody.

Moody has certain tailwinds behind her, including backing by current Attorney General Pam Bondi, who basically endorsed Moody even before she entered the race.

Moody has one opponent on the GOP side thus far: Jacksonville state Rep. Jay Fant.

Fant has $79,575 in his campaign account; of that sum, $8,000 came from Fant, and $3,000 came from his political committee, “Pledge This Day,” which raised $9,000 in May.

Contributions mostly came from Northeast Florida. However, a very important northeast Florida Republican won’t do anything to help him: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

We asked an advisor to Curry if the mayor was going to overlook criticisms Fant made of him at a local Republican Party meeting and help Fant out. The answer was short and brutal.

“Not a chance.”

Without Curry’s blessing, it’s going to be difficult for Fant to compete with the resources that will be at Moody’s disposal.

 

Andrew Gillum says he’s not ‘focus’ of FBI investigation

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said in a Friday statement he is “not the focus” of the FBI’s investigation of the city Community Redevelopment Agency‘s business deals.

“Last week the FBI approached me about several people and businesses here in Tallahassee,” said Gillum, also a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018. “I spoke with them, and told them they could expect both the City and my personal cooperation with their investigation.

“They assured me I was not the focus of an investigation, and that they would be moving quickly with their work.”

The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in north Florida has issued subpoenas seeking information on redevelopment projects that involve the agency. Gillum was not named in the subpoenas.

As one person involved with the investigation, who asked not to be named, told Florida Politics on Thursday, “This is serious. Very serious. I’m sure that everyone named in those subpoenas has lawyered up. I won’t be surprised if charges are filed in the next few months.”

The agency’s goal “is to create and implement strategies that use a combination of public and private resources to facilitate redevelopment,” its website says. “To meet this goal, the Tallahassee CRA seeks projects that help reduce or eliminate the continuation and/or spread of blight.”

But the city has been criticized, for instance, for ponying up more than $2 million to fund restoration of its former power plant in Cascades Park, now the home of The Edison restaurant, which has several Tallahassee lobbyist investors.

Among the two-dozen people or companies named in the subpoenas is Adam Corey, the lobbyist/developer behind The Edison and a former mayoral campaign treasurer to Gillum.

“I take any allegation of corruption in the City of Tallahassee very seriously, and I am committed to rooting it out in its entirety,” said Gillum, who’s been mayor since 2014. “If corruption has taken place in our city, those parties must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. We will not tolerate, enable, or turn a blind eye to corruption.

He added: “While no one likes the City being under the FBI’s scrutiny … we must aid them in their work. They have my full support and cooperation as the Mayor, and the full cooperation of the City of Tallahassee.”

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