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Ron DeSantis proposes bans on fracking, offshore drilling; Democrats skeptical

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis rolled out environmental proposals, a key component of his general election messaging, on Wednesday.

DeSantis’ plan includes Everglades restoration, along with protection of beaches, the state’s water supply (including the use of reclaimed water), parks, springs, and air.

Among the proposal’s highlights: advocacy for a fracking ban and opposition to offshore drilling.

DeSantis distinguished himself in the Republican primary with attacks on the sugar industry, which heavily invested in the campaign of his main opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

However, DeSantis’ plans seem to represent more a continuation of current environmental policy than any sharp breaks.

Regarding the Everglades, the DeSantis plan contends that southern storage on Lake Okeechobee will fix current issues, which include algae blooms and massive fish kills.

“DeSantis is committed to completing the suite of Everglades Restoration projects in the Central Everglades Planning Process (CEPP) and Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP),” the plan asserts.

“Beginning day one, DeSantis will work with the Trump administration and Congress to ensure the federal government honors its 20-year old funding promise to CERP by appropriating its $200 million in matching federal dollars to build the Southern Reservoir and complete the entire suite of projects,” the plan adds.

DeSantis also intends to continue the raising of the Tamiami Trail and having the Department of Environmental Protection assume complete oversight of water quality standards.

DeSantis also vows to stand against offshore oil drilling, with commitments to “smart growth” and flood mitigation efforts.

“DeSantis will utilize his unique relationship with President Trump and his administration to ensure that oil drilling never occurs off Florida’s coastlines,” the plan declares.

(Those with memories going back months will recall the back and forth between Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Bill Nelson about assurances that Florida was “off the table” for offshore drilling, with no ultimate clarity provided on that issue even now).

As well, he will work for solutions to the “unprecedented red tides” in Southwest Florida, with a task force of “experts in the field of marine and oceanic science.”

DeSantis’ water conservation proposals include the use of “reclaimed water,” which will “be treated consistent with its use.”

As well, he vows to push a fracking ban through the Legislature.

DeSantis also wants to use Amendment 1 dollars for restoration of current conservation lands in addition to acquisition: “vital springs protection funding, Everglades restoration funding, beach restoration funding, various water quality funding, and conservation of our state parks.”

One of his key endorsers, Fleming Island Sen. Rob Bradley, has advocated for better use of those dedicated funds, which often have not gone for their express purpose.

Florida Conservation Voters noted last year that since Amendment 1 passed in 2014, no year has seen more than $15.2 million earmarked for Florida Forever. This is a contrast between pre-2009 funding levels of $300 million a year and is a small fraction of the more than $2 billion set aside via the Amendment 1 real estate tax since 2014.

Additionally, DeSantis vows to work with “local stakeholders and utility companies” regarding air quality standards.

With DeSantis having spent the last two weeks digging his way out of self-imposed controversies, including the now-infamous suggestion that attacking Gillum could “monkey up” the state’s progress in the Rick Scott era, it’s clear that he’s now pivoting to policy.

With a $10 million ad buy coming in for him via the Republican Governor’s Association, the expectation is that the campaign will be less about gaffes and more about policy proposals.

However, Democrats and environmentalists are skeptical of DeSantis’ commitment to the environment.

Florida Conservation Voters Executive Director Aliki Moncrief asserted that DeSantis’s plan “read like he’s applying to be branch manager … a yes man … for the Trump Administration.”

The national League of Conservation Voters gave Moncrief a 2 percent rating for his work in Congress, a mark “remarkably difficult” to attain, said Moncrief.

DeSantis “said that climate change is not a problem the state can handle,” which Moncrief called a “ludicrous” statement.

“DeSantis wants to rearrange the furniture while the house is falling down,” Moncrief said.

Ahead of DeSantis’ Cape Coral campaign stop, John Scott, Vice Chair of the Sierra Club Calusa Group, called DeSantis “a sham environmentalist who has consistently done the bidding of Florida’s biggest polluters … gutting clean water protections, allowing corporations to pollute our water, and supporting Donald Trump, Rick Scott and Scott Pruitt’s attacks on our environment.”

Tourism update: Florida sets another record in attracting visitors

Some 65.5 million visitors came to Florida during the first six months of the year, setting a record for the state’s tourism industry.

The numbers represent a 5.9 percent increase compared to the same period last year, Gov. Rick Scott said in a written statement released by his office.

They included 58 million domestic visitors, 2.3 million Canadians, and 5.2 million from other overseas countries.

VISIT FLORIDA compiled the numbers, and updated the figures for the calendar year 2017 to reflect an extra 2 million visitors above previous estimates, for a total 118.5 million.

“These record-breaking achievements allow our economy to create more jobs and adds to our success of having nearly 1.6 million private-sector jobs created in 7 1/2 years while our state’s unemployment rate is the lowest in over a decade,” Scott said.

According to VISIT FLORIDA’s numbers, 28.3 million domestic visitors traveled to Florida during the second quarter of 2018, a 7.1 percent increase over the same period in 2017. Another 933,000 Canadians and 2.6 million other overseas visitors arrived during the quarter.

Canada contributed the most overseas visitors during 2017, followed by the United Kingdom — although the number of British visitors declined by 9 percent.

Georgia contributed the most domestic visitors, at 9.6 percent, followed by New York, at 8.5 percent. More data are available here.

Aircraft enplanements during the quarter increased by 6.1 percent over Q2 of 2017, with a record 24.2 million passengers. The number of hotel rooms sold grew by 1.5 percent, with the average daily room rate up by 4.2 percent.

“Back-to-back record quarters in the first six months of this year show that the Florida tourism industry has continued its tremendous momentum,” VISIT FLORIDA president and CEP Ken Lawson said.

“VISIT FLORIDA will continue to develop cutting-edge marketing programs that highlight the diversity of our state so that we can attract more visitors, create more jobs, and make Florida the number one vacation destination in the world.”

Andrew Gillum leads Ron DeSantis in latest Florida Chamber poll

For the first time in the two-week-old general election campaign for Florida Governor, one candidate is nearing a lead outside the margin of error.

According to a recent poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Democrat Andrew Gillum is four points up on Republican Ron DeSantis.

The spread is 47-43, with Gillum ahead in every major media market but Jacksonville.

“Politically speaking, this is an interesting poll because most voters have learned a little about Ron DeSantis, yet most voters don’t know Andrew Gillum because he is a surprise winner and the most liberal of the Democrats on the ballot that ran in the primary election,” said Marian Johnson, senior vice president of Political Strategy of the Florida Chamber.

“It’s going to be interesting to see if Gillum, who is backing policies by Bill Nelson, yet supported by Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and George Soros will hold onto this lead while voters begin to understand his background and policies, or if Ron DeSantis and his policies will continue gaining popularity and propel him to succeed Gov. [Rick] Scott as Florida’s next Governor. The election is more than 50 days away and that’s a lifetime in Florida politics,” Johnson added.

The performance of “change agent” Gillum is remarkable, given 48 percent of voters believe Florida is on the “right track,” well above the 36 percent who thinks Florida is heading in the wrong direction.

Conducted September 6-9 — immediately after Lieutenant Governor candidates were chosen — the Chamber poll interviewed 514 likely voters, and has a margin of error of +/-4.4 percent.

Among those voters interviewed were 210 Democrats, 205 Republicans and 99 others, with 67 percent reached via cellphone and 33 percent via landline. Samples included both likely and newly registered voters.

Republican governors ad pegs Andrew Gillum as ‘way out there’

The Republican Governors Association is entering the Florida election with a television commercial debuting Wednesday that declares that Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum is so far out there, “he’s on another planet.”

The new 30-second spot, “Too Far,” outlines Gillum’s positions favoring universal health care, a tax increase on corporations to pay for expanded education funding, and to abolish and replace the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and charges that he and his ideas go “too far” for Floridians. Two of those three items, involving health care and ICE, are federal matters, outside the power of the governor’s office, though Gillum has expressed his support for them.

The commercial debuts today on Florida television. The RGA did not detail the buy.

Gillum is facing Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in Florida’s Nov. 6 gubernatorial election, which is bound to become increasingly fought over by national party groups.

“Andrew Gillum’s radical far-left policies are too extreme for Florida’s working families,” RGA Communications Director Jon Thompson stated in a news release issued Wednesday. “Gillum supports a complete government takeover of health care, a billion dollar tax hike, and wants to close down our immigration enforcement agency. Andrew Gillum is too radical for Florida.”

Gillum’s campaign responded with a statement that accused the RGA of a “pitiful” attempt to distract from DeSantis’ issues, and read, in part: “As Governor, Andrew Gillum wants to create a Florida where we work to grow the economy for the middle class, expand access to affordable health care, and welcome our diverse communities. Ron DeSantis is ‘on another planet’ if he thinks Floridians support his D.C. record of slashing health care for Floridians, creating special tax breaks for billionaires, and attacking the Latino community. There’s a clear choice in this campaign between Andrew Gillum’s Florida values and Ron DeSantis’s radical D.C. record.”

The Democratic Governors Association also is weighing in heavily in the race, donating $2 million to the Forward Florida political committee backing Gillum’s run.

“How far out is Andrew Gillum? He’s on another planet!” the narrator begins.

“Andrew Gillum wants a government takeover of health care,” the narrator continues. “You’d lose the coverage you have. And you could even lose your doctor. Gillum wants to increase Florida taxes by a billion dollars, disaster for the economy. And he supports closing our immigration enforcement agency. Dangerous!

“You’d better learn more about Andrew Gillum,” the narrator concludes. “He just goes too far.”

Backers of Amendment 2, which would limit property taxes, make big ad buy

A political committee backing a proposed ballot measure about limiting property taxes spent $4 million last week on advertising, a new finance report shows.

The committee known as Amendment 2 is for Everybody paid the money Sept. 4 to the New York-based firm McLaughlin & Associates. The committee, which has been heavily funded by the industry group Florida Realtors, had nearly $400,000 in remaining cash on hand as of Friday, according to the report.

The proposed constitutional amendment, placed on the November ballot by the Legislature, would extend a property-tax cap for commercial and other non-homestead properties.

Voters in 2008 approved a constitutional change that placed a 10 percent cap on annual increases in assessed values of non-homestead properties.

The limit will expire Jan. 1 unless it is extended by voters through this year’s proposed constitutional amendment, which will appear on the ballot as Amendment 2.

Rick Scott says he’ll consult his successor on Supreme Court vacancies

Gov. Rick Scott moved Tuesday to defuse litigation over his authority to replace the Florida Supreme Court’s liberal wing by offering to confer with his successor on candidates to fill the seats of Fred LewisPeggy Quince and Barbara Pariente.

Scott had said he planned to announce their replacements on Jan. 7, his last day in office, which coincides with their retirement date.

Instead, he took a page from the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, who reached a similar accord with incoming Republican Jeb Bush in 1998.

Scott emphasized that precedent in a press release announcing his move.

“The Governor’s expectation is that he and the governor-elect – like Gov. Chiles and then Gov.-elect Bush – will agree on the selection of three justices who will serve with distinction,” the release says.

“Gov. Scott will not appoint any justice to the Florida Supreme Court until the governor-elect has had an opportunity to interview the nominees and review their references and qualifications.”

In a historical irony, Quince is the last justice appointed through such consultations.

The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause filed suit in June, asking the courts to block Scott appointments. Their unstated concern was that Scott, a Naples Republican, would pack the court with more conservatives.

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court said in December that it couldn’t step into the controversy because the Governor hadn’t taken any action yet.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, usually a swing vote, joined with the court’s conservatives: Justices Charles CanadyRicky Polston and Alan Lawson.

Pariente and Quince concurred, but Lewis dissented and called Scott’s proposed actions “blatantly unconstitutional.”

The League and Common Cause had argued that the Governor can’t replace the justices because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day they retire, and their final judicial terms last till midnight.

Scott didn’t mention the litigation in his press release, but did say the retiring justices were “constitutionally ineligible to serve beyond the expiration of their current terms.”

The nominating and appointment process can take as long as four months, including background screening and reviews of The Florida Bar’s disciplinary records, Scott said.

“Beginning the process to fill these vacancies right now follows the practice of previous governors. Florida’s Supreme Court is so important to Floridians, and we will work together to select the most qualified justices to faithfully serve our state,” he added.

“With more than six decades of combined service on the court, these three justices have made their mark on the state’s jurisprudence. To minimize or avoid any period of vacancy on the Supreme Court, the nominating process must begin well in advance of these vacancies.”

In an email, the campaign communications director for Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for Governor, disagreed.

“In our understanding of the Constitution, the next Governor will appoint the next three Supreme Court justices,” Geoff Burgan said.

Florida power companies sending repair crews to the Carolinas

Utility crews from throughout the Southeast sent crews to help Florida’s utilities recover from hurricanes.

Now, with Hurricane Florence bearing down on the Carolinas, Florida utilities are returning the favor.

Tampa Electric Co. has dispatched 250 line workers to backstop Duke Energy crews in North and South Carolina. They began the two-day drive Tuesday morning and were prepared to stay for two weeks, according to a news release.

Florida Power & Light Co. sent more than 500 employees and contractors.

“This is what we do. When severe weather strikes, the nation’s electric companies work together to get the lights back on,” said Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL.

“Last year, restoration workers from as far away as Canada traveled to Florida to help restore power following Hurricane Irma, and we’re honored to do the same for those in harm’s way.”

Both companies are members of the Southeastern Electric Exchange, a mutual-assistance pact between utilities in the region in case of storms or other emergencies.

Gulf Power also planned to participate, according to spokesman Jeff Rogers.

Mandatory evacuation orders were in place for more than 1 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia. The Category 4 storm was projected to bring tropical-force winds by Thursday morning, with hurricane force winds arriving as soon as Thursday night. Landfall is predicted Friday.

Widespread flooding and power outages are expected.

Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, said he has taken action to smooth the way for the crews.

“In Florida, we always stand ready to help our neighbors during disasters,” Scott said.

“Yesterday, I ordered FDOT to waive weight restrictions for emergency vehicles so that we could get support to the Carolinas faster. I am proud of the work Florida is doing in preparation for Hurricane Florence and we will continue to find ways to help.”

Mike Hill

Republican Liberty chapter requests Florida GOP denounce Mike Hill’s campaign tactics

The Panhandle Republican Liberty Caucus is requesting the Florida GOP publicly denounce the actions of state House District 1 Republican nominee Mike Hill.

The news follows a weekend report from Florida Politics of the racially charged, sexist and deceitful campaign waged by Hill in the Republican primary for the seat, which saw Hill prevail over GOP challenger Rebekah Bydlak.

“There have been some nasty negative campaigns this year,” Caucus Chairman Christopher JGravois wrote Monday. The race between Bydlak and Hill being “among the worst of them.”

Gravois said the Caucus does not intend to aid Hill in his general campaign and is unlikely to help him in the future. It also requests Hill make a public apology for the “horrendous personal attacks” against both Bydlak and Michigan Republican Congressman Justin Amash, of Palestinian heritage.

In a mailer, Hill likened Bydlak — who carried an endorsement from the National Rifle Association and term-limited HD 1 Republican Rep. Clay Ingram — to “liberal” Amash.

Calling Amash a “liberal” is a “blatant lie” and “a bigoted swipe at the Congressman’s ethnicity,” Gravois wrote. 

Involving Amash in the campaign for the deep-red district could be seen as a continuation of Hill’s expressed Islamophobic beliefs. He tweeted in August, “The sooner you expel the demonic Muslim horde, the better.”

He also retweeted a statement that “Islam is a cancer.”

Hill also has highlighted Amash’s Palestinian heritage in now-deleted social media posts. Amash also has publicly requested national and state Republican leaders denounce his tactics.

On Hill’s official campaign Facebook page, supporters have repeated Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis’ possibly misinterpreted “monkey” comment.

Another supporter responded to a Facebook post Hill made criticizing Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum by saying the Tallahassee Mayor should be “picking cotton.”

A group supporting Hill fabricated a picture of the candidate next to President Donald Trump in a mailer. Hill also falsely claimed to be in possession of Trump’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star.

Background provided by Gainesville correspondent Drew Wilson.

Democratic governors donate another $1 million to Andrew Gillum’s committee

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s independent political committee Forward Florida received a second $1 million cash influx Tuesday from the Democratic Governors Association.

The DGA first signaled its full backing of the surprise Democratic nominee with a $1 million donation Aug. 29, one day after he knocked off U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and others in the Democratic primary.

Now it’s doubling down.

“Andrew Gillum has strong grassroots momentum behind his campaign to rebuild Florida so that it works for everyone,” DGA Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson stated in a news release. “This additional $1 million investment will allow him to communicate his positive message across the state, and build on the momentum he has already created.

“Andrew Gillum is focused on increasing access to health care, improving Florida’s public schools, and growing the state’s economy, and that’s why he will be Florida’s next governor.”

Gillum faces Republican gubernatorial nominee U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Until two weeks ago, Forward Florida mainly was the depository for several big-name progressive national rainmakers such as George Soros and Tom SteyerIn the first week after the primary, the committee’s fundraising more than doubled with the first DGA donation, plus another $1 million from Connecticut philanthropist Donald Sussman, and some five- and six-figure checks from other progressive donors.

‘Marsy’s Law’ campaign tops $30M

Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment to expand crime victims’ rights have poured more than $30 million into the campaign, with nearly $5.7 million coming at the end of August, according to a newly filed finance report.

The California-based Marsy’s Law for All Foundation contributed $5.695 million on Aug. 28 to the Marsy’s Law for Florida political committee.

As of Aug. 31, the Florida committee had raised $30.37 million, with almost all of the money coming from the California foundation. The Florida committee had spent about $28.2 million as of Aug. 31, with much of the money going to advertising expenses, the report shows.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission this year approved putting the proposal, designated as Amendment 6, on the November ballot.

Supporters of the proposal, which has become commonly known as “Marsy’s Law,” argue it would establish a series of rights for crime victims, including the right to be notified of major developments in criminal cases and the right to be heard in the legal proceedings.

The proposed constitutional amendment faced a legal challenge from critics who argued that its wording would be misleading to voters. But the Florida Supreme Court last week rejected the challenge.

The proposal is part of a broader national movement that stems from the 1983 death of a California woman, Marsy Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend. Marsy Nicholas’ brother, Henry, is the co-founder of Broadcom Corp. and has spearheaded the Marsy’s Law movement.

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