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Alex Sink: Anger over HB 7069 could be Dems winning issue in 2018

Could expansion of state spending for charter school operators — at the expense of public schools — fuel a surge of support for Florida Democrats at the polls in 2018?

That’s what Alex Sink thinks could happen. At least she hopes it might.

The former CFO and 2010 gubernatorial candidate is angry about the passage of HB 7069, the massive education bill that includes $140 million for the “Schools of Hope” program, which would bring charter school operators with proven success rates in low-performing schools to communities where the traditional schools have earned consecutive state grades of D or F.

“Do we care about public education in this state or not?” she asks in her inimitable drawl. “Ninety percent of our kids go to public school, so 90 percent of our money plus should be supporting public schools,” she said Saturday while waiting in line for the first Democratic gubernatorial debate of the year at the Diplomat Resort Hotel.

“If we’re starving the system, we’re going to get more ‘failure factories,’ not less,” she says, using the term coined originally by the Tampa Bay Times in their award-winning 2015 series about failing schools in Pinellas County.

Just about every Florida Democrat considers the phrase “failure factories” an epithet.

And Sink disagrees with the notion that not enough of the public is upset about what Democrats portray as a GOP-led assault on the public school system.

“When you get sick, and you get into the ambulance, and the EMT people come to take you to the hospital, don’t  you want them to be well-educated, smart people? Hell yes!”

Tampa House Democrat Sean Shaw feels the same way.

“I don’t want to say we’ve got to exploit it, but we’ve gotta talk about it,” he says about HB 7069. “And we’ve got talk about what that bill does to public education in Florida, and it’s awful. I mean we’re dismantling public education day by day, and we can’t allow that to keep happening.”

Democrats talk about the intensity of their voters following last November’s election. Shaw hopes it persuades some people in Hillsborough County to get off the sidelines and into the arena.

“This kind of excitement is what causes a teacher to say, you know, I’m going to run for office, because I hate what they’re doing to public education,” Shaw says. “Or an environmental sciences professor, I hate what they’re doing to the environment, I’m going to run for office.”

Florida Democratic Gala draws big stage, love fest for gubernatorial hopefuls

With another fourteen months to go before Florida Democrats choose their gubernatorial nominee, the most talked-about potential candidate wasn’t at the Leadership Blue Gala, one of the Party’s biggest events.

And he won’t decide if he’ll even run until (maybe) next year.

Nevertheless, Saturday afternoon’s forum in Hollywood — between Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — was the biggest stage this year for grassroots Democrats to evaluate who might best be the one to end the 20-year exile from the governor’s mansion.

The FDP’s Leadership Blue Gala, taking place at the Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, was a “forum,” not a debate, emphasized Progressive Caucus Chair Susan Smith.

However, it became a veritable love fest (literally) between the three candidates.

“I love you,” Graham told Gillum at one point, before looking at King and saying that while she doesn’t know him as well, she loved him as well.

Graham enters the race as the candidate with the best name recognition; throughout the nearly 90-minute event, she separated herself as the public-education candidate.

“The education industry is rigged against our students,” Graham said. “After almost 20 years of Republican rule and under Rick Scott, Tallahassee has sold out our schools to the highest bidder. As governor, I will end high-stakes testing, end degrading school grades and end the lottery shell game. We’ll finally pay teachers what they deserve and make sure every student has an opportunity at success, no matter where they come from or where they live,” Graham said after the forum.

Gillum has been the most electric candidate on the circuit. A dynamic public speaker with a compelling personal story, the 37-year-old Tallahassee Mayor is staking himself out as the progressive choice.

“Can a progressive, whose values reflect in my opinion the majority of us win?” Gillum asked the audience. “In my opinion, it’s the only way we win, is by bringing those folks out to the ballot by telling them that we stand for them, too.”

King proved most interesting on Saturday, perhaps because it was his biggest stage yet for his nascent campaign.

“In my opinion,” he said, “I have double the burden to try to prove that I not only belong here, but that I can earn your trust as your next governor.” King then acknowledged he doesn’t have many long-standing relationships with political officials.

As the creator of the Elevation Financial Group, King developed a consortium of companies specializing in real estate investment, property management and property renovation. He talks relentlessly about how the state needs more affordable housing, chastising Republicans in Tallahassee for raiding the state’s affordable housing trust fund. “To

“To me, that is an attack on working families, it’s an attack on teachers, it’s an attack on law enforcement,” he said. “That is something the day that I’m elected governor.”

Gilliam spoke most passionately about the less fortunate: “We can’t focus our education system and improving the outcomes of our kids if the only jobs we’re creating in this state are low-wage jobs.”

“I’m for a higher minimum wage, I’m for the ‘Fight for $15,'” he continued, adding what the people really want is a working for a wage with dignity.

At one point, moderator Keith Fitzgerald asked the candidates what they felt is the biggest challenge facing Florida, the country and the world.

In her response, Graham name-checked the president, getting one of the night’s biggest cheers.

“The biggest challenge we have facing the United States without question is Donald Trump,” and that he was the biggest challenge facing the entire world, as well.

None of the candidates differed on core Democratic principles if elected governor, such as calling for the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons, banning fracking and expanding Medicaid, but that may not be an option depending on what happens with the American Health Care Act in Washington D.C.

One interesting development occurred during the last question of the afternoon: Do the candidates support an open primary voting system, which would allow Republicans to vote in Democratic Party primaries and vice versa?

Party traditionalists frown on such a tactic, but Gillum and King enthusiastically embraced the idea.

Graham said she preferred a “Jungle Primary,” an election where candidates for the same elected office, regardless of respective political party, run against each other at once, instead of being segregated by political party.

Absent from Saturday’s was attorney and entrepreneur John Morgan, who has said he won’t make a decision about running for governor until 2018.

 

Rick Scott orders flags at half-staff for fallen officer

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday ordered flags at half-staff to honor Joshua Albert Sanchez Montaad, an Agricultural Law Enforcement Officer who died in a wreck while on duty.

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, Montaad—a 25-year-old from Safety Harbor in Pinellas County—was killed in a single car crash this Tuesday on U.S. 19 in Taylor County.

“His patrol car left the roadway and struck a tree during a period of heavy rain,” the site said. His “vehicle caught fire and became engulfed in flames.” Montaad was pronounced dead at the scene.

Scott ordered the U.S. and state flags at half-staff at the county courthouse in Safety Harbor, at Station 2 of the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement in Rock Bluff, and at Safety Harbor City Hall from sunrise to sunset this Saturday.

“Ann and I are saddened to hear of the tragic death of Officer Montaad and our hearts go out to his family and loved ones during this difficult time,” Scott said in a statement.

“Choosing to serve our state as a law enforcement officer is a heroic and selfless decision, and Joshua will be remembered for his courageous service and commitment to protecting our families and communities,” he said. “We are thankful for the brave law enforcement officers that work each day to keep our state safe and we will continue to pray for their safety.”

Tom Rooney backs Ben Albritton for Florida Senate

Ben Albritton is receiving the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, who represents Florida’s 17th Congressional District.

Albritton is seeking the District 26 seat in the Florida Senate, now held by Denise Grimsley, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner.

“Ben Albritton is a tireless and dedicated servant leader committed to strengthening our communities,” Rooney said in a statement Friday. “I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Ben on issues important to our region, and I am confident he will continue the tradition of excellent representation Denise Grimsley has provided.”

Rooney was elected to Congress in 2008, and he sits on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He chairs the Subcommittee on the National Security Agency. His district includes nine counties, spanning from Florida’s Heartland to the Gulf Coast.

“I am honored to have the support of Congressman Rooney,” said Albritton. “When it comes to defending agriculture, reining in big government, and supporting small businesses, there is no question we have a champion in him. I plan to fight for those same issues in the Florida Senate.”

In 2010, Albritton was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he has been a staunch advocate for entrepreneurs and children in Florida’s foster care system. He is also known for his strong conservative record on Second Amendment rights and protection for the unborn. He is the Chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee. He also sits on the Appropriations Committee, the Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee, and the Government Accountability Committee, and he currently serves as the Chair of the Polk County Legislative Delegation.

With Grimsley’s decision to not seek re-election, District 26, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 43 to 34 percent, is an open seat. Centered in Florida’s Heartland, the district covers parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties, as well as all DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties.

Gwen Graham picks up Nan Rich’s endorsement

As Florida Democrats gather for their Leadership Blue conference, gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has grabbed the endorsement of the former Democratic Senate minority leader who for many appeared to be the heart of the party during her failed 2014 run for governor.

Nan Rich, now a Broward County commissioner, has extended her endorsement to Graham, who faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination in 2018.

“Gwen Graham has the integrity and ideas, the leadership qualities and real-life experiences to end the Republicans’ nearly two-decade hold on the governor’s office and put Florida on a progressive path forward,” Rich stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign.

“Gwen is the only Democrat for governor who has run against a Republican and won. Gwen is the only candidate for governor who has worked on the front lines of our public school system. She has been an advocate for women and children — and while in Congress she returned more than $2.5 million to seniors, veterans and families. Gwen is the only candidate for governor with a vision and actual plans to protect our environment and build an economy that works for everyone,” Rich added. “I’m thankful Gwen is carrying on her family’s tradition of public service, and like her parents, she truly cares about Florida and doing the right thing for Floridians.”

Rich served four years in the Florida House and eight years in the state Senate. Her 2014 bid for the Democrats’ nomination never gained traction against former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist who had switched parties, yet she hung in through the primary, intent on pushing Democratic policies.

“Nan Rich has spent her career in public service fighting for our shared progressive values and for Florida families,” Graham stated in the release. “I’m honored to have her support, and, as governor, I look forward to working work with Senator Rich to reverse the damage nearly two decades of one-party rule in Tallahassee has done to our state.”

Rick Scott asked to respond to judicial appointments lawsuit

The Florida Supreme Court has asked Gov. Rick Scott to respond to a lawsuit claiming he doesn’t have authority to appoint three new justices on the last day of his term.

The court on Friday gave Scott till July 5 to file a response, with the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause having a July 17 deadline to reply to Scott’s filing.

The organizations this week filed a petition for “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

Scott, a Naples Republican, has said he plans to name the replacements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred LewisBarbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

They face mandatory retirement on the same day—Jan. 8, 2019—that is Scott’s last in office as governor. He’s term limited next year.

The filing says Scott can’t replace those justices because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day all three retire, and their terms last till midnight.

The Supreme Court, in a 2006 advisory opinion, said appellate vacancies may be filled by a governor only “upon the expiration of the term of the judge or justice.”

Advisory opinions, however, “do not constitute binding precedent, though they can be persuasive,” wrote former Justice Gerald Kogan and court spokesman Craig Waters in a 1994 law review article. “They are authorized by the (state) constitution to deal with situations in which the Court’s opinion on an abstract question can advance public interests.”

A Scott spokesman previously declined comment on the suit.

“A prompt, final decision on this pure question of constitutional law … would preempt cynical complaints by anyone dissatisfied with the decision that the case was contaminated by political considerations,” the petition says.

The petitioners also include LWVF President Pamela Goodman, former LWVF president Deirdre Macnab, and Liza McClenaghan, the state chair of Common Cause Florida.

They’re represented by Tallahassee attorneys John S. Mills and Thomas D. Hall, a former Clerk of the Florida Supreme Court.

Florida’s unemployment dips to 10-year low of 4.3 percent

Florida’s unemployment rate dipped to a nearly 10-year low of 4.3 percent with the addition of 21,900 new private sector jobs in March, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday in Orlando.

While visiting the DusoBox plant, a 62-year-old, family-owned company which recently added 20 jobs to its high-tech corrugated box manufacturing and marketing plant in Orlando, Scott said that the May unemployment number is the lowest since August, 2007.

He also touted the state’s annual private-sector job growth rate of 3 percent, which has exceeded the national average for 62 months running.

The Orlando market once again led the state in job growth in May, and reduced its unemployment rate to 3.6 percent.

Scott used the opportunity to promote his newly-funded “Florida Jobs Growth Grant Fund,” established and funded last week in the Florida Legislature’s Special Session, after the Legislature had previously sought to gut his previous business incentives money program, through Enterprise Florida.

“I am proud that we were able to establish the $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund during the recent special session. This flexible, transparent economic development program will promote public infrastructure and individual job training in order to encourage more businesses to grow and invest in our state,” Scott stated in an accompanying news release.

Scott also credited his past tax policies for DusoBox’s new plant, and for the expansions of other manufacturing facilities.

“One thing we did about four years ago and made permanent last year is we got rid of the sales tax on machinery and equipment so we could get more manufacturing jobs,” Scott said. “This state had not been growing manufacturing jobs when I got elected in 2010, and now we’re one of the leading states for manufacturing jobs in the entire country.”

As of May, Florida’s unemployment rate dropped 6.4 percentage points since December 2010, while the national rate declined by only 5 percentage points in the same time period, officials reported.

“This is all happening while our labor force continues to grow faster than the nation’s. Currently we’re growing at nearly five times the national rate,” said Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “We’re also seeing the impacts of the focus we’ve had on diversifying our economy to create manufacturing jobs.  In ten of the last 12 months Florida has led the nation in manufacturing jobs.”

According to the report issued by Proctor’s Department of Economic Opportunity, the top growth areas for jobs in the past 12 months are professional and business services, adding 52,900 new jobs; leisure and hospitality, adding 34,900; education and health services, 34,400, construction, 31,000, and trade, transportation and utilities, 30,900.

Florida job postings showed 255,858 openings in May 2017., while Florida’s 24 regional workforce boards reported 28,671 Floridians, including 1,551 veterans, were placed in jobs.

Rick Scott: hope for a free Cuba better for Florida than current thaw

Readying to join President Donald Trump in Miami Friday for the president’s expected reinstitution of economic sanctions on Cuba, Florida Gov. Rick Scott indicated in Orlando Friday morning that he is ready to support such a move.

At a jobs announcement in Orlando, Scott said he’s convinced the long-term economic advantage of democracy and economic freedom in Cuba is preferable for Florida to any business opportunities and other relationships opening due to the thaw and lifting of economic sanctions that President Barack Obama initiated.

“I’m going to fight for Cuban families to have freedom,” Scott said. “Long-term, that’s good for every Cuban family that’s come here.”

Scott would not respond to press inquiries allowing that Cuba’s regime had survived more than 50 years of strict U.S. sanctions without moving to democracy, and wondering Trump’s vision might be different from that long-standing U.S. policy. Scott said he was looking forward to hearing what the president proposes.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with President Trump to let him know about the importance of democracy and freedom in Cuba. He’s known that all along,” Scott said. “I look forward to hearing exactly what he’s going to say today. I believe it is something that is going to push democracy and freedom.”

Scott insisted Obama’s policy didn’t work. He cited Cuban President Raul Castro‘s human rights crackdowns over the past two years, including almost daily arrests and detainments of the “Ladies in White” protesters. Scott did not directly respond to questions about whether he thought the Obama policy had helped Florida businesses, or improved situations in which Cuba was cooperating on such matters as human trafficking.

“Barack Obama capitulated. Raul Castro hasn’t changed. He’s gotten worse,” Scott said.

“The reality in this: more democracy in Latin America means more jobs in Florida, whether that’s through our ports, or whether that’s through people doing business here… we need more democracy,” he added.

 

Personnel note: Karl Rasmussen leaving Governor’s Office

Karl Rasmussen, Gov. Rick Scott‘s deputy chief of staff, is departing the Governor’s Office for a lobbying job at the Meenan Law Firm, name partner Tim Meenan confirmed Friday.

“Watching him from afar, I noticed he is one of the stars in the Capitol,” Meenan said in a phone interview. “He’s quiet, diligent and effective—the first thing you notice about him is his calm demeanor.”

Rasmussen (Source: LinkedIn)

Rasmussen, a deputy chief of staff since late 2014, will focus his lobbying efforts in some of the same subject areas he now covers for the governor, including environment and health care, Meenan said.

Rasmussen was previously the Director of Cabinet Affairs for Scott, according to his resume. Before that, he served as Assistant Director of State Lands, Director of Cabinet Affairs and Cabinet Affairs Liaison at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

He’ll be subject to the state’s 2-year lobbying ban on former employees, Meenan said, meaning Rasmussen can’t immediately lobby former colleagues at the Executive Office of the Governor.

“What clients look for are effective solutions to their problems,” Meenan said. “I think Karl bolsters our ability to really reach into a large number of state agencies and the Legislature.”

He begins as a government consultant for the firm on June 28.

Pam Bondi’s net worth rises to $1.7 million, report shows

Attorney General Pam Bondi has reported her latest net worth at nearly $1.7 million, according to her 2016 financial disclosure filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Her net worth now has risen from the $1.4 million reported in 2015 and from the almost $781,000 she reported for 2012, the earliest disclosure still publicly available on the commission’s website.

Her net worth jumped significantly in 2013 after she inherited from the estate of her father, 

Among assets, her disclosure for 2016 shows roughly $540,000 in “household goods and personal effects” and her “personal residence” now valued at $1.06 million. Her home’s value rose from $825,000 in 2015—a 28.5 percent increase.

She also lists a one-third share in a condominium worth $342,000.

Her liabilities consist of two loans from Tampa’s Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union totaling almost $255,000.

Bondi also lists her yearly attorney general’s salary from the state—$128,871.

The latest financial disclosures for Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner and GOP candidate for governor Adam Putnam, and departing Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater are not yet filed, according to the website. Atwater is stepping down June 30 to become chief financial officer for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. 

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