Influence Archives - Page 4 of 499 - Florida Politics

Oral arguments ordered in state office complex ‘bat poop’ case

An appellate court has granted a request for oral argument in a dispute between the owners of a Tallahassee office complex and several state agencies who bolted on the master lease.

Dockets reviewed Thursday show an argument date of Oct. 9 before the 1st District Court of Appeal in a lawsuit over Northwood Centre, a former shopping mall-turned-office complex that had been home to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) and others.

Northwood Associates, owners of the property, appealed after Circuit Judge Karen Gievers ruled in favor of the agencies.

Critics called the complex a “biological hot zone” after inspectors discovered 10 pounds of bat feces in the ceiling above the desk of then-DBPR Secretary Ken Lawson. Mold and more animal droppings were also found.

The complex’s ownership denied the allegations, saying it “performed air quality testing” and contracted with “two expert consulting firms to address all issues.”

But Gov. Rick Scott approved stopping rent payments in the 2016-17 state budget, and the state relocated some 1,500 workers. Northwood Associates filed suit.

The court later allowed the House of Representatives into the case to defend the budget proviso language nixing the lease payments.

Joe Negron political committee nearly tapped out

As he prepares to leave office in November, a political committee that has played a key role for Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, appears to be winding down.

The Treasure Coast Alliance, which has raised nearly $4.86 million since being formed in 2013, had $5,106 in cash on hand as of Aug. 31, according to a newly filed finance report. That came after the Treasure Coast Alliance sent $116,000 to two other political committees — Taxpayers in Action and the First Amendment Fund — on Aug. 27.

The Treasure Coast Alliance also had not received any contributions since January.

Negron announced this year that he will leave the Senate when his term as president ends in November. Negron could have stayed in the Senate until 2020, when he would have faced term limits.


Email insights: RGA says Andrew Gillum ‘too radical for Florida’

A Thursday email sent out by the Republican Governors Association slammed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum as “too radical for Florida” based on comments he made regarding recent violence in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

“In a recent podcast interview, Gillum ‘condemn[ed]’ Israel for ‘murder’ for acting in self-defense against Hamas terrorist operatives attempting to ‘breach into Israel’s borders,’ while throwing ‘rocks and Molotov cocktails,’” the RGA email said. “According to a senior Hamas official, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians killed were members of the terrorist group Hamas.”

The comments were related to a May protest that saw Israeli troops fire on about 35,000 Palestinians protesting the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, killing 60. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley lauded Israel’s “restraint” in responding to the protesters, though a number of world leaders expressed concern or outright condemned the Israeli government’s actions.

The RGA email also Orlando area businessman Chris King, who Gillum named as his running mate Thursday morning, over past comments he made that some have deemed to be anti-Semitic.

Those accusations of anti-Semitism relate to a quote attributed to King after he lost a contentious 1998 election to be Harvard’s Undergraduate Student Council president. The campus newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, had editorialized against King’s candidacy in part because he was well-known as an evangelical Christian.

“I was nailed to the cross,” King said at the time. “And most of the editorial staff that was so hard on me, the vast majority were Jewish.”

King told Florida Politics in June that he does not specifically recall making that statement but did not dispute it. He apologized for it and disavowed any anti-Semitic overtones as not of his beliefs.

“This quote from when I was 20 years old is completely at odds with my beliefs. It was a hurtful and stupid comment and I apologize,” King said in June.

Additionally, the reporter who quoted King in the 1998 story, Jonathan Tilove, told Florida Politics he did not interpret the statement as anti-Semitic. Tilove, now a political reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, is Jewish.

Still, the RGA said those statements by Gillum and King make the duo “too radical for Florida.”

“Gillum’s condemnation of Israel and King’s past comments prove their campaign is one of the most radical in the nation and raises serious questions about the direction of their campaign,” the RGA email concluded.

Gillum and King are facing off against Republican nominee Ron DeSantis, who on Thursday named Miami state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez as his running mate. The general election is Nov. 6.

Judge set to dismiss horse group’s challenge of Calder Casino gambling permit

A Tallahassee judge is challenging a Florida thoroughbred horsemen’s group to convince him he shouldn’t throw out a challenge of a South Florida track’s gambling permit.

Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early on Wednesday gave the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) till next Wednesday to show him why he shouldn’t dismiss what he called “an impermissible collateral attack” on Calder Casino‘s summer jai alai permit, issued this February. 

In an order to show causeEarly noted that the FHBPA’s “injury is based entirely on the issuance of the permit, and its effect on (the association) and the racing industry as a whole.” The case is against the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates gambling. 

The latest case again emphasizes the heightened strain between the greyhound and horse industries and racetrack operators, who continue trying to get rid of live racing but hold on to lucrative games like slots and poker. (The pari-mutuel previously went by the name Calder Race Course.)

Calder now wants to ditch horse racing entirely to switch to jai alai games. Indeed, the association’s complaint said “many, if not a majority, of FHBPA’s members are year-round residents of Florida, many of whom will be substantially affected by the major disruption in South Florida’s racing calendar.”

The FHBPA already lost a legal round this week, when another administrative law judge allowed Calder to keep its lucrative slot-machine license. The Miami Gardens track, which no longer runs its own live horse racing, offers slots and electronic table games.

Calder began tearing down its horse racing grandstand in 2015, about a year after its parent company, Churchill Downs of Kentucky Derby fame, reached a deal with The Stronach Group, which owns Gulfstream Park.

Under the agreement, Gulfstream — about 8 miles away — runs 40 races a year at Calder, the minimum number of live races required for Calder to maintain its slots license.

Tracks in Florida are generally required to continue running live dog or horse races to have slots and card games that usually make facilities more money. Decoupling, or removing the live racing requirement, has failed in the Legislature in recent years.

Calder is seeking to completely get out of the horse racing business by discontinuing “the operation of thoroughbred races and instead operat(ing) a full schedule of jai alai performances while maintaining its status as an ‘eligible facility.’ “

Pari-mutuels, particularly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, covet summer jai alai permits because at a minimum they allow a facility to open a card room and offer simulcast betting.


Background provided by The News Service of Florida, republished with permission. Main photo: Calder Casino – CC BY-SA 4.0.


Joe Gruters holding Tallahassee fundraiser for SD 23 bid

Sarasota Republican Rep. Joe Gruters will be raising cash in Tallahassee later this month for his bid to succeed Greg Steube in Senate District 23.

The Sept. 18 reception will be held in the library of the Governors Club, 202 South Adams St., from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Those looking to attend can direct their RSVPs to Kristin Lamb via or 850-339-5354.

Gruters is the chair of the Sarasota County Republican Party and also served as co-chair Donald Trump’s Florida campaign. He was elected to House District 73 two years ago in a blowout win against Democratic nominee James Golden.

Before Gruters’ House re-election campaign got fully underway, there was a seismic shakeup in the Sarasota delegation caused by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s announcement that he would not seek re-election in Florida’s 17th Congressional District.

Steube, just two years into his first term in the state Senate, and Venice Rep. Julio Gonzalez declared for the race and Steube ultimately won the Republican nomination with ease.

Still, that left SD 23 open and gave Gruters the opportunity to make the jump to the state Senate years earlier than he would otherwise. His only opponent in the Republican-leaning seat is Democratic nominee Faith Olivia Babis.

As of Aug. 23, Gruters had more than $115,000 in hard money in the bank with another $13,000 or so in his affiliated political committee, Friends of Joe Gruters PC. When Gruters files his next round of reports, he’ll show at least $3,500 in contributions thanks to state Rep. Ben Albritton helping out fellow Republican Senate candidates last month.

Babis, meanwhile, has only raised a little over $25,000 for her campaign and has about $5,000 in the bank. Her lax adherence to state campaign finance laws earlier on in the race led to the Florida Division of Elections levying some hefty fees against her, though they are currently being appealed by elections attorney Mark Herron.

SD 23 covers all of Sarasota County and a portion of coastal Charlotte County. Trump carried the district by 15 points two years ago as Steube defeated Democratic challenger Frank Alcock 59-41 percent.

Election Day is Nov. 6. The fundraiser invitation is below.

Personnel note: J.C. Flores promoted at AT&T

Juan Carlos (J.C.) Flores was promoted from Vice President of External Affairs to Vice President of National Public Affairs, Campaign Strategy and Tactics at AT&T Services, Inc., the company announced Tuesday.

The veteran operative will be responsible for “defining and driving AT&T’s political strategy and leading the execution of the strategic roadmaps across multiple key initiatives,” a press release said.

Flores “will initiate and manage our relationships with AT&T Business Units for issues pertinent to the campaigns, as well as lead alliances with other companies, thought leaders, and key third party influencers outside of AT&T to drive our strategic objectives.”

Flores replaces Erik Hower, whose departure was previously announced. Flores will be based in Washington, D.C.

Flores joined the company in 2011 as Regional Director of External Affairs, AT&T Florida. He was responsible for segments of the legislative agenda in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

He later became lead lobbyist and Vice President for Legislative Affairs in Florida for AT&T. Flores also has expertise in managing all aspects of political campaigns.

“I am excited for J.C. and I know he is going to do an outstanding job in his new role,” said Joe York, President of AT&T Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “It is bittersweet as we are going to miss him and his family. He has been a fantastic partner, friend and leader on our team.”

Prior to joining AT&T, Flores served as Director of Communications for Miami-Dade Commissioner Carlos Gimenez and then managed the Carlos Gimenez for Mayor Campaign in 2011.

He served as Miami-Dade Field Director for Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign and as Special Assistant to House Speaker Marco Rubio at the Republican Party of Florida.

Flores graduated from Florida International University with a degree in political science.

Visit Florida board to vote on new contract oversight rule

A rules change to help Visit Florida comply with legislatively mandated reporting requirements for big contracts will be ready for the organization’s board of directors next week.

State law requires Visit Florida to submit contracts in excess of $750,000 to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission. If the commission’s chair and vice chair — or the Senate president and House speaker — agree any deal is a bad idea, they can block it.

Agency general counsel Craig Thomas explained the rule change to the executive committee during a conference call Tuesday. The full board will gather Sept. 12 in Orlando.

“All of these contracts need to be submitted to the Legislature before we can sign them. The Legislature does have the ability, if both chambers object, to prevent Visit Florida from moving forward,” Thomas said.

“We have, in the past, worked with board members and made them available, but we haven’t been operating under any formal policy or procedure that requires the board be consulted before these are submitted to the Legislature. This procedure is designed to do just that.”

Such reviews will happen at the executive committee level.

“All members of the executive committee will receive a copy of any contract that’s required to be submitted to the Legislature at least five business days before Visit Florida would put it on formal notice and refer it to the Legislature,” Thomas said

The chair would ask the executive committee to review such contracts, with the panel voting either to drop or refer them to the lawmakers.

“We wanted to balance the need to not add additional delay” with giving the executive committee time to review the contracts, Thomas said.

“We’re being transparent,” chairman Lino Maldonado told committee members.

“We’re not going to be rubber-stamping things. But we do need to find the proper balance between efficiency and expediency, and oversight — which is our role — without overstepping our role.”

In other words, he said, “not letting the CEO run the business he was hired to run.”

The legal requirement followed criticism — particularly in the House — of Visit Florida’s practices, including its signature to a $1 million promotions deal with the rapper Pitbull.

Whoa, dog: State says greyhound kennel tours aren’t allowed

Gambling regulators on Tuesday warned racing greyhound owners and others that public tours of kennels at Florida greyhound tracks may violate state regulations.

A representative of the industry soon shot back that the prohibition was “outrageous!”

Last month, the National Greyhound Association said it would offer tours of “three Florida greyhound tracks and their on-site kennels.”

The two-hour guided tours, free with advance registration, were “designed to promote transparency and educate the public about the care of greyhounds at the track, as well as stewardship of the breed,” according to a press release.

The Florida Supreme Court will soon issue a ruling on whether general election voters will get to see a constitutional amendment aimed at ending live greyhound racing. Circuit Judge Karen Gievers already struck the measure after a challenge from the Florida Greyhound Association, calling its ballot title and summary “outright ‘trickeration.’ 

A spokeswoman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates dog racing and other gambling in the state, told Florida Politics it “has not taken a position related to tours of racetrack facilities.”

But, added Suellen Wilkins, “certain areas of pari-mutuel facilities are restricted access,” specifically “the backside where racing animals are kept.”

Wilkins referred to department regulations that do allow “sworn law enforcement and corrections officers,” “firefighters” and EMTs, “persons working for a vendor … providing supplies,” and several others to visit kennels.

“If the individuals do not fall into these categories, they are prohibited from accessing the backside of the track,” Wilkins said.

Jack Cory, lobbyist and spokesman for the Florida Greyhound Association, said the state is “stopping the people of the state of Florida from getting the truth and facts about live greyhound racing by hiding behind a rule.”

“This is outrageous!” he said. If regulators wanted to, “they could file an amendment to their own rule – today – to permit the citizens of Florida to visit the greyhounds.”

The Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign, which is promoting passage of Amendment 13, in a statement called the planned tours “staged political photo opportunities.”

“Although we welcome the opportunity for the public to see the deplorable conditions greyhounds are subjected to, these events were nothing more than …  photo ops aimed at whitewashing the industry,” the campaign said.

Moreover, “the registration (form) included screening questions to oust animal welfare advocates. The event waiver gave the Florida Greyhound Association the right to use video footage of participants in political advertisements, but at the same time prohibited participants from photographing or videotaping the events themselves.”

The campaign said “although we did not have input in this state decision, it is another example of how the greyhound industry can’t play by the rules. Dog racers apparently believe they are above the law, whether it’s the state drug testing program or state laws about racetrack security.”

Cory disagreed, filing a public records request with the department last week for – among other things – “any and all complaints filed either in writing, or all of the notes from any complaints filed over the telephone during the last 30 days, about permitting the citizens of the state of Florida (to visit) greyhound kennels at greyhound tracks.”

Cory’s request names Carey Theil, executive director of GREY2K USA Worldwide, and Christine Dorchak, the organization’s president and general counsel.

“Please be advised that this (request) will be noticed with the Florida (news) media,” Cory wrote.

Derby Lane, located in St. Petersburg, and the Palm Beach Kennel Club, located in West Palm Beach, were selected to be the first two tracks to open their doors.

The amendment, slotted for the ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission, would need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution, like other proposed changes to the state’s governing document. 


Featured photo courtesy of Van Abernethy.


Labor Day is brought to you by these Florida lobbyists and political associations

The final days of summer are here.

Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer, the last hurrah before the fall. It’s a time for barbecues and beers, to spend a few days floating in the pool or relaxing on the deck.

But it’s also meant to be a chance to celebrate the American worker. First established in 1894, Labor Day was celebrated in industrial centers across the country. While labor unions may not hold as much clout in Florida, they are still present in every Floridian’s life.

They’re the police officers that walk the street, state employees who keep the trains running on time, the teachers and professors who help mold the minds of young Floridians and the healthcare workers who take care of us when we’re sick.

The Florida State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police was chartered in 1950, and currently serves 20,000 members in 100 local lodges across the state. The state FOP aims to promote and foster the enforcement of law and order.

When the Florida FOP needs a hand in the Legislature, they turn to Lisa Henning of Timmins Consulting.

The FOP isn’t the only organization looking out for Florida’s men and women in blue. The Florida Police Benevolent Association was established in 1972 and is an advocate for law enforcement and their families.

You’ll find Matt Puckett, the executive director, advocating on behalf of law enforcement officers in front of the Legislature. He’s joined by James Baiardi, Ernest George, Arthur Hoffman, Gene Johnson, John Kazanjian, Kenneth Kopczynski, Jeffrey Marano, Tammy Marcus, Mike McHale, John Rivera, Michael Roddy, William Smith and Steadman Stahl.

When the Florida PBA needs an extra hand dealing with the Legislature, they turn Gary Bradford at the Bradford Group.

When it comes to protecting the interests of Florida’s firefighters and EMS personnel, look no further than the Florida Professional Firefighters. Founded in 1944, the Florida association now has 150 local affiliates and more than 24,000 members. The organization has become known as one of the most effective and respected voices in the Capitol.

Screven Watson from Screven Watson & Associates has the firefighters’ back when they go before the Legislature. The association looks to George Marsh, the group’s secretary and treasurer; Rocco Salvatori, the association’s vice president; James Tolley, the group’s president; Michael Bellamy, VP of FPF’s 8th District; and Kurt Vroman, the group’s 9th District veep, for its legislative lobbying needs.

Among the bills affecting police and firefighters in the 2018 Legislative Session was a measure that would expand workers’ compensation benefits in cases of first responders suffering from mental health-related injuries, such as PTSD. After an emotional push in the Legislature, the bill was passed and signed by Gov. Rick Scott in late March.

Speaking of worker’s comp, there’s always a battle on the horizon for the state’s labor unions, so get ready to hear more from Florida’s them as 2019 Legislative Session approaches.

Florida AFL-CIO is among the state’s largest unions, and when it needs help in the legislature it turns to its director of politics and public policy, Rich Templin; while AFSCME Florida Council 79 has political director Jackie Carmona and the team at The Rubin Group in its corner, including Bill Rubin, Melissa Akeson, Amy Bisceglia, Erica Chanti, Christopher Finkbeiner and Heather Turnbull.

Representing 19,000 workers across the state, SEIU United Healthcare Workers represents more than 25,000 healthcare workers, from nurses to clerical employees and everyone in between working in the hospital and nursing home industry. When it needs results in the Legislature, it calls PinPoint Results and Robert Beck, Bryan Cherry and Tanya Jackson take it from there.

And before you pop open your next beer, make sure to thank an educator this weekend. They’re working their hardest to shape the next generation of great Floridians. And to do that to the best of their ability, many turn to the Florida Education Association to advance their causes.

The statewide association represents more than 140,000 teachers and school support professionals in the state. While Florida teachers are shaping the minds of young Floridians, RonBilbaoCatherine BoehmeTina Dunbar, Luke FlyntFedrick IngramStephanie Kunkel, Joanne McCallEric RileyLynda RussellJacqueline SistoKevin Watson and Jeff Wright are watching out for Florida’s teachers.

And when the FEA needs an extra hand, it turns to Albert Balido and Edgar Fernandez of Anfield Consulting and Ron Meyer at Florida Legislative Associates.

To the many Florida politicos knee deep in the 2018 elections, 16-hour work days every day of the week isn’t a concept, it’s their current reality. But it wasn’t that long ago when that was expected of every American worker.

While the politics of labor have certainly shifted over the 124 years since Labor Day became a federal holiday, it’s important to remember what the holiday is all about. Without the hardworking men and women who clocked in everyday throughout American history, the United States — and Florida — would never have become the prosperous economic powerhouse it is today.

Meet Rob Levy, Democrat running for Florida Senate District 25

Just like in 2016, we’re again asking every candidate, including incumbents, to complete a questionnaire we believe offers an interesting, albeit, thumbnail sketch of who they are and why they are running. If you are a candidate and would like to complete the questionnaire, email

Significant other? Kids?

Married to Oksana Massey, who is a nurse. I have three (31, 26, 24) and three step-children (24, 19, 17).

Education background? Professional background?

Education: Bachelor of Science, University of Miami; Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Des Moines University;  Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Health Services Management, Duke University.

Professional background: Established a single-office primary care practice in Port St. Lucie in 1983. By the 1990s, it had grown to a multisite practice with 13 physicians and 3 allied health care professionals serving more than 30,000 patients in the areas of internal medicine, family practice, pediatrics, cardiology, and gastroenterology. It became part of Martin Memorial in 1997, but I have continued practicing, as a volunteer physician at Volunteers in Medicine, the clinic where residents of Martin County without private health insurance who do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare can receive comprehensive, compassionate care at no charge.

I also am an active real estate investor with interests in Florida, Colorado, and Texas, and recently became a partner in a unique new venture, The Roasted Record. Located in downtown Stuart, I believe it’s the only business of its kind in Florida: a coffee shop that specializes in single-origin specialty grade coffees, roasted in small batches to sounds provided by vinyl records for sale at the store.

What was your first job?

When I was 16, I worked in a pharmacy in the Bronx as a stocker, where I made $5 per hour.

In 25 words or less, why are you running for office?

As a physician, a father and a businessman, I’m sick and tired of politicians who are all talk and no action while our river reeks with algae, millions of people go without access to healthcare, and our schools and teachers are denied the support they deserve.

Who do you count on for advice?

For wisdom and guidance, it was my beloved father until he passed away, four years ago. Now it is my spouse.

Who is your political consultant? Campaign manager?

John Jones; Jake Sanders

Who was the first person to contribute to your campaign? Why did they donate?

I am fortunate in that I was able to launch my campaign myself, and I did so because I felt I should invest in myself before I asked others to.

Who, if anyone, inspires you in state government?

Thanks to one-party rule in Florida for the last 20 years, I have no role models in state government.

What are 3 issues that you’re running on? (You’re not allowed to say education or “improving the schools”)

Expand Medicaid and obtain a waiver for the ACA so that all Floridians have access to healthcare; fully fund both Florida Forever and Florida Water & Land Legacy Amendment (Amendment I); Reverse legislative practice of stealing tax dollars and Lottery money from public schools and giving it to private/for-profit/religious schools

What is a “disruptive” issue (i.e., ride-sharing) you are interested in?

In two words: gun safety — meaning a ban on assault weapons, meaningful background checks, and closing the gun-show loophole. My goal is to get an “F” from Marion Hammer before I am sworn in as a Senator.

Who was the best governor in Florida’s modern history?

Certainly not the current one. I’d call it a tie between Bob Graham and Lawton Chiles.

Are yard signs an important part of campaigning in your district?

Due to environmental concerns, they are just a small component. We only encourage them on personal property, in residential yards.

What’s the first thing you read each morning?

The Stuart News

Where do you get your political news?

Florida Politics, NY Times and Politico.

Social media presence? Twitter handle?

Our campaign is active on Facebook and Instagram, with just a bit of Twitter activity, but I do not have a handle myself.

In 280 characters, what’s a tweet that best describes your campaign message?

Expand Medicaid and obtain an ACA waiver. Fund and implement all solutions for Lake O, our rivers, and the Everglades as fast as possible. Repair the damage done to our environmental agencies over the last eight years, and stop robbing our public schools of tax dollars.  


Running, cooking, golf. I log 3 miles a day and do most of the cooking at my house. My golf game, however, has suffered of late as campaigning has cut into it.

Favorite sport and sports team?

Baseball; New York Yankees.

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