Influence Archives - Page 4 of 513 - Florida Politics

Scott Plakon re-elected, David Smith wins in Seminole House seats

In two nail-biter elections that followed their Republican colleague’s surprising loss earlier in the evening, Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon was re-elected Tuesday and David Smith won election to another Seminole County seat that had always been held by Republicans.

But neither won easily. Plakon defeated Democrat Tracey Kagan 51 percent to 49 percent to win re-election in House District 29.

Smith defeated Democrat Lee Mangold also by 51 percent to 49 percent to win an open seat in House District 28.

Earlier they watched Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes lose House District 30 to Maitland City Councilwoman Joy Goff-Marcil.

Plakon’s victory actually gives him a fifth term. He had served two terms in what is now Cortes’s district before he lost to Castor Dentel in 2012.

The Longwood publisher then ran and won in HD 29, and was re-elected in 2016. During that campaign and much of this one, he had to face the gradual decline of Susie Plakon, his wife of nearly 33 years, from Alzheimer’s Disease. She died in July, and Plakon said his focus on his campaign in the past couple of months has helped him cope.

Smith, of Winter Springs, a retired U.S. Marine colonel and business consultant in the field of simulation and modeling technologies, first emerged politically in 2014 when he challenged then-U.S. Rep. John Mica in the Republican primary. Mica easily won that challenge but lost to Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy two years later.

Smith had shown fundraising prowess and an ability to also self-fund his campaign, and a hard-driving commitment to campaigning and as soon as he entered the HD 28 race, seeking to succeed outgoing Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur, he was the candidate to beat.

Red Tide Politics: It’s the environment, stupid.

Candidates in Southwest Florida anticipated lengthy debates about Medicaid expansions, gun rights and maybe charter school funding to dominate political discourse this election.

So it seemed illustrative to state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo when a Naples candidate informed contained not one question about health care came up.

“This year,” she said, “it’s all about the water and our quality of life.”

Welcome to red tide politics.

First blue-green algae coursed along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers following unpopular discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Then red tide struck beaches on Florida’s east and west coasts.

Republican leaders, most especially Gov. Rick Scott, suddenly faced questions over deregulation and the appointment of business leaders instead of scientists on water management district boards in South Florida. The smell of dead fish and the issuance of no-swim advisories turned harmful algal blooms from an academic term to a hot-button issue.

Candidates knocking on doors along both coasts reported the top question, whether politicians ran for the Florida Legislature, county commission or local mosquito board, pertained to red tide.

It seemed quite the shift in conversation after a decade of Tea Party politics in which environmental regulation became anathema to conservative ideology.

Scott’s reported ban on the terms “climate change” and “global warming” seemed suddenly counter-productive. Sen. Marco Rubio, a one-time Tea Party hero, lobbied President Donald Trump’s administration to adjust discharge schedules.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham returned donations from the sugar industry, making Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam the only major candidate running for Florida’s highest office this year to keep money from the environmental boogeyman.

Neither Graham nor Putnam made it out of primary season.

In the general election season, Republicans in once safe seats suddenly faced well-funded opponents. Even when a hurricane seemed to draw red tide back out to sea, Democrats like District 73 House candidate Liv Coleman continued to batter the message home running footage of dead fish just in case voters forgot the sight.

At a Tiger Bay debate in Sarasota, Democrats Tracy Pratt and Tony Mowry hammered Republican opponents Will Robinson and James Buchanan for environmental deregulation under the GOP, even though neither of the conservatives had served in the Legislature and both promised to get tough on polluters.

Republican state Rep. Joe Gruters, a state Senate hopeful this year, held a joint town hall with Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good as both candidates showed their commitment to bipartisan solutions to fixing the environment.

And even in major Republican strongholds like Lee County, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum packed a venue with the promise of taking questions on environmental preservation.

John Capese, Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida’s Southwest Chapter, could be found on the sidelines of that event, excited at the sense of urgency green issues gained during the election cycle.

He wondered if the environment could give life even to longshot Democrats like David Holden, the Democratic challenging U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney in Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

It’s unclear whether Rooney lost much sleep at that prospect, and no major political prognosticators paid any heed to the race. But a couple days after the Gillum town hall, Rooney took the stage at a Trump rally, and the message he sent to voters was about recent funding approval for a new reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

Scott raised the same matter at Trump rallies in Pensacola and Fort Myers. But Sen. Bill Nelson barraged airwaves with ads that put the onus on “Red Tide Rick.”

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis, though, avoided such attacks by making enemies with Big Sugar years ago. One of his strongest days of the general election season, and one that sent Democrats into convulsions, came as he secured the endorsement of the Everglades Trust.

Seeing an environmental group back the GOP candidate certainly seemed off, but only through the prism of politics in the year 2018.

In the not-so-distant past, GOP leaders like Gov. Jeb Bush championed Florida Forever funding. Gov. Claude Kirk campaigned during and after his political career on the promise of saving and restoring Florida’s waterways.

It used to be a given that Florida politicians, regardless of party, would always champion the environment. That seemed to chip away a decade ago when even Bush entertained opening Florida’s shores to oil drilling, once a third rail of Florida politics.

That didn’t last long. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster turned once-softening public opinion on petroleum exploration into severe backlash on the idea.

Red tide may once again turn a green platform into a regional requirement for political success in Florida, regardless of hostility between national conservatives and the environmental community.

And in some ways how could that not happen eventually? The Everglades remain a crucial part of Florida’s identity, and beach tourism a critical piece of the state economy.

For all the efforts toward diversification in the economy, manufacturing always faces challenges in the Sunshine State thanks to its limited ground access to most of the continental U.S. In a state surrounded by water on three sides, how long could water quality stay out of headlines and political debates?

Algae just helps twist a famous James Carville truism. He helped President Bill Clinton win the White House asking citizens to make a gut check on whether the economy seemed better than when President George W. Bush took office.

It may take more than pictures of dead fish to lead to many Democratic upsets this evening in safe Republican seats. For many GOP candidates who once expected few questions on the environment had to develop a platform darn quick this year.

In Florida, it’s always the environment stupid.

Keith Perry leads in final poll of SD 8

Incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry leads Democratic challenger Kayser Enneking by 4 points in the final poll of Senate District 8.

But his margin is less compared to 2016, when the Gainesville-based district backed him over former state Sen. Rod Smith by 6 points.

According to a new survey from St. Pete Polls, Perry is netting 48 percent of the vote to Enneking’s 44 percent. The margin of error is 3.8 percentage points.

The no-party spoiler in the race, former Gainesville City Commissioner Charles Goston, is snaking 5 percent of the vote, with the balance still undecided.

Two-thirds of voters say they’ve voted and Enneking built up a 5-point lead among them, 49 percent-44 percent. But, as always, Election Day will be key. And among that crowd, Perry is absolutely dominating, 54-32 percent.

The good news for Enneking: Democrats are backing her in greater numbers than they have in past polls. She’s pulling in 72 percent of her base, though Goston — a lifelong Democrat until he was booted from the city commission in a May runoff — is still taking 6 percent.

The good news for Perry: He’s still netting 85-plus percent of the Republican vote, and his 17 percent support among registered Democrats is more than significant in this district, where the blue team holds a 7-point lead in voter registrations. He’s also up 3 points among Millennial voters.

If that age group turns out in significant numbers and if that margin holds, it would be another kind of victory for Perry — SD 8 is home to 50,000-plus University of Florida students with another 20,000-plus taking classes at Santa Fe College.

If young voters end up voting D, Perry also has slight leads among Gen Xers, 47-46 percent, younger Boomers, 49-44 percent, and voters over 70, 47-41 percent. Those slices make up the vast majority of the district’s likely voters, so those margins virtually assure his re-election supposing they hold.

But the good news for Perry doesn’t end there.

Broken down by race, Perry is taking 55 percent of the white vote to Enneking’s 40 percent. Non-Hispanic whites make up 71 percent of the district’s voting age population.

Enneking is taking three-fifths of the black vote while Perry and Goston, who is black, are splitting another 30 percent. By gender, men say they want to stay the course by a 49 percent-41 percent margin while women are split 46-46 percent.

SD 8 is one of a handful of districts that became more favorable to Democrats after the Senate map was redrawn ahead of the 2016 elections. About 55 percent of the district’s population lives in Alachua County, while 30 percent live in northern Marion County and the remaining 15 percent live in Putnam County.

Perry’s six-point win over former FDP Chair and former state Sen. Rod Smith two years ago came alongside a razor thin victory for President Donald Trump. His two-tenths-of-a-point victory in the purple district was the closest of margin among the state’s 40 Senate districts. Perry outperformed POTUS by more than 5 points.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted Monday. It has a sample size of 681 and a margin of error is 3.8 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Running on a memory: Replacement candidates’ difficult campaign role

It’s no easy task running for office when your name doesn’t appear on the ballot. But replacement candidates who stepped in this year for deceased had to do just that.

In Florida Senate District 14, Tommy Wright stood up after the withdrawal of Republican state Sen. Dorothy Hukill, who died days after ending her candidacy. In Florida’s 17th Congressional District, Allen Ellison did the same following the sudden death of Democratic nominee April Freeman.

Tragedy shifted the tone on those elections instantly and irreversibly. The list of challenges the new candidates face seems endless.

They had to mount campaigns in a matter of weeks when their predecessors spent years in anticipation. Qualifying by petition was not an option, so the men needed to pay thousands in qualification fees on little notice. And if all that didn’t make voter education hard enough, their names don’t even appear on the ballot.

Because Freeman and Hukill both passed away after ballots had already been printed, neither Ellison nor Wright can so much as encourage voters to bubble the circle by their own names.

While the candidates face similar challenges, each addressed the problems with deeply different strategies. Now, each one looks toward election returns on ballots cast for someone no longer among the living, in hopes they can be sworn into office in a fallen colleagues stead.

Race to the Finish

Ellison, a Sebring business owner, previously considered running for Congress, but never imagined these circumstances.

“It is unfortunate that it played out this way,” he said. “April was fighter and a very fierce competitor.”

Freeman had run for Congress in Southwest Florida multiple times before, in a special election in the 19th District in 2014 when she lost to Curt Clawson, and then in the 17th District against incumbent Rep. Tom Rooney two years ago.

Weeks before her death, she spoke of confidence following Rooney’s retirement. “I know this district better than anybody running,” she said.

But it wasn’t meant to be. Freeman died in her sleep the evening of Sept. 24, and her husband announced her death the following morning.

Shell-shocked party leaders began the process of finding a replacement, an opening that drew interest from candidates around the state who lost their own contests.

But ultimately, Democrats chose Ellison, a largely untested candidate running in a district where Republican Greg Steube remained a heavy favorite even before Freeman’s death.

Since taking over as a candidate, Ellison has attended forums and campaign events throughout the district, handing out fliers with his own face splashed across the page—and with a faded thumbnail image of Freeman as well.

The campaign slogan for Ellison’s campaign: “Vote for April, Elect Allen Ellison.”

He’s also had his face painted on racecars with American Standard Watersports, in a car with the number 17 painted on the site and another image of Freeman. The car races “in remembrance of April Freeman,” much like Ellison.

He’s had to get as much bang for the buck as possible in his campaign. Federal Election records show he had about $3,014 as of third-quarter reporting. The bulk of Freeman’s money went to pay pack her family for candidate loans.

Steube, meanwhile, closed the third quarter with $182,683 in cash on hand.

New Game, Same Name

This all feels a markedly different approach than what’s occurred in Senate District 14. There, Wright’s been almost an invisible candidate, which in fact is by design.

Florida Politics caught up with Wright at a rally held by President Donald Trump in Fort Myers on Wednesday, but he declined to do an interview. In fact, he stated he wasn’t supposed to talk with anybody about his candidacy until after Election Day.

Tony Ledbetter, chairman of the Volusia County Republican Party, said that’s because as far as party leaders are concerned, Wright’s not the candidate.

“This is about re-electing Dorothy Hukill, not electing Tom Wright,” he said. “She’s on the ballot. It is what it is.”

Hukill announced on Sept. 28 that she would leave the state Senate race following an aggressive return of cancer. The sitting senator, who won election to the district in 2016 with 68 percent of the vote, entered hospice care immediately and succumbed to illness within days.

Ledbetter, a friend of Hukill, says the community remains stung by the loss, and his eyes, this race isn’t about new leadership in the district but about the senator’s legacy.

“The whole focus now is to retain this as a Republican seat,” he said.

The strategy doesn’t set well with Democrat Mel Martin, who had originally filed to challenge Hukill and quickly labeled Wright’s selection as a “business decision.”

To some degrees, party leaders acknowledged as much from the beginning. Wright for years served as a financial support of Republican candidates in the area, and he had the capability to pay a filing fee.

Wright also threw in a $2,500 candidate loan to his campaign, and has only raised $5,700 in addition to that in the limited time he’s run. His campaign largely has relied on in-kind support from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Meanwhile, advertising on the part of Republicans has included either attack ads on Martin or continued promotion of Hukill.

But if the approach of Wright and Ellison seems wildly different, the stakes are as well.

Ellison stands in for a Democratic candidate few believed could win a one of Florida’s most conservative districts.

Wright replaces an incumbent Republican state senator, one few believed would be unseated. Hukill, even as illness limited her appearances on the trail, seemed entrenched in the seat. Ledbetter calls her a “lion of the Senate.”

Could this strategy be risky? Democratic analyst Matthew Isbell of MCI Maps after Hukill’s death moved the Senate district in his election forecast from “Safe GOP” straight over to “Lean GOP.”

To make matters worse, a tough national environment puts Republicans on defense anyway, and there’s concern, albeit slight, about actually losing control of the state Senate to Democrats.

But running on Hukill’s popularity may make the most political sense, especially when compared to raising the profile of a political unknown. If Republicans prevail, Wright will be sworn in to a four-year term, and from there voters can hold his accountable for his own record.

Really, there’s no good way to run a campaign once your candidate dies.

For now, Ledbetter says, the situation “is what it is.”

Big legislative races scattered throughout state

When it comes to Florida legislative races, as with most things in politics, follow the money.

Dozens of House and Senate seats are on Tuesday’s ballot, but many — maybe even most — are not competitive because of factors such as incumbency and the makeup of districts.

One way to find the big races, however, is to look at where campaign cash is flowing. Donors, party leaders and political operatives don’t like to toss away money on lost causes. With that in mind, here are some of the races to watch Tuesday in various regions of the state:

Tampa Bay 

The Tampa Bay area features two of the most closely watched Senate races, including in Hillsborough County’s District 18, where Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young is trying to fend off a challenge from Tampa Democratic House Minority Leader Janet Cruz. The pair combined to raise nearly $1.5 million for their campaign accounts — and that doesn’t factor in boatloads of outside money.

The other high-profile Senate race pits former Rep. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican, and former Rep. Amanda Murphy, a New Port Richey Democrat, who are competing for an open seat in Senate District 16 in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

House races to watch in the region include Rep. Shawn Harrison, a Tampa Republican, trying to hold onto his seat against well-funded Democrat Fentrice Driskell in Hillsborough’s House District 63 and Republican Ray Blacklidge and Democrat Jennifer Webb battling for an open seat in Pinellas County’s House District 69.

Sarasota County

Because of a combination of term limits and lawmakers seeking different offices, Sarasota County has four open House and Senate seats that will be filled Tuesday.

But the big-money race in Sarasota County pits two familiar figures: state Rep. Margaret Good, a Sarasota Democrat, and former Republican Rep. Ray Pilon, also of Sarasota. Good, who drew national attention last year when she won a special election in Republican-leaning House District 72, raised a whopping $542,000 for her re-election campaign. Pilon raised nearly $173,000 for his comeback bid.

Miami-Dade County

For Democrats and Republicans, two Senate races in Miami-Dade are about holding on to seats. Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat, won a fierce special election for Democrats last year in Senate District 40 and now faces a challenge from well-funded Republican Marili Cancio.

Meanwhile, with Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican, leaving office because of term limits, the GOP has poured money into efforts to elect Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., also of Hialeah, in Senate District 36. Diaz raised nearly $689,000 for his campaign and received $468,000 in in-kind contributions. Democrat David Perez, by comparison, raised $164,000 and received $103,000 in in-kind contributions.

Miami-Dade also has numerous House races, including Democratic Rep. Robert Asencio facing a challenge from Republican Anthony Rodriguez in District 118. Also, Republican Rep. Holly Raschein, of Key Largo, raised $413,000 as she tries to win another term against Democrat Steve Friedman in District 120, which includes part of Miami-Dade and all of Monroe County.

Broward and Palm Beach

While Broward County is a Democratic stronghold, Rep. George Moraitis, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, managed to keep his House seat for the past eight years. Now, with Moraitis facing term limits, Republican Chip LaMarca raised nearly $591,000 as he tries to maintain the GOP’s hold on House District 93. Democrat Emma Collum raised about $188,000.

Up the coast, Republicans also are trying to keep control of Palm Beach County’s House District 89, which is open because Republican Rep. Bill Hager faces term limits. Republican Mike Caruso raised nearly $225,000 and loaned $204,000 to his campaign as he won a primary and ran in the general election. Democrat Jim Bonfiglio raised $75,000 and loaned $296,000 to his campaign — including $106,000 in loans in October.

Central Florida

Democrats have made steady gains in the Orlando area in recent years, and they are pinning their hopes on House candidate Anna Eskamani picking up a seat Tuesday. Eskamani raised about $451,000 for her campaign in House District 47 to replace Rep. Mike Miller, a Winter Park Republican who is running for Congress. Eskamani’s opponent, Republican Stockton Reeves, raised $170,000.

Democrats this year have also made noise about trying to knock off Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, in Senate District 22 in Lake and Polk counties. Stargel raised nearly $563,000 for the race, while Democrat Bob Doyel raised about $271,000.

Another Central Florida Senate race to watch Tuesday is in District 14 in Volusia and Brevard counties. The district is Republican-friendly territory, but Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican, died last month of cancer. That led to the late entry of Republican Tommy Wright to run against Democrat Melissa Martin.

North Florida

From the Panhandle to the Atlantic Coast, North Florida has relatively few high-profile legislative races. But the biggest-ticket race has been in Senate District 8, where Sen. Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican, is trying to hold off a challenge from Democrat Kayser Enneking. The pair combined to raise nearly $1.5 million for their campaign accounts in a race that also has drawn large amounts of outside money. The district includes Democrat-heavy Gainesville but also is made up of conservative rural areas in Alachua, Putnam and Marion counties.

Perhaps the most-competitive House race in North Florida is in Jacksonville, where Republican Wyman Duggan and Democrat Tracye Ann Polson are battling in House District 15, which became open when Rep. Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican, decided against seeking re-election. Duggan and Polson have combined to raise more than $600,000, with Polson also loaning $180,000 to the campaign.

Voter registration shows 10 House seats most flippable, mostly toward Democrats

At least eight Republican-held Florida House seats should be in Democrats’ grasps — that is if voters vote their colors — while Republicans have two Democratic seats that ought to be flippable.

And another 14 districts, all but one of which are held by Republicans, the voter registrations between Republicans and Democrats are air-tight, within two percentage points.

That’s according to a Florida Politics analysis of voter registration trends that has Republicans picking up strength in rural, small-city, and exurban areas. Democrats meanwhile have improved in cities and inner suburbs.

A look at the latest voter registration numbers, broken down by Florida House District, shows registration trends turning the Orlando urban core more blue are also making Central Florida Republicans among the most vulnerable going into next Tuesday’s election. And that brings eight Republican seats into play, where Democrats actually have more voters in the districts, while just two Democratic-held seats are in districts with more Republican voters.

Many of the most pronounced are in Central Florida.

Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes‘ House District 30, including parts of south-central Seminole and north-central Orange counties, has moved three points toward Democrats, and now Democrats have a five-point advantage in voter registration there. Cortes, of Altamonte Springs, faces Democratic Maitland City Commissioner Joy Goff-Marcil.

Just to the south, House District 47 including much of north and central Orange County, being vacated by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, has trended three points toward Democrats. Now that party has a four-point advantage in voter registration. Democrat Anna Eskamani and Republican Stockton Reeves are battling in that one.

Farther to the south, Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa‘s House District 42’s voter base remains unchanged, yet Democrats have a six-point advantage in voter registrations. La Rosa, of Saint Cloud, is being challenged by Democrat Barbara Cady.

In Jacksonville, the House District 15 seat being vacated by Republican state Rep. Jay Fant has trended two points toward Democrats, flipping the voter registration one point in Democrats’ favor. Republican Wyman Duggan and Democrat Tracye Polson are competing there.

In Tampa, House District 59 in eastern Hillsborough County, being vacated by Republican state Rep. Ross Spano of Dover, has lost a point of Republican voter registration and now Democrats have a four-point advantage. Republican Joe Wicker faces Democrat Adam Hattersley there.

Just to the north, House District 58 in eastern Hillsborough has trended back Republicans’ way by two points since 2016. Yet Democrats still hold a two-point advantage in voter registration. There, Republican State Rep. Lawrence McClure of Dover seeks re-election against Democrat Phil Hornback.

Republican state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah is running for the Senate so his seat is coming open in House District 103, where Republican Frank Mingo will be facing a four-point Democratic advantage in voter registration favoring Democrat Cindy Polo. There has been no change in the party voter registration balance since 2016.

And in House District 120, Republican state Rep. Holly Raschein of Key Largo faces a one-point Democratic advantage as she seeks re-election against Democrat Steve Friedman. There has been no change in that district’s party proportions since 2016 either.

Republicans saw none of the districts now controlled by Democrats trend more into Republican voter control, but they do have two seats where incumbent Democrats face Republican-dominated voter rolls.

Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good in House District 72 saw her district trend two points Democrats’ way since the 2016 election [she was elected in a special 2017 election], yet Republicans still have 42 percent of the electorate, compared with Democrats’ 33 percent. Good, of Sarasota, will be swimming against that still-strong tide again in seeking re-election against Republican Ray Pilon.

Democratic state Rep. Robert Asencio‘s House District 118 is essentially unchanged in party balance, yet it still leans Republican by three points. Asencio will have to buck that voter registration disadvantage as he seeks re-election against Republican Anthony Rodriguez.

In 14 other House districts the differences between Republican and Democratic voter rolls are close to negligible, and in all but one of those districts Republicans currently hold or most recently held the seats.

In three districts the numbers of Democratic and Republican voters are essentially even: House District 27, where Republican state Rep. David Santiago faces Democrat Carol Lawrence; House District 67, where Republican state Rep. Chris Latvala faces Democrat Dawn Douglas; and House District 114, where Democratic state Rep. Javier Fernandez faces Republican Javier Enriquez.

In five other districts the voter registration percentages for Republicans and Democrats are within two points of each other: House District 36, where Republican state Rep. Amber Mariano faces Democrat Linda Jack; House District 40, where Republican state Rep. Colleen Burton faces Democrat Shandale Terrell; House District 44, where Republican state Rep. Bobby Olszewski faces Geraldine Thompson; House District 50, where Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia faces Democrat Pam Dirschka; and in House District 53, where Republican state Rep. Randy Fine faces Democrat Phil Moore.

In five other districts, all held or most recently held by Republicans, the voter registrations are within two points of even while the seats are open: House District 69, where Republican Ray Blacklidge faces Democrat Jennifer Webb; House District 89, where Republican Mike Caruso faces Democrat Jim Bonfiglio; House District 93, where Republican Chip LaMarca faces Democrat Emma Collum; and House District 115, where Republican Vance Aloupis faces Democrat Jeffrey Solomon. In House District 105 there is no incumbent, as Republican state Rep. Carlos Trujillo stepped down last spring to take a federal appointment as an ambassador. Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez faces Democrat Javier Estevez.

In 53 of Florida’s 120 House districts, one party or the other has an advantage of more than 15 percentage points in the voter registrations. In none of those districts is that party out of office, and any swings there next Tuesday would be historic upsets.

The most extreme cases:

— House District 108, Democratic state Rep. Roy Hardemon is running for re-election with a voter roll that is 69 percent Democrat and 8 percent Republican.

— In House District 3, Republican state Rep. Jayer Williamson is seeking re-election in a district where the voters are 59 percent Republican and 19 percent Democrat.

Republicans didn’t bother challenging Hardemon; Democrats didn’t bother fielding anyone against Williamson. There are 21 other districts where one party or the other has a 30-point advantage in voter registrations.

Direct mail round-up: Republicans attack Rob Levy for supporting popular Amendment 4

New attack ads criticize state Senate candidate Rob Levy for supporting Amendment 4. The problem? Most polling shows that referendum cruising to passage on Tuesday.

“Senate candidate Ron Levy wants convicted felons to vote,” blares a headline on a mailer from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Amendment 4, if passed, will automatically restore voting rights for those convicted of felonies once their restitution and sentencing concludes. The amendment exempts those convicted of murder and felony sex crimes.

Still, the splash page for the mailer in bold type lists groups who could soon return to voter rolls: “Drug Dealers,” “Human Traffickers,” “Child Abusers,” “Kidnappers.”

“Levy believes convicted criminals deserve a voice just the same as those victimized by their crimes,” text on the flip side reads. “Putting felons at parity with victims and tipping the scales against honest, law-abiding citizens.”

Of course, a lot of people also believe that. The coalition of support for Amendment 4 extends to far left civil libertarian groups like the ACLU of Florida along with far right evangelical organizations focused on redemption like the Christian Coalition of America.

The mailers screenshots a Facebook post by Levy, one linking to a Florida Politics story about Amendment 4 with a message of support from Levy.

But again, Levy is hardly the only supporter of the amendment. Numerous polls, including a survey for Florida Politics by St. Pete Polls, show the measure easily clearing the 60-percent threshold required to amend Florida’s constitution.

In fact, the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which presumably wants Republican Gayle Harrell to win Florida Senate District 25 over Levy, exists to strengthen a Republican majority in the Senate that includes numerous Amendment 4 backers. State Sen. Jeff Brandes, for example, already filed implementing legislation.

Granted, the most recent St. Pete Polls survey did find the measure least favorable among Republicans, who disapprove 53-40. But the mailer appears to be targeting independent voters, a group that favors passage 61-33.

Senate GOP committee raises more than $19 million

A political committee led by Senate Republican leaders raised — and spent — more than $19 million from Aug. 24 through Thursday, as the GOP seeks to keep its longstanding control of the Florida Senate.

The Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is chaired by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, raised about $19.14 million during the period, according to a newly filed finance report. It spent $20.31 million and had less than $1 million in cash on hand as of Thursday.

The committee, which plays a key role in trying to elect Senate Republicans, received large chunks of money from other political committees.

For example, the committee Friends of Dana Young, which is led by Sen. Dana Young, a Tampa Republican, funneled $1.5 million to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee in September and October. Young is in the middle of a tough re-election campaign against House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat.

As another example, the committee Jobs for Florida, which is lead by Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, funneled $2.4 million to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Simpson is expected to become president in 2020.

Large amounts of the money spent during the period went for advertising and consulting. For instance, the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee sent about $6.33 million to the New York-based McLaughlin & Associates Inc. for media buys and polling, according to a Florida Division of Elections database.

Businesses to see drop in workers’ comp rates

Florida businesses will get a break on their insurance bills starting in January.

The state Office of Insurance Regulation announced late Friday that it has decided to approve an overall 13.8 percent decrease in workers’ compensation insurance rates for 2019. That is a slightly larger cut than a 13.4 percent decrease proposed in August by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, an organization that makes rate proposals for the insurance industry.

Regulators gave the organization, commonly known as NCCI, until Wednesday to take a formal step of amending its filing. But when the 13.8 decrease is finalized, it will follow a 9.5 percent rate decrease that took effect this year.

In an overview of the August filing, NCCI said its proposed double-digit rate decrease was in line with trends in other states. It pointed to issues such as a long-term decline in the frequency of claims — an issue also cited in a 10-page order released Friday by the Office of Insurance Regulation.

“NCCI provided testimony at a prior hearing that claim frequency decline for workers’ compensation is not unique to Florida and that for a number of years frequency has been declining countrywide similar to Florida,” said the order, signed by Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier. “NCCI also testified that claim frequency decline is due, in part, to safer workplaces, enhanced efficiencies in the workplace and increased use of automation and innovative technologies. According to NCCI’s testimony, the decline is expected to continue in the future.”

Regulators look at numerous factors in setting rates. Friday’s order included a slightly larger rate decrease than proposed by NCCI, at least in part, because of a difference in what is known as a “profit and contingencies provision” for insurers.

Workers’ compensation rates have long been closely watched in Tallahassee. The Legislature and then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003 approved an overhaul of the workers’ compensation system that drove down rates — but drew protests from plaintiffs’ attorneys and labor unions that argued the changes reduced benefits for injured workers and improperly took away legal rights.

A major question during the past two years has been how a pair of Florida Supreme Court rulings would affect rates. In one of those cases, known as Castellanos v. Next Door Company, justices ruled that limits on attorneys’ fees in workers’ compensation cases were unconstitutional. The other case, known as Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, sided with an injured firefighter in a dispute over benefits.

Business groups argued that the Castellanos decision would dramatically increase litigation and drive up costs. While lawmakers have not made changes sought by the business groups, insurance regulators in 2016 approved a 14.5 percent rate hike that was heavily focused on the Castellanos decision.

The NCCI filing in August and the Office of Insurance Regulation order Friday, however, were based on what are known as “policy years” 2015 and 2016, which means the data doesn’t fully take into account the effects of the Supreme Court decisions.

In the order, the Office of Insurance Regulation directed NCCI to provide analysis in future rate filings about the Castellanos decision.

“To ensure workers’ compensation rates are not excessive, inadequate or unfairly discriminatory … it is imperative that additional quantitative analysis be conducted to determine the effect the Castellanos decision is having on the Florida workers’ compensation market and the data used to support future rate filings,” the order said.

Bill Herrle, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Florida, said the decrease in workers’ compensation rates isn’t a surprise and attributed the reduction to a “hot economy” with “record employment.”

“It’s insurance principle No. 1,” Herrle said. “Premiums are flooding into the workers’ compensation system, and the risk is being spread around.”

However, Herrle maintains that the Supreme Court decision removing caps on attorneys’ fees is problematic, and his group will seek legislation next year to restrict what attorneys can charge.

“We still think uncapped attorneys’ fees in the workers’ comp system is a bad policy,” Herrle said.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Jennifer Webb a ‘sell out,’ attack mailer charges

Two more attack pieces landed in voters’ mailboxes this weekend rallying opposition for Jennifer Webb. Webb is running against Republican Ray Blacklidge for the House District 69 seat currently occupied by Kathleen Peters.

One of the ads shows a giant spider web with the words “sell out” woven into it. The header reads “Wilbur is disappointed by this message in Jennifer’s Webb,” in a nod to the childhood classic “Charlotte’s Webb.”

The other side of the mail piece, paid for by the Republican Party of Florida, shows a cartoon pig with the caption, “looks like more politics as usual, Charlotte” and cautions voters not to “get caught in Jennifer’s Webb.”

It’s not the first time conservative groups have used Webb’s last name to evoke images of a spider Webb. Both mail pieces with that theme included similar messages – that Webb was amassing campaign contributions from special interests.

In the latest hit on Webb’s donors, the Republican Party claims “key insider allies” tried to stop teacher merit pay and property tax relief. The mail piece sites the Progressive Caucus of Florida caucus platform.

That group opposed a bill that since was signed into law that ties teacher pay to performance. Most of Florida’s teachers and teacher unions opposed the measure because it relied heavily on standardized testing results.

The Progressive Caucus of Florida also opposed the Homestead Exemption measure to increase the amount property owners can deduct on their annual property taxes. Florida cities and counties oppose the measure because it would cost millions in local budgets, which critics argue would end up falling on the backs of lower income renters as municipalities raised utility fees to absorb the loss.

The mailer also claims those “insider allies” are pushing for mandatory wages for criminals in prison. The progressive caucus wants prisoners participating in work programs to earn minimum wage for their labor. Currently inmates earn a pittance for work ranging from janitorial services to electric work.

Another mail piece shows an image of two pre-teen boys gazing longingly at a giant piece of cake.

“The radical, job-killing agenda of a key ally of Jennifer Webb really takes the cake,” it reads.

On the other side the header shows the common phrase “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” with the two boys now devouring the slice.

Its claims are similar to the Charlotte’s Webb-themed flyer about Webb’s campaign contributions from the Progressive Caucus of Florida.

Its claims include eliminating controls on immigration and opening U.S. borders, which the flyer claims would put Florida jobs at risk.

It also references a “massive unfunded mandatory wage” increase. The caucus supports a mandatory $15 minimum wage most conservatives oppose.

The flyer also claims Webb would support a “complete takeover of healthcare by the federal government.”

The Progressive Caucus supports single payer healthcare, which would provide healthcare for all. Conservatives worry such a move would degrade existing private healthcare options and force people who have current policies to move into lower-quality government run programs. Democrats and progressive deny that would be the case.

“We can’t trust Jennifer Webb or her radical friends to protect our consumers and small businesses,” the piece reads.

Webb has been polling ahead of Blacklidge in the race for the seat that encompasses mid-Pinellas including Seminole, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and Madeira Beach.

Blacklidge’s campaign has shied away from negative campaigning and, in a Facebook post, said such attacks are unnecessary. But he’s stopped short of calling on outside groups to stop sending negative ads.

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