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Denise Grimsley raises $152K in July toward Agriculture Commissioner bid

Denise Grimsley raised more than $150,000 toward her bid to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, her campaign announced Thursday.

Grimsley raised a combined $152,000 — $103,000 for her official campaign and $49,000 for Saving Florida’s Heartland, the political committee backing her — during the one-month period. According to the Sebring Republican’s campaign, she has raised more than $1.1 million to date.

“Our campaign is growing stronger by the day and I am honored by the support we have received,” said Grimsley in a statement. “We are working hard to travel the state and talk to voters about our core values and beliefs.  This is a campaign about agriculture and consumers, and letting people know I will fight to support our state’s lifeblood – the next generation of farmers and agriculture leaders, while working diligently to protect and safeguard Florida families from fraud.”

The campaign boasted it received 282 donations in July, and has received hundreds of donations from people in the agriculture community.

“We are running a grassroots campaign and are seeing incredible support across the state,” said Ryan Smith, her campaign manager in a statement. “Denise enjoys strong support from the agriculture industry and we will continue to grow her support as we move forward on the campaign trail.”

Grimsley, a state senator, faces Rep. Matt Caldwell, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman, and Paul Paulson in the Republican primary to replace Putnam, who can’t run again because of term limits. Putnam is running for governor.

Caldwell reported raising a combined $108,275 in July, and his campaign said Thursday it has raised more than $1 million since January.

Matt Caldwell raises $108K in July toward agriculture commissioner bid

Matt Caldwell brought in more than $108,000 toward his bid to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, his campaign announced Thursday.

Caldwell raised a combined $108,275 — $43,275 for his official campaign and $65,000 for Friends of Matt Caldwell, the political committee backing his 2018 agriculture commissioner bid — during the one-month fundraising period. According to Caldwell’s campaign, the North Fort Myers Republican has raised more than $1 million since January.

“Since announcing our bid, we have worked relentlessly every single day to share our conservative message and build our grassroots campaign,” said Caldwell in a statement. “I am humbled by the level of engagement we are getting from Florida’s communities, big and small and it is truly a blessing to see support and momentum continue to build. As I travel from the Panhandle to the Florida Keys and back, it is clear that Floridians are looking for a hardworking, conservative leader that will continue to fight for the critical issues overseen by the Commissioner of Agriculture.”

Caldwell, according to his campaign, will report having nearly $878,000 cash on hand between his official campaign and his political committee.

Caldwell faces Sen. Denise Grimsley, former Rep. Baxter Troutman, and Paul Paulson in the Republican primary to replace Putnam, who can’t run for re-election because of term limits. Putnam is running for governor.

Senators begin filing general bills for 2018 Session

State senators on Wednesday filed the first tranche of general bills for the 2018 Legislative Session, with an assortment of new ideas and old stand-bys.

The old: Sen. Lauren Book, a Broward County Democrat and mother of twins, filed for the second year legislation to exempt diapers from the state’s 6 percent sales tax. An effort this year, which included baby wipes, died in committee.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, filed the “Florida Competitive Workforce Act,” a measure that aims to expand legal protections against “sexual orientation and gender identity” discrimination. A version of the bill has been filed for nearly a decade.

The new: Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, introduced a bill that would create a legal right to sue by concealed weapon license-holders who weren’t allowed to take their gun into a place of business and then were injured “as the result of an unlawful or reckless act by another person, or an attack by a vicious or wild animal.”

And Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican, filed legislation to create a third-degree felony of “animal hoarding.” It’s defined as “keeping a large number of companion animals in overcrowded conditions” and “failing to provide such animals with minimal standards of nutrition, sanitation, shelter, and medical care.”

In all, 36 bills had been filed by midday Wednesday, according to the Florida Senate websiteSession begins Jan. 9, with the first committee week this Sept. 12-15.

Joe Saunders back at Equality Florida as senior political director

Joe Saunders, who along with David Richardson, became the first openly gay member of the Florida Legislature in 2012, is rejoining Equality Florida as its new senior political director.

In his new position, Saunders will lead the organization’s civic engagement programs, pro-LGBTQ mobilization efforts, and electoral programs.

“I can’t think of a more important place to be in 2018 than Florida,” Saunders said in a statement. “Florida is poised to be the first breakthrough Southern state in the work to ensure LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination. As the largest swing state in the country, Florida will hold a defining role in the national response to the politics of Washington, and we have hugely important races for U.S. Senate, Governor, Congress and a chance to reshape our state legislature. My time working nationally has reinforced for me that Equality Florida is one of the smartest and most capable LGBTQ organizations doing this work. I’m excited to be back.”

Richardson previously served nearly a decade as Equality’s field director before making history when he won an east Orlando seat in the Florida House of Representatives in 2012, concurrently with Miami Beach’s Richardson, making them both become the first openly elected Floridians to the legislature ever.

“Joe Saunders is a proven LGBTQ and progressive leader who brings an incredible wealth of skill, knowledge and talent to our work,” said Equality Florida Deputy Director and EQFL PAC Chair Stratton Pollitzer. “We stand at the edge of incredible opportunity for progress even as we see new and emboldened attacks coming from Washington and some leaders in our state Capitol. Under Joe’s leadership, Equality Florida stands ready to hold elected leaders accountable at the ballot and to lift up those who stand on the right side of history.”

Equality Florida was hopeful that this past legislative session would have passed the “Competitive Workforce Act, ” which would have treated sexual orientation and gender identity as similar to race, sex and religion in the state’s civil rights laws. The law would prohibit an employer from being able to fire or refuse to hire someone because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Businesses like hotels, restaurants, and shops could not turn LGBT people away, and landlords could not reject a renter’s application.

The bill had picked up significant Republican support, but still ultimately died in the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee.

Greg Evers, Ritch Workman, others move ahead for PSC opening

Former lawmakers Greg Evers, Rich Glorioso, and Ritch Workman and current Rep. Tom Goodson have been selected to be interviewed to replace Jimmy Patronis on the Florida Public Service Commission.

Another noteworthy applicant, former state Comptroller and retired Marine general Bob Milligan, was shut out of the process, receiving no votes from the Public Service Commission Nominating Council, which met Wednesday in Tampa.

The 84-year-old had said he was only interested in serving out Patronis’ current term, which is up at the end of 2018. Patronis stepped down to replace Jeff Atwater as Florida’s chief financial officer. Atwater left for a similar job at Florida Atlantic University.

Other applicants picked to be interviewed for the seat on the panel, which regulates investor-owned utilities, include:

— Former state Rep. Kenneth Littlefield, a Pasco County Republican who once chaired the House Utilities & Telecommunications Committee. Littlefield is a former PSC member, having been put on the commission by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist replaced him the following year.

— Bill Conrad, former mayor of Newberry in Alachua County.

— Clay Lindstrom, who until recently was director of the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority. Lindstrom was fired recently after a controversy over businesses not paying utility deposits.

Anibal Taboas, an Illinois-based consultant and former U.S. Department of Energy official.

— Associate Public Counsel Erik Sayler. The Office of Public Counsel represents the interests of ratepayers before the commission.

Jody Ann Newman, who currently chairs the Florida Board of Nursing.

Ted Schrader, a former Pasco County commissioner and Tampa Bay Water board member.

Evers, a Baker Republican, left the Senate to run last year for northwest Florida’s Congressional seat, losing to Matt Gaetz.

Glorioso, a Plant City Republican and retired U.S. Air Force colonel, served in the House 2004-2012.

Workman, a Melbourne Republican, lost a bruising primary battle last year to fellow GOP Rep. Debbie Mayfield for Senate District 17.

Goodson, a Brevard County Republican, chairs the House Agriculture and Property Rights subcommittee and is term-limited next year. He’s a “road contractor” by trade, according to his House member page

Also Wednesday, the council decided to interview Commissioners Ronald Brisé and Art Graham, who have re-applied for their seats; their terms are up at year’s end.

Also selected to be considered for those seats were Conrad, Lindstrom, Littlefield, Newman and Taboas, who cross-applied.

The council ultimately will make its recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott, who will decide on the appointments. Interviews and a “final selection” for the three vacancies will be held next Thursday in Orlando. The council “shall nominate no fewer than three persons for each vacancy,” according to its rules.

AFP-FL to host summer town hall series with Ron DeSantis

Americans for Prosperity-Florida is hitting the road to energize activists about tax reform.

The grassroots organization is scheduled to hold “Un-Rig the Economy” town hall meetings in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando in August and September to talk with activists about the current situation in Washington, D.C. and energize them for what’s to come. The AFP-FL team will be joined by local leaders and members of the federal affairs team to discuss the need to enact comprehensive tax reform.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Ponte Verde Republican, is scheduled to join AFP-FL at each of the town hall events. DeSantis, who is believed to be mulling a 2018 gubernatorial bid, is expected to discuss how Congress can act to fix the tax code.

“AFP has been leading the charge on calling for Congress to un-rig the American economy,” said Chris Hudson, the state director for AFP-FL, in a statement “We hope the rest of the Florida delegation will join Congressman DeSantis in fighting back against the current rigged tax system by joining our effort to pass pro-growth tax reform. Americans want a system that’s based on simplicity, efficiency, equitability, predictability, and creates no new burden on taxpayers. We want to speak directly to Floridians who want to help fix our broken tax code.”

The summer town hall series kicks off on Aug. 24 with a town hall in Miami, followed by a town hall scheduled on Sept. 19 in Fort Lauderdale and Sept. 28 in Orlando.

Rick Scott announces five court, board appointments

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott announced five appointments to a variety of courts and state boards.

Alachua County Court

Scott began by naming Kristine Van Vorst to the Alachua County Court.

Van Vorst, 40, of Gainesville, serves as General Magistrate and Judicial Hearing Officer for the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Earlier, she was a solo practitioner in private practice and fills the vacancy created by the elevation of Judge Susanne Wilson Bullard to the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court.

Orange County Court

Next, the governor appointed Jamie Rutland Grosshans to the Orange County Court.

Grosshans, 38, of Winter Garden, is a solo practitioner for Plant Street Law, and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit. She fills the vacancy created by the elevation of Judge Tanya D. Wilson to the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court.

Jackson County Hospital District

Scott then appointed Keith Williams to the Jackson County Hospital District.

Williams, 49, of Marianna, is the owner of Keith Williams State Farm Agency. He succeeds Arthur Kimbrough for a term ending July 31, 2020.

DeSoto County Hospital Board

Scott appointed Pamela Vowels to the DeSoto County Hospital Board.

Vowels, 53, of Arcadia, is the owner of Vowels, Inc.–McDonalds. She succeeds Lewis Ambler for a term ending July 1, 2019.

Madison County Health and Hospital Board

Finally, Scott reappointed Howard Phillips to the Madison County Health and Hospital Board.

Phillips, 69, of Madison, is the chief financial officer of Madison County Community Bank. He is reappointed for a term ending June 30, 2019.


State parcels out $50 million to help restore springs

Florida has picked 40 projects from across the state that will get a share of $50 million aimed at restoring some of the state’s springs.

The administration of Gov. Rick Scott announced the list of state-funded projects on Monday.

The list includes projects that call for extending sewer lines and connecting homes with septic tanks to central sewer lines. There are also several proposals to acquire land near existing springs.

The projects are expected to help springs located through north and central Florida including Wakulla Springs and Silver Springs.

Silver Springs was one of Florida’s first tourist attractions.

Wakulla Springs is considered one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. Parts of the 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon were filmed at the springs.

Analysis shows some lawmakers crossing party lines

The Senate’s reputation for bipartisanship in Tallahassee appears to be well-earned, while the names of House and Senate members who most frequently voted against their parties included a few surprises, according to an analysis of votes in the 2017 legislative session.

Among the lawmakers who cast the most-frequent crossover votes: Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville; Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando; Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee; and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

The News Service of Florida analyzed more than 90 votes from the regular legislative session to determine the partisan makeup of those votes and the number of times each lawmaker voted against his or her respective party.

Many bills, particularly on noncontroversial issues, receive unanimous or near-unanimous support each Legislative Session.

But the News Service analysis looked at issues where at least 20 percent of the members of the House or Senate voted on each side of the issue. Votes were deemed partisan if less than 10 percent of the membership crossed party lines.

Members’ individual rates of following their parties were calculated separately. A member voted with his or her party if he or she voted the same way as two-thirds of the caucus on one of the divided votes tracked by the analysis. The votes counted were those initially cast, not those recorded or changed by members afterward.

Any divided votes where a party split by a narrower margin were disregarded. That also meant that the counts in one chamber could be different between the parties. For example, House Republicans were graded based on 67 votes, while House Democrats were graded on 59.

For longtime observers of Tallahassee, where the Senate is generally considered a more genial and less partisan chamber than the House, the top-line numbers will not come as much of a surprise.

Exactly half of the divided Senate votes tracked were partisan – though it should be noted that almost none of the votes on amendments are roll-call votes in the Senate, which could mask some differences. Of the 22 votes, 11 fell more or less along party lines; 11 saw substantial cross-party voting.

Things were more hard-edged in the House, though perhaps not as much as the chamber’s reputation would suggest. Less than two-thirds of the votes analyzed – 43 of 69 – were considered partisan. Another 26 saw a good deal of partisan crossover.

Part of that is because of the difference in party discipline in the House. Among the GOP caucus, 21 members — many of them members of the leadership team — voted with the party 100 percent of the time. Another member – Rep. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah – would have voted with the party all the time had he not mistakenly voted against a compromise version of a bill (HB 7069) he shepherded through the process.

The median Republican, meaning no more than half of the members of the GOP voted along party lines either more or less often, stuck with the caucus 97 percent of the time. (Four members hit that mark.) Democrats had far less party cohesion. Just one Democrat, Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana, voted with her party every time. Eleven more members voted with Democrats at least 95 percent of the time. The median Democrat, Rep. Larry Lee of Port St. Lucie, voted with his party 91.5 percent of the time.

In the less partisan Senate, oddly, the individual party scores were more pronounced. Twelve of the Republicans’ 23 members and six of the Senate’s 15 Democrats voted with their respective parties all the time on divided issues where their parties largely voted together.

The analysis largely discounted two GOP members of the Senate – Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange, who missed the legislative session because of cancer treatments, and former Sen. Frank Artiles of Miami, who resigned after a racially tinged tirade at a members-only club near the Capitol.

The member of either chamber to vote the least with his or her party was Daniels, a freshman Democrat. She voted with the party 64.8 percent of the time, more than six points below the next-closest Democrat.

Among House Republicans, Plasencia was the least partisan by percentage, voting with the GOP almost 76.8 percent of the time.

The member who voted against fellow Republicans the largest number of times was former Rep. Eric Eisnaugle of Orlando, who left the Legislature this spring after he was appointed as a judge on the 5th District Court of Appeal. Eisnaugle, though, cast more votes overall and ended up with a slightly higher percentage (77.6 percent).

In the Senate, the least partisan member was Garcia, who voted with fellow Republicans about 71.4 percent of the time. Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, voted against the GOP the same number of times but cast two more votes along party lines and ended up siding with fellow Republicans 75 percent of the time.

Montford, whose sprawling district includes conservative rural areas, was the most likely member of his caucus to break ranks. Montford sided with fellow Democrats 72.2 percent of the time while casting the most votes (five) against his party on either side of the aisle.

On legislation, the least-partisan divided vote in the House came on legislation (SB 106), which would have repealed a state law requiring liquor to be sold in separate stores from most retail goods. The measure became infamous, and was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott, after it passed by one vote, only to have five members say afterward that they would have voted against it and another say he mistakenly voted for it. Republicans narrowly favored the bill and Democrats opposed it by a relatively slim margin. The same was true of the bill in the Senate, though it more cleanly passed that chamber.


The 10 House Democrats most likely to cross party lines, based on an analysis by The News Service of Florida. They are ranked by the percentages of votes they cast with the Democratic caucus on divided issues where the party largely hung together:

Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville — 64.8 percent
Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation — 71.1 percent
Rep. Roy Hardemon, D-Miami — 74.1 percent
Rep. Nicholas Duran, D-Miami — 78.4 percent
Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington — 79.7 percent
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs — 80.0 percent
Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach — 84.0 percent
Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston — 84.8 percent
Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach — 85.5 percent
Rep. Robert Asencio, D-Miami — 86.4

The 10 House Republicans most likely to cross party lines. They are ranked by the percentages of votes they cast with the Republican caucus on divided issues where the party largely hung together:

Rep. Rene Plasencia, R-Orlando — 76.8 percent
Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island — 77.6 percent
Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando* — 77.6 percent
Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach — 80.8 percent
Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville — 81.0 percent
Rep. Sam Killebrew, R-Winter Haven — 81.8 percent
Rep. Rick Roth, R-Loxahatchee — 86.6 percent
Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City — 86.8 percent
Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota — 87.3 percent
Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R-The Villages — 88.1 percent
* Eisnaugle has resigned from the House.

The Senate Democrats most likely to cross party lines. They are ranked by the percentages of votes they cast with the Democratic caucus on divided issues where the party largely hung together:

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee — 72.2 percent
Sen. Daryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg — 76.5 percent
Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami — 83.3 percent
Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando — 88.2 percent
Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation — 88.9 percent
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville — 88.9 percent

The Senate Republicans most likely to cross party lines. They are ranked by the percentages of votes they cast with the Republican caucus on divided issues where the party largely hung together:

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah — 71.4 percent
Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater — 75.0 percent
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami — 82.4 percent
Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa — 88.9 percent
Four senators tied at — 94.4 percent.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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