Influence – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Marc Dunbar says he’s ‘interested’ in Citizens Insurance chairmanship

Marc Dunbar, the Tallahassee-based lawyer and gaming lobbyist, has officially “expressed interest in serving as chair of the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Governors,” CFO Jimmy Patronis announced Tuesday through a spokeswoman.

Dunbar, whom Patronis only recently appointed to the board, was one of six names released by Patronis’ office. Citizens is the state-run insurer of last resort.

At last week’s Cabinet meeting, the state’s chief financial officer had asked Citizens CEO Barry Gilway to identify board members who’d be interested in stepping up to chair.

The chair, now Christopher Gardner, serves at the CFO’s pleasure; Patronis can name a new person at any time.

Gardner, CEO of HUB International Insurance in Orlando, has been chair since his appointment in 2013 by former CFO Jeff Atwater. He told Patronis he’d like to stay as chair.

Also on the list is former state Rep. Gary Aubuchon, now the vice chair of the board.

Patronis’ office also disclosed the names of three people who “indicated that they would be interested in accepting (the chairmanship) if asked”:

James Holton, president of Holton Companies.

John McKay, a former Florida Senate President.

Freddie Schinz, founder of the TIFORP Development Corp.

Personnel note: Jason Harrell to lobby for Florida court clerks

Jason Harrell has been named director of legislative and government affairs for the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers (FCCC), the organization announced Tuesday.

Harrell now is budget and communications director for the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corporation (CCOC). He’ll continue in that role until the end of the Florida Legislature’s Revenue Estimating Conference in July, which will determine the clerks’ statewide budget authority for fiscal year 2018-19.

At FCCC, Harrell will “develop and direct the association’s new in-house legislative team and lead strategic advocacy for legislative policy and budget efforts on behalf of Florida’s independently elected clerks and comptrollers,” a press release explained.

“Jason’s addition to the FCCC team will enable us to further sharpen the focus on our mission to support Florida’s court clerks and comptrollers as they serve local communities throughout the state,” FCCC CEO Chris Hart IV said in a statement.

“His knowledge and understanding of clerks’ priorities and concerns, proven by his work at CCOC, and his success working on many prominent issues in the Florida House and the Governor’s Office will strengthen our legislative team as we work to increase awareness of the services provided by our members, as well as their needs and challenges.”

Harrell also has worked for the Florida House of Representatives’ Majority Office as deputy staff director under former Speakers Will Weatherford and Steve Crisafulli, former House Republican Leader (and now state Sen.) Dana Young, and former Republican Whip Rep. Jim Boyd.

Harrell also served in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget under Gov. Rick Scott, and in the Office of the Chief Inspector General under then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

Judge close to decision in radio system bid protest

Lawyers on Monday filed recommendations as to how an administrative law judge should rule in a bid protest over the statewide law enforcement radio system, a deal potentially worth in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The recommended orders from Motorola Solutions and the Department of Management Services (DMS) were filed under seal, however, meaning they are unavailable for public view.

Another filed by Harris Corp. was turned in with redactions, citing the need to protect confidential information, such as trade secrets.

Attorneys argued the case last month before Administrative Law Judge J. Bruce Culpepper in Tallahassee.

Harris’ attorney raised the issue of radio towers and how their quantity and quality of service is paramount to officer and public safety. But Motorola’s legal counsel said his client’s superiority in communications technology essentially means the company can do more with less.

Culpepper’s request for recommended orders signals he’s likely close to a decision. His recommended order goes to DMS Secretary Erin Rock, who can adopt it, modify it, or reject it entirely. Any further challenge would go to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Melbourne-based Harris had challenged the award to Motorola this March to take over the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System, or SLERS, which Harris had since September 2000 and lost.

As we previously reported, “The awarding of the new contract concluded almost three years of bureaucratic and legislative infighting, with some lawmakers — often benefiting from political contributions — backing one side over the other.”


Ed. Note — An earlier version of this post appeared in Monday night’s “Last Call” newsletter.


Florida Retail Federation backs Kathleen Passidomo for re-election

On Tuesday, the Florida Retail Federation announced its endorsement of Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo for a second term in Senate District 28.

“Senator Passidomo has been a true champion for retail by helping ensure Floridians are prepared in the event of a disaster, working towards tort reform, providing more than $150 million in tax relief for Florida families and having the best interests of the state’s businesses at heart,” said FRF President/CEO R. Scott Shalley. “We’re eager to continue working with Senator Passidomo on identifying ways to support retailers, families and our industry going forward.”

The retail trade group specifically lauded Passidomo for sponsoring the 2018 bill creating the recent disaster preparedness sales tax holiday, which cut the sales tax off items including batteries, flashlights, tarps, generators and other hurricane prep supplies.

Passidomo was elected to the Senate in 2016 after serving three terms in the House. She faces Democrat Annisa Karim in fall 2018.

As of May 31, Passidomo had raised nearly $280,000 for her re-election campaign and had $211,563 cash on hand. She has another $325,000 banked in her affiliated political committee, Working Together for Florida.

Karim has raised $2,135 since entering the race on May 22. She has about $2,000 on hand.

SD 28 is a safe Republican. In 2016, Passidomo only faced a write-in challenger, and her district voted plus-23 for Donald Trump.

North Florida lawmakers draw re-election challengers as qualifying begins

New candidates filed Monday for three Republican-held seats in the state Legislature.

In Senate District 2, Fort Walton Beach Democrat Mary Jeanne “Gigi” Gibson is challenging Panama City Republican Sen. George Gainer.

Gibson is currently Gainer’s only real challenger — Pensacola Republican Jantzen Craine has had his name down to run for the seat since 2015, but has not yet shown any contributions for his campaign. His listed address falls within Sen. Doug Broxson’s district.

SD 2 is a heavily Republican district covering all of Bay, Holmes, Jackson, Walton and Washington counties as well as part of Okaloosa. Gainer was unopposed in the 2016 race, when the seat voted plus-49 for President Donald Trump two years ago.

Gainer has raised more than $175,000 for his campaign account with $156,439 in the bank.

In House District 4, Valparaiso Democrat Rebecca Koelzer will face Destin Republican Rep. Mel Ponder. She is the only other candidate who has filed for the Okaloosa County district, a Republican stronghold that voted plus-44 for Trump in 2016.

Ponder got his fundraising off to a good start early in his re-election campaign. Though he’s only raised $3,500 this year, his account has brought in more than $100,000 and had $63,353 in the bank.

In House District 11, Fernandina Beach Republican Rep. Cord Byrd also picked up a new primary challenger.

Joseph Francis Zimmerman, also of Fernandina Beach, joined Byrd and Yulee Democrat Nathcelly Leroy Rohrbaugh, who filed for the Northeast Florida district back in March.

Byrd, currently in his first term, raised about $71,000 for his re-election bid, with about $45,000 in the bank at the start of June. Rohrbaugh has raised $2,015 and has $1,875.

HD 11 is also a deep-red district, with more than twice as many registered Republican voters as Democratic. In 2016, Byrd only faced a write-in challenger, when Trump carried the Nassau- and Duval-based district by 45 points.

The qualifying period for state legislative seats began Monday and runs through Friday noon. As of Monday afternoon, Gainer and Ponder had qualified for the 2018 ballot.

Kelli Stargel

Florida retailers endorse Kelli Stargel for re-election

Florida retailers are endorsing Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel’s re-election for Senate District 22.

Florida Retail Federation President/CEO R. Scott Shalley said in an announcement Monday: “In her role as Senate Finance & Tax Chair this past year, Senator Stargel showed continued leadership in her support of Florida’s retailers by including in the tax package a reduction in the business rent tax and multiple sales tax holidays. We’re thankful for her partnership in ensuring the growth of the retail industry and look forward to finding new ways to support the industry when she returns to the Senate.”

Reducing the commercial lease sales tax has been a top priority for FRF and other business groups for years. The tax package signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott this year reduced the tax rate from 5.8 percent to 5.7 percent.

In its endorsement, FRF also highlighted accolades Stargel has received from other interest groups, including the Foundation for Florida’s Future A+ Award and the Florida Farm Bureau Champion for Agriculture Award.

Stargel is running for re-election against former circuit court judge Bob Doyel and former Rep. Ricardo Rangel, both Democrats.

SD 22 has a Republican lean, but Democrats are hoping the “blue wave” can put it and other Republican-held Senate seats in play come November. In the 2016 cycle, Stargel scored a 7-point win over Democrat Debra Wright after outspending her 20-to-1. President Donald Trump also carried the district by nearly the same margin.

Through May, Stargel had a firm lead in the money race. She is also expected to get some reinforcements from incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, who is hosting a fundraiser for her in Bradenton next month.

State tops 100,000 marijuana patients — but no more providers

Florida now has topped 100,000 “active” and “qualified” patients in its medical marijuana use registry, the Department of Health announced in an email Friday.

But again, according to a department spokesman, that doesn’t mean the department will issue another four licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana, as provided under state law.

The state had exceeded 100,000 overall almost two months ago — coincidentally on April 20, or 4/20 — in its medical marijuana use registry. Friday’s mark of 100,372 refers specifically to those that have an approved patient identification card application.

“That figure does not completely reflect an actual threshold that would trigger the new licenses,” spokesman Devin Galleta said in a phone interview Friday. “Once we do have the ability to approve new licenses, we do expect there to be four new licenses available at that time.”

The latest 100,000-plus tally covers “all applications approved over time,” Galleta explained, including “renewals and nonactive patients, so that doesn’t necessarily reflect the true number of active and qualified patients in the registry.”

But exceeding 100,000 approved ID cards to trigger extra licenses “was everyone’s expectation and assumption,” said Jeff Sharkey, founder of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida. “I think there will probably be more than a little disappointment over this.”

State law says within six months of cracking the 100,000 mark, “the department shall license four additional medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs).” With every additional 100,000 patients, another four licenses have to issue.

Those patients, however, have to be “active” and “qualified.” That means “a resident of this state who has been added to the medical marijuana use registry by a qualified physician to receive marijuana or a marijuana delivery device for a medical use, and who has a qualified patient identification card.”

As the department’s own disclaimer says, “Not all patients entered into the medical marijuana use registry apply for medical marijuana use identification cards.”

When asked when the number of patients would trigger the issuance of additional licenses, Galleta said he “was not certain on that,” but would seek clarification from the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU), which regulates the drug.

Added Sharkey: “I agree it would be good to know what that number is. I believe (having over 100,000 approved ID cards) is what most legislators thought would trigger new licenses.”

Approved MMTCs currently number 13, with 43 retail locations across the state, records show.

With a lack of new licenses, businesses seeking to get into the medicinal cannabis market in Florida will likely take to buying licenses from existing providers.

Earlier this month, MedMen Enterprises Inc. of Los Angeles, the country’s biggest medical marijuana provider, said it had agreed to pay $53 million for a license from Central Florida’s Treadwell Nursery.

Others, such as Louis Del Favero Orchids — a Tampa orchid nursery — are seeking to use a provision in state law that gives preference in granting licenses to companies with underused or shuttered citrus factories. That was part of legislation that implemented the 2016 constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana in the state.

Updated June 25 — In an email to Florida Politics, Galleta clarified that the actual number of “qualified” medical marijuana patients was 95,178. He said the department “will add this number to our weekly OMMU update published every Friday.”

Brian Ballard

Ballard Partners signs Sentry Data Systems and ARTOC Auto

Ballard Partners inked lobbying deals with a pair of new principals this week as it continues to expand its operations in the District of Columbia.

The firm headed up by Brian Ballard is now representing Deerfield Beach-based health technology company Sentry Data Systems and Egyptian car importer ARTOC Auto.

Sentry Data Systems bills itself as a “pioneer in automated pharmacy procurement, utilization management and 340B compliance.” In layman’s, the company develops data analytics software for the health care industry that helps providers order prescription drugs and comply with medication pricing rules.

Founded in 2003, the South Florida-based company has built a client base of more than 11,000 hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.

Ballard’s other new client, ARTOC, was for a time Egypt’s sole importer of cars manufactured by Czech Republic-based Škoda Auto. While most Americans would struggle to pick the 121-year-old automaker’s badge out of a lineup, they’re likely familiar with its parent company, Volkswagen Group.

ARTOC’s relationship with Škoda hit a speed bump when Škoda decided it wanted to do business with other importers and distributors in the Egyptian market. The two companies have since cut ties after 20 years of working together, and the company might be on the lookout for another auto manufacturer that wants to make inroads into the emerging market, possibly an American one.

Ballard chaired the Trump Victory organization in Florida during the 2016 presidential campaign and is seen as one of the few lobbyists close to President Donald Trump. Those ties led him to expand his firm to Washington, D.C. shortly after Trump’s inauguration, where it has quickly found success.

Since the expansion, Ballard Partners has added several major clients, including the governments of Turkey, the Dominican Republic, Qatar and the Maldives.

Ballard Partners topped all Florida firms in lobbying compensation last year, bringing in an average of $4 million in fees each quarter for its legislative and executive work at the state level. It’s showed no signs of slowing down, again topping all firms after bringing in an estimated $4.66 million in legislative and executive branch lobbying pay during the first quarter of 2018.

Margaret Good, Michael Greico, Tom Leek top House money chase in May

Top fundraisers in May for state House campaigns were a combination of newcomers and incumbent lawmakers, according to newly filed finance reports.

Democrat Michael Grieco, who is seeking to replace outgoing Rep. David Richardson, in Miami-Dade County’s House District 113, raised $67,805 for his campaign account after getting into the race in early May.

Rep. Tom Leek had the next-highest haul as he seeks re-election in Volusia County’s House District 25. Leek collected $62,325 for his campaign account in May, bringing the overall total to $149,464, the reports show.

Similarly, Rep. Margaret Good raised $54,977 for her re-election bid in Sarasota County’s House District 72, bringing the overall total to $137,688.

In South Florida, Miami Republican Jose Ramon Fernandez raised $50,300 for his campaign for an open seat in Miami-Dade County’s House District 115. That brought Fernandez’s overall contribution total to $105,900.

In another race for an open seat, North Fort Myers Republican Spencer Roach raised $41,762, bringing the overall total to $115,302 for his campaign in Lee County’s House District 79.

Also topping $40,000 last month was Rep. Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican running in Pasco County’s House District 38. Burgess raised $41,560, bringing his overall total to $160,751, the reports show. The totals only reflect amounts raised for campaign accounts and do not include money raised for political committees or money loaned to campaigns.

Kelli Stargel, Annette Taddeo rake in cash in May

Six Senate candidates raised more than $40,000 for their campaign accounts in May, including four incumbents trying to defend seats in November, according to newly filed finance reports.

The top fundraiser was Republican Belinda Keiser, who raised $54,390 for her campaign to try to succeed outgoing Senate President Joe Negron in Senate District 25, which is made up of Martin, St. Lucie and part of Palm Beach counties. Keiser, who entered the race in May, also loaned $500,000 to her campaign.

Also topping $50,000 was Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican who is seeking re-election in Senate District 22 in Polk and Lake counties. Stargel raised $54,260 for her campaign account last month, bringing the overall total to $237,843, the reports show.

Another incumbent, Sen. Annette Taddeo raised $49,189 for her re-election bid in Miami-Dade County’s Senate District 40, bringing her overall total to $211,924.

In North Florida, Sen. Keith Perry raised $47,250 for his campaign account, bringing the overall total to $382,157. Perry is seeking another term in Senate District 8, which is made up of Alachua, Putnam and part of Marion counties.

Similarly, Sen. Jeff Brandes raised $43,990 for his re-election bid in Pinellas County’s Senate District 24, bringing the overall total to $656,295, the reports show.

Also in the Tampa Bay area, former Rep. Ed Hooper raised $43,575 for his campaign to capture the open Senate District 16 seat in Pinellas and Pasco counties. That brought Hooper’s overall total to $365,588. The totals only reflect amounts raised for campaign accounts and do not include money raised for political committees or money loaned to campaigns.

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