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Million dollar haul: Nancy Soderberg banks big in Q3

Democrat Nancy Soderberg is touting another strong quarter of fundraising in her bid to succeed Ron DeSantis in the United States Congress.

The campaign announced Thursday afternoon that it had raised over $1 million in the latest quarter of fundraising, pushing it over $2.5 million raised.

This time period includes August, September, and October receipts.

Soderberg had over $500,000 on hand as of the filing.

“The support and energy we’re seeing for our campaign is incredibly inspiring,” Soderberg said. “What’s clear, now more than ever, is that Floridians are ready to elect a leader who listens to them, and who will stand up for them in Washington. A leader they can be proud of. I’m proud to fight to protect pre-existing conditions for families here and I’m proud of the movement we’re building together.”

The race between Soderberg and Republican nominee Mike Waltz has increasingly looked like a play for the center in recent weeks, and the most recent poll of the race shows Soderberg in a dead heat with Waltz.

The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research survey, conducted Oct. 1 through Oct. 4, found the candidates locked in a 45-45 dead heat.

The money quote from the polling memo: “Waltz is failing to motivate his own base, earning just 75 percent of the vote among registered Republicans. Soderberg receives 82 percent of the vote among registered Democrats. Soderberg also leads Waltz among self-ascribed independents by 20 percentage points and voters who are undecided more closely resemble Soderberg supporters than Waltz supporters.”

More detailed numbers will be posted by both campaigns by Oct. 15. We reached out to Waltz for an indication of what we could expect, but response was not forthcoming by press time.

The district includes parts of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties on Florida’s Atlantic coast, and has had a GOP lean. President Donald Trump won CD 6 by 17 points in 2016; DeSantis likewise won re-election that year by 17 points.

The pollsters and pollwatchers don’t expect a flip.

The Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato both see the district as “likely Republican,” while Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight puts the odds of a flip at less than 25 percent. Their forecasting model currently expects Waltz to win 52-48  in November.


Al Lawson expects long recovery for Leon, Gadsden counties

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a first-term Democrat representing Florida’s 5th Congressional District, is no stranger to the counties of the district.

That holds especially true for some of the most grievously storm-impacted areas, such as Leon and Gadsden counties, areas he has known since he was born.

While Hurricane Michael made landfall in Bay County, the storm wreaked havoc well beyond the eyewall. And much of the district Lawson grew up in is slated for a “long recovery,” he said Thursday.

“This afternoon, I had an opportunity to get out and assess some of the damage in Gadsden and Leon counties. From what I could see, Gadsden seems to have been hit pretty bad, and that’s not to minimize the damage across the district and around the state,” Lawson said.

“As of now, we know that there are four storm-related deaths in Gadsden, and I suspect there will are several more.  The devastation is severe — downed trees spilt down to their base, destroyed homes and businesses. I grew up in Gadsden, and I can tell you, there were parts of the area I did not recognize because of the destruction,” Lawson added.

“Across both Leon and Gadsden, there are many families who are without power and many families without homes. Cell service is spotty so people are having a difficult time contacting their loved ones,” Lawson said.

“I’ve already begun to work with federal, state and local officials to help get the resources that we need to begin the long process of recovery. In fact, we began the process before the storm hit. We were able to anticipate some of the needs because of what we went through last year with Irma,” Lawson noted.

Lawson was on the ground in Duval County, on the eastern edge of the district, after Hurricane Irma in 2017.

He noted differences between the storms, yet similiarities in post-storm needs.

“One of the key differences between Irma and Michael is that Irma was a slow-moving storm, which caused a lot of flooding. Michael was a much more powerful windstorm. Among the similarities, everyone needs food and access to food, and I have already petitioned Gov. Scott and the USDA to activate Disaster Food Assistance benefits, as I did following Irma.  One of the many benefits of this will allow SNAP recipients to get hot meals from restaurants,” Lawson said.

“As with Irma,” Lawson added, “many families will need help accessing FEMA, insurance, and other federal programs to begin the recovery process. Having gone through this with Irma, my staff and I have the experience and we know exactly what to do.”

Lawson noted that the Major Disaster Declaration approved by the White House Thursday is a “tremendous help,” and said that he has been on the phone with FEMA.

If the post-Irma process is any indication, a lot more of those phone calls are ahead.

CD 5 includes eight North Florida counties: Duval, Leon, Gadsden, Baker, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Columbia.

Citing Plant Vogtle, Moody’s downgrades Jacksonville credit rating

Jacksonville leaders may protest. But the move is non-negotiable.

On Thursday, Moody’s downgraded $2.1 billion of Jacksonville debt, pinning a negative outlook on issues resulting from the city’s misadventures with utility JEA.

At the root of it all: the still-under-construction Plant Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, which the city committed to buy power from in 2008 and has wanted out of late as conditions ranging from flat revenue streams and escalating costs to cheaper power elsewhere have become more pressing concerns.

JEA had agreed to bankroll 41 percent of MEAG’s share for 20 years. However, the utility and the city have groused of late.

And now the credit rating agencies are taking notice.

“The downgrade of the city’s debt reflects our concurrent downgrade of JEA’s electric, water and sewer and District Energy System utility debt ratings,” Moody’s contends.

Affected were a series of bonds, spanning a spectrum of city expenditures.

Jacksonville’s issuer rating dropped to A2 from Aa2, Special Revenue Non Ad Valorem Covenant bonds to A3 from Aa3, Better Jacksonville Sales Tax Revenue bonds to A2 from A1, Capital Projects bonds to A2 from Aa3, Excise Taxes Revenue bonds to A2 from Aa2, Capital Improvement bonds to A2 from Aa3 and Transportation bonds to A2 from A1.

The issue: “the city’s participation as a plaintiff in litigation with JEA, a component unit of the city, against Municipal Energy Authority of Georgia (MEAG), in which JEA and the city are seeking to have a Florida state court invalidate a ‘take-or-pay’ power contract between JEA and MEAG.”

This is a problem for Moody’s, raising questions about the city’s “willingness to support an absolute and unconditional obligation of its largest municipal enterprise, which weakens the city’s creditworthiness on all of its debt and is not consistent with the prior Aa rating category.”

“The negative outlook reflects the uncertainty surrounding the disposition of the city’s litigation during the outlook period,” Moody’s adds.

If the city drops the lawsuit, Moody’s said that might help.

In a rare public quote, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa blasted Moody’s decision.

“The City of Jacksonville strongly rejects Moody’s downgrade of the City for its participation in an effort to protect the ratepayers and taxpayers of Jacksonville from a constitutionally unsound agreement previously entered into by JEA concerning the construction of Nuclear Power Plant Vogtle,” Mousa said.

?JEA customers are currently paying for this skyrocketing, out-of-control nuclear power plant project with no certainty in cost or completion timeline. This downgrade action is based upon wild speculation, completely without rationale or merit, and not at all indicative of the City’s commitment to pay its debt (both past and present), or of its financial strength and integrity,” Mousa added.

“Moody’s refused to acknowledge the City’s clearly stated (and historically demonstrated) commitment to make debt payments. The City cannot sit idly by while others make decisions that have significant consequences for our citizens without exploring all of our options,” Mousa contended.

Ironically, just months ago the city got from Standard and Poor’s its first AAA rating, even as JEA credit was already trending south, in light of the Plant Vogtle deal.

The AAA for excise tax revenue bonds led CFO Mike Weinstein (who has since retired from City Hall) to laud the “confirmation that the strong fiscal management you established is being recognized by the financial community at large … proof that the Jacksonville economy is vibrant and growing.”

Plant Vogtle, however, is a big deal for the city.

Jacksonville’s public utility JEA and Georgia’s Municipal Electric Authority are at loggerheads over the future of the $27 billion Plant Vogtle, with lawsuits filed by each side.

JEA wants out of the deal, and went so far as to negotiate better terms for MEAG with an alternative power vendor while also agreeing to pay “sunk costs” on the agreement.

However, the four Georgia utility companies involved in construction of the nuclear facility had budgeted for cost overruns, and have decided to move forward with the project.

The utility is on a negative credit watch from Standard & Poor’s.

“In our view, JEA’s assertions that its board acted beyond the scope of its authority raises questions about the quality of the utility’s internal controls,” S&P analyst David Bodek said, according to the Florida Times-Union.

“In our opinion, the utility’s legal claims seeking to repudiate the board’s actions after a decade call into question the utility’s willingness to meet its contractual financial obligations.”

Estimated completion dates of the new nuclear units remain Nov. 2021 for Unit 3, and Nov. 2022 for Unit 4.

Game over: Jacksonville mulls adult arcade moratorium

New legislation filed this week to the Jacksonville City Council would impose a six-month moratorium on adult arcades.

Ordinance 2018-680 would ban permitting for these so-called internet cafes, a bane to the existence of Jacksonville lawmakers.

These establishments are predominately located in areas of town that have socioeconomic challenges already, and Council members have sought to put the brakes on what has become a flourishing industry, albeit one of dubious moral value.

Arcades often are near churches, schools, day cares and homes, and the noise, traffic, and other associated activities concern people outside the industry.

Jacksonville’s municipal code, which often seems fragmentary, lacks “performance standards or criteria pertaining to adult arcades,” offering another potential justification for the moratorium.

Per the Jacksonville Daily Record, 90 certificates of use have been issued, even as many more businesses operate without them.

The moratorium could be passed by the Council by November, should there not be interruptions in the six-week committee cycle.

Members of both political parties back the measure. Republican Al Ferraro introduced the bill; Democrats Joyce Morgan and John Crescimbeni are the first of what will be a number of co-sponsors.

No ‘rah-rah campaign rally’ for Ron DeSantis in Jacksonville with Hurricane Michael hammering Florida

As Category 4 Hurricane Michael prepared to slam the Panhandle and the Big Bend, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis implored Jacksonville supporters to offer tangible help.

DeSantis deviated from the usual format of what he called a “rah-rah campaign rally” and turned his Wednesday morning campaign stop into a plea for hurricane relief. Dozens of supporters who showed up complied, helping to load staple items into a 15-foot U-Haul with a “Florida Strong” placard affixed to the side.

The truck was a third full by the time the efforts were complete.

The supplies, said DeSantis, would go “wherever makes sense after the storm.”

Diapers were on the ask list, said DeSantis, a lesson learned since his wife, Casey, and he had a daughter after Hurricane Matthew lashed his district.

“We didn’t have Madison yet,” DeSantis quipped. “Diapers and the formula and all that … very important for people with young children.”

DeSantis noted that just a week ago, no one expected a storm. Especially in recent days, it’s “grown in ferocity.”

The candidate also noted that he has talked to Gov. Rick Scott, who is “on top of this … concerned about the storm surge.”

“A 12-foot storm surge, that’s just life-threatening, no two ways about it,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis was not interested in discussing his campaign’s ads that pillory his general election opponent, Andrew Gillum, for botched response during Hurricane Hermine. Nor did he want to discuss the future of the campaign under its new manager, Jacksonville’s own Susie Wiles.

“There will be time for us to deal with that,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis, who was once stationed at Naval Station Mayport, used what could be described as Adam Putnam style messaging at the event, extolling veterans both as a class and contributors to the state and the region, and discussing his own work in Congress helping veterans with post-traumatic stress.

“Not everyone is called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice,” DeSantis said of the costs of war. “You’re basically writing a check to the United States of America up to and including your life.”

Fundraising freefall continues for Jacksonville City Council hopeful Bill Bishop

District 1 Jacksonville City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan faces a former two-term Councilman, Bill Bishop, in her re-election bid.

The binary campaign between the two is two months old, and a narrative is emerging that casts doubt on the ultimate utility of so-called “Bill-lievers.”

Morgan, a Democrat representing the Arlington area, in September stretched her cash lead over the stalled operation of Republican Bishop, who is just three years removed from drawing nearly 20 percent citywide in the Mayor’s race.

Bishop abandoned his citywide at-large Council seat run for a more localized race during the summer, but that move has not helped his cash position.

In September, Bishop raised just $300. This followed an August in which he raised $700.

Bishop, a former two-term Councilman, has just over $13,000 on hand, after a full year of campaigning.

Morgan, who filed for re-election this summer, didn’t have a particularly impressive haul. However, she did have some credible names in her donor pool, names that suggest more resources will be there should she need them, such as Florida Blue CEO Darnell Smith and Jacksonville University President Tim Cost.

Photo credit: Claire Goforth.

Nancy Soderberg expects to win the money race in CD 6.

New poll shows Nancy Soderberg, Michael Waltz statistically tied in CD 6

Democrat Nancy Soderberg and Republican Michael Waltz are tied in the race for Florida’s 6th Congressional District according to a new poll from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

The poll, conducted Oct. 1 through Oct. 4, found both candidates pulling 45 percent among voters in CD 6, the seat recently vacated by Republican gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis. The remaining 9 percent are undecided.

The new numbers indicate there has been a bit of jockeying in the sprint toward Election Day — GQR’s prior measure of the race, released Sept. 6, found Waltz had a 2-point lead with only 7 percent of voters undecided. The pollster claims the Fox News personality’s slippage is due to weak support among Republicans.

“Waltz is failing to motivate his own base, earning just 75 percent of the vote among registered Republicans. Soderberg receives 82 percent of the vote among registered Democrats,” the polling memo says. “Soderberg also leads Waltz among self-ascribed independents by 20 percentage points and voters who are undecided more closely resemble Soderberg supporters than Waltz supporters.”

The GQR poll surveyed 400 voters via live telephone interviews with a 43 percent cell phone component. A third of the sample were registered Democrats, while 42 percent were Republicans and 24 percent were independents. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

CD 6 covers parts of St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler and Volusia counties on Florida’s Atlantic coast. President Donald Trump won CD 6 by 17 points two years ago while DeSantis, who held the seat for three terms, won re-election by 17 points.

The Cook Political Report and Larry Sabato both rate CD 6 as “likely Republican,” while Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight puts the odds of a flip at less than 25 percent. Their forecasting model currently expects Waltz to win 52-48  in November.

Still, Soderberg had raised more than $1.7 million for her campaign through the pre-primary reporting period while Waltz had raised $1 million. She also held a nearly 4-to-1 lead in cash on hand thanks in part to Waltz having to get through a bruising three-way Republican primary.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

Northeast Florida candidate forum a sparring exhibition without knockout blows

There are relatively few multi-candidate forums in Northeast Florida’s general election season, so the evocatively titled Jacksonville Candidate Forum had a disproportionate importance for candidates seeking to introduce themselves to a general election audience.

One Congressional candidate, Democrat Ges Selmont, running in Florida’s 4th Congressional District, was on hand. Also present: state Sen. Aaron Bean and his general election opponent, Billee Bussard, along with a host of state House candidates.

Between gerrymandering and fundraising, there hasn’t been a lot of drama in most Northeast Florida campaigns. An exception: the high-priced HD 15 swing district battle between Democrat Tracye Polson and Republican Wyman Duggan. However, for these candidates, the forum theoretically offered the even playing field the donor class could do without.

However, as a forum (and not a debate) no knockout blows were on offer. Rather, it was a sparring exhibition: Candidates got 30 seconds to answer two questions, followed by a one-minute closing statement.

Despite the antiseptic format, candidates were able to make some points of note.

HD 12 Republican incumbent Clay Yarborough was put on the spot regarding potential Medicaid expansion. He noted that he would be open to a discussion of expansion that involved work requirements.

Yarborough’s Democratic challenger Tim Yost, when asked about raising the minimum wage, said it should be tied to an average rent in a market.

“$8.25 an hour is not going to get you there,” Yost said, when the median rent is $900 as it is in Jacksonville.

Moving on to HD 15’s donnybrook, Duggan got a build up in the introduction that described what a lobbyist does (a repeated Polson campaign critique of him) without using the word.

Duggan got questions that sidestepped the controversy of the campaign: one addressed veterans’ programs; the other regarded challenges in Florida’ K-12 system.

Duggan did not mention charters, but did describe a desire to bring back vocational education, so that graduates could get a “skilled trade certificate.”

Polson was asked her thoughts on Andrew Gillum‘s proposed corporate tax hike to 7.75 percent.

“97 percent of businesses do not pay corporate income tax,” Polson noted, adding that the tax hike would fund schools.

“That I am in favor of,” Polson said, offering up a quote for a future Duggan mailer.

HD 16’s incumbent Republican Rep. Jason Fischer got an interesting question in which he was asked why he retweeted Jeff Brandes‘ calls for medical marijuana distribution reform.

Fischer noted that cannabis is Schedule 1 and that he voted against the implementation bill “because it created a cartel.”

“We need to look at how government doesn’t create a monopoly,” Fischer said, describing a system where a few operators get wealthy overtly, but at the same time hinting at a reform debate that will animate Tallahassee no matter who is elected Governor.

What chippiness there was, meanwhile, came from a surprising place.

Ges Selmont, running for Congress in CD 4, lamented that Republican incumbent John Rutherford is ducking a debate.

“Why would I give him a platform for his ideas,” Selmont quoted Rutherford, who has a 100-1 cash on hand advantage, as saying.

Rutherford was not present to respond.

Randy DeFoor pads coffers in Jacksonville City Council bid

In the race to succeed Republican Jim Love on the Jacksonville City Council, Love’s fellow Republican Randy DeFoor expanded her cash on hand lead after September receipts.

But in what could be a preview of a runoff election, Democrat Sunny Gettinger is keeping pace.

As of the end of September, DeFoor had roughly $157,000 on hand between her campaign account and her Safe and Prosperous Jacksonville political committee.

DeFoor brought in $10,050 of new money to the campaign account, and an additional $5,000 to her political committee.

First Coast Energy was the big donor this cycle; its CEO Aubrey Edge is a supporter of Mayor Lenny Curry, and DeFoor is aligned with that political operation.

Gettinger, meanwhile, saw declining receipts for the fourth straight month. Her September haul of $4,245 was the slowest month of her campaign, giving her over $96,000 on hand.

Her key donors last month included connected local businessman Walt Bussells and Jon Heymann, the longtime leader of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission.

DeFoor and Gettinger are better positioned financially than the two male candidates in the race, who have yet to report September numbers.

Republican Henry Mooneyhan had roughly $12,000 on hand at the end of August. Democrat Jimmy Peluso had roughly $36,000 at his disposal.

Jacksonville municipal races see a first election in March. If no one wins that blanket primary with a majority, the top two finishers move on, regardless of party, to the May general election.

Jacksonville fulfills terms of DOJ disability rights settlement

After over five years of work by the City of Jacksonville to meet Americans with Disabilities Act goals, the city got the all-clear from the Department of Justice on Friday.

The DOJ Civil Rights division wrote city officials, noting that the city had fulfilled the terms of its voluntary, pre-litigative Project Civic Access agreement.

The agreement, per a 2013 post by the Justice Department, was wide-ranging:

“During the compliance review, the Department reviewed 64 of the city’s facilities. The agreement requires the city to correct deficiencies identified at the 64 facilities and requires Jacksonville to review and correct identified deficiencies at hundreds of additional facilities.”

Those facilities had all been built or modified since 1992, and included libraries, community and senior centers, a boat ramp, fire stations, athletic fields and sports complexes, City Hall, parks, the Jacksonville Zoo, detention and corrections facilities, parking garages, and polling places.

The city had to improve accessibility, ranging from parking to drinking fountains.

Efforts for Braille and sign-language translations and translators likewise were mandated. Barriers at polling places and to emergency services likewise had to be removed, and sidewalks and other public infrastructure required work also.

There could be other issues not addressed in the 2013 agreement, per the Justice Department, which stresses that closing the agreement does not mean the city is perfectly compliant.

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