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With or without Ron DeSantis, race for Florida’s Sixth Congressional District will heat up

Will U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis run for re-election in Florida’s 6th Congressional District? That question is still unanswered — word for some time has been that DeSantis will run statewide in 2018, and he currently plans to make an announcement early next year.

Those watching this district may experience a sense of déjà vu; recall that in 2016, DeSantis was an active candidate to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate.

Once Rubio decided to run for re-election, DeSantis ran for — and won — re-election to the House.

What does 2018 hold? Even with the seat not open at this point, jockeying — and pushback — have begun for candidates.

The field of potential candidates in the post-DeSantis era includes a number of compelling names on both sides of the aisle.

One potential GOP hopeful, former Special Forces Lt. Mike Waltz, already is taking heat from a St. Augustine Republican activist named Bob Smith.

Waltz, a Stanton High School graduate living currently in St. Augustine Beach, has an impressive resume with data points that took him far beyond Northeast Florida, including stints as Vice President Dick Cheney’s senior adviser for South Asia and Counterterrorism and director for Afghanistan Policy within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

An email Smith sent this weekend eschews those details, instead spotlighting a video that Waltz made during the 2016 presidential primaries for the American Future Fund. Waltz excoriated President Donald Trump, who did not serve in the military, for “never having served this country a day in his life.”

“All Donald Trump has served is himself,” Waltz said. “Don’t let Donald Trump fool you. Look into his record, and stop Trump now.”

Smith charges that Waltz “moved to the district from Washington D.C. … a Jeb Bush supporter who went on TV and insulted our president.”

Waltz has become a strong supporter of the Trump agenda, both on Twitter and on Fox News.

Florida Politics talked to Waltz Monday, asking if he has changed, President Trump has changed, or circumstances have changed.

Waltz noted that his statements were made “during the primaries,” and that he spoke “on the heels of what Trump said about POWs” during the primaries.

(Infamously, Trump said that he “liked [soldiers] who weren’t captured” during a 2015 harangue targeting John McCain.)

Having himself been “targeted for capture by the Taliban,” Waltz felt — especially in the pitched context of the primary — that it was necessary to “stand up for POWs.”

“Once Trump became the presidential nominee,” Waltz said that he’s been “on board.”

Waltz lauded the “fantastic job” Trump has done as commander in chief, noting that the president is “letting [soldiers] do their jobs,” leading to soaring morale.

Waltz also asserted that the “most respected generals in the military” were helping Trump make decisions, adding that he himself — contrary to assertions — is “not a Never Trumper” and “never signed those petitions.”

Waltz, and those advising him, also question the timing of the moves against him — suggesting that they are orchestrated by a Republican candidate who has already jumped in — Navy veteran John Ward.

Ward, a multimillionaire who had pledged to have a million dollars in his campaign account by January, bills himself as “a Ronald Reagan Republican … running for Congress because I believe that Washington needs more ‘get-it-done outsiders’ who will fight for individual liberties and protect our freedoms.”

Ward vows “to end the do nothing, business-as-usual ways of Washington.”

Regardless of how the Republican side of the ballot shakes out, there will be at least one Democrat in the mix who has already started an impressive run.

Ambassador Nancy Soderberg raised $336,000 in her first quarter in the race, and she looks likely to add to that total this quarter — with at least one fundraiser planned in Jacksonville.

Though DeSantis’ eventual decision looms over this race — both for would-be Republican challengers, Soderberg and other Democrats — what is clear is that a district that went big for DeSantis in 2016 is perceived to be in play this cycle.

The money will be especially in play on the GOP side of the ledger, where the winning candidate will have a seven-figure war chest — and lots of outside help.

Settlement reached in Kim Daniels campaign finance kerfuffle

A settlement has been reached between state Rep. Kim Daniels and the Florida Elections Commission on disputed campaign spending from Daniels’ failed 2015 re-election bid to the Jacksonville City Council.

Daniels will be compelled to pay $1,500, per a consent order signed in October. The deal will be finalized at an FEC meeting Tuesday.

As Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly reported in February 2015, Daniels spent $4,000 of campaign funds to promote her book, “The Demon Dictionary,” in a religious magazine called Shofar.

Daniels also offered editorials in the magazine without the provision of disclaimers marking the communiques as campaign communications.

Local activist and journalist David Vandygriff of JaxGay.com filed an FEC complaint. In March 2016, staff recommended to the commission that there was probable cause to believe that an election code violation might have occurred.

Daniels was found to have violated three separate counts.

Count 1 states that on or about March 1, 2014, Daniels used campaign funds to defray normal living expenses.

That violates Statute 106.1405, which asserts that contributions cannot be used “to defray normal living expenses for the candidate or the candidate’s family, other than expenses actually incurred for transportation, meals, and lodging by the candidate or a family member during travel in the course of the campaign.”

Count 2 asserts a prohibited expenditure during the same time frame, violating 106.19(1)(d).

Count 3 asserts a report of false information, violating 106.19(1)(c), on or about April 9, 2014 — a date that coincides with when her campaign finance information would have been filed.

Though Daniels appears to have successfully resolved the campaign finance quibble, the pastor/politician has at least one more pending legal matter.

Daniels’ Spoken Word Ministries has fought foreclosure proceedings on an $860,000 “parsonage” in Davie, Florida, with its latest contention being that Hurricane Irma presented impacts.

Daniels’ foreclosure attorney, citing “irreconcilable differences,” removed himself from the case.

The mortgage holder, Freedom Mortgage Corporation, has sought to foreclose on the property since December 2016.

However, those efforts have been successfully forestalled over months. Motions to cancel a sale date have been filed four times. The most recent one, a cancellation of an October sale due to Hurricane Irma, reset the event to a December sale date.

A hearing in that case also is slated for Tuesday in South Florida.

Reggie Gaffney raises $10K for Jax City Council re-election bid

Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney has had an interesting two years in office.

There was a traffic stop confrontation with Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office members, who stopped him because he was driving around on a license tag he reported stolen.

There also was the matter of Gaffney “double-dipping” on homestead exemptions, as the Florida Times-Union first reported.

Despite these speed bumps, Gaffney filed for re-election earlier this year — and October revealed fundraising that, while slow compared to many other candidates in the city, dwarfs opponents in Council District 7, which includes Downtown, Springfield, and points north.

Gaffney brought in $9,100 in October, pushing him to $10,100 raised — with all but $228 of that cash on hand.

Gaffney’s money came in chunks: $2,500 in three checks from local dog track interests; $2,000 from three property management entities housed at the same address (437 E Monroe St Ste 100); and $2,000 more from two property management companies with the same post office box in Yulee.

Though Gaffney’s $10,100 raised is small compared to the hauls of City Council candidates in other districts (five of whom already have raised over $75,000), the donors in the early stages of his campaign clearly haven’t been scared off by adverse publicity.

Gaffney’s opponents, Pastor Chaussee Gibson and returning candidate Marc McCullough, have raised $0 and $1,800 respectively.

Gaffney raised $76,000 in 2015, defeating fellow Democrat George Spencer (who raised $93,000) in the runoff election.

Gaffney won that election despite Spencer carrying the coveted Corrine Brown endorsement, and despite his decision to end a debate with Spencer with a prayer for exorcism — a unique gambit even in Jacksonville politics.

Lisa King, Hazel Gillis to square off for chair of Duval Democrats

Earlier this month, state Sen. Audrey Gibson — the next Caucus leader for Senate Democrats — resigned as chair of the Duval County Democratic Party.

A new chair will be chosen Dec. 4, a week from today. Until then, Darren Mason is in the interim role.

“I plan to continue to recruit and mobilize our party as we prepare for the important local and state races in 2018 and 2019,” Mason asserted, adding that Duval Dems “will finish this year strong.”

Mason, at first, said he wasn’t looking to relinquish the chair next month.

“I do plan on running for DEC Chair,” Mason told us on November 17; however, he since has changed his mind, after “prayerful consideration.”

Running instead of Mason: Lisa King, the county party committeewoman who lost a race for state chair to freshly-resigned Stephen Bittel.

Hazel Gillis, vice president of the Duval Dems’ Black Caucus, also is in.

Local Democrats are taking a more aggressive posture heading into 2018 than in 2016 certainly, with candidates being fielded in House races — such as House District 15 — that weren’t even contested in recent cycles.

King spoke to that in a statement offered Sunday evening.

“The Democratic Party is built on ensuring equal opportunity for everyone. Being inclusive is at the heart of our constitution where all citizens are treated as equal. Even still, too many of our neighbors are still being left behind In Jacksonville because those who set policy are too committed to their own interests to forge solutions that work for every citizen,” King asserted.

“Democrats can win elections in Jacksonville. To do so,” King added, “we must be brave, build trust and be ready to work. This is my vision of leadership, to build on what has worked, to invite diverse voices to the table and to demonstrate that there is more that binds us than divides us.  We have already shown that we are not scared of hard work –  the 2016 election returns, with the closest election since 1976, are a testament to that.”

“Politicians have promised a vision of unity – One City, One Jacksonville. Rather than unify, they have bred division and distrust. There are more of us who suffer from this than benefit.  Our pledge as Democrats is to build bridges of opportunity so every resident of Jacksonville can experience real unity,” King added.

Gillis, in an email announcing her bid, noted that she will “work diligently to unify our party and work for inclusion.”

The expectation is that Jacksonville — which already has more registered Democrats than Republicans — won’t just register Blue Dog, but will vote Blue.

Some races are less competitive than others; a credible Democrat doesn’t seem chomping at the bit to take on Lenny Curry for Mayor in 2019.

The focus will be on more winnable races.

But in a time when local Republicans are fractured, discussing non-disclosure agreements after leaks of key documents, what’s clear is that Democrats have an advantage in party structure, and that both chair candidates understand the importance of party unity heading into state and federal elections in 2018, and local contests the following year.

‘Irreconcilable differences’ between lawyer, lawmaker in foreclosure case

The holiday season can test even the best of relationships, and offered the impetus for severance of ties between a barrister and a state legislator.

Citing “irreconcilable differences,” attorney Vladimir St. Louis motioned Nov. 21 to withdraw from a foreclosure case involving Spoken Word Ministries, the theological concern of Rep. Kim Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat.

The motion hearing is slated for Tuesday.

The mortgage holder, Freedom Mortgage Corporation, has sought to foreclose on the property (an $860,000 “parsonage” in Davie) since December 2016.

However, those efforts have been successfully forestalled over months. Motions to cancel a sale date have been filed four times — the most recent one, a cancellation of an October sale due to Hurricane Irma, resetting the event to a December sale date that is likely up in the air given the Spoken Word/St. Louis schism.

The latest filing for extension asserted that Spoken Word Ministries needs “time to review damage that the subject property may have sustained,” as well as “potential property insurance issues,” and “eligibility for loss mitigation and other foreclosure avoidance opportunities.”

Left unaddressed in Spoken Word’s filing was how a foreclosure process that was months in the making before the 2017 hurricane season even started should be affected by Irma — a storm with which Rep. Daniels had a unique rhetorical relationship.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma in September, Rep. Daniels asserted that “prophets” saw the storm coming.

“Nothing happens except God reveal it to prophets first,” the Jacksonville Democrat observed as the historic hurricane enveloped the peninsula.

No word on whether prophets revealed that Spoken Word’s attorney would punt on the case.

The Davie property was part of an impressive portfolio of parsonages and parson-appropriate vehicles amassed by Spoken Word Ministries, as the divorce filing of Ardell Daniels — the Rep’s now ex-husband — indicated.

Beyond that $860,000 home, the couple acquired other properties, including three Jacksonville homes, a Jacksonville commercial property, and three Central Florida timeshares. The Jacksonville home where Kim Daniels lives was appraised in 2015 at $386,940.

Additionally, Spoken Word Ministries had 13 vehicles, either in the name of the corporation or the husband.

Daniels, meanwhile, maintains impressive earning power; as of her last financial disclosure statement, she made $96,000 from Spoken Word Ministries and just over $100,000 from Kim Daniels Ministries International in 2016.

Daniels’ net worth, per that disclosure document, was just shy of $595,000, with $34,116 in liabilities including two car notes and department store charge cards.

Bill to protect voter info filed in both houses

A bill that would shield the personal information of voters and preregistered minor voter registration applicants has been filed in both houses of the Legislature as of Monday.

Rep. Cyndi Stevenson is carrying the House version (HB 761), while Sen. Tom Lee is carrying the Senate iteration (SB 532).

The bill would exempt the “legal residential address, date of birth, telephone number, and e-mail address of a voter registration applicant or voter” from public records requirements, in addition to “information concerning preregistered voter registration applicants who are 16 or 17 years of age.”

Election officials, as well as political candidates, committees, and parties, would have access to this information.

House sponsor Stevenson explained her motivations for filing the bill.

“We have had numerous complaints over the years from voters who are angry and frustrated that their information or the information of their minor children are public information.  Those concerns have increased along with the ability of our technology to accumulate and sort our personal information to add to our public dossier,” Stevenson said.

The goal of the bill: to “return some level of privacy to voting information that has no business being in the public realm.”

Stevenson also cited “reports from across the state that people have withdrawn from our voting rolls because of privacy concerns.”

“That is unacceptable,” Stevenson said.

White Male, age 33, on the Westside: Portrait of a Jacksonville opioid OD

In a Jacksonville City Council committee hearing Monday morning, representatives from the city’s fire and rescue department painted a picture of the typical overdose.

More than likely, he is white, male, and 33 years old. And he lives in the general area of 103rd Street on Jacksonville’s  Westside — the worst side of town for overdoses, replete with faded strip malls and working class neighborhoods that long since transitioned from owner-occupied to rented homes.

“A 33 year old white male is our target overdose patient,” asserted a Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department official Monday.

He also noted that 19 percent — or 350 — of Jacksonville’s total overdose calls this year have happened in Council District 9; a measure of that clustering of ODs on the Westside.

Zip Code 32210 — bordered on the south by 103rd Street and the north by Normandy Blvd. — gets ten percent of the call volume.

The evenings are the peak for call volume, with 36 percent of calls between 5 and 10 p.m.

The city’s pilot treatment program kicked off last weekend, after Mayor Lenny Curry signed legislation authorizing the six-month initiative.

Eight overdose patients were treated, and there are four participants in the program — which is voluntary and in itself is not a magic bullet.

Councilman Bill Gulliford‘s bill, intended to address the mounting body count from fentanyl and derivatives, established the St. Vincent Hospital emergency room as a feeder for two in-patient treatment programs, housed at Gateway and River Region.

Overdoses, at last count, end four times as many lives as homicides in Duval County, with 2016’s count of 464 casualties more than doubling 2015’s count of 201.

Caucasians represent 86 percent of the deaths, and over half of those passing away are in their 30s and 40s.

And things could get worse: a fentanyl derivative being used to cut heroin in the Ohio Valley doesn’t respond to Narcan — which has been the most reliable treatment for overdose patients up until now.

911 calls for ODs to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have tripled. Narcan administrations: up 500 percent. JFRD responded to over 3,411 calls in 2016, and the cost of transporting OD victims could near $4.5M this year.

The city is considering a lawsuit against one or more pharmaceutical companies.

Jax Councilwoman’s family biz to pay back city over busted eco dev deal

The city of Jacksonville may get back some of the money a City Councilwoman’s family business owes it after all.

The city agreed last week to a deal with KJB Specialties, the family business of Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown, to pay back $1,000 a month for 84 straight months.

Earlier this year, the city won a default judgement against KJB Specialties, amounting to $222,000 against two businesses owned by the Councilwoman’s family (with the Councilwoman as title manager)’

The city received $210,000 in grant money related to a failed BBQ sauce plant; the Browns failed to create any of the 56 jobs required, via a 2011 economic development agreement. This led to a city lawsuit against the Brown family companies earlier this year.

The Browns’ companies scored $640,000 from the city of Jacksonville in grants and loans altogether, in addition to an SBA loan of $2,652,600.

KJB filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.

Councilwoman Brown has been a member of the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee for the majority of the time she has been in office.

Brown, who also made news recently for accusing Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office members of racial profiling, has never been under serious consideration for even a censure — a measure of the esteem with which her colleagues regard her.

 

Former Florida Democrat Party chair candidate Lisa King decries ‘failure of leadership’

In the aftermath of Stephen Bittel‘s resignation as chair of the Florida Democratic Party and president Sally Boynton Brown‘s apologetics, one former candidate for chair has a message for those who “told the truth about” Bittel.

That message, from Lisa King of Jacksonville: that the FDP has suffered from a “failure of leadership” and that women must feel empowered to speak “truth to power.”

King, a current committeewoman from Duval County who is also an active candidate for party chair now that Sen. Audrey Gibson is relinquishing the gavel, asserts that she saw through Bittel’s act — and that’s why she mounted her longshot bid for the top job in the FDP.

“I did my research on Bittel and took a measure of his character. He did not have the qualities I could support to lead any organization in which I had a say. I felt so strongly about it,” King wrote on Facebook Sunday.

“I ran myself,” King reminds.

“Some of the folks on the State Committee are more concerned about you and reforming our political culture than what office or job we might get because of the special election caused by his resignation,” King added.

“We are ready to listen to you and to support you. We are in awe of your bravery,” King continued, discussing this “watershed moment in our culture” as “not just another bump in the road that can be swept under the rug with a simple apology.”

“This is a failure of leadership on so many levels. We must truly learn from this or we will fail again. ALWAYS speak truth to power,” King added.

King is one of the more prominent Democrats in Jacksonville.

In 2015, she ran a competitive campaign for Jacksonville City Council in a deep red district, amassing key endorsements and fundraising along the way.

She was also Chair of the Jacksonville Planning Commission until Mayor Lenny Curry removed her, for what some claimed were partisan reasons.

She also handled a regional leadership position in the primary campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Second Democrat emerges to primary Al Lawson

The race for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 5th Congressional District is getting more crowded, with yet another candidate filing last week.

In addition to Rontel Batie, a former Corrine Brown staffer who jumped in this month, Shanton Detrell Edwards has also entered the fray.

Edwards, a 33-year-old from Greenville, has never run for office before. By trade, he’s the Area Director for the Boys and Girls Club.

He knows that he’s the longest of longshots.

“Maybe I’ll get 500 votes, maybe I’ll get 200,” he told us Friday.

So why is he running?

“I’m disgusted with the way everything is going,” Edwards told us. “We lost touch on how things work.”

Edwards decried career politicians who “get elected and on their first day start running for re-election.”

We asked if that applied to Lawson, a legend in the western part of the sprawling east-west district in North Florida.

“Al’s a little laid back,” Edwards said, adding that he’s a “good man” and “we agree on a lot of stuff.”

One of those issues on which they agree: the Republican tax bill that just cleared the House.

Lawson said Thursday that the bill “will have a negative impact on thousands of residents in Florida’s 5th Congressional District and millions all across this country.”

Edwards sounded similar notes in our interview Friday, noting that the tax reform bill is “clearly going to raise the deficit.”

“The American people need to know,” Edwards said, “that this bill is not for you.”

Edwards also told a story about a conversation with an octogenarian in his home town who asked him straight up why he’s running against Lawson.

While he knows he doesn’t have “the name, the money, the fame, or the fortune,” Edwards is running as a “call to action” on some issues that aren’t being addressed currently.

One such issue: crime.

Edwards, who works with youth, believes that “a lot of the crime is coming from young people with too much free time on their hands,” and that “getting young folks off of the street and into classrooms” is key to stemming the tide of violence.

As well, the criminal justice system is an issue in need of reform.

Edwards notes the disparity in prison time for young black men and young white men, with the former being “incarcerated for minor drug offenses, you name it.”

“We need criminal justice reform,” Edwards said, as the current schematic is “unfairly spiked against us.”

“That’s why you see Black Lives Matter, and people kneeling for the National Anthem,” Edwards said. “Prison is a business. It’s got to stop being a business.”

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