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Joe Henderson: Tom Lee’s tough, surprising choice

I’m a little surprised by Tom Lee’s decision to run for re-election to the state Senate.

Along with just about everyone else in the media and Florida politics, I’ve had lengthy chats with Lee about his future since a judge drew new district lines that essentially forced him to make a tough decision.

Because his current Brandon home now lies in a different district than the one Lee represents, he had three choices:

  • Challenge Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano if he wanted to keep his current seat. Lee ruled that out early.
  • Move within the newly drawn boundaries of District 20, which includes parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties so that he could run for the Senate again.
  • Run for an at-large seat on the Hillsborough County Commission, where he would have been a heavy favorite.

It came down to options 2 or 3, and as William March of the Tampa Bay Times first reported, Lee chose No. 2.

Why that surprises me, a little, is because Lee talked to me at length about the lure of bringing his Tallahassee experience to his home county. He has young kids and being able to spend more time with them, especially on weekends, was appealing.

Plus, Lee is never shy about saying Tallahassee is where good governance goes to meet a painful end at the hands of lobbyists, special interests and agendas that have little to do with the overall good of Florida.

That’s one of the reasons Lee is not the most popular guy in the statewide GOP.

In the county, Lee’s impact would have been immense. As a resident of eastern Hillsborough, Lee would have given a much-need pragmatic voice to a part of the county that has been treated as a fresh hunting ground for runaway development. The result has been suffocating growth and traffic.

His entry into the race likely would have meant the end of Jim Norman’s attempt to return to public life as a county commissioner. It’s a definite boost to the political ambitions of Republican commission candidate Tim Schock.

But, statewide politics has real appeal too. The power to shape the future of the nation’s third-largest state can be irresistible. That’s the path he chose.

Interestingly, even if Lee wins he will have to run again in 2018.

A lot of things can change between now and then, starting with the races for governor (paging Adam Putnam, please report to the candidate’s booth) and cabinet posts. Lest we forget, Lee unsuccessfully challenged Alex Sink in 2006 to be the state’s chief financial officer.

Lee has been coy throughout the process that led to this decision and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue. For now, though, he has shown one of his cards. He will show the next one when he gets around to it.


Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He has covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry condemns Ken Adkins’ ‘appalling’ rhetoric

On June 14, Pastor Ken Adkins – whose hate speech about the LGBT community has become well-known in Jacksonville over the last year – let loose with another volley in the wake of the massacre of 49 people at Pulse in Orlando.

“Been through so much with these Jacksonville Homosexuals that I don’t see none of them as victims. I see them as getting what they deserve!”

Adkins upset a lot of people with his latest foray into hate speech. None more so perhaps than Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who was deeply upset and angered by Adkins’ “outrageous and appalling comments,” as he said Tuesday to FloridaPolitics.com.

“We are on the heels of an attack on people,” Curry said, a “terrorist attack” with “people killed and maimed in our state.”

For Curry, this is personal. He has family and friends “hurting and grieving” in Orlando over personal and community losses, and “they know someone personally who was there that night, who is no longer with us.”

“This has been a conversation in our house for two days,” Curry said Tuesday, adding that any rhetoric that “suggests that people should be victims is appalling.”

Curry hosted a series of community conversations regarding the potential expansion of the Human Rights Ordinance in his first year in his term, which had Adkins as a panelist representing opposition to the HRO expansion.

Curry did not pick Adkins for the panel, he said; the panelists were selected by staff in collaboration with interest groups on both sides of the HRO issue.

“He wasn’t my handpicked guy,” Curry said. “I would not choose someone with that kind of language.”

Curry did not see Adkins’ anti-LGBT rants on Twitter, he said.

“I don’t pay attention to a lot of what goes on on Twitter,” Curry said.

Curry’s spokeswoman, Marsha Oliver, echoed the mayor’s assertions in a separate conversation.

“The panelists in no way reflect the beliefs, shared values, or ideals of the mayor and his staff,” Oliver said, adding that the “mayor is completely outraged by the comments Adkins made” and “in no ways supports them.”

In fact, says Oliver, the mayor’s first reaction was that of many people: “that’s sick.”

Though there are those who will seek to politicize this issue, Curry rejects that impulse as “shameful.”

“There’s no room for politics at this moment,” Curry said.

The mayor’s sister-in-law and brother-in-law own and operate a business in Orlando, Palmer’s Garden and Goods, which posted the following to its Facebook page Monday morning:

The work family at Palmer’s is deeply saddened by the acts of hate that occurred this weekend in our city. Orlando is the City Beautiful. We are beautiful because of our people, our uniquely beautiful people. Just like a gardener goes to sew her garden, she carefully chooses uniquely different flowers that compliment and coexist with one another. She carefully picks them for their color, texture, stature and size; each flower picked serves a purpose in her garden. Likewise, God created us uniquely different in this garden we call life. He never intended us to be the same, He even gave us each different finger prints to prove that. As a Palmer’s Garden & Goods family, our thoughts and many, many prayers go out to the family and friends of those involved in this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers also go out to the many uniquely beautiful flowers that create this garden we call Orlando, our city beautiful. We are saddened, but we are not going to let this define us. TOGETHER we are going to rise above and PLANT THIS CITY BEAUTIFUL.

And therein is the real discourse, the dividing line.

There are those who would use the atrocities that happened in Orlando as a platform for hatred and division.

And then there are those who seek to rise above the noise, the chaos, and the sickness, and rebuild.

In his forthright reaction to Adkins’ comments, Mayor Curry cast his lot with those who seek to build, rather than destroy.

Curry expanded on the conversation with an official statement Tuesday afternoon from the mayor’s office.

“On June 12, 2016, 49 people lost their lives, and just as many more were injured in the deadliest mass shooting in our country’s history. While there has been much discussion and speculation about the victims, the single most defining characteristic for them all is that they are people – human beings who perished as a result of an individual’s deliberate and cowardly attack. As federal investigations reveal to date, this was an attack on the United States of America. As an American, I hurt for our country. As a native Floridian, I hurt for our state. As a mayor, I hurt for city leaders. And as a husband and father, I hurt for humanity. I vehemently oppose violence and discrimination of any kind. I am as equally opposed to a historic tragedy such as this being used as a backdrop and platform to advance the goals and interests of any political agenda.”

Loranne Ausley extends fundraising advantage in HD 9, raising $34K in May

Loranne Ausley brought in another formidable fundraising haul as she campaigned for her old legislative seat in House District 9 during the month of May.

According to new campaign finance reports, the attorney and former lawmaker took in nearly $35,000 last month, $24,925 through her campaign account and $10,000 through an affiliated political committee called Florida 2020.

Republican Jim Messer is running against Ausley in the open swing seat, but was handily outraised again last month.

Messer, also an attorney by trade, brought in just shy of $6,000 last month. That raises his total 2016 fundraising to $108,953, about one third of what Ausley has raised.

Maximum $1,000 campaign checks came in to Ausley’s coffers from five separate Disney-related entities, the Beer Distributors’ Committee, the North Florida branch of the HCA chain of hospitals, a leading firefighers’ union, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer‘s Moving Florida Forward PAC.

Ausley’s father DuBose Ausley — one of the most powerful lobbyists of the Florida Legislature’s so-called “Golden Era” under Gov. Reubin Askew in the 1970s and 80s — wrote the single $10,000 check raised by her committee in May, according to a new fundraising report.

Ausley also received more than $20,000 in in-kind contributions from the state Democratic Party, including $10,900 for opposition research, some $7,000 for campaign materials, and $1,700 for campaign staff.

HD 9 is the most Republican-leaning House seat currently held by a Democrat, and it’s trending more conservative every cycle. Conventional wisdom says the Rs could swoop in and flip the seat, but the GOP threat has been lagging behind this cycle.

Republican Peter Boulware put up a valiant fight against term-limited Democratic Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda in 2008, the last time the seat was open. Boulware lost by just 430 votes in a presidential year which saw President Barack Obama win by a healthy margin in Tallahassee.

Scott Randolph to put armed guards at Orange County tag agencies

Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph said he will be hiring armed guards to secure the county’s tag agencies.

Randolph, a Democrat up for re-election, said he resisted the idea of armed security for a long time but, in the wake of Sunday’s Pulse nightclub massacre, resolved it is the right thing to do.

“There are scary people out there,” Randolph said.

Occasionally, he said, they show up at one of the county’s seven tag agencies. A few months ago, he said, an angry customer vowed to come back and “shoot the place up.” That person never came back and police were not able to track him down to his knowledge.

“This is really at the prompting of our employees. They deal with angry customers all the time,” he said.

The guards would be in plain clothes. Randolph said a handful of other county tax collectors in Florida already employ such guards. He would be able to piggyback off existing state contracts. His office would find ways to pay for it “by squeezing the budget.”

Corrine Brown, Ander Crenshaw address Orlando Pulse massacre

Both Jacksonville U.S. Representatives addressed the massacre of 50 people in the Orlando nightclub Pulse on Sunday afternoon, though they messaged differently.

Rep. Corrine Brown, running for re-election in a radically reconfigured 5th Congressional District of Florida, was very explicit Sunday afternoon in condemning the massacre of 50 people in the Orlando nightclub Pulse as an attack on LGBT people.

“Although there are numerous unanswered questions at this time, the fact that this attack took place at a nightclub frequented by members of the LGBT community, and that it took place as our as our nation celebrates LGBT Pride month, leads one to believe that this was motivated by deep hatred and prejudice,” Brown, whose current district includes parts of Orlando, said in a statement.

“Clearly, this is not merely just an attack on the LGBT community in Orlando, Florida, but an attack on America. Together, our nation must stand united against terror and hatred, and not permit prejudice, violence and fear to have the upper hand over the American ideals of compassion, liberty and freedom,” Brown continued.

Brown, headed to Orlando now, will remain there throughout the night, she said.

Her goal: “to ensure that state and local officials receive the federal resources they need to find out why and how this happened, and to prevent similar attacks from happening again.”

Rep. Ander Crenshaw did not mention the LGBT victims, speaking in more general terms, in his statement.

“As we learn more about this senseless act of terrorism, I am in contact with the governor’s office, the FBI, and law enforcement and offer whatever assistance and support possible. We mourn the deaths of those who were senselessly murdered this morning in Orlando, hope for the swift recovery of the injured, and keep all their families and loved ones in our thoughts and prayers. On this late-spring Sunday, America faces a sobering reminder that we live in dangerous times, and no matter the source, we will not let down our guard against the evil face of terrorism and hatred. May God Bless Orlando, our state, and this great nation,” Crenshaw said.

Lenny Curry addresses Jacksonville’s reaction to Orlando Pulse massacre

As the world’s eyes focus on Orlando in wake of the mass murder at Pulse early Sunday morning, Jacksonville’s leadership urges vigilance in its wake.

On Sunday afternoon, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry issued a statement addressing actions taken by his office and the sheriff’s office in the wake of the tragedy at Pulse.

“While our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the city of Orlando, it is an incredibly sad day for our nation. As state and federal agencies work diligently to serve and support the victims, families and communities affected by this morning’s tragedy, the Sheriff and I have been in contact to determine how our teams can support and bolster their efforts,” Curry stated.

“To promote our own safety,” Curry continued, “we continue to ask Jacksonville citizens to be aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity or behavior to JSOs non-emergency number at 904.630.0500 or the IWATCH JAX hotline at 888.908.6368.”

Jax pols decry massacre at Orlando Pulse; local candlelight vigil planned at 7 p.m.

The world was shaken by the mass shooting at Orlando nightclub Pulse, one of the mainstays for nightlife and cultural cohesion in Central Florida’s LGBT community.

The body count, as of now, is 50. Undoubtedly, the number will go up at the next press availability.

Reaction came from all over Florida and the world after the biggest targeted act of mass violence against LGBT people in American history.

Jacksonville leaders and politicians were no exception to the rule Sunday morning.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spoke to the massacre on a personal level on Twitter: “My prayers are w/ and for Orlando today. Praying for victims, families & city.”

Curry addressed collaboration with the sheriff in a prepared statement Sunday afternoon.

“While our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with the city of Orlando, it is an incredibly sad day for our nation. As local, state and federal agencies work diligently to serve and support the victims, families and communities affected by this morning’s tragedy, the sheriff and I have been in contact to determine how our teams can support their efforts. To promote our own safety, we continue to ask Jacksonville  citizens to be aware of their surroundings and report any suspicious activity or behavior to JSOs non-emergency number at 904-630-0500 or the iWATCH JAX hotline at 888-908-6368.”

State Attorney Angela Corey likewise was resolute.

“Acts of terrorism against innocent citizens will not be tolerated and we stand united with the citizens of Orlando. I communicated with State Attorney Ashton earlier today to express my condolences and pledge my full support. As I’ve said many times before, our courageous first responders — law enforcement and emergency response teams — protect us on a local level daily and do what our military does on a global level every day. Our hearts go out to the victims of this senseless violent crime and we are grateful to those who responded selflessly and heroically in the face of danger.”

Jacksonville City Councilman Tommy Hazouri, a former mayor and an advocate of the Human Rights Ordinance expansion, posted something similar to Curry’s comments on Facebook: “Thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by this horrific tragedy in Orlando.”

State Sen. Aaron Bean had similar comments on Twitter: “Praying for the victims and their families of the tragedy in Orlando.”

As did State Rep. Lake Ray, who tweeted Sunday morning that “As we continue to learn about the details of this tragic event, my whole family is in prayer for the victims and their families. We stand with the people of Orlando through this difficult time.”

Ray is running for the GOP nomination in Congressional District 4. As is Hans Tanzler, who tweeted “Our thoughts and prayers are with those injured and killed earlier this morning in Orlando.”

Former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford, meanwhile, lauded first responders for taking action as they did to mitigate the situation from possibly getting worse.

“I’m very proud of our local, state and federal law enforcement, in what appears to be a very decisive, lifesaving, tactical response to this “active shooter” incident — saving the lives of 30 hostages,” Rutherford posted to Facebook Sunday morning.

“At this time,” Rutherford added, “it appears to be an act of terror by a ‘lone wolf’ and drives home the fact that we must all be vigilant and if you ‘see something, say something,’ by going to iWATCHJAX.com.”

Donnie Horner, running for the GOP nomination in House District 11, tweeted that “my heart breaks for the victims and their families in Orlando and my prayers are with them.”

The Jacksonville Coalition for Equality had this to say on Facebook: “As we learn more about the heinous act of terror committed against our community at Pulse Orlando, we stand in solidarity with the victims of this tragedy and all impacted. Our thoughts and prayers are with our counterparts in Orlando and across the country.”

Jacksonville residents who want to find solidarity in this troubled time are urged to convene at a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. tonight at Memorial Park.

Debbie Mayfield kicks in another $100K, maintains lead over Ritch Workman in SD 17

Vero Beach state Rep. Debbie Mayfield threw another $100,000 of her own money into the Senate District 17 race last month, putting her ahead of her chief rival, fellow Republican Rep. Ritch Workman.

The six-figure loan was coupled with $25,500 in contributions, mainly from individual donors, but was offset by more than $150,000 in May expenditures.

The bulk of that money, about $109,000, went to the Jensen Beach-based David Millner Group for media production and placement, though West Palm Beach shop Acclaim Communications also received $22,884 for a direct mail campaign.

After the ad buys, Mayfield entered June with $167,360 on hand. The total makes her the leader of the three-way Republican Primary for the seat, which covers Indian River County and part of Brevard.

Workman, who raised about $20,000 last month, finished May in a firm second place with $106,771 on hand, none of it from loans.

The other two candidates, Republican Michael Thomas and Democrat Christopher Duncan, lag far behind both Mayfield and Workman. Thomas, a state committeeman, added $360 in May for an on hand total of $3,801, while Duncan’s report has not yet been filed.

SD17 is a safe Republican seat and will likely go to the winner of the August GOP primary. According to the district plan, about 45 percent of the electorate are registered Republicans compared to a 34 percent share for Democrats.

Miami Beach Democratic attorney jumps to SD 38 lead with six-figure loan

Longtime Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis’ exit from Senate District 38 race Thursday was a game changer, but the contest’s newest entrant upped the ante with a six-figure loan to his campaign.

North Miami Beach attorney Jason Pizzo was only in the race for the last week of May but kicked off his campaign with a $200,000 loan that put him miles ahead of the other four Democrats vying for the South Florida senate seat.

The Stearns Weaver Miller attorney didn’t bring in any contributions other than the loan, and finished the month with $172,274 on hand after spending $18,500 on campaign consulting from Bendixen & Amandi International and $9,000 on a website by Corey Consulting.

The total gives him more than four times the combined campaign cash of the other four Democrats running for the seat: Rep. Daphne Campbell, former Rep. Philip Brutus, Anis Blemur and Don Festge.

Other than Pizzo, the only candidate to break five figures in fundraising last month was Brutus, whose sole contribution was a $10,000 loan to his campaign, leaving him with about $9,700 on hand.

Blemur, who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2014, added $4,400 last month for an on hand total of $14,015 through four months in the race. Campbell, who filed for the seat in January, raised $2,732 last month to bring her campaign account up to $13,845.

Festge, a high school teacher, raised $305 and spent $885 in his fourth month on the trail, leaving him with $1,118 at the end of the month.

So far, no Republican has filed for SD 38, which carries one of the largest Democratic advantages of any district. According to redistricting documents, 60 percent of SD38 voters are registered Democrats, compared to just 16 percent who are registered Republicans.


With more than $30K, Doug Broxson widens lead over Mike Hill in SD 1

Gulf Breeze Republican Rep. Doug Broxson widened his fundraising lead over Pensacola Beach Republican Rep. Mike Hill in the Senate District 1 race last month with more than $30,000 in contributions.

May marked the third-straight five-figure month for Broxson, who raised $30,700 in May and spent about $10,700. Hill, the only other candidate who filed for the Panhandle seat, raised $13,335 and spent $7,282.

The report shows 69 contributions for the Broxson campaign, including 17 for the largest donation of $1,000.

Notable donors include former House Speaker Allan Bense, who also contributed to the GOP frontrunners vying for Broxson’s and Hill’s soon-to-be-vacated House seats.

Broxson’s expenditures included about $2,500 in payments to Tallahassee-based consulting company Frontline, as well as a $1,400 fee to Brandon-based Web Elect for polling.

The $20,000 net gain in campaign cash last month left the HD 3 representative with about $165,000 in the bank at the start of June.

Hill, who entered the Senate race the same day as Broxson, took in 57 contributions last month, with most of them coming in through donations of $250 or less, though he did receive three $1,000 contributions, including one from Pensacola auto dealer Jessica Lee.

After expenses, which included about $3,000 in payments to Gainesville-based Data Targeting Research, Hill finished May with $21,142 in his campaign account.

Broxson and Hill, neither of whom are facing term limits, announced for the Senate shortly after current SD 1 Republican Sen. Greg Evers announced he would run for Congress.

SD 1 holds the second-most GOP voters of all senate districts, with about 48 percent of the electorate belonging to the Republican Party. Back in 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the district with 66 percent of the vote.

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