Opinions – Page 4 – Florida Politics

John Thomas: Duke Energy should keep its promise to Polk County

It’s good when a Florida business can partner with a huge corporation on a project that will revive a struggling community. So, it’s particularly distressing when the corporation acts like a bully, pushing aside the interests of its smaller partner — and the entire community — so it can grab a bigger profit for itself.

Unfortunately, that’s what’s happening right now in the small Central Florida town of Fort Meade, which has been struggling to recover from the closure of phosphate mines that once drove the economy of Polk County. The decision by Duke Energy to abandon its partner, U.S. EcoGen, could cost the local community hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars.

As a director of the Florida Alliance for Consumers and Taxpayers (FACT), an organization that weighs in on consumer issues, and a longtime advocate for local communities, I have seen far too many instances where big corporations run over those who place their trust in them. In this case, Duke Energy’s cash grab has caught the attention of some important state legislators.

A little background: Duke Energy partnered with U.S. EcoGen in 2011 to build a $400 million plant to produce biomass renewable energy, which would provide Duke with enough electricity to power approximately 10,000 homes. Relying on this agreement, U.S. EcoGen has already spent more than $40 million developing the project and bought more than 1,300 acres in Polk County for the new facility. The project was delayed by everything from the discovery of gopher tortoises to the new federal tax reform law — things beyond the control of the smaller company. U.S. EcoGen asked Duke Energy for a one-year extension, meaning it would start delivering power in 2020, but the mega-corporation said no.

This refusal is both baffling and harmful to consumers, since the state Public Service Commission has said the project would save ratepayers almost $60 million. Baffling, that is, unless you consider that it looks like Duke Energy has taken an interest in operating its own renewable energy business. In a PSC document from last year, Duke Energy asked permission to enter the renewable energy field, which would make it a direct competitor with U.S. EcoGen — not a partner. Unless, of course, it found a way to stop U.S. EcoGen’s plant from ever opening.

Unsurprisingly, the project has wide support from the local community who sees this as a unique opportunity to diversify their economic future. Additionally, State Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Jay Trumbull, who chair legislative panels that oversee energy and utilities’ issues, have written letters encouraging Duke Energy to move forward with this project. They cite the financial implications for the community, the potential loss of hundreds of high-paying jobs, and the impact on consumers.

Duke Energy has a real chance to do something good for its ratepayers, good for this community, and good for the public. It’s not too late for the corporation to change its mind, so for the sake of this community and Florida, let’s hope that Duke does the right thing.


John Thomas is a director with the Florida Alliance for Consumers and Taxpayers. He has decades of experience working with local governments and elected officials.

Joe Henderson: Trump giving supporters exactly what they voted for

In his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump basically told the American people what he was going to do about immigration.

He was going to be tough. He was going to be ruthless.

Mercy was only for the weak.

He would show the world his version of America. It was a two-handed shove to the chest.

So, if you voted for him, don’t pretend you’re surprised border agents are tearing families apart and you didn’t think it would go that far.

This is the nation Gov. Rick Scott had a hand in creating during the campaign when he backed Trump at every turn.

It’s what Republican gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam endorse every time they use Trump’s name.

This is the America religious leaders like Franklin Graham supported throughout the campaign and in the first year and a half of Trump’s presidency, even as evidence piled up daily that he was a bully-in-chief.

Now that children are being separated from their parents at the border with no timetable for seeing them again, Graham told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “It’s disgraceful, and it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.”

Disgraceful? He didn’t see this coming?

How could he not?

Trump’s supporters voted for a man who bragged that his celebrity status gave him the right to grab women anywhere he wanted. He supported white supremacists.

He hired Steve Bannon.

They cheered when he shook a fist and shouted repeatedly about building a wall between Mexico and the United States. They stood with him when he insulted our closest allies.

He called Canada a national security threat, but said of Kim Jong Un, “I think it’s great to give him credibility.”

He tripled the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and if some of them act like jackboots, well, that’s just the Trumpian way of enforcing the law, eh?

Trump has been exactly what he promised to be. Did anyone think he was kidding during the campaign and would somehow realize he is the president of 320 million people, not just those who voted for him?

What’s unfolding over immigration is just the next logical step.

He gave people like Attorney General Jeff Sessions power, who now says separating families is OK because the Bible supports it.

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said.

Sessions has been justifiably skewered for taking that out of context, but he also ignored the instruction from Jesus in Mark 12: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

But hey, people should have seen that coming, too.

After all, Trump told students at Liberty University about a verse in “Two Corinthians” instead of 2nd Corinthians, and he told a group of evangelicals in Iowa that he had never asked God for forgiveness.

Um, the Bible kind makes it clear that seeking forgiveness is important.

Evangelicals voted him anyway in large numbers because he pandered to them. They helped create this. It’s too late for some to say they don’t like it.

None of this is an argument against immigration laws and border enforcement, but there is a way to do it without blowing families apart – and on some level, Trump and his minions know this, don’t they?

But they’re all so focused on being tough that they forget everything else.

On Sunday, Father’s Day, Fox News reported Melania Trump’s office said: “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families & hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws but also a country that governs w/heart.”

A heart.

That would be nice. But that’s not what his supporters voted for. They voted for a crude brute who told them what he was going to do. They believed him.

He didn’t let them down.

They own this.

Blake Dowling: Social engineering

Do you need a break from Putnam, Donald, Kim and all the other headlines raging this week in the Sunshine State and our nation?

How ‘bout we talk cybersecurity, so you can make sure you have all the bases covered (baseball analogy for the upcoming College World Series).

Are you familiar with “social engineering?” The term gets thrown around a lot in cybersecurity circles, but according to Webroot:

“Social engineering is the art of manipulating people, so they give up confidential information. The types of information these criminals are seeking can vary, but when individuals are targeted the criminals are usually trying to trick you into giving them your passwords or bank information, or access your computer to secretly install malicious software — that will give them access to your passwords and bank information as well as giving them control over your computer.”

In the political, lobbying and business world we live in, we have long, complex passwords, perimeter security devices, layered anti-spam and anti-virus tools, someone watching the network with a remote monitoring tool, real-time backups, etc.

Social engineering bypasses all that.

I am sure everyone remembers former Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. He got a bogus email from Google, saying he must change his password now, which he did. It was subsequently stolen (as it was not really from Google).

The ramifications were significant, as we all know.

Now think about how former CIA Director John Brennan’s personal email account was similarly hacked. That’s right. The CIA.

Hackers called Brennan’s internet provider, Verizon, and claimed to be from Verizon customer service trying to fix an issue with their client. They didn’t stop until they had his Social Security number.

The hackers took that info, did a password reset and — presto — complete access to all his email.

In Florida, I have personally seen phishing attempts to local, association and lobbying entities were hackers dig up info on key personnel in the organization, an attempt to impersonate them.

If your email address is posted on your website, the bad guys can find it. They then create a fake domain resembling yours and reference something in the news to make the email sound legit and ask for money.

As an example, Bob gets an email from his accounting person saying they need $4K to put on a rally in Miami, the individual needs the money wired because they “can’t use a credit card.”

You would think there’s no way this would work, but occasionally it does. I have seen it happen.

Last week, I took a call from a client who said Microsoft is calling them to do some maintenance and needs their password. As I have said before it is hard enough to get a call through to Microsoft, they certainly never call you for anything, ever. This is an attempt at a hack. What if you have an intern at your office or a campaign volunteer. Do they know about this? Or would they give their password to “Microsoft” putting all of your data in jeopardy?

Sometimes you can’t even trust the security companies as widely known security giant, Kaspersky was hijacked, or maybe even involved in some cyber shenanigans.

Here in Florida, we must protect ourselves every day, especially with some huge elections on the horizon.

Just like college football (and elections), Texas, California and Florida are the states you want to watch, and all eyes — including hackers — will be looking this way. Just like last time.

Make sure you and everyone on your team are ready.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

Joe Henderson: Money no object in Jeff Greene’s bid for Governor

It’s debatable if money can buy happiness, but there is anecdotal evidence that it can buy the keys to the Florida Governor’s mansion.

Rick Scott proved that by spending millions from his considerable personal bank account to win the Republican nomination in 2010, then the general election and finally a second term.

Now, Democrat Jeff Green says he is prepared to follow Scott’s script and spend, as he told the Miami Herald, “ … whatever it takes” to become Florida’s next Governor.

Not only that, Green told the newspaper he’s willing to lend a financial hand to other state Democratic candidates to flip the Legislature after 20 years of Republican rule.

Sure, he’s jumping into the race so late that most conventional candidates wouldn’t bother. The primary is only 2 ½ months away, and his rivals — Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — have been crisscrossing the state for months.

The electorate has reacted mostly with a yawn though, and Green told the Herald that’s why he decided to go all-in.

The leader is clearly Mr. Undecided. None of these candidates have really been able to inspire the voters,” Greene said.

Money can buy a lot of inspirational TV ads, and Greene is worth an estimated $4 billion.

He does bring a lot of baggage to the race, starting with the fact he once ran for Congress in Los Angeles as a Republican, but Charlie Crist used to be a Republican too and, well, things change.

Greene did make a mess of things the last time he ran for elected office though. That was an ill-fated 2010 U.S. Senate bid, which blew up following reports Greene was partying hard with people like Mike Tyson and Lindsay Lohan.

Do people even care about things like that any more (see Trump, Donald)?

I guess we’ll find out.

Besides, Greene says he strictly a family man, interested in education, and that all those party stories were exaggerated anyway.

“Here I am eight years later, and thank God I have three beautiful sons,” he told The Associated Press.

“When you have kids who are starting to grow, you start thinking about things like education and what kind of world they’re going to have.”

Well, OK.

In the past or not, that won’t stop rivals from bringing up the party stuff anyway if Greene starts to gain traction. It also could complicate a Democratic race that was increasingly beginning to take on a Levine-versus-Graham look.

Even if Greene’s bid is not successful, it could force the other Democrats to spend even more resources now instead of keeping some cash in the bank for the general election.

And that benefits … guess who?

Adam Putnam.

For as much bad press as Putnam has gotten lately, he has only one rival for the Republican nomination and Ron DeSantis, despite his regular appearances on Fox News and the endorsement from President Donald Trump, hasn’t made much headway.

Putnam has money. Name recognition.

And for now, at least, he seems to have withstood the twin haymakers from the Publix controversy and the bungled handling of concealed weapons permits by his office at the state Agriculture Department.

Even if Greene somehow wins the Democratic nomination, he would find Putnam (I’m assuming) to be a formidable opponent.

But hey, eight years ago I thought the idea of a businessman spending millions of his own dollars to win the Governor’s race was laughable.

No one is laughing anymore.

Joe Henderson: Maybe only Donald Trump could go to North Korea

It has been a little more than 46 years since President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to The People’s Republic of China.

It turned out to be a major diplomatic coup for the darkly devious president, breaking through a quarter century of ice between China and the United States.

Even the most malevolent president in U.S. history (at the time) was able to accomplish something important. As historians noted, only Nixon could go to China.

Maybe they’ll be saying the same thing about Florida’s part-time resident, President Donald Trump, for his just-concluded summit with North Korea’s malevolent dictator Kim Jong Un.

History might show that only a scoundrel could talk to a scoundrel.

Trump’s arms-length relationship with the truth, his juvenile insults, and his penchant for answering every question about ethical lapses with the same two-word answer — Hillary Clinton — may have convinced his North Korean counterpart that this was his kind of guy.

And President Trump got to enjoy a brief respite in the news from Robert Mueller’s investigation into his ties with Russia.  


Of course, the president also is a little shaky with details about what he just agreed to, so for all we know he may have signed over Seattle to the North Koreans as part of the art of this deal.

But seriously, this could be the breakthrough of all time — and, obviously, we hope it is. I guess we’ll find out when we do.

It seems that Trump dangled the promise of prosperity for the notoriously poor people of North Korea, and that was smart — although it wouldn’t surprise anyone if all that money and so on wound up in the vault at the North Korean presidential mansion.
But hey, if it works and the rogue nation really does dispose of its nuclear stockpile — color me skeptical — then Trump will add that to the lists of things he pulled off that no other U.S. president could accomplish.

Alas, that list also includes insulting and threatening longtime allies while continuing to insist Vladimir Putin is really just misunderstood.

After Trump’s abysmal showing at the G-7 summit last week, the question went out far and wide to Republicans across the land — why aren’t your voices raised in thunderous protest?

Do you really want foreign policy operating under the doctrine, as one top inside source told the Atlantic this week, “We’re America, Bitch.

Somewhere around 40 percent of the country apparently does.

 We’ll find out if that number increases by November’s midterms because Democrats are going all-out and Trump will be at the center of everything they say — even when they’re not saying his name.

That’s true in Florida especially, where Democrat Bill Nelson is in the fight of his political life to hold on to his U.S. Senate seat against Gov. Rick Scott.

But for now, Trump has something to talk about besides investigations and angry allies.

Good for him.

He might be wise to keep a little history in mind though.

Nixon called his China trip “the week that changed the world” — and history has shown that to be true.

He also hoped it would make people forget about the Vietnam War and the exploding Watergate scandal.

They did not.

Still, Nixon, a scoundrel of the highest order, was forced from office two years and odd months after that breakthrough.

And it’s about two years and odd months before the 2020 presidential election.

It’s just something to keep in mind.

Kevin Sweeny: Vote pledging — the evolution of the ground campaigns

In the nearly half a century since the legal voting age was set at 18, low participation rates among 18- to 24-year-old voters has perplexed candidates, consultants and researchers.

With the ever-growing importance of field campaigns, a renewed effort to reach and mobilize these younger voters — at the local, state and national levels — will be indispensable.

A relatively new trend is emerging to get these prized electors to the polls — vote pledging — and it is finally warranting closer scrutiny. No doubt, this strategy will be put to the test by field campaigns in both the 2018 midterms and beyond.

First, some background; in the political ecosystem, the “youth vote” is a somewhat new concept.

Driven in large part by the military draft, which conscripted men between the ages of 18 and 21, the push to lower the voting age moved quickly.

In March 1971, the U.S. Senate voted 94—0 in favor of proposing a Constitutional amendment, guaranteeing the minimum voting age could not be higher than 18. Thirteen days later, the House of Representatives voted 401—19 in favor of the proposed amendment.

On July 1, 1971, the 26th Amendment was ratified, giving those 18 years of age and older the right to vote.

Nevertheless, in 1972, only 51 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds made their way to the ballot box, compared to 70 percent of those ages 25 years and older.

Forty-four years later, the participation rates of the younger demographic are no better, lagging behind those 25 years of age and older, with 50 percent participation as compared to 65 percent.

We can point to many reasons for the participation gap between older and younger voters, including lack of geographic stability, logistics of when and where to vote (usually a deterrent to newly registered voters), education and income.

Some evidence suggests allowing young citizens to register to vote before they are eligible, may increase voter turnout from this cohort. It has long been argued, with plenty of evidence to support, a fully operational field and grassroots campaign can play a critical factor in mobilizing specific voting blocks in successful campaigns.

Slowly, after some experimentation, a few field campaigns have realized the key to votes at the ballot box was securing a commitment from the voter and then following up to get them to stick to their pledge.

This approach likely overshadowed — yielding more significant results — the more traditional multiple door/phone outreach which was common until the 2004 cycle.

Modern and advanced field campaigns continue to test the effectiveness of collecting pledges and issuing reminders in person and across social media platforms.

Highly technical and sophisticated campaigns — which are adequately funded and have the workforce to do so — will ask voters to fill out pledge cards and personally return those cards ahead of Election Day.

This “get out the vote” (GOTV) tactic can be used to attract voters of all ages.

Few field campaigns indeed focus on mobilizing young voters because they believe there is a low return on investment (votes). However, “vote pledges” may be the tactic field campaigns can use to increase turnout in the under-24 voting bloc.

Vote pledging is a simple approach based on the premise that if a voter makes an “in-person commitment” to specific future behavior, they are more likely to follow through than a voter who was not asked explicitly to commit and sign a card.

An in-person commitment can be at the door or possibly over the phone.

This campaign tactic bridges cognitive psychology, which focuses on mental processes especially concerning the internal events occurring between sensory stimulation, open expression of behavior and comparative behaviorism.

Simply put, it suggests commitments to perform a specific action can significantly increase the likelihood of such action.

The mechanism of soliciting (and then enforcing) promises may be the most powerful tool in a field campaign’s psychological arsenal. While vote pledging is a relatively straightforward mobilization tactic, it invokes basic psychological processes above and beyond the traditional demographic parameters in models of voter turnout, such as education, race and age.

Theories of commitment, cognitive dissonance and self-perception imply pledging to vote may engage a whole host of behavioral mechanisms — and can be used to explain how an individual’s own actions can be used to persuade future performance.

While it appears simplistic, this theory has rarely been tested by researchers in the political arena. A randomized controlled experiment was conducted during the 2016 Pennsylvania primary election and the 2016 Colorado general election.

Experiments revealed individuals who pledged to vote were more likely to turn out than those contacted using standard campaign materials, such as mailers and an election’s general information guides.

Further, pledging to vote significantly increased turnout among individuals who had never previously cast a ballot, thus having a particularly significant effect for bringing new voters into the electorate in large numbers, rather than just ensuring turnout among regular voters.

Overall, pledging to vote increased voter turnout by 3.7 points among all subjects and 5.6 points for people who had never voted before.

Showing a commitment behind “pledge to vote” increases the participation in elections, and could have real implications for increasing youth turnout.

These findings lend support for theories of commitment and have practical consequences for field campaign mobilization efforts with the goal of expanding the electorate.

It’s also a smart tactic we may see more of from campaigns in the 2018 cycle.

Successful field campaigns must evolve to include a compressive approach, which includes eliciting a pledge (or commitment) to vote coupled with a follow up to reinforce this pledge — all while staying within budget.


Kevin Sweeny is Operations Director for the Florida Justice Association.

Sean Shaw: A legal strategy to combat gun violence

Sean Shaw

In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at their school, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have shown remarkable character and courage. Their resilience and capability to advocate for themselves, their fallen classmates and their peers across Florida, and throughout the country, in the midst of this trauma shows mettle rarely found in public life.

While these students continue to march forward and hold elected leaders accountable, it is worth pausing to note that their advocacy compelled Florida’s state government to pass gun safety reforms for the first time in nearly 20 years.

As is often the case in Florida though, Republican leadership rolled common-sense reforms like raising the age to purchase a rifle to 21, banning bump stocks, and more money for school safety, into a bill that would also arm our teachers.

Unfortunately, the tragic reality is it took three of the most horrific mass shootings ever, all occurring in our state in the past two years, and the fierce advocacy and leadership of our state’s children to force a real conversation about gun violence among our elected leaders.

As Attorney General, I will use the independence of the office to hold state government accountable, fully investigate these horrific shootings and other acts of violence, prosecute those breaking the laws we already have in place, and challenge unjust federal laws that provide near-total immunity for gun manufacturers who should be held accountable for their role in gun violence.

Stopping gun violence requires our next Attorney General to embrace the independence of the office fully. Florida’s Attorney General is not appointed by the Governor but elected by the people.

However, over the last 20 years, Florida’s Republican Attorneys General have done little to address gun violence proactively and have acted more like the personal attorneys of the Governor and Republican leadership in the Legislature.

The resulting deference has resulted in our state’s top legal officer fighting for partisan gains and justifying the National Rifle Association’s agenda rather than standing for the safety of the people of Florida.

The most egregious example of this deference to the legislature and Governor’s partisan agenda is the pre-emption of local rules by the state Legislature, even going so far as to make it a crime for local officials to pass gun safety reforms in their communities.

There are tremendous differences between the cities and counties in Florida. Solutions that make sense in Escambia County could be harmful or unhelpful to the residents of Hillsborough County.

Unfortunately, this is the current system levied upon us by the last 20 years of Florida leaders.

Several mayors, city councils, and local municipalities are in the process of preparing to challenge this pre-emption statute. Additionally, several candidates for Governor have stated they will challenge this law if elected.

As Attorney General, I know my top priority is protecting Florida families and keeping the people of Florida safe. I will not waste the state’s resources or taxpayer dollars defending arbitrary and thoughtless policies that prevent local solutions.

I will not defend the state’s current pre-emption policy on gun laws.

The status quo in Tallahassee has based gun laws entirely upon the directives of lobbyists for the Gun Lobby and completely disregards any real concern for public safety or home rule. The truth is we can respect the Second Amendment while passing common-sense gun safety legislation and respecting local control.

Empowering local governments can help reduce gun violence, but it is just one of the steps that must be taken.

As Attorney General, I will fully utilize the office of the Statewide Prosecutor to investigate gun violence across jurisdictions.

These extraordinary powers to investigate and prosecute organized crime, violence, and drug trafficking have been underutilized and mismanaged over the past 20 years. Three horrific mass shootings in less than two years and an epidemic of gun violence where a child is shot every 17 hours in our state demands an investigation to fully understand how violent criminals are gaining access to guns, bullets and other weapons.

We must understand the common threads that allowed the shootings at Pulse, the Ft. Lauderdale airport, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to occur.

Moreover, we must go beyond legal prosecutions to proactively recommend precise legislation to ban assault weapons and make it more difficult to access illegal handguns.

By better understanding the common threads between these shootings, we can better prevent future attacks.

The recommendations of the Statewide Prosecutor and local prosecutors who have been proactively fighting back against this tide of violence can be paired with common sense legislation including banning individuals on the terrorist watch list from obtaining a gun, making it harder for convicted domestic abusers to purchase a gun, and requiring schools to have and practice active shooter protection plans.

One of the most effective tactics available to an Attorney General is participating in joint litigation with other Attorneys General or individuals to support cases defending the interests of the people of Florida.

For all the lives lost, families destroyed, and psychological torment caused by gun violence, the one group who has never been held accountable is gun manufacturers. This is because gun manufacturers are the only industry in the United States that have near total immunity or a nearly complete shield from being held accountable for the products they produce through the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA.

I believe this law is unconstitutional, and as Attorney General, I will actively seek out opportunities to challenge the PLCAA either alone or with other states, in order to get this question in front of the Supreme Court of the United States.

As Florida’s chief law enforcement officer and top lawyer, I believe no one industry should be provided near total immunity from being held accountable. On a constitutional basis, I see the federal passage of the PLCAA as a tremendous overreach of Congress.

I support the Second Amendment and believe the Constitution of the United States protects the rights of individuals to have a gun. As someone who grew up in North Florida, I understand the importance hunting plays as a cultural bonding agent for many Floridians.

However, gun violence is an epidemic in Florida.

Our next Attorney General must take these steps and other actions to not only honor the memory of those who were lost at the Pulse Nightclub massacre, the Ft. Lauderdale Airport shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and those killed in acts of gun violence every day in Florida, but to also keep our families safe.


Sean Shaw is currently a member of the Florida House of Representatives for District 61 and the Democratic candidate for Attorney General.

Joe Henderson: Susan Valdes turns Hillsborough races topsy-turvy

Normally, the decision of a local school board member to run for another office — in this case, the Florida House — would be interesting, but not seismic.

But this is Hillsborough County, where people have learned to expect the unexpected.

So it is with the now-irrevocable decision by Susan Valdes to resign from the Hillsborough School Board, presumably, so she can run as a Democrat for the House District 62 seat being vacated by Janet Cruz, the political scene in the county just got a little bit crazy.

Or, maybe a whole lot crazy.

It appeared for a time Friday that the whole plan, which had been rumored for weeks, had imploded. It was initially reported that the paperwork for her resignation from the Board, a necessary first step if she intends to run for another office, had not been filed with county elections supervisor by the deadline.

That was premature.

Communication Director Gerri Kramer said the office received Valdes’ official resignation notice at around 7:30 that night, after the close of business.

After conferring with legal counsel, Kramer said it was determined that Valdes had met the deadline. She will continue to stay on the Board until either her successor is sworn in or she assumes another office, but she cannot withdraw the resignation now.

She still has to file qualifying papers for the House race, but resigning from the School Board, where she has served since 2004 and two years remaining on her current term, is a clear signal about what she has in mind.

Qualifying for that race runs from noon on June 18 through noon on June 22.

“I think she immediately would be installed as the favorite,” Hillsborough Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez told Florida Politics “She has name recognition, she has experience, and she certainly understands education. That’s the most important thing we do there.”

Henriquez served in the House from 1998 until 2006.

“Susan has been a friend for a long time,” he said. “When I ran for (property appraiser) she supported me without hesitation. I know her well. She certainly isn’t a wallflower. She doesn’t shy away from controversy

“But the biggest thing is that she knows her community and her district. She would go to Tallahassee to serve them, not because she would be thinking of the job as a springboard to the next big thing.”

Valdes will also likely have the support of Cruz, who is the outgoing House Minority Leader and is currently challenging Dana Young for a seat in the State Senate.

The HD 62 race has been topsy-turvy since presumed front-runner, John Rodriguez, dropped out and took a lobbying job instead with St. Petersburg.

While no Republican has declared for the August 28 primary in the staunchly Democratic district, Valdes will face competition from her own party.

Other Democrats in the primary include Chris Cano, Michael Alvarez, and art teacher Alicia Campos. No party affiliated Jason Stube also is in the race.

Valdes was one of the four Board members who voted to fire former Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who was a rock star to many in the local business community.

The backlash from those people was considerable. Valdes won her 2016 primary election against Bill Person by just 267 votes out of more than 23,000 cast.

Valdes has been the target of a pair of ethics investigations, and her 10Investigates in Tampa reported in 2016 that in one year she had racked up over $14,000 in travel expenses to conferences around the country, more than the other six Board members combined.

Valdes’ impending departure also shakes up the School Board race, as if it wasn’t already uncertain enough.

The next Board will continue to grapple with a debt crisis, many buildings in need of major repair, millions in state funding being diverted to charter schools and vouchers, and a cap on property tax millage rates that compounds the problem.

There will now an election to replace Valdes in District 1, along with three other contested Board seats in the nation’s eighth-largest district.

With potentially four new members coming on board, well, it’s hard to imagine what that could mean. Longtime board member April Griffin announced earlier she will not be running for re-election to the District 6 countywide she won easily in 2014.

Six challengers are vying to replace her.

In District 2, incumbent Sally Harris faces three opponents, while incumbent Melissa Snivley has only one declared opponent in District 4, LaShonda Davison.

Stay tuned. This just got really interesting.

Steve Schale: Florida, persuasion or turnout, or both?

In the never-ending quest to simplify Florida, one of the ongoing debates about winning the state is whether Florida is a state won by winning persuadable voters, or whether it is all about turning out one’s base.

I remember when I started with Barack Obama, I got a ton of advice — most of it unsolicited (much was helpful), though a significant portion went something like this:

“Steve, nothing matters but I-4 … Steve, if you don’t maximize the Jewish vote, you can’t win … Steve, the field is dumb, it is an air war state … Steve, TV is dumb, it is a field war state … Steve, you have to do better with absentees … Steve, don’t waste money trying to convince Democrats to vote by mail … Steve, you have to watch your floor in North Florida, or you can’t win … Steve, you have to take Obama to Condo X, or you won’t win … Steve, you have to pay for bus benches in Miami, or you can’t win.”

You get the point.

Here is the secret — all of it matters. Florida is neither a persuasion state or a turnout state. It is, in my honest opinion, both. It doesn’t matter if it is a presidential cycle or a midterm year, Florida is a state about managing margins, everywhere.

Avid readers of my blog (thank you to all three of you) have read me refer to Florida as a self-correcting scale. The bases of both parties do a nice job of balancing — or canceling themselves out, almost regardless of population or demographic shifts.

Before we go any further — it is important to note that this phenomenon is almost exclusively a result of my party losing vote share among non-Hispanic whites. If we were winning non-Hispanic whites at a level anywhere near Obama 2008, based on the demographic shifts in Florida, we would be a leaning to likely Democratic state.

At the same time — if Florida wasn’t experiencing demographic changes — and the Republicans weren’t losing share among voters of color — particularly Hispanics, we would be a predictably Republican state. Functionally, if either party can broaden their own coalition, Florida quickly gets less competitive.

But these two factors have largely canceled each other out — hence the self-correcting scale.

Let’s review quickly how Democrats and Republicans win Florida.

Because I am a Democrat, let’s start there. Democrats earn their votes in a handful of counties, specifically: Leon, Gadsden, Alachua, Hillsborough, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade.

Winning Democratic candidates typically do a few other things: win Pinellas, win St. Lucie, win a few North Florida counties like Jefferson, maintain reasonable margins counties like in Duval, Sarasota, Volusia, and Seminole. They also maintain a reasonable floor in North Florida, suburban/exurban counties around I-4 and the Fort Myers media market.

For Republicans, their math is a little different — they win a lot more counties but by relatively smaller counties. Their win comes from winning in places like Pinellas and St. Lucie as well as running up the score in places like Duval, the suburban and exurban counties around I-4, and in southwest Florida.

I’ve written extensively about this dynamic in presidential cycles. You can read my primer on Florida here, or my 2016 debrief here and here, but in short, I would argue there was a lot of misreading of the Obama wins in Florida.

Yes, they were driven by significantly increasing the margins in the Democratic base counties over John Kerry and growing them in 2012. But here’s the thing — that alone wouldn’t have won the state. In both 08 and 12, Obama generally kept the margins in check in the GOP counties — and he won the few battleground counties that exist in Florida.

Take Obama 12 and Hillary Clinton 16 — both races decided by a roughly 1 percent margin. For all the chatter about a “less than enthusiastic” Democratic base, Clinton won the base Democratic counties by more than Obama did.

Her problem wasn’t turnout. Her problem was Trump winning the few battleground counties and setting records in both share of the vote and actual vote margins in those places where they must run up the score to win, and where we need to keep it in check.

I can read your mind — “That’s interesting Steve, but this is a midterm cycle, and you know it is different.”

Yes, it is — and no it isn’t.

Yes, it’s different because the electorate is smaller, and at least in the last two cycles, been more Republican (a fact impacted by two consecutive midterm waves for the GOP), which was a change from 06, where turnout marginally leaned Democratic (and Dems won 2 statewide races).

But there are a lot of similarities between the presidential and midterm cycles. Both Republicans and Democrats still need to carry their margins in the same counties as they do in presidential cycles. While the vote totals are different in individual regions and counties are different, the functional roadmaps for winning isn’t.

Rick Scott won two elections by a point. However, the shape of those wins was quite different, and in those differences lies the path to how the Democrats can win in 2018.

In 2010, the Democratic struggles were a creature of three real problems: Hispanic drop-off from 2008, lower participation among white Democrats particularly in Central Florida, and a wave of GOP and GOP-leaning NPA voters who saw voting for the GOP as a way to send a message to President Obama.

From a math standpoint, this led to lower than necessary margins in South and Central Florida base counties. But here is the thing, Scott ran up some very large margins in parts of the state, Alex Sink kept him in check in many others. In fact, she kept him in check by more than enough in many GOP counties to have a winning coalition if the Democratic counties had performed well. But they didn’t.

The lesson of Sink: Florida isn’t alone a persuasion state.

Charlie Crist’s math in 2014 was quite different. Crist ran on a far more progressive platform than Sink, with a fairly robust turnout operation — certainly not the size of Obama, but the largest in midterm cycle history for Florida Democrats, and as a result succeeded to run up the score in the base Democratic counties, winning the three South Florida counties by almost 100,000 more votes than Sink. He also did well enough in the “Crist counties” — the stretch from Pasco through Sarasota, where his brand is most established, winning those counties by almost 2.5 percent, where Sink lost them by a half of a point.

But the floor fell out for him in North Florida. Despite North Florida shrinking as a percentage of the electorate from 2010 (20 percent) to 2014 (19 percent), Crist lost the region by 8 percent more than Sink did, netting Scott’s margin roughly 107,000 more votes, more than wiping out the gains Crist made in the base Democratic counties (97,000 votes).

One other way of looking at it, Crist won the base Democratic counties by 92,000 more votes than Sink did. He lost everything else by 95,000 more votes than Sink. The lesson of Crist, as was also the lesson of Clinton: Florida isn’t alone a turnout state.

If Clinton has her margins in the base counties, plus Obama’s elsewhere, she wins by a point or two.

If Sink had her math, plus Crist’s margins in the base counties, he wins by about a point. If Crist has his margins, plus Sink’s margins only in North Florida, he wins by almost a point.

2018 will be different yet.

The Democratic nominee will benefit from an electorate that is more diverse, meaning the base county margins should rise, and I think there is a lot of room for growth in the Orlando urban core. However, at the same time, they will be unlikely to be able to count on some the margins Crist won in his corner of the state and will have to contend with areas where the GOP population is growing.

The questions aren’t as simple as how do we turnout more voters, but also have to include questions like how do we keep Duval looking more like it did for Obama, Clinton, and Sink than it did for Scott in 14 or Rubio?

For Republicans, they must deal with the fact demographics are changing in a way that helps the Democrats, and that 2018, unlike 2010 and 2014, will almost surely not be a very good Republican year, as we’ve seen in each of the competitive special and off-cycle elections this year.

I believe that in Scott/Nelson, as well as in the Governor’s race, Florida starts this year somewhere around 47-47 — maybe even 48-48, and we will be fighting over the path to that remaining 150,000 votes or so that a winning candidate will need.

Some of those votes are found by increasing turnout, others won and lost in the persuasion fight. The candidate who wins in 2018 won’t find those votes by getting just one of those things right, they will succeed in building the right answer to a puzzle.

That is just how Florida works these days.

Joe Henderson: Being front-runner now just makes Philip Levine top target

The primaries are about 2 ½ months away, and so much can happen before voters choose their candidates for Florida’s next Governor that being the front-runner now only means you’re the main target.

With that in mind, Democrat Philip Levine, who is leading polls mostly (I believe) because he has been the only candidate from his party to put a lot of ads on TV, might want to go easy on the whole “I’m the front-runner” idea.

Ask Adam Putnam how much it means to be ahead before most people have even begun to pay serious attention to the elections. Get real.

But that didn’t stop Levine from a groan-inducing moment during Saturday’s Democratic debate.

When his three opponents on the stage — Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — put Levine on the defensive by bringing up his 2010 contribution of $2,400 to Republican Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate campaign.

That prompted this ill-advised quip from Levine: “Boy, it’s sure fun to be the front-runner.”

It was not well-received by the audience at Pinellas Park High School, and it just reminded everyone that Levine has a reputation as thin-skinned.

That brings up two points:

First, it reminded people of his gaffe in the first Democratic debate when the man who has proposed giving $10,000 raises to Florida teachers — estimated cost: $1.8 billion — couldn’t answer a direct question about how much the state already budgets for education.

That was quite the conversation-starter in the aftermath of that debate, and the last thing Levine should have wanted was for people to be talking about this line after the second go-round.

Second, it opened the question of whether Levine was prepared for the grilling a poll-leader should expect.

If this line was a rehearsed response in anticipation of being knocked around, he should have ditched that idea long before he got to the stage.

If it was spontaneous, that doesn’t bode well either. What would he be like sitting in the Governor’s chair when the grill gets a lot hotter than what he faced Saturday night?

To be fair, he did come back with a nod toward party unity in his closing statement, noting, “I hope every single one of you votes for me, but I know one thing. If any of the four of us become Governor, our state will be in way better shape than it is today.”

Levine has reliably progressive ideas and the money to get his message out. And it’s not like his opponents don’t have their own obstacles to overcome.

Graham has been attacked from the left for not being progressive enough, although her declaration during Saturday’s debate that if elected she will sign an executive order banning the sale of military-style assault weapons was a bold gambit.  

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has had to defend his vote as a city commissioner in 2005 to join with other cities to build a $1.5 billion coal-fired plant.

Businessman Chris King is struggling to find traction in a crowded field.

And Jeff Green, a late entry to the race, decided to skip Saturday’s debate. Interesting strategy, eh?

But even though this is his first statewide campaign, Levine surely must know that leading the polls — and he does, by a wide margin — only means his rivals will come at him with more pointed attacks. It doesn’t get easier from now through the August primary, and after that it gets ferocious.

Get used to it.

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