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Jacksonville Bold for 8.11.17 — Now we go to school

Those who work at Jacksonville City Hall have received a political education of late, demonstrated by a recent City Council bill on funding after-school programs.

With apologies to Ric Flair, but his famous catchphrase “now we go to school” applies here … and not just because this bill was education-related.

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis wanted to tap into general fund reserves for one-time money to fund after-school program expansion — a position at odds with that of Mayor Lenny Curry, on yet another issue.

In a statement, Curry said that would not be “prudent” and would send the wrong message to ratings agencies, and if the bill passed with that condition, “the mayor would evaluate it when it lands on his desk.”

Instead, here’s what happened. The Finance Chair’s amendments got turfed, with the old guard of the Council — Bill Gulliford, John Crescimbeni and others — again controlling the discourse at the expense of Dennis and Council President Anna Brosche.

As with previous conflicts between Dennis and Curry (see: swimming lessons money), the battle took a familiar track. Dennis got out in front of consensus on an issue, and Team Curry picked off potential supporters in quiet conversations after that.

With budget discussions beginning this week in Dennis’ committee, we are reminded of another famous Flair phrase.

“To be the man,” the Nature Boy often said when defending his world title, “you’ve got to beat the man.”

Does Dennis have the juice? We’ll watch that this month, along with all kinds of other excitement in state and federal politics, some of which you will see below.

John Rutherford heads to Israel

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford has settled in quickly to his role in Congress and this recess week found the Jacksonville Republican burnishing his foreign policy chops with a trip to the Middle East.

John Rutherford is making his first trip to Israel as a congressman.

Per a news release from Rutherford’s office, the congressman left for Israel Monday “as part of a delegation of Members of Congress to meet with various leaders in the region including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas.”

The delegation discussed “US relations in the region including economic, military and security cooperation.”

Rutherford met “with Nafatali Bennet, the Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs, IDF Soldiers, as well as Israeli military leaders, professors and business leaders. The group will also tour Israeli military bases, as well as visit historic and holy sites.”

Guilt is a ‘myth,’ says Corrine Brown lawyer

Rep. Brown was in court this week fighting guilty convictions on 18 counts, contending that she should a] get a new trial and/or b] be acquitted.

The arguments had been rehearsed in the written motions and during the trial, as the prosecution noted.

One man’s wire fraud is another man’s mythology.

“The defense is not saying anything different today than it did [during] the proceedings,” one of the prosecutors asserted, hammering in on repeated instances of “fraudulent omissions” regarding pitches to donors, statements on tax returns, and so on — with Brown’s word being the only evidence to the contrary.

Evidentiary points, such as Brown holding blank checks from One Door, loomed large as evidence of Brown’s involvement.

“She had hijacked the charity, had her chief of staff take control of the finances, and was bleeding it dry,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Coolican said.

Rev. Jesse Jackson was there in support — yet another nostalgia act on this never-ending road show that is the end of Corrine Brown’s political career.

Quiet July for Paul Renner committees

July was the first month of fundraising for future Florida House Speaker Renner‘s political committees since he won the honor in late June.

Paul Renner did not have much committee-level financial activity in July.

Some observers may have anticipated an avalanche of activity, but in reality, the committees had modest contributions and spends.

“Florida Foundation for Liberty,” Renner’s primary committee, brought in just $25,500 in July (spending $20,383 of that), pushing the committee just over $240,000 on hand.

Donations came in from political committees, including the Realtors, Surgi-PAC, and the Florida Credit Union’s political action committee.

The biggest donation: $10,000 from MHK of Volusia County.

Of the over $20,000 spent, $4,000 went to Ballard Consulting, $2,685 went to Renner’s campaign account for reimbursements, $10,000 went to another Renner committee, “Conservatives for Principled Leadership.”

Meanwhile, there were just two external donations, and both were in the Jacksonville metro area.

The committee gave $1,000 to Clay Yarborough‘s campaign, and $2,500 to “A Safe Jacksonville,” the political committee of Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams.

The aforementioned “Conservatives for Principled Leadership,” meanwhile, has just under $18,000 on hand after a $12,500 July.

Beyond the $10,000 from Renner’s other committee, the other $2,500 came from the “Florida Prosperity Fund” committee.

Yarborough continues strong fundraising

Rep. Yarborough, the Jacksonville Republican representing State House District 12, hauled in $7,500 in July fundraising.

Among the bigger names from the nine donors: Foley and Lardner and Florida Foundation for Liberty (the committee of future House Speaker Renner).

Yarborough has raised nearly $49,000 this cycle, and has just under $41,000 of that on hand, as he prepares for a general election challenge in the deep red district.

Yarborough is slated to face a general election opponent: Tim Yost, a local college instructor running as a Democrat.

Yost filed for this race in the middle of July and has raised $2,215, largely from small-dollar donors, with a few bearing the surname of Yost.

Bobby Payne draws competition in HD 19

GOP state Rep. Payne, whose district encompasses parts of Union, Clay, Bradford and Putnam counties, has drawn both primary and general election opposition in recent days.

Green Cove Springs Republican Boyce Royal filed July 31 to run against Payne in the GOP primary.

Royal is a real estate agent by trade.

The winner of that primary will go on to face a Libertarian, Ryan Russell Ramsey, in the general election.

Bobby Payne will be harder to beat in the re-elect than some might think.

Payne, a Palatka native, has just under $23,000 on hand after a $6,500 July comprised of donations from Jacksonville’s power elite — Peter Rummell, the Fiorentino Group, Jacksonville Kennel Club and so on.

Expect that war chest to grow.

Despite being a rookie legislator, Payne will be a tough out; he has a strong working relationship with Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings of the Clay Delegation, and with Gov. Rick Scott.

In the contested GOP primary in 2016, Payne won his native Putnam with 55 percent of the vote, but he held his own — and then some — elsewhere. He got 47 percent of the vote in Union, 31 percent in Clay, and 35 percent in Bradford.

Curry fundraising machine churns on

Jacksonville Mayor Curry hasn’t officially launched his re-election campaign, but the donor class is all in.

Already this month, Curry raised over $100K at an event at the JAX Chamber.

Lenny Curry looks poised for re-election. Will anyone bother challenging him?

Chamber CEO Daniel Davis tweeted out an understatement: “looks like JAX Chamber wants to see Lenny Curry re-elected.”

Curry’s committee continues the momentum one would expect from a popular incumbent.

July saw Curry’s committee raise $52.5K, and disperse $19,647 — including $5,000 to “Seamless Florida,” the committee of St. Petersburg Republican mayoral candidate Rick Baker.

The big donor: Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who ponied up $25K.

There was no invoicing of the trip that Curry took on Khan’s private jet for an economic development trip last week to Baltimore, St. Louis, and Kansas City.

That trip explored, among other concepts, development ideas for future development of the area around Jacksonville’s football stadium and other athletic facilities.

Happy Consolidation anniversary

Jacksonville’s Consolidation (as in the city and the county became one) is 50 years old. And this week, the Florida Times-Union took a walk down memory lane, via an interesting piece from Matt Soergel that dug into the archives and looked at the debate at the time.

The Jacksonville Journal, which used to be the afternoon paper in Jacksonville, noted that “the people [won]” with “Floridians now know[ing] that the sleeping giant who sat at one of the most enviable spots in the state now means to shake off the slumber of years.”

Former Mayor Hans Tanzler in an iconic image after Consolidation.

Did that happen?

Depends on who you ask.

As we saw in July in Jacksonville’s City Council, a resolution in favor of a celebration of Consolidation didn’t muster unanimous support.

A movement for full Council sponsorship of the resolution was spiked by Councilman Reggie Brown, who spoke at length about infrastructural failings and broken promises.

Brown noted that JEA, for example, isn’t committed to sewer and water expansion in his district.

“Until we have a plan to say that if you live inside the Beltway, we will focus on installing sewer and water, there is no celebration,” Brown said.

Likewise, Councilwoman Katrina Brown would not sign on, citing “the same issues,” even as she lauded the Council and JEA for committing $30M over five years for septic tank phase out.

Consolidation conundrum, part 2

More discussion of the future of Consolidation occurred Tuesday in Jacksonville City Council offices.

There is plenty to do, of course.

Fifty years in, and Consolidation is still a work in progress.

One ongoing initiative: a task force to deal with public health issues.

Employee health: another matter to be addressed. Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa suggested Mayor Curry may want to deal with that task force.

And changes in health care could be contemplated.

“The county hospital model is becoming a thing of the past in most cities,” Councilwoman Lori Boyer remarked.

The expansion of CPACs — Citizen Planning Advisory Committees — also was up for discussion.

“When we consolidated, we became a big bureaucratic entity,” Boyer said, with CPACs serving an important role to bring localism to the larger government.

And bringing the discussion back full circle, a discussion of allocating a fixed amount of the capital improvement program budget to the promises made before Consolidation happened.

“Part of the argument for Consolidation,” Boyer said, was standardizing city services.

“Much of [the work] hasn’t been done.”

JAXPORT dredge frustrates City Council

While JAXPORT and the state and federal governments are full steam ahead regarding dredging the St. Johns River to 47 feet, City Councilors wonder how much the city will be soaked for, per the Florida Times-Union.

“They’ve orchestrated it in a way that we’re not engaged until some point in the future,” Councilman Bill Gulliford said. “We don’t know what the actual number will be.”

“At this point, I’m probably in the category of one confused council member,” Councilman John Crescimbeni said. “My comfort level is not great, and it’s a very complicated issue because of all the different numbers and figures that are being bandied about by a variety of sources. I think I need to hire my own forensic accountant to try to reconcile everything down to two files — fact and fiction.”

A disappointed Lori Boyer is not optimal when selling a city commitment.

“I am disappointed that they have chosen to phase this process in such a way that they’re not coming to the city for any approval prior to starting the project,” Councilwoman Boyer said. “That’s clearly the frustrating part.”

While some are on board, the reality is JAXPORT has more selling to do — and probably in noticed meetings.

Jax LGBT advocates laud HRO protections

With uncertainty now the watchword regarding federal protections for LGBT people, Jacksonville advocates are happy that the local Human Rights Ordinance protects them locally, reports the Florida Times-Union.

Despite theistic agitprop, the HRO is now law, reassuring LGBT locals.

Jimmy Midyette, legislative director of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, described what the bill actually means in the new context.

“We had to make the point again and again and again that we’re not covered [and] we’re not doing a ‘feel-good’ bill to make people think we’re doing something,” Midyette said. “I think it just shows with so much uncertainty on the national level it’s more important than ever to have these local protections in place.”

Jacksonville General Counsel Jason Gabriel notes that no matter what happens on the federal level, the local protections are still actionable.

Since the HRO expansion became law in February, no claims have been filed that the law was broken.

St. Johns Republican Chair takes on transgender high schooler

Just across the county line from Jacksonville, the argument for HRO protections was made by a local GOP member going in on a transgender high-school student.

A new low for the St. Johns County GOP: trashing a high-school student.

Action News Jax reports that “Drew Adams, 16, is suing the school district to use the boy’s restroom. The Republican Party recently sent a letter to neighbors, saying it disagrees with the lawsuit, and so does a school board member.”

GOP Chairman Bill Korach said the “girl” is “confused,” saying that the student “ought to use the girl’s restroom” and “ought to get counseling.”

Adams has sued the school district, charging discrimination and petitioning to use the boys’ restroom. coy on buyout rumors

If you’re looking for details on the future of, you might think CEO David Brown would give a hot quote. But you’d be mistaken.

The Jax Daily Record quoted his word salad from a quarterly call with investors, in which Brown was asked to address the rumor directly.

The future of is up in the air.

“Happy to comment on it and that comment is we don’t comment on market rumors about this type of topic,” he said.

“I think it’s worth noting that we’ve always been open to whatever would build long-term shareholder value, whatever maximizes our shareholders’ interests and we’ve said numerous times and continue to say that we talk to lots of people from strategic to financial players in the market. There are many reasons to talk to them,” Brown added.

As with another local business, CSX, lots of tea leaves are being read right now regarding the future.

Times-Union sells out

Morris Communications sold the Florida Times-Union to yet another big media company, Gatehouse, this week.

Morris billed the sale as “a strategic restructuring to focus its business on lifestyle publications, property development and new business.”

The T-U isn’t alone: some Morris properties were also sold this week.

For T-U staffers, this ends a conflicted relationship with the parent company, which compelled the local paper to endorse President Donald Trump last year, and which also had introduced a more corporate feel in recent months, including electronic time card punches for reporters.

It’s going to get more corporate going forward. As the T-U reports, Gatehouse owns “more than 130 daily newspapers and more than 500 non-daily publications across the United States.”

T-U reporters who want to talk about this are welcome to get a beer sometime with our Jacksonville correspondent. He’s happy to listen.

JAXBIZ endorses Atlantic Beach incumbents

BeachesBIZ, a JAXBIZ subcommittee, is supporting incumbents in the races for Mayor of Atlantic Beach and Atlantic Beach City Commission.

The status quo will continue, with Mitch Reeves as the Mayoral pick, and Jimmy Hill and Mitch Harding getting commission nods.

Atlantic Beach Mayor Mitch Reeves

“All of these candidates have proven their commitment to Atlantic Beach, focusing on a thriving local economy while continuing to improve the unmatched quality of life at the beach,” JAXBIZ Chair Denise Wallace said.

Happening Wednesday

Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) launches a first-of-its-kind digital Manufacturers Marketplace at 3 p.m. EST at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, 111 Busch Drive in Jacksonville. A reception will follow the announcement.

The Manufacturers Marketplace is a web-based, searchable buyer/seller network featuring listings of hundreds of thousands of manufacturers in the United States, including Puerto Rico.  Created in partnership with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and other leading state manufacturing associations, the Manufacturers Marketplace is designed to bolster manufacturers in the United States by helping them find, get found and advance their businesses. Register at

Pay to play

College football for students at Keiser University? While that may sound counterintuitive, it is happening, reports the Florida Times-Union.

As with the NFL Seahawks, the Keiser variety expects the 12th Man Advantage

How to field a team with students from campuses across the state? Here’s what the new coach had to say.

“There’s just a lot going on. We’ve got to fill a roster, we’ve got to recruit the state, fill a coaching staff … have daily conversations about facilities, where we’re going to play and where we’re going to put these kids.”

On a positive note, the new athletic director expects robust road support. The students are already commuters.

“We have the advantage in that we have faculty and students [from other campuses around the state] that can come to games while we’re on the road,” the AD said.

PLAYERS back to March

The PLAYERS Championship may be moving back to its more traditional March place on the calendar, after years of taking place in May, the T-U reports.

“The Associated Press reported on Monday, citing unnamed sources, that the PGA will be played at the Bethpage State Park Black Course on Long Island in New York in May of 2019, clearing the way for The Players to move back to the March date it held from 1977 to 2006,” per the T-U.

PLAYERS Championship returns to a March tee-off

“The Players, contested at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, will be held in May one more year under the expected schedule changes. The Tour has held a tournament on the First Coast since 1965, but was in March until Phil Mickelson won the 2007 Players in May,” the T-U adds.

Armada struggle in Puerto Rico

The Jacksonville Armada FC traveled to the Caribbean to take on Puerto Rico FC this past Saturday night for the first road trip of the Fall Season and the first trip under the new ownership of Robert Palm.

Puerto Rico claimed a 1-0 victory after what could only be described as a difficult 90 minutes for Jacksonville.

The Armada have been slumping of late, so Head Coach Mark Lowry boasted some changes in his starting lineup to show that eagerness. New forwards Brian Shriver and Tony Taylor received their first starts with the team, as well as defender Peabo Doue. Shriver and Taylor are both newcomers with Florida pedigree. Shriver is from Clearwater and previously played for Miami FC, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Tampa Bay Rowdies. He led the NASL in playoff goals while playing for Fort Lauderdale in 2011. Taylor played for Jacksonville University and Lynch’s FC in 2009 an amateur Jacksonville club. He signed for Fort Lauderdale the next year and spent several years on loan in Europe before returning to North America to play in MLS.

The changes didn’t make much of a difference early as Puerto Rico was able to create opportunities and recorded 10 first half shots.

Armada endures first fall season loss in Puerto Rico

Jacksonville answered Puerto Rico’s offensive effort with a tough and resourceful defense, however. Mechack Jérôme cleared four chances, with Caleb Patterson-Sewell staying firm in front of the goal.

Puerto Rico’s effort was rewarded late in the first half. In the 43rd minute, Conor Doyle received a cross from Giuseppe Gentile to put the ball past Patterson-Sewell, and Puerto Rico took the 1-0 lead.

Jacksonville returned in the second half showing some initiative, but Puerto Rico continued to fire shots toward Patterson-Sewell.

Second half substitutions by the Armada FC brought some intensity to the side on the hot and humid Puerto Rico pitch.

Charles Eloundou was subbed in the 61st minute to give the Armada FC much-needed speed. He used it to motor up and around Puerto Rico’s defense and created a great chance in the 75th minute. He took a shot from a distance after receiving the ball from Zach Steinberger but Puerto Rico’s goalkeeper, Trevor Spangenberg, launched upward to knock it up and over the net. Doue received his second yellow card in the 85th minute and was ejected from the match. Although now only having 10 men, the Armada FC kept consistent defense to keep Puerto Rico from tallying another goal.

Jérôme attempted some late-match heroics with his effort just two minutes after Doue left the field. He launched a free kick straight toward the net, 550but it bounced off the crossbar and goal post to keep Puerto Rico in the lead.

Jacksonville could not find the net before the final whistle, so Puerto Rico took all three points at home. This marks the first loss of the Fall Season for the Armada FC and extends the Armada’s current winless streak to five.

Preparation is key as Joe Negron remains a force heading into 2018 Session

Halfway between legislative sessions, Florida Senate President Joe Negron is not standing still.

There he is joining Gov. Rick Scott at a ceremonial bill signing in the fight against opioid abuse in Palm Beach County July 11, along with Wellington Democrat Matt Willette and a group of Palm Beach County Sheriff deputies.

About a week later, both Negron and Scott turned up again at a job-growth news conference July 19 at Orangetheory Fitness, the Boca Raton-based national fitness franchise chain.

“I enjoy the opportunity to take classes at Orangetheory Fitness studios, both at home and in Tallahassee,” Negron said. Orangetheory Fitness, which was recently ranked as the No. 1 fastest growing women-owned business in the U.S., has created more than 1300 Florida jobs.

Later, the Stuart Republican was spotted smiling alongside Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala in a tweet from United Way Broward applauding the two for “leadership in finding solutions to the opioid epidemic.”

While it is nice to know the President has the energy to exercise regularly, what exactly is Joe Negron up to?

The answer is in a quote by Alexander Graham Bell: “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

Busy meeting with various colleagues, Negron is intent on advancing their top issues, especially since his own priority – a $1.5 billion storage reservoir of 240,000-360,000 acre-feet of water south of Lake Okeechobee – successfully passed in 2017.

Negron is also mentoring the incoming leadership team, specifically Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson, the nexts-in-line for the Senate presidency. While Galvano takes the lead on the special election in Senate District 40, Negron brainstorms on planning, issues, strategy and other adjustments ahead of the quickly approaching committee schedule and the Legislative Session beginning Jan. 9.

As with most of his accomplishments, it may not have been a sure bet that Negron would succeed, at least at first. But invariably, the President has won more than he lost..

And as proved by his frequent appearances with Scott – who turned down Negron’s wide-ranging higher education bill in June, but preserved the oh-so-important Bright Futures scholarships for now – all is good post-veto.

With that, a man who needs nothing, and holds his cards close to the vest, Negron remains a force heading into the 2018 Session.

Daily Kos wildly off the mark trashing Phil Levine as ‘Trump-praising Democrat’

On Tuesday, the left-leaning Daily Kos trashed Phil Levine, calling the Miami Beach mayor a “Trump-praising Democrat” who could “hurt the party’s chance” to win the Florida Governor race.

This is not only misleading, but it is also inaccurate.

Apart from the unlikelihood that any Democrat would actually praise Trump, the accompanying article limited its focus a comment by Levine on FOX Radio’s Brian Kilmeade Show (another ill-advised move for a Democrat seeking higher office): “So far the president has done a very good job.”

What the Daily Kos took out of context was that Levine – a friend and surrogate of both Bill and Hillary Clinton who frequently blasted Trump in the campaign – was discussing the president’s well-received recent speech in Poland, and not his overall performance.

Also going unmentioned: Levine’s established Democratic positions, particularly on issues such as Medicaid expansion, climate change, minimum wage increase and more.

Indeed, Kilmeade even cut him off when Levine said: “It’s the funniest thing in the world to be an economic adviser to Donald Trump. That’s kind of like letting the arsonist run the fire department.”

Nevertheless, over the course of his political career, Levine has made many enemies, meaning he will have an uphill battle if he decides to run for governor, which he has not.

One thing Levine does have, if he should choose to run, is a lot of money.

“Levine is certainly fundraising like he’s running for higher office,” Kos writes. “Reportedly worth $100 million, the mayor raised $225,000 from donors in July and gave his own campaign another $275,000, bringing his total self-funding to $2.6 million this cycle.”

“That pace already puts Levine at the front of the pack financially,” the piece concludes, “ahead of every top-tier Democrat who’s announced already.”

Now would again be an appropriate time to repeat that Levine has not announced any further ambition, political or otherwise, beyond his recent SiriusXM “real Florida” listening tour. And if he does, it certainly wouldn’t be at the expense of the party’s chances of winning the Florida governors’ race.

The Delegation for 8.9.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Add immigration reform to August town halls agenda

As the House and Senate prepared to head out for the month of August, another topic for town halls was thrown into the mix. Thanks to a bill proposed by Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton and Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue, legal immigration reform was back on the table.

The bill, called the RAISE Act, would limit the amount of family members legal immigrants could sponsor to only spouses and young children. This would end a practice known as “chain immigration.”

Instead, preferences would go to a “merit” system focusing on skilled workers and those already proficient in English. President Donald Trump quickly announced his support with Cotton and Perdue standing next to him.

With just a couple of exceptions, the proposal mirrored the ideas expressed by Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick (now an Arizona Supreme Court Justice) in their book Immigration Wars. There is no daylight between the main thrusts of the Cotton/Perdue/Trump plan – chain immigration – than the policy advocated by Bush.

Republican Sens. David Perdue and Sen. Tom Cotton have proposed cutting legal immigration by half. (Photo via The Associated Press.)

“We propose limiting guaranteed admissions to spouses and minor children of US citizens,” they wrote on pages 18-21. “Reuniting married couples and their children is the essence of family reunification.”

Trying to get a sense of his constituents, Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan conducted an online poll asking how they felt about “cutting legal immigration” and supporting a “merit” system. While unscientific, 36 percent approve of both ideas while 18 percent support just the merit system and 8 percent advocate cutting the number of immigrants, as of Tuesday. A total of 38 percent are opposed to both.

Orlando Democrat Darren Soto, echoing the sentiments of several in his party, held nothing back in his condemnation of the legislation.

“The RAISE Act is a flagrant attack on legal immigration; it goes against American values and does not put ‘America First,” said Soto in a statement. “By eliminating all family-based legal immigration categories (except for spouses and minor children), adult U.S. citizens would now be unable to reunite with their loved ones in the country they call home.”

Republicans are far from united on the proposal to cut the number of immigrants and another to require English proficiency upon arrival. Bush did not propose either, nor did GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the 2013 “Gang of 8” that tried to pass legal immigration reform in 2013.

“I don’t think there should be an arbitrary cap,” he told CBS4 Miami. “That number should be driven by demand.”

Businesses small and large depend upon cheap labor unskilled immigrants can provide, creating a clash between Republicans demanding reform and others in their party who depend on the support of business interests. Asked about the bill’s chances of passing, Rubio had a simple response.

“That bill’s not going to pass,” he said. “I think the White House knows that you don’t have 60 votes for that in the Senate.”

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

Boca Raton man sets the stage for Trump

Modern day politics is a continuous election cycle. Last week, President Trump’s 2020 re-election bid quietly moved forward with the hiring of a Boca Raton man.

George Gigicos resigned his position as the White House Director of Advance and will now work toward helping Trump earn another term. Gigicos is expected to perform a similar role to that he carried out for Trump in 2016 as well as the last 5 GOP presidential nominees.

“I’m going back to the campaign…I’m going to continue serving the president, but I can serve him better from the outside,” he told the Palm Beach Post.

Gigicos’s specialty is logistics. Campaign rallies and events require careful planning, which is why he was a valued member of Trump’s campaign as well as those of Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush.

Hope Hicks and George Gigicos during a campaign event in New York in July 2016. Gigicos recently resigned his position as the White House director of advance to begin working toward helping Trump earn second term. (Photo via The Associated Press.)

In the meantime, the New York Times reported Gigicos may join Lewandowski Strategic Advisors, a new firm headed up by Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, until Trump is ready to make his re-election campaign official.

While the bare-bones Trump campaign was often second-guessed, the large crowds and staging of his rallies were not. While the 50-year-old Gigicos played a major role in that portion of the campaign, he takes no credit.

“It was all (Trump) – the right man with the right message,” Gigicos said. “I just built the stages.”

Floridians set to serve in Trump’s diplomatic corps

Two Floridians of note will serve as ambassadors in the Trump administration.

Sharon Day of Fort Lauderdale was confirmed by the Senate last week to be the next Ambassador to Costa Rica, while Duke Buchan of Palm Beach was nominated to serve as Ambassador to Spain.

Day is a long-time GOP activist and party leader. With more than two decades on the executive committee for the Republican Party of Florida and the Republican National Committee, Day recently concluded a 6-year run as the elected Co-Chair of the RNC. Her confirmation was one of 68 approved by the Senate prior to the August recess.

The U.S. Senate recently confirmed Fort Lauderdale resident Sharon Day to be the next Ambassador to Costa Rica. (Photo via The Associated Press.)

Buchan runs a private investment firm that donated heavily to Trump’s campaign. He and his wife, Heather, contributed nearly $900,000 to the effort. While in college at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Buchan earned degrees in both Spanish and business.

A date for Day’s swearing in was not announced, nor was one for Buchan’s confirmation hearing.

7 new VA health facilities coming to Florida

Florida veterans will soon have more medical centers where they can go for mental health and outpatient services, after the U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation Aug. 1 that authorizes seven new major VA medical facilities in the state, reports Daniel Chang with the Miami Herald.

“We have a duty to care for the brave men and women who have served in our nation’s military,” said Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a co-sponsor. “Getting these 7 new VA clinics opened here in Florida will make it easier for some of our veterans to access the care that they need.”

All seven clinics will be in North Florida and Central Florida. A total of $72 million is appropriated to construct the facilities in Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Ocala, Tampa, Gainesville, and another to serve the Tampa/Lakeland area. An additional Gainesville mental health clinic is also authorized.

“Our veterans have fought selflessly to defend our country and protect our freedoms, and they deserve easy and convenient access to quality health care,” said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, also a co-sponsor. “These outpatient clinics will allow them to receive outpatient care close to home, and I’m glad we were able to get these projects started in our state.”

Florida is home to nearly 1.55 million veterans, half of whom receive health care through the VA. The bill now heads to the president’s desk. The House passed the measure 414-0 on July 28.


Senate passes Rubio’s pediatric cancer bill — Sen. Rubio joined with three other co-sponsors to tout the Senate’s passage of a bill that will provide children battling cancer “with more innovative and promising treatment options.”

The RACE for Children Act, passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, requires the pharmaceutical industry to expend more resources on treatment for childhood cancers.

The Florida Republican introduced the legislation on February 27 along with fellow Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. The House already passed the measure, meaning it now hands to President Trump’s desk for signature.

“The RACE for Children Act is an important measure that will provide children battling cancer with more promising treatment options,” Rubio said. “Pediatric cancer is a leading cause of death by disease among children and yet children do not have the same treatment options as adults.”

Prior to the Senate passing the bill, Rubio took to the Senate floor to tout its many benefits. During his remarks he offered multiple examples of children who lost their battles with cancer.

“We live in a society where oftentimes good news doesn’t draw ratings and good news doesn’t drive eyeballs and clicks to a website,” he said. “It doesn’t make it unimportant. It doesn’t make it insignificant. This is significant.”

Rubio, Trump meet with Bay of Pigs veterans — Six Cuban-American Bay of Pig veterans attended a private Oval Office gathering with Sen. Rubio and President Trump last week, reports Patricia Mazzei with the Miami Herald.

Sen. Marco Rubio and Bay of Pigs veterans attended a private Oval Office meeting with President Donald Trump recently. (Photo via Sen. Marco Rubio’s Office.)

The men got their photo snapped with Rubio and the president, who was seated behind the Resolute desk. Trump has been outspoken about the need to tighten U.S. policy toward Cuba, and met with Brigade 2506 veterans for a few minutes backstage at the Manuel Artime Theater in East Little Havana during his last visit to Miami.

Mazzei reports the brigade issued its first-ever presidential endorsement, for Trump, last year.

In a tweet, Rubio’s office said he was honored to visit with the Bay of Pig veterans at the White House, calling them “true heroes and great Americans.”

Rubio: U.S. must act on genocide of Christians in Iraq In a Friday op-ed, Rubio called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to follow in the footsteps of the previous administration and take a stand against the killing of Iraqi Christians by ISIS militants.

Last year, then-Secretary of State John Kerry declared ISIS “responsible for genocide” against Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities. The declaration was only the second of its kind in American history, with former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s early 2000s declaration of genocide in Darfur being the first.

“Unfortunately, it is unclear whether the current administration maintains this determination,” Rubio wrote.

Rubio said if the U.S. fails to take “meaningful steps” to help religious minorities in lraq, many more will be forced out of their homes, which would constitute a “deathblow to the vision of a diverse, pluralistic, Iraq that respects religious freedom.”

The second-term senator then called on Tillerson to appoint a special coordinator in northern Iraq to oversee U.S. assistance in the region rather than letting the United Nations Development Fund handle the work.

“President Obama’s misguided foreign policy did real damage to Iraq’s minorities, but these ancient communities could disappear completely on President Trump’s watch if his administration fails to help them,” Rubio said.

Save the date:

Israel welcomes second round of congressional travelers

With Congress away for the August recess, quality time with constituents and perhaps a little Congressional travel is on the menu. Israel is a popular destination.

Freshman Charlie Crist from St. Petersburg, along with 19 other Democrats, is returning from their trip, while three of his first-term Republican colleagues from Florida are there this week. Brian Mast of Palm City, Neal Dunn of Panama City and John Rutherford of Jacksonville will meet with Israeli military and political leaders along with U.S. Ambassador Michael Oren and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“This trip is a great opportunity to hear directly from the Israeli government and military leaders about how our two nations can work together to further advance these values,” said Mast in a statement.

Dunn said he is “looking forward to learning more about Israel’s efforts to combat terrorism on a daily basis, and how we can continue to work with them to root out radical terrorists throughout the Middle East.”

The trips for both Democrats and Republicans are sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, which is under the umbrella of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), America’s pro-Israel lobby.

The lawmakers are scheduled to return to the U.S. on August 14.

Tweet, tweet:

Gaetz will spend full day with constituents

Rep. Matt Gaetz will again spend an entire day with constituents from District 1.

With Congress in its August recess, the Fort Walton Beach Republican has announced the next Open Gaetz Day will take place in South Walton and Freeport on August 22.

It begins with a town hall at the Ocean Club Restaurant in Miramar Beach and ends with another town hall at Hammock Bay Lake Club in Freeport. In between are school visits to South Walton High School and the Seaside Neighborhood School, followed by a law enforcement roundtable and Mobile Office Hours at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.

Gaetz has hosted several similar events throughout the district during his first seven months in Congress.

Murphy seeks additional funding for English-language learning programs

Rep. Stephanie Murphy has introduced legislation designed to ensure Florida “receives its fair share of federal funding for English-language learning programs.”

The Ensuring Linguistic Excellence and Vocational Aptitude by Teaching English (ELEVATE) Act, would provide more funds to the state to sufficient resources are going toward providing instruction to students and their families.

The bill seeks to address a flaw in the funding formula that does not give credit for those moving to Florida and other states from Puerto Rico. Immigrants from the other four U.S. Territories (U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands) are included in the formula.

Immigrants from Puerto Rico continue to arrive in Florida with large portions settling in the Orlando metropolitan area, which includes Murphy’s district. The state’s share of funding has remained constant despite a 120 percent rise in the Puerto Rican population in Florida since 2000.

“I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill to give Florida its fair share of federal resources to improve English-language instruction,” Murphy said in a statement. “I grew up in an immigrant household where my parents spoke only Vietnamese. I learned English in school, and I know how challenging it can be, but also how important it is.”

Joining Murphy as co-sponsors are Democrats Darren Soto of Orlando, Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Weston, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, and Alcee Hastings of Miramar. Republican Carlos Curbelo of Kendall is also a co-sponsor.

Buchanan chides Senate for inaction

Rep. Buchanan is growing impatient with the U.S. Senate. In a constituent email titled “You Can’t Make This Up,” the Sarasota Republican calls out Senators for the slow pace in passing legislation covering illegal immigration and mocks them for a resolution they did pass.

“Both parties in the upper chamber valiantly joined forces to unanimously pass a resolution designating September 25, 2017 as…National Lobster Day,” Buchanan wrote. “You read that right.”

He then jabbed the Senate for not passing two bills targeting criminal illegal aliens, Kate’s Law and the No Sanctuaries for Criminals Act. Both bills, co-sponsored by Buchanan, passed the House in late June.

Rep. Vern Buchanan recently called out the Senate for the slow pace in passing legislation covering illegal immigration and mocks them for a resolution they did pass. (Photo via The Associated Press)​

Buchanan cited the recent case in Portland, Oregon as evidence of the need for both bills. The Oregon case involved an illegal alien deported 20 times, only to come back and sexually assault a 65-year-old grandmother. The accused was released earlier from local custody under Portland’s sanctuary city policy.

“It’s time the Senate acts to allow federal law enforcement officials to protect the public and enforce existing laws,” said Buchanan.

Paulson’s Principles: Some congressional districts are more vulnerable than others

There are 435 congressional districts in the United States. Florida, which started with one district when it joined the union in 1845, now has 27 House members. There are two truisms about congressional districts. First, some districts are more vulnerable than others. Second, few districts are truly at risk and that is a bad thing for American politics.

Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia identifies 276 of the 435 districts, or 63%, as safe. Republicans hold 141 of the safe seats and Democrats 135. 159 districts, or 37%, are competitive, although few of these “competitive” districts will change hands.

Virtually every political analyst in America agrees that the most vulnerable district in the nation is congressional District 27 in Florida. That seat has been held for 28 years by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican and senior member of the Florida delegation. Ros-Lehtinen has announced she will not run for reelection in 2018.

So, why should a district held by a Republican for 28 years and won by Ros-Lehtinen by 10% in the 2016 election, be considered the most vulnerable district in America? The district is a +5 Democratic district which was carried by 19 points by Hillary Clinton in 2016. It is one of the two most Democratic districts in America held by a Republican.

As soon as Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement, Sabato switched his rating of the district in 2018 from “likely Republican” to “leans Democrat.”

The other district that is even slightly more Democratic than District 27 is neighboring District 26 held by Republican Carlos Curbelo. District 26 is a +6 Democratic district won by Clinton by 16 points. Even though Curbelo is an incumbent, the district is rated a “toss-up” because of its left-leaning makeup.

The third most vulnerable district in Florida is District 18 held by first-term Republican Brian Mast. Mast won in a district formerly held by Democrat Patrick Murphy, who gave up his seat to run for the U. S. Senate.

Mast was an ex-army bomb disposal expert who lost both legs in Afghanistan. His main Democratic rival at this point is Pam Keith, who did better than expected in the 2016 U. S. Democratic Senate primary. Democrats are hoping that former state senator and states’ attorney Dave Aronberg will enter the race.

Only two Democrats in the Florida delegation are considered potentially vulnerable, Stephanie Murphy in District 7 and Charlie Crist in District 13. Both defeated incumbent Republicans in 2016. Both seem secure at this point.

Other potentially vulnerable candidates include Republicans Ron DeSantis in District 6, Mario Diaz-Balart in District 25 and Dennis Ross in District 15. All three Republicans are favored to win re-election, but could be defeated if Democrats find quality candidates.

If everything falls in place for Democrats, or falls apart for Republicans, then Republicans Ted Yoho in District 3, Bill Posey in District 8 and Gus Bilirakis in District 12 could be in jeopardy.

The most vulnerable seat in Florida and the nation is District 27. With no Republican incumbent and one of the most Democratic districts in the state, Democrats are under pressure to win in District 27. A defeat would deflate Democratic aspirations and demonstrate that Republicans can still win in Democratic districts.

One final point. With few really competitive districts, the real losers are the American public. If members of Congress don’t fear defeat, they are free to vote however they want, including support of more extreme positions. Close elections force elected officials to listen closely to the voters.

Poll: Democrats lead Republicans in generic ballot

Democrats have a 7-percentage point lead over Republicans on a generic congressional ballot, reports Steven Shepard with POLITICO.

According to a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, the survey showed a generic Democratic candidate leads a generic Republican candidate, 44 percent to 37 percent. The survey found 19 percent of registered voters were undecided. The most recent survey came after the GOP’s effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, failed and President Trump’s chief of staff abruptly left the White House.

According to poll, Democratic voters back Democratic candidates by “an almost-unanimous margin, 90 percent to 2 percent.” Republicans, however, are less unified, 85 percent to 5 percent. Shepard also reported that the president’s approval ratings have held steady, even as the GOP dipped on the generic ballot test. The new poll found 42 percent of voters approve of the job he is doing, while 53 percent disapprove. That’s compared to a poll a week earlier, which showed 43 percent approved, and 52 percent disapproved of Trump.

The poll, which was conducted from July 27 through July 29, surveyed 1,972 registered voters and had a margin of error of 2 percent.

#FloridaWoman named RNC spokeswoman

The Republican National Committee announced Monday that Kayleigh McEnany, who until last week was a frequent fixture on news network CNN, will be the party’s new spokeswoman.

“I am excited to be joining the RNC at such an important and historic time in our country,” McEnany said. “I’m eager to talk about Republican ideas and values and have important discussions about issues affecting Americans across this country.”

Tampa native Kayleigh McEnany was recently named the spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. (Photo via Kayleigh McEnany/Instagram)

McEnany, who grew up in Tampa and went to the Academy of Holy Names private school, was an early backer of then-candidate Trump during the 2016 Republican Primary and saw her airtime grow as the 17-candidate field dwindled and Trump eventually secured the GOP nomination.

The Harvard Law School alumna will serve as the RNC spokesperson on TV and radio and will be joined by a National Press Secretary and Deputy National Press Secretary, the RNC said.

Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel added that McEnany’s “experience will be invaluable to the RNC as we continue to support President Trump and build on our majorities in Congress as we head into 2018.”

Florida donors dump $1 million into Senate Leadership Fund

Florida donors doled out $1 million so far this year to a GOP political committee that’s likely to spend big bucks to knock out incumbent Democratic Sen. Nelson in 2018.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund took in $500K from FPL parent company NextEra, $300K from Walter Buckley, $100K from private prison company the GEO Group, $50K from Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy, $25K from Fairholme Capital Management’s Bruce Berkowitz and $25K from retiree Alfred Hoffman. Those half-dozen Florida donors made up one eighth of the PAC’s total receipts for 2017.

Last year, the Senate Leadership Fund spent $11 million attacking former Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy when he ran against incumbent Republican Sen. Rubio, and the committee will likely have to lay down a lot more dough to turn Nelson’s seat red.

The third-term Democrat’s likely opponent is Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who also has millions on hand in his “Let’s Get to Work” committee, a state political committee.

DCCC calls House Republicans agenda a “spectacular failure”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blasted House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans Monday for their failure to pass any of the measures announced in Ryan’s agenda six months ago.

The political committee went down the list of the Speaker’s agenda items, noting no healthcare, infrastructure, budget, tax reform or debt ceiling legislation has passed into law even though they were included in Ryan’s “bold” 200-day plan.

“‘Republicans lament an agenda in ‘quicksand’’ is the perfect summation of the last 200-days. Of course, House Republicans have also failed on every level of holding President Trump accountable, from his conflicts of interest and ethical issues, to tax returns, and more,” the DCCC press release said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blasted House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans for their failure to pass any of the measures announced in Ryan’s agenda six months ago.

Of course, the DCCC made clear they don’t mind that Ryan’s agenda has had limited success, since they say his policies are “out to benefit the very rich and largest corporations, while devastating hardworking people’s health care, cost of living, jobs and wages.”

“At least temporarily, Ryan’s ineptitude has saved tens of millions of Americans their healthcare,” the DCCC said.

The DCCC also gloated over Ryan’s slipping public approval ratings and, gave airtime to some of House Republican’s political in-fighting over the failed Obamacare repeal, saying “it’s clear that conservatives are not going to stomach failure for much longer.”

Curbelo the subject of Spanish-language ads seeking tax reform

Rep. Carlos Curbelo is once again the subject of advertising from the American Action Network (AAN). While others before have provided support to the second-term Congressman in a swing district, the latest ad is asking for something in return.

The AAN’s Middle Growth Initiative is targeting the U.S. Tax Code and is asking “conservative lawmakers to make middle-class tax relief a priority.” The 60-second, Spanish language ad asks constituents to call Curbelo and “tell him to keep fighting for real tax cuts.”

“It’s time to reform America’s outdated, unfair, and complicated tax code,” said AAN Executive Director Corry Bliss. “Hispanic middle-class families have seen less opportunity and stagnant wages for too long. Their voice in this debate is critical; we urge them to contact their representative and ask for a tax code that prioritizes more jobs and higher wages for hard-working families.”

Curbelo is one of six members from California, Texas, Arizona or Florida targeted by the ads. The group has pledged $6 million in ad buys.

Last week, AAN and the Middle Growth Initiative announced English-language ads in 34 Congressional Districts, including Curbelo and Palm City Republican Brian Mast.

Former Tampa Tribune reporter new chief of White House correspondents

Margaret Talev, the White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, is the new President of the White House Correspondents Association (WHCA). She succeeds Jeff Mason of Reuters.

Talev was a political reporter for the Tampa Tribune from 1995 to 1999, before moving to the Los Angeles Times, the Sacramento Bee, and McClathchy Newspapers before joining Bloomberg in 2011.

Among the responsibilities of the WHCA is organizing the annual White House Correspondents Dinner. Last year’s event gained more notoriety surrounding who was not attending than any of those who did attend. She was asked by the Poynter Institute whether President Trump might attend in 2018.

Former Tampa Tribune reporter Margaret Talev, shown here with former White House Correspondents Association President Jeff Mason, was recently named the president of the White House Correspondents Association. (Photo via the White House Correspondents Association.)

“The dinner honors the First Amendment, the best work of journalists who cover the White House and scholarship recipients we hope will go on to cover the White House,” she said. “WHCA will celebrate its 104th anniversary next April and it’s been a proud tradition of ours – one we intend to continue – to welcome U.S. Presidents as our guests to break bread with us in recognition of the principles being honored.”

Talev is married to Ray Locker, who worked for the Tribune from 1987-2000 as a reporter, columnist and editor. Locker is the current Washington enterprise editor for USA Today.

U.S. Senate salutes Gators’ national baseball championship

With immigration, health care, tax cuts and North Korea rightfully having the attention of Capitol Hill, the Senate took a brief time out for recognizing outstanding athletic achievement. A resolution from Republican Sen. Rubio and co-sponsored by Sen. Nelson saluted the Florida Gators, who won the NCAA Baseball College World Series in June.

Among the “whereas” statements, was the fact that the Gators became only the sixth school to win NCAA titles in football, basketball and baseball. Another pointed out Florida has won 39 national titles in all sports.

Sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio and co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson, the U.S. Senate adopted a resolution congratulating the Florida Gators on their NCAA Baseball College World Series win in June. (Photo via The Associated Press.)

Rubio is a graduate of the University of Miami, who has won the baseball championship four times. Nelson attended Florida before later transferring to Yale.

The Gators defeated Louisiana State University in the finals. Since the resolution was approved without a roll call vote, no definitive evidence exists that Louisiana Republican Senators John Neely Kennedy or Bill Cassidy uttered the words “aye.”

Sunburn for 8.9.17 – Fla. Chamber goes international; Insurers, trial lawyers spar; Don Gaetz still doing his thing; Jack Latvala talks opioid $; Andrew Gillum cleared; Happy b’day, Emmett Reed

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

The Florida Chamber Foundation is going international — at least for one day.

The Chamber is scheduled to kick-off its Florida International Trade and Investment Conference at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport, 9300 Jeff Fuqua Blvd. in Orlando at 8:30 a.m.

The one-day conference aims to connect trade experts, economists and industry professionals to discuss the international market as well as opportunities in foreign direct investment. This year’s conference is expected to include discussions about foreign direct investment strategies; trade markets access; and how Florida’s business climate and workforce position the state in the coming years.

“Foreign investment strategies, access to international markets, oh my!” Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican in line to become Senate President, will deliver the keynote address Wednesday at the Florida International Trade & Investment Conference at the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport.

Heading to the conference? Sen. Bill Galvano, Reps. Larry Lee and Frank White, Crystal Stiles, the director of economic development at Florida Power & Light; and Tim Giuliani, the president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Partnership, are among those scheduled to speak.

Florida Chamber: International jobs equal more jobs — The Florida Chamber of Commerce is boasting about the connection between international trade and jobs in a new video. The video, which comes as the Florida Chamber Foundation kicks off its Florida International Trade and Investment Conference in Orlando today, talks about the impact international trade has on Florida, pointing out that “2.5 million high wage Florida jobs depend on international trade.” “More international trade equals more Florida jobs,” an announcer says in the 90 second video.  “When global trade increases, Florida wins.”

Click the image below to watch the video.

Read more

Sunburn for 8.8.17 – Fla. Chamber military summit comes to order; Claims bills piling up; Ag. Commish cand.’s raising dough; Lisa Edgar back in court; Fmr. Spkr. starts lobbying shop

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.

Florida officials have long boasted the Sunshine State is one of the most military and veteran friendly states in the nation, and this week, their efforts are taking center stage.

The Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2017 Military Defense and Veterans Opportunity Summit kicks off at 8 a.m. at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld, 6677 Sea Harbor Dr. in Orlando. The annual event brings together leaders from Florida’s military and defense industries, economic development experts and business leaders, and policymakers to address the challenges facing Florida in the coming years.

The day-long event is scheduled to include discussions about how federal discussions could impact Florida’s bases; the role the business community plays in transition veterans from active community to the workforce; and how the military and defense community acts as an economic driver.

And those are critically important issues to tackle, especially considering the state’s military and defense industries help support nearly 775,000 Florida jobs. According to the Florida Chamber Foundation, the military and defense industries account for about 10 percent of the state’s economy.

While speakers include business and military leaders — including Mark Wilson, the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce; Wayne Peacock, the president of USAA Property and Casualty Insurance Group; Kellie Jo Kilberg, the chair of the Florida Defense Alliance; and Bobby Carbonell, the executive director of Veterans Florida — look for the main event to come first thing in the morning, when Agriculture Commissioner (and 2018 gubernatorial candidate) Adam Putnam takes the stage.

Adam Putnam speaking at the Florida Chamber’s 2016 Military, Defense and Veterans Opportunities Summit.

Putnam is scheduled to take the stage around 9 a.m. It isn’t his first time attending the summit; he spoke to the crowd last year, telling those in attendance the state’s goal should be to expand its footprint, and to continue to be one of the “most military and veteran friendly” states in the nation.  

Putnam might be the only 2018 hopeful taking the stage, but he isn’t the only elected official on the line-up. Rep. Sam Killebrew is scheduled to take part in a panel discussion about creating veteran-owned business opportunities.

The summit kicks off at 8 a.m. Want to tune in? The Chamber Foundation will livestream the 2017 Military Defense and Veterans Opportunity Summit at

First in Sunburn – New Chamber video asks Floridians to help ‘shine a bright light’ on defense industry — The Florida Chamber Foundation is hoping to raise awareness about the military, defense and veteran community in Florida, releasing a new video to coincide with the 2017 Military Defense and Veterans Opportunity Summit that highlights the military and defense industries. “It’s difficult for the military and defense industry to grow when there’s so much political and economic uncertainty,” a voice over says in the new 2-minute and 30-second digital video. “As we grow and diversify Florida’s economy, we must strengthen and improve on our already existing successes.” The video calls on Floridians to join the Chamber to “protect, support and grow Florida’s defense industry, military and veterans’ workforce.”

Click the image below to watch the video.

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What the f*ck is the matter with you people?

Authorities said three teenagers – one 14-year-old and two 16-year-olds – stole a sport utility vehicle, sped away from officers and died in a fiery, violent crash early Sunday morning.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in a news conference Sunday morning that a fourth teen in the SUV, who is 14, survived and is hospitalized. He said all the teens all had criminal histories – including one who had gotten out of jail on July 31.

Among the deceased: 16-year-olds Keontae Brown and Dejarae Thomas, and 14-year-old Jimmie Goshey.

You would think the unnecessary deaths of three teenagers — even those who had engaged in grand theft auto — would prompt the Tampa Bay community to think long and hard about the forces at work behind this senseless tragedy.

Unfortunately, if you assumed this, you are wrong.

The racist vitriol in the the comments section accompanying the Tampa Bay Times story about the crash is so horrible that moderators disabled commenting.

Times readers can still click on a bar that allows them to express their emotions about the story. They can choose to describe the story as “Important,” “Inspiring,” “Sad,” “Angry,” or “Happy.”

Sixty eight readers think this story is “Important,” while another 98 think its “Sad.” Another 86 are “Angry” about what happened. Yet 358 readers, presumably human beings like you and I, indicated that they were “Happy” about what happened Sunday morning.

358 readers are happy that three teenagers are dead.

Undoubtedly, the neanderthals who expressed their happiness with the death of three teenagers are rejoicing because the three teens are black.

Others will say that society is and will be better off because three kids who were well on their way to becoming serious criminals are no longer of this world.

You can go f*ck yourself if that’s how you think. I don’t even want to breathe the same air as you.

These were still children. Their lives could have improved. If nothing else, that 14-year-old still had years to go before his life was decided for him.

But that isn’t the point here, which is, even if you are relieved to see three people you view as menaces to society no longer committing crimes, how can anyone be “Happy” about the death of three kids? How do you have it in your heart to be happy that three children in the eyes of the law, however long their rap sheets, are dead?

Lock those kids up, sure. Punish them to the fullest extent of the law, undoubtedly. But a death sentence for stealing car? And 358 people are happy about that?

What the f*ck is the matter with you all?

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Panthers prowl with new tag

Rather than adding yet another specialty license plate to the state’s plethora of tags, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is coming out with a new twist on an old favorite.

The department on Friday announced it was releasing a “newly redesigned Florida Panthers (hockey club) specialty license plate,” to be “delivered to the department’s locations and tax collector offices statewide and available to customers” by next Wednesday.

Though specialty tags generally are aimed at generating money for nonprofits, Florida’s many different plates — more than 100 — have caused angst among lawmakers and others. The Panthers tag benefits the Professional Sports Development Trust Fund and the Florida Sports Foundation.

Legislators even agreed back in 2008 to a moratorium, which they broke. By 2014, then-state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, threw up her hands in despair, voting to create a “Fallen Law Enforcement Officers” plate.

“I was here when the moratorium was established and every year, we fought it,” she said, according to a Tampa Tribune article. “You know what? I’m giving up now … I’m throwing in the towel.”

The tags have even led to litigation, as when the head of a Florida environmental group claimed “a rival organization pulled a fast one, heisting its specialty license plate – and thus all its revenue,” according to the Naples Daily News.

The Florida Sportsmen’s Land Trust sued the state in 2015, asking that all the money collected from the “deer tag” be frozen. Court records show only that the trust “voluntarily dismissed” the case this May after a mediation.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Tropical Storm Emily drenches — The storm crashed into the side of Florida this week, whipping the west coast with 45 mph winds and dumping several inches of rain. Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 31 counties, nearly half the state. At Emily’s height, as many as 18,000 residents lost power. Valrico, east of Tampa, got much as 8 inches of rain. The storm came as a stark reminder that the Bay area is still vulnerable to storm surge. Batten the hatches, indeed.

Money and the governor’s race — Between his campaign and committee, Adam Putnam’s gubernatorial bid is now approaching $17 million in total fundraising, including nearly $1.3 million banked in July. The two-term Agriculture Commissioner ended June with just under $15.7 million in total fundraising, and about $11.6 million on hand between his committee, “Florida Grown,” and his campaign. Moreover, Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala has $3.84 million in the bank two weeks before he plans to announce whether or not he will run for Florida governor. He’s waiting till Aug. 16 to formally announce whether he will run for governor.

Sen. Jack Latvala, who is set to announce in two weeks whether he’ll run for governor, has $3.84 million in the bank; Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam ended June with just under $15.7 million in total fundraising. (Photo by Phil Sears)

VISIT FLORIDA regroups — Agency CEO Ken Lawson continued his statewide tour this week, shoring up support for the embattled public-private tourism marketing organization. “A dozen local tourism programs said goodbye, severing their partnerships … when the new fiscal year began July 1 rather than comply with new transparency requirements,” The Times reported. Lawson wrote Wednesday on the agency’s blog, “I want to earn your trust and learn from you first hand. This has been a hard year for all of us … It is now time to heal and come together.”

Feds OK LIP money — Federal officials approved a five-year extension of a statewide Medicaid managed care program and finalized a $1.5 billion pot of funding to help with charity care. State and federal officials have negotiated for months on issues such as details of the $1.5 billion for the “Low Income Pool” program, which means millions of Medicaid beneficiaries will continue receiving care through HMOs and other types of managed-care plans through at least June 30, 2022. Also, hospitals and providers such as federally qualified health centers will be able to tap into a larger amount of so-called LIP money to defray costs of caring for uninsured people.

State flexes on gambling — State gambling regulators this week shot down a request by a South Florida gambling permit-holder who wanted sell the permit and allow the next operator to build on a new location in Broward County. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Monday said both sales of permits and any relocation of gambling—both time-consuming processes—have to be OK’d by the department’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates gambling in the state. The decision further cements the state’s control over where and how gambling is offered, particularly after a permit is granted.

D.C. bound

Kudos, Chester Spellman!

Spellman, the long-time chief executive officer of Volunteer Florida, was appointed by the White House to serve as the director of AmeriCorps for the Corporation for National and Community Service. His last at Volunteer Florida is Aug. 25.

“I believe there is no greater calling than the calling to serve,” said Spellman. “I am deeply honored to be appointed by the White House and thrilled for the opportunity to lead AmeriCorps at the national level. National and community service changes lives every day, and I look forward to working with the team at the Corporation for National and Community Service to strengthen communities across the U.S.”

Volunteer Florida CFO Chester Spellman has been tapped to lead AmeriCorps. (Photo via Volunteer Florida.)

Gov. Scott named Spellman the head of Volunteer Florida in April 2012. Since then, he has overseen more than $32 million annually in federal, state and local funds supporting AmeriCorps and statewide volunteer programs to meet critical needs in Florida communities. He also led statewide coordination of volunteers and donations before, during and after disasters in partnership with the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Prior to joining Volunteer Florida, Spellman worked for Scott as the director of appointments in the Executive Office of the Governor. He also has more than 15 years of experience working in nonprofits, including several faith-based organizations.

“Florida is proud to be the home of many great volunteers who dedicate their time to helping others,” said Scott. “I appreciate Chester’s leadership at Volunteer Florida and wish him the best of luck as he continues to build on his commitment to serving families and communities.”


Scott appoints Sniffen, Goodman to circuit courts— There’s a few new judges on the bench.

Gov. Scott announced recently he was appointing Charles Sniffen to the 12th Judicial Circuit Court and James Jefferson Goodman, Jr. to the 14th Judicial Circuit Court.

Sniffen, a 44-year-old Parrish resident, is currently a county judge for Manatee County. He previously worked in private practice, and served as an assistant state attorney for the 12th Judicial Circuit. Sniffen received his bachelor’s degree from Emory University and Florida State University.

He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Janette Dunnigan.

Goodman, a 38-year-old Bonifay resident, is currently a solo practitioner who has prior experience in both the public and private sectors. He previously served as an assistant state attorney for the 14th Judicial Circuit, and served as a litigation association for Balch & Bingham LLP. Goodman received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from Florida State University.

He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Hentz McClellan.

The governor also announced recently that he had appointed LaTasha Green-Cobb to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. The Jacksonville resident is the CEO of Empowered Action Corporation. She succeeds John Hawthrone, and is appointed to a term ending Nov. 13, 2020.

Jim Murphy, a Lakeland resident, has been appointed to the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s governing board, the governor recently announced.

The 57-year-old is the division president of Florida Sealing Products, Inc. He was appointed to a vacant seat for a term ending March 1, 2021.

The governor also announced Mike Griffin, the senior managing director of Savills Studley Occupier Services, has been appointed to the Tampa Port Authority.

Griffin’s appointment comes amid concerns about wasteful spending by executives at Port Tampa Bay. In a statement, Scott said Griffin committed to conducting a “full analysis of prior and future expenditures by the Port.”

“I am confident that Mike Griffin will do a great job on the Tampa Port Authority and will work with the entire board to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said Scott.

Griffin fills a vacant seat for a term ending Nov. 15, 2019.

All three appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

McKay joins Citizens board — Former Senate President John McKay is joining the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation Board of Governors.

McKay, who served in the Florida Senate from 1990 until 2002, was appointed to a three-year term by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

The Bradenton resident is the president of The Riverside Real Estate Company, and brings more than 35 years of real estate and property management experience to the Board of Governors.

He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, where he also completed post graduate studies. McKay is the chairman of the Manatee Rural Health Foundation and the McKay Academy. He is the former chairman of the board of the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center and the Ringling Museum of Art.

He succeeds former board member Juan Cocuy, and will serve a term ending July 31, 2020.

Patronis wasn’t the only person who announced appointments to Citizens’ board this week. Gov. Scott announced he was appointing Chris Gardner to the agency’s Board of Governors.

The Winter Park resident is the CEO of Hub International Florida. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, and was appointed to a term ending July 31, 2019.

Gardner previously served as a member of Citizens Board of Governors as an appointee of the House Speaker.

Scott also announced he was reappointing Jim Holton, an Indian Shores resident and the president and owner of Holton Companies, and Bette Brown, a Tavernier resident and executive at CenterState Bank, to the board. Holton was reappointed to a term ending July 31, 2020; while Brown’s new term ends March 23, 2020.

Scott reappoints four to faith-based advisory council — There will be four familiar faces on the Florida Faith-based and Community-based Advisory Council.

Gov. Scott announced this week he reappointed four members — Jerry Haag, Richard Albertson, Gretchen Kerr, and Patricia Smith — to the advisory board. All four members were reappointed to terms ending July 18, 2020.

Haag is the president and CEO of Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, Orphan’s Heart, and The Porch Light; while Smith is the community relations director for the Department of Children and Families. Albertson is the founding president of Live the Life Ministries, and Kerr is the executive director of the Northland Church.

The Florida Faith-based and Community-based Advisory Council works to build connections and strengthen communities and families throughout the state. It acts as a formal advisory council to the Governor’s Office and the Legislature.

Scott also appointed J. Scott George, the development director of Orlando Hope and the founder of United Against Poverty, and Rosby Glover, the executive director of Mount Bethel Human Services to the council. Both will serve terms ending July 18, 2020.

Havers, Jacobs appointed as compensation claims judges — Walter Havers, Jr. and Jeffrey Ira Jacobs have new titles: Judges of Compensation Claims for the Miami District. Gov. Scott announced both men’s appointment this week.

Havers, a 52-year-old Miami resident, has served as a state mediator for the Miami District since 2013. He previously served as a senior attorney for the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims.

Jacobs, a 55-year-old Miami resident, is an attorney at Malca and Jacobs, PA.

And the nominees are…

Florida State University President John Thrasher may soon be a hall of famer.

Thrasher, a former state House speaker who served in the Vietnam War, is one of 20 candidates for a spot in the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame, as first reported by the News Service of Florida.

The Florida Veterans Hall of Fame Council submitted the maximum number of names to Gov. Scott and the Cabinet to consider them in the hall of fame.

Florida State University President John Thrasher is one of 20 candidates being considered for a spot in the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame (Photo by Phil Sears)

Thrasher joined the U.S. Army after he graduated from Florida State University in 1965. He received the Army Commendation Medal in Germany, and was awarded two Bronze Stars for his service in Vietnam. He was honorably discharged as a captain in 1970.

The council also recommended Bernard Wilson, a World War II airman. WFSU reported that, after fighting in the Pacific Theatre, Wilson focused on recognizing other service members.

The 2016 class of inductees featured 11 members, including former Gov. Reubin Askew, former Gov. LeRoy Collins, former governor and Sen. Spessard Holland, and former state Rep. William Proctor.

The Cabinet is expected to make its selection in September.

For the heroes

Think of it as a way to say recognize their service.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced Operation Outdoor Freedom will hold a special event for Purple Heart recipients and their families on Aug. 7 at Camp Prairie in Lake Wales. Registration for the event is closed; however, Putnam’s office said participants will be able to enjoy barbecue and rides on an airboat and a swamp buggy.

Aug. 7 is Purple Heart Day.

“Operation Outdoor Freedom is one small way we can give back to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for our freedom,” said Putnam in a statement. “I’m proud to host a Purple Heart Day event for the first time during this program to honor our nation’s Purple Heart recipients.”

Since 2011, Operation Outdoor Freedom has hosted more than 3,000 wounded veterans on more than 400 outdoor events, like guided alligator hunts, freshwater fishing, and canoeing. The events are held on state forests, private lands and along the state’s coasts, and excursions are funded through private donations.


The state is trying to incentivize some employees to change their lifestyles.

The Department of Management Services’ Division of State Group Insurance this week launched the second year of its diabetes prevention pilot program with the state’s Florida Blue and Capital Health Plan vendors. The program is available for state employees who live and work in Leon County. The 16-week lifestyle change program is valued at $400 per person and is offered at no cost to the participant or the state.

“The health and wellbeing of our state employees and their families is our top priority, and the Diabetes Prevention Program has allowed us to promote healthy lifestyle changes for our employees that lower their risk for developing diabetes while also working to save valuable taxpayer dollars,” said DMS Secretary Erin Rock. “We are thankful for the support of Florida Blue and Capital Health Plan and their willingness to commit to a second year of the program.”

Launched in April 2016, the first year of the pilot program helped participants learn about proper nutrition, weight control and exercise in an effort to prevent diabetes. In the first year, 50 percent of participants lost more than 1,000 pounds combined.

“Diabetes prevention is a critical issue for Floridians as well as all Americans,” said Dr. Carmella Sebastian, the vice president of clinical affairs at Florida Blue. “The State of Florida employee group has had terrific success with the Diabetes Prevention Program piloted last year. Florida Blue is proud to partner with the State of Florida in offering a second program in 2017.”

Awards season

2017 housing champs — The Florida Home Builders Association recently handed out “Champions of Housing” Awards to three lawmakers with deep roots in residential construction.

Sen. Tom Lee and Reps. Bryan Avila and Blaise Ingoglia took home the awards due to their support of a bill (HB 1021) in the 2017 Legislative Session.

Sen. Tom Lee was one of three state lawmakers who was honored by the Florida Home Builders Association as one of its 2017 ““Champions of Housing.” (Photo by Phil Sears)

The law, signed in June by Gov. Rick Scott, slows down the addition of new building materials to the Florida Building Code and implements recommendations from the Construction Industry Workforce Taskforce to address worker shortage in the industry.

Lee, a Brandon Republican, is an executive at Sabal Homes of Florida. Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, is a home builder; while Avila. is on the Hialeah Planning and Zoning Board

FHCA honors “Champions of the Elderly” — Nearly a dozen state lawmakers were honored this week for respecting their elders.
The Florida Health Care Association honored 11 state lawmakers — Senate President Joe Negron, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Sen Rob Bradley, Sen. Anitere Flores, Sen. Rene Garcia, Sen. Kelli Stargel, Rep. Daisy Baez, Rep. Travis Cummings, Rep. Shawn Harrison, Rep. Alex Miller, and Rep. Frank White — as the organization’s 2017 Champions of the Elderly.

Sens. Rob Bradley and Sen. Anitere Flores were among the state lawmakers honored by the Florida Health Care Association for their work on behalf of Florida’s elderly during the 2017 Session. (Photo by Phil Sears)

The lawmakers were chosen because they demonstrated a deep commitment to elders and others who needed the services of long term care centers.
“Florida is fortunate to have so many extraordinary supporters for our long term care residents and families, from the people who work in our care centers to the legislators who advocate on their behalf,” said Emmett Reed, the association’s executive director. “This conference is an opportunity to bring together so many people who tirelessly perform work that is challenging but so meaningful.”
The lawmakers were recognized during the association’s annual conference, which was held at the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando.

School daze

Tax-free — Need to escape the heat this weekend? Go shopping.

The state’s three-day, back-to-school sales tax holiday runs through Aug. 6, and is expected to save families more than $33 million on necessary school supplies, according to the Governor’s Office.

“We are looking forward to another successful back-to-school sales tax holiday, and applaud Governor Scott and the Legislature for recognizing the significance it has on our hard-working families and the 270,000 retailers throughout the state of Florida,” said R. Scott Shalley, the president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “Each year, shoppers show up in record numbers and provide a tremendous economic boost overall to retailers’ sales numbers while they are able to afford more of the supplies they need.”

School supplies — like notebooks, backpacks and pens — are just some of the things exempt from sales tax this weekend as part of the 2017 Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday.

According to the National Retail Federation, back-to-school shoppers nationwide plan to spend $10.2 billion on clothing; $5.6 billion on shoes; $8.8 billion on electronics, like computers and calculators; and $4.9 billion on school supplies, like notebooks, folders, pencils, backpacks and lunchboxes.

The National Retail Federation survey found parents say they’ll spend an average of nearly $239 on clothing and more than $114 on school supplies.

Under this year’s sales tax holiday, items notebooks, pens and pencils, and backpacks are among those that are exempt from sales tax.

College-bound —  Thirty students can breathe a little easier this academic year, thanks to the Florida Independent College Fund.

The fund announced this week that it distributed $82,500 in scholarships to assist 30 students at private colleges and universities in Florida. The scholarships were made possible by a grant from the Council of Independent Colleges through the CIC/UPS Educational Endowment.

“All Floridians deserve access to affordable, high-quality higher education, regardless of their background,” said Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida (ICUF), in a statement. “ICUF’s 30 colleges and universities are proud to partner with CIC and the UPS Foundation to make access easier for students throughout Florida.”

The organization gave out more than $1.5 million in scholarships, which make private higher education more affordable and accessible, through state-based associations across the nation.

“Independent colleges and universities in this country are remarkably effective at educating and graduating low-income and first-generation students in less time, with less student debt,” said Richard Ekman, president of CIC. “Helping these students afford a private college education is a truly critical need in our society, and it is rewarding to be a partner with the UPS Foundation and Independent Colleges and Universities as we help to support deserving students.”

Child crossing — With kiddos are heading back to school soon, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wants drivers to focus on child safety this month.

“This month, as children head back to school, it is critical that motorists adjust their driving behavior to account for more children on the road,” said Terry Rhodes, the executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

“Slow down in school zones, follow instructions from crossing guards and properly stop for school buses,” continued Rhodes. “No trip in a vehicle is routine, especially with children. Children are very observant and modeling safe driving behavior may just save their life down the road.”

With more children on the roads, state law enforcement is reminding motorists of a new law that increases the minimum penalty for drivers who illegally pass a school bus, resulting in injury or death.

There were 134,790 children under the age of 18 involved in a crash in Florida last year, according to preliminary data. Those crashes resulted in 1,996 serious bodily injuries and 161 fatalities, a 32 percent increase from 2014.

State law requires all drivers and passengers under the age of 18 to wear a seat belt. Law enforcement issued nearly 9,000 citations last year to motorists for not properly securing children in a vehicle. The agency is also reminding Floridians of a new law — the Cameron Mayhew Act — that increased the minimum penalty for drivers who illegally pass a school bus, resulting in injury or death, to a $1,500 fine and a one-year license driver license suspension.


Call it a $280,000 month.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced it received $279,375 on behalf of Florida consumers in July. The state agency received 3,186 complaints, initiated 241 investigations and arrested 13 people during the same time period.

The department also provided assistance to 22,458 consumers through its 1-800-HELP-FLA hotline, online chats and emails, and added 13,964 telephone numbers to the Florida Do Not Call List.

Last year, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recovered nearly $3 million for Florida consumers from moving companies, vehicle repair shops, pawn shops, telemarketers, and agencies selling travel.

On board

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is doing her part to get more Republicans in the statehouse.

The Republican Legislative Campaign Committee announced this week that the Fort Myers Republican has been appointed to the organization’s 2017 executive committee. The announcement came on the heels of the annual meeting, which was held in Atlanta and brought together legislative leaders and business representatives from all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

The Republican Legislative Campaign Committee announced this week Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto was joining its 2017 Executive Committee. (Photo by Phil Sears)

“With 69 of 99 legislative chambers controlled by Republicans, there has never been a better time to be a Republican legislative leader,” said Mike Turzai, the chairman of the RLCC. “Following our productive meeting in Atlanta, these executive committee members are prepared and ready to help serve the success stories of Republican leadership to voters ahead of the 2018 midterms.”

The RLCC works to Republican legislative leaders, and in 2016 worked to help Republicans gain control in state legislative chambers in Iowa, Kentucky and Minnesota.

“The members of our 2017 executive committee will be instrumental in ensuring continued Republican victories in legislative races throughout the country,” said Linda Upmeyer, the vice-chairwoman of the RLCC.

Architects’ group recognizes The Grove

Tallahassee’s Call-Collins House is a winner, according to the American Institute of Architects, Florida/Caribbean Chapter.

The historic home, also known as The Grove, captured the chapter’s 2017 People’s Choice Award among 41 contenders and more than 5 million votes, according to the Department of State, which manages the property.

“The Call-Collins House is the centerpiece of The Grove Museum, which opened to the public in March 2017,” the release said. “The museum features furnished rooms and interactive exhibits inside the Call-Collins House, as well as 10-1/2 wooded acres less than one mile north of Florida’s State Capitol.”

Richard Keith Call, an officer on Gen. Andrew Jackson’s personal staff, modeled his home after Jackson’s Hermitage in Tennessee and is believed to have finished building it by 1831,” the Associated Press’ Gary Fineout has written about the manse.

The Call-Collins House at The Grove received the 2017 People’s Choice Award from the American Institute of Architects, Florida/Caribbean Chapter.

Call’s great-granddaughter Mary Call married Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins, who also later resided in the home. He died there in 1991, and he and his wife are buried on the grounds.

The state took possession of the home and grounds, which underwent an extensive taxpayer-funded renovation that cost nearly $6 million.

“The Florida Department of State is honored and proud that the collaborative effort to restore and preserve the Call-Collins House has been recognized with the 2017 People’s Choice Award,” Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in a statement.

“The awards won by the Call-Collins House and the LEED green building designation symbolizes our commitment to leadership in preservation and historic site stewardship and to honoring the enduring legacy of the Call and Collins families by sharing The Grove with the public.”

Virtual response

Florida attorneys are taking their talents to cyberspace.

The Florida Bar recently launched Florida Free Legal Answers, which aims to give low-income Floridians a way to get their legal questions answered by a licensed attorney free of charge. The website is a cooperative effort between The Florida Bar and the American Bar Association.

“Justice should not be restricted to only those who can afford it,” said Michael Higer, president of The Florida Bar. “As the great information equalizer, technology has the potential to help level the playing field by connecting citizens who have legal questions with those best able to answer them.”

Florida Free Legal Answers is accessible online 24/7, and would match qualified participants with licensed attorneys who can answer questions related to civil law. More than 500 attorneys have already signed up to participate in the program and volunteer their time on a pro-bono basis.

“The legal system can be a challenging maze to navigate for even the most educated and well-versed,” said Higer. “People often contact legal aid because they do not know anywhere else to turn. Many times, they do not need the full range of services from a lawyer, but rather just need answers to a question or two. This program will provide folks in need with readily available lawyers who can answer their questions simply and effectively.”

Pass the butter

Lobster lovers, rejoice: Spiny lobster season is here, well … nearly.

The regular recreational and commercial spiny lobster season kicks off on Sunday and runs through March 31, 2018. The season comes on the heels of a successful two-day sport season in July.

“Based on what we saw during the two-day mini season last month, we look forward to successful recreational harvests as well as ample opportunities for Florida’s robust commercial fishing industry,” said Brian Yablonski, the chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The spiny lobster season generates more than $1 million through the sales of more than 200,000 lobster permits a year.

An FWC officer measures a lobster to make sure that it is the appropriate size. The 2017 recreational and commercial season kicks off on Sunday. (Photo via FWC.)

If you’re planning to try and capture a few of the mouthwatering crustaceans, make sure you steer clear of Everglades National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Biscayne Bay-Card Sound Spiny Lobster Sanctuary, certain areas of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, and no-take areas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Lobster hunters are also reminded to make sure to stick to the bag and possession limits, which are six spiny lobsters per person.

Folks who try to harvest puny lobsters — lobsters whose carapace is not larger than 3 inches — will be charged with a separate offense, under a new state law. It’s also against the law to harvest egg-bearing females.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:


(The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.)

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