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The St. Petersburg mayor’s race is over

All that’s left now is the crying.

St. Petersburg residents woke Saturday morning to the news, as broken wide open by Charlie Frago and Mark Puente of the Tampa Bay Times, that a state report places much of the blame for the city’s 200-million gallon sewage spill crisis on the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman.

We’ll leave the sewer system policies to others and just deal with the politics of this report, which is simple and straight-forward.

The mayor’s race is over.

Kriseman cannot and will not recover from this.

Rick Baker, who was already in a strong position to unseat Kriseman, should be able to wrap up the race in August. If not then, certainly in November.

It’s done. Finis. Kaput.

However you want to say it, it’s over.

Unless his tall frame is struck by lightning between now and Election Day, come January Baker will be sworn-in for a third term as St. Petersburg mayor.

But let’s take a step back for a moment and review how the election arrived at this point.

Many people don’t know this, but Baker really wasn’t sold on serving again as mayor until the sewage system crisis. And even after that, he had second and third thoughts about entering the race.

Deep down, Baker wanted to run for Florida governor. He and I had numerous conversations about it. He had similar conservations with other trusted advisors.

We all said the same thing: It would be very difficult for him to win a Republican primary, especially with Adam Putnam in the field. But he was unafraid. In fact, when the conversation turned to whether he should run for Congress against Charlie Crist (this was in the brief period when Crist announced that he would likely run, but Marco Rubio was still running for president, so David Jolly was still running for the U.S. Senate and not running against for the U.S. House) Baker said he would rather lose the governor’s race than win a congressional campaign.

Baker would be Don Quixote, touring the state with his guitar, talking about Florida’s history and its future. He would probably have lost, but he would have loved it.

Baker never approved of the Kriseman administration. He disagreed with the expensive staffing-up. He disagreed with the overt politicization of the Mayor’s Office. He disagreed with spending so much money on a new police headquarters. He disagreed about Kriseman’s vision for The Pier and the Rays.

Baker disagreed with a lot. But the Bill Edwards’ projects Baker was supervising were moving along swimmingly just like so much of the rest of the city. And while Baker thought he could beat Kriseman in a rematch, there probably wasn’t as large an appetitive for that as he assumed.

But then the storms came. And the City of St. Petersburg dumped 200 million gallons of sewage into Tampa Bay.

A crisis was born.

I remember the first conversation I had with Baker after the full scope of the crisis became public.

Him running for mayor was no longer about whether the rainbow flag should be raised above City Hall or which restaurant should go into the new St. Petersburg Pier.

St. Petersburg was and is in crisis. And if you believe Rick Kriseman was responsible for this crisis — as everyone who was an early supporter of Baker did — than Baker had no choice.

Cincinnati’s had to come in from the field and save Rome.

Baker had to leave the private sector and save St. Petersburg from four more years of disastrous decision-making.

Baker realized this and readied himself for the struggle ahead.

The first matter was getting himself into the best physical shape possible. He did that.

Concurrently, he needed to make sure the projects he was working on for Edwards were landing at the airport. He did that spectacularly.

And he had to get it out of his head that he could run for governor. That wasn’t easy, but he did that, too, although I know he struggled with that until the days before his formal announcement.

Was and is Baker’s victory inevitable?

It wasn’t before the sewage dumping. It wasn’t in the immediate aftermath of the dumping, either. But Kriseman’s handling of the crisis was so atrocious, that he opened the door for Baker to walk in.

It’s unfortunate that this election has come down to the sewage crisis. What, really, is the impact of the dumping? Did Tampa Bay turn green? No. Did the tourists stay away? Clearly not. Did people get sick? Not that we know of.

The sewage crisis was never one that we could see. Just like the pipes and tubes which make up the sewer system, this issue is an underground one.

But the Baker campaign succeeded making it a central part of this campaign. The issue is an indictment of Kriseman’s leadership style.

The mayor’s defense has been to attempt to spread the blame around.

And now we have the ultimate third-party judgment of who is right and who is wrong.

As Frago and Puente note, the 7-page draft report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does not name Kriseman or any of his staff. Yet its verdict is damning.

“The report is especially scathing in assessing the Kriseman administration’s 2015 decision to shut down the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility — and then the mayor’s failure to reopen the plant to alleviate the sewage spills as the crisis raged,” writes Frago and Puente.

How many mailers and television spots will we see those words in?

Don’t like those, how about: (T)he Kriseman administration’s decision to carry out that plan in 2015 without upgrading capacity at the city’s other three sewage plant ‘was essentially a gamble that they would not have a wet weather event.’ “

Still unsure about who was to blame for the crisis which will cost the city millions and millions of dollars?

“The mayor’s office also claimed then those rains were a ‘historic’ and ‘unprecedented’ and a ‘100 year event.’ … ‘These claims are not based in fact or reality,’ the investigator wrote.”

Kriseman’s campaign right now must be reeling.

The polls show that Baker is not only leading, but on the cusp of winning the race outright on August 29. The polls will only get worse.

The campaign finance reports show that Baker with not only an advantage, but with Kriseman unable to any longer raise serious money. The money situation will only get exacerbated.

I almost have to wonder whether this report changes the Times mind about endorsing Kriseman. Paul Tash and Tim Nickens don’t want to back a losing candidate, so why not jump on the Baker bandwagon?

There’s still the televised debate on Tuesday. But could that event be taking place at a worse time for Kriseman? Baker will be able to hammer Kriseman with this report.

Worst of all for Kriseman is that this is the week ballots are mailed to early voters. They’ll be reading about this report just as they make their decision.

It’s over.

All that’s left is the crying.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — A row over wireless

A telecommunications company has sued the Department of Transportation (FDOT) and its secretary, Mike Dew, over legislation passed this year that pre-empts to the state the regulation of telecommunications companies putting “wireless facilities in rights of way.”

The company, Rowstar, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Boca Raton’s Vertical Bridge, has exclusive deals with the state that let it put wireless communications equipment on FDOT-controlled rights of way.

But Rowstar says it received an April 20 letter from the department, saying it “proposed terminating” the leases—inked in 2014 and 2016—if the then-proposed bills became law.

The Rowstar deals promised to make significant coin for the agency in lease payments, up to $160 million for the first 10 years of the 50-year term, the 25-page complaint said. It was followed by over 200 pages of exhibits.

Nonetheless, the department instead said it intended to give away permits to Rowstar or any of its competitors for free. Officials later confirmed their intention in follow-up calls and meetings, according to the complaint.

That’s contract impairment, the company said, which is forbidden by the U.S. and Florida constitutions.

And the complaint, filed last week in Leon County Circuit Civil court, points out that the legislation as passed had carved out FDOT rights of way “to avoid any conflict” and “avoid any negative impact on FDOT’s revenues.”

The measures were intended to bolster the development of 5G wireless technology. They were opposed by the Florida League of Cities, which unsuccessfully asked Gov. Rick Scott to veto the measure, saying it will “deprive cities of their authority to regulate the use of public rights of way.”

Rowstar now is worried that “uncertainty” over its exclusive rights could cause it to lose business from four unnamed “major wireless carriers.” It seeks a court order that its deals are still good and enforceable.

A complaint in a lawsuit tells one side of a story. DOT spokesman Dick Kane declined to comment on the specifics of Rowstar’s allegations.

“The department has received the complaint and is reviewing it,” he said in an email this week.

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

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

More time — Circuit Judge Terry Lewis told the Attorney General’s Office this week it had 60 days to develop evidence to counter a Supreme Court decision that temporarily halted enforcement of a law requiring women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. Twenty-seven states have an abortion waiting period, which range from 18 to 72 hours. The right to privacy is more extensive in Florida’s constitution, but Denise Harle, a deputy solicitor general in Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office, argued the law doesn’t create significant burdens for women and was the “least intrusive” way to achieve a “compelling state interest.” But the Supreme Court said there’s a strong likelihood that a lower court will determine the law is unconstitutional because the state had offered no evidence that the law in fact does address a compelling state interest.

On the bench — Gov. Scott is holding firm, contending that he has the sole power to pick the next three justices to the state Supreme Court. The reason? Their terms expire on a Monday, while his ends on a Tuesday. In a 38-page response to a lawsuit filed by the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause, attorneys for Scott argued that his term ends when his successor takes the oath of office, which is the first Tuesday in January 2019. The governor’s attorneys contend that the power to appoint the successors to Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince continue until then. The governor is arguing their terms end on the first Monday in January — the day before his final day.

Attorneys for Gov. Rick Scott this week argued Scott has the authority to appoint three new Supreme Court judges. The reason? Their terms end on the first Monday in January 2019, while his ends one day later. (Photo via Mark Wallheiser.)

Guidance for ‘Hope’ — The Florida Department of Education released a list of eligible schools for the “Schools of Hope” program created as part of a wide-sweeping education bill signed into law earlier this year. The list was among the guidance sent to the state’s 67 school district this week, which advised superintendents on how they need to address failing schools. One option available to the 93 schools is to compete for “Schools of Hope” funding — up to $2,000 per student, which can be used for wraparound services, like after-school programs or community partnerships. Schools have less than a month to make a pitch for funding, and just 25 percent of the schools will get funding because of a cap in the state law.

Friends in high placesPete Antonacci is getting a new gig. Enterprise Florida’s executive committee this week recommended Antonacci, a long-time ally of Gov. Scott, to be its next CEO. Antonacci formerly served as Scott’s general counsel and is now the head of the South Florida Water Management District. The motion to hire Antonacci was made by executive committee member Alan Becker, a prominent South Florida attorney and friend of the governor. Antonacci would replace Chris Hart IV, who stepped down this March after less than three months as CEO, citing a lack of “common vision” with Scott.

Staffing shake-up — The Florida Lottery is saying goodbye to three high-level staffers. Florida Lottery spokeswoman Connie Barnes confirmed this week that its deputy secretary of administration, general counsel, and legislative affairs director have resigned their positions. Barnes said the “department anticipates filling the General Counsel and Legislative Affairs position within the next week” and is evaluating how to “best utilize the Deputy Secretary position.” The resignations come less than two months after Jim Poppell, formerly chief of staff at the Department of Economic Opportunity, took over from former Lottery head Tom Delacenserie, who now leads the Kentucky Lottery.

Patronis ‘talks to everybody’

New state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis admits he’s a gregarious fellow.

“I talk to everybody—I’m a restaurant guy,” said Patronis, a former state representative whose family owns the Capt. Anderson’s eatery in Panama City Beach.

But Patronis wouldn’t bite when asked about a recent POLITICO Florida story that “Gov. Rick Scott’s political team has been playing a direct role in the operation of his official taxpayer-funded office.”

CFO Jimmy Patronis brushed off questions this week about whether Gov. Rick Scott’s political team played a role in his appointment, telling reporters “I talk to everybody.” (Photo via the Associated Press)

Specifically, POLITICO ace Matt Dixon reported that “Curt Anderson, a longtime Scott political adviser, held direct interviews with potential CFO picks.”

For instance, Pat Neal, a Scott confidant who was considered for the position, told POLITICO he and Anderson “had a wide-ranging, one-and-a-half hour discussion about the major qualifications” for the job.

Scott eventually named Patronis to the post after former CFO Jeff Atwater left for a job with Florida Atlantic University.

“I haven’t seen the story,” Patronis said this week, after an event at Tallahassee’s National Guard Armory with Ag. Commissioner Adam Putnam on expediting concealed weapon licenses for active service members and veterans. “I got up at 5 to drive here this morning.”

When asked about his own vetting, a smiling Patronis said Scott “is a dear friend; he shares my work ethic.”

“… Some day you may come into Captain Anderson’s, not even say who you are, the first thing I do is I introduce myself to you,” he said.

“It’s just my nature. I’m a social butterfly,” Patronis added. “I love talking to people, learning what’s important to them. Thanks for the question.”

No more distractions

Rep. Emily Slosberg isn’t giving up her campaign to make texting while driving a primary offense.

Slosberg announced this week she’s working with the city of Boca Raton to pass a local resolution to urge the state Legislature to make texting while driving a primary offense.

“Providing law enforcement with the ability to enforce the ‘Texting While Driving Ban’ as a primary offense will save lives and prevent injuries,” she said in a statement. “I’ve been contacted by constituents with stories about parents dying, kids dying, and it is time that we take action.”

Slosberg filed legislation during the 2017 Legislative Session that would have made texting while driving a primary offense for juvenile drivers. A second bill, sponsored by Slosberg and Rep. Richard Stark, made it a primary offense for all motorists and increased penalties for someone caught using their device in a school zone. Neither measure received a committee hearing.

The state OK’d legislation in 2013 making it illegal to read or type text messages while driving. But lawmakers made texting while driving a secondary offense, making it difficult for law enforcement officers to ticket offenders. That’s because someone needs to be pulled over for a different traffic offense, like speeding or not wearing a seat belt, before they can issue a citation for texting and driving.

Law enforcement officers issued 3,488 distracted driving texting citations between Oct. 1, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2015, according to Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles data.

‘Skeeter’ season safety

Heading outside? Florida health officials are reminding Floridians and visitors to take precautions to protect themselves from the Zika virus.

While no Zika transmission zones have been identified in Florida this year, Gov. Scott encouraged Floridians to wear mosquito repellent and drain containers that collect rainwater to help prevent another outbreak.

“We know that summer means more rain, more mosquitos, and more travel-related cases, and that is why we must continue to take aggressive preparedness actions,” said Scott, who gave the opening remarks at the Florida Department of Health’s Zika preparedness planning meeting in Miami this week, in a statement. “We will continue to remain in contact with our federal and state partners and we remain fully committed to doing everything we can to protect our families and visitors.”

Gov. Rick Scott and health officials urged Floridians to continue to take precautions to protect against Zika, including using bug repellent, during the state health department’s Zika preparedness planning meeting. (Photo via Gov. Rick Scott Twitter)

The Associated Press reported the state confirmed 285 Zika infections were contracted in the state last year, and six additional cases confirmed this year have been linked to exposure to the virus in 2016. So far this year, 81 cases of travel-related cases of Zika — most of which are in Broward and Miami-Dade County — have been confirmed in Florida.

“We have learned a lot about how to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus over the past year and it is crucial that we continue to work with our state and federal partners to keep protecting our communities,” said Surgeon General Celeste Philip in a statement.

Changing of the guard

New man in charge —Meet the Chairman of the Board at LeadingAge Florida.

Roger Stevens, the CEO of Westminster Communities of Florida, was installed as chairman of the LeadingAge Florida Board of Trustees during the organization’s annual meeting this week.

“Roger is a thoughtful, insightful, and very accomplished leader,” said Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, in a statement. “Westminster Communities of Florida truly reflects the full continuum of aging services, including affordable senior housing, independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing care. As a result, Roger has a broad view of the aging services field that will be a true asset in guiding the only Florida association which represents that full continuum.”

A gubernatorial appointee to the Governor’s Continuing Care Advisory Council, Stevens has extensive experience representing aging service providers. He is also a licensed nursing home administrator, a certified public accountant, and a former manager at an international CPA firm with experience in feasibility studies, new facility development, financing, start-up and operation.

LeadingAge members also elected Troy Hart to serve as chair-elect; Josh Ashby, to serve as immediate past chair; Kevin Smaage to serve as secretary; Lisa Lyons to serve as treasurer; Mary Jo Zeller to serve as the ALF/HCBS chair; Joel Anderson to serve as the CCRC chair; Janet Stringfellow to serve as the housing chair; Robert Goldstein to serve as the nursing home chair; Jolynn Whitten to serve as the associate member representative; John Capes, Bruce Jones, Kevin Knopf, and Charee Russell to serve as LeadingAge advocates; Kip Corriveau to serve as the South West region chair; and Teresa Scott to serve as the North region chair.

Garry Hennis, Jim Richman, Gail Wattley, and Juana Mejia have also joined the board.

FMEA welcomes new team — Call him, “Mr. President.”

Florida Municipal Electric Association members this week elected Chip Merriam, the vice president of legislative, regulatory & compliance for the Orlando Utilities Commission, to serve as the organization’s new president of the board.

“As we look toward the future and the next 75 years, we have assembled a strong board of directors and officers who will help shape that path forward,” said Merriam in a statement. “I am grateful to each of the officers and board members for their service and commitment to Florida’s public power communities.”

Established in 1942, the association represents and advocates for member cities’ interests on a wide variety of state and federal issues. It also provides education and training for members, and acts as a clearinghouse for industry news and information.

Members also elected Joel Ivy, the general manager for Lakeland Electric, to serve as president-elect; Mike Poucher, the utility director of Ocala Electric Utility, to serve as vice-president; and Allen Putnam, the managing director of Beaches Energy Services in Jacksonville Beach, to serve as secretary-treasurer.

Support for Venezuelans

In a straw poll, thousands upon thousands of Venezuelans living in Florida turned out to reject the government’s plan to rewrite the Constitution, receiving bipartisan support from Florida lawmakers.

“The Venezuelan people have spoken; they are finished with this government that has continuously trampled their rights, murdered their neighbors, and oppressed their freedoms,” said Rep. Richard Stark, a Weston Democrat, in a statement after the vote. “It is unconscionable that while peacefully protesting in a civic manner and trying to make their voices heard, Venezuelans must still fear for their lives. This is an undeniable mandate; it is time for a new Venezuela.”

People line up to cast their ballots at a poll station during a symbolic referendum in Caracas, Venezuela on July 16, 2017. An estimated 150,000 votes were cast in Florida. (Photo via the Associated Press)

Nearly 150,000 votes were cast in Florida, and experts believe about 700,000 total people voted internationally in the poll. In Central Florida, all but five of the 28,328 votes cast voted yes on three questions that essentially declared opposition to Nicolas Maduro and called for the restoration of the county’s constitution.

“It was really motivating, it was inspiring, to see so many people passionate about their country, passionate about their freedom, passionate about their family members who are still back there, and hoping, some day, to go back to their country as a free country,” said Rep. Rene Plasencia, an Orlando Republican.

Sen. Vic Torres also applauded the Venezuelan people, saying this week he supports the efforts by the United States and other nations to impose sanctions on Venezuela to discourage the unpopular Constitutional changes and restore stability and economic prosperity.

“The voices of the Venezuelan people spoke with unanimity in their desire to preserve their national freedom and an open society,” said the Orlando Democrat. “We should all stand with the citizens and demand the current leadership abide by the will of the people.”

More nurses, please

Four more state colleges will begin offering a bachelor of science in nursing.

The state Board of Education gave the go-ahead to four state colleges — Eastern Florida State College, Lake-Sumter State College, Seminole State College of Florida, and Valencia College — to begin offering bachelor of science degrees by 2018.

The state board approved the request in an effort to produce a future talent pipeline in Central Florida, according to the Department of Education.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said “Florida colleges are known throughout the nation for their educational excellence, and this is a tremendous opportunity for students in Florida to meet their higher education goals while attending a Florida College.”

According to the DOE, the programs will allow nurses with associate in science degrees currently in the local workforce to remain on the job, while pursuing advanced skills in the health care industry.

“One size does not fit all. Students need options if they are interested in becoming a nurse,” said Jayne Willis, the chief nursing officer for Orlando Health, in a statement. “Some students cannot leave home to attend a four-year university. They need the option to attend close to home in their communities and continue working.”

Scott celebrates SkyConnect

SkyConnect has arrived — well, at least partially.

Gov. Scott was on hand this week when Tampa International Airport’s new SkyConnect trains arrived at Port Tampa Bay from Japan. Built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the trains are part of a $417 million, 1.4-mile automated people mover project, which is part of the first phase of the airport’s master plan. The first phase of the master plan is estimated to cost about $1 billion.

Gov. Rick Scott celebrated the arrival of the SkyConnect trains, which are part of $471 million people mover project, to Port Tampa Bay from Japan. (Photo via the Governor’s Office)

“The delivery of the SkyConnect cars from Japan represents how interdependent our state transportation infrastructure has become and reflects how critical partnerships are to our transportation system,” said FDOT Secretary Mike Dew in a statement.

The state has invested more than $1 billion in Florida’s airports since 2011, according to the Governor’s Office. The fiscal 2017-18 budget includes more than $263 million for aviation improvements.

“By investing over $1 billion in state funding in our airports over the past six years, we are making sure that Florida’s infrastructure is on the cutting edge and can support our growing economy,” said Scott. “As the airport continues their renovations, these trains will help accommodate the millions of future passengers that the Tampa International Airport will welcome.”

Head west

Florida firefighters are backing their bags, and heading west.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced this week that an additional 24 wildland firefighters from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will join an interagency crew to fight fires in the western states.

“After selflessly battling one of the worst wildfire seasons in Florida, our Florida  Forest Service firefighters will help protect other parts of our country from wildfire,” said Putnam.

A plane drops fire retardant as a wildfire burns along the primary road to the southern Utah ski town of Brian Head State on June 18, 2017. More than 90 Florida Forest Service firefighters are heading west to join an interagency crew to fight fires in the western states, including Utah. (Photo via the Associated Press.)

According to the Forest Service, crews could be sent to Utah, Montana, California or South Dakota. This week’s deployment deployment brings the total number of Florida Forest Service firefighters to 91.

“Florida Forest Service firefighters have proven their bravery and ability time and again when fighting Florida’s wildfires,” said State Forester Jim Karels. “They are exceptionally well-trained and know how to suppress wildfires aggressively and safely.”

Appointed

Buck, Clary reappointed to Clay County Development Authority — Two members of the Clay County Development Authority have been reappointed to four-year terms.

Gov. Scott announced Russell Buck and Gregory Clary have been reappointed to the Clay development authority.

Buck, a 56-year-old Middleburg resident, is the regional vice president of Vystar Credit Union.

Clary, a 65-year-old also from Middleburg, is the president of Clary & Associates.

Both men were appointed to terms ending July 1, 2021.

Pyott joins Regulatory Council of Community Association Managers — The Regulatory Council of Community Association Managers has a new member.

Gov. Scott announced this week he appointed Gary Pyott to the board. The 58-year-old Aventura resident is the president of Association 1st, LLC.

The Regulatory Council of Community Association Managers deals with the licensing, continuing education requirements, and fees and professional practice standards related to Community Association Managers industry. The council meets quarterly.

Pyott fills a vacant seat for a term ending Oct. 31, 2020. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Landman reappointed to Eastern Florida State boardAlan Landman is sticking around District Board of Trustees of Eastern Florida State College.

Gov. Scott announced this week he reappointed Landman, a 54-year-old Indialantic resident, to the board. Landman is an attorney at Alan Landman, P.A. He received both his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Florida.

Landman was reappointed to a term ending May 31, 2021. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Pate, Everett reappointed to NWFWMD — Gov. Scott has reappointed Jerry Pate and Ted Everett to the Governing Board of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

Pate, a 63-year-old Pensacola resident, is the owner and CEO of Jerry Pate Turf & Irrigation. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama. Everett, a 57-year-old Chipley resident, is the executive director for the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. He received his bachelor’s degree from Augusta State University.

Both men were reappointed to terms ending March 1, 2021. The appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Raschein joins Defense Support Task Force — Rep. Holly Raschein is the newest member of the Florida Defense Support Task Force.

Raschein, a Key Largo Republican, was appointed by Gov. Scott to the task force, which aims to preserve, protect and enhance the state’s military missions and installations. She becomes the fourth state lawmaker on the board, joining Sen. Doug Broxson and Reps. Clay Ingram and Jay Trumbull.

First elected in 2012, Raschein, a health care special projects manager, represents House District 120, which includes the Florida Keys.

Rep. Holly Raschein joins Sen. Doug Broxson and Reps. Clay Ingram and Jay Trumbull on the Florida Defense Support Task Force. (Photo via Rep. Holly Raschein’s Twitter.)

She currently serves as the state director for the National Foundation of Women Legislators, and is the past president of the Upper Keys Business & Professional Women.

This year, the task force will oversee an update of its strategic plan for protecting the state’s military installations. Florida’s 20 major military installations have an annual economic impact of $73 billion and more than 750,000 jobs.

Raschein fills a vacant seat, and was appointed to a term ending July 1, 2019.

Simon to the 11th Judicial Circuit — Judge Lourdes Simon is moving on up.

Gov. Scott announced this week that he appointed Simon to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court. Simon currently serves as a county judge for Miami-Dade County.

The 49-year-old Miami resident will fill a vacancy created by Judge Robert Luck, who moved to the 3rd District Court of Appeal.

Prior to becoming a judge, Simon served as a public defender for the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office. She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and a law degree from Nova Southeastern School of Law.

Guidice joins Employee Leasing Companies board — Gov. Scott has appointed a 56-year-old Golden Oak resident to the Board of Employee Leasing Companies.

Carl Guidice, the CEO of HR Outsourcing, fills a vacant position and was appointed until Oct. 31, 2020.

The board is responsible for licensing and regulating employee leasing companies. It meets regularly to consider applications for licensure, review disciplinary cases, and to conduct informal hearings.

The appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Speedy service

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services sure has been busy.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam announced this week the agency has expedited more than 82,000 Florida concealed weapon license (CWL) applications for active military members and veterans since July 2015.

“The men and women who serve and have served our country deserve all of the support we can provide,” Putnam said in a statement. “I’m proud that we have expedited so many concealed weapon license applications for our active military members and veterans.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced his agency has has expedited more than 82,000 Florida concealed weapon license for military members and veterans since July 2015. (Photo via Adam Putnam’s Office.)

Putnam pushed for the ability to expedite licenses for active military members and veterans after an attack against military personnel in Chattanooga, Tennessee in the summer of 2015.

Active military members who want to apply for a concealed weapon license should include a copy of their Common Access Card or other form of official military identification with their application when they submit it to the department.

There are currently 1.78 million concealed weapon license holders in Florida. They include state CFO Patronis, who proudly pulled his CWL out of his wallet at a press event in Tallahassee this week.

Fast shipping guaranteed

Chasing after Amazon, eBay and other competitors, Walmart now says purchases might be landing on your doorstep sooner than you thought.

Walmart held a grand opening for its new e-commerce fulfillment center in Davenport this week. The fulfillment center is just the latest in a series of investments the retail giant plans to make in the next fiscal year, officials said.

“This campus is just the latest example of Walmart’s commitment to offering customers fast shipping on items they need every day,” said Nate Faust, the senior vice president of Walmart U.S. eCommerce Supply Chain, in a statement. “We’re excited not only about the economic impact our facility has had, and will continue to have, in the community, but also how it will help us empower our customers to shop when and how they want.”

According to the Governor’s Office, the fulfilment center will create about 1,500 jobs in the Davenport area. The Governor’s Office also said that, between Feb. 1, 2017 and Jan. 31, 2018, the company plans to open nine new stores across the state; remodel more than 40 locations across the state; and celebrate the groundbreaking on a new distribution center for perishable goods in Cocoa.

“Walmart could have chosen to open this new fulfillment center in any location, yet they know that Florida is the best place for them to grow their business and create new jobs,” said Gov. Scott in a statement this week.

Awards season

16 presented with Chamber’s ‘Distinguished Advocates’ award — The Florida Chamber of Commerce announced this week 16 state lawmakers – five senators and 11 representatives – would receive the organization’s 2017 Distinguished Advocates award.

The award recognizes lawmakers who championed key Florida business agenda legislation, and is designed to acknowledge lawmakers who ensure the business community’s legislative priorities are considered.

Award winners “had the courage to put free enterprise principles for job creation above special interests,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Sens. Keith Perry and Jack Latvala were among the 16 state lawmakers recognized by the Florida Chamber of Commerce with the organization’s 2017 “Distinguished Advocates” award. (Photo by Phil Sears)

The Chamber honored Sens. Jeff Brandes, for his ridesharing and autonomous vehicle legislation; Jack Latvala, for fighting for proven investments in economic development and tourism marketing; Bill Montford, who worked side-by-side with the Chamber to strengthen the state’s accountability system; Keith Perry, who pushed legislation to shield injured workers’ private information; and Kelli Stargel, for her leadership in advocating for the Chamber’s education and tax priorities.

Over in the House, the Chamber recognized Reps. Ben Albritton, who also fought to keep injured workers’ personal information private; Michael Bileca, who fought to improve the state’s education system; Jim Boyd, who led efforts to reduce the business rent tax; Danny Burgess, who led the charge for workers’ compensation reform; Rep. Manny Diaz, for his work on behalf of teachers and students in Florida; Jay Fant, who supported economic development issues and tourism marketing; Jamie Grant, who worked to reduce assignment of benefits abuses; Mike La Rosa, who fought back attempts to expand Las Vegas-style gambling; Tom Leek, who pushed for reforms to Florida’s legal environment; Scott Plakon, who pushed for transparency in collective bargaining; and Chris Sprowls, who championed a consistent regulatory framework for ridesharing.

2017 ‘County Champion’ — Hats off to state Rep. Barrington Russell, please.

Russell, a Lauderdale Lakes Democrat, has been recognized by the Florida Association of Counties with a 2017 County Champion Award.

“Oftentimes, Tallahassee politicians fail to consider their county’s point of view when creating new regulations,” said Russell. “One of the reasons I chose to run for office was to ensure that the people in my community have a strong voice in Tallahassee and I am truly humbled to have been chosen for this award recognizing my efforts to ensure home rule is protected.”

Russell was honored for his understanding and dedication to working with counties on critical local issues during the 2017 Legislative Session.

“Our county officials and constituents are who we should be turning to first when we deal with legislation that will affect our neighborhoods,” he said in a statement.

Legislative honor students — Nearly three dozen lawmakers landed on the honor roll after the 2017 Legislative Session.

Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) announced this week that lawmakers — including Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran — are recipients of the 2017 Presidential Honor Roll Award.

Honorees, according to the organization, were chosen because they showed a deep commitment and support for independent higher education during the 2017 Session.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron were among the nearly three dozen lawmakers recognized by Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida for their work on higher education issues this year. (Photo by Phil Sears)

“I’m confident this past session set an all-time record for increases in student financial assistance for Florida resident students attending our universities,” said Ed Moore, president of ICUF. “None of it would have been possible without those selected for our 2017 Presidential Honor Roll.”

The organization recognized Sens. Jack Latvala, Keith Perry, Dorothy Hukill, Wilton Simpson, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Oscar Braynon, Kelli Stargel, Aaron Bean, Audrey Gibson, Bill Galvano, Bill Montford, Tom Lee, and Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Over in the House, Reps. Bob Cortes, Jake Raburn, Mel Ponder, Amber Mariano, Manny Diaz, Alexandra Miller, Travis Cummings, Paul Renner, Shevrin Jones, Larry Lee, Tom Leek, Elizabeth Porter, Ramon Alexander, Larry Ahern, Michael Bileca, James Grant and Carlos Trujillo got top honors.

Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida represents 30 private, non-profit educational institutes based in Florida.

Justice champion — Call him a “champion of justice.” Tampa Bay trial lawyers sure are.

The Tampa Bay Trial Lawyers Association (TBTLA) announced this week it was awarding Dale Swope with its 2017 “Champion of Justice Award.”

“I am humbled to be in the company of advocates who have come before me as leaders in our community, both inside and outside the courtroom,” said Swope, the president of the Florida Justice Association, in a statement.

Swope is the founding partner of Swope, Rodante P.A., and was one of the founding members of the TBTLA, a non-profit organization of lawyers representing consumers dedicated to upholding and defending the Constitution. He served as the organization’s president in 2000 and 2002.

“I am pleased to say that the Champion of Justice award will be given again this year to a person who has consistently demonstrated exceptional leadership,” said Chris Deburi, the president of the Tampa Bay Trial Lawyers Association.

Help for volunteers

Looking to recruit and retain skills-based volunteers? There’s a grant for that.

Volunteer Florida is accepting proposals for 2017-18 Volunteer Generation Fund grant funding. Contingent upon receipt of federal funding, Volunteer Florida will distribute a total of $286,000 in “sub-grant” awards of $13,000. The program aims to help organizations more effectively recruit, manage, support and retain skills-based volunteers.

While the program is open to public and private nonprofit organizations, the fiscal 2017-18 program is intended to “build capacity that will result in sustainable skills-based volunteer programs.” Because of that, Volunteer Florida said organizations receiving Volunteer Generation Fund program funds for three years aren’t eligible for 2017-18 funding.

Proposals are due Aug. 4, less than two weeks away.

Money, money, money

Six months, $16.6 million.

CFO Patronis announced this week that insurance experts working with Florida’s Insurance Consumer Helpline led to the recovery of more than $16.6 million during the first half of 2017.

“The claims-filing process can be a stressful affair, especially during times of serious illness or after a disastrous event,” said Patronis in a statement. “I applaud the efforts of our experts who work tirelessly to provide Floridians with the tools and resources they need to easily navigate through their insurance-related issues.”

Helpline experts answered more than 141,000 calls from Floridians and aided in the recovery of funds, including insurance claim payments and premium refunds that consumers.

Must love books

First Lady Ann Scott is spending the summer reading — and she wants Floridians to follow her lead.

Scott stopped by the Marion County Public LIbrary in Ocala this week as part of the Department of Education’s 2017 Summer Literacy Adventure program. Scott read to students from the Marion County Boys and Girls Club, and encouraged them to continue reading throughout the summer.

“This is the perfect time for children and families to spend extra time reading and learning together,” she said in a statement. “I encourage all of our wonderful students to take the Summer Literacy Adventure pledge so they are prepared for a great school year.”

First Lady Ann Scott read to students from the Marion County Boys and Girls Club during a stop at the Marion County Public Library in Ocala. (Photo via First Lady Ann Scott’s Twitter.)

The 2017 Summer Literacy Adventure program encourages students to pledge to read as many books as possible during the summer. At the start of the 2017-18 school year, the first lady will visit the school where students completed the most reading pledges.

“First Lady Ann Scott sets a great example for Florida’s students, and we are extremely fortunate to have her as a strong advocate for lifelong success,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. “The Summer Literacy Adventure is a great way to show our students that literacy is exciting, and it is critical that they keep reading over the summer months to retain the knowledge they have gained when school starts back in the fall.”

Got jobs?

Lift this  — Need a forklift? There’s a new place to find them in Jacksonville.

Gov. Scott visited Florida Forklift’s new Jacksonville facility this week. The facility, according to the Governor’s Office, will create additional job opportunities in the community.

Gov. Rick Scott talks job growth at Florida Forklifts in Jacksonville. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

“I’d like to thank Gov. Scott for his commitment to creating a business-friendly environment and support of small businesses like Florida Forklift,” said Gary Mansell, the company’s president, in a statement. “The team at Florida Forklift is incredibly grateful for our success in the state for over 40 years, especially here in Jacksonville, which has helped make the move to this new facility possible. We look forward to providing great service to many more Floridians and creating opportunities for years to come.”

Founded in 1974 as Tampa Forklift, the company now has locations in Winter Haven, Orlando, Jacksonville and Fort Myers. It currently employs more than 60 Floridians.

Job carnival — Look out, Tampa: The job hunters are coming.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz will host her annual District 62 Job Fair at Higgins Hall in Tampa next week. The 8th annual event is a chance for employers to connect with prospective employees of all skill sets and education levels.

“With the Tampa Bay area poised to stand at the forefront of our twenty-first century economy, it is vital that all our residents are sharing in our successes,” said Cruz.

“Through our District 62 Job Fair, our office has been able to work with our partners in the business community to help thousands of Floridians find a good-paying job that provides economic security for themselves and their families,” she continued. “I could not be more proud of the opportunities we’ve been able to provide to working Floridians and I encourage everyone looking for a job to attend.”

In addition to prospective employers, career skills professionals from the University of South Florida and Hillsborough Community College will be on hand to provide resume advice and interview tips.

Feel the burn — Gov. Scott might not have had time to squeeze in a workout, but the Naples Republican did take a few minutes this week to applaud the growth of Orangetheory Fitness.

The national fitness franchise, which was founded in South Florida and is headquartered in Boca Raton, has opened 89 studios over the past six and a half years.

“I enjoy the opportunity to take classes at Orangetheory Fitness studios both at home and in Tallahassee, so I am happy to be here today with Governor Scott to recognize this outstanding Florida company and its contribution to our economy,” said Senate President Negron in a statement. “Orangetheory Fitness has seen tremendous growth in a very short period of time, and we are pleased they have decided to maintain their global headquarters right here in Florida.”

Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers celebrate the growth of Orangetheory Fitness. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

Orangetheory Fitness launched its first studio in Fort Lauderdale in 2010. Since then, it has transformed into a worldwide franchise, with more than 700 studios in 45 states and 16 countries. It is on track to have 900 open studios in 2017.

“Our work to cut taxes, reduce burdensome regulations and make Florida more business-friendly is helping innovative job creators like Orangetheory Fitness create new opportunities for our families,” said Scott in a statement.

According to the Governor’s Office, has created more than 1,300 jobs in Florida, including 120 jobs at the Global Support Center in Boca Raton.

Dear Congress

Rep. Kristin Jacobs has a message for federal lawmakers: Keep it efficient.

The Coconut Creek Democrat joined 84 legislators from 33 states in signing a letter urging the Department of Energy and Congress to maintain energy efficiency programs.

Energy efficiency standards set a minimum standard for more than 60 different appliances. The Department of Energy is required to work with manufacturers to update standards that save consumers money.

Federal spending bills have proposed 47 percent cuts to the Energy Department’s budget, with the Building Technologies Office, which administers efficiency standards for standards for appliances, being reduced by 54 percent.

Rep. Kristin Jacobs was one of 84 legislators from 33 states who signed a letter urging the Department of Energy and Congress to maintain energy efficiency programs.(Photo via the Florida House.)

“Current federal energy appliance standards save money for Floridians,” she said in a statement. “Now more than ever, Congress must act to preserve these bipartisan efficiency requirements.”

Jacobs — who serves as the ranking Democratic member on both the Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee and the Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee — was the Florida lawmaker to sign the letter.

“Energy efficiency is a powerful and cost-effective tool for reducing energy use and subsequently carbon emissions,” said Jeff Mauk, the executive director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, in a statement. “These standards save consumers money while benefitting the environment. It’s a win-win scenario.”

Hungry no more

Hundreds of Broward families recently got a helping hand from Rep. Patricia Williams.

Williams, a Lauderdale Lakes Democrat, recently hosted a free food distribution event with Farm Share in House District 92.

“Lack of food security is a serious issue affecting far too many families throughout Florida,” Williams said. “While it is unfortunate that events like this are necessary, I am extremely proud of the fact that our community came together to provide to those in need.”

The event provided enough food to feed 500 families in need of assistance, 219 of which received food at the event. Williams, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and Deerfield Beach Mayor Bill Ganz delivered food that wasn’t distributed at the event to the Palms of Deerfield, a senior living community partnered with the Deerfield Beach Housing Authority.

Farm Share distributed nearly 40.5 million pounds of food to hungry families, children, seniors and veterans in Florida in 2016.

Farm Share is hosting three food distribution events — in Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Williston — on Saturday.

Bag boy (or girl) extraordinaire

Think your grocery store bagger is the best in the land? The Florida Grocers Association has a competition for them.

The Florida Grocers Association (FGA), a division of the Florida Retail Federation, is launching an event to crown Florida’s best grocery bagger among all of the Sunshine State grocery industry employees.

The inaugural Florida Best Bagger competition takes place Sunday at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee during the 2017 Sunshine EXPO, one of the largest retailing events in the Southeast.

“Florida’s grocery industry is made up of more than 2,300 stores and tens of thousands of employees, and we look forward to the best baggers from Pensacola to Key West going head-to-head to determine who truly is the best bagger in our state,” said Josie Correa, the executive director of the FGA, in a statement.

Contestants are judged by speed of bagging, proper bag-building technique, weight distribution, as well as style, attitude and appearance.

In addition to taking home “bagging rights,” the winner will receive a $1,000 grand prize and a trip to the National Grocers Association National Best Bagger Championship at The NGA Show in February in Las Vegas.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

 

New Lake O algae blooms reported, so why are environmentalists silent?

After millions of gallons of untreated water entered Lake Okeechobee this summer, significant algae blooms are now beginning to form – with nary a word from environmentalists.

Both the Palm Beach Post and the TC Palm report on new blooms in Lake O, but (unlike last summer) absent any discharges from the lake there are no threats to the St. Lucie River and Caloosahatchee basins or Martin County Beaches.

According to TCPalm, the C-44 canal – which drains into the lake — has been receiving untreated water from Martin County.

“Water is currently flowing from the C-44 Canal, which connects Lake O and the river, into the lake rather than out of the lake and into the canal,” TCPalm notes. “Wednesday, canal water was flowing into the lake at a rate of about 171.3 million gallons a day, according to latest data from the Army Corps of Engineers.”

West Palm Beach’s WPTV is also reporting on high levels of bacteria in the water in Jupiter, forcing Palm Beach County’s health officials to shut down four beaches: Jupiter Beach Park, Palm Beach, Riviera Beach and Phil Foster Park.

With such a situation, one would expect a loud cry from environmentalists. But no.

So why are environmentalists silent over this latest event? Perhaps it is that a majority of the algae bloom problem comes from north of Lake O – not from the south – a long standing argument from residents.

Clewiston Chamber Executive Director Hillary Hyslope believes that silence is all about narrative – and this bloom goes against a popular conception by environmentalists to blame the region south of the lake for water quality issues.

“This summer, environmental activists have been silent as millions of gallons of untreated water have flowed into Lake Okeechobee from Martin County waterways,” Hyslope says. “They were also silent as the federal government delayed sending water into Everglades National Park to save sensitive wildlife, because it did not fit their narrative of blaming residents south of the lake for water problems. Historically, more than 95 percent of the water and nutrients have originated north of the lake.

In reality, only about 5 percent of the water flowing into Lake O originates from communities to the south – mostly for flood control – with the remainder coming from Orlando and the Kissimmee Basin.

“Warm temperatures and recent rains increasing run off into the lake from the north contribute to the algae growth,” the Palm Beach Post wrote regarding this latest bloom.

“This looming algae bloom is proof positive that paid environmental activists need to stop pointing fingers and start supporting solutions that will address local water quality issues,” Hyslope says. “Efforts should be focused on cleaning water before it goes into the lake. The scientific data showing where the problem is originating – north of the lake – is overwhelming.”

Video via Palm Beach Post:

Jason Rojas

Jose Oliva taps Jason Rojas for key staff position, putting him on track for chief of staff

Jason Rojas is set to be Jose Oliva‘s chief of staff when Oliva takes over as Speaker of the House for 2018-20.

Rojas, recently a staff director in the Florida House, will start August 1 at the Republican Party of Florida, where he will serve in a policy development role that is a stepping stone to eventually leading the Speaker’s Office.

Oliva said Thursday that he has tasked Rojas with “building a strong conservative agenda” while at the Florida GOP. It’s only natural, Oliva said, that after building that agenda, Rojas would be tapped to be the top staffer to implement it.

Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, will succeed Richard Corcoran as House Speaker, assuming the GOP maintains its majority in the chamber.

Rojas, who got his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida, has worked for the House in various roles since 2008, according to his LinkedIn page. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2003.

He also was a lawyer for the state’s Public Service Commission and the executive director for the Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus.

Rojas is the son of former state Rep. Luis Rojas of Miami.

“Jason is a great guy—he’s smart, capable and he knows The Process,” said Ramon Maury, a lobbyist with almost three decades’ experience in the Capitol. “I am thrilled for him. The institution will only benefit from this selection.”

Sunburn for 7.20.17 – The Trump presidency at 6 months; State attorney gets Gillum’s emails; Scott Sturgill enters CD 7 race; DLP finally airing TV ads; Pete Antonacci getting a new job

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

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

Donald Trump is governing as he campaigned -– defiantly, angrily, and not necessarily productively.

Six months into his term in office, President Trump has succeeded in disrupting the power structures that have long governed Washington. He has delivered on his broad mandate to shake up the national political landscape, while establishing a wild new normal of constant movement and noise generated out of the White House.

The problem comes that for all the president’s exertions and proclamations, a power vacuum now defines Trump’s Washington. The collapse of his signature legislative promise –- to repeal and replace Obamacare –- underscores his inability to deliver on the substance of his agenda, with a conservative revolt helping doom Trump’s push.

The president has seemed alternately determined and oblivious in the face of the fact that he will have zero major legislative accomplishments to boast of from his first half-year in office –- historically, the most productive portion of a president’s term.

Trump allies among establishment Republicans have developed a coping mechanism that gets repeated often: focus on what he does, and not what he says or tweets. It’s almost become cliché for them to answer questions about his presidency with a response that includes the fact that he named Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court without flaw or delay.

But that does not a presidency make. Trump said recently that he would be “very angry” if his health care push falls short, knowing that it marks his best shot at a major victory.

Perhaps he can defy the odds again. But the Trump presidency for now remains more about Trump than it does about governing.

Read more

Kathryn Starkey eyeing a run for Richard Corcoran’s House seat

Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey may mount a 2018 bid for Richard Corcoran’s state House seat in 2018, sources tell FloridaPolitics.com.

Corcoran cannot seek re-election seat due to term limits. His HD 37 covers central Pasco County directly north of Tampa, with a reliably Republican lean.

Corcoran beat Starkey the last time the seat was open.

Eight years later, Starkey is thinking about making another run for the Legislature, only this time she’d be in a stronger political position.

Starkey replaced Ann Hildebrand on the commission in 2012 and was re-elected in 2016. Both elections for her District 3 seat saw her defeat Randy Evans. Before winning her commission seat, the businesswoman and mother of four was elected unopposed to two terms on the Pasco County School Board.

Starkey began her political career as a citizen activist on a platform of visual standards for signs, billboards, and commercial buildings, as well as limits to bus benches on public rights of way. As a commissioner, she focused on economic development and enhanced recreation options, such as the creation of a bicycle/pedestrian trail between Trinity and Dade City. Three Republican governors — Jeb Bush, Charlie Crist and Rick Scott, as well as former Senate President John McKay — have appointed Starkey to various state boards five times.

Starkey served as commission chair from November 2015 through November 2016, and in 2014, her work on flood insurance reform led the Florida Association of Counties to present her with a Presidential Advocacy Award.

The longtime Pasco resident has also been deeply involved in the community, including being a youth soccer coach and serving on the boards of All Children’s Hospital, Red Cross of Tampa Bay and East Lake Little League.

If she declared, Starkey would be in a four-way (at least) Republican primary for HD 37 along with George Agovino, Bill Gunter and Elle Rudisill, though so far none of the three have made serious progress on the fundraising trail.

Gunter is the current leader with about $5,600 in his campaign account and is likely the most recognizable candidate in the current crop. The pastor won a GOP primary to take over for former Rep. Mike Fasano in 2013, but lost a tight race to former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy.

He is followed by Rudisill, an assistant State Attorney in Pasco and Pinellas counties, who has just shy of $5,000 in the bank. Agovino, a retired FBI agent, is $177 in the hole according to his most recent campaign finance report.

Besting those numbers should be a cakewalk for Starkey, who easily crossed into six-figure territory during her 2016 re-election bid.

 

The Delegation for 7.19.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Failure of health care bill might give new meaning to “repeal and replace”

Yogi Berra is credited with once saying “when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell waived the white flag on the Republican health care bill on Monday, the GOP arrived at that fork guided by nothing more than Yogi’s advice.

The health care issue, which helped Republicans reclaim majorities in both the House and Senate in 2010, is now threatening their own political health. The first casualty could be McConnell himself.

With Monday’s political disaster, Republicans in the Senate are desperately looking for quick answers. A repeal-only strategy is one of the paths favored by President Donald Trump. However, that idea collapsed nearly as quickly as McConnell offered it.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. President Donald Trump blasted congressional Democrats and “a few Republicans” over the collapse of the GOP effort to rewrite the Obama health care law. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

House Republicans are becoming openly hostile with their GOP counterparts in the Senate. The frustration expressed Tuesday by Panama City Republican Neal Dunn likely represents the view of several of his colleagues.

“The Senate’s inability to act on the legislation the House already passed in unconscionable,” the first term member and medical doctor said. “The Senate should bring the repeal bill Congress sent to President (Barack) Obama in 2015 to the floor immediately. Then the House can act and send the bill to President Trump. Enough is enough.”

Florida Democrats have, so far, mostly stood back and let Republicans begin to jab each other. Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor did weigh in saying Republicans failed in the attempt to “rip health coverage away from millions of Americans as part of their repeal scheme.” Miramar Democrat Alcee Hastings added “Democrats won’t let Republicans destroy health care, but we will work together to improve the system.”

So where was Florida’s Republican senator on the bill? Marco Rubio kept a low profile and last week only committed to voting to let the bill proceed to the Senate floor, where he and others could seek changes.

“You can’t even start that (amendment) process unless you vote to proceed,” Rubio was quoted by NPR. “So, I’m prepared to vote to proceed so we can get on the bill and begin to make those changes.”

Rubio said Tuesday he would support a repeal-only bill if it comes to the Senate floor.

With all of the air now out of the balloon, where do the Republicans go from here?

Trump is putting some distance between himself and Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, he suggested Congress just “let Obamacare fail” and he’s “not going to own it.”

Whether or not the President is resorting to bluster as part of his “art of the deal” strategy,” it now appears his “suggestion” may be a probable conclusion. He says the Democrats will then come to the GOP majorities asking for help in finding a solution.

Some Republicans, who campaigned for 7 years on “repeal and replace,” now fear that “replace” might actually apply to them.

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

Nelson not a fan of Space Corps

Florida’s Democratic senator and one-time astronaut believes a plan to add a new branch branch of space defense to the Pentagon is a bad idea.

The House is proposing, as part of legislation covering defense authorization, that a new agency, called the Space Corps, be created. If approved by the Senate, the military would then consist of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and the Space Corps.

Alabama Republican Mike Rogers, the sponsor of the provision, located within the National Defense Authorization Act, said the new agency is vital because the nation has allowed our primary adversaries, Russia and China, to gain peer status in just the last few years.

But Sen. Bill Nelson isn’t buying it. He called the new agency premature and unnecessary, reported Ledyard King with USA Today.

“It ought to stay with the Air Force until there’s a compelling reason to change,” Nelson said. “There’s no sense to go out and create another reorganization and all the disruption that comes with that.”

The Long March 7 rocket carrying the Tiangong-2 module blasts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. While some in Congress have proposed creating a Space Corps focused solely on space defense, Sen. Bill Nelson isn’t buying it. (Photo via the Associated Press.)

While Space Corps would not have direct oversight of military missile launches, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, a former GOP Congresswoman from New Mexico, is also opposed.

“The Pentagon is complicated enough,” Wilson told reporters in June. “So to make it more complex would add more boxes to the org chart and cost more money.”

Nelson’s colleague, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, an Arizona Republican, is more sympathetic to the concept, if not the House bill. His committee forwarded a bill creating a Chief Information Warfare Officer within the current military structure.

If and when the Senate bill passes, a conference committee between the House and Senate will determine the shelf life of the Space Corps.

Rubio thanks House for passing cancer legislation

Florida’s Republican Senator praised the House of Representatives for passing the RACE for Children Act last week. The bill, among other things, seeks to accelerate the testing of cancer drugs already approved for use on adults. RACE stands for Research to Accelerate Cures and Equality.

“(Last week’s) passage of the RACE for Children Act in the House is great news,” Rubio said in a statement. “We are one step closer to developing innovative and promising cancer drugs for children across the country who desperately need them.”

The bill is supported by numerous cancer treatment providers around the country including the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the Arnold Palmer Hospital, the Moffitt Cancer Center, the Harvard Medical School and many others.

Sen. Marco Rubio applauded the House for passing the RACE for Children Act, which would, among other things, accelerate the testing of cancer drugs already approved for use on adults.

The Senate version of the bill is sponsored by Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet, with Rubio, Colorado Republican Cory Gardner and Delaware Democrat Chris Van Hollen signed on as co-sponsors.

Bennet called the House action “a significant step for children around the country who deserve life-saving treatments.”

“We should be able to tell parents with kids who are battling cancer that we’re doing everything we can to develop breakthrough drugs to treat their children,” he said in a statement.

Paulson’s Principles: Will the courts end partisan gerrymanders?

The federal courts have long held that racial gerrymandering violates the “equal protection clause” of the 14th Amendment, but they have never struck down partisan gerrymanders. They came close in a 2004 Pennsylvania case where the justices split 4 to 4.

The courts have always held partisan gerrymandering to be a “political question,” best left to the legislatures and not the courts. In the Pennsylvania case, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued that there might come a day when the court strikes down partisan gerrymanders “if some limited and precise rationale were found to correct an established violation of the Constitution in some redistricting cases.”

I have always compared reappointment to the family portrait. The only thing you care about is how you came out. The hell with everyone else.

Both parties have employed partisan gerrymanders when it is advantageous; i.e., when they are the majority. Democrats dominated Florida politics for about 110 years from the end of Reconstruction in the 1880’s to the Republicans becoming the majority party in the 1990’s.

Republicans proposed a “fair districting” process to the Democrats around 1990, and the Florida Democrats quickly rejected the plan. When Republicans became the majority party in Florida just several years later, they lost their devotion to “fair districts.”

In 2010, Florida voters approved the Fair Districts Amendment to the Florida Constitution. Promoted as bipartisan, the key supporters and financial backers of the proposal were overwhelmingly Democrats. So far, it has had limited impact on partisan alignments in Florida.

Democrats dominated Florida politics until the 1990’s. One of the first barriers to fall was partisan control of the Congressional districts. It was not until 1990 that Republicans won control of the Florida congressional delegation by a slim 10 to 9 margin.

After the 1990 census, the size of the Florida delegation grew from 19 to 23, and Republican control jumped to 13 seats to 10 for the Democrats. The 2000 census brought two more seats to the Florida delegation, and Republican control increased to 18 to 7. 2010 brought two more members to the delegation now numbering 27. Republicans held a 17 to 10 advantage that was reduced to its current Republican lead of 16 to 11. That one seat Republican loss was due in part to the newly Court-drawn congressional districts as a result of the Fair District Amendment.

According to a recent analysis of the 435 congressional districts by the Associated Press, Republicans hold an extra 22 seats due to partisan gerrymandering. When you consider that Dems need to flip only 24 seats to win control of the House, these gerrymandered seats stand out.

According to The Brennan Center for Justice in their recent report on partisan gerrymandering, seven states, including Florida, account for most of the partisan bias in Congressional gerrymandering. The Brennan Center found that Florida Republicans were advantaged by 2.5 congressional seats in the 2012 and 2014 election, but only 1.5 seats in 2016 due to the intervention of the state courts.

The Associated Press came to a slightly different conclusion. While Republicans benefited in the Florida House and Senate due to partisan gerrymanders, their advantage in congressional races could not be attributed to partisan gerrymandering.

Entire Florida delegation votes to increase defense spending

One of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation in the current Congress was approved on Friday. The House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act with a bipartisan vote of 344-81.

The bill received unanimous support from the Florida delegation.

One of the the key provisions of the bill was a 2.4 percent pay increase for members of the military, a boost Rep. Vern Buchanan applauded.

“No one deserves a raise more than the brave men and women of the Armed Forces,” he said. “They put it all on the line in defense of our freedoms.”

The legislation also increases defense spending by 10 percent to help raise the readiness level of the country’s armed forces. Another provision concerning a military space agency is detailed below.

“(This) vote fulfills the promise that we made to our military at home and abroad to continue to rebuild our capabilities and keep our nation safe,” said Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford in a statement. “Northeast Florida is home to critical military installations that are essential to foreign and domestic missions, and this legislation bolsters the tools required to execute their duties.”

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy inserted an amendment designed to assist small business owners in pursuing more funding opportunities through existing defense programs. The amendment passed unanimously.

“I thank my colleagues for including my amendment in this en bloc package,” Murphy said on the House floor. “These federal programs enable small businesses to perform research and development that advances the national interest and has the potential for commercialization.”

Hutchinson Island Republican Brian Mast was able to insert two provisions into the bill. One seeks to prevent suicides by veterans with an Oath of Exit that calls for those leaving the military to pledge to look out for their fellow veterans. Another calls for collaborating with Israel on missile defense.

“For the past decade, we have just been getting by – cutting resources as the world becomes more dangerous and putting off tough choices,” Mast said in a statement. “This week, we decisively ended that trend.”

Orlando Democrat Darren Soto was able to get 5 amendments passed ranging from protecting Americans to employing veterans to saving taxpayers’ money.

“Our servicemen and women put their lives on the line to defend our freedom,” Soto said. “The NDAA provides a great opportunity for us to pursue policies like these to improve their lives on and off the battlefield.”

The Senate is working on its version of the bill.

Delegation fights for home health care services

Eleven members of the Florida delegation have signed a letter urging Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta to make it easier for elderly and disabled persons to stay in their own homes.

“This letter is about fighting for individuals to receive care in the comfort of their own home, instead of in an impersonal and unfamiliar setting,” said Rep. Francis Rooney, a Naples Republican who signed the letter, in a statement. “An individual that is elderly or disabled, and chooses to self-manage their home care, shouldn’t be treated as if they were running a for-profit business. Requiring these individuals to follow federal record keeping rules is absurd. The government should be making it easier, not more difficult, for elderly and disabled persons to stay in their own homes.”

The letter — which was also signed by Republicans Neal Dunn, Ted Yoho, John Rutherford, Ron DeSantis, Daniel Webster, Gus Bilirakis, Dennis Ross, Tom Rooney, Brian Mast, and Carlos Curbelo — asks Acosta to take actions to remedy problems which have arisen since the implementation of New Home Care Regulations. Enacted in 2013, the regulations overturned 40 years of precedent and accomplished “a de facto repeal of the companionship-services exemption, which — since its enactment in 1974 — has protected the elderly and disabled who receive home-care services from the overtime, minimum wage and record-keeping requirements that the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 imposes on employers with respect to their employees,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

“Unless DOL takes prompt action to address the adverse impact of the New Home Care Regulations, the Florida regulatory structure risks being fundamentally undermined, by nurse registries being gradually eliminated from the marketplace,” reads the letter. “Without nurse registries, elderly and disabled individuals in Florida who self-manage their home care will be exposed to a heightened risk of abuse and exploitation, due to the absence of a licensed source for obtaining referrals of independent homecare providers who have been thoroughly background-screened.”

The lawmakers asked the Acosta to suspend any ongoing investigations of Florida nurse registries, develop and publish clarifying guidance on how nurse registries can avoid being deemed a an employer; and issue a new set of regulation that rescinds the New Home Care Regulations, reinstates prior regulations, and “restores to Congress its legislative prerogatives concerning this important exemption.”

Gaetz, John Morgan soulmates on medical marijuana

It is hard to imagine Rep. Matt Gaetz being passionately on the same side as super lawyer John Morgan on any issue, but that issue exists. Anyone reading a transcript of Gaetz’s criticism of current laws governing cannabis preventing research would be forgiven for believing the words might have been uttered by Morgan.

Gaetz, a conservative Republican, was telling his colleagues last week on the House Judiciary Committee that “it is absolutely insane that marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug and we’re not unlocking cures and the potential to improve people’s quality of life.” he said. The Committee was taking up legislation designed to regulate controlled substances.

It was also Gaetz, not the liberal potential candidate for Florida Governor and leader of the effort to legalize medical marijuana in Florida, who said “it seems ludicrous to me that the notion of conservative, limited government would put the federal government between someone who is ailing, in pain, and something that could potentially help them.”

The congressman told stories of constituents in need of “non-euphoric” cannabis and his attempts to help the University of Florida launch therapeutic research. He was told UF could not do the research, in large part because of what Gaetz described as “an idiotic federal law.” He later used the term “indefensible” concerning that law.

“This should not be a partisan issue,” Gaetz continued.

He did not conclude with “for the people.” That was the giveaway to know it was the Congressman from the Panhandle speaking and not the trial attorney from Orlando.

Gaetz helps Okaloosa airports score $350K in DOT grants

More than $350,000 will be directed from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) toward the Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview and the Destin Executive Airport, Rep. Gaetz recently announced.

Both airports are receiving funds designed to help them update planning with the goal of achieving key objectives for future development. The region is an important tourist destination in the Panhandle.

“Northwest Florida’s popularity as a destination for tourism, business, and government travel continues to grow and our airports help drive that growth,” he said in a statement. “Maintaining and upgrading our airport facilities is critical to maintaining Northwest Florida’s status as a world-class destination.”

This is not the first time Gaetz has succeeded in obtaining federal funding for airport improvements. In June he announced DOT grants totaling more than $2.6 million for Escambia and Okaloosa airport repairs.

“We thank Congressman Gaetz for bringing much-needed dollars to our two general aviation airports,” said Carolyn Ketchel, Okaloosa Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. “He’s working hard in the best interest of the citizens of Okaloosa County.”

Dunn-backed tax reform proposal gets nod from Norquist

Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, is throwing his support behind a tax reform plan being pitched by Rep. Dunn, reports Kevin Derby of Sunshine State News.

The legislation — dubbed the Refund Rights for Taxpayers Act — aims to rectify an unfairness in current law that gives the IRS three times as long to collect back taxpayers as it gives taxpayers time to collect refund. The issue came to Dunn’s attention when a constituent reached out for help to try and recoup taxes erroneously paid to the IRS.

According to Dunn’s office, taxpayers currently only have three years to claim overpaid taxes before the money is given to the Treasury Department. In the case of the constituent seeking help, more than three years had passed and he was unable to recoup the money.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said a tax reform plan backed by Rep. Neal Dunn is a “simple, yet important solution that ensures taxpayers and the IRS are held to the same standard.”

But the IRS has 10 years to collect back taxes, and has the ability to levy a taxpayer’s income, personal bank account or seize a taxpayer’s property to collect a debt.

Dunn’s bill would put the taxpayer and IRS on equal footing, giving both the taxpayer and the IRS a seven-year window.

“This legislation is a simple, yet important solution that ensures taxpayers and the IRS are held to the same standard,” said Norquist in a letter to Dunn.

Derby reports that co-sponsors include Republicans Steve King of Iowa, Joe Wilson of South Carolina, John Faso of New York, and Floridians Tom Rooney and Dennis Ross.

Yoho praises House action on human trafficking

A Gainesville Republican praised the work of the House of Representatives in the area of combating human trafficking.

This week, the House passed three bills targeting this insidious crime. All three passed via a voice vote with no dissention.

The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act was co-sponsored by Miramar Democrat Alcee Hastings and West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel.

The Enhancing Detection of Human Trafficking Act was co-sponsored by Ponte Vedra Republican Ron DeSantis while the Empowering Law Enforcement to Fight Sex Trafficking Demand Act was also co-sponsored by Hastings.

“This modern-day slavery has no place in the 21st century,” said Rep. Ted Yoho. “Our votes, in addition to the 13 bills we passed earlier this summer, are positive steps forward in hunting down those who exploit the innocent and in giving law enforcement the tools they need to find and prosecute traffickers.”

President Trump also offered praise to the House.

“My Administration is focused on ending the horrific practice of human trafficking, and the three bills the House of Representatives passed (last week) are important steps forward,” the president said in a statement.

Rutherford seeks immigration law changes to help entrepreneurs

The Jacksonville Republican is looking to make it easier for job creators and investors to obtain legal resident status in the U.S. Rutherford has introduced legislation to allow those in the country on “E-2 investor treaty” visas for more than 10 years to apply for permanent resident status.

This bill would also allow children of those affected to remain in the U.S. until age 26 and also apply for work authorization. Current law only allows those 21 or younger to remain.

“E-2 visa holders are entrepreneurs bringing their abilities, resources, and jobs to the United States,” said Rutherford in a release. “They pay taxes and invest their livelihood into the communities they serve. They deserve to be able to plan for their businesses, employees, and especially their families.”

As an example of those who would be affected by his legislation, Rutherford offered SOHO Network Solutions of Jacksonville, an exporter of crime scene investigation products. Despite the many contributions made by the company’s owners, current law does not allow them to apply to become permanent residents.

“This bipartisan legislation is a much-needed update to current immigration laws that will provide opportunities for entrepreneurs to establish small businesses and roots in our communities,” Rutherford said.

He estimates the legislation could help more than 100,000 families and businesses around the country.

Bilirakis welcomes congressional art winner to Capitol

Clare Hernandez got a chance to her artwork hanging in the halls of the U.S. Capitol, thanks in part to Rep. Gus Bilirakis.

The Palm Harbor Republican welcome the 18-year-old Dade City Republican to the nation’s capital recently to see her winning artwork on display in the national student art exhibit. Her drawing, “Portrait of an Unknown Soldier,” was selected by a panel of judges from the Pasco Arts Council.

Clare Hernandez and Rep. Gus Bilirakis pose near Hernandez drawing, “Portrait of an Unknown Soldier.” The art will be on display in the U.S. Capitol for a year. (Photo via Rep. Gus Bilirakis ‘Office.)

“Her artwork will rightfully be displayed in the U.S. Capitol among the best student art in the nation, where dignitaries and millions of visitors from the country and world will see it,” said Bilirakis in a statement. “I extend to Clare my best wishes for the future as she begins her freshman year of college in the fall.”

The Congressional Art Competition is an annual nationwide event recognizing high school artists in each congressional district. Since 1982, more than than 650,000 high school students have participated.

Hernandez’s drawing will be on display in the Capitol for one year.

Ross talks modernizing National Parks

A self-described lover of the U.S. National Park system, Rep. Dennis Ross said he was pleased to hear that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was interested in pursuing public-private partnerships to modernize the park system.

Ross, who was “raised in the RV industry traveling the country and going through all the National Parks,” said more than 9 million Americans own RVs and a quarter of a million are employed in the industry. Florida, he said, “is rich with National Parks and provides nearly $1 billion in economic output through the RV industry,” even playing host to the largest RV consumer show in North America. But, the Lakeland Republican said the “National Parks haven’t kept pace.”

Rep. Dennis Ross met with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this ways to discuss ways to modernize the National Parks. (Photo via Rep. Dennis Ross’ Office.)

“Now we have an opportunity with our conservation friends, outdoor recreation friends, and RV industry friends to partner together to make sure we modernize our parks, where experienced concessionaires could finance and upgrade campsites on federal lands, while balancing vital conservation needs and keeping the iconic National Park Service look and feel,” said Ross, after a meeting with Zinke, other members of Congress and outdoor recreation industry leaders this week.

“Park partnerships are a win-win-win solution for the American people, the U.S. economy, and federal land agencies,” he continued. “These partnerships would not only boost federal revenue and address backlogged maintenance, but better respond to the desires of Millennial, urban and traveling Americans and today’s RVers.”

Ross said he looks forward to working to determine the best way to improve the National Parks to “allow for their preservation, conservation and enjoyment for generations to come.”

F. Rooney, python slayer

Rep. Francis Rooney is going python hunting.

The Naples Republican announced this he plans to take part in the South Florida Water Management District’s python elimination program on Aug. 10. The program aims to eliminate the Burmese python, an invasive species, which damages the Everglades ecosystem and its native wildlife.

“I am looking forward to hunting these devastating and invasive snakes,” said Rooney in a statement. “The python is a predator impacting the delicate balance of the ecosystem across the Everglades and the State of Florida.  Innovative ideas such as the Python Elimination Program incentivize members of the public to assist in removing this invasive species and remind us that we all have a vested interest in restoring the Everglades.”

Rooney is the latest Florida politician to head out on a python hunt. In May, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera joined python hunter Tom Rahill on a hunt in South Florida. The Miami-Dade Republican killed a 15-foot Burmese python with a pocket knife during his trip, posting photographs on social media.

Back in May, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera killed a 15-foot python with a pocket knife when he went python hunting. Rep. Francis Rooney will try his hand at capturing a snake in August. (Photo via Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s Twtitter.)

The South Florida Water Management District renewed the program in June, after the pilot program eliminated 158 snakes in about two months. The district’s governing board also expanded the area where python hunters are allowed to access to include Broward and Collier counties. Previously, the hunt was only allowed in Miami-Dade County.

“Joining this hunt is a worthy challenge,” said Dan O’Keefe, the chairman of the SFWMD Governing Board in a statement. Having also experienced the program firsthand by participating in a live hunt, I cannot say enough about the tremendous work of our bounty hunters working long hours and enduring the harsh summer elements to rid the Everglades of this destructive python threat.”

Rooney is expected to head into Big Cypress swamp for his python hunting adventure.

Deutch rips Trump admin for teen pregnancy prevention funding cuts

A Boca Raton Democrat is unhappy with the Trump Administration after the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cut short a program designed to help prevent teen pregnancy. The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) was authorized during the Obama administration to award grants through the year 2020. Now the funds will stop on June 30, 2018.

In a release, Rep. Ted Deutch used the word “lambastes” in the title, which accurately describes his reaction.

“After decades of progress toward reduced pregnancy rates and healthier teens, this Administration is trying to drag our country back in time,” Deutch said. “This is nothing more than an attack on the health and financial security of teens who would have benefitted so much from access to programs like Project PAUSE.”

Deutch was referring to a program which “provides essential information about teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS prevention.” A Ft. Lauderdale grantee, OIC of South Florida, will see their annual $1.25 million grant to carry out the PAUSE (Prevent Achieve Understand Succeed Educate) Program come to an end in less than a year.

Deutch’s advocacy for teen pregnancy prevention programs goes back to his days in the Florida Senate.

Florida gets $3M for drug courts

The federal government is giving Florida $3 million grant for drug court program in the wake of the opioid epidemic, reports the Associated Press.

The funding will bolster drug court programs for those in the criminal justice system with substance use disorders and mental health problems, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last week. The programs, according to the Associated Press, have been praised for connecting people struggling with addiction to treatment with oversight from the courts to make sure they follow through.

The announcement came as some lawmakers feared proposed Medicaid cuts under a health care overhaul would leave them without enough resources to fight the opioid crisis.

A revised version of the bill includes $45 billion to combat opioid misuse, but the fate of the bill remains uncertain.

FEC sues ex-Rep. Rivera over 2012 campaign financing

The Federal Election Commission has sued former U.S. Rep. David Rivera over allegations he secretly funneled thousands of dollars to a little-known Democratic candidate in 2012, reported POLITICO Florida.

The lawsuit claims Rivera secretly and illegally contributed $69,400 to Justin Sternad in an attempt to weaken the rival Democratic campaign of Joe Garcia, who would go on to win the seat. Filed last week in Miami federal court, the lawsuit seeks more than $480,000 in penalties.

The Federal Election Commission has sued former U.S. Rep. David Rivera over allegations he secretly and illegally contributed $69,400 to Justin Sternad in an attempt to weaken the rival Democratic campaign of Joe Garcia.

Attorneys for the FEC say Rivera’s scheme involved “concealing in-kind contributions by paying vendors mostly in cash to produce and distribute materials for Sternad’s campaign,” reported Patricia Mazzei and David Smiley of the Miami Herald.

The Herald reported the civil case is the latest indication that Miami federal prosecutors don’t intend to criminally charge Rivera.

The Associated Press reported Ana Alliegro, an associate of Sternad and Rivera, pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the scheme. Rivera, who narrowly lost a bid for the Florida House in 2016, has never been charged with a crime and has long denied any wrongdoing.

#FLSEN 2018

National Republicans go after Nelson — The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) on Monday unveiled a new digital ad that will run on Facebook targeting Florida’s senior senator and other Senate Democrats who will be on the ballot next year for their support of the ACA. According to NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin, the ad will run throughout the month.

“As Democrats continue to grandstand without offering solutions, Bill Nelson’s broken promises are fresh on Floridians’ minds,” said Martin. “Bill Nelson should be held accountable for being dishonest with voters and being complacent in Obamacare’s death spiral.”

Anticipating the attack, Nelson sent a preemptory warning to his supporters on Sunday night, which included a swipe at Gov. Rick Scott, who is widely expected to challenge Nelson for his seat in 2018.

“Mitch McConnell’s national group just started running brand-new ads against me here in Florida,” Nelson wrote. “It’s clear these right-wing groups are more determined than ever to try to replace me with a rubber stamp for their extreme agenda. That’s because instead of having to deal with someone like me – who will continue to fight to keep oil rigs away from our coast, slow the effects of climate change and prevent the passage of this disastrous health-care bill – they’d rather have someone like Gov. Rick Scott, who will quietly go along with their plan.”

The NRSC is already running Facebook ads linking Nelson to progressive Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who favors a single payer health care system.

Nelson fires salvo Scott  — The Florida Democrat’s first shot at his possible opponent for re-election unofficially came on the Senate floor on Monday. He did not mention Gov. Rick Scott by name, but took aim at one of his recent actions.

During a floor speech, Nelson accused some “elected officials” of trying “to muzzle the scientific community.” He was referring to controversial legislation passed by the Florida Legislature and signed by Scott. That legislation allows individual challenges to what is being taught in Florida public schools “regardless of whether or not they have a student in school.”

Nelson expressed concern about challenges to the science surrounding climate change.

“Sea level rise in Florida is a fact,” he said. “But if there are some who object to that climate science, then, under this new law just signed by the governor, they are going to be able to object to that subject being taught in our public schools and a single hearing officer will determine – lord only knows who that officer is appointed by – the single person will determine if the objection is justified” and require changes.

He wasn’t finished going after Scott.

“In fact, in 2015, Florida’s governor went so far as to reportedly ban state officials from even using the term ‘climate change’ in their reports,” he said. “Doesn’t that sound like muzzling?”

The Scott administration denied such a policy existed, but some DEP officials claimed verbal instructions were given.

Nelson’s concluding message was simple: “Let’s stop this war on science,” he said.

Scott takes heat for involvement in “Trumpcare” — Efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act may be crumbling in D.C., but American Bridge 21st Century wants to make sure Floridians hold Gov. Scott accountable for his involvement in the GOP proposals.

The progressive research and communications group blasted Scott this week, saying the Naples Republican is “stuck with a cruel plan to take away health care from millions.”

Earlier this year, James Rosen with McClatchy D.C. reported that Scott, a former health care executive, said he was working closely with HHS Secretary Tom Price to help federal officials devise a less costly alternative to Obamacare.

“Whether it’s Trumpcare or repealing the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, Rick Scott is stuck with a cruel plan to take away health care from millions — like gum stuck to a shoe,” said American Bridge spokesperson Joshua Karp in a statement. “Despite Trumpcare’s collapse in the Senate, Scott helped write the bill and supported disastrous ACA repeals to rip away coverage from Americans who desperately need it, and Florida voters will hold him responsible.”

Scott, who can’t run for re-election again because of term limits, is largely expected to challenge Sen. Nelson in 2018.

Top dogs on Capitol Hill

Like cute dogs? Then this is the election for you.

The Independent Journal Review is in the midst of its annual “Cutest Dogs on the Hill” competition, and this year the online news outlet is opening up voting to the American public.

Haley Byrd with IJR reported that thousands of “Americans went to the polls to choose their favorite dog,” helping to winnow the field from 25 down to the Top 10 dogs competing to “win a golden water bowl and bragging rights as the Cutest Dog on the Hill.”

The Top 10 list includes two Florida pups — Nola, whose owner is Cesar Gonzalez, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s chief of staff, and Riggins, whose owner is Joanna Rodriguez, Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s communications director.

Riggins, Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s office dog, and Nola, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s office dog (not pictured), are among dogs battling it out to be named the Independent Journal Review’s “Cutest Dog on the Hill.” The cutest dog will be announced July 25, and voting runs through this week. (Photo via Rep. Carlos Curbleo’s Twitter)

Other handsome hounds in the Top 10 are Koji, the House Energy and Commerce Committee office dog; Hank, California Democrat Rep. John Garamendi’s office dog; Maddie, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner’s office dog; Sherlock, the Senate Finance Committee office dog; Tilly, North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis’ office dog; and Reilly, Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Lou Barletta’s dog.

IJR named Reilly the cutest dog on Capitol Hill in 2015.

Florida has been well represented on the list in the past. In 2016, Glory, whose owner Bale Dalton served as a military policy legislative aide to Sen. Bill Nelson, was ranked among the Top 5 cutest dogs on the Hill.

There’s still time to vote for the 2017 “Cutest Dog on the Hill.” The polls are open through this week, with the final list set to be unveiled July 25.

Sunburn for 7.19.17 – Rick Scott’s above water; Dan Webster draws a challenger; Dems helping DLP? Trulieve opening in the ‘burg; #MadMen10

Last call for summer reads, Florida politicos!

With about nine weeks until lawmakers and influencers head back to Tallahassee for committee meetings and are bogged down with committee reports, staff analyses, and budget recommendations, we want to hear what you’re reading for pleasure this summer.

Tell us what’s in your beach bag, brief case or on your night stand. Send an email to jenna@floridapolitics.com with what you’re reading by 5 p.m. today to be included in our round-up.

And don’t worry, this is a no judgement zone. For example, Jim Rosica is proud to say he’s spent the summer reading “Hop on Pop” (he is a dad to two young kids, after all).

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U.S. Senator Bill Nelson visited the construction site of the new Florida Hospital SunRail transit station to highlight the significant economic impact that investments in public transportation can create in Central Florida and in cities and towns across the nation, on Friday, February 22, 2013 in Orlando, Florida.

Sunburn for 7.18.17 – NRSC targets Bill Nelson; DWS’s making it rain; First ad in HD 44 special; FEC sues David Rivera; Ryan Matthews joins Peebles & Smith

Florida politicos, we want to hear from you! With about nine weeks until lawmakers and influencers head back to Tallahassee for committee meetings and are bogged down with committee reports, staff analyses, and budget recommendations, we want to hear what you’re reading for pleasure this summer.

Into nonfiction, historical fiction, thrillers? Tell us what’s in your beach bag, briefcase or on your night stand. Send an email to jenna@floridapolitics.com with what you’re reading by 5 p.m., July 19 to be included in our round-up.

And don’t worry, this is a no judgement zone. (For example, Jenna isn’t ashamed to say she’s currently reading “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.”)

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