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HD 69 candidate Ray Blacklidge has raised over $73,000 since launching campaign in June

Today, the Ray Blacklidge campaign announced that it has raised over $73,000 since he filed to run for the District 69 seat in the Florida House two months ago.

Eighty-five donors have contributed over $52,000 to his campaign, with Blacklidge’s political committee, Friends of Ray Blacklidge, raising another $21,000.

“I am very heartened by the very strong, early support we are receiving,” said Blacklidge. “I’m so grateful that so many people are stepping up to make sure we have the resources needed to take our conservative vision to Tallahassee. I will keep working hard to get our message out to voters across the district.”

Blacklidge, a Republican, currently works as an attorney in the management of a Florida-based insurance company.

He is the first candidate to file for the seat since Representative Kathleen Peters announced she would not seek re-election in order to run for the Pinellas County Commission.

House District 69 covers the south Pinellas beach communities from Redington Shores to Fort DeSoto, as well as portions of St. Petersburg, Gulfport, Kenneth City, and Pinellas Park.

With 36 percent of the district’s voter registration, Republicans maintain a slight lead over the Democrats’ 35 percent. Independents and minor parties make up 29 percent of the district.

Jack Latvala hires prominent GOP ad maker Fred Davis

While not yet official a candidate for Florida governor, state Sen. Jack Latvala has made a major hire: Fred Davis, who was once described as the “GOP’s most notorious ad man.”

Latvala tells Florida Politics that Davis has been retained by his Florida Leadership Committee.

Latvala has said he will announce his 2018 plans on August 16.

Hiring Davis is the clearest indication yet that the Pinellas Republican will enter the gubernatorial race. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is the only other declared major GOP candidate, although House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis are considering running.

Davis, formerly chief media strategist for 2008 Republican Party presidential nominee John McCain, heads Hollywood-based Strategic Perception Inc. and is considered a guru of attention-grabbing political videos. He is also one of the most sought-after media consultants for conservative candidates, having worked with top GOP names such as George W. Bush, Jon Huntsman, Jeff Flake, Chuck Grassley, Ben Sasse, Rick Snyder and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

One stat about Davis you’ll hear coming from Latvala’s camp is that the ad man’s clients went 12-for-12 in the previous non-presidential election cycle.

With a long resume, Davis is perhaps best known for producing McCain’s outrageous “Celebrity” ad – which compared Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton – as well as the “demon sheep” spot for U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, credited for helping her win the 2010 California Republican primary.

McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt called Davis as the “most creative person in the business – period.” NPR also described him as “the closest thing political advertising has to an auteur. Unlike just about any political media guru out there, Davis embraces weirdness.”

Although he is very good at the positive ad, as he did for Elizabeth Dole in 2002, Davis is at his best when running negative. Strategic perception spots have included giant rats running loose in Atlanta, a massive hairpiece on the Illinois statehouse and even a “full-length Western cowboy song.”

Always courting controversy, Davis faced a strong backlash in 2012 after The New York Times published a 57-page document (commissioned by billionaire Joe Ricketts) for a $10 million campaign against Obama’s re-election.

“The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good,” tried to portray the president as “a metrosexual, black Abraham Lincoln,” suggesting Obama would respond to the ads by playing “the race card.”

Despite being initially approved by Ricketts’ Ending Spending Action Fund, the ads were later disavowed after the strategy leaked out to the press; the spots were never aired.

Nevertheless, the Ricketts incident only cemented Davis’ reputation as hard-hitting and unconventional.

“If every other ad is yellow, you do your ad red,” David once said. “If every ad is loud, you do yours soft.”

In other words, bringing on Davis would be the perfect move for a Republican gubernatorial candidate looking to enter a brutal, no-holes-barred Florida primary.

Lawrence McClure collects enough signatures to qualify for ballot in HD 58 special election

Lawrence McClure, the 30-year-old Plant City Republican who announced last week that he was entering the special House District 58 election to succeed Dan Raulerson, has qualified for the ballot by petition, his campaign announced Wednesday.

“It’s humbling to have hundreds of voters from across our community respond so enthusiastically to our campaign and the conservative principles we stand for and believe in,” McClure said. “I’m excited for the coming weeks where we will continue to spread our conservative message to every corner of District 58.  I have to thank our great volunteer network and all those who gave their time and signature to help us qualify for the ballot.”

McClure is a partner with environmental consulting firm Streamline Environmental and says he has spent a decade working closely with state legislators on legislation impacting the environment, as well as agriculture and small business communities.

The other major Republican in the race is local businesswoman and civic leader Yvonne Fry.

Raulerson announced last week that he was resigning from his House District 58 seat effective Aug. 15. Governor Rick Scott has set Oct. 10 for the primary election and Dec. 19 for the general election.

District 58 covers much of east Hillsborough County, including areas of Plant City, Dover, Mango, Thonotosassa and Temple Terrace.

Democratic ad attempts to link Rick Baker to Donald Trump

With Rick Kriseman trailing Rick Baker in the latest poll of St. Petersburg’s mayoral race, the Florida Democratic Party is paying for a new ad linking the former mayor with President Donald Trump.

Whether national politics will trickle down to the local level is something the Kriseman team is banking on, though it hasn’t been reflected yet in the polls.

The 30-second ad also tries to connect Baker with other Republicans, including Mitt Romney and Rick Scott.

“Rick Baker is on the extreme team, siding with climate change deniers, silent on Donald Trump’s countless discriminatory policies, Baker is weak and out of touch with our values,” a female narrator says to begin the ad.

The spot then segues into praising Kriseman for working with Democrats like Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Charlie Crist.

From the beginning of his campaign, Baker warned St. Pete residents that the Kriseman campaign would criticize him for being a Republican in a city that is overwhelmingly Democratic.

The mayoral race, in theory, is nonpartisan, but both campaigns are being heavily supported by their respective political parties.

“Republican Rick Baker is happy to take big checks from right-wing conservatives and Trump Republicans, but doesn’t want to talk about whether or not he supports the Trump agenda,” said FDP spokesperson Johanna Cervone. “Mayor Rick Kriseman, on the other hand, has been clear about his support and partnership with the former Obama administration as well as his firm opposition to Donald Trump’s harmful GOP policies. Since Rick Baker insists on misleading voters about his Republican ties, the Florida Democratic Party’s new ad will let voters know where he really stands.”


Is Tampa airport expansion ‘betting big’ on old tech over distuptors like ridesharing?

Tampa International Airport is preparing for the future, moving ahead with a multibillion-dollar expansion project while setting new passenger records in 2017.

However, Noah Pransky of WTSP found that TIA appears hesitant to embrace the latest transportation disruptor: ridesharing technology companies Uber and Lyft.

With significant ridership increases, Uber and Lyft have impacted airport revenues from parking and rental cars – two conventional ground transportation options that are a key element in the planned Phase 1 of the airport’s expansion.

“We’ve made this huge bet on rental cars that I don’t know if it’s going to pay off,” state Sen. Jeff Brandes told WTSP. During the 2017 Legislative Session, the St. Petersburg Republican helped jump-start an audit of the airport’s multi phase construction project. “I would love to see them move faster (on emerging technology).”

WTSP 10Investigates reported in July that the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority is setting new fees on Uber, Lyft, and taxicab fares from TIA came after the agency failed to meet projected benchmarks in parking and rental car revenues.

What’s more, the airport waited until just this summer to adjust its long-term master plan to accommodate the tech disruptors, by adding new curbsides at each terminal in downscaling Phase 2 of its expansion, despite Uber entering the Tampa market five years ago, and has been impacting airport revenues for at least two years.

Business management firm Certify estimates ridesharing accounts 63 percent of U.S. business travelers’ ground transportation expenses, a number far outpacing both rental cars (29 percent) and taxicabs (8 percent).

Nowhere is this difficulty in embracing the future more obvious than with airport’s construction project that adds “people movers” two shuttle travelers to a new rental car facility. TIA CEO Joe Lopano hailed the addition as one that will “give our guests access to twice as many rental car choices,” removing as many as 8,000 cars per day from wrote surrounding the airport.

Pransky reports that those 8,000 cars make up only short trips on the airport’s main and back roads – not terminal curbsides themselves – most susceptible to congestion, particularly with increased ridesharing. In addition, those estimates came from a 2011 study, using numbers from peak season, which predated ridesharing in Tampa.

The airport has not yet plan for increased congestion from Uber and Lyft vehicles using curbsides.

“Were we too late? Maybe,” Lopano said when asked about how quickly the airport has responded ridesharing. “But I think we have the right solution.”


Andrew Learned launches digital ad for CD 15 bid

Andrew Learned, one of six Democrats who has filed to run in Florida’s 15th Congressional District, is up with a digital ad touting his candidacy.

CD 15 is currently held by Republican Dennis Ross.

A Navy veteran who was stationed in Bahrain and now runs GradePower Learning in Valrico, this is the 30-year-old Learned’s first ad of the season.

“I want to take the skills I learned in the Navy, and from being a small business owner, to stand up … and fight back,” he says in the 30-second spot.

 Gregg Williams, Greg PilkingtonRay Pena Jr. Cameron Magnuson and now Jeffrey Rabinowitz are the other Democrats who have filed in the primary, which takes place a year from now. Rabinowitz had originally filed as a non-party affiliated candidate.

Loretta “Leah Lax” Miller is the only Republican to file against Ross, who won the seat in 2010 and has never seriously been challenged in his previous three reelection campaigns.

CD 15 includes parts of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties.


Senate passes Vern Buchanan bill making hearing aids more affordable

A measure that would make hearing aids available over the counter passed the U.S. Senate on Thursday.

The measure, co-sponsored by Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan, was included in a broader bill to fund the Food and Drug Administration, which passed the Senate in an 94-1 vote.

“This bill could help improve the quality of life for nearly 50 million Americans who struggle to hear everyday conversations,” Buchanan said after the passage of the vote. “Many people who need the hearing aids cannot afford the high price tag of $4,000 or more.”

The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act is expected to drive down costs by allowing people with mild to moderate hearing loss to purchase aids without a doctor’s prescription. It’s predicted to reduce the cost of a pair of hearing aids down from several thousand dollars to only a few hundred dollars.

The bill passed despite opposition from the hearing aid industry, and some hearing specialists, who warned that it’s dangerous to encourage people to self-diagnose hearing loss and it’s important to have professionals involved in the process of diagnosis and fitting hearing aids, according to the Boston Globe.

Currently, a formal medical evaluation is required before seniors can purchase hearing aids. In most cases, consumers can only buy hearing aids from audiologists — professionals trained in treating hearing problems — or licensed hearing aid sellers after the evaluation.  The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act would remove these requirements so the hearing aids could be purchased in a simple, over-the-counter fashion.

Darryl Rouson’s past used against him by local official during homestead expansion debate

Darryl Rouson says that he was legitimately undecided days before the Florida Senate would vote on whether to place a measure on the 2018 ballot to increase Florida’s homestead exemption.

A late amendment that would exempt 29 of the state’s poorest counties from being affected by the loss of property tax revenues ultimately led him to become one of six Democrats in the state Senate to support the measure. But it was a comment by a local elected official who wanted him to oppose the measure that really fueled his support.

“”Rouson, don’t be stupid. The voter is stupid. You can’t trust the voters,’ ” were the words of an unarmed official, according to the St. Petersburg Democrat who was speaking in Tampa’s Seminole Heights Wednesday night.

“‘In fact, you ought to be able to relate to this, Rouson,'” he recounted. ” ‘The voter is like a drunk that you give a glass of wine to and walk away and say ‘do the right thing.’ “

Rouson has talked frequently about his addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine — an addiction which undoubtedly the local official was referring to in attempt to make a point. Rouson declined to tell this reporter who he was referring to, saying only that it was a locally elected official in the Tampa Bay region

Although there was no official Democratic position to put a measure to expand the homestead exemption to $75,000 on next year’s ballot, it was strongly opposed by the majority of Democratic legislators, as well by most city council and county commissioners throughout the state, who say passage of the measure will lead to major reductions in property tax revenues and, therefore, a reduction in local services.

Those says the expansion would only worsen a tax unfairness problem caused by Save Our Homes, a provision in the state constitution that limits increases in the assessed value of homesteaded property to 3 percent a year.

Hillsborough County officials say they could see a reduction of at least $30 million in revenues if the measure passes, while Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said the city is looking at a $6 million cut in revenues.

Rouson was narrowly elected to Senate District 19 last fall, the majority of which resides in Hillsborough County. He was crashing the intimate town hall meeting at the Seminole Heights Exchange that was hosted by Tampa state Representative Sean Shaw, who couldn’t be more vocal about his opposition to the measure.

“I voted against it because I don’t believe everything needs to go on the ballot to the voter,” Shaw says. “If there’s stuff that’s atrocious enough that I don’t think deserves the attention of the Florida Constitution, I’m going to vote against it.”

Rouson does not support the passage of the measure. He simply says that the voters should be given the option, and thinks with education, they will oppose the measure.

“I believe that between now and 17 more months, people like you will become educated and will learn about the impact that this will have on their communities and will exercise the right decision, ” he said. “I’m not your parent, keeping something away from you that you can’t be trusted with.”

The measure was strongly supported by House Speaker Richard Corcoran.  His office strongly contests the notion that counties in Florida will see their revenues reduced if the measure passes.

In addition to Rouson, five other Democrats in the Senate supported the measure, which ensured its passage, since it needed to get two-thirds support in the Senate.  If all 15 Democrats had opposed it, it would not be on the ballot.

It was the measure by Tallahassee Senator Bill Montford to protect the state’s 29 poorest counties from losing any more property tax revenue that Rouson said gave him comfort in putting the measure on the ballot.

Florida TaxWatch opposes the measure because of the inequality that it says that it’s passage will create.

“It’s just a tax shift,” Robert E. Weissert, executive vice president and counsel to the president and CEO with TaxWatch said at a Tampa Tiger Bay meeting last month. Weissert says that local governments will rely less on getting revenues from owner-occupied homes to businesses and non-homestead properties, such as vacation homes and apartment complexes. He also noted that the higher exemption would protect the state’s 29 poorest counties from losing any more property tax revenue.

Jack Latvala to announce 2018 plans at Clearwater Marine Aquarium

If there’s one mammal who has done more to bring dollars to north Pinellas’ economy than Winter the Dolphin, it’s state Senator Jack Latvala. So it’s perhaps fitting that the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee has picked the Clearwater Marine Aquarium – home to Winter and friends – to formally announce his political plans for 2018.

It’s widely expected that Latvala, who is term-limited from running again for the Senate, will join the race to be Florida’s next governor. In July, he told the family and friends who gathered at his annual Maine confab that he would reveal his intentions on August 16.

Thursday morning he supplied more details about what will happen that day, telling Florida Politics that his announcement will be at 1 p.m. at the aquarium.

The aquarium has benefitted substantially from Latvala’s role in writing past and current state budgets. When he was chairman of a Senate committee overseeing economic development, Latvala saw to it that the aquarium received million-dollar appropriations.

In 2003, Latvala and state Rep. Ed Hooper were the political forces behind an allocation of $5 million to speed production of a sequel to Dolphin Tale, the movie about Winter’s recovery after losing its tail after being caught in a crab trap.

“This is a proven project. It’s put heads in the beds in our hotels here,” Latvala told the Tampa Bay Times at the time.

One report showed that the increase in attendance at the aquarium since the Dolphin Tale movies premiered has led to a $2 billion economic boost to Pinellas County. The study found that 44,440 jobs were supported by the aquarium over a four-year period, or about 11,000 jobs a year.

Job creation will likely be at the center of Latvala’s campaign for governor, should he decide to run. While spending the summer seemingly in pursuit of attending as many chamber of commerce luncheons as possible, Latvala has bracketed his possible GOP primary opponents — Adam Putnam and, probably, Richard Corcoran – for having never signed a paycheck.

Meanwhile, Latvala continues to stock up for the long fight ahead.

Latvala’s Florida Leadership Committee will report it raised $336,000 in July.

Contribution records on the committee website run through July 27 and show $255,000 raised, meaning the Clearwater Republican brought in more than $100,000 in the final days of the month.

Latvala hasn’t budged from waiting until Aug. 16 to formally announce whether he will run for governor.

“Everything is coming along according to plan,” he said.

Jack Latvala now has $3.84 mil on hand for possible 2018 run

Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala has $3.84 million in the bank two weeks before he plans to announce whether or not he will run for Florida governor.

Latvala’s fundraising arm, “Florida Leadership Committee,” will report it raised $336,000 in July. Contribution records on the committee website run through July 27 and show $255,000 raised, meaning the Clearwater Republican brought in more than $100,000 in the final days of the month.

Latvala is waiting until Aug. 16 to formally announce whether he will run for governor, and hasn’t budged from the planned reveal.

“Everything is coming along according to plan,” he said.

His current cash on hand puts him slightly ahead of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, whose political committee just announced it has raised almost $3 million to date. Corcoran will decide on his 2018 plans after the next legislative session.

Top contributions to FLC in July include $50,000 from Destin-based Sterling Diversified, $25,000 from helicopter training outfit Vestcor Companies and another $25,000 from the FBTA Transportation PAC.

FLC also had at least seven donors at the $10,000 level: The Wilbur C. Smith Law Firm, JM Family Enterprises, Disney Worldwide Services, Jacksonville Kennel Club, the Florida Hospital Association, ChiroPAC and Creating Possibilities, a political committee chaired by longtime Latvala ally and former Republican Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff.

Latvala’s committee also spent about $68,000 in July, with another $50,000 heading out in the first two days of August. Most of that money is going to consultanting researchers, a necessity for any successful statewide campaign.

Palm Harbor-based Tel Opinion Research picked up $20,000 for research, Champion Consulting was paid more than $16,000 to help with political strategy and  Jacksonville-based Whitson Group got a $10,000 check for research.

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