2018 election – Florida Politics

Second Democrat files for Jose Oliva’s House seat

Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva picked up another challenger in his final re-election bid for House District 110.

Hialeah Democrat Julian Eduardo Santos entered the race for the Dade County district Wednesday, setting up a primary battle with fellow Democrat Duysevi Miyar, who filed last month.

Oliva, who recently qualified for the ballot by petition, has plenty of cash on hand to stave off a challenge should either challenger make it on to the November ballot.

As of April 30, the Hialeah Republican had more than $95,000 socked away in his campaign account, with another $715,000 in the bank for his political committee, Conservative Principles for Florida.

Miyar showed no contributions in her first report, which covered the 12 days she was a candidate in April.

HD 110 carries a solid advantage for Republicans.

Oliva was first elected to the House in a 2011 special election where his only competition was a write-in candidate. He was re-elected with 100 percent of the vote in 2014 and 69 percent of the vote in 2016.

The 2016 race, Oliva’s only campaign where he faced a Democrat on Election Day, saw him defeat Democrat Carlos Puentes 55-45. During the same cycle Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the seat by about 7 points, which is consistent with a handful of other, predominantly Hispanic districts in South Florida that typically vote Republican.

Gayle Harrell gets Ken Pruitt’s backing in SD 25 special

Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell has earned the backing for former Senate President Ken Pruitt in her quest to succeed current Senate President Joe Negron in Senate District 25.

Negron announced earlier this month that he would retire from the Senate, effective Election Day 2018. He was originally set to term out of the seat in 2020. The SD 25 special will be held concurrently with the regularly scheduled Aug. 28 primary election and Nov. 6 general election.

“Gayle is a dear friend, was a great partner when we worked together in the legislature, and a tireless fighter for the values and principles Treasure Coast voters hold dear. There is no other candidate who can challenge her conservative credentials nor match her involvement in the Treasure Coast. I ask all of my former constituents to join me in backing Gayle Harrell for the Florida Senate,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt, who served as Senate President for the 2007 and 2008 Legislative Sessions, represented parts of Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee, Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties when he held the old Senate District 28. SD 25 includes much of the same territory — all of St. Lucie and Martin counties, along with a small portion of Palm Beach County.

Harrell’s current seat, House District 83, is also mostly within the boundaries of SD 25. Harrell started her second stint in the Florida House in 2010, having previously served from 2000 to 2008.

“Ken Pruitt and I have a long history and have lots of shared successes for our community. I will work to uphold his legacy of protecting the quality of life we enjoy as residents of the Treasure Coast,” said Harrell, who also picked up an endorsement from the Florida Medical Association earlier this week.

She faces Belinda Keiser, vice chancellor of Keiser University, in the Republican Primary. Stuart Democrat Rob Levy is also running for the seat, though he faces long odds given SD 25’s Republican leanings — Negron received nearly 65 percent of the vote in his 2016 re-election bid against Democrat Bruno Moore. Also in 2016, the district voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 12-point margin.

Denise Grimsley

Denise Grimsley rolls out third wave of sheriff endorsements

Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley is steadily racking up law enforcement support for her statewide campaign to succeed Adam Putnam as Agriculture Commissioner.

The longtime Republican lawmaker had already earned the backing of 14 county sheriffs, and on Thursday she added four more — Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast, Liberty County Sheriff Eddie Joe White, Madison County Sheriff Ben Stewart and Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen.

“I am happy to announce my endorsement of Denise Grimsley for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture, alongside three of my esteemed colleagues today,” Prendergast said. “She has made a commitment to meet with and listen to the law enforcement community as she travels the state; and, as a result, she truly understands the dangers that put Floridians at risk. I am confident she is the best candidate to keep Floridians safe and proudly lend her my support and endorsement.”

Those 18 backers make account for more than a third of the Sunshine State’s Republican sheriffs. Grimsley, whose career spans healthcare and agribusiness, leads her opponents in the Cabinet race when it comes to sheriff endorsements, and outside of Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody, few others have had as much success snagging sheriffs’ support.

“On the campaign trail, I have sought to hear directly from our state’s sheriffs and learn what tools they need to fight criminals and keep Floridians safe,” Grimsley said. “If elected, as Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture, I will continue to work hand in glove with our state’s law enforcement to ensure Florida consumers are well protected from would-be scam artists, and that fraudsters that seek to harm our Florida families are brought to heel.

“I am truly grateful that sheriffs in the Sunshine State have continually lent me their support and that our message is resonating with them. I look forward to meeting with even more members of the law enforcement community as I travel the state, thanking them for their dedication to serving and protecting, and learning what more we can do together to keep Floridians safe.”

Grimsley is running against Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell, retired U.S. Army Col. Mike McCalister and former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman in the Republican Primary.

Caldwell has snagged a few law enforcement endorsements of his own, including one from Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson and another from the Florida Police Benevolent Association. He and Grimsley are running neck-and-neck in fundraising, though as of April 30 Caldwell held a slight edge with $1.93 million banked compared to just under $1.9 million for Grimsley.

Troutman technically leads the field with $2.9 million in the bank, though his actual fundraising is only about $350,000. The rest his money, about $2.8 million, came from his own checking account. McCalister has raised just $2.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Putnam Ad 5.17.2018

Adam Putnam’s committee has spent $3.25M this month

Adam Putnam is on a spending spree.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate’s main fundraising vehicle, Florida Grown PC, tacked on another $226,000 in contributions through the first three weeks of May according to contribution reports on its website, but those gains were outstripped by nearly $3.25 million in spending.

Receiving the bulk of those funds was Smart Media Group. The Virginia-based company took in just under $2.8 million for three media buys — $872,000 on May 4, $1 million on May 10 and $925,000 on May 17. That last check was likely drafted to run Putnam’s newest campaign ad, which touts his plan to invest in vocational education and slams so-called “liberal elites” for their perceived lack of respect for trade workers.

The other $425,000 or so in spending included about $160,000 in payments to Chicago-based i360 for database services as well as a $150,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida, alongside numerous smaller expenditures.

When it comes to money received, Disney is so far the top donor in May. The House of Mouse gave the Polk County pol nearly $70,000 through a pair of its subsidiaries — $50,000 via Disney Worldwide Services and $19,794 via Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Florida Grown also received $25,000 checks from NBCUniversal, Georgia businessman Wayne Pearson, Lakeland retiree Mark Clayton Hollis Jr. and Building On Your Dreams, a political committee connected to Bradenton Republican Rep. Jim Boyd.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran put some cash on the table, too. His political committee, Watchdog PAC, cut the second-term Agriculture Commissioner a check for $20,000 last week.

Watchdog PAC was Corcoran’s main fundraising vehicle for what most onlookers though would be a gubernatorial — or even Attorney General — campaign in the fall. He ended speculation about his political future a couple weeks ago when he announced he would not make a statewide run and would instead back Putnam over U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in the Republican Primary for Governor.

The contribution came in on May 17, about a week after the endorsement.

Following Corcoran’s contrib on the ledger were trio of $10,000 checks, one each from TKM Farms, Saunders Real Estate and former TECO Energy CEO John B. Ramil.

The most noteworthy donor under the five-figure mark was Tallahassee lobbying firm Johnson & Blanton, which received $1.25 million in compensation during the first quarter. That includes $425,000 for its work lobbying the Governor and Cabinet, including Putnam.

As of April 30, Putnam’s committee had raised $23.43 million and had about $15.3 million banked. The 43-year-old Republican has also amassed nearly $5.5 million for his campaign account, with $3.6 million on hand. DeSantis’ April finance reports showed total fundraising of $7.8 million and a little over $7 million banked.

Finance reports covering all of May are due to the state on June 11.

Progressive Change Campaign Committee endorses Andrew Gillum

The national Progressive Change Campaign Committee has endorsed Andrew Gillum in Florida’s gubernatorial race, making him one of five gubernatorial candidates selected nationally.

The organization has ties to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and has also endorsed her and other members of Congress such as U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota.

The organization also announced the gubernatorial endorsements of Cynthia Nixon in New York, Stacey Abrams in Georgia, David Garcia in Arizona, and Abdul El-Sayed in Michigan.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee also has previously endorsed Amol Jethwani of Gainesville and Anna Eskamani of Orlando in their Florida House of Representatives races.

The group states that it has raised and spent more than $26 million backing its endorsed candidates since being founded in 2009. It raised and spent more than $5.5 million in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Progressive Change lauded Gillum, as mayor of Tallahassee, for taking on the National Rifle Association, and called him a national voice for gun control. It also praised his positions on tax hikes and marijuana, calling him “the real deal – an activist who isn’t afraid to take on powerful opponents.”

“Let’s elect progressive game changers like Andrew Gillum as Governor — as part of the blue wave that’s coming,” Stephanie Taylor, PCCC co-founder, stated in a news release. “Progressive ideas that inspire voters in blue, purple, and red states will help increase the wave. By aligning himself with the national progressive movement on issues like Medicare for All, Andrew is an inspiring, authentic progressive who will fight for working families and pioneer bold new initiatives like fighting the NRA and calling for new gun laws. Andrew is a candidate who will use his platform to model what great, forward-thinking, visionary, progressive government can and should be.”

Gillum faces former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and businessman Chris King in the August 28 Democratic primary.

“I’m proud to have the PCCC’s endorsement in our race to take Florida back for working people,” Gillum stated in the release. “It’s time to elect a governor who will always put everyday Floridians before the well-heeled special interests.”

Gwen Graham adds political director Monica Rodrigues, two others to team

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has hired Monica Rodrigues to be her campaign’s political director and also added , Ed Rodriguez, and Jenny Busby to head the policy, and operations teams, Graham’s campaign announced Thursday.

Rodrigues, of Miami Beach, previously served as the communication director and development director for Enroll America, helping with the enrollment of 1.9 million Floridians in Obamacare.

A former Navy corpsman and Iraq War veteran, Rodriguez joins the campaign’s deputy policy director. He has previously worked for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America as a legislative associate in the organization’s Washington, D.C. policy team, and also has experiences as a legislative staffer in the U.S. Senate and as a political consultant for Solidarity Strategies.

Busby joins as the operations director. She previously worked as a staffer to U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, and also has worked for the Democratic Party and state Sen. Nan Rich.

“Monica, Ed, and Jenny are all motivated, dedicated young Floridians who joined our team because they care about our state and making the future brighter for their generation,” Graham stated in a news release. “With their help, we’re going to continue talking with more Floridians across the state about restoring our public schools, protecting our environment, and creating an economy that works for everyone.”

Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, faces businessman Chris King, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine in the August 28 Democratic Primary. The leading Republicans are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and  Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Daphne Campbell

Daphne Campbell lands wave of endorsements ahead of primary battle

Democratic Sen. Daphne Campbell picked up 11 endorsements from her colleagues in the Florida Legislature ahead of her contested primary for another term in Senate District 38.

Incoming House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee and Senate Minority Leader Pro-Tempore Lauren Book topped the list, which also included Democratic Sens. Gary Farmer, Perry Thurston, Darryl Rouson, Kevin Rader, Victor Torres, Lori Berman and Democratic Reps. Bobby Dubose, Ramon Alexander and Wengay Newton.

“I am proud to support my good friend Senator Daphne Campbell in here Re-election campaign. Daphne has been a tireless advocate for the people of Miami Dade county and I look forward to continue working with her in fighting for Democratic principles in the legislature,” McGhee said.

The bulk endorsement comes a week after incoming Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson threw her support behind Campbell’s campaign for a second term.

“I am honored to have the support of my Democratic Colleagues in the Florida Senate and House in my Re-Election Campaign. My colleagues clearly recognize the experience that I bring to the Florida Senate and I am happy to have their support in this race,” Campbell said. “I look forward to working with my Democratic colleagues in supporting issues like expanding Medicaid, banning assault weapons, supporting increased funding for public schools and increasing our states minimum the wage to $15 dollars an hour.”

The Miami lawmaker faces former prosecutor Jason Pizzo in the Democratic Primary. Pizzo was the second-place finisher in the six-way primary for the seat two years ago and around the start of the year he began gearing up to challenge Campbell in the South Florida Senate district.

Pizzo currently has a cash advantage in the race thanks to $75,000 worth of loans. As of April 30, he had raised $152,000 including loans and had $78,200 banked. He also recently announced a half-dozen endorsements from mayors within the district.

Campbell has raised about $79,700 so far, none of it from loans, and had $32,500 in the bank heading into May.

No other candidates are challenging Campbell, though a GOP or other party candidate jumping in the race would pose little threat to the eventual Democratic nominee. SD 38 is a blue stronghold that Campbell — and Hillary Clinton — won with 75 percent of the vote in 2016.

Vern Buchanan

New ad highlights Vern Buchanan’s record on the opioid epidemic

Sarasota Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is rolling out another TV ad for his re-election campaign in Florida’s 16th Congressional District.

The 30-second spot, “Fighting Chance,” highlights the sixth-term congressman’s record on the opioid epidemic. The campaign said it will begin airing online immediately and will hit TV next week as part of $200,000-plus ad buy.

The commercial features CD 16 constituents Ruth Lyerly and Cindy Bales, both of whom lost their sons to opioid addition. Like his prior ad, “Independent Leader Fighting for You,” the new commercial steers clear of mentioning Buchanan’s political party other than through the disclosure at the bottom of the screen.

“The pain doesn’t go away, but we’ve made it our life mission to do something about it,” Bales said in the ad, followed by Lyerly saying the pair reached out to Buchanan to help them in that mission. The ad then displays the titles of news articles that ran in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Bradenton Herald outlining Buchanan’s action on the opioid epidemic.

“Vern has led the charge to crack down on drug abuse,” they said in the ad.  “It wasn’t popular at the time but he has been with us fighting this fight for the past nine years. With people like Vern on our side, we have a fighting chance.”

The campaign said it plans to release an extended version of the ad where Lyerly and Bales praise the congressman’s “relentless leadership” on an issue that is “destroying so many lives in our community.”

The ad announcement linked to a slew of news articles on Buchanan’s work on the opioid epidemic dating back ot 2011. Among them were articles on a 2011 bill to crack down on “pill mills” that he co-sponsored along with Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, a 2013 bill to tightening restrictions on some of the most potent opioids that saw him team up with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, and Buchanan’s successful 2017 push to secure funding for Southwest Florida to address the drug epidemic.

Buchanan is likely to face Democrat David Shapiro in the November general election.

CD 16 has been a safe GOP seat in past elections. Donald Trump won the district by 11 points in 2016, though some onlookers expect those margins could be much closer this year.

Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed its assessment of the seat from “Safe Republican” to “Likely Republican” in March, calling it a “deep sleeper Democratic target.”

The ad is below.

Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s insurance overseer, once sanctioned in apparent insurance glitch

An apparent glitch in how the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles tracks and responds to drivers’ insurance coverage once resulted in the suspension of the driver’s license of the state’s current top insurance regulator, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

Through his staff, Patronis said he was unaware there had been any problems or missed notifications with his auto insurance, or that the department had taken action that led, at least on paper, to his driver’s license being suspended for nearly a year. The news came to him this week when Florida Politics inquired about it.

Patronis’ staff insists what happened was that in 2011 he changed insurance carriers, and the state department apparently was notified of the termination of his previous insurance, but did not receive notice that he replaced it with a policy from a new carrier, GEICO, on April 4, 2011.

The department suspended his license for nine months on July 13, 2011, according to driver records obtained by Florida Politics.

And now the suspension has been wiped from his record.

Patronis said in a written statement that he now is seeking to find out if this was a one-time fluke or a systematic failure that could be leading to on-paper suspensions of other Floridians’ driver’s licenses if they switch insurance carriers.

He called the apparent suspension showing up on his driving record “an erroneous record.”

“I have asked [FDHS&MV] Executive Director [Terry] Rhodes to look into how this erroneous record was generated and to see if this system failure affected other Floridians. There is always room for improvement in state government and it is my expectation that DHSMV will be able to better their system,” Patronis said.

Patronis was appointed to the vacant chief financial officer position on the Florida Cabinet last year and is running for election to a full term this fall. He’ll be going up against Democratic former state Sen. Jeremy Ring in the November election.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation falls under the CFO’s department.

His insurance agent apparently got the 2011 driver license suspension wiped off of his driving record on Tuesday, according to other records obtained by Florida Politics. After being notified of the 2011 matter, the agent advised the department on Tuesday that Patronis had been fully insured in 2011 and asked that the driver’s license suspension be removed from his record.

An FDHS&MV official replied by email, “Yes, the FR 7 sanction was generated in 2011 after we received a cancellation of insurance from a different insurance company. Since the sanction is over three years old it has been deleted from Mr. Patronis’ driver record.”

A new copy of the driver record Florida Politics obtained late Tuesday through a record request did not include the suspension.

However, the suspension had appeared in an earlier copy of that driver record obtained elsewhere by Florida Politics.

A portion of that earlier copy had been shared with Patronis’ campaign staff when the staff had asserted Patronis had no knowledge of any insurance lapse or suspended license in 2011.

The shared copy itself is another issue.

It included information that the department normally redacts from copies provided through public records requests, and which was redacted from the copy the department sent to Florida Politics later Tuesday.

Patronis’ campaign raised suspicions that the record had been obtained improperly.

“From what we have been told at this point, it appears that someone stole the CFO’s identity to access his personal driving record through a third-party website and because of the serious nature of identity theft, FDLE has been asked to look into this matter,” Katie Strickland, Patronis’ campaign communications director, stated.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger replied late Wednesday, “FDLE is aware of the situation and we have been in contact with DHSMV and they are addressing the issue.”

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles issued a statement saying that it relies on information from insurance companies, and is working to improve the process, but concedes that the system is old and “glitches can occur,” which the department tries to correct immediately on being notified by insurance companies that insurance was in place.

The department also insisted that it is “absolutely committed to protecting personal identifying information,” indicating it would not have released the shared record, because it included such information.

“The department has provided you the official driving record, which does not include any sanctions,” said a statement from Deputy Communications Director Alexis Bakofsky. “The department relies on information from insurance companies in order verify motorists have valid insurance; however, the department’s systems are dated and glitches can occur. As soon as we were notified of the error on the record by the customer’s insurance company, the record was immediately corrected. The department has made many improvements to its systems and processes over the past few years and, through DHSMV’s Motorist Modernization initiative, is dedicated to continuing improving systems and services for customers.

“The erroneous sanction should not have ever been a part of the record,” Rhodes said in the statement. “With regards to the record you claim to have received, federal and state law is clear and the department is absolutely committed to protecting customers’ personal identifying information. DHSMV takes this issue very seriously and is taking steps to ensure customer safety and security are maintained.”

Ardian Zika endorsed by former Pasco state Senator

Ardian Zika has added another backer in his bid to replace term-limited House Speaker Richard Corcoran in House District 37.

The Land O’ Lakes Republican announced Wednesday that John Grant, who represented Pasco and Hillsborough counties in the Florida Senate from 1986 to 2000, had endorsed him in the four-way Republican Primary for Pasco County-based seat.

“For fourteen years the voters of Pasco County gave me the honor of representing them in the Florida Senate,” Grant said. “They elected and re-elected me because I shared their values. Ardian Zika shares those same values and that’s why I am supporting his election to the Florida House of Representatives, District 37.”

Grant joins St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, former House Speaker Will Weatherford,  Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco, and the Fraternal Order of Police in endorsing Zika.

“I am honored to have former Florida State Senator John Grant’s endorsement,” Zika said. “Senator Grant represented the residents of Pasco County for fourteen years in our state capitol. He fought for lower taxes, less government, more personal responsibility and freedom. I am grateful for Senator Grant’s example and for his support and endorsement of my campaign.”

Zika is running against Ryan BoneyBill Gunter and Elle Rudisill in the primary. Democrats Tammy Garcia and Denise Mestanza-Taylor are also running.

Through April, Zika had raised more than $183,000 for his campaign and had $170,000 in the bank. Rudisill is in a distant second place with $13,500 banked, while Boney and Gunter each have $0 in their campaign accounts.

HD 37 covers the majority of inland Pasco County, including the communities of Land O’ Lakes, Odessa, Heritage Pines, Shady Hills, Meadow Oaks and Moon Lake.

The district is a Republican stronghold. Corocran never faced an Election Day challenger in his three re-election campaigns since HD 37 was redrawn. The seat voted plus-27 for Donald Trump in 2016.

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