Adam Putnam Archives - Florida Politics

Ron DeSantis education proposals spotlight workforce training, school choice

Republican Gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis rolled out a raft of education proposals on Tuesday, fleshing out his platform as the general election season continues.

His timing: no accident, given that his Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum plans a press conference at noon talking about his own proposals.

DeSantis’ plan has considerable overlap in at least one area with that of his dispatched primary opponent, Adam Putnam, who enthused about the need for vocational and trade education.

Vowing to “work with leaders from K-12 schools, postsecondary education, and the business community to better support career and technical education and apprenticeships, and to make sure Florida’s education is meeting the needs of our students and economy,” DeSantis’ words hearken back to the appeals of Putnam on the stump during the summer.

DeSantis also proposes that 80 percent of education spending go into the classroom, with an operational and financial audit of the Department of Education to highlight opportunities for improvement.

School choice is also a priority for much of the Republican’s financial base, and the nominee allays any potential qualms from the donor class. DeSantis “will support school choice options such as public magnet schools, district & non-district managed public charter schools, Florida Virtual School, home education, and the various other choice options.”

He also vows to incentivize teacher retention in high-need areas, such as special needs students, and to tweak performance incentives to have merit pay based on classroom performance.

DeSantis also promises a “complete review” of curriculum standards, including a renewed emphasis on civics education and the United States Constitution in those classes.

Regarding Florida’s higher education system, DeSantis vows to increase performance funding — a model that has been criticized for perceived inefficiencies by universities that have gotten short shrift in the formula.

Personnel note: Meredith Beatrice lands at Florida GOP

Meredith Beatrice is now Communications Director for the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), Chairman Blaise Ingoglia announced Monday.

Beatrice, who most recently handled media for GOP Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam‘s unsuccessful run for governor, “will be focused on Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign,” Ingoglia said.

“Understanding the importance of this election cycle, Meredith will be a great asset to our success, especially in retaining the Governor’s Mansion,” he added in a press release. “We welcome her to the RPOF and look forward to the integral role she will have in media strategy.”

Beatrice, 30, is a veteran of political communications. She has been as Director of External Affairs for the 2017-2018 Constitution Revision Commission and was Communications Director for the Florida Department of State.

Before that, she worked as a director at JDA Frontline, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.

Beatrice will be the party’s primary contact for questions related to the governor’s race between Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) and Congressman Ron DeSantis (R).

Ingoglia said Yohana de la Torre will remain a “communications consultant” to the party and be the main contact for questions related to him or general party-related activities.

“Liberals and socialists want to take over our government and undo eight years of successful conservative leadership, and we won’t let that happen,” Beatrice said in a statement.

“An Andrew Gillum administration would be a disaster for Florida. Andrew Gillum only knows how to foster corruption, increase crime rates, and raise taxes. At every level, he has failed running the city of Tallahassee and can’t be trusted.

“We’ve got to build on our economic success, protect our environment, and increase educational opportunities for every student, which is exactly what Ron DeSantis will accomplish as Governor. I look forward to highlighting the clear choice in this election and working with strong conservatives to keep Florida red.”

Matt Caldwell talks Democratic socialism, cannabis, concealed weapons, and water woes

The Republican ticket this year continues to message against the “socialism” on the Democratic side, and Agriculture Commissioner hopeful Matt Caldwell was no exception Saturday.

Speaking to a handful of Republican activists at the Jacksonville HQ for the Florida GOP, the Fort Myers area lawmaker warned of the “outright socialist” Democratic ticket, drawing comparisons to Venezuela, Cuba, and California.

Caldwell laughed when Florida Politics asked if that comparison was valid.

“I do think that socialism is a dead end street,” Caldwell said. “While I don’t think that Andrew Gillum would like to see empty store shelves and people starve in the street, that is ultimately what it comes to. It works against human nature. Everytime we’ve seen it tried, it failed.”

Caldwell described Gillum endorser Sen. Bernie Sanders as “an avowed socialist” dedicated to a “European socialist model” with Gillum having “embraced it wholeheartedly.”

Caldwell definitely sees the battle between R and D this year as a ticket, and he defended his party’s standard bearer, Ron DeSantis, who has been mired in controversy that began with his warnings after the primary that electing Gillum would “monkey this up.”

DeSantis is “not a racist,” Caldwell said.

“That’s manufactured controversy for the sake of a political campaign,” Caldwell said, with the left looking to “make hay” of it.

The election, Caldwell said, will be based on “turnout.”

“Each side’s trying to get its voters to show up,” Caldwell said. “There are not a whole lot of voters who are going to be undecided” about the “contrast between a socialist system and the free enterprise system we’ve got … that’s made Florida a huge success story … with strong pro-market policies [that] benefit everybody on the spectrum.”

Despite the slow rollout of a political platform from DeSantis, Caldwell isn’t worried, describing him as a “sharp individual” who served in Congress.

“You don’t get a degree from Harvard and Yale if you’re a slouch. I think he’ll do an excellent job and the ticket’s in strong shape,” Caldwell said.

One drag on the ticket in early polling: a consistent NPA break toward Gillum, with the most recent survey from Rasmussen showing a 54-29 NPA preference for the Democrat.

“NPAs are the folks who are up for grabs,” Caldwell noted. “But the folks who are going to be making calls and knocking on doors aren’t talking to the supervoter Republicans. They’re talking to the voters who don’t participate every time and to NPAs who have shown that maybe they’re open to talk about the message.”

“There’s more than enough of them out there to win,” Caldwell said, noting the GOP statewide winning streak over the last two decades.

The conversation moved finally toward the Ag Commissioner race, including the potentially complicating issue of medical cannabis.

Fried, a lobbyist for the increasingly well-capitalized companies in the sphere, has contended that smokable cannabis should be offered to medical patients — a position now so firmly ensconced in the Democratic orthodoxy that even Sen. Bill Nelson espouses it.

Caldwell, who voted for the implementation legislation, thinks smoke is a draw too far: “…smoking is not a medicinal delivery system…[the smoking lawsuit] is just a fig leaf for full recreational use…”

Though it’s uncertain if the issue of medical cannabis will move voters in November, what’s clear is that polls show voters more closely align with Fried’s position on the issue. 66 percent believe that medical patients should be able to smoke cannabis, while 24 percent align with the Caldwell position.

Polling between Fried and Caldwell is much closer, however; per St. Pete’s Polls, Fried is up by 1.8 percent.

Despite Caldwell not being where Fried is on the issue, he noted that he introduced the Charlotte’s Web legislation in 2014, which allowed low-THC cannabis, establishing precedent for the current system of medical cannabis.

Caldwell reiterated his contention that the smokable cannabis debate really is a smokescreen for the “recreational marijuana” push, one that he said “should be left up to the voters.”

“What convinced me to be involved in 2014 before any Constitutional amendment was passed,” Caldwell said, was “the kids with seizure disorders” and “their parents who [had to] break the law to travel to multiple states to get CBD oil so their kids could live.”

“That’s why I helped write the bill to make that legal,” Caldwell said, noting that he was the only statewide candidate to have that level of involvement in the bedrock legislation.

“This is really a discussion about particulars, not the larger issue, which is that people need to be able to have access to medical cannabis for legitimate medical reasons. I’m going to look to push forward as far as I can based on the evidence,” Caldwell said, noting that it’s still federally illegal.

“As long as it’s still federally illegal, nationally chartered banks aren’t going to mess around with this,” Caldwell said, noting that they could be accused of “money laundering” by authorities.

The workaround: using a “state-chartered bank,” which allows for the argument that it’s “intra-state commerce” to “avoid that net.”

Rescheduling cannabis, Caldwell said, would allow for a re-appraisal, both in terms of research of what the plant can do, and working through the current financial regulations.

“It really is crazy that marijuana is Schedule 1 while cocaine and heroin are Schedule 2,” Caldwell noted.

When asked to appraise current Commissioner Adam Putnam’s performance in the job, one performed while campaigning for months ahead of the August primary, Caldwell allowed that while “mistakes were made” regarding background checks on the concealed weapons program, that they should be seen in context.

“It’s a huge office,” Caldwell said. “A challenge when you’ve got 3,400 employees.”

Meanwhile, the “interest level” regarding the concealed weapons program was high, moving from 400,000 licenses in 2010 to two million today.

“The interest spiked exponentially,” Caldwell notes. “It looks like from the outside that they really struggled with catching up with that interest and processing it well.”

Caldwell promises a “day one” review of the program should he be elected, saying “nobody that doesn’t qualify for a license should be given one.”

Caldwell also sees the water issue — including algae blooms and the Everglades issues — as one that the state is solving despite the “harangues” of activists, with it being his “signature issue” in the House.

“We’ve built more projects in the last four years and are going to be build more projects in the next decade than the last 40 years combined,” Caldwell said.

“It’s an engineering problem. You put eight million people in the Everglades and its not going to react the way it [would] in 1845.”

“I will count it as a personal failure if we don’t have real progress on the Everglades problem in the next four — hopefully, eight — years. If there is a number one priority,” Caldwell said, “it will be water policy.”

‘The primary is behind us’: Richard Corcoran now backing Ron DeSantis

It was only a few months ago that House Speaker Richard Corcoran was one of the most prominent backers of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam‘s bid for Governor.

After Corcoran decided that there was no path to victory for him against Putnam and Ron DeSantis, he endorsed Putnam.

After opting not to run for the Governor’s Mansion, it took him “2.2 seconds” to make his decision.

Though Putnam did not use Corcoran as a surrogate the way DeSantis did U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Corcoran was not without his quotable moments.

“He’s got a bulldog mouth, a chihuahua a —, and he doesn’t even know what the heck is going on in this state,” the Tampa Bay Times reported Corcoran saying.

“Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, that’s the only thing he can say,” Corcoran added. “At some point, you’ve got to come out and give people a Florida vision.”

DeSantis spox Dave Vasquez had long before that dismissed the Corcoran endorsement of Putnam as a “corrupt bargain.”

“Insiders only know how to play one game, and that’s making deals to save their own skin,” Vasquez stated in a news release.

“After a year of campaigning and millions of dollars of special interest money spent, career insider Adam Putnam’s campaign has flatlined. So, he’s turning to deal-making in the Tallahassee swamp. Today he’ll stand in the shadow of the state capital in the middle of the Tallahassee swamp and receive the endorsement of a fellow career insider, one that will only matter to his fellow swamp dwellers,” Vasquez added.

The Corcoran endorsement did not help Putnam in the primary. However, despite the rhetoric of the summer, Corcoran found his way toward backing DeSantis (“chihuahua a**” notwithstanding).

On Sept. 12, Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC ponied up a relatively modest $22,625 to Friends of Ron DeSantis. That’s technically more than the $20,000 the PAC gave to Putnam’s Florida Grown committee earlier this year.

That $22,625 number pales in comparison to another recent convert to the DeSantis cause (the Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC) giving $100,000 just days before, and reflects the reality of Republicans coming home even after their groomed candidate got bounced in the primary.

As of Aug. 31, the last date for which Watchdog PAC has provided financials, the committee had roughly $760,000 on hand.

Vasquez gave us a quote late Friday on DeSantis’ behalf.

“The primary election is long behind us. Speaker Corcoran has been a champion for Conservatives across our state and we’re proud to have his support as we work to build a stronger economy, empower parents to make the best educational decisions for their children and protect our environment by electing Ron DeSantis the next Governor of Florida,” Vasquez said.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Ice, ice, ‘Action!’

Vanilla Ice was the guest of honor at the Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism Wednesday evening.

There, the group bestowed the famed hip-hop artist with the 2018 Film Florida Legends Tourism Ambassador award, which is presented annually to entertainment legends who keep the Sunshine State on their mind and involved in their work.

“Vanilla Ice has been a recognizable artist for nearly 30 years, all the while being a wonderful ambassador for Florida,” Film Florida President Bonnie King said.

In honoring Ice (born Robert Matthew Van Winkle) King cited the artist’s record-breaking and successful hip-hop career — hit song “Ice, Ice Baby” was the first hip-hop song to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts — and his devotion to Florida, which includes hosting an annual block party in Wellington and starring in his own Florida-based home improvement reality show, “The Vanilla Ice Project,” now in its eighth season on the DIY channel.

Ice also annually presents the music video award, now named after him, at The Palm Beaches Student Showcase of Films.

Added King: “Vanilla Ice continues to help others and accomplish so much, while representing the state of Florida in such a positive way.”

In receiving the award, Ice now joins the ranks of prior recipients Burt Reynolds, Sharon Gless, Emilio and Gloria Estefan.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

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

Take 5

Florida chips in ahead of Florence — Private and public utilities sent aid to the Carolinas this week, anticipating additional cleanup and restoration efforts would be needed following Hurricane Florence, which made landfall on the North Carolina coast Friday morning. More than 200 crew members from 18 public power companies made the trip, according to the Florida Municipal Electric Association. As well, Tampa Electric Co., Florida Power & Light Co. and Gulf Power Co. sent line workers to help restore power. Gov. Rick Scott prepared the Florida National Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law-enforcement officers to deploy for affected areas if needed. He also waived weight requirements for emergency vehicles heading to the storm.

Lawmakers pass on revisiting security funding — A panel of state lawmakers this week ultimately rejected a request from Gov. Scott to reconsider funding appropriated to a program that arms non-teacher faculty in schools. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission convened on Friday, and despite repeated urges from Scott to unlock leftover funds trapped in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, the item was not listed on the meeting agenda. Both House Speaker-designate Oliva and Senate President-elect Bill Galvano had pushed back against Scott’s request. Scott had pointed out that just $9 million of the $67.5 available for the Guardian Program had been used. He suggested the remaining $58 million could be used to help offset the cost of staffing safe-school officers or law enforcement personnel at every school.

UCF misspending prompts resignation, investigation — University of Central Florida Chief Financial Officer William Merck stepped down this week after it was discovered the school improperly used $38 million to construct a campus building. On Thursday, UCF President Dale Whittaker told the state university system’s Board of Governors that the school has replenished the state money, while taking steps to investigate the problem and to prevent similar occurrences in the future, reports the News Service of Florida. That action, however, didn’t keep House Speaker Richard Corcoran from launching an investigation into the misuse of funds. In a Friday letter, Corcoran announced that Incoming Speaker Jose Oliva would chair the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee “to investigate the misuse of funds by the University of Central Florida.”

Justice application period begins — The Florida Supreme Court Nominating Commission began accepting applications this week to fill three upcoming vacancies at the high court. Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince face mandatory retirement next year on the same day Gov. Scott will turn over the governorship to whoever is elected in November. The nine-member panel has 60 days to forward three to six names for each vacancy. Scott, who has argued that he has the authority to nominate new justices during his final day in office, announced this week that he intends to cooperate with the next Governor to pick new justices. That didn’t sit well with Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum. His campaign’s spokesperson said, “In our understanding of the Constitution, the next Governor will appoint the next three Supreme Court justices.”

Justices to consider sweeping ‘bundling’ challenge — The state Supreme Court will examine challenges to three amendments proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission. Former Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead filed the lawsuit, which claims each of the amendments improperly lumps issues together or ‘bundles’ the amendments. The three amendments at stake include a proposal that would ban vaping in the workplace and offshore drilling; a proposal that deals with governance of the state-college system and death benefits for survivors of first responders and military members; and a measure that would remove constitutional language that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and would revise language to make clear the repeal of criminal statutes does not affect the prosecution of crimes committed before the repeal.

Scott, Putnam welcome tree recovery money

When the Florida Division of Emergency Management announced it had received more than $340 million in federal Citrus Tree Recovery Program funding this week, Gov. Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam were happy.

To them, it was the culmination of their hard work paying off for Florida farmers.

Adam Putnam welcomes $340 million in federal aid for citrus tree recovery.

“Since October, I have been fighting for Florida’s citrus growers to get the relief they deserve to replant and rebuild their livelihoods,” Scott said. “This includes, traveling to Washington to advocate for relief and activating a $25 million Florida Citrus Emergency Loan Program last year.”

“We’ve worked tirelessly with Florida’s agriculture industry, elected leaders and government agencies to help our citrus industry recover from Hurricane Irma’s unprecedented damage,” Putnam said. “Thanks to the hard work of so many, this much-needed piece of disaster assistance is finally on the way and will go a long way to help Florida’s citrus industry rebuild.”

In total, $343,331,216 is now at the ready to offset tree replacement, grove rehabilitation, system repairs and future economic losses incurred by Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in Southwest Florida a little more than a year ago.

State expands Blackwater River forest

The Blackwater River State Forest is extending to another 800 acres, state officials announced this week.

The expansion was made possible through a partnership between the Florida Forest Service, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Santa Rosa County, the Naval Air Station Whiting Field, and the Trust for Public Land. The land was acquired through the Forest Legacy Program.

The Blackwater River State Forest, located in the Panhandle, is expanding by 800 acres.

“Florida’s state forests are vital ecological and economic resources for our state, and we must continue to prioritize the protection of Florida’s unique natural spaces,” said Agriculture Commissioner Putnam. “This addition to Blackwater River State Forest will enhance natural resources and provide more recreational activities for Floridians.”

The land is expected to benefit endangered species in the area while also acting as a buffer space between NAS Whiting Field and the community.

Since 1990, the Forest Legacy Program has protected more than 2.6 million acres of land in the U.S., according to the Department of Agriculture.

Instagram of the Week

State leaders convene to highlight missing children

Alongside hundreds of law enforcement personnel, public officials and citizens, First Lady Ann Scott and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen remembered Florida’s missing children this week in Tallahassee.

The annual event, Florida Missing Children’s Day, also serves to recognize the state’s child protection efforts.

On Florida Missing Children’s Day, Seminole County K-9 handler Deputy John Locklin and Panzer received the Jimmy Ryce K-9 Trailing Team of the Year Award.

In 2017, according to FDLE, there were more than 32,000 missing children incidents reported to law enforcement.

“As a parent and grandparent, Missing Children’s Day is a solemn reminder that no family should have to endure the heartache of a missing child,” First Lady Scott said. “I pray for continued strength and healing for the families, and the safe return of the loved ones still separated from their families.”

Added Swearingen: “The safety and security of Florida’s children continues to be a major priority for FDLE, as is the successful recovery of those who are missing.”

First-generation students to receive scholarships

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart presented more than $1 million to Florida College System Chancellor Madeline Pumariega this week during the State Board of Education meeting.

The funding, made possible by the Florida College System Foundation, will help first-generation students who wish to pursue careers in health care.

“These scholarships will open doors for students that otherwise might not have existed,” Stewart said.

Florida College System Chancellor Madeline Pumariega received more than $1 million in scholarship money for first-generation students. 

With the help of the Helios Education Foundation, Florida Blue and Bank of America, the scholarships seek annually to relieve the national nursing shortage while also incentivizing college attendance.

The Florida College System boasts 28 institutions. More than 60 percent of the students attending these colleges work part-time while enrolled.

‘BearWise’ money doled out

A total of $500,000 has been awarded to 10 Florida communities to help them reduce bear-human conflicts, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission announced this week.

The money, known as BearWise funding, will be used to help offset the cost of bear-resistant trash containers and other equipment.

BearWise funding helps provide bear-resistant trash cans, reduce the number of bear-human conflicts.

BearWise funding was prioritized for communities that had passed ordinances requiring trash be kept secure from black bears. Among those communities: The City of Apopka, Lake County, Santa Rosa and Seminole County.

The remaining funding went to the City of Mount Dora and Collier, Marion, Okaloosa, Volusia and Walton counties.

According to FWC, $2.1 million worth of BearWise funding has been provided to local governments since 2007.

Alexander concerned over university funding model

State Rep. Ramon Alexander asked the State University System Board of Governors to reconsider and reform parts of the performance-based funding model used to dole out additional money to institutions.

Alexander’s letter to the board preceded its Wednesday and Thursday meetings.

Because the current system does not provide any funding to the bottom three universities, Alexander argues in his letter, those institutions are “disproportionately” harmed.

State Rep. Ramon Alexander has questions on how Florida funds its university system.

“Last year, many institutions showed growth and improvement, nonetheless, despite all efforts, they received no additional state funding,” Alexander said in a statement accompanying his letter. “These funding disparities take a serious toll on the lower performing colleges and universities.”

He added that the current model “fosters a system of competition” between the much larger universities in the state, which have different missions. In other words, it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all awarding opportunity.

Alexander highlighted how both the University of North Florida and Florida A&M University have improved their performance scores. But, since the schools are still rank among the bottom three institutions, they weren’t awarded performance-based money.

Davis helping host HBCU College Fair

State Rep. Tracie Davis will be collaborating on Saturday with The Center, One Foundation and Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis to host the second-annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities College Fair.

All nearby parents and students are welcome to attend the event, which will last from 10 a.m. — 2 p.m. today at Kingdom Plaza in Jacksonville.

The Center, One Foundation hosts the Second HBCU College Fair on Saturday.

Noting the “long and rich history” of HBCU’s, Davis said she was excited to help host the event.

“HBCU’s accept and provide scholarships to help more low-income and first-generation college students to ensure that all students get a fair chance at a good education,” she added.

Davis’ office also claims the demand for HBCU attendance is growing. It is expecting more than 1,000 people to attend the Saturday fair.

Lawmakers honored for ‘conservative’ clean energy work

Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes along with Republican state Reps. Ray Rodrigues and Holly Raschein were honored this week as Conservative Clean Energy Champions.

They were joined by 41 other conservatives across the U.S. that were recognized by Conservatives for a Clean Energy Future, a nonprofit advocacy group seeking to promote pragmatic renewable energy.

Conservatives for a Clean Energy Future President Mark Pischea named Jeff Brandes, Ray Rodrigues and Holly Raschein as Conservative Clean Energy Champions.

“I want to thank you for all you do to help support the development of favorable clean energy policies in state capitols across America,” wrote CCEF President Mark Pischea in a letter to the honorees. “We look forward to continuing to work with you — and our Champions — to continue making a difference for our clean energy future.”

Champions, Pischea added, “are fighters for our nation’s transition to clean energy.”

National Lifeline Awareness Week

The Public Service Commission wants Floridians to know that struggling financially shouldn’t block Floridians from quick access to emergency services — or even to family and friends.

The commission is participating in National Lifeline Awareness Week, an effort to promote awareness of a discount on landline, cellphone or internet services for low-income families.

One discount of $9.25 cents per month is available per household.

Lifeline helps low-income Americans stay connected in the modern world.

Recipients must have an income at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Alternatively, at least one member of the household must receive benefits through Medicaid, supplemental security income, federal public housing assistance, veterans’ pension and survivors’ benefits, or tribal benefits.

Learn more on the Federal Communications Commission’s website.

“In this day and age, it’s very difficult to function without a phone,” PSC Chairman Art Graham said.

“We want consumers to know that if they already participate in an approved federal assistance program, they probably qualify for Lifeline and can easily apply for their discount.”

Kuryla elected Florida Ports Council chair

At the recent Florida Ports Council annual board meeting in St. Petersburg, PortMiami Director and CEO Juan Kuryla was elected chairman. Kuryla replaces Port Everglades Chief Executive/Port Director Steve Cernak.

“Florida has 14 dynamic seaports that specialize in diverse business sectors from cargo to cruise. These ports, with their access to the third largest population in the U.S., serve as vital economic engines creating thousands of new jobs over the past five years,” Kuryla said.

Newly elected Florida Ports Council Chair Juan Kuryla, director and CEO of PortMiami.

“I am honored to have been chosen by my colleagues to lead the Florida Ports Council and I look forward to continuing the work of my predecessors in growing jobs and commerce for the great state of Florida.”

Port of Palm Beach Executive Director Manuel Almira was elected vice chairman and Port Panama City Executive Director Wayne Stubbs was elected secretary/treasurer. All positions are one-year terms.

The Florida Ports Council is the professional association of Florida’s 14 public seaports, providing advocacy, leadership and research on seaport-related issues at the state and federal level.

Base rate reduction coming for Peoples Gas customers

Customers of TECO Peoples Gas System can look forward to lower bills under an agreement approved by the Public Service Commission.

The PSC signed off on a settlement between the company and the Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers before the commission.

The commission attributed the estimated $11.6 million deal to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the GOP bill that directed most of its savings to corporations. Peoples is Florida’s largest natural gas utility, serving 370,000 customers in the state.

Good news for TECO People’s Gas customers.

The base rate reduction per customer heating the average house will amount to $1 per month, beginning in January.

“We want to ensure that customers directly benefit from recent changes to the federal tax law through lower bills,” PSC Chairman Art Graham said. “This agreement ensures that these savings for Peoples’ customers will continue beyond 2019, and we found it to be in the public interest.”

 ‘AOB’ issue still in the fore

Following Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ lead, Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier again condemned the practice of assignment of benefits, or AOB, abuse.

Patronis recently called on reforms to curb the fraudulent practice.

Per Altmaier, “Now, more than ever, is the time for a solution to the abuse and fraud that continues to threaten the affordability of insurance in Florida.”

Once again, Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier is blasting assignment of benefits abuse.

Altmaier said AOB reform is a “top priority” for his office. AOB agreements allow contractors and repair personnel to essentially “stand in the shoes” of an insured person, according to Altmaier’s office.

“The excessive litigation fueled by bad actors who abuse AOBs will only result in higher premiums for our consumers,” he explained.

FSU surges in national rankings

Florida State University jumped seven spots to the No. 26 rank among national public universities in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges 2019” guide.

“Florida State University is one of the best universities in the nation, and we are excited that U.S. News & World Report recognizes our academic excellence,” said President John Thrasher. “Student success is at the heart of our mission at Florida State, and these rankings are a reflection of that commitment.”

FSU Provost Sally McRorie says the ‘drive to 25’ may come sooner than expected.

The latest ranking continues a rising trend for FSU. The school ranked No. 43 on the same list three years ago and has since steadily increased its status among public universities. The 2019 rankings mark the biggest single-year jump in university history, according to FSU officials.

Internally, FSU leadership has committed to becoming a ‘Top 25’ public university. Provost Sally McRorie said that goal could be achieved sooner than expected.

“Our ‘drive to 25’ is almost finished and a little earlier than I think any of us expected,” McRorie said. “That’s a testament to the very hard work of everybody across campus.

“We’re planning for what comes next!”

Hurricane happily ever after

Florida’s capital city played a small but significant role as Hurricane Florence churned toward land.

For a local couple intending to wed in North Carolina, Tallahassee was the next-best thing.

A slight change of plan for Sam Hajjar and Hayley Watts. (Image via theknot.com)

According to the Tallahassee Democrat’s Nada Hassanein, who reported the story, Sam Hajjar and Hayley Watts moved their wedding to Tallahassee ahead of the storm’s landfall Friday morning.

Watts, who had to re-plan everything with short notice, told the Democrat it’s “the wildest thing I’ve ever done.” But she’s thankful there’s a “sunny” forecast for the wedding now.

The couple, who grew up in Tallahassee, will now wed at the Red Hills plantation.

Capitol Directions

Ron DeSantis to campaign in Central Florida on Saturday

With the Republican nomination fight for Governor behind him and having officially resigned from his U.S. House seat, former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis will travel Florida in a series of campaign stops today.

DeSantis will start his Saturday in Casselberry at the Seminole County Victory HQ at 10 a.m.

Then he heads to the Hispanic Heritage Month Kick-Off at La Casita Azul Del Elefante Sabio in Orlando. That event starts at 11 a.m.

He then heads to Orlando Brewing for a GOP Vets Military Appreciation barbeque from 12:30 to 2 p.m.

DeSantis will then high-tail it south to Vero Beach for a First Responders Fall Cook-Off from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Indian River Fairgrounds.

The heavy day of campaigning marks one of the most active for DeSantis the entire campaign cycle. In the Aug. 28 primary, DeSantis upset early favorite Adam Putnam, Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, not so much with hustle as with prestige, winning a coveted endorsement from President Donald Trump.

DeSantis also made himself known to much of the Republican base with numerous appearances on Fox News, sometimes showing prowess on national issues in major debates—and other times making gaffes on national television.

But today’s heavy schedule in certain ways shows an earnest shift to campaigning on the ground and pressing the flesh with voters. It’s part of why DeSantis resigned his House seat earlier this week to focus on the campaign full-time.

“As the Republican nominee for Governor of Florida, it is clear to me that I will likely miss the vast majority of our remaining session days for this Congress,” he wrote in a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Under these circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to accept a salary.”

Of course, the aggressive campaigning also comes as a number of polls, even notoriously right-leaning ones, show DeSantis trailing in polls behind Democrat Andrew Gillum.

This week, new polls from Rasmussen Reports and from the Florida Chamber of Commerce showed Gillum winning by six and four percentage points respectively.

Citrus aid moves a step closer

 As a new citrus growing season gets underway, federal assistance tied to the hurricane-ravaged 2017-2018 harvest is finally moving into the application phase.

The state Division of Emergency Management announced Friday it has secured a $343 million block grant that was part of a wider disaster-relief package signed into law in February by President Donald Trump. The agency also said a series of four application workshops will be held this month for growers.

“Thanks to the hard work of so many, this much-needed piece of disaster assistance is finally on the way and will go a long way to help Florida’s citrus industry rebuild,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a prepared statement.

Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement that the money will “help our hard-working growers continue to rebuild and ensure that Florida remains synonymous with citrus.”

The block grant, part of a $2.36 billion package Congress directed to agricultural businesses damaged by hurricanes and wildfires in 2017, is designed to help the struggling citrus industry, which suffered at least $761 million in losses from Hurricane Irma.

With many farmers facing years of diminished crops, the citrus block-grant application workshops will be held Sept. 24 in Fort Pierce, Sept. 27 in Lake Alfred and Sebring, and Sept. 28 in LaBelle.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture had repeatedly said the citrus program would begin no later than July 16. But state Emergency Management Director Wes Maul said his agency has “significantly expedited this process” as the goal is to “get this money into the hands of the many citrus farmers who suffered following Hurricane Irma’s devastating impacts.”

“They are critical to the recovery of Florida’s iconic industry, and we will continue to work with our state and federal partners to make this happen as quickly as possible,” Maul said in a statement released by his agency.

About $129 million of the block-grant money is directed toward new trees, grove rehabilitation and irrigation-system repairs and replacements.

Another $182 million is directed toward future economic losses for growers who lost at least 40 percent of their crop production from Irma.

An estimated $29 million, subject to availability, will go to help growers meet crop-insurance purchase requirements for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

The first crop estimate for the 2018-2019 season will be made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in just under a month.

In the 2017-2018 growing season, which ended in July, the state produced 34.7 percent fewer oranges and half the number of grapefruits compared to a year earlier.

Growers have battled for years with deadly citrus greening disease. But just as they thought they were making headway against the disease, the industry got smashed by the hurricane.

For the season, growers saw overall production at its lowest — 49.58 million 90-pound boxes, the industry standard — since the 1941-1942 growing season.

Grapefruit production, 3.88 million boxes, hit its lowest output since 1920.

Duval Republicans fall in line behind Ron DeSantis with big-ticket fundraiser

Duval County was the epicenter of some of the most savage attacks against Ron DeSantis in the Republican Gubernatorial primary.

Many prominent Republicans, including U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, state Sen. Aaron Bean, state Rep. Cord Byrd, and Jacksonville City Council President Aaron Bowman, strongly backed Adam Putnam.

And in an illustration of the ultimate utility of straw polls, Putnam’s forces engineeered a 75-2 victory over DeSantis in the Jacksonville Young Republicans straw poll weeks before the election.

However, the candidate who “knew Florida best” didn’t prevail. And Jacksonville area Republicans will have a chance later this month to get right with the nominee, via a star-studded funder at the tony Ponte Vedra Country Club Sept. 26.

Driving DeSantis’ Northeast Florida finance efforts: Kent StermonJohn Rood, and Jay Demetree. Expectations are that this event could exceed Rick Scott‘s take eight years ago in similar circumstances.

DeSantis, who at least temporarily is behind Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum in fundraising, will seek to close the gap with the help of some of Jacksonville’s deepest pocketed patrons and most prominent local pols.

The host committee (still in formation) includes local powerbrokers: JEA Board member Husein Cumber (a strong fundraiser going back to the George W. Bush administration) is on board, as is lobbyist Marty Fiorentino, and Jamie and Ali Shelton of bestbet fame, the aforementioned Stermon/Rood/Demetree troika.

Also expected to be on board: Peter Rummell and Tom Petway, two more bulwarks of the Northeast Florida donor class.

Co-chairs include former Duval GOP Chair John Falconetti and former Congressional candidate Hans Tanzler III.

But it’s the honorary host category that shows the greatest party unity, as many of its members were on Team Putnam.

Sen. Aaron Bean, Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, and former U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw are all now on DeSantis’ side, joining Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams, and Rep. Travis Cummings (who endorsed DeSantis before the primary).

The decision is pragmatic. Where else are they going to go?

But after a vituperative primary fight, one full of colorful turns of phrase and de rigueur character assassination, it’s worth noting how quickly the healing begins for Duval Republicans.

For those interested in RSVPing, contact Brianna Jordan (Brianna@FrontStreetFlorida.com) or Heather Barker (Heather@RonDeSantis.com).

Adam Putnam to ‘work hard’ until the end

After losing the Aug. 28 Republican gubernatorial primary to Ron DeSantis, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam continues saying his focus is the remaining four months in the Cabinet post.

Asked for the second time in a week what is next for him, Putnam, a longtime elected official despite being only 44, maintained Tuesday that his goal is to “work hard” in his current job “to the very end.”

“I went back to work the next morning,” Putnam said, referring to the day after the primary. “There’s lot to be done.”

Asked about remaining in public service, he said he’s “focused on being commissioner of agriculture”

Putnam, who is from Bartow, was first elected to the state House in 1996. He moved to Congress four years later, where he served five terms before being elected to his statewide office in 2010.

Thomas Kennedy: The real extremist running for Florida Governor

Politics in America has become quite the spectacle recently. Florida, of course, has never been known for boring elections. Consider our last gubernatorial election, where former Republican Governor Charlie Crist ran as a Democrat against Republican Rick Scott, a millionaire who oversaw the largest Medicare fraud in the history of Florida (and is currently running for Senate).

Need I say more?

Yet Florida has not seen anything like the epic race pitting Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum against Rep. Ron DeSantis, both aspiring to become Governor. Gillum made history by becoming the first black nominee for Governor in the history of the state after beating four other candidates, all millionaires, while running a bold and progressive campaign. DeSantis defeated Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam after receiving Donald Trump’s endorsement in what was considered an upset by political observers.

Since the onset of the general election, Gillum has faced a barrage of smears from the Florida Republican Party and its allies claiming that he is a candidate too radical for the people of Florida. Republicans say that Gillum is out of step with the average Floridian.

That’s funny coming from a party that has held political power in Florida for two decades, with disastrous consequences for working-class families. Currently 45 percent of households in the state qualifying as working poor and struggle to afford basic necessities like health care, transportation and housing despite being employed. Meanwhile, Republicans in the state have underfunded public education, refused to expand Medicaid for as many as 1 million Floridians, and set up corporate slush funds that divert millions in taxpayer dollars to the same wealthy corporations who help fund their campaigns

In the current race for Governor, it is DeSantis who is the clear extremist. His reactionary political agenda is plain for all Floridians to see.

— He has not taken a stand on raising the abysmal $8.25 minimum wage in the state.

— He opposes gun policies that would prevent tragedies like the Parkland shooting and is proud of his NRA endorsement and the money that comes with it.

— He opposes a woman’s right to choose what happens to their bodies.

— He wants to criminalize undocumented immigrant families who contribute to the economy of Florida in an effort to make their lives as difficult as possible.

— He supports the privatization of prisons and has taken big sums of money from GEO Group, the largest for-profit prison company in Florida.

— He opposed imposing meaningful regulations on industries that are destroying our environment and questions if climate change is caused by humans despite overwhelming scientific evidence.

In stark contrast stands Gillum and his progressive agenda, yet his policy positions are hardly radical or extreme. In fact, they are in lockstep with a majority of Americans.

— Medicare for all? Supported by 70 percent of Americans.

— Assault weapons ban? Supported by 67 percent of Americans.

— Comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship? Supported by 63 percent of Americans.

— Legalizing marijuana? Supported by 61 percent of Americans.

— Raising the minimum wage? Supported by 51 percent of Americans.

— Restoring voting rights to people with prior felony convictions? Supported by 74 percent of Floridians.

I can keep going if I’d wanted to, but I think I’ve made my point.

Despite what political consultants and mainstream media outlets will tell you, people are hungry for change and support policies that will materially make their lives better. They are tired of having to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, and fearing that a health issue could potentially lead to financial ruin or even death due to lack of health care.

DeSantis is a radical who has tied his political fortunes to Donald Trump, one of the most corrupt and unpopular Presidents in modern American history.

I believe that come Nov. 6, Floridians will choose Gillum as the candidate that stands with them on a majority of the issues.

___

Thomas Kennedy is the Political Director for FLIC Votes and a communications fellow for the Center for Community Change Action. He tweets from @Tomaskenn.

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