Adam Putnam Archives - Florida Politics

Adam Putnam will raise concerns about revamped NAFTA

State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will voice concerns Thursday about the potential impact on Florida’s produce industry of the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Putnam, who has been a critic of the original agreement known as NAFTA, is slated to appear before the U.S. International Trade Commission.

When President Donald Trump’s administration announced a renegotiated and rebranded trade deal in October, Putnam said more work was needed to help the state’s farmers compete against growers in Mexico.

“I am disappointed that this new agreement has no new protections for Florida fruit and vegetable producers, who for too long have suffered from Mexico’s unfair trade practices despite our best efforts,” Putnam said after the reworked deal was announced.

Putnam has argued for years that pepper and tomato growers and other Florida farmers have struggled against Mexican counterparts who swamp the U.S. market each winter with low-cost produce.

The revised trade deal, which needs congressional approval, includes numerous issues, ranging from auto manufacturing and Canadian dairy imports to a dispute-settlement system.

Trump, who campaigned in 2016 arguing that NAFTA was poorly negotiated and hurting American workers and manufacturers, has proposed naming the revised pact as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Cabinet meeting called off

A state Cabinet meeting scheduled for next week with relatively little notice has been canceled.

The meeting was scheduled to be held Tuesday by telephone and include two Florida Power & Light power-plant projects in South Florida.

But a note on the Cabinet webpage Wednesday said, “This meeting has been canceled.”

No reason was given.

Representatives for Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The meeting was announced Monday and the agenda posted Tuesday morning.

Among the topics were plans by Florida Power & Light to build a 1,200-megawatt power plant in Broward County that has drawn opposition from the Sierra Club and a proposed FPL nuclear project at the Turkey Point complex in Miami-Dade County.

Scott and the Cabinet act as a state “siting” board with authority to decide whether power-plant projects should move forward.

In 2014, they approved FPL’s plans to add two nuclear reactors at Turkey Point.

But the decision was overturned by the 3rd District Court of Appeal, as local governments argued the governor and Cabinet failed to use Miami land-development rules and erred in claiming they didn’t have authority to require transmission lines be installed underground at FPL’s expense.

Scott and the Cabinet are scheduled to meet Dec. 4.

Adam Putnam invites wounded veterans to fishing, hunting excursions

The state offers a unique experience for wounded veterans to connect with each other on the home front.

And Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is helping get the word out about the program — Operation Outdoor Freedom — as state offices observe Veterans Day.

“Operation Outdoor Freedom is a special way of connecting the natural resources and beauty our state is blessed with to the men and women of our armed services who have courageously sacrificed for our nation,” Putnam said.

The term-limited Agriculture Commissioner established the recreational and rehabilitative program in 2011 to provide wounded vets with opportunities to connect outdoors in state forests and other holdings at no charge. It’s overseen by the Florida Forest Service, a division of Putnam’s Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services agency.

There are three Operation Outdoor Freedom camps: Camp Prairie in Lake Wales, Peace River Camp in Arcadia and American Warrior Pride Lodge in Hernando. All camps “are outfitted to accommodate the needs of every wounded veteran participating in the program,” according to the state.

But events also occur in other areas across Florida, regularly on state forests, private lands and along the coast. They are funded by private donations.  

To be eligible, veterans must either have a Purple Heart or meet the service-connected disability rating of 30 percent or greater from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

On Sunday, the program partnered with the Davie Golf Club to host a golf tournament benefitting the program.

Operation Outdoor Freedom typically hosts events that allow participants to fish, hunt, boat and do other Florida-based outdoor activities. A series of deer, hog and turkey hunts are listed in the program’s upcoming events.

Added Putnam: “Providing our wounded veterans opportunities for recreation and rehabilitation in Florida’s great outdoors is the least we can do, and I’m incredibly proud of the growth of this program and the number of veterans we’ve been able to reach.”

Earlier this year, Putnam was recognized by the Purple Heart Veterans of Florida for his work to establish Operation Outdoor Freedom. The group awarded the Commissioner with the Military Order of the Purple Heart Distinguished Service Award.

Jacksonville Bold for 11.9.18 — Game change

Electing Ron DeSantis to the top office in the state (pending recount, that is) is a capital-g “Game Change” moment for Duval.

DeSantis’ base is Jacksonville though he lives in Ponte Vedra.

Everyone reading this knows that despite a county line, the money easily flows over borders.

Don’t kid yourselves, Gov. Ron DeSantis is a game changer for Jacksonville.

Pols from both Duval and Clay validated him, in case Adam Putnam pressure made Trumpista voters a bit wobbly. And DeSantis’ general election campaign savior, Susie Wiles, hails from the same region.

As you read on, Wiles is not done yet.

Northeast Florida has a lot of needs. It’s hard to imagine member projects getting vetoed, especially in favor of projects benefiting Democratic Mayors who heaped opprobrium on DeSantis before Election Day.

Jacksonville won. Northeast Florida won.

To quote a familiar presence: “Are you tired of winning yet?”

We run things

Few will disagree that the support of President Donald Trump carried DeSantis to what looks like a victory in the Governor’s race.

But no less important: support from Northeast Florida.

Susie Wiles (for good or ill) pulled it together for Ron DeSantis.

For two terms in Congress, DeSantis represented Ponte Vedra, the suburbs south of Jacksonville (a third term saw his district moved farther south). It was clear during most of his tenure that Congress wasn’t his final destination; a perception reinforced when he (briefly) ran for the party’s Senate nomination until incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio decided to run for re-election.

Though a recount is now assured in the Governor’s race, the DeSantis team is already moving into transition mode. And atop that transition is a big Northeast Florida bow.

Campaign manager Wiles, who took a campaign that looked unmoored and undisciplined and stabilized the operation before finding a way to erase Andrew Gillum‘s polling edge with independent voters, is running the transition.

But wait, there’s more.

Trump’s man bests Clinton alum

So much for the polls. And outside money.

The high-profile race to replace DeSantis in Congress involved two nationally known candidates and went down to the wire.

Mike Waltz served our country. Now he’s serving in our Congress.

Ultimately, the President picked the winner. And that winner won by double-digits.

Republican Mike Waltz, a former Green Beret and counterterrorism adviser to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, defeated Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a Clinton-era Ambassador to the United Nations.

The race saw more than $5 million of direct spending from the candidates; $3 million of that was from Soderberg, who ran as a moderate Democrat in a district that the previous Democratic candidate and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton each lost by 15+ points in 2016.

The money was necessary on both sides as the air war went nuclear.

Per CNN, “the vast majority of the roughly $3.7 million spent on TV in this district in the final week [was] coming from Soderberg and her allies — including $2.4 million from Michael Bloomberg‘s Independence USA PAC.”

Soderberg messaged as a moderate Democrat. But it wasn’t enough.

Radical change coming

The two Congressmen representing Jacksonville, Democrat Al Lawson and Republican John Rutherford, have become friends in the last two years.

John Rutherford and Al Lawson with Rep. Val Demings. (Image via David Cawton/Jax Daily Record)

Lawson, representing Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which sprawls from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, emphasizes working across the aisle, and in a Republican-held House that has been a useful strategy, especially for the Republican power structure that controls Jacksonville at every level.

Rutherford, whose CD 4 includes Jacksonville and many of its suburbs, has been an enthusiastic Trump booster.

Both men won handily Tuesday. Rutherford beat Democrat Ges Selmont; Lawson defeated Democrat Virginia Fuller.

However, before the election, both men told Florida Politics what a flip may portend.

“One thing I’ve learned after almost two years in Washington, D.C., in the House of Representatives: You never want to be in the minority party,” Rutherford noted. “It makes it very difficult to get your agenda accomplished.

Read more here.

Wyman triumphs

The million-dollar-plus race to replace Jay Fant in House District 15 has concluded.

And the Democrats — despite a herculean effort — could not flip it.

On Tuesday, Republican Wyman Duggan defeated Democrat Tracye Polson by 51 percent to 49 percent.

Wyman Duggan wins: Try as they might, Democrats couldn’t flip HD 15.

Democrats had not previously fielded a candidate for this seat for nearly a decade. However, this cycle saw not simply a campaign, but one that had the resources to compete with Republican political machines both in downtown Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

And that GOP machine was out in force, with legislators from across the state coming into Jacksonville’s Westside to knock on doors for Duggan, a lobbyist by trade who was backed by the local political establishment.

The special interests attacked, and they got through to voters outside of Riverside and Avondale, sinecures where a Polson sign was on every block.

Duggan will be a reliable voice for interests of City Hall, offering Mayor Lenny Curry another person in the delegation with whom communication flows well.

Republicans hold serve

Despite active campaigns in other Republican-held districts, Democrats couldn’t overcome party registration and capital advantages, WJXT reported.

“In House District 11, which includes Nassau County and part of Duval County, Republican incumbent Cord Byrd was re-elected to his second two-year term with 69 percent of the vote. He faced a challenge from Democrat Nathcelly Leroy Rohrbaugh, a homemaker and first-time candidate.”

Cord Byrd rebuffed primary and general election challenges.

Byrd credited “grassroots.” Other candidates had similar margins.

District 12’s Clay Yarborough garnered 59 percent of the vote, HD 16’s Jason Fischer 58 percent.

In House District 17, incumbent Republican Cyndi Stevenson cleared 70 percent, as did HD 19’s Bobby Payne.

House District 24 Republican Paul Renner also breezed to victory. Meanwhile, Reps. Tracie Davis, Kim Daniels, and Travis Cummings had no opposition.

‘Losing sucks’

Tuesday night, Jacksonville Mayor Curry was not graceful in victory.

In victory, there was little grace.

Curry spiked the ball on local exponents of the “Blue Wave” theory, reminding locals of his pre-primary endorsement of Ron DeSantis for Governor and his support of U.S. Senator-elect Rick Scott.

“From my years in Sports, coaching, business, parenting, life & government, I’ve never understood those that lose the battle then find something to celebrate. Odd and a recipe for serial losing. Losing sucks. I’m glad my opponents haven’t figured that out,” Curry tweeted.

Curry was in position to spike the ball. In addition to DeSantis and Scott winning (also pending a recount), other endorsed candidates, like Mike Waltz in CD 6 and Duggan in House District 15, got over the finish line despite well-funded and energetic Democratic challengers with outside help.

His message: Curry’s ready for 2019.

Blu-Val?

The always perceptive Andrew Pantazi noted Duval going Democratic Tuesday, then noted that it didn’t matter much in the end for statewide tallies.

Duval got on the bus. But the exurbs went the other way.

“DeSantis didn’t need to worry about the large urban counties. While Duval’s margin shifted by a whopping 50,855 votes, that wasn’t enough to handle the Republican growth in the state’s suburban and exurban counties,” Pantazi notes, before adding that Dems have work ahead.

“And even though Duval was one of the few counties to shift hard toward Democrats, the county is still run almost entirely by Republicans. It has a Republican mayor in the city that gives the most power to a mayor of any municipality in the state. It has a Republican sheriff in a consolidated government that gives him more power than almost any other sheriff. It has Republicans running each of the constitutional offices — tax collector, property appraiser, clerk of courts, supervisor of elections. And the City Council is still overwhelmingly Republican: 13 out of the 19 city council members are Republicans, a supermajority.”

GOP holds Duval tax collector spot

Though a 2019 election looms, Republican Jim Overton won Tuesday’s special election for Duval County Tax Collector.

The tax man cometh.

But it was close.

Overton won with 51 percent of the vote. He defeated Democrat Mia Jones, most recently a member of the Florida House, rising to Democratic Leader pro tempore in 2014-16.

The low-wattage race pitted two political veterans against each other in the runoff, after both emerged from an August blanket primary.

Worth watching now that the special election is over: Whether anyone will file to oppose the winner on the 2019 ballot. Qualifying is in early January.

Ask Council first, OK?

Duval County voters Tuesday approved a nonbinding referendum suggesting that the Jacksonville City Council must first approve a sale of 10 percent or more of the municipal utility (JEA).

Before a JEA sale, Council members must have a say.

While JEA has an independent board, the push to privatize the utility that started a year ago led Council members to want increased checks and balance.

Jacksonville City Councilman John Crescimbeni, who sponsored the legislation that put the measure on the ballot, said the nonbinding poll allowed voters to “weigh in and tell us they’re interested, or they’re not interested.”

The legislation to put the matter on the ballot came after some of the best-connected lobbyists in the area started working this spring for companies that may want to buy JEA.

Speculation has swirled that even though the issue has been tabled in recent months, it could return with a new intensity after city elections in spring 2019.

T-shirt theater

Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, a Democrat, wore a Gillum for Governor T-shirt to a Council committee meeting Tuesday.

A blazer covered the jacket. Nonetheless, he was told that would draw an ethics complaint, he said.

Garrett Dennis probably won’t wear his Andrew Gillum shirt again.

“My jacket was on all day,” Dennis said.

Dennis said earlier in the day he had run into Jacksonville’s two most powerful staffers: Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and Chief of Staff Brian Hughes.

According to Dennis, they told him to “take off your jacket … we want to see what’s under your jacket.”

A copy of the complaint is not yet in hand. And we’ve been frustrated in getting any confirmation such a complaint exists.

“Complaints made to the Ethics Commission are confidential, per Florida law,” said Carla Miller, the City of Jacksonville’s Director of Ethics Compliance and Oversight.

Hughes, meantime, says this is another “false claim” from Dennis.

This latest episode continues an ongoing tango of claims and counterclaims. Dennis has maintained that Lenny Curry’s administration has bullied and intimidated him for over a year.

At the same time, one former Curry staffer has claimed that Dennis intimidated her during a closed meeting.

Salute to disabled vets

Jacksonville-based law firm Farah & Farah is teaming up with Five Star Veterans Center for a donation drive, and the firm will match donations up to $79,000 through Nov. 18. All donations go to the center.

You can make donations in any amount at farahandfarah.com/veterans.

Please consider a donation to the Five Star Veterans Center.

Founded in March 2012, Five Star Veterans Center is a nonprofit to assist veterans aged 22 to 55 suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, depression, anxiety and other related mental health issues.

The goal of the organization is for each veteran to be reintegrated into society, and to help displaced military veterans find safe housing and supportive services.

To view a video about the promotion and Five Star Veterans Center, click on the image below:

JAA committee recommends CEO

A four-member CEO selection committee of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority is recommending Mark VanLoh as the organization’s next leader, replacing Steve Grossman who retired earlier this year.

Congratulations to Mark VanLohm, the leading candidate for JAA CEO.

As first reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, the full board will vote on VanLoh during its next meeting Nov. 26. VanLoh comes to the JAA after stints as director of aviation for Kansas City, Missouri and president of Chattanooga Airport Authority.

“The selection committee is ecstatic to nominate Mark VanLoh to succeed Steve Grossman,” committee chair Patrick Kilbane said in a statement. “Mark will bring extensive experience, proven results and passion to the aviation authority. We look forward to working with him.”

VanLoh came out on top in a field of 73 applicants, which was then narrowed to four by the consulting firm ADK Consulting & Executive Search. Of that final list, VanLoh was considered the “clear winner.”

UF Health gets top grades in 2019

A new report by national health organization analysts at Healthgrades are recognizing UF Health Jacksonville with two prestigious clinical awards, ranking it as one of the top hospitals in the country for multiple areas of care.

According to a statement from UF Health Jacksonville, the achievements our in cranial neurosurgery and critical care. UF Health Jacksonville is the only hospital in Northeast Florida to receive those distinctions.

UF Health gets accolades as a top hospital for 2019.

“This is an amazing achievement, and I could not be prouder of the people here who have worked so hard to improve our quality,” said Leon L. Haley Jr., MD, MHSA, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville and dean of the University of Florida College of Medicine — Jacksonville.

Evaluation and the Healthgrades 2019 report highlights the importance of consumer access to high-quality care, using data from 4,500 hospitals nationwide — including risk-adjusted mortality and complication rates — to determine the top performing hospitals nationwide.

Glimpse of the past

Per COJ.net: After spending nearly 60 years behind a cornerstone in the old Bay Street City Hall building, the contents of a time capsule buried in 1960 were opened by Mayor Curry and City Council President Aaron Bowman Oct. 3.

The contents have been digitized and stored in the Special Collections Department at the Main Library, which can also be viewed on the Jacksonville Public Library website.

The public gets a glimpse into the past as Jacksonville opens a 1960 time capsule.

There is also a way to look at the artifacts in person, by calling call (904) 630-2409 to schedule an appointment with a librarian. Library officials are working to create a name index, making it easier to find specific people mentioned within the artifacts.

JAXPORT Top Ten

Moving about 2.8 million metric tons from Oct. 1, 2017 to Sept. 30, 2018 — the 2018 fiscal year — JAXPORT is one of the key hubs for transporting raw materials.

JAXPORT releases its Top Ten cargo items in FY 2018.

The Jacksonville Business Journal reports on the top 10 imports coming through JAXPORT (listed here from smallest to largest):

— Stones and pebbles: accounting for 89,500 metric tons.

— Coal: Last year’s front-runner dropped to 90,000 metric tons, from 1.9 million metric tons in FY 2017.

— Coffee: More than 94,000 metric tons moved through JAXPORT this year.

— Tires, tubes: The Port of Jacksonville imported nearly 100,000 metric tons of tires and tubes.

— Furniture: More than 182,000 metric tons of furniture move through the Port of Jacksonville.

— Petroleum products: about 183,000 metric tons of petroleum products were imported through the port last year.

— Other: Since much of JAXPORT is “tenant-operated,” a significant number of items in containers are not listed. That category accounts for 368,000 metric tons.

— Paper products: JAXPORT moved nearly 369,000 metric tons of paper and paper products.

— Limestone: More than a half-million tons of limestone were imported through the port in 2018.

And the No. 1 most imported item through JAXPORT:

— Automobiles: Nearly 750,000 metric tons of motor vehicles came through the Port of Jacksonville, by way of Southeast Toyota Distributors, Amports and Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics.

Jaguars desperate for a win

Fans and analysts are calling Sunday’s game in Indianapolis against the Colts a “must win.” Players and coaches do not often say such things publicly, but these are not ordinary times.

“This is a thousand percent must-win,” said linebacker Myles Jack. “No. 1, it’s a conference game that we’ve got to win. And then we’re on a four-game losing streak, so we can’t lose another game.”

Myles Jack calls this Sunday a “thousand percent must-win.”

It is also an AFC South Division game, one of two against the Colts. Both teams come into the game with 3-5 records, both trailing the 6-3 Houston Texans.

The Jaguars are coming off their bye week. By going winless in October, they last walked off the field after a victory Sept. 30, when they beat the New York Jets 31-12 at TIAA Bank Field.

While the game is on the road, there are some positives to look at for Jacksonville. Top among those is the return of running back Leonard Fournette from injury.

But unless someone is a super-back, they can often be only as good as their offensive line, which has been a problem lately. Coach Doug Marrone said he lost faith in the line during their game in London against the Philadelphia Eagles, especially in short yardage situations.

Quarterback Blake Bortles is thrilled to have Fournette return and believes, as does the entire team, that the team’s fortunes are about to improve dramatically.

“I know everybody’s fired up to have him back in the lineup,” Bortles said. “I know I’m excited to watch him run. I know guys are excited to block for him and kind of see him go.”

The game will mark the first without defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr., who was traded to the Los Angeles Rams soon after returning from London.

The defense needs to get better quickly as well since they face on of the NFL’s top quarterbacks in Andrew Luck, a dynamic receiver in T.Y. Hilton and emerging running back Marlon Mack out of the University of South Florida.

On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars recorded 10 sacks the last time these teams met more than a year ago. The Colts are counting on their improved offensive line to prevent a repeat.

Matt Caldwell edges Nikki Fried in surprisingly competitive Ag. Commissioner race

Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell declared victory Tuesday night as he held a narrow advantage in the contest to succeed term-limited Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Caldwell, a real estate appraiser from North Fort Myers, gave an acceptance speech from an election watch party, according to WGCU Public Media.

As of Wednesday morning, Caldwell led Democrat Nikki Fried by about 17,216 votes out of 7.98 million ballots cast, and Fried, a lawyer and lobbyist from Fort Lauderdale, had not conceded.

On Tuesday night, when he was sporting a larger lead, Caldwell told POLITICO Florida that he wasn’t expecting the race to fall within the threshold for a recount.

“At this point we don’t see a scenario where that will change significantly,” he said. “We expect to be declared the winner.”

Florida law triggers a recount if the result of a race is within 0.5 percentage points. The current gap between Caldwell and Fried is 0.22 percentage points.

The campaign seemed to focus more on issues such as medical marijuana and guns than the agriculture aspects of the commissioner’s job, which includes serving on the state Cabinet and running the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

With about $7.5 million spent by the candidates, the contest had the lowest spending among the three Cabinet races. But unlike the races for attorney general and chief financial officer, Caldwell and Fried discussed issues and participated in a debate that voters across the state could see.

Caldwell, 37, a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University, was first elected to the House in 2010 and traces his family back seven generations in Florida. In the House, Caldwell has been a go-to lawmaker on a number of environmental issues for GOP leaders.

If his lead in Tuesday’s election holds, he will take over the sprawling Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which assists farmers and ranchers, manages public lands, maintains the state’s “do-not-call” list, inspects amusement park rides, ensures food safety and oversees concealed-weapons licenses.

A couple of key agriculture issues before the agency are citrus greening and the decline of the citrus industry, while also overseeing fruit imports at ports.

During the campaign, Caldwell sought to appeal to conservative voters with a pro-gun and anti-tax record in the Legislature while stressing his family’s roots in Florida and ties to the agriculture industry. He considers “jobs and water” the priorities of the office.

Caldwell, endorsed by the NRA, defended the department’s handling of concealed-weapons licenses under Putnam after a number of mistakes were found in conducting national background checks. Fried said a discussion is needed on moving the licensing process to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

And with the state experiencing problems with toxic algae and red tide, Fried contended water legislation by Caldwell “gutted” Department of Environmental Protection regulations and played a crucial role in degrading the state’s environment.

Caldwell countered that his measures require farmers to implement “the most cutting-edge technology” related to the use of phosphates and didn’t roll back any water quality standards.

Fried, 40, stressed the consumer protection side of the agency and appealed to progressives by focusing on expanding medical marijuana and the hemp industry.

Fried said running a Cabinet agency is more about providing leadership and judgment and who can advocate for the office than having worked in the fields.

Fried, who spent $2 million to the $5.5 million spent by Caldwell, drew some attention to the contest by announcing that two national banks — Wells Fargo and BB&T — terminated her campaign account because of contributions tied to the marijuana industry. The banking industry has cited federal laws that make the sale and use of marijuana illegal.

ballots

Whodunit? Election Day numbers a mystery in blue strongholds

Those who want to watch the ballots trickle in minute-to-minute on Election Day can do so with a little knowhow, but that real-time data is lacking numbers from more than a dozen counties, including some of the most reliably Democratic ones in the state.

The thirteen counties lagging: DeSoto, Hamilton, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lake, Miami-Dade, Nassau, Orange, Palm Beach, Putnam, Sarasota, Suwannee and Taylor.

Together, those counties are home to more than a third of Florida voters. Miami-Dade and Palm Beach alone account for 2.37 million registered voters — nearly 18 percent of the state’s 13.27 million voters.

More important for armchair statisticians: More than a fifth of the state’s 4.94 million Democrats live in those two counties.

And most important: The 675,000 mail and early votes sent in by those counties have sent in numbers for account for 13 percent of the total votes and 32 percent Democratic Party votes cast through Monday.

For top-of-ticket Democrats, there is no road to the Governor’s Mansion or the U.S. Senate that avoids South Florida. And for both Republicans and Democrats, there’s no road without Orange or Hillsborough, home to roughly one in eight voters in the Sunshine State.

Those two counties had tabulated more than a quarter million mail and early votes but accounted for only 4.8 percent of the vote as of Monday’s data dump.

There are some reliable GOP counties that are shrouded at the moment, too, but none so important to Republicans as Dade and Palm Beach are to Democrats. If an argument could be made for any, it would be Sarasota County. But as red as it’s gone in the past it’s only home to about 135K of Florida’s 4.68 million Republicans.

All told, the 13 counties keeping mum had produced 1.8 million ballots through yesterday, or about 34.6 percent of the pre-Election Day total.

Latest haul pushes matching funds over $8 million

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum drew nearly $500,000 on Friday as Florida’s matching-funds program has doled out nearly $8.4 million this year to statewide candidates.

The release of the latest weekly checks also showed that Democratic Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried has qualified for the taxpayer-funded program, which provides matches for individual contributions of $250 or less to candidates’ campaigns.

Candidates for Cabinet offices — Agriculture Commissioner, Attorney General and Chief Financial Officer — must amass $100,000 in such relatively small-dollar donations to qualify. Gubernatorial candidates must first raise $150,000 worth of contributions of $250 or less to be eligible. Contributions to candidates’ political committees are not matched.

Fried, an attorney and lobbyist from Fort Lauderdale, got a check for $117,627 on Friday. She became the 10th statewide candidate this year to participate in the program — though four of those candidates lost in primaries. Fried’s Republican opponent, state Rep. Matt Caldwell, has decried the program as “campaign welfare.”

The program gave candidates $6.065 million in 2010 and $4.3 million in 2014.

The biggest user of the program this year has been Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, who drew a check for $279,046 on Friday and has now received just over $2.3 million from the state.

In the past, the most any candidate has drawn from the program was the $2.58 million received by Democrat Charlie Crist in 2014 for his unsuccessful gubernatorial run.

Gillum, who received a check for $499,442 on Friday, has received nearly $2.23 million from the state. Overall, Gillum, DeSantis and their political committees have raised a combined total of more than $96 million for the contest.

Gillum’s check Friday was not the largest single amount going to a candidate this year.

When the program opened July 27 for the current election cycle, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who was defeated by Gillum in the Aug. 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary, received a check for $991,598.

The same week, $932,471 went out to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who eventually lost to DeSantis in the Republican primary, and $643,226 was sent to DeSantis.

In the race to replace term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi, Democratic state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa received $11,808 from the state on Friday and Republican Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge, got $11,223.

Moody has now received $428,737 from the state, which Shaw has pulled in $302,535.

Republican state CFO Jimmy Patronis got a matching-funds check for $7,284 on Friday. He has now drawn $324,279 from the state.

Caldwell, a property appraiser from North Fort Myers, and former state Sen. Jeremy Ring, the Democratic candidate for CFO, are the only major-party candidates for Governor or Cabinet seats on the November ballot not participating in the program.

Nikki Fried, Matt Caldwell face off over medical marijuana, water

Democrat Nikki Fried, a medical-marijuana lobbyist, had to defend her desire to move the state’s oversight of medical marijuana into the agency she wants to run.

Her Republican opponent, state Rep. Matt Caldwell, was questioned about his support for a bill that delayed for 20 years an unmet deadline to reduce nutrients flowing into Lake Okeechobee.

Fried and Caldwell — running in the Nov. 6 election to replace term-limited Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and head the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — engaged in a fast-paced debate Sunday during the show “Facing South Florida” on CBS Miami.

While the two have appeared at the same events during the campaign, the television show was the first and only time they are scheduled to jointly discuss issues.

The show’s host, veteran reporter Jim DeFede, ran through a series of topics, including the department’s handling of concealed-weapons licenses under Putnam, marijuana, water quality, the North American Free Trade Agreement, immigration, clemency and the state’s “Do Not Call” solicitation list.

Fried, a Fort Lauderdale attorney and lobbyist who recently was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Caldwell, a North Fort Myers real-estate appraiser who has been part of the Republican leadership of the state House, differed on almost every issue, including their approaches to strengthen the “Do Not Call” list.

DeFede jokingly said stopping the “annoying” phone calls would be the key to winning the statewide contest.

Caldwell said the agency needs to investigate and prosecute “scam artists” and suggested the agency set up a system so people can immediately text the agency from their cellphones the numbers of telemarketers.

“It’s really about time,” Caldwell said. “As soon as they give you the call, reporting that and getting that investigation away immediately, that’s going to improve the chances that we can track them down through the internet to where they’re hiding.”

Fried, a former attorney with the Alachua County Public Defender’s Office, agreed with Caldwell that improving technology and quickly starting investigations is needed. But she said the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services must also provide more consumer services.

“When individuals actually are calling in and complaining about these things, there is no one on the other line,” Fried said. “So, one of the other things, when I’m in office, is to reprioritize the consumer services of this job to make sure there is someone actually on the other line to answer these complaints.”

Fried, who was a registered lobbyist this year for the marijuana operator San Felasco Nurseries, faced stiffer questioning about her stances on the separate issues of moving the state’s oversight of medical marijuana from the Department of Health to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and her criticism that the Putnam-run agency has been too cozy with the National Rifle Association.

Putnam, a Republican, has drawn Democratic criticism, in part, for a past statement that he was a proud NRA “sellout.” The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is in charge of issuing concealed-weapons licenses.

Fried said she is “beholden” to patients who need medical marijuana, not the industry that she has represented and has supported her campaign. She pointed to criticism that the GOP-dominated Legislature has not properly carried out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in the state.

“My campaign is supported by many people, including over 1,000 individuals, who have given campaign contributions, who believe that they deserve access,” Fried said. “Seventy-two percent of our citizens voted for medical marijuana, and the Legislature and the governor’s office continues to put up roadblocks.”

Caldwell, who is endorsed by the NRA, said he’d “let the voters” decide who Fried is beholden to, while noting he co-sponsored a bill in 2014 — commonly known as the “Charlotte’s Web” bill — that legalized limited types of non-euphoric medical cannabis.

However, Caldwell was put on the defensive as discussion turned to a 2016 water bill and problems with toxic algae and red tide that have plagued waterways and coastal areas in Southeast and Southwest Florida.

Fried said water legislation by Caldwell “gutted” Department of Environmental Protection regulations and has played a key role in degrading the state’s environment.

Caldwell, who has been a point man for the Republican-dominated House on water issues, said his measures require farmers to implement “the most cutting-edge technology” related to the use of phosphates and didn’t roll back any water quality standards.

One of the state’s key water issues has involved polluted water being released from Lake Okeechobee and going into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, helping lead to algae in waterways.

DeFede asked if the 2016 bill — which included issues such as extending the deadline related to nutrients flowing into Lake Okeechobee and limiting responsibilities for water-management districts on water supplies — “kicked that problem down the road.”

Caldwell replied that “the original bill was to develop a plan for how you’re going to solve Lake Okeechobee” and that his legislation drew bipartisan support.

“Lake Okeechobee is going to be the biggest problem to solve,” Caldwell continued. “It’s got 100 years of inputs, muck just sitting at the bottom of the lake. That’s a much larger question than how we’re going to reconfigure the flood control system.”

After Fried retorted that Caldwell’s Southwest Florida district is suffering from the water-quality problems, Caldwell said people are misrepresenting the issue for political gain.

“This is why this problem didn’t get addressed for 20 years. It’s why I ran for the House,” Caldwell said. “People are misrepresenting what the situation is. People are trying to utilize this bad situation to make political gains, rather than focusing on solutions, rather than bringing people together.”

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Agriculture industry hit hard by hurricane

The timber, poultry, peanut, dairy, cotton, tomato and aquaculture industries across the Panhandle have been “devastated” by Hurricane Michael, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Thursday.

“At least 3 million acres of timber were impacted by the storm and numerous other commodities suffered severe damage,” Putnam said in a news release, which added the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services continues to assess damages from the Category 4 storm that rushed through the Panhandle on Wednesday.

The release said Putnam and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black updated Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on the storm’s impact Thursday.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Utilities, state prepare for hurricane strike

Gov. Rick Scott and electric utilities say they are poised for a quick response to Hurricane Michael, which officials say could be the strongest storm to hit the Panhandle in decades, causing life-threatening storm surge and putting some areas in the dark for more than a week.

As rains from the powerful storm started to reach the Panhandle on Tuesday afternoon, about 15,000 workers lined up by Gulf Power, Duke Energy Florida, Florida Power & Light and public utilities have been positioned to respond to anticipated widespread outages.

The companies and the Florida Municipal Electric Association also reported having at least 2,000 more workers from companies throughout the South and as far away as Texas, Nebraska and Indiana.

“We train year-round for these types of scenarios,” Gulf Power spokesman Gordon Paulus said in a statement. “That training and developing of skills has really paid off in helping us quickly and safely get our customers’ power back on.”

Paulus said crews from the Pensacola-based utility restored power to 26,000 customers in less than two days of Tropical Storm Gordon in September. But Paulus added that Michael is expected to be much stronger and outages are expected to extend more than a few days.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get our utilities to share resources, to share materials, whatever the needs are,” Scott said Tuesday afternoon.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor, said his city’s utility has called in “six times” its normal staffing through mutual-aid agreements with other utilities.

“Folks are ready from the government side, but we need our citizens to also be ready,” said Gillum.

In 2016, Scott clashed with Gillum over the city’s response to Hurricane Hermine.

In a lesson learned from Hermine, Gillum said city and Leon County officials met Monday with neighborhood leaders about keeping an eye on vulnerable residents.

“We had not done that before,” Gillum said. “My city was not practiced for about 30 years before Hurricane Hermine.”

Michael has the potential to be the strongest storm in the region since Hurricane Eloise swept across Bay County in September 1975 with 110 mph winds.

Hurricane Opal carried 100 mph winds when it hit Pensacola Beach in October 1995. Hurricane Ivan made landfall near Gulf Shores, Ala., at 105 mph in September 2004. And Hurricane Dennis was at 105 mph when it hit Santa Rosa Island in July 2005.

As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, Michael, the 13th named storm of the Atlantic season, was located about 335 miles south of Panama City, moving north at 12 mph with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph.

The latest forecast projected landfall Wednesday afternoon somewhere between Pensacola and Apalachicola as a Category 2 or Category 3 hurricane.

A storm-surge warning was in effect from the Okaloosa-Walton County Line to the Anclote River near Tarpon Springs, and a hurricane warning had been issued from the Alabama state line to the Suwannee River in Dixie County.

The AAA Auto Group reported that Michael isn’t expected to cause a “significant” spike in pump prices as its path remains east of most energy infrastructure such as oil rigs and refineries. But “long lines at gas stations in the Panhandle” have left at least some stations empty as fuel trucks rush to meet demand.

“Gasoline outages in the Panhandle are spotty, but not widespread,” said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins. “There continues to be plenty of fuel supply in the state, but getting a tanker truck to a gas station — before it runs out of fuel — can be a challenge during a time of such high demand.”

Scott dismissed reports of “widespread” fuel outages, while appearing Tuesday afternoon at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in Eastpoint.

“The state Emergency Response Team has been holding regular calls with the fuel industry and ports in Florida to ensure they can get gas to the area safely,” Scott said. “I was just on a call with them, and they’re working hard to make sure we keep getting gas in the state.”

Fuel deliveries will be suspended when winds reach 45 mph.

Tallahassee International Airport announced that flights would be suspended Wednesday, with commercial flights expected to resume at 8 a.m. Thursday.

Scott has activated 2,500 members of the Florida National Guard, while the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has 150 law enforcement officers positioned for search-and-rescue missions and the Florida Highway Patrol has 350 troopers in the region on 12-hour shifts as a response to the storm.

Scott has lifted tolls across the Panhandle to help with mandatory evacuations. Such evacuations been ordered for coastal and low-lying areas of Bay, Dixie, Franklin, Gulf, Jackson, Levy, Okaloosa, Wakulla and Walton counties. Voluntary evacuation orders have been issued for areas of Calhoun, Gadsden, Hernando, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Pasco, Santa Rosa and Taylor counties, according to the state Division of Emergency Management website.

Scott said he has discussed federal assistance with President Donald Trump, who was in Orlando on Monday to address a convention of police chiefs.

Trump on Tuesday signed a pre-landfall emergency declaration that ensures federal resources are available before and after the storm in the 35 counties where Scott declared state of emergency.

Trump also tweeted his own warning to Floridians on Tuesday.

“It is imperative that you heed the directions of your State and Local Officials. Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!” Trump tweeted just after noon.

“Hurricane on its way to the Florida Pan Handle with major elements arriving tomorrow,” Trump continued. “Could also hit, in later stage, parts of Georgia, and unfortunately North Carolina, and South Carolina, again… …Looks to be a Cat. 3 which is even more intense than Florence. Good news is, the folks in the Pan Handle can take care of anything. @fema and First Responders are ready – be prepared!”

The misspelling of Panhandle was Trump’s.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam noted the Florida Forest Service has three “chainsaw strike teams” ready to respond, along with a team mobilizing to support urban search-and-rescue operations.

Putnam’s department also reported more than 500,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture meals, and at least 20 truckloads of ice, would be available for shelters after the storm.

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