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What did Florida consumers complain about the most in 2016?

Violations of the state’s “Do Not Call” list were the most common complaint this year to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The department released its “Top 10 complaints” list on Thursday. It’s the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, protection and information.

In addition, the department said it recovered more than $2.9 million for Florida consumers.

“We are dedicated to protecting Florida’s consumers, and I’m proud that we recovered nearly $3 million for Floridians this year,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a statement.

“Anyone can call our 1-800-HELP-FLA consumer hotline or visit FreshfromFlorida.com to file a complaint, find information about businesses and professionals and learn how to protect themselves from fraud and scams.”

The top 10 complaints were:

  1. Do Not Call –17,177
  2. Fuel/Petroleum – 1,763
  3. Communications – 1,644
  4. Landlord/Tenant – 1,536
  5. Motor Vehicle Repair – 1,447
  6. Cable – 1,313
  7. Medical – 1,281
  8. Motor Vehicle/Sales Accessories – 1,196
  9. Other/Miscellaneous – 1,001
  10. Travel/Vacation Plans – 943

The department received 38,470 complaints and responded to 186,526 calls, 11,627 emails and 13,782 online chats from consumers.

The call center is staffed with trained analysts who can respond to questions about programs and regulations under the department’s purview and provide information on a wide variety of topics or direct callers to the appropriate government agency.

Consumers who believe fraud has taken place can contact the department’s consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832).

Adam Putnam political committee brings in more than $2.3 million in 2016

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam raised more than $2 million in 2016, boosting his war chest ahead of a likely 2018 gubernatorial bid.

State records show Florida Grown, Putnam’s political committee, raised more than $2.3 million through Nov. 30. The committee has raised more than $6.3 million since February 2015, according to state campaign finance records.

Records show Florida Grown spent nearly $1.4 million in 2016, including at least $240,000 for political consulting and $51,450 for advertising and advertising design work.

Putnam is one of several Republicans pondering a 2018 gubernatorial bid. While he hasn’t formally announced his plans for 2018, many consider Putnam to be the man-to-beat in what will likely be a crowded Republican field.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford announced on Dec. 22 he decided against a 2018 bid, saying his role in the 2018 gubernatorial election “should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate.”

“My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to supporting Republican candidates that share my conservative convictions and can keep Florida headed in the right direction.”

But Weatherford is far from the only Republican considering hoping in the race. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is believed to be considering a run, and a recent Gravis Marketing poll conducted for the Orlando Political Observer tested how Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater and former Rep. David Jolly would fare on the ballot.

The field is expected to be just as crowded on the Democratic side. Former Rep. Gwen Graham, the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham; John Morgan, an Orlando trial attorney and top Democratic donor; Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer are all considering a run.

Will Weatherford’s timing off, but only for the moment

Like comedy, politics is most often all about timing. No one knows this better than Will Weatherford, who at the age of 26 rocketed from obscure legislative aide to Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives because of unanticipated, but perfectly placed, events (more about which in a moment).

Now, arguably, this once-rising star of the Republican Party has fallen victim to his breathtaking start. In short, two years after he surrendered the gavel as America’s youngest state House speaker, Weatherford has nowhere to go.

The man said so himself Thursday afternoon:

“While I’m compelled at some point to re-engage in the political arena, I just think the timing right now is not right,” he told the Miami Herald.

At least, nowhere to go that strikes him as being worth the harrowing trade-offs. Thus, shall Weatherford, not so long ago included in everybody’s lists of top politicians under the age of 40, apparently skip the inviting 2018 races, ostensibly to concentrate on business opportunities with brothers Drew and Sam, leadership development within the Florida Republican Party, and — most important — join his wife, the redoubtable Courtney Bense Weatherford, parenting their four young children in their Southern-Living designed neighborhood in Wesley Chapel.

It’s not like Weatherford’s preferences for 2018 haven’t been an enticing target. As recently as Thursday morning, “The Fix,” a Washington Post politics blog, listed him prominently among probable candidates for Florida’s open gubernatorial seat.

Now, despite having jammed his chin into the mix last summer — “Don’t count me out,” he said on the podcast hosted by fellow SaintPetersblog contributor Joe Henderson and me — Weatherford has audibled out, perhaps sensing the defense was stacked against him.

He would, of course, be right. By training — he was a Jacksonville University linebacker — and instinct, Weatherford knows when a play won’t go.

Polk County’s Adam Putnam, the Agriculture Commissioner and presumed GOP frontrunner, opens with better name recognition, a wider base of contributors and the advantage of having twice won — handily — statewide races.

Moreover, if he has flaws, they are less obvious than those of Bill McCollum, the last Central Florida GOP frontrunner in a race for an open governor’s seat. And Weatherford lacks Rick Scott’s self-funding prowess.

Ah, yes. Rick Scott. And his enormous pile of campaign cash left over from 2014.

If he didn’t seek the Governor’s Mansion, conventional wisdom went, Weatherford surely would chase the Republican nomination to sideline Democrat Bill Nelson, Florida’s senior U.S. senator. Republicans had to like the prospects of a Weatherford-Nelson tussle, which would have contrasted the challenger’s youth and conservative bona fides against the septuagenarian representative of an increasingly hard-left partly

But there’s Scott, the two-time governor and early ally of President-elect Donald Trump — whom Weatherford prominently opposed — who’s widely rumored to be angling for a shot at Nelson. And did I mention his enormous pile of leftover campaign cash?

So here is Weatherford, still just 37, deciding to bide his time. Yes, his announcement Thursday cited specifically only the contest for governor, but there was a blanket nature to it as well:

“My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business. I look forward to supporting Republican candidates that share my conservative convictions and can keep Florida headed in the right direction.”

Show of hands. Who else detects the careful phrasing of someone who has spent the last two years learning about how to invest?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that the arc of Weatherford’s political career has, to now, suggested, if not impatience, then at least alacrity.

After all, things fell just so to get him launched: Then-Gov. Charlie Crist nominated state Rep. Ken Littlefield to the Public Service Commission after the ballots were printed in 2006, leaving the Pasco County Republican Party to identify Littlefield’s stand-in and successor.

Several prominent east Pasco volunteers were passed over in favor of Weatherford, who grew up the oldest of nine children in Land O’ Lakes but, with college and assorted jobs in the Legislature, hadn’t lived in the district in years.

On the other hand, he had the benefit of being Speaker Allan Bense’s top lieutenant and son-in-law. One thing led to another and — badda-bing — there was Weatherford, winning election under Littlefield’s name one day and rounding up the commitments from fellow House freshmen to become speaker-designate-designate-designate the next.

So fast. So very, very fast.

Still, the Sunshine State politician to whom Weatherford has most often been compared — Marco Rubio, Florida’s once-and-still junior U.S. senator — learned a tough lesson about being a young man in a hurry earlier this year. Sitting out 2018 might well mean Weatherford spent the autumn channeling Yogi Berra, who famously noted “You can observe a lot just by watching.”

So, 2018 isn’t Weatherford’s time. That doesn’t mean his time won’t come.

Will Weatherford’s decision enhances, not removes, future options

I think Will Weatherford’s just-announced decision not to run for governor in 2018 merely delays the inevitable. I believe he will be Florida’s governor eventually, and that will be a good thing.

Weatherford, the Land O’Lakes Republican, is a smart, articulate, center-right conservative in the Jeb Bush tradition. He has a strong legislative resume, including a turn as House Speaker. At age 37, he also is young enough that he can afford to wait eight years, which is another way of saying “Merry Christmas, Adam Putnam.”

The sea certainly does seem to be parting among Republicans for Putnam to make his move on the governor’s mansion. Florida CFO Jeff Atwater has shown no appetite for the job. Attorney General Pam Bondi is more likely targeted for a job in Washington.

Weatherford would have been a formidable challenger, but says his top concern right now is family.

He has four children – the oldest is 8, the youngest is 2. Last year he and his brothers Drew and Sam launched Weatherford Partners, a venture capital group, and serves as managing partner. Tellingly, he did not fall into the Republican conga line in the presidential race. He said he did not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

His decision to sit out the governor’s race this time removes a lot of drama, for sure. Weatherford and Putnam are pals, but so were Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and we saw how that went.

If Weatherford had gotten into the race, it could have gotten bloody for Republicans. Having two candidates as strong and well-known as Putnam and Weatherford could have split the party, but what this does is increase the likelihood of a Putnam coronation for the nomination.

It allows Putnam to stay low-key for the next year or so, stockpiling cash and support while waiting for the Democrat slugfest between Gwen Graham (assuming her husband’s prostate cancer doesn’t worsen) and possibly Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Weatherford can campaign now for Putnam, and wouldn’t a photo of the two of them together on a platform make for a mighty fine poster for Republicans?

Weatherford will need to find a way to stay in the public eye. As he saw with Jeb Bush, sitting on the sidelines for too long in politics means someone else is getting all the headlines. A cabinet job or gubernatorial appointment to a public post could both keep him in the news and allow him to tend to family matters.

Deciding for now to wait doesn’t remove Weatherford’s options. If anything, it enhances them. If his aim is to one day sit in the governor’s chair – and, really, why wouldn’t it be – then stepping back now doesn’t hurt his chances one bit.

Will Weatherford opts out of 2018 gubernatorial bid

Will Weatherford is taking a pass on 2018.

The former House Speaker said Thursday he won’t run for governor in two years, saying his role in the 2018 gubernatorial election “should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate.”

“My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to supporting Republican candidates that share my conservative convictions and can keep Florida headed in the right direction.”

First elected to the Florida House in 2006, Weatherford quickly rose to a leadership. He was selected to serve as House Speaker for the 2012-14 legislative session, during which time he was one of the youngest Speakers in the country.

He used his time in office to advocate for education reform, lower taxes and free-market health care. And in 2014, he led the charge to push through legislation that allowed children of immigrants in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities.

Weatherford left the public sector at the end of his term in 2014, choosing to spend more time with his growing family. He and his wife, Courtney, have four children — Ella Kate, Molly, Madelyn, and William, who was born in September 2014.

But almost as soon as he left office, the chatter began about his next step. He was often mentioned as a potential 2018 contender, and earlier this year indicated he was considering a run.

“I tell people I’m not running towards it, but I’m not running away from it,” he told the Tampa Bay Times in May. “I’m really focused on our company and our business. My guess is sometime after the election I’ll have to make a decision internally.”

Weatherford is the managing partner of Weatherford Partners, a venture capital and consulting firm he founded with his brothers, Sam and Drew.

“For Will, I know this was not an easy decision to make, but it’s a decision that is right for him at this juncture in life,” said Alan Bense, a former House Speaker and Weatherford’s father-in-law, in a statement. “I have no doubt that when the time is right for him and his family, Will will answer Florida’s call and return to public service. His core conservative principles are rock solid and his commitment to doing what’s right – even when unpopular – will never go out of style.”

Bense continued: “Florida’s loss is our family’s gain. We enjoy the time we spend with Will, Courtney, and their four wonderful children. I look forward to seeing what’s in store for Will down the road.”

A supporter of former Gov. Jeb Bush, Weatherford was an often outspoken critic of then-candidate Donald Trump. He has said didn’t vote for Trump, called the president-elect a divisive figure, and has indicated the negative tone of recent elections doesn’t appeal to him.

Weatherford is one of the first potential Republican contenders to make his 2018 plans known, and Republican leaders said they were disappointed he decided against a run.

“He’s a fine young man,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican. “I would have looked forward to supporting him.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is largely believed to be preparing for a gubernatorial bid, raising nearly $6.4 million for his political committee since February 2015. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has also been mentioned as a possible 2018 contender.

On Thursday, Putnam said Weatherford’s “passion (for) giving all Floridians the (opportunity) to fulfill their God given potential is matched only by (his) devotion to family.”

“(Will Weatherford) was a great Speaker for Floridians,” tweeted Putnam shortly after Weatherford’s announcement. “His voice will always be heard by people seeking serious solutions to challenges.”

The 2018 is expected to be hotly contested on both sides of the aisle. Several Democrats — including Gwen Graham, the one-term congresswoman and daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham; John Morgan, an Orlando trial attorney and top Democratic donor; and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn — are considering a run.

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Husband’s cancer is a factor in Gwen Graham’s decision to run for governor

Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham says she wants to run for governor, and she plans to run for governor. But there’s one very important factor that’s weighing on her decision: her husband has cancer.

“Every part of me wants to run for governor, that’s what I feel passionate about, that’s what I know I need to do for the state of Florida, but things happen in life that could take me off that path. I hope not,” Graham said Wednesday evening while conducting her last “work day” as a congresswoman — helping sell Christmas trees at an outdoor stand.

The work days were a signature of her father Bob Graham‘s time as Florida governor and a U.S. senator. Like her father, she spends time experiencing different jobs as a way to reach out to constituents and voters.

She decided not to seek a second term in Congress after the Florida Supreme Court ordered new congressional districts be drawn so that don’t favor incumbents or political parties. Graham’s district became far more Republican and she decided to explore a 2018 run for governor rather than risk re-election.

She sounded a lot like a candidate when talking with reporters outside the Christmas tree stand, saying she plans to campaign in all 67 counties and discussing her campaign strategy. But she said she’s waiting to see how treatment progresses on her husband Steve Hurm‘s prostate cancer.

“He absolutely wants me to run. He’s very supportive of that and I couldn’t do it without him by my side,” she said. “I wouldn’t do it without him by my side.”

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is leaving office in 2019 due to term limits. Among other Democrats believed to be considering a run are Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and trial lawyer John Morgan. Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is also considering a run.

The Republican Governors Association is already preparing for a potential Graham candidacy, wasting little time after this year’s election to begin attacking Graham in news releases. The association called Graham “just another Washington politician.” Graham hadn’t held elected office before winning her House seat two years ago.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

In Jacksonville, Adam Putnam talks energy independence, technology, and transportation

On Thursday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam spoke in Jacksonville, capping off an event at the North Florida TPO.

After a discussion by local leaders on advancing technology in the sector, including electric buses and autonomous vehicles, Putnam spoke of the unique challenges Northeast Florida will face via rapid growth.

Putnam said that local transportation advances “personified disruption,” with the potential to “turn the [sector] on its head.”

“When these things start to happen, they happen quickly,” Putnam said.

Putnam lauded Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority for converting vehicles to clean energy as well, before pivoting into remarks about the “generational shift” related to driving habits and the cities of the future.

Kids today, Putnam said, aren’t as yoked to vehicle ownership as generations in the past.

Despite this shift, congestion is a statewide impact, Putnam noted, along with lack of infrastructure.

These issues affect commuters, but they also affect businesses reliant on infrastructure to make their margins.

Congestion: a “quality of life impediment and a drag on the economy.”

Putnam speculated on a big federal infrastructure bill, urging that “Florida gets its fair share,” and adding that there is “no better time than to be investing in infrastructure projects.”

Northeast Florida, said Putnam, is a model for the rest of the state.

The “revolutionary” shift in oil and natural gas production in the last decade domestically has helped Florida.

“We have established North American energy independence,” Putnam said. “It’s a new dynamic.”

To capitalize on that, specifically relative to natural gas, the infrastructure — from pipelines to ports — is imperative.

Regarding post-Panamax ships, Putnam noted “they’re only going to stop here if there’s something to put back on that boat.”

“Northeast Florida is uniquely positioned to take advantage of that renaissance in manufacturing,” Putnam said, and “can be that hub of activity for energy development, port and trade business, and energy storage.”

Disruption was a recurrent theme in Putnam’s remarks, which also posited that the increased demand for STEM jobs will be an economic driver.

“We need an economy and an education system that prepares talent for those career tracks,” Putnam said.

However, said Putnam, there is an “angst” for those such as truck drivers, fleet maintenance workers, and so on.

Technology advancements require people to become “adaptive and agile,” which can be difficult for workers who are displaced.

However, said Putnam, attention to “workforce development” will help to mitigate the effects of unavoidable changes.

Adam Putnam to give transportation speech in Jacksonville Thursday

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam will be back in Jacksonville on Thursday, giving a transportation speech.

Putnam will be the keynote speaker for an event co-presented by the JAX Chamber, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization.

“Clean, Smart and Mobile: The Convergence of Transportation, Energy and Technology” will address how technology is improving transportation in and between Florida cities, with updates on local projects on offer.

The event, held at the North Florida TPO, kicks off at 8:30 a.m.

JTA will have two familiar names speaking: CEO Nat Ford and Brad Thoburn, the Vice President of Planning, Development and Innovation for the transportation authority.

JTA has one high-profile technological project that is transforming morning commutes for some: the First Coast Flyer, an express bus powered by compressed natural gas, just opened its “Blue Line” earlier this month.

The Blue Line, combined with the Green Line, connects far-flung areas of town: the new Armsdale Park-n-Ride lot on the Northside all the way to the Avenues Mall on the Southside.

The $57 million project will have routes citywide by 2019.

Additionally, JTA is working toward a pilot program involving autonomous vehicles

Also speaking at the Thursday event: North Florida TPO Director Jeff Sheffield.

Andrew Gillum is “real deal” for governor, supporters say

The push to draft Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum to run for governor has picked up two more supporters.

Mayor Lauren Poe of Gainesville and Mayor Eric Jones of West Park hopped on the bandwagon Thursday.

Gillum, a 37-year-old Democrat, has been the capital’s mayor since 2014. He first was a city commissioner, the youngest person ever elected to that body.

“As mayors from across the state of Florida, we know the importance of having a governor who understands the needs of our cities,” Poe and Jones, both Democrats, said in a joint statement. “We believe that Mayor Andrew Gillum’s nearly 14 years of local government experience will be a huge asset as the next governor of our state.

“We have admired Andrew’s innovative, inspired and forward-looking leadership,” they said. “He created a jobs program to help young people find quality work, and he has developed unique ways to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start businesses.

“Under his leadership, Tallahassee was named one of the top cities nationwide to receive designation as a TechHire community by President Obama’s White House, allowing residents to train for the jobs of tomorrow’s economy,” the mayors added. “In short, Mayor Andrew Gillum is the real deal.”

The jockeying for the 2018 governor’s race already has begun; current GOP Gov. Rick Scott is term-limited.

On the Democratic side, outgoing Congresswoman Gwen Graham, also of Tallahassee, has announced she is considering running. Other names mentioned include Democratic mayors Bob Buckhorn of Tampa and Philip Levine of Miami Beach.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam so far is the most likely Republican candidate to announce a run for 2018.

Gillum’s star has been rising steadily, especially after disclosures that his name was on a short list to be running mate to then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

He also flirted with running for the newly redrawn, Democrat-heavy 5th Congressional District that stretches from Jacksonville to Gainesville. But Gillum stayed out of the race, and former state lawmaker Al Lawson, another Democrat, won the seat.

Email Insights: Republican Governors Association takes aim at Gwen Graham

The 2018 gubernatorial race has officially begun — even though none of the likely candidates have filed paperwork to run.

In an email Thursday, the Republican Governors Association blasted outgoing Rep. Gwen Graham, one of several Democrats considering a 2018 run. The association said Graham’s office hasn’t responded to Freedom of Information Act requests made by the Republican Governors Association.

According to documents provided by the Republican Governors Association, the organization requested all documents related to Graham Companies, real estate and development projects in Florida, and the “American Dream Project” in Miami. The request was made in October; and in an email Thursday, the RGA said the documents would “give voters valuable insight into how she conducts her congressional office.”

“When it comes to transparency, Gwen Graham says one thing, but does another. Graham says she believes that Florida families deserve full transparency, but as her actions have demonstrated, she only believes in full transparency until it could impact her quest for political power,” said Jon Thompson, the director of communications for the Republican Governors Association, in a statement. “Graham should immediately release her congressional records so that Florida voters know exactly how she was using her influence as a Washington politician to benefit her political ambitions.”

Graham has resigned from the board and said Thursday she has no involvement in the project mentioned in the FOIA request.

“As the RGA probably already knows, I voluntarily resigned from the company’s board when I was elected to Congress, and I have no involvement with this project,” she said in a statement. “We are 23 months away from the Governor’s election in Florida, and there will be plenty of time for the RGA to engage in this petty nonsense and partisan attacks. For the rest of 2016, I’m focused on finishing the job I was elected to do and then enjoying the holiday season with my family. I recommend the folks at the RGA do the same.”

She continued: “So here’s some advice for the DC crowd from a mother: Turn off your Twitter accounts and your press release machines for a few weeks; go spend time with your family, visit friends, check out some museums, read a book, and join the rest of our great nation in spending a few weeks without the nonstop vitriolic back and forth of Washington type politics.”

The Freedom of Information Act doesn’t apply to Congress. According to a March 2016 article in Government Executive, correspondence between members of Congress and individuals, and draft bills are protected and considered private.

Thompson acknowledged in an email to FloridaPolitics.com on Thursday that the “law does not require” Graham to release the records the RGA is requesting. However, he said the group feels that “as someone running for governor, who consistently talks a big game on transparency, she would want to release these records so that FL voters know exactly what she was communicating to her colleagues and business interests.”

Graham is one of several Democrats believed to be pondering a run for governor in 2018. The North Florida congresswoman did not run for re-election, and is wrapping up her first term in the U.S. House. Earlier this week, WFSU reported that, during her final floor speech recently, Graham said she was fortunate to grow up in a “family dedicated to public service.”

According to WFSU, she went on to say she “never planned to follow in my father’s footsteps into politics. But as, as our country became more divided, my thoughts began to change.” Graham is the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham.

In April, she told Florida Politics that she realized her heart and her head are leading her “toward running for governor.” She stopped short of actually announcing, though has dropped hints about her intentions along the way. In October, she told a packed crowd at the weekly “Café Con Tampa” lecture series that she will “run a 67-county strategy” if she runs.

If she does decide to run, she could face a crowded field Democratic field. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine are all believed to be considering a run. John Morgan has said he is weighing his options, after a group of South Florida politicos started a petition drive to draft him for governor. And a group of Democratic college students recently started their own petition in hopes of convincing Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum to throw his hat in the race.

On the Republican side, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is believed to be gearing up for his own gubernatorial bid.

__Tallahassee-based reporter Jim Rosica contributed to this report.

 

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