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medical marijuana

Some Florida Republicans AWOL on talking about Amendment 2

Florida Republican leaders have been conspicuously quiet about where they stand on Amendment 2, the ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana.

“I think a lot of people are being quiet about it because they assume it’s going to pass and they don’t want to be on the wrong side,” incoming Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Latvala said last week about the relative scarcity of GOP leaders opposed to the measure.

After speaking with Latvala, reached out last week to four leading Republicans in Florida to determine where they stand on the issue, but five days later, only incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran responded to our entreaty.

“In 2014, the Florida House passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act that eventually became law,” Corcoran emailed Florida Politics. “The law created a strict regime for dispensing non-smoked low-THC cannabis to patients who had run out of traditional pain management options. I believe that Amendment 2 is both unnecessary and is merely a steppingstone in the full legalization playbook. The law in place strikes a balance between compassion and control and poses no danger to our kids and grandkids.”

In addition to Corcoran, this reporter also reached out to incoming Senate President Joe Negron, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

This is the second consecutive statewide election with the issue of medical marijuana on the ballot.

In 2014, the measure received over 57 percent support at the polls, short of the 60 percent required for a citizen’s led initiative to pass. Nearly every respected poll published this year shows the measure getting over the required threshold, though the polls were also favorable at this time two years ago.

Latvala took a beating on his Facebook page when he announced his opposition in September, but the Clearwater Republican said it actually demonstrated his political courage.

“To get involved in something’s that winning over 70 percent of the vote is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “It takes a little bit of courage to get involved in an issue where it looks like you’re losing.”

Many, if not most, Republicans opposed the measure in 2014, but some have come on board this year, including Tampa Bay area Republicans Jeff Brandes and Dana Young.

While some lawmakers like Corcoran says the law previously passed by the Legislature serves its purpose, critics note it also limits the growing and distribution of marijuana to just six nursery owners in the state.

“The Legislature screwed up the opportunity in the medical marijuana law,” says Brandes. “What you’ve seen them do is create a situation where only a handful of families can get wealthy.”

The measure also is getting more buy-in from the editorial boards of some of the state’s biggest newspapers. In the past two days, three newspapers — the Florida Times-Union, the News Herald of Panama City, and the Ft. Myers News-Press — have all urged their readers to vote “yes” on the proposal. All three papers’ editorial boards had opposed Amendment 2 in 2014.

The Orlando Sentinel came out with an editorial opposing the measure, saying: “It’s the right policy, but the constitution is the wrong place to do it.”

What to make of House candidate Jackie Toledo?

jackie toledo 1Jackie Toledo, the oft-controversial Republican running for Florida House District 60, has a major fundraiser planned for Tuesday.

And while the invitation for the event is studded with dozens of local Republican heavyweights, I’m still not sure what to make of Toledo.

Is she, as I want to believe, the latest in a line of Hillsborough Republican female pols who were initially underestimated by their critics and the media (think Sandy Murman during her stint in the Florida House)?

Or is Toledo, as La Gaceta’s Patrick Manteiga will tell you, a Tampa Bay version of Michele Bachmann (I guess that would make Toledo the second coming of Ronda Storms)?

Toledo had a rocky entry into electoral politics, making a series of errors (forced and unforced) during her 2015 bid for the Tampa City Council.

During that campaign, the Tampa Bay Times reported her campaign was using an image photography experts said consisted of her photo superimposed on Mayor Bob Buckhorn‘s official portrait and that she used video shot without permission on a Florida Department of Transportation construction site in a campaign commercial.

Those miscues barely rose to the level of a misdemeanor, but when a political action committee that attacked her opponents appeared to have connections to her campaign consultant, Anthony Pedicini, the first-time candidate would not be given a second chance to make a first impression.

“The ugliness wasn’t just in the mail,” wrote Manteiga in March 2015. “The campaign was rotten in every aspect … You name it; it happened in this race.”

When Toledo announced she was running for House District 60, most of the state and local Republican establishment lined up behind her primary opponent, Rebecca Smith.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced support for Smith in August, three days after she met with the two at a speech Putnam gave in South Tampa.

But, by almost all accounts of what happened in the HD 60 primary, Toledo feverishly outworked her opponent. Like the other pols mentioned above — Murman, Storms, etc. — Toledo put together a campaign team of dedicated volunteers, pounded on doors, and just out-hustled her opponent.

Toledo also has done her best to avoid talking to the local media, which her camp believes is predisposed against her. She skipped a Tiger Bay appearance. She does not respond to inquiries from this website’s reporters.

“Jackie is too busy being a mother, wife, volunteer, small-business owner, and community advocate to play … childish games,” Toledo spokesperson Ryan Wiggins told in September. “Her focus is on serving the people of District 60 and winning an election, not winning headlines in a political blog.”

Like I said, it’s unclear what to make of Toledo.

My impression is that she’s smart and sharp, but insular and slightly paranoid of outside political forces.

The best thing she probably has going for her campaign is that winning the HD 60 seat is a priority of Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran.

Corcoran, along with state Sens. Jeff Brandes and Jack Latvala, and Reps. Danny Burgess, James Grant, Chris Latvala, and Chris Sprowls, among others, are hosting a high-profile fundraiser supporting Toledo this Tuesday at the Columbia Café in Tampa.

The Democrats have recruited an excellent candidate in David Singer, although Singer can sometimes sound a tad aloof, as if he has better things to do than raise money for his campaign.

Singer has raised just over $115,000 through Sept. 16, spending more than $40,000, while Toledo has banked over $155,000 during the same period, not including a $25,000 loan, and spent nearly $167,000.

With Corcoran and the Florida GOP machine behind her — and Pedicini, who is on a hot streak, probably helping from afar (perhaps through an outside vehicle) — it’s likely Toledo will hold HD 60 for the Republicans.

I just don’t know what kind of lawmaker Toledo will make.

AIF postpones annual conference ahead of Hurricane Matthew

The 2016 Associated Industries of Florida annual conference has been postponed, organizers announced Tuesday.

The annual conference was scheduled to kick off Wednesday at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel in Orlando. The two-day event was expected to give AIF members a chance to hear from state leaders and discuss issues important to the business community.

However, AIF announced Tuesday it was postponing the conference after hurricane watches were issued for parts of Florida.

“The governor has declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties in Florida, and while AIF is fully hopeful that the worst of the storm will remain offshore in the Atlantic, there’s appropriate concern about serious threats to portions of Florida involving wind, rain, flooding, and related infrastructure, health and welfare concerns,” a spokeswoman for the organization said in an email.

Scheduled speakers included Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Rick Scott, CFO Jeff Atwater, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Majority Leader Bill Galvano, and Blaise Ingoglia, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and a state representative.


Rick Scott’s goal for final years in office: ‘Jobs, and then jobs, and then jobs’

For Gov. Rick Scott, Florida’s future priorities are the same as they are today — jobs, jobs, jobs.

The Naples Republican was one of the keynote speakers at the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Future of Florida Forum in Orlando on Thursday. The governor used his speech to not only pump up his proposal to set aside $85 million for economic incentives, but also to talk about the need to create a business-friendly environment and grow jobs.

“My goal for the last 830 days is jobs, and jobs, and then jobs, and then jobs,” he said. “It’s the most important thing for a family.”

The governor ran on a jobs platform in 2010, and has remained laser-focused on job creation during his time in office. The state created nearly 1.2 million private sector jobs since December 2010, and Scott said those job gains are due in part to cuts in taxes and business regulations.

But Scott said a focus on education and public safety also has helped boost job creation.

“When I get out of office, I want people to say ‘my business has to be in Florida, because I know I can serve my customer better if I’m in Florida. I have to be in Florida because I can get a good-paying job. I have to be in Florida because my children have a better chance of living the dream of this country,’” he said. “If we’re going to continue the successes we have, we have to be more aggressive.”

Scott was one of several speakers during the 2016 Future of Florida Forum. Attorney General Pam Bondi and CFO Jeff Atwater also spoke Thursday, while Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was the keynote speaker on Wednesday.

The annual event is meant to give elected officials and business leaders a chance to discuss plans for Florida’s future.

While the event focuses more on policy than politics, Scott did encourage attendees to stay politically active.

“When you think about your time every day, you’re busy with your business life, you’re busy with your jobs, but you have to be politically active,” he said. “You have to say ‘we’ve got to get the right people elected,’ because if you don’t, what we’ve accomplished in the last six years will end.”

Adam Putnam: Florida ‘can be the jumping-off point for the American Dream’

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has a theory.

Some of the most talented people in the world are going to end up in Florida at some point in their lives. He just wants that to be sooner, rather than later.

“I want Florida to be more than the prize for a life well lived, of success accumulated someplace else,” said Putnam during the 2016 Future of Florida Forum Wednesday. “We can be the jumping-off point for the American Dream; the place where those dreams incubate, grow, develop, and explode into something bigger.”

To do that, the state should continue to focus on long-term investments in water and education, both critical to the future of Florida.

Putnam said recent water legislation was a step in the right direction, but said the state needs to “build on that success.” The state, he said, will face a one billion-gallon-a-day shortage by 2030, and lawmakers need to apply the same principles to water as they have for other aspects impacted by Florida’s growth.

“As Floridians, we’ve internalized the price of progress, the cost of growth. We’ve internalized they’re expensive, but we need them and we expect them,” he said. “We have a transportation plan … the same thing has to be applied to water infrastructure.”

Aging infrastructure could cost the state billions over the next 20 years, leaving state and local officials to figure out how to pay for the improvements. Last week, Frank Bernardino, a consultant with Anfield Consulting, estimated it could cost $48.7 billion over 20 years to address infrastructure.

And while the focus of water discussions often centers around the Everglades, Putnam said “Florida’s water issues are not limited to the Everglades.”

“Pinellas County can’t use Tampa Bay as their back-up sewage treatment plant,” said Putnam. “If (Pinellas County) can’t afford to make those improvements, how are Hendry and Glades County (going to afford it)?”

But water — which Putnam described as “Florida’s golden goose” — is just part of the equation. Putnam said the state has to keep focusing on education. While the system has changed substantially in recent years, Putnam said there needs to be as much of a focus on career training and workforce development as higher education.

“There is nothing wrong with a dual-track approach to higher education in Florida,” he said. “A dual focus of workforce development and higher education, the elite and the highly accessible, will transform Florida’s economy.”

Putnam helped kick off the Florida Chamber Foundation’s 2016 Future of Florida Forum. The annual event gives elected officials and business leaders a chance to discuss how to prepare for Florida’s future.

The 20-minute address had the feel of a stump speech, as Putnam touched on everything from economic development and workforce needs, to agriculture and growth. Putnam is widely believed to be considering a 2018 gubernatorial run, and has been a frequent speaker at Florida Chamber events across the state.

The forum, which coincides with the Enterprise Florida board of directors meeting, continues Thursday. Gov. Rick Scott, CFO Jeff Atwater, and Attorney General Pam Bondi are all expected to speak.

Rick Scott headed to D.C. to talk Zika next week

The trip is back on.

Gov. Rick Scott will head to Washington D.C., next week to push for Zika funding. The governor’s office said Scott will travel to the nation’s capital on Sept. 13 and 14.

The Naples Republican was scheduled to travel to D.C. earlier this week to meet with members of Congress and ask them to immediately pass a Zika funding package. He postponed the trip to stay in Tallahassee to monitor Hurricane Hermine recovery efforts.

The trip comes one week after the Senate failed to pass a $1.1 billion bill to help combat the spread of Zika.

There were 756 cases of Zika in Florida as of Friday. According to the Department of Health, 56 of those cases were locally transmitted. The DOH reported 84 cases involved pregnant women. Health officials believe ongoing transmissions are only taking place in small areas of two communities, Wynwood and Miami Beach, in Miami-Dade County.

And that’s where the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services found another mosquito sample that tested positive for Zika. This marks the second time this month the department has detected mosquitoes carrying Zika.

“The fact that we have identified a fourth Zika-positive mosquito pool in Miami Beach serves as further confirmation that we must continue our proactive and aggressive approach to controlling the mosquito population, including our recent decision to begin aerial spraying in combination with larvicide treatment by truck,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez in a statement. “We will continue to work in close collaboration with the health and environmental experts and the City of Miami Beach to keep our community safe from the Zika virus.”

Much like the first three positive mosquito samples announced earlier this month, this sample was collected in Miami Beach.


State leaders sign off on Florida primary results

The results of Florida’s Aug. 30 primary election are now final.

The state Elections Canvassing Commission — comprising Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam  took less than two minutes to certify the results Thursday morning.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner presided over the meeting in the state Capitol. Scott, Bondi, and Putnam participated by telephone. Scott was spending the morning clearing debris Hurricane Hermine left in Tallahassee’s streets.

If the process seemed perfunctory, it was done in the interest of transparency, Detzner said.

“If someone comes and has a question or wants to have a discussion about how the results were captured, we’re happy to answer those questions,” he said. “Transparency and public access to the final part of certifying the election we think are important.”

Detzner predicted voters would flock to the polls during the Nov. 8 general election.

“We anticipate as much as 80 percent turnout,” he said. “I think the highest number in the state of Florida was 1992 — it was 82 percent. But I’m looking for a very, very large turnout.”

He expects a smooth election, as well.

“I’m confident that the supervisors [of elections] are prepared. We want to make Florida an example to the nation and the world that we know how to run elections here,” Detzner said.

There was one glitch during the primaries — Broward County released some returns before the voting was final. Detzner referred the matter to local prosecutors.

“I have not heard any follow-up from the state’s attorney’s office,” he said.

Mistakes on vote-by-mail ballots appear to be on the decline, Detzner said. Still, he urged voters to be careful.

“If they are mailing their ballots in, make sure they sign them, make sure they fill them out, make sure they put a stamp on them and put them in [the envelope].”

Mail-in ballots and early voting are extremely popular with Floridians, he said.

“They really, really like it. Some counties set records, as a matter of fact, during the primary for early voting and mail ballot voting.”

Florida finds Zika in trapped mosquitoes, 1st in US mainland

Authorities in Florida said Thursday they have found the Zika virus in three groups of trapped mosquitoes in Miami Beach, the first time this has happened in the continental US.

The Zika-carrying mosquitoes were trapped in a touristy 1.5-square-mile area of Miami Beach that had been identified as an active zone of active transmission of the virus, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said in a news release.

“This find is disappointing, but not surprising,” Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said. “Florida is among the best in the nation when it comes to mosquito surveillance and control, and this detection enables us to continue to effectively target our resources.”

Finding the virus in mosquitoes has been likened by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to finding a needle in a haystack, but the testing helps mosquito controllers target their efforts, and it confirms that the insects are indeed a mode of transmission as suspected. The illness spreads from people to mosquitoes to people again through bites, but the insects do not spread the disease among their own population, and their lifespan is just a few weeks.

Since July, authorities have linked a couple dozen cases to transmission in small areas of Miami’s Wynwood district and the popular South Beach neighborhood of Miami Beach. Other isolated cases not linked to travel outside the U.S. also have been confirmed elsewhere in Miami-Dade county, as well as in neighboring counties and in the Tampa Bay area, totaling 47 for the state.

Putnam said Miami-Dade County, the City of Miami Beach, and state and federal partners are continuing to work aggressively to prevent the spread of Zika.

The agency says Miami-Dade County’s Mosquito Control team will continue to conduct inspections to reduce mosquito breeding and perform spraying around in a 1/8-mile radius around the area where the infected batches of mosquitoes were trapped.

Officials said 95 more mosquito samples – each one containing several dozen bugs – tested negative since those three were found. Intensive trapping and testing is continuing across the region.

“As it has been from the beginning, our goal is to eliminate the cycle of transmission by eliminating the mosquitoes,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez said in the news release.

Gwen Graham says she gets part of Donald Trump’s appeal

Gwen Graham cut short her trip to Tampa Thursday, returning to Tallahassee to contend with Tropical Storm Hermine, which is expected to make landfall as a hurricane by early Friday in North Florida.

The Tallahassee-based Democratic representative, already considered a leading candidate to run for governor in 2018, has been hobnobbing around the state this week. She appeared at a campaign phone bank with New Port Richey state Rep. Amanda Murphy on Wednesday before attending a house party for Hillary Clinton supporters at a private residence in Tampa. She had been scheduled to visit MacDill Air Force Base on Thursday with Kathy Castor, as well as meet up with Rod Smith in Gainesville. Both of those events were canceled, however, with the storm approaching.

Ideologically speaking, Graham is considered a centrist, and she definitely made a statement shortly after she was elected to serve in Washington in early 2015 when Graham voted against Nancy Pelosi’s election as House Minority Leader, a promise she made while campaigning against Republican Steve Southerland. Graham paints that vote as less a statement against Pelosi, and more for a change of leadership Washington.

“I believe — and this has been confirmed — that we need new leadership in the House of Representatives for Democrats and Republicans,” Graham said on Wednesday.

“The Republicans have brought in Paul Ryan, and I think it would be a very positive effect, not only on the Democrats in Congress but also in encouraging other people to want to enter into elected office, to have new, fresh leadership for the House of Representatives,” Graham said, adding that she never intended it to be criticism of the San Francisco Democrat, who she praised for becoming the first female Speaker of the House.

And while Graham’s an ardent Democrat supporting Clinton for president, she says she understands part of the appeal of Donald Trump, who remains extremely competitive in Florida, despite the fact that he has had only one campaign office in the entire state (and despite reports that he would soon open up two dozen offices, which has yet to happen).

“Mr. Trump has been able to tap into a frustration and disappointment in some areas in the way that our government is functioning, and in that respect, I don’t disagree with him,” she says. “He is a symptom of what I see at times, which is that people don’t put those that you’re elected to serve first, and when you allow partisanship to stand in the way of getting things done, then people have a rightful reason and a rightful frustration about government. I hope this is a wake-up call to those who take more of an ideological position when they’re making decisions that it’s time to get back to really governing again.”

Graham’s Democratic Party bonafides are most prominent when talking about the environment, as she rains down criticism on Rick Scott’s leadership — or lack thereof. She says if she ran the state government, she would add scientists and conservationists to water management boards around the state, and not political appointees.

On Monday, Scott announced he had selected Miami attorney and Bacardi Family Foundation board member Federico Fernandez to fill a space on the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Fernandez would replace Sandy Batchelor, a Charlie Crist appointee in 2010 who was reappointed by Scott to a four-year term in 2012. Batchelor has a master’s degree in forest conservation, and was coincidentally the lone board member this year to oppose tax cuts advocated by Scott.

“I don’t think that’s someone who actually has the expertise to be making water quality decisions,” Graham, said, adding that she agrees with recent comments by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam that water was Florida’s most important element of its economy, but didn’t believe that his, nor Governor’s Scott’s, actual water policies indicate that’s really the case.

“I don’t think you can say in one breath that you believe that water is most important for the economy in Florida, and then support something that does the complete opposite,” she said, referring specifically to the state’s Environmental Regulation Commission vote to approve a proposal by state regulators that would impose new standards on 39 chemicals not currently regulated by the state, and change the regulations on 43 other chemicals.

In July, Graham called on Scott to hold a special session to deal with the toxic algae bloom that had just then begun to engulf South Florida. In that letter, she said that in her discussions with local stakeholders, she learned the problem was the nutrient-rich stormwater runoff that flows from central Florida into Lake Okeechobee.

Scott will be coming to Washington next week, and Graham says she wants to work with him in addressing water quality in Florida as well as the growing issues with the Zika virus.

“I look forward to working hand-in-hand from a federal perspective, in building the bridges and relationships with those in the federal government that would allow us to hopefully move forward and get additional funding” for Zika.

state fair

Personnel note: Cheryl Flood is new State Fair director

Cheryl Flood will move from interim to full-time director of the Florida State Fair effective immediately, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Tuesday.


Flood also had worked for Putnam when he was a congressman representing the state’s 12th Congressional District from 2001-11.

“Cheryl’s passion for the Florida State Fair’s mission and drive to see it succeed is unrivaled,” Putnam said. “I have the utmost confidence in her experience and ability to continue to make the Florida State Fair the best in the country.”

Flood also worked for then-Congressman Putnam as district director and was promoted to deputy chief of staff, according to the release.

She was a legislative assistant before joining the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 2002 as assistant director of legislative affairs, according to a news release.

Putnam left Congress in 2011 when he took over as Ag Commissioner, and Flood became the department’s director of external affairs.

Flood is a fifth-generation Floridian who “grew up on a cattle ranch east of Lake Wales and has dedicated her career to promoting agriculture,” the release said.

She graduated from the University of Florida’s Agricultural Leadership Education program with minors in Agribusiness Management and Sales, Agricultural Law, and Agriculture and Natural Resources Ethics and Policy.

The fair is held every year at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa; the next one is Feb. 9-20. Beginning in 1904, the event now attracts a half-million visitors.

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