Andrew Gillum – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Philip Levine, Gwen Graham close in new poll

A new poll produced by the research organization Let’s Preserve the American Dream finds the Democratic gubernatorial race tight between Philip Levine and Gwen Graham, with newcomer Jeff Greene having a lot of ground to make up.

The poll was privately circulated June 12 by Ryan Tyson, vice president of political operations for the Associated Industries of Florida. Tyson also led the polling for the Let’s Preserve group, which has surveyed the race for two years.

This latest poll, taken June 6-9, shows Levine, the former Miami Beach mayor, with 24 percent of likely Democratic voters; former Congresswoman Graham with 21 percent; Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum with 11 percent; and Orlando businessman Chris King with 4 percent.

Greene, who filed to run June 1, received 3 percent. Thirty-seven percent of Democrats were undecided.

In a cover memo, Tyson noted that while Levine has a much wider lead in other polls, a comparison of internals, demographic samples, convince him that “this race is as close as the top lines suggest.”

In particular, the Let’s Preserve poll heavily sampled women voters — 58 percent of the survey group — taking in account the high female turnouts of the past two Democratic primary elections.

The Democratic gubernatorial primary may be the most competitive Florida has seen in a very long time, Tyson said.

“This one has not been given the attention it deserves,” he added. “It’s historic.”

The poll was conducted June 5-9 with 800 likely Democratic voters in Florida and high percentage [52 percent] over cellphones; it cites a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent, meaning Levine and Graham were essentially tied.

At that time, Levine and King were the only ones heavily advertising on television. King had just begun airing TV ads only a couple of weeks earlier; Greene had been in the race only a few days and hadn’t yet begun campaigning.

Graham launched her first TV commercial on June 6.

Polling also found that Graham and Levine were the only Democratic candidates to have cracked 50 percent in name identification, and are the only ones with significant favorability ratios.

Levine, who has been on TV since January, has a 69 percent name ID and a 43-5 percent ratio of favorable to unfavorable opinions among the Democrats surveyed.

Nevertheless, 21 percent have no opinion of the former mayor.

In contrast, Graham has a 38-6 percent ratio of favorable to unfavorable, with 17 percent having no opinion of her. Gillum’s ratios were 24-8 percent, with 17 percent offering no opinion; King is at 16-5 percent, with 19 percent having no opinion. Greene is 8-6 percent, with 19 percent having no opinion.

This leaves much room for potential movement in those numbers before the August 28 primary, as the report points out.

“The fun has just begun in this primary,” Tyson remarked. “Levine is up, but Graham has cash and is communicating. Now a supposed self-funder [Greene] is in and if he does begin to spend, who will he take from?

“Expect some changes in this one as spending really starts to ramp up.”

Jeff Greene preparing to launch Governor’s race ad blitz, with education on his mind

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene is getting ready to reintroduce himself to Floridians with his first round of TV commercials starting next week.

And while he’s remaining coy on the content, the Palm Beach billionaire real estate investor is making it clear that public education reform is at the top of his list of issues.

Greene, who filed for the race June 1, has just ten weeks until the August 28 Democratic primary to do what no Democrat has done in more than a year of campaigning (at least according to polls showing a substantial undecided pool): distinguish himself from the pack.

He’s intent on doing so, he said, by convincing voters that it’s not just about a Democrat winning in November, but about a Democrat having the ability to turn things around in Tallahassee.

“It’s all well and good to say I have good ideas. You have to be able to get things done. The way I look at this election, for me, this is like an eighteen-wheeler moving down the highway, you know, pretty high-speed. It’s basically the Republican governors and the Republican-controlled Legislature that has sat in Tallahassee for a long, long, time,” Greene said in a lengthy interview with Florida Politics Friday afternoon.

“What that truck has done, is it has dismantled a lot of things I’m talking about. It has not been focused on upward mobility for people who are kind of behind the eight ball. It has not been focused on improving education, or taking care of people who need help from Tallahassee,” he continued. “So you need someone who can, number one, jam the brakes on that truck, turn it around and start going the other way quickly.”

During the interview, Greene took mild, dismissive potshots at his Democratic rivals: Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park businessman Chris King, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham.

“When I stack my resume up against these other guys, you just don’t think, Andrew Gillum? He’s a perfectly nice guy,” Greene said. “But he’s in his 30s or something,” said the 63-year-old Greene. “He’s never been in the economy. He’s been a mayor. He has good ideas? I don’t know. I don’t really believe that he, or Chris King, or any of them really have the ability, the skill set to go into something as complex as an $88 billion budget in the state of Florida and turn all of these things around in a big way.”

Greene repeatedly pointed to details of his life story, starting from a childhood of modest means, and how his opportunities for quality education helped make him a successful real estate investor and developer, and a very wealthy man, to demonstrate his work ethic, empathy with people struggling to make ends meet, the root of his goal for Florida education, and a demonstration that he can succeed.

“Do I want to stack up my resume alongside the resumes of Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, Chris King, and Philip Levine?” he said. “All day long.”

He laughed when reminded that Gov. Rick Scott offered a similar rags-to-riches life story when he, like Greene, ran an outsider campaign.

Greene offered some respect toward Scott, saying he works hard for what he believes, but also took some fairly respectful shots at the Republican, suggesting that his Republican priorities have been all wrong for Florida, and are only working for wealthy people such as Greene and Scott.

In contrast, Greene leveled blistering attacks on fellow billionaire-turned-politician President Donald Trump, Greene’s neighbor in Palm Beach, calling him a “narcissistic, egocentric, cheap guy,” and declaring he can’t wait to fight with him on issues.

Greene’s is a fledgling campaign, still bringing on consultants and not disclosing most of them yet. After a silent first week, he only began going public this week with public appearances and media interviews.

The Florida Politics interview was by phone from his Palm Beach office.

The TV commercials start next week, with promises of a “robust digital strategy” to go along with them.

Greene, who spent $24 million of his own money on his failed run for the U.S. Senate in 2010, said he’s willing to contribute his own money again because he and his wife Mei Sze Greene already have committed to donating billions of dollars to charity. As long as they’re doing so, he said he’s convinced he can make the most difference for people as governor, so what’s a few tens of millions more?

Previous reports have quoted Greene as saying he’s willing to spend up to $200 million of his own money. But Friday, he dismissed that figure as perhaps a flip answer, and certainly both far beyond necessary and probably pragmatically impossible anyway, considering how short the campaign will be.

Yet Greene plans to almost entirely self-fund his campaign, as he did in 2010. He said he does not want to be accepting donations from anyone who might come back thinking they were holding IOUs, a scenario he accused Scott of following and Levine of risking. Greene said he might open up to small donations, perhaps with a $100 maximum, so that people can participate.

“I’ll spend as little as I have to, but we will spend whatever it takes,” he said Friday.

Greene begins his life story by describing his education, and it seems that is where his campaign will start.

In 1970 his father’s business, selling machine equipment to textile mills throughout New England, went bust when the entire New England textile industry went bust. The family’s middle-class lifestyle vanished. His parents moved from Worcester, Mass., to West Palm Beach to start over, and never really recovered back to middle class. But even then, Greene said, Florida’s schools were considered “not that great,” while Massachusetts schools were found among the best.

So, a 15-year-old Greene was left to live with an elderly great-aunt, to finish high school. That got him into Johns Hopkins University, which led to Harvard Business School.

Almost fifty years later, he said, he can’t believe that Florida’s schools still rank among the nation’s lowest quartile in spending and quality. And on the flip side, Massachusetts is one of the nation’s hotbeds for 21st-century high-tech companies and venture capital investment, he said, while Florida is not.

[Levine, who also spent much of his childhood in Massachusetts and then became a successful and wealthy businessman has made the same argument.]

“To me, this is ridiculous,” Greene said. “How can a state, how can a people be that complacent where they would accept this level of failure in the most important thing of all, which is educating our children, providing them with the tools they need to succeed?”

Education is not a new top-priority for the Democrats. Graham, a former public schools counsel and PTA mom, has declared it her top priority throughout her campaign. Gillum has proposed a minimum $50,000 salary to attract quality teachers. Levine has proposed a $10,000-a-year pay hike for teachers.

King has laid out several education proposals, paid for in part by money saved from his plan to reduce prison incarceration.

Like King, Greene is proposing free community college. Like several candidates, including Republican Adam Putnam, he’s offering more vocational and technical education.

But Greene distinguishes between what he has in mind — technical education for 21st-century jobs — and what he said Putnam is considering, which he argues is technical education for existing jobs, something Greene predicts will be going away soon, in the next wave of technology.

Greene also seeks mandatory preschool early education for all 3- and 4-year-olds.

He pressed for an emphasis on making sure students can read by third grade. He said he would find ways to reintroduce arts, music, and other humanities education back into all the schools, arguing that such teaching is critical to making students want to learn and become well-rounded adults. He argued for early education in computer coding.

Greene is not opposed to standardized testing, saying its necessary to benchmark where students are, but he said he wants it rolled back. Teachers have to have the time and flexibility to teach, he said.

The state’s universities need to be improved to compete with the nation’s best, to be world-class, not just pretty good, Greene said.

But the priority must be on pre-K education, he insisted.

Greene cited a study on returns on investment in education: “Early childhood education, it’s like a 100 times return on investment, over universities,” he said.

Greene dismissed the notion that he has to figure out now how to pay for it all right now, contending there will be time for deep dives into the budgets to find the money. He said he’d seen studies suggesting that his preschool idea could cost $1 billion-$1.2 billion, which, without being specific yet, he said ought to be easily found in the state’s $88 billion annual budget. The rest of it is a matter of turning the truck around on Republican priorities, he suggested.

If the money can’t be found, Greene said, he would be open (as a last resort) to raising taxes on “the super rich” — like himself — to pay for education.

“We’re undertaxed,” he added.

“If the cost of being undertaxed is we are destroying the lives and not giving opportunities to our children, then perhaps we should look at that. I just don’t think that is the problem yet. We have to look at the low-hanging fruit first,” Greene continued.

“We’re not a poor state. We have a huge talent pool. People moving here all the time. All the retirees. It’s not like we’re a coal mining state where all the coal mines have closed. We’re a state that’s generally growing. We have more and more retirees, and more and more tourists and more and more people coming here. We have a vibrant economy, it [education] is just something we’ve not cared about.”

Jeff Greene: Father’s Day is a reminder of ‘inhumane’ immigration policies

Jeff Greene, a billionaire developer from Palm Beach and the newest Democratic option for Governor, is using the upcoming Father’s Day holiday to call for an end to the Donald Trump administration’s practice of separating migrant children from their parents at the border.

In a statement Saturday, Greene said the policies are “inhumane.” He framed that conclusion as one arrived at while reflecting on paternity.

Greene, who is married with three children, called his family “the greatest gifts I have ever received.” That acknowledgment, he said, brings him to realize a “stark contrast between my family’s own joy and the indescribable heartache being felt by those families on our country’s southern border.”

Recently published national stories focused largely on how frequently children are separated from adults near the border under the zero-tolerance, hardline immigration policy of detaining immigrants ahead of scheduled court dates. Some news outlets reported that close to 2,000 children were separated from adults over a six-week period, those figures are based on data from the Department of Homeland Security.

“No matter where you are from, the language you speak, religion you practice, or the color of your skin, families are families and people are people — yet they are not being treated as such,” Greene said. “Under the guise of being tough, the Trump administration has proven to be despicable, heartless, and inhumane.”  

Greene said “respect” is the “backbone of our United States,” and the immigration practices at the border are “spineless.”

In being critical of Trump-backed decisions, the newly minted candidate is distancing himself from the President, whose Mar-a-Lago getaway is just doors away from Greene’s Palm Beach residence.

Greene also is staking claim to a viewpoint on immigration that is primed to be polarizing for candidates who make it to November. On the Republican side of the gubernatorial race, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam released an ad this week in which a popular Republican sheriff extols his faith in Putnam’s ability to crackdown on immigration. But Putnam’s primary opponent, Congressman Ron DeSantis, has nicknamed the Commissioner “Amnesty Adam.”  

Meanwhile, other Democrats in the Governor’s race undoubtedly would align with Greene’s comments. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum even tweeted an almost identical sentiment on Saturday.

But to Greene, the issue should transcend party lines: “Democrats or Republicans, we are all Americans — and we cannot stand for this. I will not be silent, and neither should you. As Governor, I will do everything in my power to end reprehensible policies such as these,” he said.

And in Florida, as Greene suggests, the stories of immigrant children have resonated with politicians across the aisle. Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who’s competing against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate seat on the ballot, told Florida Politics’ A.G. Gancarski on Friday that “Your heart goes out to these families that are struggling with these issues. It shows you how messed up our immigration policy is, that these things are happening.”

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Closer look at November

Who cares? And what do they care about?

Those were two very telling — but perhaps overlooked — questions recently surveyed by the Florida Chamber. By determining how voters feel about the state’s direction and what tops their list of priorities before they head to the ballots, the Chamber’s latest poll helps to inform guesswork ahead of the midterm election, when Florida will elect a U.S. Senator, Governor, Cabinet and a slew of other positions.

Gun issues, the chamber found, have taken a back seat compared to results of an April poll in which gun-related concerns topped the list of statewide voter priorities. Currently, “jobs and the economy” rank first, topping the list for 14 percent of voters, followed by “education” at 13 percent and “gun issues” at 10 percent.

Another telling survey item gauged whether voters believe Florida is on the right or wrong track. The question is a strong predictor of voter turnout.

At the state level, Republicans are in control. This meshed well with how Republican voters feel about the state’s direction. An overwhelming majority (roughly 76 percent) answered “right track,” while just 10 percent felt the Sunshine State is heading in the wrong direction and 11 percent were unsure.

On the other hand, 50 percent of Democratic voters answered “wrong track,” while 29 percent felt the state is headed in the right direction; 17 percent were unsure.

Meanwhile, independent voters overall had a more positive interpretation of the state’s direction than Democrats. More than half answered “right direction,” 27 percent answered “wrong direction,” and 18 percent were unsure.

In total, around 52 percent of respondents felt the state was headed in the right direction. Just 30 percent believe the state is on the wrong track; 17 percent are unsure.

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

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

Take 5

Scott rebuts report on debris removal — Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has refuted suggestions that it steered contracts to companies to remove debris in areas especially hard-hit by Hurricane Irma. A CBS4 investigative report this week showed two companies, which submitted emergency debris removal bids at the request of the state, invoiced more than $43 million for their post-Irma services. The report claims that similar companies already under contract could’ve done the same work for $13 million. Scott responded to the report, saying the emergency services were needed: “It’s easy for these vendors to look back and say they would have shown up and completed the work for cheaper, but in the days following the storm, they were clearly overleveraged and did not have the people or equipment to fulfill their commitments. I will never let special interests get in the way of storm recovery. We sent additional resources to get the job done for a community that needed help and given a choice; I would do the same thing again.”

Putnam downplays missed background checks — Following a Florida Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam responded to questions about a Tampa Bay Times report published last week showing that an employee under his supervision failed to use a background check system (one of a few) required for some Floridians who wish to obtain a concealed-carry license. The Commissioner told reporters that “public safety was not at risk” and that none of the 291 permit holders who have since had their licenses revoked were arrested during the lapse. The initial Times report found that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) went unused for a little more than a year in 2016-17 because an employee could not log in to the system. Putnam’s office has told the public that only 365 applications would’ve required use of the NICS, because two other databases are used for most applicants. When asked how applicants got by without further review, Putnam said, “It was a thing that happens to anybody with a computer: She (referring to the former employee) emailed I.T. and said, ‘my password isn’t working.’ They emailed her back with instructions on how to fix the problem. By her own admission, she dropped the ball.”

Amendments face uphill battle — A poll conducted by the Florida Chamber shows that, as of now, only a few proposed revisions to the state’s Constitution could pass in November. Of the 13 ideas primed for the ballot, just four met the 60 percent voter approval threshold needed to pass an amendment, although many surveyed voters were “unsure” of each proposition. The amendments with enough support currently, per the poll, include: Amendment 1, which would increase the state’s homestead exemption on property taxes; Amendment 3, which would give voters sole discretion on future gambling expansion; Amendment 7, which would extend death benefits to families of military and first responders killed on duty; and Amendment 8, which would impose school board term limits and let the state establish schools without school board approval.

Horrible’ citrus season ends — The United States Department of Agriculture this week forecast Florida citrus production for the 2017-2018 season will be its lowest since World War II. The USDA estimates Florida is on track to wrap its season with 44.95 million boxes of oranges, its premier citrus crop. Before Hurricane Irma, a storm that authorities described as “lethal” to citrus groves, private estimates expected Florida growers to produce 75 million boxes of oranges. Each box weighs 90 pounds. “This brings a very difficult citrus season to a close,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus. “We look forward to a quiet, resilient season in the fall.” The silver lining for Florida farmers awaits federal action. A federally funded $2.36 billion disaster package and a $340 million block grant are expected to dramatically mitigate losses incurred by Hurricane Irma.

Troubled nursing home gets small victory — The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where 12 residents died during a power outage that followed Hurricane Irma, won a small dispute in court this week after a judge ruled the state must provide requested death records to the Broward County nursing home for “a reasonable fee.” The ruling comes after the Rehabilitation Center was asked to pay $5 each for paper records of the nearly 6,000 deaths that occurred across the state at the same time, reports Michael Moline for Florida Politics. The nursing home requested the records in the hopes of establishing that its staff acted reasonably in declining to evacuate residents before Hurricane Irma swept through the state.

Cabinet reaches conservation easement milestone

With the recent approval of more than 8,300 acres purchased through a unique conservation easement program, the Florida Cabinet is touting a more than 1,000-percent increase in acres preserved under three sitting members of the Cabinet who’ve been at their posts since 2011.

Those members include Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Current Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis replaced the former CFO Jeff Atwater, who was elected in 2011 and 2014.

Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet marks an easement record.

The easement program, known as the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, is a cooperative between the state and local ranchers that seeks to preserve active agriculture ops and the environmental benefits they offer. On Wednesday, the Cabinet surpassed 50,000 acres of protected land through 45 easements in total since Scott and most of the Cabinet took office.

“We must continue to prioritize the conservation of our agricultural lands and world-renowned natural spaces,” said Commissioner Putnam. “Through the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, we partner with farmers and ranchers to preserve the invaluable pieces of our rural economy and environment to help preserve what makes Florida such a special place to live.”

Wednesday’s approved easements include Goolsby Ranch in Highlands County, Howze Ranch in Manatee County, Sampala Lake Ranch in Madison County and Rodman Plantation in Putnam County.

Instagram of the week 

Nominate an ‘Agriculture Woman of the Year’

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam is accepting nominations for the 2018 “Woman of the Year in Agriculture” award, which recognizes women in all areas of the industry who have made outstanding contributions to Florida agriculture.

Dr. Martha Rhodes Roberts, 2017 Woman of the Year in Florida Agriculture. Nominations for 2018 are now open.

Nominations can be sent by mail to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Plaza Level 10, The Capitol, 400 S Monroe St., Tallahassee FL 32399-0800. By fax, 850-617-7744. Or email to Clay.Hollis@FreshFromFlorida.com.

More information about the “Woman of the Year in Agriculture” award and past award winners can be found at FreshFromFlorida.com.

The deadline for submitting nominations is July 31.

Patronis highlights AOB abuse arrest

As lawmakers and elected officials target abuse of assignment of benefits, or AOB, Chief Financial Officer Patronis is spreading the word that those that engage in the form of insurance fraud could face severe criminal penalties.

In a news release this week, Patronis drew attention to the case of Timothy Matthew Cox, who arrested earlier this month for an AOB fraud scheme that impacted 19 homeowners in eight counties across Florida and in one Texas County. Cox owns Nationwide Catastrophe Services and Restoration Response Services, which he allegedly used to pocket almost $140,000 for unfinished home repairs needed after natural disasters.

Jimmy Patronis highlights the crackdown on AOB abuse.

“Criminals who prey on Florida families after a hurricane or tropical storm are some of the worst we see,” Patronis said. “This type of fraud has skyrocketed and impacts all Florida consumers.”

Per the news release, the Bureau of Insurance Fraud — overseen by Patronis — found that “Cox pressured homeowners to sign an AOB contract to have damages repaired.” But, “after receiving the insurance payments, Cox’s team never started any of the work they were contracted to perform.”

And according to Patronis, Cox’ case may not be an isolated one: “With more than 100 ongoing investigations statewide, we are coming for anyone who takes advantage of our residents during vulnerable times.”

The Week in Appointments

Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority

Luz Weinberg and Leonard Boord were appointed this week to serve terms ending April 6, 2022. Weinberg, 46, of Miami, is the CEO of GlobComm, LLC, and is a graduate of Florida International University. She succeeds Cliff Waters. Boord, 57, of Miami, founded Slon Capital. He currently serves on the Florida International University Board of Trustees.

Hernando County Board of County Commissioners John Mitten will serve during the suspension of Commissioner Nicholas Nicholson for a term ending Nov. 16, 2020.

Broward College District Board of Trustees

Matthew Caldwell, not to be confused with the state Representative from Lehigh Acres, will serve a term that began June 14 and ends May 31, 2022. He is the president and CEO of Florida Panthers Hockey Club. Caldwell currently serves on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club.

Women’s Hall of Fame

Adela Hernandez Gonzmart, Janet Petro and Lee Bird Leavengood were inducted Thursday by Gov. Scott. Gonzmart, (1920-2001), helped manage “The Columbia” — the oldest restaurant in Florida — and was a community advocate who helped co-found the Latino Scholarship Fund at the University of South Florida. Petro, 58, has worked as a commissioned officer and helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army and was the first female Deputy in the history of John F. Kennedy Space Center. Leavengood, 89, has a long history of contributing work to the University of South Florida. She championed the creation of the University of South Florida’s Division of Senior programs, now known as the Osher Lifelong Learning Center.

FDLE upgrades alert system

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says it updated its AMBER and Missing Child Alert Public Notification System this week.

Using what’s called an Everbridge platform, people can now receive AMBER and Missing Child Alerts through text messages as well as email. In the coming months, citizens will also be able to sign up to receive alerts through voice calls, TDD/TTY messaging, and through mobile device apps.

Known for its work during Hurricane Irma, the Everbridge platform will soon be handling AMBER Alerts.

To use the new system, however, they must create an Everbridge account (click here). Current subscribers will continue to receive email alerts, but to access the additional functions, an Everbridge account is needed.

Everbridge will use your email and phone numbers to send Florida AMBER and Missing Child Alert notifications only. Information will not be sold or distributed. Everbridge is used by government agencies to issue emergency alerts, like severe weather warnings, nationally and in Florida.

FWC to meet in Sarasota

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will meet June 19-20 at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, 1000 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota. Meetings both days are open to the public.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. and the public will be provided opportunities to speak on agenda items each day. The Commission will also provide time for public comment on subjects not on the agenda at the end of the first day. Those who wish to offer comments during this period will be asked to make sure their comments are not related to any agenda item.

For the full June 19-20 agenda and links to background reports, go to MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings.”

Those who can’t attend can follow coverage at Twitter.com/MyFWC (@MyFWC) and join the conversation by using the #FWC2018 hashtag. Check the Florida Channel for possible live video coverage at TheFloridaChannel.org.

FWC: Don’t forget about dive flags

For some counties along the Gulf Coast, the annual quest for bay scallops begins today.

But before Floridians jump into the water, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants them to hoist their dive flags, which signal to nearby boaters that there are divers down below or at the surface.

“Displaying and understanding what constitutes a proper divers-down symbol are critical,” said Capt. Tom Shipp of FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section. “These safety devices are meant to alert boaters to the presence of people under the water’s surface and to give them plenty of room.”

The iconic red rectangle with a white diagonal stripe must be displayed via a flag on a vessel or a buoy in the water. Each must be at least a foot in length and width if presented from the water, and at least 20 inches by 24 inches and flown at the highest point of a vessel if used in flag form.

Vessels are instructed to stay at least 100 feet from a flag when maneuvering through rivers, channels and inlets, and at least 300 feet from a flag in open waters. Divers, unsurprisingly, are asked to remain within the same boundaries of their flag.

Scallop season begins in Dixie County and a portion of Taylor County today and lasts through Sept. 10. In Franklin, Levy, Citrus, Hernando and the Northwest portion of Taylor County, the season begins July 1 and continues through Sept. 24. Pasco County’s season starts July 20 and ends July 29, and Gulf County’s season takes place Aug. 17 through Sept. 30.

Lawmakers ask for legislative action amid background check report

Politicians across the state chimed in with criticism following a Tampa Bay Times report that showed the Florida Department of Agriculture failed to use one of a few background check tools for more than a year.

A few Democratic state legislators have taken that criticism a step further and are calling for legislative action in the wake of the report.

Linda Stewart calls for action in the background check snafu.

State Sens. Linda Stewart of Orlando and Kevin Rader of Delray Beach penned a letter to Senate President Joe Negron requesting the creation of “a special select committee under Senate Rule 1.5 ‘to provide the measure of full transparency the public demands from their elected officials.’”

Rader, who is vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees the Department of Agriculture, said he was not made aware of the issue during the 2018 Legislative Session.

“Was it a cover-up?” Rader posited. “Was it a way to rubber stamp what they knew they had already done?”

Similarly, in the state House, Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz, whose district encompasses Parkland, wrote a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran asking him to convene the House Government Accountability Committee and the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee to address the report.

Miami Democrats chip in for new Coral Gables fire station

State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and state Rep. Nicholas X. Duran this week presented a $1.5 million check to the City of Coral Gables for the purchase of land required to build a much-needed new fire station.

Funding for the land purchase was secured during the 2018 Legislative Session. It will help Coral Gables take the first step toward constructing a fire station in Cartagena Park. Currently, traffic congestion has limited first responders’ access to the area.

Jose Javier Rodriguez and Nicholas X. Duran present $1.5 million to the City of Coral Gables.

“Ensuring and supporting the public’s safety is a top priority for the City of Coral Gables. Senator Rodriguez and I are proud to support added protection measures by continuing to work closely with our municipal partners,” Duran said in a prepared statement. “Efforts to secure increased safety and expand green space is undoubtedly a win for all residents.”

Following the land purchase, the city is expected to build its fourth fire station at the park, which connects to an 11-mile bike trail along Old Cutler Road. Per a news release, “The fire station will provide necessary supervision to the area as well as enhanced safety for all visitors enjoying this regional attraction.”

Dana Young delivers check to Redefining Refuge

A Lutz-based nonprofit that advocates for sexually exploited and trafficked youth got a visit this week from Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young, who arrived with a $500,000 check from the state in tow.

Dana Young awards $500K to a Lutz-based nonprofit that advocates for sexually exploited and trafficked youth.

“Redefining Refuge fights for women and children who have been victims of sexual abuse and works to end the domestic sex trafficking of minors,” Young said. “Redefining Refuge ensures those they serve receive the specialized care they need and deserve, providing fundamental needs, such as safety, shelter, clothing and food, as well as educational, psychological or emotional support.”

Redefining Refuge founder and director Natasha Nascimento thanked Young and the Legislature for the funds, which will help the nonprofit expand its suite of services for victims.

“This appropriation will truly have a significant impact on the women and children we serve, by allowing us to further our positive contribution to the lives of human trafficking victims by equipping and empowering them to build strong foundations for their futures,” she said.

Rene Garcia wants DACA fix ASAP

Hialeah Republican Sen. Rene Garcia used his platform at the Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairmen to call on Congress to pass permanent fixes for DACA, an Obama-era policy that protects from deportation young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Rene Garcia wants a DACA fix … now!

Garcia and the BHCC said they were in support of a proposal being pitched in Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients, known as “Dreamers,” alongside stricter border security laws. Garcia commended CD 26 U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo for helping push that permanent fix.

“DACA has been great for the U.S. economy and recipients are estimated to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to economic growth over the next decade. Congress must take a pragmatic approach in ensuring a path for Dreamers, while also strengthening our safety and enhancing border security,” Garcia said. “Through bipartisan compromise, Congress has an opportunity to find middle ground, push politics aside, and protect not just the Dreamers, but also all people who call the United States home.”

The alternative to that proposal, preferred by hard-line House conservatives, would give Dreamers temporary protection in exchange for ending rules that allow legal immigrants to sponsor their family members entry into the U.S., a practice derogatorily referred to as “chain migration.”

FSU Medicine among most selective schools

When prospective medical students apply to Florida State University’s College of Medicine, the odds are stacked against them.

Of the 7,200 FSU med-school applicants in 2018, just 120 were admitted. That’s a 2.6 percent acceptance rate, giving FSU the third spot in U.S. News and World Report’s list of medical schools with the lowest acceptance rates. The Mayo Clinic School of Medicine and Stanford University took the top two spots, respectively.

FSU College of Medicine Dean John P. Fogarty.

“We’re obviously pleased to see so much interest in this medical school and our unique, community-based and patient-centered approach, but we are even more excited about what a quality pool of applicants means in terms of helping us achieve our mission,” College of Medicine Dean John P. Fogarty said.

Moreover, while the med school may be selective, it boasts a diverse student population. The Class of 2022 includes 69 women and 51 men, as well as 15 black students and 15 Spanish, Hispanic or Latino students.

Those numbers make it among the top 10 for enrollment of both black and Hispanic students — the only school to do so within the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Career fairs for evacuees

Nineteen local workforce boards will host a statewide, construction industry-focused job fair beginning June 12 in cities and towns across Florida. The events bring together construction and related companies seeking to hire Floridians and individuals displaced by Hurricane Maria for a variety of high-paying jobs.

“Puerto Rico evacuees, veterans, Hispanics and other job-seeking Floridians are encouraged to attend,” said Julio Fuentes, President and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Julio Fuentes with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello.

Whether an entry-level laborer or a skilled engineer, hiring companies offer paid, on-the-job training, so applicants of all experience levels are welcome to apply. Additionally, Uber is providing discounted rates to all individuals traveling to and from the career fairs using discount code CAREERSOURCEFL.

Locations holding a one-day career fair between June 12 and July 11 include Bradenton, Clearwater, Crestview, Fort Myers, Fort Pierce, Jacksonville, Kissimmee, Lake City, Lauderdale Lakes, Madison, Milton, New Port Richey, Ocala, Rockledge, Stuart, Vero Beach and West Palm Beach. For dates and locations, click here.

FSU sports get props from Scott, Cabinet

At a Cabinet meeting this week, Gov. Scott and the Cabinet celebrated the long-term success of Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin and the newly cemented legacy of the Florida State softball squad with a pair of resolutions.

The one lauding the 2018 Seminoles softball team, fresh off winning their NCAA tournament, listed off accomplishments including their “do-or-die heroics” against Louisiana State in the Super Regional and their six-game run from the elimination bracket to their sweep of the University of Washington in the championship series.

Gov. Scott and the Cabinet honors Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin and legacy of the FSU softball squad with a pair of resolutions.

Individuals getting enshrined in the doc include WCWS Most Outstanding Player Jessie Warren, ACC Pitcher of the Year Kylee Hanson and the ACC Freshman of the Year Sydney Sherrill.

The resolution celebrating Martin recounted his first win for the ‘Noles, which came against rival Miami in 1980, before rattling off some of the most impressive stats among active NCAA baseball coaches — in his 39 seasons at the helm, FSU baseball has “won 1,987 games; scored 21,606 runs; recorded 21,623 strikeouts; hit 2,956 home runs and placed 49 former players in Major League Baseball,” the resolution said.

He also got a clap on the back for being the all-time winningest coach in NCAA baseball and having the second-best winning percentage in the record books.

Correction

Ed. Note — We misspelled the name of Collier County School Board and Constitution Revision Commission member Erika Donalds in last week’s Capitol Directions. We regret the error.

Capitol Directions

Philip Levine launches Spanish ad on schools in Orlando, Miami

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is launching a new Spanish-language television commercial Friday in Orlando and Miami highlighting his commitments to public education in Florida.

The 30-second spot, “Escuela,” [“School,”] shows shots in a classroom and Levine visiting with students as a narrator talks about Florida public schools being underfunded and teachers underpaid, and about Levine’s pledge to raise teachers’ salaries by $10,000.

Levine concludes the ad by promising, in Spanish, that he will “put our children first.”

Levine, former mayor of Miami Beach, is in an August 28 battle for the Democratic nomination with businessmen Chris King and Jeff Greene, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. The leading Republicans are Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

His campaign said the Miami and Orlando commercials are being backed b a five-figure ad buy.

“Funding public education is the greatest investment we can make in our future, and as Governor, I will reverse the trend of underfunding our schools and leaving our teachers underpaid and under-appreciated,” Levine stated in a news release. “If we want to build a competitive 21st-century economy that attracts the best and brightest, it starts with giving every child a chance to succeed, no matter their background or where they come from.”

Adam Putnam declares opposition to fracking in Florida

In a brief exchange with an volunteer for an anti-cracking group, Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam declared his opposition to fracking over the weekend.

“We don’t need to be fracking in Florida. Our geology, our limestone, we do not need to be fracking in Florida for oil and gas. It is just not the right spot,” Putnam is seen and heard saying in an exchange with anti-fracking volunteer Ginger Goepper, in a video released Wednesday by the Food & Water Action Fund.

Putnam’s campaign spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice said the statements “are consistent with his platform.”

The organization said the exchange took place at a Putnam campaign event in Sun City Center on Saturday, and was the first statement they’ve seen in which Putnam has declared opposition to fracking. The Food & Water Action Fund is an organization that is campaigning for the reduction of fossil fuel extraction and burning for energy in general, and against fracking in particular.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is an oil and gas extraction technique in which drillers inject high-pressure water and chemicals deep into the ground to fracture the rock and thereby provide the drillers better access to oil and gas reserves. It is not practiced in Florida but has been the topic of intense debate in the Florida Legislature and in local governments for several years. Last year Senate Bill 462, to ban fracking, made some advances but died in the Appropriations Committee. A similar bill in the House of Representatives died in infancy.

Opponents charge fracking risks contaminating groundwater, and they also charge it is the cause of unusual earthquakes hitting such states as Oklahoma and Ohio. The oil and gas industry disputes those risks and insist fracking is an effective and safe way to increase America’s domestic energy supplies.

All of the major Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew GillumChris King, and Jeff Greene, have come out in opposition to fracking.

“This is the first time we have heard Commissioner Putnam take a stance on fracking and as a major candidate for governor,  we are happy to see Commissioner Putnam take such a strong stance against the dangerous drilling practice,” the organization stated in a news release issued Wednesday.

“We hope Congressman [Ron] DeSantis [the other major Republican gubernatorial candidate] will stand with the other gubernatorial candidates in calling to protect Florida’s clean water and environment by banning fracking,” the release continued.

New Florida Majority endorses Andrew Gillum in governor’s race

The New Florida Majority, the progressive organization focused on racial justice that co-sponsored Monday’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates debate, has endorsed Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for governor.

The 501[c][4] organization‘s board unanimously ratified a committee decision to endorse Gillum Tuesday, a few hours after he, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King took part in the Florida Freedom Forum Gubernatorial Debate at the Miramar Cultural Center Monday night.

“We looked at the candidates, their answers to our survey and their performance at tonight’s debate and determined that Andrew Gillum is the leader Florida needs to guide the state towards a more equitable future,” NewFM Executive Director Andrea Mercado stated in a news release. “His performance today and his campaign so far has proven that he is willing to be bold and unapologetic in standing up for our communities.”

Gillum was the clear favorite among the Spanish and English speaking New Florida Majority endorsement committee who assembled Monday night, according to the organization’s press release.

Democrats play nicer in Freedom Forum debate

Four leading Democratic candidates actively running for Governor stopped taking shots at each other Monday night, instead saving their punches for Republican leadership, mainly on how they spend money from the Florida Lottery, affordable housing fund and land conservation fund.

During the third 2018 Democratic gubernatorial debate, a two-hour forum Monday at the Miramar Cultural Center, Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, and Chris King showed mostly unity as they went over the familiar ground on guns, affordable housing, marijuana legalization, education, the environment, and criminal justice reform.

They also got chances to discuss other topics — abortion, senior care, union support, and sanctuary cities — again, mostly in agreement (at least in broad terms, if not in details) of their plans.

For example, they all pledged to veto laws that would limit abortion; each supports a woman’s right to choose. In perhaps the only moment of light comedy, King described how his daughter had inspired him to declare, “Girl Power!”

Graham lifted her arms and bowed, saying: “I agree on the ‘girl power!'”

There were a few exceptions on the unity. Graham is the one candidate not committing to seeking legalization of marijuana. Levine opposes corporate tax hikes. King made it clear that he believes environmental improvements can only be addressed after eliminating the sugar industry’s influence.

The debate also was nearly entirely free of the explicit attacks launched back and forth in the first two, taking on Graham for her congressional record, Levine for his past political support, or Gillum for troubles in Tallahassee.

Gillum tried once early on, reminding the audience, without being specific, that someone on stage gave money to a Republican who sought to cut Planned Parenthood. Chris King declared it wasn’t him, and he and Gillum shared a bromance handshake. But Levine — they were talking about Levine — shook it off, decking a rebuttal, at that moment redirecting the debate away from Democrat-on-Democrat attacks. Each candidate was allowed only two rebuttals, but that turned out to be more than they needed over two hours and dozens of questions.

Perhaps the most swarming came as several questions led the quartet to discuss, and mostly agree upon, what to do with the Florida Forever Fund, intended for the purchase of conservation lands; The Sadowski Trust Fund, dedicated to promoting the development of affordable housing; and the Florida Lottery, which was set up to support public schools.

Each of the candidates pledged to end the transfers — Democrats call them raids — of money from those funds to other budgetary needs.

“In business, we call that embezzlement,” Levine said.

“To me, this is the issue that most inspired me to run for governor,” said King, whose companies build affordable housing.

“We ought to have citizens to get their own lawsuits to sue the state of Florida for not living up to its promise,” Gillum said. “That money was determined for this express purpose.”

There were no new policy announcements, and the candidates tried again to define themselves with themes.

King, the entrepreneur, declared all of his ideas to be big and bold. Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, pushed again the notion that he intends to represent the people who’ve not had a voice in Tallahassee. Levine reminded people repeatedly that he is the candidate who had taken on progressive changes, as mayor of Miami Beach.

Graham, the former congresswoman who more often defines herself as a one-time PTA mom, attempted a more soulful message.

“The soul of our country is under attack by Donald Trump. The soul of our state has been crushed by 20 years of one-party Republican rule in Tallahassee,” Graham said. “I am running to make sure that the soul of Florida is restored to the people of Florida.”

The four also took the chance to reiterate the anger they each had expressed Friday at the news that one of the leading Republicans running for Governor, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, had overseen a concealed weapons program that failed for more than a year to use a key federal database to do background checks on applicants. Putnam blamed a clerk: after discovering her practice, he said they rechecked all the appropriate permits.

The issue did not come up during the second debate, just two nights ago in Pinellas Park.

On Monday the four Democrats were not only unswayed by Putnam’s explanations, but they also accused him, variously, of a list of transgressions: throwing the clerk under the bus, not following the law, or bragging about how easy he had made it for people to obtain concealed weapons permits.

“Adam Putnam should resign, should resign immediately,” Graham stated flatly, renewing the call she first made Friday afternoon. “What happened in the state of Florida was under his watch. And so he is responsible for all the concealed weapons permits that were issued under his watch.”

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham

Gwen Graham raises more than $1M in May

Gwen Graham’s gubernatorial campaign said over the weekend that new campaign finance reports will show another banner month for the former congresswoman’s fundraising efforts.

The Graham team said it added more than $300,000 in contributions for the campaign and tacked on another $730,000-plus via Gwen Graham for Florida, an affiliated political committee.

The seven-figure haul, her second in a row, brings the North Florida Democrat’s total fundraising to nearly $8.5 million. The campaign said it started June with more than $5.5 million of that cash in the bank.

“This announcement is the icing on the cake of an extraordinary week for our campaign. We are on the air sharing our positive, progressive message, we gained national attention in Glamour magazine, we earned endorsements from Congressman Patrick Murphy and the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest union — and now we’re announcing another $1 million raised,” campaign manager Julia Woodward said.

“While another $1 million is huge, the number we’re most proud of is the 20,000 individual supporters who have given to our campaign. Gwen is building a real grassroots movement to end 20 years of one-party Republican rule and set our state straight.”

The campaign said those 20,000 individual donors, including 1,500 added last month, are the most of among the five major candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to replace Gov. Rick Scott in the fall.

Graham was the final Democratic candidate to announce May fundraising numbers.

Earlier this week, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said he brought in $1.3 million via contributions and added another $1.3 million of his own money for a combined haul of $2.6 million. He’s brought in $15 million to date.

Winter Park businessman Chris King said Thursday that his reports will show $78,661 raised and $400,000 in self-funding for a to-date total of $5.1 million, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum announced $361,750 in May receipts. He’s raised $3.4 million so far.

Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene joined the Democratic primary on June 1 but has kept quiet so far. His first finance report is due June 29.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

During debate, Gwen Graham pledges to ban assault weapons by executive order

It was a debate that (once again) had Florida’s four leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates spending much of their time trying to define personas and opponents.

But on Saturday night in St. Petersburg, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham broke through with a bold pledge — to ban assault weapons by executive order.

“My commitment to you is action, not words. I have found a public safety statute [Graham’s staff later identified it as Florida Statute 14.022, which allows the Governor to take emergency action to quell violence] that allows the Governor, whoever she may be, to sign an executive order for public safety reasons banning the sale of military assault weapons,” Graham said during the debate hosted by Spectrum and its Bay News 9 cable channel in Tampa Bay and News 13 channel in Orlando.

Graham’s staff then fired-off a news release indicating she would sign such an order in her first week in office; it also would require universal background checks on gun purchases.

That moment was a rare one, breaking new ground in Saturday night’s Democratic gubernatorial debate at Pinellas Park High School, for Graham or any of the other three participants, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King. And it, at least momentarily, set Graham apart from the image of a nonprogressive Democrat that her opponents sought again to draw and she mostly accepts.

Levine also pressed an idea that has not gotten much attention, the creation of an “Education Security Administration” to focus on school safety the way the federal Transportation Security Administration focuses on air travel safety. He also made a sweeping announcement of his new position supporting legalization of marijuana.

Throughout most of the debate, candidates continued to press their differences mainly in their images: Gillum, as the bold, tough-talking, uncompromising progressive intend on giving “voters a reason to turn out and vote for something.” Levine is the mayor who accomplished progressive actions in Miami Beach from raising the minimum wage to reforming the police department.

King painted himself as the progressive with bold and new ideas, such as ending the death penalty and initiating a ‘bullet tax.’

As for Graham, she found moments to remind everyone she is the daughter of former Gov. Bob Graham, a mom, the only woman in the contest, and someone who can appeal to moderate voters.

[Florida’s fifth major Democratic candidate, Jeff Greene, declined to participate in the debate. His campaign remains largely silent since filing June 1.]

King won the lion’s share of big applause lines as the school auditorium crowd heavily peppered with students who seemed to relate to his youthfulness and his positions on such issues as legalizing marijuana, prison reform, dealing with racial injustice, a bullet tax, and removal of state money from profit-making charter schools.

In many cases, King was able to pre-empt Gillum, who holds similar progressive positions on many of those issues, often announcing them before King.

Forced to follow King in Saturday’s debate at many key moments, Gillum tried to remind everyone he was first.

The question about marijuana first came to Levine, who declared he would support legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, allowing local cities to take the lead.

That drew in Gillum, who reminded everyone he was the first to call for legalization, regulation and taxation.

Graham held her position for support for medical marijuana but went no further Saturday night.

Attacks on each other came late in the one-hour discussion.

At first, the four seemed to be playing nice. When Gillum was asked about the FBI investigation into Tallahassee city government, King came to his defense, calling Gillum “a good an noble public servant.”

But the cordiality didn’t last. Before long, Gillum and King were going after Graham for her vote on a Syrian refugee bill in Congress that President Barack Obama opposed, charging that she did not have a good congressional voting record for Democrats.

Gillum then went after Levine for having once cut a campaign check to Republican U.S. Rep. Marco Rubio. King accused Levine of belittling those who don’t agree with him, including journalists and scientists.

“Boy, it’s sure fun to be the front-runner,” Levine replied.

Graham announced she would take the high-road and disarm “the negative narrative of me.”

But that too didn’t last. When Gillum accused her of voting against Obama’s agenda 52 percent of the time, Graham dove in — counter-accusing Gillum of voting for a coal-fired power plant in North Florida, despite the environmental impact of burning coal.

Gillum insisted he ultimately voted against the plant and had led for the installation of a huge solar-power farm, but by that time it was on.

By far, Gillum got the best laugh of the night, although it was an uncomfortable one, considering the irony and awkward direction of the question. Gillum, the only African-American in the race, responded quickly with a punch and cutting wit that exposed irony and awkwardness.

“Do you see institutionalized racism as a threat to our democracy, and why?” co-moderate Holly Gregory, a Bay News 9 anchor asked, forwarding the question from someone who offered it on Facebook: “This question goes to Mr. Gillum first.”

“Why’s that?” Gillum replied. When the laughter, cheering, and embarrassed jeering finished he added, “I had to. It was an opening. I’m sorry.”

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