Andy Gardiner Archives - Florida Politics

2016 in Orlando politics: Pulse, outside money, hotel taxes, frogs

Story co-written by Orlando-Rising staff reporters Scott Powers and Lawrence Griffin.

In Orlando, 2016 will always be remembered as the year of the Pulse gay nightclub massacre, and Pulse redefined everything; but it’s not the only major event to have shaped politics in Orlando during the year.

Here are a few events that defined politics in Central Florida in 2016 and which promise to continue being game-changers in 2017:

1. The Pulse massacre – The hours of horror early on June 12 changed how Orlando sees itself and how the world sees Orlando. While nothing good can ever be attributed to the tragedy itself, the post-tragedy saw one region-wide group hug after another, often with Orlando’s LGBT and Hispanic communities being embraced by all. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer rallied the business community to support the victims, while Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs brought people together. Orlando’s faith community united to support all the region’s people regardless of their personal identities. Orlando’s Republicans united to support gay rights. Time will tell if this is just a moment of mass grief or a genuine pronouncement of brotherhood and sisterhood. But for now everyone in Orlando politics has a shared vision of universal love.

2. Stephanie Murphy‘s shock of John Mica – Lost to many, in the realization that national Democrats spent more than $6 million to get her elected, is just how identically U.S. Rep.-elect Murphy reflects the look and views of the 21st-Century Florida’s 7th Congressional District: a young, well-educated, business-oriented, minority (Vietnamese-American) woman with fairly conservative fiscal and foreign-policy views, and liberal social values; or how much 12-term incumbent Mica was SO-20th Century. Before she’s cast her first vote Republicans already are targeting her. But they might wind up liking her.

3. Teresa Jacobs‘ battles with the tourism industry – Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association president Rich Maladecki and Teresa Jacobs had a falling-out over the allocation of Tourist Development Tax funds in the spring. Maladecki wanted to fast-track a proposal to use the funds in a way Jacobs wasn’t happy with – it would have given less than she wanted to the Orange County Convention Center and put an undue burden on the county’s revenues. Maladecki declined to present anything to the Tourist Development Council on the plan, saying he wanted to pass it quick and not discuss it more as Jacobs wanted. However, a new deal was struck later that Jacobs could get on board with, putting $45 million towards the completion of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center’s Phase II, finishing the acoustic Steinmetz Hall.

4. The retirement of Martha Haynie – Perhaps no one in Central Florida politics has a more sterling reputation for credibility and accountability than Orange County’s retiring longtime Comptroller Haynie. She’ll be succeeded by former Orlando City Commissioner Phil Diamond, who arrives with high marks for his own integrity, including her endorsement. But whether the more-laid-back Diamond can continue Haynie’s fearless way of speaking truth to power, often annoying the hell out of even fellow Republicans like Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, will be crucial to keeping checks and balances working in local politics.

5. George Soros‘ election of a state attorney for Orlando – New York billionaire and Democratic-cause financier decided he wanted African-American district attorneys throughout America and he didn’t care who they are. He’d never met nor spoken to Aramis Ayala, yet poured $1 million into what had been her long-shot bid for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit state attorney’s race. Low and behold, she beat incumbent Jeff Ashton in the Democratic primary, essentially winning the job then. Ayala has her own strengths and charms but now she’s got to run a huge prosecutor’s office for Orange and Osceola counties based on her short experience as an assistant state attorney.

6. East of Econlochachee River development – The two large developments called the Lake Pickett projects, The Grow and Sustany, would have brought hundreds of new apartment buildings to an area east of the Econlockhatchee River that many wanted to keep an environmental safe haven. Opponents of the projects had a litany of complaints, saying the project would damage everything from the environment to the already-congested traffic. Then in November, Lake Pickett North (Sustany) was shot down altogether at a hearing for its comp plan and a zoning change. That was due to the changed vote of District 6 commissioner Victoria Siplin, who, after hearing the complaints of citizens, couldn’t in good conscience allow the project to go through.

7. Heroin and rising crime – In April, the Heroin Task Force’s work came to an end and they concluded with a set of recommendations Mayor Teresa Jacobs vowed to implement, including: continuing joint enforcement details among law enforcement, increasing bond amounts for heroin trafficking and growing availability of drugs such as Naloxone that could save a heroin addict’s life. Meanwhile, in both the Parramore neighborhood and Pine Hills, violent crime has been surging. City officials and residents have cited a lack of good education and a lack of good jobs as the symptoms for much of it. Sheriff Jerry Demings’ new plan Operation RISE will offer more visibility and opportunities for the community to come forward with what they know. That’s Demings’ big hope – that people will start coming forward. But the bodies are still piling up.

8. The Fall of the House of Grayson – They sought to become the most politically powerful family in Central Florida, maybe in all of Florida, but voters had different plans. Orlando’s liberal lion U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson stumbled through his own pratfalls in the U.S. Senate race to become an also-ran. His newlywed Dena Grayson’s largely stealth campaign supported by large networks of her her outside backers discovered none of them could vote in Florida’s 9th Congressional District. And his daughter young Star Grayson discovered that name recognition might not be a good thing, in her poor showing for the Orange County Water & Sewer District.

9. Darren Soto‘s win as the first Puerto Rican congressman from Florida – All along, from back when it was drawn as a Hispanic-access district in Florida’s most-Puerto Rican community in 2011, Florida’s 9th Congressional District was to be Soto’s for the taking. But that didn’t prevent him from having to earn it in a bruising primary, before easily vanquishing yet another white Republican, albeit a good one in Wayne Liebnitzky, in the general. Now the former state senator who spent his whole life in New Jersey or Orlando, yet uses a Puerto Rican coquí campaign mascot to symbolize his heritage, will have the responsibility to demonstrate it’s a good thing for Central Florida to have a Puerto Rican in Congress.

10. Emily Bonilla‘s upending of Ted Edwards – District 5 incumbent Ted Edwards started feeling the burn over the summer as opposition kept growing louder to what many said was his overly corporation-friendly style of governing. Though there were three contenders at first, all vying as the populist answers to Edwards, it was ultimately environmental activist and businesswoman Emily Bonilla who succeeded, not without help from an onslaught of George Soros-paid mailers that attacked Edwards hard. Bonilla’s message of balanced, smart growth that didn’t encroach upon the environment resonated with many voters disillusioned with Edwards, and she ultimately won the day.

11. Fight over legal statuses of the county officials – Orange is a Democratic-voter dominated county with a Republican-dominated leadership, except in the constitutional offices like sheriff, property appraiser and tax collector. In one of the less-heralded but critical political battles, Democrats Scott Randolph and Rick Singh won a court case keeping their offices partisan and likely Democrat, while Mayor Teresa Jacobs got voters to pass what could turn out to be only symbolic statements that they should be charter, not constitutional offices, and non-partisan. For now, the Democrats won. But Jacobs is still in charge.

12. Linda Stewart‘s grab of Andy Gardiner’s Senate seat – Senate President Andy Gardiner termed out in 2016 and his seat was up for grabs between the progressive, environment-friendly Democrat Linda Stewart and Republican Dean Asher. Stewart, who has served on a myriad of other governing boards, won the election and is now in the Senate, currently trying to pass a bill to force Gov. Rick Scott to fill up the Environmental Regulation Committee faster. With her election, all of Orange County’s senators are now Democrats. That’s good for the Democratic party, but in a GOP senate that Gardiner used to rule, what does it mean for Orange County’s clout?

13. The political resurrection of Val Demings – By the election of 2014, Val Demings’ name was mud in this town, at least among many Orange County Democrats, because she inexplicably abandoned her party’s only hope of winning the mayor’s race that year. But that wasn’t the real Demings. Her steamroll run to election in Florida’s 10th Congressional District showed who she really is: an ambitious, determined, streetwise fighter and fire-and-brimstone orator whose progressive views mix with her deeply-held values of a cop and a janitor’s daughter.

14. Groundbreaking on Creative Village – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s vision for Orlando includes an ambitious plan for a work-live-play-learn community focusing on high-tech enterprises in a 68-acre corner of downtown, but for several year’s it’s been pretty much just plans. That changed when University of Central Florida President John Hitt and others finally managed to push through their cornerstone plan for a downtown UCF campus, with $20 million in state money, $20 million in UCF money $20 million in private money, and $67 million worth of contributions from Orlando. Now it’ll be up to Dyer and Creative Village developer Craig Ustler to make the proposed 150,000 square feet of retail and commercial, 225 hotel rooms and more than 1,500 residential units start happening.

15. Orange County’s tightening of citizen initiatives – The citizen-petition charter-change route has been hostile partisan territory for several years as Democrats out of power in county politics have used it when they couldn’t get Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the Board of Commissioners to pursue Democratic priorities, while Republicans charged their ideas were irresponsible. So Jacobs, her Charter Review Commission and the commissioners crafted their own charter amendment and got voters to overwhelmingly approve it, making that process much tougher, setting new rules on how and where petitions can be collected.

16. Shakeup at the Orange Democratic Executive Committee, but not at the GOP – Orange County Democratic chair Juan Lopez stepped down in November, the latest in a long line of short-term local DEC chairs. The election of new chair Wes Hodge was swift, and it was accompanied by a complete turnover of Orange Democratic executive committee office holders. But he still faces the problem of slim turnout at local meetings – something he hopes to turn around, especially as Democrats are by and large the biggest political party in the area. Local Republicans’ election went smoothly and without drama as long-running chairman Lew Oliver was re-elected for another four-year term over Trump-enthused challenger Randy Ross.

17. Betsy VanderLey‘s victory – Orange County District 1 Commissioner Scott Boyd termed out in 2016, and his seat was the lone one open for grabs on the county commission board. There were numerous contenders, among them local Muslim leader Nuren Haider, Dr. Usha Jain and Winter Garden politician Bobby Olszewski, but Betsy VanderLey – boasting recommendations from Teresa Jacobs and Boyd himself – came out on top in the end. VanderLey is a longtime resident of District 1. Her priorities on the board will be tackling school overcrowding and urban sprawl. And, as a non-politician (a theme in this year’s election if there ever was one), she says residents can trust her not to make decisions on her own behalf to climb ladders rather than representing the community.

18. Carlos Guillermo Smith‘s unavoidable LGBT voice in the Legislature – This was the year that had so much promise for LGBT rights advocates, with seven openly-gay candidates running for election to the Florida Legislature. But Smith was the only newcomer to win, joining Miami Beach’s incumbent state Rep. David Richardson. Smith, an Orlando Democrat, is likely to be a force though, even in a Democratic minority. A former lobbyist for Equality Florida, he’s as comfortable with a megaphone in his hand as he is in looking for ways to craft deals.

19. The rise of women – Sure, Hillary Clinton lost, but not in Orange County. And locally, freshmen U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Stephanie Murphy, state Sen. Linda Stewart, state Reps. Amy Mercado and Kamia Brown, and Orange County Commissioners Emily Bonilla and Betsy VanderLey all replaced men, and each except Demings defeated a man to do so. Only U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and state Reps. Bruce Antone and Mike Miller defeated women in significantly races, and Soto and Antone did so in primaries.

20. Marijuana’s approvals – Under a new City of Orlando rule, local law enforcement can now choose to write a warning citation rather than arrest for marijuana possession in the city. Some were concerned that this could still lead to marijuana arrests of minorities if police act in a discriminatory manner, and Chief John Mina‘s assurance that it wouldn’t happen is all they had to console themselves. But many were very pleased with the change. Buddy Dyer isn’t taking any chances with medical marijuana not running smoothly – he’s put a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries opening here, beyond the three they’ve already licensed, until they see what gets done in the coming legislative session in terms of zoning for them. The first medical marijuana production plant, Knox Medical, also opened late this year after Amendment 2’s passing, and will deliver medical cannabis to patients with untreatable epilepsy or neurological disorders.

Andy Gardiner, Linda Stewart arrange moments of silence for Pulse victims

As one of his last acts on behalf of the state of Florida, outgoing Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner arranged a moment of silence Tuesday for those killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting just outside his district on June 12.

Gardiner, the Orlando Republican who now is a private citizen, did so on the request of his successor, now state Sen. Linda Stewart, the Democrat from Orlando, who also arranged for a moment of silence at the Democratic Caucus organizational meeting Monday night.

Gardiner did so, in a highly unusual move, just before the 2017 senators were sworn in, he said, “Because it is the right thing to do.

“I took the presidential privilege to do a moment of silence. You know, we lived — all of us — through it, and the impact of it. And certainly in my role at Orlando Health … we were there,” Gardiner said.

Gardiner’s day job is as senior vice president of external affairs and community relations at Orlando Health, the parent company for the Orlando Regional Medical Center. A few blocks away from Pulse, the facility treated most of the 53 wounded survivors and other victims from the massacre played out by the gay-hating, ISIS-pledging mad gunman Omar Mateen. Forty-nine people were killed before police killed Mateen.

So on Tuesday, after the invocation prayer, Gardiner called for the senators to please remain standing.

“I would like to ask my colleagues and the individuals in the gallery, a lot has happened since the last time we met,” he told them. “And for my community and for the country and state we faced one of the worst tragedies that you can ever imagine in the Pulse nightclub. Forty-nine individuals lost their lives. And for those of us that were there shortly after, it has made a huge impact on our future. And for those in the Orange County delegation it would mean quite a bit to us for a moment of silence.”

Stewart said a similar moment of silence was requested in the House of Representatives, but was not held.

She said the moment in the Florida Senate meant a lot to her, as did the moment — 49 seconds long — that she arranged in the Democratic Caucus meeting the night before. Pulse now is in her district, thanks to last year’s redistricting, which expanded Senate District 13 farther south from the area that Gardiner represented.

“Twas a moment in time where I wanted to make sure that every day that representatives of the state of Florida remember that this tragedy happened,” Stewart said.

 

 

Florida Senate reopens chamber after $6 million upgrade

The chamber of the Florida Senate is reopening after a $6 million upgrade.

Outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner showed off the renovated chamber on Monday.

Workers spent the last eight months tearing out carpet, replacing desks and installing a new stained glass dome and new wood columns. The state motto of “In God We Trust” is now displayed prominently above the president’s rostrum.

Senate leaders had been considering renovations for more than a decade, but Gardiner said they went ahead with the renovations because the 2016 session ended in early March.

The renovations mark the first substantial work that has been done to the Senate chambers since it was opened in the late ’70s. The Florida House renovated its chamber in 2000.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Blaise Ingoglia announces he’s running for re-election as Florida GOP chair

Announcing earlier than he intended to do, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said Thursday he will run for re-election to his post next January.

“I was hoping to announce this after Thanksgiving so everyone could spend time with their families and give everyone a much-needed break from politics, but the events of today will not allow me, or us, that luxury,” Ingoglia wrote on his Facebook page. “I want everyone to know that I will indeed be running for a second term as the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.”

The “events of today” Ingoglia was referring to was the announcement earlier Thursday that Sarasota state committeeman Christian Ziegler will challenge Ingoglia for party chair.

In his statement, Ingoglia said when he declared his candidacy for chairman two years ago, he promised “much needed reforms” and delivering the state’s 29 electoral votes to a Republican presidential nominee.

“We not only delivered on our promises, we delivered historic wins for Sen. Marco Rubio, our Congressional delegation, our Florida Legislature, and delivered by winning the State of Florida for the first time since 2004 for now President-elect Donald Trump. I humbly ask for your continued support as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.”

In addition to serving as party chair, Ingoglia was just re-elected to his House District 35 seat in Hernando County, and makes his living as a home builder.  A New York City native, Ingoglia developed a side career as a skilled poker player, and years ago began producing a series of videos and seminars called “Government Gone Wild,” where he decried the rising federal debt.

In January of 2015, he upset incumbent Leslie Dougher in the race for party chair. Dougher was Gov. Rick Scott’s handpicked candidate, and afterwards he took the hundreds of thousands he had raised out of the party’s account and put into his own political committee, “Let’s Get to Work.” Later, Senate President Andy Gardiner followed suit, removing more money and putting it into the Senate Republicans’ fundraising committee.

Nevertheless, speculation that schism would hurt the party in last week’s election proved not to be the case, with Trump defeating Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percent, a seismic achievement in a state both candidates desperately fought to win.

Christian Ziegler announces his candidacy for Republican Party of Florida Chair

Christian Ziegler, the 33-year-old state committeeman for the Sarasota Republican Party, has announced his candidacy for chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

“As we turn the page from the election, we have a lot of work to do over the next two years to ensure victory in 2018 — work that takes focus and resources,” Ziegler said in a statement sent to members of the Florida Republican Party Thursday.

“In addition to supporting the Trump Administration, we will need to strengthen our Republican Party of Florida to send an ally to the U.S. Senate who will work alongside our great senator, Marco Rubio,” he writes. “We will need to replace our term-limited governor and the entire Cabinet, in addition to protecting majorities in the state Senate and House of Representatives. And we will need to win the many congressional and local races across our great state.”

The RPOF is currently chaired by Spring Hill’s Blaise Ingoglia, who last week fulfilled his often-stated No. 1 goal since taking over the reins of the party nearly two years ago — to turn Florida red in the 2016 presidential election.

In addition to being party chair, Ingoglia also serves as a state representative in House District 35, where he successfully won another two-year term in office last week. And in August, he became the Hernando County state committeeman.

In his pitch to party members, Ziegler indirectly refers to Ingoglia’s other activities by saying the party needs a chairman “whose sole focus is strengthening the party,” adding, “I will make this my full-time mission.”

Ziegler is a close ally to Joe Gruters, vice chair of the state party and chairman of the Sarasota Republican Party (who just won his own two-year term in state House last week). Gruters got in early in backing President-elect Donald Trump in Florida, and Ziegler says, “I have built relationships with the current Trump Team … that will help foster a united party.”

Ziegler also serves as the chairman of the 134-member RPOF State Committeeman and Committeewomen’s Caucus, and says he will “bring that same passion and leadership style to the Republican Party of Florida as Chairman.”

The 46-year-old Ingoglia was elected RPOF Chairman in January 2015, when he upset incumbent party chairwoman Leslie Dougher, Rick Scott‘s personal choice to head the state party. He then cleaned out much of the RPOF staff, prompting Scott and Senate President Andy Gardiner to split from the party and begin raising money independently for Florida Republicans and, in the case of Scott, for himself with his “Let’s Get To Work” political committee.

Shortly after Ziegler’s announcement, Ingoglia announced on his Facebook page he was running for re-election for party chair.

Senate chamber

Senate to re-open next week after months of renovations

The newly renovated Florida Senate chamber will be ceremonially opened next Monday at 3 p.m.

And don’t expect another re-do for a very long time.

“We believe the historic components of the remodel have created a timeless design that will limit the need for future renovations,” outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner said in a statement.

The re-opening will take place the day before the new Legislature’s Organization Session. The project began minutes after last session’s Sine Die, with sergeants-at-arms hauling chairs and other furniture out of the chamber. 

The chamber features redone walls, new desks, and new carpet. Senators will stand under a new ceiling dome, modeled after one in the Historic Capitol.

Also as planned, the nearly 40-year-old mural that greeted visitors to the 5th floor gallery has been removed and stored in the old Capitol. It depicts a Confederate general and flag, which the Senate previously voted to remove from its official seal and insignia.

Gardiner had pulled the trigger on the upgrade, recognizing that the chamber “has received only minimal updates since its original construction in the 1970s,” he said in a memo.

Design elements echo the Historic Capitol’s exterior, such as a pediment on top of columns over the president’s rostrum and the words, “In God We Trust.”

The renovation project was budgeted for $5 million.

Andy Gardiner, business leaders launch Florida Unique Abilities program to help disabled find work

Senate President Andy Gardiner appeared in downtown Orlando Wednesday to promote the launch of the new Florida Unique Abilities partnership, an initiative that businesses can join to support hiring those with disabilities.

Gardiner and business leaders representing AT&T, Walgreens, and SeaWorld, appeared at the Canvs building on Garland Avenue to talk up the program, saying it would behoove businesses all over the state and country to start hiring more people with disabilities. The Florida Unique Abilities partnership, they said, would offer a concrete way for businesses to show support and get the word out.

“Businesses can lead by example,” he said. “Every agency that wants to will have to send a report on what they intend to do to hire those with disabilities. That gives us the ability to promote Florida as the best place to live, work and play.”

To qualify as a partner with the program, businesses must meet one of three criteria:

— Employ at least one Florida resident with a disability for nine months prior to applying.

— Provide a financial or in-kind contribution to programs that serve the disabled.

— Or contribute to the establishment of a program that helps those with disabilities achieve independence.

Gardiner said the initiative was an important first step.

“It’s a good start,” he told FloridaPolitics.com. “It’s about recognition and hopefully recruiting more business partners to help this population of need and get a dialogue started.”

Others, like Steve Pemberton, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens, and Troy McNichols, Director of External and Legislative Affairs with AT&T Florida, spoke of the bonuses of hiring those with disabilities.

They all said it was important to be inclusive and nondiscriminatory in hiring, as those with disabilities, like anyone else, can bring strong new ideas and better quality to the workplace.

The final speaker at the ceremony was Whitney Harris, the Special Projects Coordinator with the Florida Chamber Foundation. Harris, who is disabled herself, quickly shut down any audience misconceptions that she was there to be an “inspirational” figure — rather, she was just like anyone else.

“I’m an eighth generation Floridian and a first-generation person with disabilities,” she said. “I’m not here to tell you an inspiring story or talk about how I can overcome my disability and be like everyone else. There’s nothing to overcome. I’m just a different flavor of normal. There are 1.13 million disabled people in Florida, and I’m just one of them.”

She stressed the importance again of businesses hiring those with disabilities — they, just like everyone else, need to support their families and themselves.

Florida Senate

Florida Senate renovations near completion

The Florida Senate’s chamber renovations should be done by early-to-mid November.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta tweeted back on Oct. 5: “Chamber Reno Update — About one month to left to go.”

She posted photos showing the chamber with redone walls, new desks, and new carpet going down.

As planned, the nearly 40-year-old mural that greeted visitors to the 5th floor gallery has been removed.

Departing Senate President Andy Gardiner has said the mural will be preserved for viewing elsewhere and stored until then.

The 10-foot-by-16 foot “Five Flags Mural” greeted visitors to the Senate since the Capitol opened in 1978.

The work also happens to depict a Confederate general and flag. The Senate previously voted to remove that symbol from its official seal and insignia.

When the chamber is reopened, senators will stand under a new ceiling dome, modeled after one in the Historic Capitol.

Gardiner pulled the trigger on the upgrade, recognizing that the chamber “has received only minimal updates since its original construction in the 1970s,” he said in a memo.

The final product in the Senate will be similar to an artists’ rendering released earlier this year.

It shows the new dome and other design elements that echo the Historic Capitol’s exterior, such as a pediment on top of columns over the president’s rostrum and the words, “In God We Trust.”

The renovation project was budgeted for $5 million. The chamber should be open for the Nov. 22 Organization Session.

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Is Oscar Braynon running the best Senate political operation in years?

Democratic uber consultant (and frequent Uber customer) Steve Schale contends in a must-read, table-setting blog post about which Florida Senate races are worth watching that “Oscar Braynon is running the best Senate political operation I’ve seen in years.”

Really?

Technically, Schale is absolutely right. Braynon is running the best political shop in years because, when compared to previous Democratic efforts, O.B. looks like a black James Carville.

Beyond Schale, there are other super-smart people in Tallahassee who think very highly of the Florida Democrats’ Senate political arm. Associated Industries of Florida’s Ryan Tyson often sings its praises, warning Republicans that if the Dems ever have more than two nickels to rub together, they’ll be dangerous.

Schale is also right on two more points:

— that, especially based on recent history, if Braynon’s Democrats overreach, they’re more likely to end up with just 14 or 15 seats in the Senate;

— and that if the Senate Dems get to 16 or 17 seats, that would make a huge impact in the chamber.

But I’m not ready to sing Braynon’s praises. One could make the argument that if the Democrats don’t get to 16-plus seats, the fault squarely lies with Braynon.

Putting aside all of the usual knocks on Florida Democrats — can’t raise money, etc. — Braynon has made glaring strategic mistakes for which he must be held accountable.

The first is not being able to recruit a candidate in Senate District 22. Few developments made me more relieved than to see our friend Jeff Brandes go without a challenge this cycle, but SD 22 is a genuine battleground seat that could have been won in a presidential year (and, admittedly, lost back to the Republicans in the 2018 non-presidential cycle). Braynon was left at the altar by Augie Ribeiro, who flirted with running in the seat, then decided to run in Senate District 19. Still, the seat encompasses St. Petersburg and South Tampa — veritable hotbeds for whatever constitutes Democratic intellectualism (for example, several major national and statewide environmental organizations, such as Defenders of Wildlife, have their offices in the district). It’s just a sin of omission that Braynon was not able to field a candidate here.

O.B.’s second tactical mistake is one borne out of his personal loyalty and willingness to reach across the aisle. By not pinning down his friend, Republican Anitere Flores, in SD 39, Braynon has allowed a couple of million dollars of Republican money to be freed up and redeployed to other races. Had a poll shown Flores in the slightest bit of trouble, Joe Negron would have spent $5 million to protect his chief lieutenant. Instead, Negron can now spend that money to shore up Dana Young in Senate District 18.

And while not outflanking the Republicans in SD 39, Braynon also left himself exposed on his left after backing the wrong candidates in two Democratic primaries. Braynon’s caucus of one backed Mike Clelland over Linda Stewart in SD 13, and Ed Narain over Darryl Rouson in SD 19. He didn’t spend a lot of money to do it, but Braynon now has two members who he personally tried to block from coming to Tallahassee. Look for both of them to give Braynon fits during the 2017-18 legislative sessions.

The honest truth about Braynon is that he is one of the smartest, most well-liked Democrats to hold the leadership post in a while. He’s O.B. from the press skits video of him and Andy Gardiner cutting it up as the “honest” Senate President.

But the Democrats were given the greatest political gift they’ve received in decades with the Florida Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling. Some political reporters, such as Mary Ellen Klas, speculated the Democrats were in position to pick-up six seats.

However, at the end of the day, they might just pick up just one seat (SD 13). If that’s what constitutes running the best Senate political operation in years, that’s hardly worth recognizing.

SD 13 race pits familiar names as Dems hope to flip seat

This used to be Andy Gardiner country, a Florida Senate district at the heart of GOP power, and now three Democrats are fighting for it like it’s theirs for the taking Tuesday.

Tuesday’s Democratic Florida Senate District 13 primary will pit three former elected officials, all with at least decent name recognition, one of them, former state Rep. Mike Clelland, with enormous amounts of campaign money; one, former state Rep. Linda Stewart, with a legendary ground game; and one, former Orange County School Board Member Rick Roach, with 16 years in the local spotlight.

Because redistricting has changed SD 13, dominated by central and east Orlando, from a strong Republican lean to a moderate Democratic lean, this is one of the Florida Senate districts the Florida Democratic Party thinks it’s most likely to flip this year, and even Gardiner, the outgoing Republican Senate president, has hinted he thinks it will flip.

Standing in the door disagreeing is Realtor Dean Asher, who’s got his own big piles of campaign money and much of Central Florida’s business community behind him. But Asher will have to wait to see which of three very different candidates he’ll have to take on.

“I am the favorite,” to win, Stewart bragged this week.

It’s an odd boast coming from a candidate who has raised just $25,400 for her campaign through Aug. 12, less money than Clelland sometimes collects in a week. Yet Stewart’s name recognition is high and her ground games have long set standards in Orange County, where she was three times elected county commissioner and once as state representative for House District 47.

Roach also calls her the front-runner, and Clelland clearly has recognized her strength, for he and his political action committee, “Common Sense for Central Florida,” have run attack ads focused on Stewart.

Clelland has raised more than $285,000 in his campaign fund and another $452,000 for Common Sense, which is collecting five-figure checks from firefighters’ unions and law firms, representing his background as a career firefighter who went to night law school and became a lawyer. His campaign also is being supported by Christian Ulvert’s Engaged Florida PAC and the Florida Democratic Party, who’ve both run Clelland ads in Orlando.

But Clelland said never mind the money.

“I made 208 phone calls today and then I went knocking on doors,” he said. “That’s what we’re focused on: we’re talking to voters.”

Meanwhile, as Clelland has been attacking Stewart in in TV commercials and mailers, and Stewart has been dismissing Clelland as someone who doesn’t know the district [Clelland moved in this year; he previously represented House District 29 in Seminole County], Roach has been the candidate showing up at every event and drawing crowds of more than 100 to his own town halls.

“I have talked to literally 2,000 people in the last two years in small groups and one-on-one,” Roach said. “I formed my campaign on what they told me.”

The trio agree with Democratic policies on almost all issues, though they’ve clearly quibbled over details, particularly as Clelland and Stewart have traded jabs on gun votes. But each has and focuses on individual strengths: Clelland, with his background in public safety; Stewart with her background as an environmental, women’s issues and community activist; Roach with his background as a school board member and former teacher.

Roach, who’s gotten a number of education-related endorsements from teachers unions to school administrators, combines his understanding of the schools and their challenges with economic themes. His message: strip the schools of much of the testing-prep, turn those test-prep positions, including reading teachers, back into shop classes and technical teachers. Graduate students who can get technical jobs and careers. Increase employment in higher-wage, skilled-labor jobs, reduce impacts on social services, including prisons.

“Once I discovered the talent gap, that I learned from the Chamber of Commerce, once I learned we had over 200,000 job openings, most of which don’t require college education, that pay good wages, I thought, well hell, why don’t we put people in those jobs,” Roach said.

“I know what’s happening in education. We’ve clogged it up with prep courses. So we can’t give kids auto education, construction, heating and plumbing. We’re too concerned about driving up standardized test scores. So if we just simply clean out all the junk in schools and use these tests the way they were designed, you could actually put between 10 and 15 courses in 1,000 high schools that all matched up with those jobs,” he said.

Stewart, whose endorsements have ranged from the National Organization of Women to mental health advocates to environmental groups, and said those represent the issues she’s best known for.

“People do want you to take a stand on assault weapons and no-fly, no-buy, which I have done a number of times,” she said. “People want you to take a stand on women’s issues, anything dealing with any kind of restrictions to abortion, they’re very concerned the government is getting too concerned about their personal lives. They’re also very concerned about the award of Amendment 1 money being diverted.”

Clelland has gotten endorsements from various first responder groups, law firms and a handful of establishment Democrats such as former Orange County Chairwoman Linda Chapin.

“It’s education, health care, Medicaid expansion, and water has resonated, particularly in Orange County, where quantity is as important as quality,” Clelland said. “I think those are the important things. That’s what I’m focused on.”

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