Andy Gardiner Archives - Florida Politics

Senate Presidents endorse Denise Grimsley for Agriculture Commissioner

Senate President Joe Negron and a half-dozen of his predecessors announced Thursday that they were backing Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley in the Republican primary for Agriculture Commissioner.

“Denise undeniably has the best experience and background to be Florida’s next Commissioner of Agriculture,” said Negron, who is leaving the Senate effective Election Day. “I am proud to lend her my full endorsement and support, and look forward to seeing her continue to connect with voters around the state as she shares her compelling story of growing up in agriculture and becoming a nurse, businesswoman and lawmaker.”

Joining Negron were his three immediate predecessors, former Sens. Andy Gardiner, Don Gaetz and Mike Haridopolos, who, taken together, have headed the Florida Senate for the entirety of the 2010s. Also backing Grimsley were former Senate Presidents Ken Pruitt (2006-08), John McKay (2000-02), and Jim Scott (1994-96).

“Many of us, having worked in the Florida Legislature alongside Denise, have seen firsthand her determination and passion to help make Florida a better place to live and work for all Floridians,” said Gaetz, who served as Senate President during Grimsley’s first two years in the Florida Senate.

Gardiner added that Grimsley’s “background in health care, in management of a business and as a compassionate conservative will give all Floridians a caring voice,” while Haridopolos said Grimsley “was a force in the Florida Legislature and she’ll be a force in the cabinet.”

“Her management and budget experience both in the Legislature and in business gives her an unmatched ability to expertly lead the Florida Department of Agriculture and  Consumer Services,” Haridopolos continued.

Like Haridopolos’ tenure, Pruitt’s time as Senate President aligned with Grimsley’s service in the Florida House, where she represented Collier, Glades, Hendry and Highlands County in the old House District 77.

“Denise Grimsley is battle tested and ready to step into the role of Commissioner of Agriculture and I am proud to lend her my endorsement,” Pruitt said.  “She knows just how important agriculture is to Florida because she grew up in it, most importantly, she has a plan for its future that will ensure future generations of farmers and ranchers will prosper.”

McKay’s and Scott’s terms came before Grimsley’s first election, but nonetheless, they were impressed with her background and her 14-year record as a lawmaker.

“I grew up in the same part of the state that Denise did and I know much of her strength comes from being a daughter of Florida’s Heartland,” McKay said. “We need a thoughtful fiscal conservative on our Cabinet, a person who will fairly listen to all views and truly represent our best future, so I am pleased to endorse Denise Grimsley for Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.”

Negron and the past Senate Presidents join incoming Senate President Bill Galvano and his likely successor, Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, in endorsing Grimsley for Agriculture Commissioner. She recently landed support from another nine sitting Senators, making for 12 of the 22 sitting Republican Senators, excluding herself, who have signed on in support of her statewide bid.

“I am honored to have the support of so many experienced leaders who have dedicated themselves to serving our state’s citizens by determinedly leading the Florida Senate,” Grimsley said. “As a mother and grandmother, businesswoman and legislator, and the fifth-generation Floridian in my family to be involved in agriculture, I know that the hard work to improve our state isn’t done yet; and, I am grateful to this esteemed group of servant leaders who have endorsed my campaign.”

Outside of legislative support, Grimsley has picked up endorsements from dozens of local officials, 36 current county sheriffs, the Fraternal Order of PoliceFlorida Professional Firefighters, the Florida Realtors and the Florida Medical Association, among many others.

Grimsley faces Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell, retired U.S. Army Col. Mike McCalister and former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman in the Republican primary.

Caldwell and Grimsley are the standouts on the Republican side, with Caldwell also announcing endorsements by the truckload — his most recent bulk endorsement came in from 16 county constitutional officers, with other nods including the National Rifle Association and several of his Republican colleagues in the state House.

Grimsley, who recently released her first TV ad, leads the primary race in true fundraising with $2.65 million in outside cash raised since she entered the race in February 2017. She also currently holds the cash lead with more than $1.1 million in the bank between her campaign account and two political committees, Saving Florida’s Heartland and Let’s Grow Florida.

Caldwell, meanwhile, has also broken the $2 million mark since entering the race in April 2017 and had a little over $1 million in the bank at last check-in.

Troutman, however, has pumped $3 million into his campaign fund and raised about $500,000 in outside cash, though his high burn rate has left him with just $322,500 on hand as of Aug. 3. McCalister, for his part, has raised just $22,604, including nearly $19,000 in candidate loans.

The winner of the Republican nomination will move on to November when they’ll face one of three Democrats: lawyer Nikki Fried, Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter or South Florida Audubon Society President Roy David Walker.

Of the three, Fried has had the most success in fundraising and endorsements, with her most recent backers being Democratic U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Lois Frankel.

The primary election is Aug. 28. The general election is Nov. 6.

Orange County opens to proposals to salvage from Sanford Burnham center

After watching the county’s biggest tax incentives package turn into its biggest economic development bust, Orange County on Tuesday began in-depth deliberations with at least two and possibly more players offering to salvage a heavily-subsidized Lake Nona biomedical research laboratory that is soon to be departed by Sanford Burnham Prebys.

On Tuesday the Orange County Commission heard pitches from Florida Hospital and the University of Central Florida as the central players in two proposed deals to take over the Sanford Burnham Medical Discovery Institute  at Lake Nona, and then heard a request from a possible third player, Orlando Health, that the county take its time, and openly seek other proposals.

One pitch, from Florida Hospital,  offered no cash return to the county or the other partners who had invested in the Sanford Burnham deal, while the other, from UCF, offered rent, and reimbursement of some of the money Sanford Burnham still owes the state.

The county, along with the city of Orlando, and with the developer of Lake Nona, Tavistock Group, are trying to figure out what to do with the $80 million, state-of-the-art laboratory building constructed at Lake Nona, since Sanford Burnham announced in 2016 that it no longer sees a viable way of succeeding there and intends to walk away.

The California-based non-profit pharmaceutical research institute had come to Lake Nona after receiving $40.7 million from Orange County, $32.7 million from Orlando, $155 million from the state, and $17.6 million from Tavistock’s development company for that project, the Lake Nona Land Co.

Any decision on what to do with the state-of-the-art laboratory building the public monies built, and which Sanford Burnham intends to abandon, will have to be from a unanimous agreement among the county, the city of Orlando, and Tavistock, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said Tuesday.

Tuesday at the Orange County Commissioners meeting, UCF appeared to have an early political advantage, though Florida Hospital made a bold pitch for national preeminence, and former Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, now a vice president with Orlando Health, urged officials to open to other proposals.

Jacobs harshly questioned Florida Hospital over having developed at least the beginnings of its proposal in long-term private talks with Sanford Burnham that left the county and other public stakeholders literally locked out.  Commissioner Emily Bonilla later said that she already prefers the UCF proposal, and she believes other commissioners do too.

The hopes held 12 years ago by state and local officials was for more than just 300 or so high-paying, high-tech jobs the Sanford Burnham projected it would create at Lake Nona, a projection it never came close to achieving.

Sanford Burnham once was considered a cornerstone of what is being developed as Orlando’s Lake Nona Medical City complex of hospitals, medical education, and research institutions, which officials hoped would one day rival huge medical center complexes in other cities, notably in places such as Boston and Houston. While hospitals and medical education have come to Lake Nona, the research component – the component expected to generate the big, long-term, private has not really sprouted. The cornerstone institute, Sanford Burnham, withered compared with expectations before the institute announced the Lake Nona closure.

“It wasn’t so much about the direct jobs at Burnham, and Burnham wasn’t going to be paying property taxes. What Burnham was going to do was be the magnet and bring in all those pharmaceutical and life-science companies,” said Deputy Orange County Administrator Eric Gassman.

The assets may still have considerable longterm value, but Jacobs also talked about having been burned.

“I’ll be candid with you: Sanford Burnham, we invested a lot in their success. We took a huge risk for their success and our success. As gracious as I’m trying to be about their failure, it was a colossal failure, from an economic standpoint,” she said.

Deborah Robison, Sanford Burnham vice-president of public affairs sent a statement to Florida Politics clarifying the non-profit institute’s position that since 2015 it “has investigated many alternative academic, corporate and clinical strategies, and has been working together with local partners and stakeholders, to identify a solution for the long-term sustainability of biomedical research at the site. That is still our goal.

“We have remained in contact with local and state stakeholders, and deeply appreciate their interest and vision for Central Florida. SBP has identified two credible long-term solutions that would not only sustain but also expand biomedical research at Lake Nona, including a proposal to integrate with the University of Florida, which was not completed, and a substantive plan from Florida Hospital,” she wrote. “Ultimately, a decision on the future of the biomedical research enterprise at Lake Nona ultimately lies in the hands of the state and local stakeholders. During this decision making time-period, SBP is not in the process of shutting down, nor have we announced a closure – medical research is continuing, research grants are being awarded to scientists and important scientific papers are being published in prestigious journals.”

Working with the Moffitt Cancer Center, Florida Hospital, which already has other facilities at Lake Nona and had partnered on research with Sanford Burnham, asked the county and the others to give it the building. In exchange, the hospital company proposed creating a multi-use cancer research and treatment center that would include basic and translational research, precision medicine research, clinical genomics, Phase I clinical research, drug discovery, and a stem-cell laboratory.

Florida Hospital projected 205 jobs, with an average salary of $85,000, by the fifth year of operations.

The proposal emphasized that the UF-Moffitt partners know what they’re doing, and have done their homework, have a proposal that is essentially “shovel ready,” and have the credentials and ability to turn the center into a National Cancer Institutes-designated comprehensive cancer center, of which there is currently only one in Florida: the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

“We believe our plan will achieve not in 20 or 25 years but in the very near future a NCI designated cancer center here, in Florida, in Lake Nona,” said Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Steven Smith.

Yet all of that homework had Jacobs and some of the commissioners questioning whether Sanford Burnham and Florida Hospital had been working together for a while on a deal that might not be in the best interest of the county and other public sectors, which already are feeling burned by Sanford Burnham’s deals. Jacobs in particular peppered Florida Hospital officials about a confidential, non-compete agreement. Ultimately, she got Florida Hospital officials to agree to turn over a copy of that agreement to the county before Orange County would consider Florida Hospital’s proposal.

The University of Central Florida’s proposal is to team up with Hospital Corporation of America and other companies, also to create a multi-use cancer research and treatment center, this one tied in with UCF’s teaching hospital and medical school at Lake Nona. The UCF partners would pay the county $2 million a year in rent to take over the building, and also  promised to pay $11 million the state of Florida says Sanford Burnham owes state taxpayers. Their buildup would be slower than that proposed by Florida Hospital, but bigger, ending after five years with 302 full-time jobs, and some of the partners, notably HCA, would be there on a for-profit basis, paying some taxes.

UCF Board Chairman Marcos Marchena said the university also invested in the Sanford Burnham programs, to the tune of $18 million.

“This comprehensive cancer center will delver a new level of cancer care to our community, expand biomedical eosins at medical city, and create jobs and increase opportunities for medial research. our for-profit partners will also generate revenues for Orange County, both in the form of rent and taxes,” Marchena said.

Gardiner, senior vice president of external affairs and community relations at Orlando Health, asked for the county and others to open to other proposals.

“I would encourage you, I stand here today with not a specific ask, other than, this should be opened up to every not-for-profit in our community,” Gardiner said.

Personnel note: Nicole Hagerty on board at FRSCC

Nicole Hagerty is joining the 2018 Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee’s (FRSCC) in-house Finance Team as Director of Finance, Senate President-designate Bill Galvano said in an email.

The FRSCC is the main fundraising panel supporting GOP state Senate campaigns.

Also, Kelly Schmidt is becoming Deputy Director of Finance and Matthew Yost will be Director of Member Fundraising, Galvano said.

They will work with Nancy Ann Texeira, the Campaign Committee’s chief fundraising consultant.

“Individually, these team members have all been key to the successes of our caucus,” said Galvano, a Bradenton Republican expected to head the chamber in 2018-20. “I know that together they will ensure FRSCC will continue to be successful. I am very confident in the great team we have assembled.”

Hagerty began with FRSCC under Senate President Don Gaetz and continued as Deputy Finance Director under Senate President Andy Gardiner, he added.

“During the 2016 cycle, Nicole transitioned to Innovate Florida, where she ran a successful member fundraising operation and has continued raising resources for the caucus,” Galvano said. Innovate Florida is Galvano’s political committee.

Schmidt “first arrived at FRSCC as a college intern and quickly proved herself to be a valuable and trusted member of the team. Kelly was first named FRSCC Deputy Director of Finance under Senate President Joe Negron.”

Yost “previously served in several roles at Innovate Florida for nearly two years prior to joining FRSCC’s finance team,” Galvano said. “He worked as a legislative assistant in the Florida House and managed a successful re-election campaign.”

Jerry Demings launches mayoral campaign pledging public safety, smart growth, ‘community bonding’

After 36 years in law enforcement including stints as Orlando police chief, Orange County public safety director, and his current post as sheriff, Jerry Demings announced Friday he’s ready to take on the entire county as mayor, pledging public safety, smart growth, and “community bonding” as his platform.

Demings, 58, joined his wife Democratic U.S. Rep Val Demings and a handful of elected officials and community leaders Friday to claim early front-runner status for the 2018 election. No other major candidates have entered the race yet, in part, waiting to see what Jerry Demings would do.

His campaign kickoff outside the Orange County Administration Building in Orlando was partly a review of his career in law enforcement, partly his vision to be mayor, and partly religious revival, as the Demings were joined by their pastor and many of church friends as well.

“I am overwhelmed by the tremendous show of support,” Demings began. “After much prayer and deliberation, and with the support of my family, I’m excited to announce my candidacy for Orange County mayor during the 2018 election cycle.”

Demings has served two terms and a year as sheriff and said he would serve out the next year and a half. Before being first elected in 2008, he was public safety director for the county, in a position that was officially deputy county administrator. Before that he was Orlando’s police chief, a job he got after 17 years in the department.

Not surprisingly, he listed public safety as his first campaign platform priority, noting that extends to fire and rescue and emergency management, as well as law enforcement. He pointed out that as police chief he led the city’s responses to the 9/11 attacks, as county public safety director the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, and as sheriff he was key in the response to the June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub massacre.

“There are others I could speak about, but I think you get the point,” he said.

He pledged to work with the unions to assure first responders are paid “a competitive wage” and have the resources and training required. That is an issue he took up this spring when he outlined his proposed 2018 budget to the Orange County Commission, arguing that his deputies were underpaid compared with other departments, and he proposed major increases. The Orange County Commission will take it up later this month.

His take on smart growth continues a policy set by each of the last four Orange County leaders, though it is a policy that has often led to rancorous public debates on developments. Demings sought to expand the concept of smart growth, calling for business development that “protects our quality of life and that provides for employment and entrepreneurship for everyone,” and for jobs that “pay at or above a living wage.” He also called for pushing renewable energy, and to preserve the rural character of rural parts of the county, and to address parts of the county suffering urban blight.

As for the community bonding, he began to address that by declaring, “Today, the politics of our nation are troublesome. And I promise you that I work across political lines to make our community a great place to live, work and visit. Orange County needs a unifier that can bond us together as one community, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, ethnic origin or religious beliefs. I have well-established relationships which cross the wonderful diversity of this community.

“Orange County is a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors, and represents people of different backgrounds from around the world. We should celebrate and embrace that diversity and use this to strengthen commerce,” he continued.

He also talked about working with private sector to improve delivery of county services.

Other potential Orange County mayoral candidates including Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, Orlando chamber of commerce president Rob Panepinto, former Senate President Andy Gardiner, and Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette. The position is non-partisan. But Demings, elected sheriff as a Democrat, suggested Friday that none matched up to him in experience.

 

“I doubt very seriously that they have any more experience than the 36 years of public experience that I talked about,” Demings said. “I served in this building for six years, so I look forward to coming back to the fifth floor.”

It was not lost on Demings that, if elected, he would become the county’s first African-American leader, just as he was Orlando’s first African-American police chief, and Orange County’s first African-American sheriff.. He paid tribute to the previous four county mayors and chairs since a county charter amendment established the position, saying he looked forward to becoming the fifth.

“And, I add, the first African-American to do so,” he said. “I’m proud of what it signifies that today our community has progressed to the point that one can be considered a serious candidate to hold the office of chief executive for Orange County regardless of their race, gender or ethnic origin.

“I’m standing here today as the son of a maid and a cab driver, as well as the great, great, grandson of slaves,” he added.

Jeb Bush foundation issues legislative grades; aces for Richard Corcoran, Joe Negron

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron aced the 2017 Legislative Session when it comes to school choice, said an organization founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Foundation for Florida’s Future gave both Republican lawmakers an “A+” this year and included both on their “honor roll,” which the group says, “recognizes the legislative leaders who championed bold education reforms that keep the promise of a quality education for each and every student.”

“His determination to ensure every child, regardless of location, income or ability level, has access to a high-quality education earned him a top spot on Florida’s 2017 Education Report Card,” the group said of Corcoran. “His tireless advocacy and leadership will undoubtedly improve the educational outcomes for thousands of Florida students.”

Negron also received praise for expanding the Gardiner Scholarship Program, a program for disabled students passed during former Sen. Andy Gardiner’s time as the chamber’s president, and for rallying senators “to embrace student-centered education policies that empower parents and expand educational options.”

The Stuart Republican was a major force behind the controversial charter school bill HB 7069 clearing the chamber by two votes at the tail end of the 2017 Legislative Session.

The omnibus education bill included funding for the “Schools of Hope” program, which encourages charter schools to open in low-performing school districts by giving them incentives.

In addition to Negron and Corcoran, Foundation for Florida’s Future put a dozen other representatives and nine other senators on the honor roll with perfect scores.

Overall, the Foundation gave 23 of 40 senators and 75 of 120 representatives an “A” or higher.

With no legislative action, Confederate statue remains in U.S. Capitol

The General abides.

With lawmakers taking no action this year, a bronze statue of a Confederate general representing Florida shall remain indefinitely in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Two competing bills died this Legislative Session. One called for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.

Another proposed a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place.

“Next year, we expect movement in the House and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” said state Sen. Perry Thurston, who sponsored the Bethune measure. “I am encouraged we will get it done next year.”

Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, a marble rendering of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, is unaffected.

The move to replace Smith’s statue came after renewed debate about Confederate symbols, including the battle flag ubiquitous in the South.

City workers this week started moving a Confederate statue called “Johnny Reb” from a park in the heart of downtown Orlando, to a nearby cemetery. And the Hillsborough County Commission is set to discuss the removal of a Confederate memorial that sits in front of the county’s courthouse.

The state Senate also recently removed a decades-old mural that had been outside the 5th floor press and public galleries that included a depiction of another Confederate general and flag. The Senate in 2015 voted to remove that flag from its official seal and insignia.

At the time, then-Senate President Andy Gardiner said the artwork was “beginning to show signs of age that must be addressed if the mural is to be preserved.” Parts of it were fading and peeling.

The removal was part of an almost-$5 million renovation of the Senate chamber, the first since the Capitol opened in 1978. The 10-foot-by-16 foot “Five Flags Mural” now is in storage at the Historic Capitol.

Additional material provided by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

Updated 4:45 p.m. — The Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday voted 4-3 to keep the Confederate memorial in front of the courthouse in downtown Tampa.

Voting to move it: Al Higginbotham, Pat Kemp, Les Miller.

Voting to keep it where it is: Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman, Stacy White.

Fate of program for disabled children rests with Rick Scott

Debby Dawson, who lives in southwest Florida, has a simple message to Gov. Rick Scott: The state’s existing scholarship program for disabled children is “life changing” and has helped her 7-year-old autistic son “develop by leaps and bounds.”

Dawson is part of a chorus of parents from around the state who have mounted a campaign through letters, emails and phone calls urging the Republican governor to sign a sweeping education bill that will soon come to his desk.

But that same bill has sparked an outpouring of an even larger negative reaction to Scott both directly and on social media.

School superintendents, the state’s teacher union, parent-teacher groups and Democrats have called on the governor to veto the bill. Even Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2018, called the legislation a “train wreck” on Tuesday and said Scott should take a “hard look” at vetoing the bill.

That’s because GOP legislators crafted the 300-page bill largely in secret, and included in it portions that would steer more state and local money to privately-run charter schools. The legislation (HB 7069) also mandates recess in elementary schools, expands virtual education courses to private and home schooled students, and tweaks Florida’s testing system.

Scott, who supported the creation of the scholarship program, has not yet said what he plans to do.

But if he vetoes the bill, however, he will wipe out an extra $30 million for the Gardiner Scholarship program that provides tuition, therapy and other services to roughly 8,000 disabled students. Legislators included $73 million in the state budget for scholarships, but those who operate the program say it is growing and they may not have enough money to serve everyone without the extra money. Additionally, legislators passed a separate bill that would expand those eligible for the program.

That’s why Dawson wrote Scott asking him to sign the bill. She said without the extra money her other son – who is about to turn 3-years-old – may not get a scholarship in the coming year.

“As a parent who has seen how life changing this grant is, and knowing my second child may not have the same opportunities as my oldest, it is heartbreaking, to say the least,” Dawson wrote in an email to a reporter. “This grant opens up doors for our children where the doors were once shut and locked tight.”

Legislative leaders have not given a detailed explanation on why they put the extra money for the scholarship program in the bill, which was not released publicly until two days before a final vote. Initially, the state Senate had more than $100 million in its budget for the program but then agreed to lower it during budget negotiations.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the budget chairman, said the decision to include the money in the bill and not the budget was at the urging of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. When asked Corcoran called it a “compromise” since the House did not include the higher amount in its initial budget.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat opposed to the bill, argued that legislative leaders crafted the legislation this way in order to make it harder for Scott to veto the bill.

“I was deeply disturbed that (the families of disabled children) were hijacked and used as pawns to mollify opposition to an otherwise bad bill,” Farmer said.

School choice advocates, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, are asking Scott to sign the bill. Former Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has a son with Down syndrome and helped create the program, said he hopes the “governor is mindful” that the bill isn’t just about charter schools and that many families will be affected by his decision.

Barbara Beasley, whose 9-year-old daughter receives a Gardiner scholarship, says it has dramatically improved her daughter’s life, but she said that “lawmakers sold us down the river with their backroom dealing on the education bill.” She said other parts of the legislation are detrimental to public schools and should be stopped.

“I beg Governor Scott to order lawmakers back to session to fix their mistakes, separate these items from the bad and push them through,” Beasley said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

As Orange County mayor’s race awaits major candidates, can Rich Crotty run again?

As the future race for Orange County mayor continues to be a mystery involving potential major candidates still thinking about it but none yet committing, one name that keeps coming up raises questions of precedent and interpretation of curious language differences in the county charter.

Former Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty, who served two-plus terms leading the county’s administration over the past decade, is considering running again. He’s thinking about reclaiming the office that he held for ten years, between the brief tenure of Mel Martinez and the current tenure of Mayor Teresa Jacobs.

Crotty told FloridaPolitics.com that he is being “strongly encouraged” to run for the 2018 opening. Jacobs is certainly barred from running for re-election, by the charter’s term-limit language.

Crotty’s potential candidacy is like that of at least a couple of others — notably Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings or former Florida Speaker Andy Gardiner — with weight is so intimidating that other potential candidates are sitting back, waiting to see if they do or don’t, before stepping in.

No major candidates have entered the race yet. The seat is non-partisan, so, though party affiliations will be critical to lining up support, and potentially in winning votes, they won’t appear on the ballot.

But unlike Democrat Demings, Republican Gardiner, Republican Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette, Democratic Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, Democratic Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph, former Republican Orange County commissioners Scott Boyd and John Martinez, and other talked-about Orange County mayoral candidates including Orlando’s chamber of commerce chair Rob Panepinto, a Republican, and former Republican Clerk of Courts Eddie Fernandez, Crotty’s possible candidacy might be challenged on a legal interpretation.

The Orange County Charter has untested language about whether someone can run for a third term as mayor, and no one has ever tried.

Current Orange County Attorney Jeffrey Newton, and the lawyer who wrote that language in the late 1980s, Linda Weinberg, both said they believe the door is open to a third term because it is nonconsecutive.

Others who might not want to see Crotty in the race, might challenge that, arguing that the language seems to limit the mayor to two full terms.

“The county mayor shall be elected for a term of four years and shall be limited to two full consecutive terms,” is how the Orange County Charter states it.

That is distinctly different from the language written on the term limits of county commissioners, and commissioners have run for three nonconsecutive terms.

The commissioners’ charter language reads:

“A county commissioner who has held the same commission district office for the preceding two full terms is prohibited from appearing on the ballot for re-election to that office.”

So was the mayor’s term limit language written differently, in order to limit the mayor differently?

As Weinberg recalls, no.

“While the language is quite different, they both essentially provide that the elected official is limited to two consecutive terms and then cannot run for re-election during the next election cycle,” she stated, responding to a question from Orlando-Rising. “However, there is nothing that expressly prohibits either a commissioner or the mayor for running for election to the same office at a future time. And indeed, there was never any discussion or intent to prohibit a mayor from ever seeking the office again after having served his or her two terms.

“I believe the language is different because that section related to the mayoral terms has not been modified since the original charter, whereas the section related to terms for county commissioners has been modified on a number of occasions [we went to single-member commission districts and redistricting,]” she continued.

“I suspect that a lawyer involved in the re-drafting process felt like they could draft that provision more clearly.”

INFLUENCE Magazine talks with Jack Latvala on life, political success and ‘what he’s learned’

Recounting an impressive list of achievements spanning four decades, veteran lawmaker Jack Latvala seems to have done it all: an effective Florida senator and political consultant, a self-described “environmentally-conscious” Republican and the proud father to state Rep. Chris Latvala.

The Clearwater senator, chair of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, recently sat down with FloridaPolitics.com’s Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster to reflect on his life, successes and years in Tallahassee.

“Most senators are sincere,” the 65-year-old Latvala said. “I learned who in this body can be counted on and who can keep their word. Of course, I’ve always been a good vote counter on issues or whatever, because I look people in the eye and then I can usually tell if they’re sincere or not.”

Born in Oxford, Mississippi in 1951, Latvala talked about his start in politics, working for the Republican Party of Florida in 1975, a role he continued for five years.

“The last couple of years, I was the ex­ecutive director of the legislative campaign committee,” he said. “After Jack Eckerd ran for gov­ernor, he agreed to stay active in the party, and he was the chair of that committee. He hired me and brought me to Pinellas County.”

It was there Latvala started Largo-based GCI Printing Services, his government affairs and direct mail business, which the senator said grew into one of the largest GOP direct mail companies in the nation outside of Washington, D.C.

“I did the direct mail fundraising for the state Repub­lican Party in 28 states at our zenith,” Latvala said, including all of George H.W. Bush’s direct mail in the South. After Bush’s election in 1988, Latvala said they split he became one of the three vendors nationwide for direct mail services.

That experience helped Latvala hone his talents for his own political ambition.

In 1993, after local state Rep. Sandra Mortham chose to run for Secretary of State, Latvala made the decision to run for the Florida House.

“I raised money and had a lot of money in the bank, and 10 days before qualifying in ’94,” he said, “the incumbent Republi­can state Senator in my district resigned to run statewide for Lieutenant Governor. So I shifted over to the Senate race.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

It was a lot different (then),” Latvala said “There were 40 leaders raised up by their communities, who came to Tallahassee and did what they thought was best for their communities. No one told a Florida Senator how to vote. You could get 21 votes; you could pass something.”

But with term limits and more House members winning Senate seats, Latvala believes there’s a lot more “follow the leader.”

“It was the worst when I came back in 2011,” Latvala said. “Then after I stood up to them and got a group of other people to stand up to them, it slowed down a little bit. But the House members that are coming over are very used to following their Speaker, to following their leader. I don’t think it’s all that good. That means one Speaker, one President makes all the decisions. And I just don’t think people want that.”

For Latvala, the most difficult years in the Senate were 2011—12, under President Mike Haridopolos. The last two years with Senate Pres­ident Andy Gardiner weren’t that great either, he said.

“The House ran over us on redistricting, ran over us on Medicaid expansion,” Latvala said. “Now it’s like nobody wants to extend the session because it makes you look bad. So, if you can get all the way to 60 days, you get your way.”

Latvala’s proudest accomplishments include the Florida Forever bill, which extended the state’s land-buying program, as well as measures creating the state’s chief financial officer office after constitutional amendments. He also played a key role in implementing the net ban law in 1994, taking another three years “to close all the loopholes,” as well as passing series of criminal justice bills that became a crucial part of Florida’s now 45-year low crime rate.

When Latvala returned to the Senate, he said he came back an “environmentally conscious Republican,” something a little bit harder to find than back in the 1990s.

“I’m kind of a conservative, but I’m a centrist,” he said “I take care of a lot of issues that independents and Democrats are concerned about, whether its environmental or whether it’s protecting our public employees, public safety employees, public schools.

“A lot of Democrats and independents care about that.”

Read Latvala’s entire interview, now available in the spring 2017 edition of INFLUENCE Magazine.

 

Senate Judiciary Committee gives big win for ridesharing regulation

Momentum remains strong in Tallahassee for the first bill in Florida to regulate ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the proposal (SB 340) unanimously without debate.

The bill, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, would require ride-sharing companies to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While with a rider, drivers would be required to have $1 million worth of coverage.

It also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

While all indications are the bill will get through the Legislature this spring, opposition from certain groups continues.

Former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, now a lobbyist for the Florida Taxi Association, said the bill would tie the hands of local governments from regulating their own communities. Bogdanoff referenced problems with “exorbitant” numbers of cars circling around Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Port Everglades. She said issues that had been resolved between local governments and Uber and Lyft would be removed from the books, and also acknowledged the cold hard reality of the political calculus this session.

“I realize the train has left the station, or the car has left the Port, or whatever you want to call it,” she said.

Megan Samples, with the Florida League of Cities, again called the bill a pre-emption on local governments, particularly decrying what she said would be looser background checks for ride-sharing drivers.

Rich Templin, representing the Florida AFL-CIO, testified on behalf of the Amalgamated Transit Union. He said he was hoping to draft an amendment before the next stop for the bill that would address additional safety guidelines in the bill, considering that more public transit agencies are working with Uber and Lyft on options like first-mile last mile and paratransit options. He said he was worried the Brandes bill would undue guidelines already in place.

Immediately after the bill’s passage in committee, spokespersons for Uber and Lyft immediately issued statements praising the vote.

“Lyft applauds Chairman Greg Steube and sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes for guiding SB 340 to approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said Chelsea Harrison, communications manager for Lyft.

“This is important legislation that brings Florida one step closer to a consistent statewide framework for innovative services like Lyft,” Harrison added. “Floridians want access to ridesharing, and we look forward to providing the state’s residents and visitors with a safe, reliable transportation option for many years to come.”

“Today’s unanimous vote on Senate Bill 340 by the Senate Committee on Judiciary is a positive indication that Florida lawmakers support the safety, economic, and mobility benefits that come from ridesharing services like Uber,” said Stephanie Smith, Uber’s senior manager for public policy. “We are grateful to all of the Senators who voted ‘yes’ on the bill, with special thanks to Sen. Jeff Brandes … who continues to be a champion for modern transportation options.”

During the past two sessions, the House had pushed similar bills, but the issue tangled up in the Senate, where former President Andy Gardiner wanted to address more narrow issues such as insurance requirements for ridesharing drivers. After Gardiner left office last fall, the way eased a bit in the Legislature’s upper body.

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

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