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Bill Nelson and Rick Scott virtually tied, new poll shows

A new poll of the likely 2018 U.S. Senate race finds Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and likely challenger Gov. Rick Scott virtually tied.

The Florida Atlantic University poll, scheduled for release Tuesday, shows Nelson with 42 percent support compared to 40 percent for Scott.

“It is very early with many undecided voters,” wrote FAU political scientist Kevin Wagner.

The poll also took stock of the race to replace Scott as governor and found nearly half the voters for both parties – 47 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans – had not yet decided who they would support during primary season.

Republicans picked Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam with 27 percent support, followed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran at 10 percent, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis at 9 percent and Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala at 2 percent.

Only Putnam and Latvala have launched campaigns.

Democrats’ top pick is John Morgan, who picked up 19 percent support despite not being in the race, followed by former Congresswoman Gwen Graham at 14 percent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum at 9 percent, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine at 8 percent and Orlando Businessman Chris King at 4 percent.

Levine, like Morgan, has hinted at a run, but has not yet entered the race. He has also played around with the idea of running as an independent in 2018.

The biggest dividing line between voters is how the Sunshine State should handle guns.

Over half of Democrats, 54 percent, said the state should outlaw guns in public places, while 55 percent of Republicans hold the opposite view.

About a fifth of Republicans are in favor of “open carry” gun laws, so long as a person is licensed, while only 16 percent of independent voters and 9 percent of Democrats felt the same way.

Just 8 percent of respondents said residents should be able to openly carry firearms without a license.

The survey was conducted by the FAU Business and Economics Polling Initiative and took in 800 responses from registered voters through the internet and robocalls. It has a margin of error of 4 percent, while the polling questions on the Democratic and Republican primaries have a margin of error of 7 percent, due to smaller sample sizes.

Rick Scott says Capitol monument is issue for lawmakers

Gov. Rick Scott says proposals to remove a Confederate soldier monument from the Capitol grounds should be handled through the Legislature, where the controversial issue could be discussed early next year.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates and the Florida NAACP are among a chorus of people calling for Scott to relocate the memorial outside the Old Capitol or to hold a special legislative session on the future of Confederate monuments on public lands. The demands, at least in part, are a reaction to a white supremacist rally this month in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly.

Scott held to his stance Tuesday that government agencies across the state that have Confederate markers on their property should make the final decisions about possible removal.

And in the case of the monument outside the Old Capitol, Florida lawmakers will start holding a series of pre-session committee meetings Sept. 12.

“We’ve got a regular session that starts in January, so that’s just a few months away,” Scott told reporters Tuesday after an Enterprise Florida board meeting in Fort Lauderdale.

As of early Wednesday, no bills had been proposed to address the Confederate soldier memorial that has stood outside the Old Capitol since 1882.

On Tuesday, the Florida NAACP demanded Scott and lawmakers remove the Confederate monument — as well as flags and memorials representing “hate, racism and discrimination.”

“We are and will continue to be steadfast and immovable in the fight against discrimination, prejudice and hatred,” Adora Obi Nweze, president of the NAACP Florida State Conference, said in a prepared statement.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor, has directly targeted the Confederate soldier memorial as something glorifying history’s “ugliest moments.”

The monument lists Civil War battles participated in by Confederate soldiers from Leon County.

Another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Winter Park businessman Chris King, went further.

“These monuments should be removed because we should not celebrate literal anti-American ideology or any ideology based on the oppression of any group of people,” King said in a statement. “And to those who say these monuments are needed to preserve our history, I say we don’t need memorials celebrating this dark time in our history.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat expected to be challenged by Scott next year, tweeted Tuesday that “Confederate statues belong in a historical museum or cemetery, not in a place of honor.”

The corrective tweet came a day after the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that Nelson said, “I think leaving it up to the good sense of the communities involved is the best thing to do.”

While the debate rages in Florida and other states, President Donald Trump has used Twitter to bolster support for such monuments, say it was “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Nat’l Democrats serve up trio of ads attacking Rick Scott

The committee backing Senate Democrats released a series of attack ads Tuesday against Gov. Rick Scott, who is widely considered to be U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s top challenger in 2018.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee campaign includes a trio of “bumper ads,” known as a “bumper flock” when viewed in order. The ads are short-format, unskippable and play across Google platforms such as YouTube.

The committee is also putting a more traditional 30-second ad from earlier this year back into circulation. That ad, called “The Price,” depicts parents selling their possessions to care for their sick child.

The three six-second-long anti-Scott bumpers, which DSCC said are the first of its kind this cycle, depict a son texting his mother about health insurance from an emergency room. The teen asks his mother what type of health insurance the family has, and she responds with “I’m sorry honey, we don’t”

“It’s going to be $$$$$. Why is it so expensive???” the son writes in the third ad. The mother responds with a link to a Miami Herald article titled: “Rick Scott Says He’s Helping Trump Craft Replacement Health Care Plan.”

DSCC said the bumpers are part of a six-figure digital ad buy and are “optimal for delivering critical messages while keeping viewer’s attention, especially across mobile platforms.” The ads will trigger in order ahead of YouTube videos or internet searches.

“The Republican’s health care plan is striking Americans families in their everyday lives and in their most challenging moments — spiking their costs and stripping away coverage they are depending on, so big insurance companies can get another tax break,” said DSCC’s David Bergstein. “This message reaches voters over a series of direct and compelling spots that tell the story of how Rick Scott’s agenda has hurt Floridians and their families.”

Scott, who is termed-out as governor, hasn’t formally declared for the SWillenate race and has remained tight-lipped about when he will decide whether or not to run.

“I’ve always said the same thing: It’s 2017. The race is in 2018. I won’t make a decision until later,” Scott said in an interview earlier this year.

View the ads below:

 

Personnel note: Richard Reeves departs GrayRobinson to start own firm

Richard Reeves, a veteran lobbyist who founded his own firm before joining another that merged with GrayRobinson last year, now is leaving the firm, he told Florida Politics Friday. 

“I wanted to be out on my own again,” he said in a phone interview. “The opportunity to work with Dean (Cannon) was tremendous. He’s a great mentor and leader and friend.”

Cannon, a former House Speaker (2010-12), formed Tallahassee’s Capitol Insight, where Reeves also worked. It then merged with GrayRobinson.

His departure “was a friendly decision,” added Reeves, 46. He says he will continue to work with Cannon on projects that benefit their mutual clients.

“Richard is a great friend and asset to us at GrayRobinson, so it is bittersweet to see him go,” said Cannon. “However, we are happy he is going to form his own firm and looking forward to collaborating with him in the future.”

Reeves’ new firm will be called RLR Consulting, and he plans to rent space in the downtown building near the Capitol co-owned by Jennifer Green‘s Liberty Partners of Tallahassee and Tampa-based lobbyist Ron Pierce‘s RSA Consulting.

Reeves, who became GrayRobinson’s Senior Director of Government Affairs in Tallahassee after the merger, began his career in Florida politics working for now-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, during Nelson’s 1990 gubernatorial campaign, according to his bio.

In 1995, Reeves moved to Tallahassee to serve Nelson in his role as Insurance Commissioner, acting as an external affairs liaison, including board appointments and legislative affairs related to what is now Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association (FIGA).

Reeves later served as campaign director for Nelson’s 1998 re-election campaign. After the re-election, he went on to become Finance Director for Nelson’s successful U.S. Senate Campaign in 2000.

In 2001, Reeves formed his own firm and began lobbying, “specializing in education, workforce development, insurance, utilities and appropriation issues,” his bio says. 

He also has served as a political consultant for political committees and candidates, including now-U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, in 2004-05. Reeves was finance consultant during Rubio’s successful campaign to become Speaker of the Florida House. 

Rick Scott: I will do ‘everything I can’ to ensure Jimmy Patronis stays CFO in 2018

A day after state Sen. Tom Lee indicated he would enter the race for Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Gov. Rick Scott committed to helping current CFO Jimmy Patronis stay in the position.

“I’ve known Jimmy for a long time. I appointed Jimmy because I think he’s going to do a really good job as the CFO,” Scott told reporters after holding a press conference touting July jobs number at a Honda dealership in Brandon.

“He’ll have about a year and a half to be in office,” Scott added. “I know he’s considering whether he’s going to run or not. If he runs, I’m going to be a big supporter.”

Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican and former Senate President, indicated this week he will announce his candidacy for CFO this fall. When asked if he would endorse Patronis over Lee, Scott replied, “I’ll do everything I can to make sure he wins.”

Officially, Patronis has not announced whether he’ll run next year.

“I’m putting a lot of thoughts and prayers into it, but it’s a possibility,” Patronis said after the news conference, in which Scott gave him (and House Speaker Richard Corcoran) the opportunity to advocate for a proposed constitutional amendment requiring a supermajority vote before future the Legislature can raise any taxes or fees.

Over the years, Scott has rewarded Patronis for his loyalty. The Panama City Republican, restaurateur and former state representative was an early supporter of Scott when, as a largely unknown political quantity, he ran for governor in 2010.

In 2014, Scott appointed Patronis to the Florida Public Service Commission, and in March he named him to the state’s Constitution Revision Commission.

He was named CFO by Scott in June, to finish out the term of previous CFO Jeff Atwater, who left early to become CFO of Florida Atlantic University. Patronis then stepped down from the PSC and CRC.

Lee also was at Friday’s press conference. He told Florida Politics earlier this week: “It’s my intention to run for the Republican nomination (for CFO) in 2018 and it is my intention to announce my candidacy this fall.”

Scott also is likely to be on the 2018 ballot, considered an eventual challenger to Bill Nelson for his U.S. Senate seat.

On Friday, Scott criticized Nelson for his support of the Affordable Care Act. The governor trashed the bill as “a disaster,” saying that Nelson has done nothing to try to reform its various problems.

Other Tampa Bay Republican House members who attended the event included Chris Sprowls, Jamie Grant, Jackie Toledo, Ross Spano and Amber Mariano. 

Rick Scott reluctant to question President Trump’s call for possible military action in Venezuela

As Venezuela’s economy continues to spiral downwards, Governor Rick Scott has been championing the opposition to President Nicholas Maduro.

Scott is expected to ask the Florida Cabinet on Wednesday for a resolution prohibiting the State Board of Administration, which acts as the state’s investment manager, from investing in companies or securities that are owned or controlled by the Venezuelan government.

President Donald Trump threatened military action in Venezuela last Friday night, sparking condemnation from around the region, including from countries which are usually some of Maduro’s harshest critics.

Maduro has seized on Trump’s comments to reaffirm long-standing accusations that Washington is preparing a military attack. He called for military exercises on Monday, urging the public to join in a two-day operation on August 26 and 27 involving both soldiers and civilians.

“I know that the president is very concerned,” Scott told Florida Politics Tuesday when asked if he had any concerns about Trump’s provocative comment.

“I’ve talked to him about Venezuela a number of times. I think doing the sanctions was right against everybody involved with Maduro,” said the Governor, speaking to reporters at the Florida Aquarium after holding a press conference touting the record number of tourists who visited Florida during the first half of 2017.

“It’s disgusting what’s happening down there,” Scott said.

Scott derided the Maduro government for placing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez under house arrest after he was released from prison following a three year sentence for leading anti-government protests.

“Maduro needs to step down, he needs to release all political prisoners, we need democracy again, ” Scott said.

The Governor has not officially declared himself a candidate for U.S. Senate, but is expected to at some point in the next year. He’ll face Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. With the crisis in Venezuela exploding, both men have been competing with each other to show how devoted they are to the Venezuelan-American constituency in Florida.

Nelson has been seemingly trying to catch up to Scott in talking tough on the Maduro government. Last month he called the Trump administration to consider cutting off imports of Venezuelan oil. While limiting Venezuela’s oil imports to the U.S. is seen as a powerful weapon, it’s not clear how effective it would be, and is not something that even Marco Rubio has publicly called for (though he has said the issue should be on the table).

Nelson and Rubio introduced legislation in May to provide humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people and increase sanctions on the Venezuelan officials responsible for the ongoing crisis there. Meanwhile, officials close to the governor note that he has been concerned about the Venezuelan people going back to 2014.

Scott brushed off a question about whether he supported Nelson’s request, saying that the Trump administration is looking at everything that they can do to promote democracy.

Over 120 people have been killed since anti-government protests began in April, driven by anger over shortages of food and medicine and Maduro’s creation of a legislative superbody that governments around the world say is dictatorial.

“I’ve talked to a variety of people, including some people who do charity care down there and they can’t even get charity care in there,” Scott decried.

The governor then got personal, saying that his daughter is pregnant with twins, and said he couldn’t imagine having a daughter or wife in a country that is enduring a shortage of medicine, which is the case currently in Venezuela.

“Can you imagine that knowing that your wife or daughter or somebody is going to have a baby and you know that unfortunately you’re in a country where they won’t even allow in the right medicine to take care of their citizens?” he asked. “That’s wrong.”

Senate Republicans’ Spanish ad says Bill Nelson ‘supports murderers’

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is being targeted in a new Spanish-language radio commercial accusing him of being soft on Cuba and for expressing admiration for former Venezuela dictator Hugo Chávez, and charging he supports murderers.

The 30-second spot from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, playing in the Miami market, also contends that Nelson’s actions offer encouragement to current Venezuelan Dictator Nicolas Maduro, who took over after Chavez’ death in 2013.

As Maduro oversaw an election marked by violence and deaths of protesters while international and opposition observers decried the vote as a sham in recent weeks, Nelson has issued several strong statements condemning Maduro.

Nelson’s campaign spokesman Ryan Brown called the ads “untrue” and “thinly-veiled attempt to distract from Gov. Rick Scott‘s record. Scott is raising money for a presumed challenge of Nelson in the 2018 election.

“These ads are untrue. Sen. Nelson is one of the strongest opponents of the Maduro and Castro regimes. In fact, the Miami Herald has called Nelson one of Chavez’s fiercest critics. And earlier this month Nelson called on President Trump to ban at least some imports of Venezuelan oil until constitutional order has been restored in Venezuela,” Brown said in a written statement. “These attacks against Nelson’s anti-Castro, anti-Maduro record are false and nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to try to distract people from Rick Scott’s decision to flip-flop on doing business with Goldman Sachs, which is currently doing business with an arm of the Maduro regime.”

Yet the radio ad, which plays like a radio news report, notes that Florida’s senior senator has taken other steps that suggest support.

“In the past, he has aligned himself with communists and dictators. Look at him with Cuba. He supported [President Barack] Obama when he negotiated with the other terrorists, the Castro brothers,” the narrator states in Spanish, with a sound effect that sounds like him flipping pages of notes on a desk.

“When Nelson supports the Castros, that only reinforces and encourages others, like it did with Chavez and now with Maduro. In 2005, Bill Nelson even visited Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Here it says Nelson went to Venezuela to admire Chavez’s revolution,” the narrator continues.

“If Bill Nelson supports murderers, I can’t support Bill Nelson,” the ad concludes.

Rick Scott committee adds $164K in July

Governor and likely 2018 U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott brought in $164,150 last month for his political committee, “Let’s Get to Work.”

The haul was balanced out by $133,645 in spending, mainly on consultants, leaving the second-term Republican governor with about $2.9 million on hand.

The July donor roll included Amscot Financial, JM Family Enterprises and Charter Communications, each of which chipped in $25,000. Healthcare groups Ameriteam Services and Pediatric Dental Anesthesia Associates gave $15,000 and $12,500, respectively, while lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig gave $10,000.

The bulk of Scott’s spending headed to Annapolis-based On Message, Inc., which has been retained by the governor for consulting and media work for several years. The company picked up $79,000 in July, while Contribution Link got $16,000 for database services and Deborah Aleksander got nearly $15,000 for fundraising consulting and travel expenses.

Other consulting companies getting a paycheck last month were Cavalry Strategies, JTKE, Traction Capital and Robert Manders. Law firm GrayRobinson PA also picked up a $1,000 check for legal services.

Scott’s second term is entering its twilight and term limits prevent him from running again. Though he hasn’t announced his plans for 2018, most believe he will make a run for the senate against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

At Senate Commerce hearing in St. Pete, Bill Nelson vows to keep oil drilling moratorium

While the U.S. Senate is officially in recess, Bill Nelson brought a bit of Washington D.C. to St. Petersburg.

On the USFSP campus Thursday, the Florida Democrat hosted a meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which focused on the threats to the state’s tourism-driven economy.

Last year, Florida attracted 112 million visitors, generating $108 billion for the state’s economy and supporting 1.4 million jobs. But that dependence on the tourism industry means any problems (man-made or through nature) could impact that cash cow for the state’s future economy.

Nelson was joined by local Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, who also shared the dais with Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and Pinellas County Commission Chair Janet Long.

Nelson boasted about sponsoring the 2006 bill with then-GOP Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, calling for an oil drilling ban off much of the state’s Gulf Coast through most of 2022. That translates into a no-drilling zone through June 30, 2022, extending 125 miles off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast, reaching as far as 235 miles at some points in the eastern Gulf.

Nelson wants that ban to continue until 2027, but says it’s “vigorously opposed by the oil industry.”

Castor took Nelson’s idea further, saying her Florida Coastal Protection Act would prohibit oil drilling, leasing, preleasing and any related activities off the Gulf Coast and the Straits of Florida permanently. However, she had been reintroducing that bill in Congress for the past eight years.

Castor notes that a huge challenge to the tourism industry, as well as the future of everyday Floridians, is the changing environment — higher air-conditioning bills, more beach renourishment, and rising flood and property insurance rates.

“If we do not act now to get ahead of this, we’re going to be facing a very difficult future,” she said.

Another concern for Florida is that President Donald Trump has slated to completely cut funding for Brand USA, a federally funded organization to promote America overseas as a tourist destination.

“I think it’s the classic definition of a penny wise and a pound-foolish,” Nelson said, adding that Castor and Crist would fight to maintain that funding in the budget.

Also testifying were many local experts.

Mise en Place co-owner Maryann Ferenc, a member of the Brand USA  board of directors, told committee members the organization generated nearly $3.9 billion in federal, state and local taxes, and supports 50,900 incremental jobs annually.

Robin Sollie, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, indirectly referenced the attempted budget cuts to VISIT Florida in the Legislature this year when she spoke about Brand USA, particularly in “emerging markets like Dubai and Cuba.”

University of Florida Associate Dean of Research Sherry Larking said Florida’s tourist economy is based on natural resources. Preserving those resources was crucial for Florida’s economic interests, she said.

Mitchell Roffer, president of Roffer’s Ocean Fishing Forecast Service, said threats to Florida’s economy come from both inside and outside the state. He singled out water quality, habitat degradation, and climate change.

Marco Rubio says now’s the time to impose more sanctions on Venezuelan government

The Trump administration imposed sanctions Wednesday on eight more Venezuelan officials, including the brother of late socialist leader Hugo Chavez, punishing them for their roles in President Nicolas Maduro‘s creation of a new Constituent Assembly.

The actions by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) will result in freezing all assets of the eight officials subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and American citizens are prohibited from dealing with them.

“I support the Administration’s imposition of a new round of sanctions against corrupt individuals involved in organizing or supporting the illegitimate and anti-democratic Constituent Assembly in Venezuela,” Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio responded. “Given the Maduro regime’s continued assault on democracy in Venezuela, the time has now come for the president to act on his promise to impose significant economic sanctions on the Maduro dictatorship.”

Washington slapped sanctions on Maduro himself last week, a day after the Constituent Assembly was sworn in. That same day Maduro ousted Attorney General Luisa Marvelia Ortega Diaz, who had ordered an investigation into possible fraud in the Constituent Assembly vote.

Most countries worldwide have dubbed the election fraudulent and say the Constituent Assembly is a sign of a dictatorship.

The Trump administration says harsher sanctions could come if the political situation continues to deteriorate. Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson hinted that the U.S. could impose a ban on Venezuelan oil, the country’s sole source of income.

However, such a move would likely only further hurt the Venezuelan people, making the South American nation’s food and medical shortage worse than it already is.

In Florida, more than 93,000 Venezuelan-Americans voted last month in a nonbinding straw poll, in advance of the Venezuelan vote on the Constituent Assembly.

Earlier this week, Nelson criticized Gov. Rick Scott for backtracking on a proposal to crack down on state money flowing to organizations or investments that could benefit the Venezuelan government.

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