Bill Nelson Archives - Page 4 of 40 - Florida Politics

Bill Nelson blasts Senate health care plan, Marco Rubio says he’s looking at it

Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio released a video statement Thursday saying he won’t judge the new Republican Senate health care bill until he has studied it, while Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson blasted it.

“Now we know why they tried to keep this secret,” Nelson said in a statement issued by his office a couple of hours after the bill, which was drafted under closed doors for weeks, was released.

“This bill is just as bad as the House bill, taking coverage away from millions of people and making huge cuts to Medicaid,” Nelson added. “If that weren’t enough, it also allows insurance companies to hike rates for older Americans. Fixing our nation’s health care system shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We should be working together, not plotting behind closed doors to make it worse.”

Rubio released a video statement in which he said he made it clear that if Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to have the bill passed by the end of next week — 4th of July weekend — that might or might not be possible.

“It may take me one day; it might take me a week,” Rubio said. “I think it’s really important that we do it the right way. I think it’s important that we know clearly what we’re voting on, what its implications are, and every question is answered.”

Rubio’s nine-minute video laid out several points he’ll be looking for, all having to do with Medicaid and the individual buyer’s marketplace.

He said he wants a bill that protects pre-existing conditions, yet provides flexibility so that if someone wants to purchase only catastrophic health insurance, that will be available as an acceptable option. He also wants health insurance tax credits tied to age and income.

His other issues dealt with how the federal legislation could impact Florida uniquely, particularly dealing with Medicaid. In particular, he noted that Florida has a “low baseline” for Medicaid payments, and he does not want the state penalized by a system that builds from a baseline forward in coming years.

 

Rick Scott remains tight-lipped about U.S. Senate bid

Gov. Rick Scott remains tight-lipped about his 2018 plans, telling CNN he won’t make any decision about the U.S. Senate race until “later.”

“I’ve always said the same thing: It’s 2017. The race is in 2018. I won’t make a decision until later,” said Scott during an interview with Erin Burnett on her show Erin Burnett OutFront. “Politicians seem to worry about their next job. I’ve got 570 days to go in this job. I’m trying to make Florida No. 1 for jobs, No. 1 for people being safe … and No. 1 for education.”

Scott is widely believed to be considering a U.S. Senate run in 2018. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has already said he plans to run for re-election.

The Naples Republican has been boosting his national profile for months now. In May, he announced he would chair the New Republican, a federal super PAC aimed rebranding the Republican Party and helping President Donald Trump.

The super PAC was founded by GOP strategist Alex Castellanos, and several Scott allies have been tapped to oversee the day-to-day operations. Melissa Stone, the governor’s former chief-of-staff and campaign manager of his successful 2014 re-election campaign, serves as the executive director; while Taylor Teepel, served in the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and spent two years as former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff, is New Republican’s finance director.

If Scott decides to run, he’ll have a big-name backer. President Donald Trump has encouraged Scott to run on several occasions, including last week when they were in Miami to announce the president’s Cuba policy.

“He’s doing a great job,” the president told the crowd. “I hope he runs for the Senate.”

Scott told Burnett that wasn’t the first time Trump put him on the spot, telling Burnett that Trump “did the same thing … a week and a half ago” when he was with him at an infrastructure conference.

DSCC releases new digital ad taking aim at Rick Scott over health care

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is once again targeting Gov. Rick Scott over his support of the Republican health care agenda.

The committee announced Monday it was launching full-screen, Google takeover ads featuring new versions of a DSCC called “The Price” aimed at Scott’s support of the health care plan and its impact on Florida families.

“Rick Scott cannot escape the toxic impact his health care proposals will have: spiking costs, sabotaging care and stripping coverage for hardworking families in order to give another handout to himself and big insurance companies,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the DSCC. “This week the stakes for middle class families could not be higher — if Scott has his way the consequences for Floridians who actually work for a living will be expensive and horrific. We are standing with voters in opposing a plan that is deeply unpopular in Florida, and will hold Gov. Scott accountable for his actions.”

The 30-second spot features images of a man and woman selling their vehicle and jewelry, before appearing at the hospital bed of a child. At the end of the advertisement, the words “What will Rick Scott’s health care plan cost you?” flash across the screen.

The ad, which the national Democratic organization says will reach targeted voters in Florida who make up key elements of the 2018 midterm electorate, is part of an ongoing six-figure digital ad buy.

Scott is believed to be preparing for a run against Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

Is $44 million worth it to ANZ bank to draw the scrutiny of American regulators?

It’s Thursday afternoon in New South Wales, Australia, where just hours ago, the High Court there (Australia’s equivalent of a federal appeals court) just ruled against Jacksonville-based APR Energy, and in favor of the Australia-New Zealand Bank (ANZ), further solidifying a case of what one Australian parliamentarian referred to as “legalised theft.”

In a long-standing international dispute that FloridaPolitics.com has been following for some time, a Florida business, APR Energy appears to be on the precipice of a $44 million taking by a foreign bank, with the full complicity of the Australian system to do so.

In early 2014 APR leased tens of millions of dollars worth of U.S.-manufactured GE turbines and other equipment to Forge Group Power Pty Ltd, a private utility in Western Australia. Within roughly a month of receiving the equipment, Forge went bankrupt.

As with most leases, APR’s agreement with Forge maintained APR’s exclusive ownership of equipment and power generation facilities. The contract further stipulated that in the case of a breach, or bankruptcy filing by Forge, all leased facilities would be returned immediately to APR in Houston, Texas. ANZ Bank ignored APR’s ownership right, as well as Forge’s contractual obligations (more on that later), and seized APR’s property as their own under the then-recently enacted Personal Property and Securities Act (PPSA).

(In what must be a bitter irony for APR, Australian Parliament recent passed a law to reform the very provision of PPSA under which ANZ seized APR’s power facilities.)

In order to get their power generation facility back, APR was forced to post a $44 million letter of credit in favor of ANZ Bank to get its own property back. Five business days after today’s High Court ruling, ANZ can draw down on that letter of credit, in its entirety.

But new evidence obtained by FloridaPolitics.com clearly points to potential fraud on the part of ANZ Bank, prior to the execution of the original lease in question.

In August 2013 — nearly 6 months prior to Forge’s bankruptcy and ANZ’s subsequent seizure of APR’s equipment — ANZ issued a letter of credit to Forge on the basis of its collateral at the time, and in full knowledge of the lease it had signed with GE International (acquired shortly thereafter by APR); a lease which explicitly said Forge had no property or security rights over the leased equipment.

This smoking gun potentially proves the fraudulent nature of the entire process by which ANZ has held a Florida company financially hostage for more than three years.

And APR is no shrinking violet, fighting for what is rightfully theirs in both the Australian court system and the U.S. political process.

Numerous Senators and members of Congress from Florida and elsewhere — including both Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson — have weighed in on behalf of APR over the years. But they’ve done so simultaneous to APR’s case winding its way through the Australian civil justice system, and they’ve been respectful of that process.

Now that the Australian courts have spoken, expect that U.S. politicians, too, will speak up clearly, and strongly, on behalf of this U.S. company being robbed in plain daylight by a foreign bank, under a set of newly revealed circumstances that are highly suggestive, if not dispositive of, fraud.

Florida Congressman Dennis Ross recently sent a letter to ANZ’s U.S. executive, Truett Tate, asking for an “explanation of this taking of APR’s … property”, and asking if Tate was willing to meet with the House Committee on Financial Services to answer additional questions on the matter.

That letter, dated April 3 of this year, has yet to receive a response from Tate or ANZ.

Separately, another member of that same committee, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, sent a letter on April 7 to Thomas Curry, the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) — the agency responsible for overseeing foreign banks in the United States — requesting his office’s attention to ANZ’s activities. Gottheimer’s letter calls ANZ’s taking a “fraudulent conveyance and transfer of title under U.S. law”, while also reminding Curry of ANZ’s previous sanctions by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the U.S. Department of Treasury, in relation to ANZ’s business in hostile foreign dictatorships Myanmar, Sudan and Cuba.

Sources from within the House Committee on Financial Services tell us that proposed legislation is already in drafting, and soon to be filed, that would prohibit a financial institution, domestic or foreign, from receiving the proceeds of a fraudulent transfer, such as would occur if and when ANZ drew down on the $44 million credit line with APR. The legislation — modeled after similar laws on the books in 44 states — would also create a private cause of action against the beneficiary of a fraudulent transfer, including the potential for punitive damages. It would also expose the financial institute to disciplinary action by American regulators.

That an Australian court would ultimately rule in favor of an Australian bank in this dispute, was never much in question. Now the question is going to shift rapidly to ANZ Bank, as they consider whether $44 million is worth the ire and scrutiny of U.S. lawmakers, and their potential to make continuing to do business in the United States very, very difficult.

VA reform bill backed by Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson headed to Donald Trump

A bill to reform the Department of Veterans of Affairs is heading to President Donald Trump, after the U.S. House of Representatives approved it this week.

The House voted 368-55 on Tuesday to approve the the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

The bill cleared the Senate on a voice vote last week. It now heads to Trump for his signature.

The bill had significant bipartisan support in the Senate, including from Sen. Bill Nelson, who signed on as one of 39 co-sponsors.

The measure comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment. VA employees created secret lists to cover up delays.

The VA has been plagued by years of problems, and critics complain that too few employees are punished for malfeasance. The bill lowers the burden of proof needed to fire employees — from a “preponderance” to “substantial evidence,” allowing a dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.

“At the end of the day, this bill is about holding the bad actors accountable, protecting the whistleblowers, and refocusing the VA on its missions to serve our nation’s heroes,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican during a floor speech Tuesday. “With the passage of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, we are turning the page to a fresh start for the VA.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

The op-ed Leslie Wimes apparently doesn’t want you to read

Leslie Wimes

Editor’s note: The op-ed below originally appeared on the award-winning blog, The Florida Squeeze. However, its editors took the op-ed down because it said it failed to meet that site’s editorial standards. 

“Although the tone of the piece was intended to be facetious and is based on what many believe to be reality, we were alerted to the possibility it could have been read to assert facts not in evidence impugning Ms. Wimes’ professional integrity, which the Squeeze has no reason to question,” the editors of The Florida Squeeze wrote. 

Regardless of what the editors of The Squeeze think of the op-ed AND WITHOUT the permission of the original author, I am publishing the op-ed in its entirety because, now, the piece in and of itself is newsworthy. The taking down of the op-ed has probably made the piece more interesting than if it had just stayed up.  Readers of The Florida Squeeze, Florida Politics, and all other political websites in Florida deserve to know what is at the core of the controversy. 

We have been told that Leslie Wimes complained enough that she was able to get this piece taken down. We do not have confirmation of this from the editors at The Florida Squeeze. We will let their editorial message speak for itself; they did not think it meant the standards of their site. 

We, like the Florida Squeeze, invite Wimes to write her own op-ed for publishing here, although we’re pretty sure that if she has something to share, she knows how to get the word out.

So, as the saying goes, we’re gonna just leave this right here…

One of the best pieces of advice that I learned from old hands who have held high political office is that you should never assume that you know the motives behind the actions that people take without hard evidence.

This is especially true when your inclination is that those motives are nefarious.

Leslie Wimes is a name I came to know back in 2014, and her name has kept popping up in my efforts to stay current on what is happening in the body politic over the last several years. I have my own opinions about Ms. Wimes, but instead of overtly expressing my opinion(s) I am going to stick to the facts. I am going to lay out her actions.

I am also going to lay out the actions someone would take if they were a Republican plant who had as their main objective undermining Democrats here in Florida. In the end, we will see how her actions line up with what a Republican plant would do so that everyone can judge for themselves.

Leslie Wimes and I were actually on the same side of an election when I first heard her name back in 2014. She was supporting Sen. Nan Rich for Florida Governor, and I was the Data Consultant/Director for the campaign.

I will go to my grave espousing the fact that Sen. Rich would have made the best governor of those running had she been elected, and since the other two main candidates were the current and immediate past GOP Governor of Florida there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was the most liberal candidate. That being said, Sen. Rich was the candidate that Republicans most wanted to see face off against sitting Gov. Rick Scott in the General Election.

The GOP elite thought that Sen. Rich would have been much easier to beat than Charlie Crist, and while I disagree with that assessment I can say without equivocation that is what they thought. So, anyone working on behalf of GOP interests would have supported Sen. Rich back in 2014.

Surely among the top goals of Florida Republicans in 2016 was to retain a GOP US Senate seat in the state, elect a Republican President, and undermine the DNC Chair who also happened to be an elected official in South Florida.

Ms. Wimes’ support of Tim Canova and Pam Keith (initially) was among her most notable efforts in the 2016 election cycle. Canova and Keith are both intelligent, impressive, and passionate Democrats who had the ability to strengthen a weak Democratic bench in Florida. Another thing that they both have in common is that they ran for offices that they had little hope of winning, and did so in a way that was divisive.

Republicans who were paying attention were likely giddy at the notion of promising Democrats running in such races. It divided Democrats, ensured that these promising candidates weren’t added to the Democratic bench of elected officials, and had the possibility of disillusioning these candidates and their Democratic supporters.

Ms. Wimes also attacked Hillary Clinton during the General Election last year, which is one of many examples of Ms. Wimes questioning why Black voters overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party. It is a fact that Black voters are the voting bloc that has been the most loyal to the Democratic Party. Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Republicans would undoubtedly support such efforts, and any efforts of any plant that they may have, by giving said person a platform from which they can work from. It is noteworthy that Ms. Wimes did a media blitz espousing messages critical of Democrats to GOP-oriented outlets right before the 2016 General Election. Oh, have I mentioned yet that these articles that I keep referencing (which I will post a link to below) by Ms. Wimes are from the Republican-run website Sunshine State News?

The one stance that Ms. Wimes has taken this year that I have the most trouble wrapping my head around being taken by any reasonable Democrat is that Gov. Rick Scott “engages” the Black community more than Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson does.

This was written in a piece attacking Democrats for not celebrating Black History Month posted at 6 a.m. on the second day of Black History Month.

For context, Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat next year. Winning that U.S. Senate seat is a top priority for Republicans this cycle. The fact that Gov. Scott has restored the voting rights to fewer people than any of his predecessors, and those 1.7 million Floridians who could get their rights restored skew very heavily toward minority communities, is one of many examples as to why Gov. Scott is no friend to the Black community. Ms. Wimes touting Republican Gov. Rick Scott in such a ridiculous way over a sitting Democratic U.S. Senator is curious.

Also curious is the fact that a candidate that Ms. Wimes has supported got encouragement to run in a Democratic Primary against U.S. Sen. Nelson earlier this year. Nelson is not the only Democratic leader in Florida that Ms. Wimes has gone after recently. Ms. Wimes has gone after new Florida Democratic Party (FDP) President Sally Boynton Brown just in the past week.

One constant complaint from Ms. Wimes is that the FDP and Democratic leaders meddle in party elections and primaries. Ms. Brown pulled out of an event because the person holding the event is a candidate in a contested Democratic primary for US Congress. Ms. Wimes railed against Ms. Brown in a display of sheer hypocrisy by Ms. Wimes. Ms. Brown even provided her phone number to Ms. Wimes and said that Ms. Wimes should be free to call with any questions she may have. Ms. Wimes continued her bizarre attack against Ms. Brown (posted below) in spite of Ms. Brown extending an olive branch.

What is telling about Ms. Wimes’ actions is not only what she does, but also what she doesn’t do.

I have nothing but love and admiration for someone like Susan Smith, even though we don’t always see eye to eye. If someone isn’t in line with Ms. Smith’s values, she isn’t afraid to say so regardless of who that may irritate.

The difference between a great Democrat like Susan Smith and Leslie Wimes is that Susan Smith dedicates her time and her money to numerous Democratic and liberal causes she believes in. There is no doubt that all of Susan Smith’s actions are geared toward making the Florida Democratic Party successful in a way that aligns with her vision for the party. Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light. It is literally nonexistent.

Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light.

It is literally nonexistent.

Here is what would be on my list of how to undermine Democrats as a Machiavellian Republican in Florida: ensure Democrats don’t build a bench by steering good candidates into races they can’t win and hope they get disillusioned when they lose, sow seeds of doubt and/or discontent into the most loyal Democratic voting bloc(s), and attack/try to undermine major Democratic institutions, elected officials and statewide candidates. The list is not mutually exclusive.

I would do all this while making sure that I never actually supported a Democrat over a Republican. If (s)he needed a platform from which to do all this, I would offer television and other media outlets like Sunshine State News to spread messaging beneficial to Republicans.

It is funny how this all seems to overlap perfectly with Ms. Wimes’ actions. Again, I am not saying that she is a GOP plant. Just because something walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and acts like a duck doesn’t mean that it isn’t a unicorn that lays golden eggs. I leave it to you to consider the facts and come to your own conclusion.

Ms. Wimes Sunshine State News article catalog: http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/taxonomy/term/307

Ms. Wimes’ odd Facebook response to Ms. Brown (I blacked out her phone number for privacy purposes):

Sean Phillippi

(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas or hate mail to ThePhlipSideFL@gmail.com.)

___

Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.

Did Republican state and national leaders mail in their Pulse appearances?

In one of the more biting moments in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” mathematician Gerald Lambeau, played by Stellan Skarsgård, apologizes to his old friend, psychologist Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, for having missed the funeral of Sean’s wife.

“I got your card,” Sean snapped, not at all disguising his anger.

Did we just see state and national Republicans mail in [or tweet in] their condolences and best wishes for Orlando’s one-year observation of the Pulse mass-murder that killed 49 and tore out the heart of a community?

Orlando is increasingly becoming a Democratic stronghold, but plenty of Republicans still thrive in Central Florida, and plenty get elected, and the area is worth fighting for. The local GOP contingent was well represented, by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, several county and city commissioners, several state lawmakers and others. But, except for Democrats U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Val Demings and Darren Soto, who all spoke at one event or another event, none of the state and national political leaders made much of an appearance at Orlando’s Pulse activities.

There’s a real chance state and national Republican leaders weren’t asked to come, discouraged to come, or just knew that their appearances would be, at best, awkward. There has been widespread criticism that too many of them just never fully acknowledged the pain in Orlando was both about a terrorist attack and about the biggest hate crime against gays in American history.

And Monday’s commemorations all were intimate, mostly involving only those public figures who had been there with Orlando throughout.

Some Republicans tried to do something.

Gov. Rick Scott was the lone state or national leader who came to Orlando, but it was a stealth appearance, not announced in advance, and apparently without any remarks. He stopped for a private breakfast at the Orlando Police Department headquarters, and then for an unannounced brief visit to the Pulse nightclub Monday morning, essentially a photo-op. He did not attend any of the major events, and he did not let anyone know he was stopping by Pulse, not even Pulse owner Barbara Poma.

Marco Rubio took to the floor of the Senate Monday evening and made an emotional Pulse speech, full of very personal observations, and acknowledgment that, whatever else the tragedy was, it also was an attack on Orlando’s gay community.

“Obviously the attack was personal for the 49 families with stories of their own and of course the countless others who were injured. I know it was personal to the LGBT community in Central Florida,” Rubio said on the Senate floor. “As I said Pulse was a well-known cornerstone of the community, particularly for younger people. And as I said earlier This was deeply personal for Floridians and the people of central Florida, and I’ll get to that in a moment because I’m extraordinarily proud of that community.”

And he and Nelson introduced a resolution Monday in the Senate to commemorate Pulse.

Murphy, Demings, and Soto also introduced a Pulse remembrance resolution in the House of Representatives, and also spoke on the floor Monday. And all three found time to speak in Orlando, to Orlandoans, first.

Unlike Nelson, Murphy, Soto or Demings, Rubio was nowhere to be seen in Orlando during the observations that began at 1 a.m. and ended at midnight Monday.

Others in state and national GOP mailed or tweeted it in, and continued to miss the point that Orlando sees the tragedy both as a terrorist attack AND a hate crime against gays.

President Donald Trump did not come, nor did he send any White House or Cabinet delegates or surrogates to Orlando. He did not make any proclamations, though he did tweet, including a picture montage of the 49 murder victims.

“We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting. #OrlandoUnitedDay.” Trump announced on Twitter Monday.

Rubio also sent his tweets — three of them.

“One year later, we honor 49 of our fellow Americans of @pulseorlando and continue to pray for their families.” Rubio tweeted, and “The #PulseNightClub tragedy was rooted in a hateful ideology that has no place in our world. #OrlandoStrong,” and The #PulseShooting was an attack on the LGBT community, Florida, America, and our very way of life. #OrlandoUnitedDay”

U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis, Bill Posey and Daniel Webster, who each have districts that are not quite Orlando but close enough to include Orlando suburbs and many who were deeply affected by Pulse, did not make any Orlando appearances.

DeSantis put out a statement, and Webster mentioned Pulse in a Facebook post. Both focused on terrorism, a true angle to the tragedy, but one that continues to divide along partisan lines, as neither made any mention of the attack being on Orlando gays.

“The massacre at the Pulse nightclub represented the face of evil in the modern world. Fueled by a putrid ideology, the terrorist indiscriminately killed dozens of innocent people, forever devastating their families and loved ones. Orlando rallied in response to the attack in a remarkable fashion. It is incumbent on our society to root out radical Islamic terrorism from within our midst,” DeSantis wrote.

“Today, we remember the 49 innocent lives tragically lost due to a horrific act of terror in Orlando one year ago. Our prayers continue to be with the surviving victims, loved ones and all those affected,” Webster wrote on Facebook.

Scott also signed a proclamation on Friday, declaring Monday as Pulse Remembrance Day, surprising some in Orlando with his clear acknowledgment — lacking in some previous statements — that Orlando’s LGBTQ community had suffered mightily and needed acceptance.

Other Republicans followed the same pattern of DeSantis and Webster, ignoring the LGBTQ hate crime angle.

Attorney General Pam Bondi tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“Today we honor those lost in the #Pulse attack & the citizens & first responders who ran toward danger to save lives.” Bondi tweeted.

Agricultural Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam both put out a statement, and tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“On the anniversary of the Pulse attack, we pause to remember the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken, their loved ones who continue to mourn and heal, and the first responders who put themselves in harm’s way for their fellow Floridians without hesitation,” Putnam wrote. “We also remember how Orlando, the Central Florida community and the entire state came together amidst such tragedy. People stood in lines for hours to donate blood, generously gave their time and money to total strangers and worked together to meet the needs of all those impacted. This anniversary is not just a solemn milestone to remember those we tragically lost, but it’s also a reminder of the strength, courage and compassion of the people of Florida.

“My prayers to all family, friends & loved ones of the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken one year ago today,” Putnam tweeted. And then, “And to the 1st responders in Orlando who put their own lives in danger to help others in need, TY for your strength, courage & compassion.”

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson backed VA reform bill clears the Senate

A bipartisan bill to reform the Department of Veterans of Affairs by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees is headed to the U.S. House, after clearing the Senate on a voice vote this week.

Sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

Rubio said he was “incredibly pleased that (his) Senate colleagues … passed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Act.”

“It’s bipartisan and what it basically does is it’s now going to give the VA secretary the power to fire and dismiss bad employees and also to protect whistleblowers who come forward,” he said in a prepared statement earlier this week. “We’ve been working hard on this for years. Today is a great day. I can’t wait to get it to the president’s desk.”

The bill had significant bipartisan support, including from Sen. Bill Nelson, who signed on as one of 39 co-sponsors.

“The brave men and women who have served our country deserve the very best care our nation can give them,” said Nelson during a speech on the floor before the vote. “This bipartisan bill will help improve the quality of care our veterans receive by reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The measure comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment. VA employees created secret lists to cover up delays.

The VA has been plagued by years of problems, and critics complain that too few employees are punished for malfeasance. The bill lowers the burden of proof needed to fire employees — from a “preponderance” to “substantial evidence,” allowing a dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the measure was viewed as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines.

The House could vote on the Senate passed version of the bill next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Jacksonville Bold for 6.2.17 — Summer Slam

It’s June, finally. And despite the Jacksonville City Council taking a week off, the political scene in Northeast Florida is heating up.

One congressional incumbent launched his re-election campaign, while a former Clintonista is mulling her own run in a district just south of Duval County.

Sen. Bill Nelson came through the region to talk about the youngest victims of the opioid crisis, and the head of the Florida Chamber delivered a downbeat message about what the state will look like with severely cut economic incentives.

And, to be sure, other news — covered here — transpired.

We expected a slow week this week, owing to the Memorial Day holiday. What is clear, however, in Jacksonville politics, things are always popping.

Your move, Alvin Brown

Thursday saw the first re-election fundraiser for U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, the Leon County Democrat who also represents Jacksonville in Florida’s sprawling 5th Congressional District.

Will Alvin Brown step up to face Al Lawson? If so, does he have a shot?

And with that comes an inevitable question: who will step up from Jacksonville to face Lawson?

The most compelling Jacksonville candidate associated with a potential run at Lawson in the Democratic primary: former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown.

Brown has talked to donors already, attempting to rebuild bridges that were broken down during his shambolic re-election campaign in 2015, and he has told Democratic elected officials that he intends to launch a campaign just as soon as Corrine Brown’s court case is out of the news.

Though Jacksonville Democrats may want the seat back, Lawson as an incumbent will have every possible institutional advantage, with support from lobbies and the national party should he need it.

Brown, meanwhile, has few friends in the Florida Democratic Party after a term in which he shunned party label on many occasions, including not appearing with President Barack Obama when he came through Jacksonville.

Bill Nelson talks opioid ‘pandemic’

U.S. Sen. Nelson visited Jacksonville’s UF Health this week, touring the safety-net hospital’s Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit to spotlight a problem that gets more grave by the month: newborns addicted to opioids.

Bill Nelson will step up his critique of GOP policies ahead of his general election campaign.

Nelson sees the problem of opioid addiction as one with “no boundaries,” ranging from New Hampshire to the farm belt, and to the Sunshine State itself.

And indeed, it’s a problem with an exponential growth curve. Neonatal addiction has almost doubled in five years among UF Health babies and has increased five times since 1994, a combination of Big Pharma marketing and product refinement, all of it wrapped up in a package with a bright bow of Food and Drug Administration approval.

Republican health care reform, meanwhile, would only make the problem worse, Nelson said.

“Politics is getting in the way of care for babies,” Nelson said. “The poor child, through no fault of its own, is born addicted.”

“It’s another symptom of our times. We have a lot of opioid addiction. It has become a pandemic,” Nelson said, noting that 2,000 Florida babies born in the last year were “addicted because the mothers are addicted.”

Curb your enthusiasm

Can a former Clinton administration ambassador win a race in Florida’s 6th Congressional District? Democrat Nancy Soderberg is giving it some thought, reports First Coast News.

Does she have a shot? Soderberg herself says the race would be challenging, and she’s right.

Nancy Soderberg’s last run for office was a blowout loss.

Worst-case scenario: Ron DeSantis somehow does not pull the trigger on a campaign for statewide office, and Soderberg winds end up going against an incumbent with beaucoup money and a sky-high national profile.

Best-case scenario: DeSantis runs for Attorney General or Governor, and Soderberg faces Brandon Patty or someone else who won the GOP primary.

Soderberg is more name than game; she is a thoughtful, professorial speaker, her style a world removed from the agitprop of activists like Indivisible.

In her last competitive race, a 2012 run against Aaron Bean for an open state Senate seat, Soderberg lost by more than 20 points.

Florida Chamber CEO delivers dispiriting message

In Jacksonville for the JAXUSA quarterly luncheon Wednesday, Florida Chamber CEO Mark Wilson described the 2017 Legislative Session as a “mixed bag,” saying that maybe things would be better for Gov. Rick Scott’s VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida once current House leadership cycles out.

Jacksonville pols were not reassured by Mark Wilson’s read of the current eco dev landscape.

“If we can get through ’17 and ’18,” Wilson said, “we can actually get on offense again.”

Warning of an inevitable economic slowdown as incentives winnow down, local pols were less than encouraged by his remarks.

JAXUSA VP Aaron Bowman, who takes over the Jacksonville City Council VP role next month, said he didn’t know how to feel after those remarks.

And U.S. Rep. John Rutherford noted that Florida is “competing with 49 other states,” and that he wasn’t sure “what just came from the Legislature” is going to help Florida be competitive.

Can Paul Renner become Speaker?

The big question on the lips of many Northeast Florida political insiders: can Rep. Renner get over the hump and become House Speaker?

Paul Renner is dressed casually here but is serious about a Speaker bid.

A fundraiser for Renner’s political committee last week paints the effort as do or die for Northeast Florida, with Mayor Lenny Curry and former Mayor John Peyton solidly behind the effort.

As Peter Schorsch writes: “Pressure is now on Renner to lock down his northeast Florida base. The region — Jacksonville in particular — believes it deserves a turn at leadership. And it’s time for the other Jacksonville/Northeast Florida House members to get in line.”

Whether Renner has the votes or not is very much an open question. Running for anything statewide from this part of the state can be a daunting task, however. As Jay Fant is currently learning.

Jason Fischer reflects on ‘strong’ session

The Duval County Legislative Delegation had a solid Session, said state Rep. Fischer in an interview we ran this week.

“Most of us thought we had a good, strong Session,” Fischer said about “Team Northeast Florida,” with “great things all over the region,” especially regarding water projects and transportation projects.

While it is unknown when Northeast Florida will have its next House Speaker, the delegation finds “strength in working together” to “make sure North Florida is taken care of.”

Jason Fischer, repping “Team Northeast Florida,” is stoked about the latest Legislative Session.

Fischer’s words offer one more rebuke to Jacksonville City Councilman Matt Schellenberg. Termed out in 2019, Schellenberg has explored a run against Fischer.

Schellenberg wrote a letter to the Florida Times-Union a few weeks back saying that the Duval Delegation brought home “crumbs” and that they were slaves to House Leadership.

Fischer relates that he heard from colleagues after Schellenberg’s latest shot across the bow of his fellow Republican, and they were surprised.

If Schellenberg does run against Fischer? Expect that the City Councilman will have to contend with statewide efforts on the incumbent’s behalf.

Garbage in, garbage out

Ironically, neither George Orwell nor Aldous Huxley predicted the hot mess that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office use of social media surveillance software “Geofeedia” would create.

Lots of surveillance, driven by keywords. And nothing useful, reported the Florida Times-Union this week.

“The 146 alerts obtained by the Times-Union fell into four categories of named alerts: ‘Bomb Threat,’ ‘NationalBlackOut,’ ‘Roe v. Wade,’ ‘Angela Corey Protests,’ and ‘HS Alerts.’”

Effective law enforcement protects Jacksonville residents from the dread specter of sandwiches like this.

So far, so good! But wait!

One of the bomb threats? ““Bomb crab burger I had the other day,” posted someone on Instagram.

An expert quoted in the article said the approach was “‘garbage in, garbage out,’” noting that broad search parameters on the user end proved to be an obstacle to more efficient surveillance.

Weed for warriors

The local media coverage of medical marijuana, as a rule, has been lacking. Nevertheless, a story from First Coast News this week offered an interesting corrective, showing how those who have sacrificed the most for America have been unable to get the relief they ascribe to cannabis.

Some veterans, frustrated by the bureaucratic morass, are turning to the “black market” for their green, asserts a Lake City member of “Weed for Warriors.”

This former Marine is now at war with the government over whether cannabis is medicine.

“I know a lot of people who are scared to talk about it. They are scared to try and even attempt to get their medical card because they are scared that the VA is going to take their benefits away,” he said.

The “Weed for Warriors” member told a horror story of being shunned by an emergency room physician because he smelled like cannabis, followed up by the VA classifying him as “marijuana dependent.”

America’s warriors — at least the ones FCN talked to — face a Faustian choice between the stigma of being thought cannabis addicts, and the “all you can pop” buffet of opioids.

FCN draws FCC fine for phony emergency signal

Speaking of First Coast News and its parent company, Tegna, the Federal Communications Commission fined them $55K for misusing emergency signals this week, according to TVTechnology.com.

That fine — which might have paid for at least one more reporter or camera person — came after a stupid decision to use emergency signals in commercials for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016.

At EverBank Field last year, fans routinely filed for the exits. It was not a drill.

The jokes write themselves here, of course. Those who might have seen Gus Bradley coach, Blake Bortles quarterback or Luke Joeckel pass-protect would have said the emergency tones in August were an augury of what was to come for the Jag-wires.

Better times ahead for Jax bikes, pedestrians

Could a “master plan” to improve roadway safety for Jacksonville bicyclists and pedestrians get the job done?

The Florida Times-Union reports that there indeed is some optimism on that front, via a draft plan that “champions four ‘statement projects’ to showcase changes possible at sites ranging from a troubled strip of Soutel Drive on the Northside to riverfront properties on downtown’s Southbank.

Changes may be ahead for Jacksonville pedestrians and bicyclists

“Projects on Soutel and on a section of Phoenix Avenue in the Eastside have been floated for inclusion in Mayor Lenny Curry’s next city budget proposal in July,” the T-U report adds.

June will see the bulk of the work on Curry’s third budget, via the mayor’s budget review committee, before the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee begins the formal review process in August.

Trouble for St. Johns County roads

Times have been good for St. Johns County in recent decades, with low unemployment and high population growth creating a boom in the tax base.

However, with such booms come challenges. The St. Augustine Record reports that the county lacks the money for maintenance, never mind expansion. Pavement management alone is in a $50M hole.

State Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, who linked to the Record article on her Facebook page, was once a St. Johns County Commissioner — and has a unique perspective on the problem.

Cyndi Stevenson has seen St. Johns County grow through the decades.

“Roads are like roofs in a way. If they are not well-maintained, the repair costs accelerate rapidly. It’s like accelerating interest cost … To make it worse, in the early years of fast growth, the county let some big residential developers put in roads that are not built to high enough standards, AND they accepted them and their roadways.”

“Now the repair and maintenance cost fall to all taxpayers of SJC. We need to take care of our roads. It doesn’t cost that much if the maintenance and repair are done regularly, but it is snowballing. We will face the music on this … just like Jax had to deal with their pensions … sooner or later,” Stevenson observed.

“He looked like a truck ran over him.”

Paybacks are hell — and from what we hear on the fourth floor of Jacksonville’s City Hall, receipts may be due after John Crescimbeni lost the City Council presidency race last week.

“He looked like a truck ran over him,” said one City Council veteran early this week.

Expectations are that Crescimbeni will work through the stages of grief, then — unburdened by the need to be collegial — will go into a more familiarly mercurial mode.

Just in time for budget season.

With presidential dreams dashed, what does John Crescimbeni have to lose?

There are Crescimbeni allies, meanwhile, who say that the Councilman isn’t quite so devastated as all that — but they are predicting a revenge tour also.

Meanwhile, we also hear that there is serious disquiet among Duval Democrats as it relates to the Dems on City Council who voted against Crescimbeni for president … and some thought (at least now) of pushing serious competition against the three running for re-election in 2019.

For those who might have missed our epic interview with the candidate who beat Crescimbeni, Anna Brosche, the link is provided here.

And for further reading, check out A.G. Gancarski’s column on the subject from Folio Weekly.

Barnett Bank tower making progress

One of the cornerstones of downtown redevelopment took a step closer to viability, reports the Jax Daily Record.

“Owner Barnett Tower LLC, led by developer Stephen Atkins, and Danis Builders LLC filed three permit applications with the city Tuesday for interior and structural work and window replacement on the 18-story structure … a sign that Atkins and The Molasky Group of Companies want to bring the 155,000-square-foot structure, built in 1926, back to life,” the Daily Record asserts.

The goal: a mixed-use development.

Glory days — they will pass you by.

The building has been in redevelopment limbo for over a decade; the Barnett building and the Laura Street Trio are key factors in bringing downtown Jacksonville a step (or two) closer to past glory, encouraging residential infill that will make downtown boom once the commuters have left for suburbia.

Jacksonville Mayo Clinic named National Pancreas Foundation Center

The National Pancreas Foundation recognizes Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville campus on San Pablo Road South as a National Pancreas Foundation Center for the treatment and care of pancreatic cancer.

Jacksonville’s Mayo Clinic is one of 35 National Pancreas Foundation Centers in the U.S.

The Florida Times-Union explains that National Pancreas Foundation Centers are health care facilities focusing on the multidisciplinary treatment of pancreatic cancer by treating the “whole patient.” These centers advance research and promote awareness and understanding of pancreatic cancer among health care providers, patients, families and the general public.

Students take part in JAXPORT-sponsored aquaculture ‘Labitat’

Fifth-graders from Mayport Elementary Coastal Sciences Academy gathered at Mandarin Park this week to participate in the release of striped bass they raised into the St. Johns River. They students raised nearly 400 fish from eggs to maturity in the academy’s JAXPORT-sponsored aquaculture ‘Labitat.’

Fifth-graders from Mayport Elementary Coastal Sciences Academy gathered at Mandarin Park to release striped bass they raised into the St. Johns River.

Labitat is an outdoor lab offering hands-on experience for learning about St. Johns River, its wildlife, and the river’s effect on the local economy. The lab uses a JAXPORT-sponsored power generator to keep fish alive in the event of a prolonged power outage, such as during Hurricane Matthew.

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens Conservation Speaker Series — Sharks and Rays

MarAlliance Executive Director Dr. Rachel Graham will be the featured speaker Thursday, June 15, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

MarAlliance promotes education efforts and conservation of threatened marine species and their habitats, notably sharks and rays on the Mesoamerican reef. The group trains local fishers and call upon local communities to obtain information on sightings of important species. They share this knowledge in many different formats to many different audiences, from the youngest audiences in preschools all the way to politicians and other decision-makers.

Tickets include dinner, one drink, the presentation, and a zoo experience with its own amphibians. Cost is $30 for members, $35 for nonmembers and $10 for children. More information and tickets are available at jacksonvillezoo.org.

15 big questions facing Florida politics heading into summer

Summer is here — well, unofficially at least. And with it comes cookouts, summer vacations, and the start of the 2018 election cycle (again, unofficially). With a tumultuous legislative session in our rearview mirror and a jam-packed election cycle on the horizon, the answers to these 14 questions (plus a fill-in-the-blank) could shape the future of the state.

Does Gov. Rick Scott veto the budget? The Naples Republican isn’t saying whether he plans to veto the $83 billion spending plan; but really when it comes down it, he isn’t saying much of anything about his plans. Scott has repeatedly taken swipes at lawmakers for slashing funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, as well as raising concerns about transparency. But when asked whether he’ll veto it, Scott has noted he could veto all or part of it.

If Scott were to veto the 2017-18 budget, it would trigger a special session to get a new spending plan in place before the end of the fiscal year. And after a year of legislative defeats, vetoing the entire budget could be a risky move: The House and Senate could overturn a veto with a two-third vote of members present and voting.

The budget passed the House on a 98-14 vote; while the Senate voted 34-4 to approve it, effectively giving it a veto-proof majority in both chambers, assuming no member changes his or her vote.

Will there be a special session? Forget a special session to tackle the budget. Let’s talk about medical marijuana.

Lawmakers failed to pass a bill to implement the medical marijuana constitutional amendment, which passed with 71 percent support in 2016. And almost as soon as the 2017 Legislative Session ended, calls for a Special Session began to pour in.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said he supported one, as did Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Chris Sprowls, among others. Senate President Joe Negron didn’t close the door on it, although he asked for input from his membership; and more than a dozen lawmakers have sent letters to the Department of State in hopes of triggering a special session that way. A special session to tackle medical marijuana is also backed by John Morgan, who bankrolled the 2014 and 2016 constitutional amendments, and the Drug Free America Foundation, which opposed it.

But with about a month until the Department of Health is required to have its rules in place, it’s not entirely clear whether lawmakers will call a special session this summer or wait until committee meetings begin in the fall.

How will the House Speaker’s race play out? Republicans in the House approved a rule that said Speaker candidates can only officially begin accepting pledges of support after June 30. But the shadow campaign, well that’s been ongoing.

The freshman class is expected to hold a vote June 30, with Rep. Larry Metz counting ballots, on June 30 to determine their caucus leader and the future House Speaker, if Republicans hold the majority in the House.

The race appears to be between Reps. Paul Renner, Jamie Grant and Randy Fine. Renner is believed to have a number of votes lined up behind him, including Rep. Joe Gruters who said he planned to back Renner. Grant is pulling in a significant number of anti-Renner votes, while Fine could play the role of spoiler if neither Grant nor Renner wins outright.

But Renner, Grant and Fine aren’t the only names in the pot. Naples Republican Byron Donalds is also a contender, and Erin Grall is said to be considering a run.

Who will be the next Chief Financial Officer? When CFO Jeff Atwater announced earlier this year he was leaving his post to take a job at Florida Atlantic University, he said his departure would come at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session.

While Atwater is sticking around until the 2017-18 budget is resolved, speculation of who Scott will pick to replace him have been swirling about for weeks now. Former Sen. Pat Neal is believed to be a top contender, and Sen. Aaron Bean has said he is interested in the position. Other names that have been floated include Gruters, a longtime ally of Scott’s, and former Rep. Jimmy Patronis.

Republicans will be watching who Scott selects, since it’s likely that person will run for the seat in 2018. And speaking of the upcoming election: Democrat Jeremy Ring filed to run for the seat in 2018, becoming the first person to officially throw their hat in the race.

What impact do the special elections have on the Legislature? Sen. Frank Artiles resignation from the Florida Senate has created a domino effect in the South Florida legislative delegation, with special elections scheduled in Senate District 40 and House District 116 this summer.

The South Florida Senate seat is seen as a must-win for Democrats, who lost the seat last year when Artiles defeated longtime Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard. Three Democrats — Ana Rivas Logan, Steve Smith and Annette Taddeo — have already qualified for the race.

Rivas Logan ran for the seat in 2016, but lost the primary to Bullard. She previously served in the Florida House as a Republican. Taddeo, meanwhile, ran for Congress in 2016 and was Charlie Crist’s pick for lieutenant governor when he ran for governor as a Democrat in 2014.

The Republican race pits former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla against Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. Republican Lorenzo Palomares also filed to run.

Diaz resigned his seat to run for Senate District 40, triggering a special election in House District 40.  Republicans Jose Miguel Mallea and Daniel Anthony Perez have filed to run, as has Democrat Ross Hancock. Mallea has received the backing of former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Not to be outdone, Central Florida voters will also head to the polls this summer to replace Rep. Eric Eisnaugle in House District 44. Several legislative hopefuls have already thrown their hat in the race.

Can Democrats recruit? The special elections this summer could the first test of the Democrats power going into the 2018 election cycle.

With a new chair at its helm and a host of new staffers, the state party says its confident it will “build the strongest, most effective grassroots infrastructure in the entire country as we turn Florida back to blue in 2018.”

At the state level, Democratic House Victory announced it was bringing on Reggie Cardozo, who worked with the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama campaigns in Florida, as its general consultant; as well as Janee Murphy, a Tampa political consultant and an ally of incoming Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee.

With several vulnerable congressional seats up this election, including the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Democrats are going to need to be able to recruit good candidates across all levels of government. And that could mean pulling from robbing from one level — as could happen in the case of Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Democrat running for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat — to help another.

How long before Rick Scott announces U.S. Senate bid? It seems like more and more the discussions about whether Scott will challenge Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018 are turning into not if, but when conversations.

The Naples Republican is already starting to sound like he’s running for something, calling members of the House and Senate “politicians in Tallahassee.” His frequent trips to Washington, D.C. haven’t gone unnoticed; neither has the $3.26 million his state political committee, Let’s Get to Work, has raised since January, despite the fact Scott can’t run for re-election again in 2018.

And he seems to be laying the groundwork for a political operation. He recently announced he would chair the New Republican, a federal super PAC headed up by Melissa Stone, his former chief of staff and campaign manager for his 2014 re-election bid.

Scott has been coy about whether he’ll run, saying it’s an option before going on to say he’s focused on his current job. With an early session in 2018, he might hold off making any formal announcements until after next year’s Legislative Session.

What can Bill Nelson do to hold off Scott? The Orlando Democrat has already said he’s running for re-election in 2018, and several polls earlier this year showed Nelson leading Scott. But with millions upon millions of dollars expected to be spent on the race, Nelson might have to ramp up his efforts if he wants to guarantee another win in his column.

As the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida, look for a lot of pressure on Nelson to perform. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is already attacking him, and it’s expected millions upon millions of dollars will be poured into the race to try to defeat the 74-year-old.

Nelson has already raised nearly $2.1 million for his re-election campaign, and had $3.6 million cash on hand at the end of the first quarter of 2017. Look for Nelson to take a more outspoken stance against President Donald Trump, an ally of Scott’s, in the coming months as he begins to ramp up his campaign.

What will Jack Latvala do? The Clearwater Republican is one of the big question marks when it comes to the 2018 race to replace Scott.

Latvala has made no secret of the fact that he’s considering a gubernatorial run. He’s been making the rounds across the state, and his fundraising committee has raised nearly $1.5 million since the beginning of the year.

In May, he told the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club if he runs it would keep career politicians from taking over Tallahassee like they’ve done in Washington, saying the state needs “a business perspective. We need experience in the real world. I just don’t see that on my side of the aisle in the governor’s race.”

But Latvala is hardly an outsider. He served in the Florida Senate from 1994 until 2002, and was elected again in 2010. He currently serves as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and arguably one of the most powerful state lawmakers in the House and Senate.

While he isn’t a household name, Latvala could spice up the Republican race to replace Scott. And his support for Scott’s top priorities this session — namely Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida — could earn him some Brownie points from Scott.

Latvala said he plans to announce his intentions in August. If he gets in, watch for a heated primary between him and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who many consider the front-runner. Latvala’s son, Rep. Chris Latvala, is already taking jabs at Putnam on social media, using the hashtag #PutnamIsStale when tweeting about Putnam.

Does Phil Levine really want to run for governor (and as a Democrat)? Earlier this year, the Miami Beach Democrat seemed to be on track to announce a 2018 run.

He started a political committee, All About Florida, and hired Matthew Van Name to coordinate efforts. State records show he poured $2 million of his own money into the committee, but hasn’t raised any coin beyond that.

With three Democrats — Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham and Chris King — already vying for their party’s nomination, Levine’s entry would make a crowded field even more crowded. And that appears to be something he’s cognizant of, even opening the door to an independent run during a Tampa Tiger Bay Club event in May.

A big Democratic fundraiser, Levine would have put raise lots of cash — and put plenty of his own on the line — in order to boost name recognition. And with a wedding and baby on the way, one has to wonder if Levine wants to invest the time (and money) to get his name out there.

How much money will races pull in? We’re already seeing big numbers when it comes to the 2018 governor’s race, and with more than 400 days until the Aug. 28 primary that number will surely be on the rise.

But it isn’t just the governor’s race we’re watching. With all the Cabinet positions, several competitive state House and Senate races, a U.S. Senate race, and a couple of congressional districts in play, the 2018 election cycle could be one of the most expensive cycles to date.

It isn’t just candidates (and their political committees) we’ll be watching, though. Already you’re seeing outside groups, like the American Action Network, pour money into Florida, and it will be interesting to see how much groups are willing to pay to play in the Sunshine State.

Which Rick will come out on top in St. Pete? The race between Rick Baker and Rick Kriseman for St. Petersburg mayor is shaping up to be one of the must-watch local races this election cycle.

Baker, the former Republican mayor, is hoping to make a comeback, and polls show he has a wide margin over Kriseman, the city’s current Democratic mayor. A recent poll from St. Pete Polls showed 46 percent of registered St. Petersburg voters saying they would pick him in a head-to-head matchup, while 33 percent are with Kriseman. Twenty percent of voters polled said they were unsure.

You can expect the city’s recent sewage issue to be a big factor when voters head to the polls in the upcoming mayoral race. According to the recent St. Pete Polls survey 44 percent of respondents said the city’s recent sewage issues will be a “major factor” in their decision for who they vote for in the upcoming mayoral race; while 36 percent said it will be a “minor factor.”

What will the CRC do? It’s been 20 years since the Constitution Revision Commission last met, and this uniquely Florida board seems to be off to a rough start.

The commission still hasn’t adopted rules, something that has drawn the ire of several organizations, including the Florida League of Women Voters. And with Republicans controlling the Governor’s Mansion, the House and the Senate, the 37-member panel has a distinctly Republican lean, leaving some Floridians to worry about what will end up on the ballot come 2018.

The commission has held a series of meetings across the state, giving Floridians a chance to weigh in on what they think should be changed. And voters have sure sounded off, suggesting the Florida Constitution be amended to address abortion, privacy, voting rights and even secede from the United States. But since committee members have remained mostly silent during the meetings, it’s hard to say where they stand on any of the proposals.

Will a hurricane sweep through Florida? We are talking about a political storm, although if you ask Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a weather event can turn into a political one in the blink of an eye.

No, we’re talking about the weather. Florida got hit with two hurricanes last year, after a decade-long dry spell. The weather woes put the Sunshine State in the spotlight, and forced everyone — including politicians in impacted communities — to make sure they were ready for the storm.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration is predicting 11 to 17 named storms, five to nine of which could become hurricanes. Of those hurricanes, NOAA’s forecast calls for two to four to become major hurricanes.

While it’s impossible to say whether a storm will hit Florida’s shores, one thing is clear: Another storm season like 2016’s could have a major impact on the state this year — and could have a ripple effect on politics in the year to come.

— Any list of questions facing Florida politics has to include a fill-in-the-blank section because you truly never know what event will occur to reset the axis. Will it be another tragedy, like last year’s shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub? Or will a prominent Florida pol take their act from the Sunshine State to the Donald Trump administration? You never really know because, as we like to say about trying to predict Florida politics: “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”

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