Bill Nelson – Page 4 – Florida Politics

Javier Fernandez announces Bill Nelson endorsement, direct mail campaign

Democrat Javier Fernandez on Tuesday announced an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in the House District 114 special election.

“I’m proud to endorse Javier because I know he will be a strong advocate for his community in the Florida House,” Nelson said. “His experience and passion for public service make him an excellent choice to represent the people of Miami-Dade in Tallahassee.”

Fernandez is running to replace former Democratic Rep. Daisy Baez, who resigned the Miami-Dade seat when she pleaded guilty to perjury in a case related to her residency. He faces Republican Andrew Vargas and no-party candidate Liz de las Cuevas in the May 1 special election.

“It’s humbling to have Sen. Nelson’s endorsement, and I thank him heartily for his support,” said Fernandez, an attorney. “This great honor is a testament to the strength of our campaign and the outpouring of support we have seen from voters across District 114.”

The Nelson nod was also recognized from House Minority Leader Designate Kionne McGhee, who said it was “yet another symbol of the momentum we have built in 2018, and I have no doubt there are many more to come.”

Also on Tuesday, the Fernandez campaign announced a slew of campaign mailers that have started to hit HD 114 mailboxes.

Four of the six direct mail pieces focus on introducing Fernandez and his campaign platform and feature slogans such as “One of us, fighting for us.” One focusing policy says Fernandez will push affordable healthcare, responsible gun safety legislation, teacher pay raises and protecting Florida land and water from sea level rise.

“We need common-sense gun safety laws and better mental health services to prevent such tragedies as well as the countless other shootings that go unnoticed every day. We will fight for a statewide ban of all gun shows and have already called for a ban of any upcoming shows,” reads a mailer with an attached slip to request a mail ballot.

The other pieces in the mail campaign slam Vargas, also an attorney, for getting support from lobbyists and filing what it calls “scam lawsuits” that raise insurance rates.

“Slick lawyer Andrew Vargas is everything wrong with Tallahassee: backed by lobbyists, politicians and special interests. They know he’ll work for them – and not for us,” one mailer reads.

The ads mirror a mailer and email released earlier in the campaign cycle that attacked Fernandez – one dubbed him “Javi Lobby” for his past work as a lobbyist.

Those anti-Fernandez ads were paid for by People for a Progressive Florida, a political committee chaired by chaired by Jonathan Paul.

Through the most recent campaign finance reporting period, which ran from Feb. 16 through March 22, Vargas led the money race.

His total fundraising sat at $337,423, including $60,000 in loans, with $51,307 cash on hand. Fernandez had raised $141,524 through the same date and had about $54,000 on hand.

Fernandez’ mailers are below.

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Bill Nelson wants American forces to remain in Syria

Mixed signals are emerging from the Donald Trump White House regarding continued American military occupation of Syria.

Last week, the president said American troops, of which there are 2,000, would leave Syria “very soon,” a position that accords with the Saudis. Defense Secretary James Mattis and other Trump subordinates, meanwhile, signaled an indefinite commitment.

Since at least 2013,  U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has backed an aggressive posture in Syria. In 2017, Nelson advised that American forces “knock out the entire Syrian Air Force.”

In Jacksonville Monday on an unrelated matter, Nelson reiterated a position that accorded with the foreign policy establishment and deviated from the latest Trump policy pronouncement.

“American troops, which are advisors and special operators, they shouldn’t leave Syria. Because the minute they do, the Turks and Assad’s Syrian forces, they are going to move in on the Kurdish forces. [The Kurds] are the ones that have taken the fight to ISIS and have been so successful, to kick ISIS out of Syria,” Nelson said.

Nelson believes that Trump’s words amounted to mixed messages, and predicted the President would “get a lot of his military advisers pushing back very hard on that one.”

Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics – 4.3.18

Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.

By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel McAuliffe, Jim Rosica, and Drew Wilson.

Here’s a surprise the Easter bunny left in our basket: the latest edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, now available in digital format and coming soon in print.

We had planned for this issue to highlight the INFLUENCE 100, but so much is going on in the influence world (or, as the AP’s Gary Fineout likes to call it, the influence media), that we needed to get an issue out that captured what happened during the 2018 Legislative Session, as well as to many of the players who are part of The Process.

If one thing is clear post-Parkland, it’s that Florida Democrats — three decades removed from power — are gearing up for a monumental political and policy fight. The outcome of this fight will shape the influence industry for years to come. Several Democrats are on our list of Winners and Losers emerging from the Session, including our “Rookie of the Year” Lauren Book, a first-term state senator featured inside.

If Book is the newcomer to watch, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is the veteran lawmaker to listen to. If you read one thing in the magazine, make sure it’s her first-person thoughts on the state of The Process.

The rest of the magazine is filled with a barrage of news and notes about dozens of other players, including Sen. Rob Bradley, Rep. Kristin Jacobs, former Rep. Chris DorworthRandy EnwrightJim Rimes, and many others.

Some of those may well be in the INFLUENCE 100. Until then, ponder the contours of the new political landscape, coming to places — and pages — near you.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT INFLUENCE MAGAZINE.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Reporting deadline for Q1 fundraising — 12; NFL Draft begins — 23; Avengers: Infinity War opens — 24; Close of candidate qualifying for federal office — 30; Mother’s Day — 40; Solo: A Star Wars Story premier — 52; Memorial Day — 55; Father’s Day — 75; Close of candidate qualifying for statewide office — 80; Deadline for filing claim bills — 120; Start of the U.S. Open — 146; Primary Election Day — 147; College Football opening weekend — 151; General Election Day — 217; ‘Hamilton’ comes to the Straz Center — 317; 2019 Legislative Session starts — 336.

***Today’s SUNBURN is brought to you by Spectrum Reach, the marketing platform of choice, connecting you to your target audience on TV, digital and mobile. With access to our powerful data and insights, solutions for every screen, and the best programming content on the top 50+ networks, we’ll help you reach the right customers for your business. SpectrumReach.com #NeverStopReaching***

— TOP STORY —

The Constitution Revision Commission’s Style & Drafting committee meets Tuesday to finish up its work on packaging 25 active proposals for the November ballot.

Committee chair Brecht Heuchan says he plans to finish work this week, beginning with ironing out legal technicalities, “then any needed amendments to individual proposals, then preliminary discussion on ballot summary language, then grouping (and) ordering.”

The full commission had cleared the proposals after a three-day Session last month.

They include measures to ban offshore drilling, greyhound racing and indoor ‘vaping,’ put term limits on local school board members, and create a ‘bill of rights’ for crime victims.

The finished proposals will go back to the full commission, where they must receive no less than 22 votes to be placed on the ballot.

Then they face a minimum approval of 60 percent of statewide voters to be added to the state constitution.

The commission’s final report is due to Secretary of State Ken Detzner by May 10.

The body is constitutionally charged with forming every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document.

— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —

State GOP’s revenues dip; firm owned by committee member has consulting contract” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Facing increased competition from outside political committees, the Republican Party of Florida brought in the lowest amount of revenue last year in at least a decade, according to a party audit filed with state election officials. For the year ended Dec. 31, the RPOF collected $7.2 million in revenue, with $5.5 million coming from “campaign and political operations,” which includes fundraising. In 2015, the last year without an election, the party brought in $13 million in revenue. State parties typically bring in much more cash during an election year. The biggest hit to centralized state parties has been the increased use of political committees, which are controlled by specific candidates and can receive unlimited contributions. “The role of the formal party is not shrinking at all, but it has become more challenging with the role of PCs,” said RPOF spokeswoman Yohana de la Torre. “The party, however, is still the primary vehicle to ‘get out the vote,’ ‘chase absentees,’ register voters and sign up volunteers.”

Gwen Graham calls Donald Trump an ’embarrassment’ in digital ad” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida — Not only is the former congresswoman’s digital ad focused on Trump, but it is also first running in the Palm Beach market, an intentional move to target Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club where he frequently stays. It will later run on digital platforms across the state. “Donald Trump is an embarrassment,” Graham says in the ad. The ad is an attack on Trump but is done with a light touch, using soft music and does not feature a deep-voiced narrator that’s become common in attack ads.

Click on the image below to watch the ad:

Personnel note: Bettina Weiss in as Graham press sec’y” via Florida Politics — Weiss is an alumna of Connecticut College, where she earned a bachelor’s in American studies, and Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a master’s in political communications. She moved over to campaign last month, relocating to Orlando from Washington, D.C. where she spent nearly two years working for Americans for Responsible Solutions, a super PAC that supports stricter gun laws, such as background checks for private sales and a ban on assault-style weapons. Weiss’ resume also includes work as a crisis counselor with the Crisis Text Line, as a prevention coordinator for sexual violence resource center healingSPACE, and as a gun violence prevention reporter for Generation Progress, the youth-centered offshoot of progressive think tank Center for American Progress. Weiss’ addition signals the Graham campaign’s continued focus on gun violence in the four-way Democratic Primary for governor.

Ron DeSantis targeted in new radio, TV ads — The National Liberty Federation, a dark money group with ties to political consultant Roger Stone, is battering DeSantis in a pair of attack ads released this week. The group has plunked down more than $350,000 in ad buys on radio and TV, including more than $250,000 for a commercial airing on Fox News through Thursday. “It was supposed to be a revolution to take back Washington, but when Ron DeSantis got elected, it was like he couldn’t wait to be part of the in-crowd. Cozying up to two defense contractors, taking thousands of dollars in campaign donations, and even moving into a beachfront condo — you guessed it — owned by the same defense contractors,” the ad narrator says. “DeSantis didn’t throw the bums out of Washington; He moved right in with them. Is this the swamp creature we want to lead Florida?” The ad points to a website, RonDeSantisFacts.com, with a long list of gripes the group has with the Northeast Florida congressman, including “ties to the Republican establishment,” his net worth and his supposedly tepid support of Trump, an early backer in his bid for governor.

Assignment editors — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine will hold conversations with college students by kicking off a tour at the Florida State University beginning 12:30 p.m., Oglesby Union Room 314, 75 N. Woodward Ave., Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Assignment editors — Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam will host an “Up & Adam” breakfast in Miami beginning 8:30 a.m. at the La Carreta Restaurant, 8650 Bird Road in Miami. He will be the keynote speaker at the DeSoto County Republican Executive Committee’s Lincoln/Reagan Day Dinner in Arcadia. That’s at 7 p.m., Turner Agri-Civic Center, 2250 NE Roan St., Arcadia. For news media: This is a ticketed event. If you plan to attend, please email amanda@adamputnam.com by noon Tuesday.

Assignment editors — Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association will discuss plans for the General Election Debates for U.S. Senator and Governor in a media conference call beginning 10 a.m. at 1-888-392-4560; access code: 9979718. Hosts include Wendy Spencer, president and CEO, Leadership Florida; Beth Kigel, board chair of Leadership Florida; Dean Ridings, president and CEO of the Florida Press Association; J. David Armstrong, president of Broward College and Caroline Taplett, president and general manager of WPBF TV.

Ashley Moody named a “Women to Watch” at Republican Women event — The Florida Women’s Political Network hosted its annual Celebration of Republican Women luncheon where it awarded Moody a “Women to Watch” award. This award goes to women who are “making strides in Republican politics and public service.” Moody said: “It was a privilege to stand alongside such strong women leaders from across our state who have spent their life fighting for Republican values. I look forward to continuing to fight for these values as Florida’s next Attorney General.” Following the lunch, Moody won the Attorney General straw poll with 74 percent of the vote.

Mike Miller’s first ad in GOP congressional primary features Rick Scott” via Stephen Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel — The ad for State Rep. Miller, running in the GOP primary for Congressional District 7 in Seminole and parts of Orange counties, entitled, “The Conservative,” touts Scott’s praise of Miller and includes audio of Scott saying, “I want to thank Representative Mike Miller for all that he’s done … He’s focused on making sure our taxes are low, everybody can get a job, that we have a great education system, and that people are safe,” Scott says over video of his meeting with Miller. Or, as the ad paraphrases Scott, “I like Mike.” In a statement, Miller said, “I appreciate his kind words about me recently, and I’m proud to call him my friend and my Governor. I’m fully supportive of whatever Governor Scott’s next step will be and look forward to working with him in the future.”

Click on the image below to watch the ad:

Tim Canova drops Democratic bid to unseat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, will run as independent” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald — “Even as independents, we are the real Democrats in this race,” Canova said at a news conference outside Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes’ office. “Even as we run as independents, I will run as a better Democrat. I did not leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party left us.” Canova, whose 2016 bid received national attention after Sen. Bernie Sanders backed him over Wasserman Schultz, eventually lost the Democratic primary by 14 percentage points. Canova’s decision to run as an independent gives Wasserman Schultz a clear path to the Democratic nomination in 2018. Republicans Joe Kaufman and Carlos Reyes have also filed to run in Florida’s 23rd Congressional District, which encompasses portions of Broward County and northeastern Miami-Dade County.

David Richardson raises $410k in Q1  Richardson, one of many Democrats running for CD 27, said Monday he raised about $411,000 for his campaign during the first three months of the year. “My race in District 27 is not just about electing a Democrat — it’s about electing the right Democrat, one who is driven by and committed to progressive ideals. That’s who I am, and our fundraising numbers demonstrate that’s what this district wants. I thank my supporters for believing in this campaign,” Richardson said. The announcement did not mention how much of the Q1 haul came in through loans, though it said when the final report is in it’ll show more than $1.4 million in total fundraising and $1.1 million in cash on hand since Richardson filed in July. By the end of 2017, he’d lent his campaign $500,000.

Carrie Pilon files for SD 24” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Pilon announced Monday that she’s filed to run as a Democrat for the Senate District 24 seat currently held by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes. “I’m running for the State Senate because the legislature in Tallahassee is not working for Florida’s families. As a member of the State Senate, I’ll hold special interests accountable, and stand up to the Legislature’s Trump-style agenda,” said Pilon, a former prosecutor who now runs an injury law firm. … “As a small-business owner, I know firsthand the challenges of meeting payroll and providing health insurance for our staff and families. We deserve a state legislature focused on helping our small businesses grow, not handing out corporate welfare checks to their friends.” … So far, Pilon is the only challenger to file for SD 24. Brandes has been in the Senate since 2012 when he was elected to the pre-redistricting SD 22 … Republicans hold an advantage in voter registrations in the district, though the seat is far from a Republican stronghold. SD 24 would have gone for Barack Obama by about a point in 2012 and 2.5 points in 2008. In 2016, the district flipped and went plus-7 for Trump.

Family feud: Ray Pilon endorses daughter-in-law’s political opponent” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — They might be family, but that isn’t stopping former Sarasota state Rep. Pilon from siding against his daughter-in-law in her bid for the state Senate. Ray Pilon is a Republican and his daughter-in-law, Carrie Pilon, is a Democrat … Shortly after Carrie Pilon made her announcement, Brandes sent out an email with the subject line: “Ray Pilon endorses Jeff Brandes.” … “Senator Brandes and I served in the Florida House and were both elected in 2010,” Pilon said in the news release. “We worked closely on many issues, and that continued when he was elected to the Senate. He is a person of high moral values, of integrity, honesty and fairness.” Carrie Pilon is the wife of Ray Pilon’s son, Chad Pilon. Ray Pilon also is running for office this year.

Tweet, tweet:

Save the date:

— “Frank White endorses Alex Andrade as HD 2 successor” via Florida Politics

— “Challenger emerges for Bobby Payne over Black Creek ‘boondoggle’” via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics

Geraldine Thompson is back, filing to run in HD 44” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Thompson served four years in the Florida Senate, representing Senate District 12, and six in the Florida House, representing House District 39 before redistricting. She left the Legislature to run for Congress in 2016, losing the Democratic primary to now-U. S. Rep. Val Demings. “This [HD 44] was a district that previously had been so gerrymandered that a Democrat could not compete. After redistricting, people now will have a choice,” Thompson said. She hopes to take on incumbent state Rep. Bobby Olszewski. “I think I have solid name recognition in the district. I’ve served the district. I’ve worked with the mayors in the cities of the district, so I think that gives me an advantage,” Thompson said. “With regard to House District 44, I think this is a race where there is an opportunity break down years of history of exclusion. I’m interested in being a part of that.”

Randy Cooper exits HD 71 race, will support Tracy Pratt” via Florida Politics — “I started running for this seat a year ago and have put my heart, soul, and a lot of sweat equity in this campaign but have to admit that it just was not enough,” Cooper, a Bradenton civil engineer and West Manatee Fire and Rescue District commissioner, said in a statement. Instead, Cooper is throwing his support behind Pratt, a Bradenton attorney who entered the HD 71 race Thursday. “Tracy Pratt is smart, young, and a wife and mother, who will put the interests of the citizens and business in the area first, not special interest groups,” he said.

Assignment editors — People in state House District 39 and House District 114 face a deadline to register to vote in May 1 special elections. Republican Josie Tomkow and Democrat Ricky Shirah face off in the special election in District 39, which includes parts of Polk and Osceola counties. Republican Andrew Vargas, Democrat Javier Fernandez and NPA candidate Liz de las Cuevas are running in Miami-Dade County’s District 114.

— STATEWIDE —

As U.S. Senate race looms, a slew of personnel moves in Gov. Scott’s office” via Florida Politics — There are staff changes galore in Gov. Rick Scott‘s office as he positions talent in advance of an expected April 9 announcement of his U.S. Senate campaign. Director of Appointments Collin Lomagistro is leaving effective today (Friday) to join the soon-to-be-announced campaign. ‎Environmental Policy Coordinator Julia Espy is becoming a Deputy Chief of Staff over transportation, housing and environment. Mary Beth Vickers, Policy Chief for Health and Human Services, will oversee all health and human services related areas. Chief Deputy General Counsel Jack Heekin is becoming another Deputy Chief of Staff over emergency management and law enforcement. Deputy Chief of Staff Megan Fay is leaving ScottWorld altogether to join Capital City Consulting. All this comes after an announcement earlier this week that Brad Piepenbrink was replacing Jackie Schutz Zeckman as Chief of Staff. She was said to be”pursuing other opportunities,” meaning also joining the campaign staff.

Scott signs bills designed to keep Florida ‘military friendly’” via Howard Altman of the Tampa Bay Times — Scott signed bills designed to reduce fees for Florida military, veterans and their families. The Don Hahnfeldt Veteran and Family Opportunity Act reduces professional licensing fees and requirements for certain military members, veterans, and their spouses. Scott also signed HB 75, authorizing state colleges to waive student fees for active duty military service members. This bill will also help make higher education more affordable for our military men and women.

 Military pride: Gov. Rick Scott, a Navy man himself, visited Tampa to highlight funding for military members, veterans, and their families. He also signed a bill to “increase opportunities and reduce fees” for armed forces men and women.

Assignment editors — Gov. Scott holds a bill signing ceremony for legislation to strictly prohibit all state agencies from conducting business with any entity that benefits the Maduro regime in Venezuela. Event begins 9 a.m. at El Perdigon, 5748 International Drive in Orlando.

Adam Putnam gives wildfire update — Putnam said Monday that there are currently 41 wildfires raging across the state. Of the 34,539 acres on fire, more than half are in Collier County where a 17,957-acre fire is 90 percent contained. Other significant fires include a Gulf County blaze that spans 8,080 acres and is 80 percent contained; a 1,037-acre fire in Miami-Dade in a fire that is 90 percent contained; and a Polk County fire that covers 450 acres and is 60 percent contained. The Florida Forest Service urges residents to take the following steps to prevent the spread of wildfires: obey outdoor burning laws, avoid burning on windy days, keep water and other firefighting resources on hand, never leave a fire or grill unattended, and avoid parking vehicles on dry grass. In the event of a wildfire call 911 or a local Florida Forest Service field unit office immediately.

 CFO Jimmy Patronis was joined by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, Rep. Dane Eagle, Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, Fort Myers Fire Department Chief John Caufield and members of the fire service and law enforcement communities to highlight the signing of a measure expanding mental health benefits for first responders.

Audit questions state anti-fraud efforts in Medicaid” via Christine Sexton of the News Service of Florida — Florida’s Medicaid program has been rapped by auditors who questioned what the state got for millions of dollars spent with a company whose lobbyists included two former Republican House speakers and a former top health care regulator. State auditors additionally raised questions about how aggressive the Agency for Health Care Administration has been in trying to clamp down on fraud. The newly released audit said the agency’s Office of Medicaid Program Integrity never forwarded leads regarding potential fraudulent activity to 11 HMOs under contract with the state. The audit … questioned why Florida spent more than $5.5 million on an advanced data analytics system and renewed the vendor’s contract five times despite the company’s inability to include data on the majority of people enrolled in the Medicaid program. Between 2014 and 2017, when SAS Institute was working for the state, the company listed a cadre of well-connected Tallahassee lobbyists, including former Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary and Medicaid director Tom Arnold and former House speakers Dean Cannon and Larry Cretul.

No Casinos on Special Session for gambling: Don’t do it” via Florida Politics — The head of a group that opposes casino gambling in Florida is telling lawmakers to take a pass on a Special Session for unresolved gambling issues. “If ever there was an issue that the Legislature has already spent too much time, energy, intellectual capacity and political capital, it is gambling,” No Casinos president John Sowinski wrote in a letter, released Monday, to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron. “Whenever this issue comes up in Tallahassee, negotiations between the chambers seem to be more focused on coming up with a ‘deal’ that satisfies competing gambling interests than enacting solutions that are in the best interests of the people of Florida,” Sowinski added. Legislative leadership late last week said it was considering a Special Session on gambling because of the end of a settlement agreement between the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the state.

Pharmacy panel weighs implementation of new opioid laws” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics — The Florida Board of Pharmacy, which is charged with updating administrative code to include the new opioid provisions reviewed statute changes passed and signed into law this year. The main concern: A package tailored to curb the state’s drug epidemic by targeting the practice of overprescribing opioids. Gov. Scott signed the legislation (HB 21) into law in March. The new laws provided in HB 21, which take effect in July, will limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to a three-day supply, and, when deemed medically necessary, a seven-day supply. Certain patients, such as those suffering cancer and other forms of chronic pain, will not be affected by the new prescription limits. The bill also mandates the use of a statewide database, or prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), which requires action from both pharmacists and doctors.

Medical marijuana provider Trulieve sues state over store limits” via Florida Politics — Trulieve, a medical marijuana provider, on Monday filed a “constitutional challenge” against the state’s Department of Health over how many retail stores it can open, and where, under current law. An attorney for the company, which is seeking “non-monetary declaratory or injunctive relief,” provided a copy of the complaint by George Hackney Inc., the Gadsden County nursery that does business as Trulieve. The lawsuit follows a similar administrative action last year that sought to lock down its “dispensary rights” … Trulieve now is asking a court to declare its rights under law to open new stores. The case, for now, has been assigned to Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge John Cooper.

Mears investors to compete nationally with ride-share cabs” via Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel — A South Florida company has purchased majority ownership of the firm with ambitious plans to merge Mears’ traditional service with ride-share business tactics. “In the near future we will be the first and only full-service transportation company in the country that can meet all the ground transportation needs of a customer, including demand response ride-share services,” said Charles Carns, chief executive officer, in a memo to its more than 1,000 employees. The investment deal closed late Thursday, days after Mears had revised its concession contract with Orlando International Airport to acknowledge the change in ownership.

NRA takes aim at county gun law proposal” via Jeff Burlew of the Tallahassee Democrat — The NRA’s top lobbyist in Florida is blasting a proposed Leon County ordinance designed to close the gun show loophole and require a five-day waiting period for the purchase of firearms. Marion Hammer … issued a written alert calling on members to oppose the measure. She was especially critical of County Commissioner Mary Ann Lindley, who proposed the move in February. County commissioners voted unanimously last week to set the ordinance for a public hearing April 10. “Mary Ann Lindley is so rabidly anti-gun she is determined to impose these restrictions on law-abiding gun owners and force the financial burden on the Sheriff’s Office and the taxpayers of Leon County,” Hammer said in a post on the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “Lindley doesn’t even pretend that she cares about crime, criminals or have any legitimate reason for passing it, she just wants to pass some gun control before she leaves office.”

Scott Maddox spends campaign cash on lawyers” via Florida Politics — Maddox’s 2020 state Senate campaign showed its first signs of life in months: It helped him pay for lawyers. Maddox is one of the central figures in an FBI investigation into City Hall that’s been going on since 2015, and recent movement points toward the bureau laying out the case for mail fraud and bribery. With the investigation still ongoing, Maddox’s campaign account for the 2020 Senate District 3 race nearly zeroed itself out with a $125,000 payment to law firm Baker Donelson on March 23. Maddox’s attorney Stephen Dobson joined the firm’s Government Enforcement and Investigations Group in February.

Speaking of Tallahassee — “U.S. grant ensures record-setting magnet lab stays in Florida” via The Associated Press — The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is getting a large federal grant that will ensure it remains in the Florida state capital. The National Science Foundation is awarding $184 million to the lab, whose main location is at Florida State University. The foundation said that the grant would cover five years and is a 9 percent increase over the last round of funding. The lab has over the years set and broken various records for magnet technology.

Duke seeks rate hikes for new power plant” via the News Service of Florida — With a new Citrus County power plant poised to start generating electricity in September, Duke Energy Florida on Monday asked state regulators to approve rate increases to pay for the project. Duke plans to begin operating the first unit of the natural-gas fired plant in September and the second unit in November. Duke said … that residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month would see a $3.61 bill increase in October and a $2.27 bill increase in December. Increases would vary for commercial and industrial customers. The state Public Service Commission will decide whether to approve the increases. Duke said the project, in part, would help reduce carbon emissions.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Joe Biden to visit St. Petersburg in June” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — Biden announced that he is adding St. Petersburg to his extended list of book tour dates this summer. He’ll visit the Mahaffey Theater June 4. “I’m grateful to have the opportunity to continue this tour and hear from so many more people,” said Biden in the release. Biden has already made two Florida stops on the national book tour for his memoir, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose.” He visited Miami in November and Orlando in January.

Marco Rubio offers hope for Irma-affected farmers” via the News Service of Florida — Federal disaster relief for farmers impacted by Hurricane Irma may be available “as early as next week,” according to U.S. Sen. Rubio. Florida citrus farmers have expressed increasing frustration as they await distribution of $2.36 billion in federal disaster aid … Citrus growers suffered at least $761 million in losses from the September storm, which caused an estimated $2.5 billion in losses to Florida’s agricultural industry. Rubio and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson have urged Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to release the agriculture aid, which was part of the $90 billion disaster relief package signed by President Trump on Feb. 9. Rubio’s office did not say how the funds, once available, would be distributed. The federal legislation provides Perdue with wide flexibility in disbursing the disaster assistance, with the goal of helping farmers rebound from crop losses as quickly as possible.

Rubio to move Miami office” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — But unlike when the Republican senator had to relocate his Jacksonville and Tampa offices last year, the move is being attributed to the office space, not to landlords getting frustrated with ongoing political protests outside the building. “We are in the process of relocating that office, but it was our decision, for a couple of reasons. We were not asked to leave by building management,” Todd Reid, Rubio’s state director, said. The current Miami office actually is in Doral, just west of the Miami International Airport, and is owned by the American Welding Society, which also has its headquarters in the building. Reid said the Rubio team has identified a new location in Miami but is not ready to move, nor announce the new location. However, he said the new location would continue to provide easy public access.

Nelson tours Jacksonville’s Anheuser-Busch brewery, criticizes Trump over tariffs” via Ryan Benk of WJCT — Citing a study by the business-friendly Tax Foundation, Nelson said the import taxes the Trump administration announced last month would get passed on to employees and consumers. “This extra tariff, or tax, on steel and aluminum is going to cost 9 billion extra dollars for consumers in this country, and in Florida alone, it’s going to be a half-billion dollars,” he said. “That itself is not a good thing, but what it portends also is starting a trade war.” Nelson said the sudden import taxes, and retaliation by China with tariffs on 128 U.S. products, remind him of a dark time in America. “A trade war ultimately runs into a recession, which is part of the reason [for] going into the Depression in the 1930s. So, you always have to worry about that. Remember the Smoot-Hawley Tax,” he said.

Florida lawmaker (Vern Buchanan) who helped craft new tax law stands to gain” via Richard Lardner of The Associated Press — Already one of the wealthiest lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Vern Buchanan could become even wealthier after he and other Republicans muscled a sweeping rewrite of the U.S. tax code through Congress late last year that includes breaks for the real estate and automobile industries that generate most of his income. The potential windfall for Buchanan — worth at least $80 million and perhaps much more — echoes on a smaller scale how favorable the new tax law is to President Trump, whose fiery populism won him support from struggling American workers and families. While Trump and Republican allies have billed the tax law he signed as a victory for a stressed middle class; the $1.5 trillion package provides the most significant tax cuts for corporations and the most prosperous Americans. Not a single Democrat in the House and Senate voted for the legislation, which they’ve depicted as a payout to the GOP’s largest donors. Seeking to convince voters otherwise, Republicans have trumpeted announcements from companies that credit the overhaul as the reason their workers are getting bonuses and wage increases. But the biggest winners are those who are already doing well.

Assignment editors — U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch will hold a town-hall meeting about preventing gun violence beginning 6:30 p.m. at Coral Springs City Hall, 9500 West Sample Road in Coral Springs.

— SALVADORAN STRUGGLE —

Putting a local face to a large-scale issue makes it feel closer to home.

recent story by the Tallahassee Democrat’s Nada Hassanein goes just outside the capital city to Quincy to illustrate the impact a federal plan to end Temporary Protected Status could have on certain immigrants only miles away from the state’s Capitol.

Quincy resident Gladis de la Cruz fled to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1990 during the Salvadoran Civil War and had been protected under TPS since 2001. Hassanein writes that Cruz may have to return to El Salvador, where “ruthless gangs” that killed her father and uncle remain intact. “They’re the reason she left. They’re the reason she never wants to return. But she may have to.”

Deadline: The Trump administration ended TPS for Haitians, Nicaraguans and Salvadorans because it alleges the countries have “improved conditions.” Salvadorans, the largest group protected by TPS, have until Sept. 9, 2019, to leave, or risk deportation.

Violence in peacetime: While no formal natural catastrophe or war plagues El Salvador “the chaos caused by nature was replaced by gang-related violence.”

Clearance at the Capitol: Ronal Vasquez, another Salvadoran who has worked on construction projects at the state Capitol, said he will have to return to Mexico or El Salvador, where “you have two options: Either you become a gang member, or you become a person who is against gang members — and then your life is always in danger,” Vasquez said.

— OPINIONS —

Don’t be too quick to call race for governor” via Shevrin Jones for the Orlando Sentinel — Right now, the race for governor is wide-open. Voters are just learning about the candidates — and the more they learn about Andrew Gillum, the more they’re excited by his progressive vision. Florida’s Democrats are hungry for authentic progressives this year. They’re ready to vote for a leader who is fighting for higher wages for working families, expanding quality, affordable health care for all, defending our environment, protecting the rights of every Floridian, and taking meaningful action on gun safety. That’s why Gillum has emerged as the real progressive in the race for governor, and why the media has called him the “Democrat catching fire” who is “speaking from that true progressive playbook.” This year, Democrats know more than ever who’s really in their corner. They know it’s not someone who proudly declared she was a “very conservative Democrat” and they know it isn’t someone who said she was the only Democrat who could win statewide. I’m proud to stand with Andrew Gillum, and I deeply respect the other candidates in this primary. It has been a long time since we saw a field of gubernatorial candidates this diverse in their thinking, their backgrounds and their approaches.

Save rural Florida. Here’s how to do it.” via Rick Dantzler for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — How would we do it? By charging a Cabinet-level elected official — the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture — with preserving as much of what remains of rural Florida as possible. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs would be reorganized to become just the Florida Department of Agriculture, and it would have just one mission: to save what remains of rural Florida. Every single day the Commissioner of Agriculture and Department of Agriculture personnel would wake up with one thing in mind: to keep open land arable and free from development … anything that affects the preservation of agricultural land and undeveloped spaces should go through the Commissioner of Agriculture. Regulating, policing and supporting farmers and ranchers would remain since the health of agriculturalists is key to preserving open spaces. After all, no matter how much land is purchased for conservation, most land will remain in private hands, and the support of these property owners is key to limiting urban sprawl. Someone needs to become the state’s primary advocate for sufficient conservation funding, protection of farm and ranch land, and smart growth. I’ve suggested that it be the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture because most of our undeveloped land is agricultural in nature and landowners trust the Office of the Commissioner of Agriculture.

— FOR YOUR RADAR —

Ranging from dissecting a fiery Trump tweet about DACA to examining what can be done to help endangered species in Florida, there’s a lot to unpack in the latest episode of The Rotunda.

But for some, the most ear-catching moment of Trimmel Gomes’ wide-ranging podcast this week is a part about a private-sector backed, solar-energy utopia sprouting north of Fort Myers: Babcock Ranch.

Alongside developer Syd Kitson, whose company Kitson & Partners is completing Babcock Ranch with Florida Power & Light, Gomes gives listeners a glimpse of the future.

It’s in the name: “I think the state of Florida really over the past several years realized that it’s the ‘Sunshine State’ and that [solar energy] is a great opportunity for a renewable energy source,” Kitson says in the interview, explaining what led him to build “the most sustainable new town in the country.”

The numbers: According to Kitson, Babcock Ranch will have just under 20,000 homes and 6 million square feet of retail space. FPL has built a solar facility capable of powering the town and what Kitson claims is the world’s largest solar-to-battery storage unit. Ninety-percent of the initial purchase is dedicated to preservation, and 250 families are expected to move into the community this year. Home prices range from the high $100s to $1 million to attract multiple generations.

More context: Gomes brings up Trump-imposed tariffs on solar panels as a possible deterrent to solar in the state, but Kitson says that private utilities should be capable of keeping costs low. In Babcock Ranch, homeowners will pay rates equivalent to FPL customers elsewhere, “the only difference is that … [when Babcock Ranch owners] turn on a light switch in their home, it’s solar energy.”

— MOVEMENTS —

Marc Dunbar to join Citizens Insurance board” via Florida Politics — Dunbar, the Tallahassee-based lawyer and gaming lobbyist, will become the next member of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.’s board of governors. Dunbar, a partner in the Jones Walker firm’s Government Relations Practice Group, interviewed in February with CFO Jimmy Patronis for a vacancy on the state-run insurance concern’s board of governors. Citizens is the state’s insurer of last resort. Dunbar, who described himself as “an outsider with no insurance ties,” has said he was “honored to be considered.” He replaces Don Glisson Jr., an insurance executive who stepped down last August.

Scott Shalley joins VISIT FLORIDA board” via Florida Politics — Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, has been selected to join the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors effective immediately, the group announced Monday. “I’m honored to join the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors, and I want to thank Chair Maryann Frenec and the rest of the board members for this opportunity,” Shalley said in a statement. “Retail and tourism go hand-in-hand, and having Florida continue to set records for the number of tourists, almost all of whom leave our state with more than what they came with, is great news for our members and our industry as a whole.”

Personnel note: Megan Fay joins Capital City Consulting” via Florida Politics — Fay, who until recently was Deputy Chief of Staff to Gov. Scott, is heading to Tallahassee’s Capital City Consulting, the firm announced Tuesday. Fay will come on board in mid-April, said Nick Iarossi, a founding partner of the firm. “Megan’s policy knowledge and political instincts impressed us for years,” Iarossi said in a statement. “We are happy she can apply those skills to help our clients in Tallahassee. She will be a valuable addition to our expanding team.” As deputy chief of staff, Fay oversaw key state agencies, such as the departments of Education, Lottery, VISIT FLORIDA, and Business and Professional Regulation, as well as the Florida Housing Finance Corporation and CareerSource Florida.

Cesar Fernandez to join Uber’s Latin America public policy team” via Florida Politics — “It’s been an honor and a privilege to work with public stakeholders all over Florida on embracing ride-sharing,” said Fernandez. “I’m excited to shift my focus to advocating for safe and reliable mobility solutions in Central America and the Caribbean.” Fernandez’ new job will be focused on government relations in several countries in Central America and the Caribbean. Uber currently operates in Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, and Puerto Rico. The new position will keep him in the Sunshine State at the ride-hailing company’s offices in Miami.

Jonathan L. Williams to Lash & Goldberg — The firm added Williams, a former Deputy Solicitor General, as a “senior counsel” in Tallahassee. His practice includes state and federal administrative and constitutional law, product liability, health law, environmental, tax, gaming, and consumer protection. He helped represent Florida before the U.S. Supreme Court in a long-running dispute with Georgia over a multistate river system. “Jonathan’s addition to the firm highlights Lash & Goldberg’s commitment to expanding the depth and experience of our team to better serve our clients,” said Alan D. Lash, founding partner at Lash & Goldberg. “His exceptional and diverse legal skills will be a tremendous asset to our firm.” Williams got his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and a law degree from Duke University.

Spotted in POLITICO Magazine — “(BrianBallard is a veteran Florida lobbyist who’s been in Washington for barely a year — the blink of an eye in an industry in which many of the top practitioners have spent decades inside the Beltway. But Ballard is closer to the president than perhaps any other lobbyist in town. He’s parlayed that relationship into a booming business helping clients get their way with the Trump administration — and his clients and even some of his rivals say his firm has a better grasp of what’s going on in the West Wing than almost anyone else on K Street … Ballard’s relationship with Trump has helped him solve a lucrative puzzle that has frustrated more established players … He’s a Trump-friendly out-of-towner who can connect with the establishment — he is a close ally of Senator Marco Rubio as well as Charlie Crist, the former centrist Republican governor of Florida who is now a Democratic congressman — and make corporate clients comfortable.”

— ALOE —

Ecologists hopeful after strong year for Everglades wading birds” via Greg Stanley of the Naples Daily News — Many of the birds produced some of their healthiest nests in a decade, fledging tens of thousands of chicks, according to South Florida Water Management District’s annual wading bird report out this month. It remains to be seen how lasting the uptick will be. And while the birds did well in the refuge of Everglades National Park and in a handful of water conservation areas immediately north of it, they still struggled in their ancient breeding grounds, in the disappearing shallow wetlands near the Big Corkscrew Swamp and coasts of southern Florida, according to the report. It’s important not to read too much into one-year population jumps or drops, said Mark Cook, the water district’s lead scientist, who helped put together the report. But last year’s numbers compared to 10- and 20-year averages are a sign for hope, Cook said.

Welcome to the worldJohn Hansen, the fifth addition to Riley and Nick Hansen‘s family. Mom and baby are doing great, says Dad.

Bill Nelson says aluminum, steel tariffs could lead to recession

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson met with Anheuser-Busch executives in Jacksonville Monday to address business concerns about the Trump administration’s plan for tariffs on foreign products.

The beer execs were concerned that an imposed 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum would cost them millions of dollars and slow down investment in growing their business.

While the company in 2017 grossed the most it has in a decade, there was actually a revenue decline of 1.8 percent due to “industry softness.” That revenue decline would only be exacerbated by tariffs.

For Nelson, the tariffs signal a bigger issue.

“What it portends,” said Nelson, “is the starting of a trade war.”

“We get into a trade war and the prices of a lot of consumer goods we buy from overseas are going to rocket up,” Nelson said. “A trade war ultimately runs into a recession, which was part of the reason for going into the Depression back in the 1930s.”

Nelson noted the Smoot-Hawley Act, which raised 900 import duties all at once, ultimately was what “plunged us into a Depression.”

“This could be the beginning,” Nelson said, saying 9 million people have jobs that will be affected by this imposition of aluminum and steel tariffs.

Florida Politics asked Nelson about the weakening of the dollar that has happened under the current administration, and how that factors into a potential move into an economic downturn.

“Everything is so complicated and so inextricably entwined. The value of the dollar along with imports and exports. You throw some of that out of kilter, and then you start getting into a recession,” Nelson said.

Asked about Chinese import tariffs on a list of 120 American goods, Nelson said that illustrated the “threat” posed by a trade war.

“Once the trade war starts, other countries will increase the prices of their goods … remember, that’s what [led to] the Great Depression of the 1930s,” Nelson said, calling Trump’s moves toward a trade war “eccentric, outlandish, and extreme.”

This aluminum tariff, said Nelson, would add “$9 billion of extra spending to consumers.”

“In Florida alone,” Nelson said, “there will be a half billion dollars of extra spending to consumers.”

For Anheuser-Busch, Nelson said the tariffs would raise prices on supplies of aluminum, which would be passed on to consumers.

Orlando showdown with TSA brings swift airport security changes

The Orlando International Airport may have been stopped from the prospect of privatizing security checkpoints now that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration is rushing to make improvements.

Swift changes coming to expand TSA staff, add more screening dogs, and bring in new state-of-the-art equipment have happened in a matter of less than seven weeks, and more are on the way.

And it all appears to be the direct result of a showdown, of the airport’s board’s vote in February to begin the process of dumping TSA in favor of a private security screening company.

Yet the congressional delegation from the area, notably U.S. Rep. Val Demings, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson all opposed privatization of the screening force and got involved to get the communications with and changes from TSA that Orlando airport officials had complained they weren’t getting.

On Friday Demings chaired a meeting at the airport with Soto, Nelson, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and airport officials, with a representative from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio as well, during which a TSA official laid out plans to essentially provide everything the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority wanted. And in record time – about 36 days.

“Assuming everything continues the way it is, it is my intention that the [Greater Orlando Aviation Authority] board at our April meeting rescind the authority given to the executive director to move forward to explore privatization and instead focus on continuing to build a great partnership,” Frank Kruppenbacher, chairman of the GOAA board, said afterwards.

The changes will mainly focus on the western checkpoint area of Orlando’s central passenger terminal. Jerry Henderson, TSA’s federal security director for Orlando, told Demings and the others that in days after a she and the rest of the delegation began brokering talks between the TSA and GOAA the federal agency drew up and approved plans to rework the area to add three new lanes. The TSA also authorized 75 new transportation security officers for Orlando, and delivery of some new, state-of-the-art screening equipment. More dogs at coming too.

That’s the temporary fix. Meanwhile GOAA Director Phil Brown and his staff are working to relocate two major stores by that security checkpoint, run by Disney and Universal Orlando. Brown hopes to get at least one of them relocated in time to build out a bigger checkpoint area for a permanent upgrade by next Christmas.

This has all been happening as Orlando’s airport has been seeing record numbers of passengers – even in the past seven weeks, Henderson said.

In February the board had reacted to what had been more than a year of frustration, as airport officials were convinced that TSA security services were not sufficient and passenger reactions were getting more and more negative. The board essentially issued an ultimatum: The TSA needed to change things fast, and in the meantime, Orlando was officially moving toward kicking TSA out.

It comes at an airport that strives for what officials call an “Orlando Experience,” an extension of customer service level goals maintained at Walt Disney World and some of the other tourist resorts and hotels.

With Dyer voting no, on Feb. 21 the GOAA board voted to open what likely would be a year-long process that could have led to the federal agency’s security functions being contracted out to private security companies. That option is used in more than 20 airports nationally, though the vast majority of them, excepting San Francisco and Kansas City, are small.

Privatization had been pursued before in Orlando, when U.S. Rep. John Mica urged it a few years ago, in part because of his frustration with the unions involved, but the GOAA board never accepted the idea until February.

This time Mica’s successor, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy opposed privatization, as do Demings, Nelson and Soto. Murphy did not attend Friday.

Demings sounded relieved Friday, but cautioned Kruppenbacher, Brown, Henderson and the others that if the GOAA board does indeed reverse its February vote, that the pressure must be kept up to keep GOAA and the TSA working together, and that she wants the congressional delegation informed immediately if there are any problems.

“When people get of the planes in Orlando, their vacations start the minute they arrive. And their vacations end the minute they get back on that plane,” she said. “We set that bar for ourselves very high but I have no doubt that we can achieve it.”

Democrats portraying Rick Scott as unaccountable in tragedies

In anticipation of Gov. Rick Scott‘s entry as the leading Republican candidate in this year’s U.S. Senate race, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and state Sen. Gary Farmer on Friday accused him of avoiding responsibility in the Hollywood Hills, Parkland, and Florida International University tragedies.

“There is a stark contrast in how each man takes responsibility for his actions: accountability on the end of [Democratic] Sen. [Bill] Nelson, and the blame-game on the end of Gov. Scott,” Soto said. “We need leaders who take responsibility for their actions. Because inaction has cost us lives here in the state of Florida.”

“This is not leadership,” Farmer said. “This is not the accountability we need.”

Their comments came as an early salvo in a Florida Democratic Party campaign against Scott, themed, “Self-Serving Scott.” Scott has called an April 9 event where he is expected to announce his candidacy to take on Nelson.

There was no immediate response from Scott’s office or from the Republican Party of Florida to Soto’s and Farmer’s accusations. Not yet being an official candidate, Scott does not yet have a formal campaign that can respond.

However, the Republican National Committee later issued a statement declaring Farmer’s and Soto’s statements to be “disgusting.”

“It’s disgusting that Democrats are so desperate in Florida they would take a tragedy of people dying and turn it into politics,” Taryn Fenske said in a written statement. “This would be no different than saying Congressman Soto and Senator Nelson should be held accountable for the bridge collapse in South Florida because federal dollars and inspectors were responsible for the management of that project. They should be ashamed.”

Soto and Farmer strove to follow up on and bring new attention to reports that suggested that in the cases of the tragic deaths of 12 nursing home patients at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in September, the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, and the bridge collapse at FIU earlier this month, state authorities had received some sorts of warnings of potential problems.

Scott, they maintained, not only did nothing, or oversaw agencies that did nothing to respond to the early warnings, but later blamed others outside his administration while not acknowledging the prospects that his own administration may have played a role.

All three of the incidents are under investigation, and more will be known when those investigations are completed.

“You’ve got a pattern here where our governor will not accept blame,” Farmer said.

Bill Nelson pledges VA will not be privatized

Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson charged in Orlando Thursday that the latest shakeup at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has to do with President Donald Trump‘s desire to privatize health services for veterans and he vowed to block it.

Nelson was joined Thursday by fellow Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island in honoring dozens of Central Florida veterans, many of them disabled and in wheelchairs or gurneys at the Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona.

The appearance came less than a day after Trump fired VA Secretary David Shulkin and announced he would nominate Dr. Ronny Jackson, a Navy rear admiral who serves as White House physician for Trump and did so for previous presidents.

In addition to pledging to support the VA, Nelson also responded to media inquiries about Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s claim that the two senators have a great relationship, and thus Rubio would not be strongly campaigning for Nelson’s Republican opponent this fall, likely Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Nelson re-affirmed his side of the bromance between himself and Rubio.

Nelson and Reed both said they assume Jackson is a decent man and that they intend to reserve judgment on his nomination until after Senate hearings. But Nelson said he is confident the shakeup is a result of Trump’s desire to privatize veteran medical care, something Shulkin had publicly pushed back on.

He and Reed said they would not let privatization happen.

“I want all of you to know that against all of the rumors swirling that VA. medical care is going to be privatized, don’t worry. It will not be. And I guarantee you that Sen. Reed and I will be two of the people that will not let it happen,” Nelson told the gathering of disabled veterans.

Neither Reed nor Nelson said they had any information to suggest that Jackson would favor privatization.

“The veterans certainly don’t want it,” Nelson said afterwards. “All the veterans medical care is considered excellent. The problems have been in the administrative operation in a very large, gargantuan, administrative agency. But the veterans should have confidence to know that they will continue to have a veterans medical care system. We owe that to them. They fought for this country. They were promised that would have a medical system that would take care of them. And we’re going to make good on that promise.”

As for the Rubio relationship, Nelson said, “Marco and I are personal friends. We get along well, That’s important for Florida. Because we do a lot of stuff for our state that you would never see, such as the appointment of federal judges. It would be absolutely miserable if you didn’t get along with your fellow senator.

“Fortunately, I think his comments reflect exactly what I would say about him,” Nelson added.

Chief of staff shake-up in Governor’s office suggests Rick Scott Senate run imminent

Gov. Rick Scott‘s office saw a changing of the chief of staff position Monday, presaging what Scott says is a “big announcement” on Facebook Live on April 9.

Brad Piepenbrink takes over as Chief of Staff. Jackie Schutz Zeckman “resigned yesterday and will be pursuing other opportunities,” according to a news release from the Governor’s Office.

Schutz Zeckman is widely expected to jump to Scott’s political operation as he gears up for a U.S. Senate run against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, in office since 2001.

Piepenbrink “most recently served as deputy chief of staff … where he oversaw policy development over the environment, health care, transportation, law enforcement and emergency management and was also the director of the Office of External Affairs,” the news release said.

“Brad has done an incredible job in the many important positions he has held throughout my administration,” Scott said in a statement. “He effectively ran … thousands of events across the state and has led the development of significant policy initiatives throughout my time in office.

“Brad also oversaw the appointments process of individuals to more than 600 boards and commissions,” Scott said. “He was also a key component of my successful re-election efforts and has been critical to carrying out my agenda to make Florida the best state for families and job creators.”

Schutz Zeckman “has been on my team since my first year in office and has been a trusted and loyal adviser,” Scott added, mentioning her work on communications, legislative strategy, and as a traveling press secretary.

“She has been dedicated to implementing my agenda throughout my time as Governor, and I know she will continue to do great things for our state.”

Reaction to the move was laudatory and critical, in turn.

Christian Ziegler, a GOP state committeeman and candidate for Sarasota County Commission, tweeted that Scott “is going to make the best U.S. Senator. Self-made businessman (need more of those in DC) and has run the best state in the union. Looking forward to working to get him elected.”

Joshua Karp, spokesman for American Bridge, issued a statement: “For seven years, Rick Scott has played politics like the wealthy insider he is — an untrustworthy politician who only cares about his own ambition and making money for himself and his wealthy cronies.”

American Bridge is a progressive Super PAC founded by David Brock in 2010.

“During Rick Scott’s time in office, his net worth has gone up by millions while a majority of Florida counties have failed to recover from the recession,” said Karp, a former spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party. “In November, Floridians will reject his failed record.”

CFO Jimmy Patronis, a friend and political ally of Scott’s, tweeted that Scott “couldn’t have picked a finer leader for COS! Brad Piepenbrink is an outstanding, loyal friend to our state.”

Piepenbrink now is Scott’s seventh chief of staff since he took office in 2011, following, in orderMike Prendergast, Steve MacNamaraAdam HollingsworthMelissa Sellers (now Stone), Kim McDougal, and Schutz Zeckman.

Republicans go after Bill Nelson for supporting Hillary Clinton

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is releasing a new digital ad Monday morning that warns Florida Republicans that if Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson had his way, Hillary Clinton would be president.

The 30-second video replays Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” a couple different ways, and adds her recent comments, made in a speech in India, in which she dismisses the middle of the United States as supporting President Donald Trump‘s vision of “looking backwards.”

The ad then makes this pronouncement in text: “And if Bill Nelson had his way… Hillary Clinton would be president.” That is followed by a snippet from a 2016 campaign speech given by Nelson in which he declares, “Hillary will not only be commander in chief as president, but she will be the unifier in chief.”

The ad may test, among non-Republicans, whether Clinton will continue being more unpopular in Florida than Trump, making the case that Nelson opposed Trump and supported fellow-Democrat Clinton.

For now, Nelson is running for re-election without a big-name opponent, though Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to get into the race to be his Republican opponent.

“Hillary Clinton, Bill Nelson and the Democratic Party share the same elitist disdain towards the needs of hardworking Floridians,” NRSC Communications Director Katie Martin stated in a news release. “Voters will be reminded that Nelson did everything he could to get Hillary Clinton elected president.”

Citrus farmers in waiting game for hurricane aid

Frustration is growing among Florida citrus farmers awaiting the distribution of $2.36 billion in federal disaster-relief money for agriculture losses sustained in Hurricane Irma.

“We’re still waiting, maybe not as patiently as we were to start with,” Florida Citrus Commission Chairman G. Ellis Hunt said Wednesday.

President Donald Trump signed the disaster-relief package in February, five months after Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida. The approval came after months of lobbying by Florida officials.

“We’ve got to get this money,” Hunt added Wednesday. “Growers are hanging by a thread, and it’s going to make a difference for a lot of people whether they survive or not.”

Florida’s agriculture industry suffered an estimated $2.5 billion in losses from Hurricane Irma, with the citrus industry — seeing record lows in production this growing season — accounting for $761 million of the total.

The loss estimates were released in October by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Since then, citrus losses have been estimated by state lawmakers to have stretched over the $1 billion mark as the growing season progressed and as damage to trees from flooding has become more pronounced.

With losses at groves in parts of Southwest Florida reaching 70 percent to 90 percent from Irma, orange production across the state is forecast to be down 34.5 percent from a year ago, with grapefruit production off by 40 percent in the same time.

A request for comment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was not immediately returned.

Mike Sparks, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Mutual, said “our frustration” is tied to getting the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release a draft on how or when the money will be distributed.

“It’s been over six, seven months since the hurricane, coming up on eight, and we are still on hold,” said Sparks, who was in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. “We’ve just got to get something out of USDA.”

Sparks noted he’s been working with members of Florida’s congressional delegation to speed the distribution of funding.

Earlier this month, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor to call out the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for “foot dragging” on the distribution of the overall $90 billion disaster relief package.

Signed by Trump on Feb. 9, the relief package is aimed at recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Harvey in Texas and other areas of the western Gulf Coast, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and wildfires in California.

Nelson tweeted on March 6 that he was advised by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that “help will arrive within weeks, not months.”

State officials have submitted recommendations on how the federal money could be distributed, Sparks said.

Florida lawmakers approved some short-term patches for the agriculture industry as part of a roughly $170 million tax package (HB 7087) approved March 11.

The package includes tax breaks for such things as materials used to repair nonresidential farm buildings and fences and for citrus packing houses that had their businesses interrupted by Hurricane Irma or by the deadly disease citrus greening. Also, tax breaks were included for fuel used to transport agricultural products after Irma.

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