Bill Nelson – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Rick Scott will skip CNN town hall, workshop student safety instead

Gov. Rick Scott will not attend a CNN-hosted town hall discussion with students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, their family members and the surrounding community.

The reason? Scott’s staff said the governor will be busy in Tallahassee addressing the issue of student safety.

“With only three weeks left of our annual legislative session, Governor Rick Scott will be in Tallahassee meeting with state leaders to work on ways to keep Florida students safe, including school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness,” McKinley Lewis, Scott’s Deputy Communications Director, said in a statement provided to Florida Politics.

CNN announced the town hall in the wake of the tragic Parkland massacre to help “facilitate a discussion” between elected officials and those affected by the incident.

The event, “Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action,” will be moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper, who took to Twitter over the weekend to personally alert officials, like Scott, who were invited to the discussion.

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican, along with Democratic Florida U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, have accepted the invitation. President Donald Trump will not attend the town hall. It’s scheduled to air live on Wednesday at 9 p.m.

Scott’s planned absence from the event has drawn criticism, including from Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.

In declining the request, Scott seemed to point to a sense of urgency in the state’s lawmaking process. Later on Monday, he followed through by announcing a series of planned workshops for law enforcement leaders, school administrators, teachers, mental health experts, and state agency heads to discuss school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness.

Those workshops will take place throughout Tuesday. Scott will hold a roundtable to discuss findings at the end of the day.

Scott, who said he’s spent the past week in the area surrounding Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, said, “A tragedy like what occurred in Broward County must never happen again and swift action is needed now. I am bringing local and state leaders together to find solutions on how to prevent violence in our schools and keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill individuals. This is an urgent matter that we must address quickly.”

The meetings are closed to the public, but will be live-streamed on the Florida Channel. Viewers will be able to provide public input via a website.

Workshops will take place from 10 a.m. to noon and 2-4 p.m at the Florida Department of Education to focus on “school safety improvements and updating school security protocols and emergency plans.”

At the Florida Department of Children and Families, workshops will take place from 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. to focus on “ways to expand mental health services for Floridians, especially students, and improve coordination between state, local and private behavioral health partners.”

Potential safety improvements and an emphasis on keeping guns away from the mentally ill will be the focal points of workshops held from 10 a.m. to noon and 2-4 p.m. at the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Scott’s roundtable is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Capitol.

Support builds for Florida GOP mega-donor’s ultimatum on assault weapon ban

On Monday, Al Hoffman repeated his claim on CNN that he will withhold raising any more money for Republican candidates or committees unless they embrace a ban on the sale of assault weapons to civilians.

For several years, the top GOP fundraiser had helped collect large financial donations for Republicans in both Florida and presidential races. Hoffman claims to have raised more than $600 million for Republicans during the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns of George W. Bush.

The North Palm Beach developer’s company, WCI, also helped construct thousands of homes in Parkland, the location of last week’s gun massacre at Marjorie Stoneham Douglas High School where 17 people died.

Hoffman said that, for him, the shooting hit home.

“I intend to contact every single Republican donor that I have in my little Rolodex file here, and I want to persuade them to hold up their check to their candidates until we can come around and create a movement here that does the right thing,” Hoffman told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Monday morning.

Hoffman issued an email Saturday to fellow Republican donors calling them to join his refusal to bankroll Republican candidates unless they support an assault weapons ban. The ultimatum led to a story published Sunday in The New York Times.

One person that could be affected most by Hoffman’s threat is Gov. Rick Scott, who never discussed any gun control measures since he was first elected governor. Scott is expected to run for the U.S. Senate later this year against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.

“I have not talked to him about this particular incident, but he said that all options are on the table, I believe, and I really want to try to help persuade him to adopt this principle,” Hoffman said about how he believes Scott will feel about his proposal.

In a news conference Wednesday night, Scott declined to say whether policymakers should take a stand on gun control, insisting that “there’s a time” to have such discussions.

“There’s a movement coming,” Hoffman added, referring to the measures lawmakers passed in Connecticut after the December 2012 school massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. “And the state of Florida better get with it and pass this assault (weapon ban).”

Legislators in Connecticut significantly expanded an existing ban on the sale of assault weapons, prohibited the sale of magazines with more than 10 rounds and required the registration of existing assault rifles and higher-capacity magazines. The state also mandated background checks for all firearms sales and created a registry of weapons offenders, including those accused of illegally possessing a firearm, The New York Times reported Sunday.

When challenged that the National Rifle Association could make up in financial contributions to GOP politicians who may no longer receive backing from Hoffman, the Republican mega-donor said he didn’t care about the gun-rights organization.

Since the publication of the Times article, Hoffman said he’s received “hundreds of tweets” from GOP donors, with a vast majority in favor of his idea.

This is not the first time that Hoffman has threatened to cut off donations if Republicans didn’t support gun control measures. In an interview with the Palm Beach Post in 2013, Hoffman said he would be reluctant to raise money for candidates who do not support “reasonable” gun control.

A measure to pass universal background checks died in the Senate in April 2013.

Bill Nelson: ‘Let’s get these assault weapons off our streets’

Florida Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told his colleagues on the Senate floor Thursday that they shouldn’t shy away from addressing gun control measures in the wake of the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“To those who say now that it’s not the time to talk about gun violence because it’s too soon, we don’t want to politicize right after a tragedy, that’s what is said over and over,”  Nelson said. “Then I would ask, when is the time?”

The senator then recounted the horrors that occurred on Wednesday and honed in on the shooter’s weapon: an AR 15.

Describing himself as a hunter, Nelson said that an AR 15 has no use in the sport.

“An AR-15 is not for hunting,” Nelson said. “It’s for killing.”

Nelson said that claiming the shooting is the result of mental illness or a lack of protection at schools addresses only part of the problem.

He then stopped just short of calling for a ban on assault weapons.

“Let’s talk about that 19-year-old carrying an AR-15,” Nelson said, referring to the Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz. “Let’s do what needs to be done and let’s get these assault weapons off our streets.”

Marco Rubio, following Nelson’s testimony, shared a very different message.

The Republican senator said that often laws do little to prevent someone who wishes to harm others.

“If someone decides that they are going to take it upon themselves to kill people — whether it’s a political assassination of one person or the mass killing of many — if one person decides to do it and they’re committed to that task, it is a very difficult thing to stop,” Rubio said.

But Rubio also said that solutions could arise from looking at what mass killers have in common. He said they almost always commit violence with careful and deliberate steps after premeditation.

On Cruz, Rubio said that several red flags should’ve indicated the shooter was a threat to society.

He described several “warning signs” on Cruz’ social media that showed he was deranged, including a comment on a YouTube video where Cruz claimed he was going to be “a professional school shooter.” 

Rubio said that he was sworn into office after promising to uphold the Constitution, which in its Second Amendment lays out American citizens’ rights to own and operate firearms.

But, noting the increased frequency of shootings, Rubio said that the Second Amendment is listed after the Preamble, which enumerates the insurance of domestic tranquility and the promotion of general welfare. 

The move hinted the senator might be open to some discussion of gun control.

“I’m not saying don’t focus on the gun part,” Rubio said. “But we also have to focus on the violence part.”

Rick Scott

Rick Scott continues committee spending spree

A political committee controlled by Gov. Rick Scott posted $10,000 in contributions and $95,000 in spending, marking the fourth month in a row expenditures outweighed income.

Let’s Get to Work took in a pair of $5,000 contributions, one from Illinois-based Covenant Aviation Security and another from Kansas City-based HNTB Holdings PAC.

A good chunk of the spending, $26,606, went to Maryland-based OnMessage. Scott has used the company for media production and consulting for years and has paid the company more than $2.5 million for its services since the political committee was formed in 2014.

Contribution Link received $16,000 last month for database services, while former Republican Party of Florida Finance Director Debbie Aleksander received nearly $19,500 for consulting and expenses and Robert Manders received $6,400 for finance consulting.

Let’s Get to Work has brought in nearly $57.5 million since its inception, but at the end of January the political committee had about $338,000 on hand. The on-hand total has dwindled at a fast pace over the past four months, as the committee has spent nearly $2.6 million while raising just under $150,000.

Scott is widely expected to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in his re-election campaign in the fall.

Nelson is one of a handful of incumbent Democratic senators who is running for re-election in a state carried by President Donald Trump in 2016.

Through the end of 2017, Nelson had about $8 million on hand in his re-election account. That figure includes about $2.3 million in contributions and $792,000 in spending in the fourth quarter.

Florida politicians react to budget deal ending government shutdown

The House has narrowly passed a sweeping bipartisan budget accord, ending an hours-long government shutdown and clearing a path for huge spending increases for both the Pentagon and domestic programs.

The 240-186 vote sends the $400 billion spending plan to President Donald Trump, who has promised to sign it.

Passage of the measure came over the opposition of Democratic leaders who demanded the promise of a vote to protect “DREAMer” immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

A band of tea party Republicans swung against the legislation as well, repelled by its spiraling spending levels.

Here is a compilation of reactions from Florida politicians to the budget deal.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (via Twitter):

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio:

“Florida and Puerto Rico have been in dire need of disaster relief funding, and I am proud that our work on the Senate Appropriations Committee has resulted in virtually all of our funding needs being met. Among them is relief for Florida’s citrus growers, school repairs and funding to accommodate an increase in enrolled students, the expedited completion of the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation, vital beach renourishment, and repair of damaged Everglades infrastructure. For Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, this deal includes up to two years of funding for Medicaid and additional money for infrastructure, hospitals, schools, community health centers and grid work repair.

“However, it is upsetting that these important and necessary measures were not considered separately. Throughout my time in the Senate, my support for increasing the debt limit has been consistently conditioned on meaningful spending reforms that address our long-term debt. This budget deal does not do that.

“We must begin to seriously address the long-term drivers of our debt and get our fiscal house back in order. We cannot do that if we continue to govern through short-term continuing resolutions that inefficiently spend taxpayer dollars and fail to provide the certainty required for effective planning.

“While fiscal responsibility remains a top priority for me, I voted for this bill because we must make good on our promise to deliver long-overdue disaster relief to the people of Florida and Puerto Rico, and it is imperative that we fully fund and rebuild our military.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam:

“The passage of this spending bill is a critical first step to finally getting Florida’s farmers, ranchers and growers long-awaited and desperately needed relief. Without this emergency assistance, Florida agriculture cannot fully recover from the unprecedented damage caused by Hurricane Irma.

“I want to thank Governor Rick Scott and the members of Florida’s congressional delegation that supported this effort and fought for Florida agriculture over the last days, weeks and months.”

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis:

“This morning’s vote was difficult for me. I had to balance my serious concerns about adding to the deficit with the multitude of provisions in the bill that will have a tangible positive impact of the lives of my constituents. Chief among my reasons for supporting this bill was the need to properly fund our military. This concern was reinforced by President Trump and Secretary Mattis’s support of the bill.

“The fact that 80 service men and women died in 2017 due to accidents and training incidents- nearly four times as many lives that were killed in combat, and the belief that those deaths may have been preventable with appropriate funding for training and equipment weighed heavily in my decision-making.

“There is also a long list of other significant items contained in the bill, some of which I authored, that will benefit seniors, children and the most vulnerable among us.

“I’ve included a list of these provisions below. It was a difficult choice, but ultimately, I decided to vote my conscience, and do what I believe in my heart will provide the most good for the greatest number of my constituents.

“I will continue to work with my colleagues to make long-term, structural reforms to the process including passage of a balanced budget amendment and the meaningful reduction of our national debt.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor:

“Passage of the bipartisan budget deal is particularly important to Tampa Bay area families, veterans and service members.  Medical researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center and the University of South Florida can continue to find the cures of tomorrow and improve treatment of diseases due to the boost in funding for the National Institutes of Health.

“Our service members at MacDill Air Force Base, including Air Mobility, Central Command and Special Operations Command, can plan ahead and make strategic decisions for America’s national security that were previously put on hold due to damaging temporary funding bills from the Republican-led Congress.

“Communities across Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will receive the resources to recover from a devastating hurricane season.  Significant new funds for veterans, children’s health care, community health centers and opioid addiction also are contained in the package.

“While Republicans did not allow it, I voted on the floor early this morning to proceed to take up Rep. Roybal-Allard’s (D-CA) H.R. 3440, the Dream Act of 2017.  Republicans have continually refused to take up this legislation to reform our nation’s broken immigration system.  Pres. Trump’s September announcement to end DACA makes it necessary for Congress to act now.  It is vital that the focus shift now to provide a pathway to citizenship for our DREAMers and Republicans must stop blocking debate and a vote.

“I am very pleased that my bill sponsored with Rep. Gus Bilirakis to increase fines and penalties on Medicare fraudsters was included in the package and is set to become law.

“New monies also are directed to tackle the backlog of Social Security disability claims and I will press for a portion of the funds to be directed to the Tampa office to address the huge backlog of disability claims.”

U.S. Rep. Val Demings:

“Once again the GOP leadership has failed to propose a long-term budget that responsibly funds our military, healthcare, disaster relief, and other vital priorities.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch:

Tonight, I voted for a compromise budget deal because it will allow us to keep the government running, finally beyond just weeks. This bill helps the millions of Americans in Florida and Puerto Rico, Texas, California and the Virgin Islands whose lives were turned upside down by natural disasters. It provides a potential lifeline to families struggling with opioid addiction.

“This spending plan includes critical funding that will save lives, accelerate disaster recovery, honor our commitment to our veterans, ensure the continuation of vital medical research, keep community health centers open, and provide critical support to our troops.

“Unfortunately, Republicans continue to ignore the moral call to find a legislative solution to the President’s termination of DACA. It’s been five months since the President put DREAMers at risk. They were brought here as children and this is their country. They are American in their hearts and in their minds.

“America is as much their home as it is our home, and if Speaker Ryan brought the DREAM Act before Congress, I am confident it would pass. We would protect DREAMers and pursue much-needed comprehensive immigration reform.

“We’ve got just weeks to get this done. We must fight for DREAMers with everything we’ve got. With tonight’s vote behind us, the House agenda should focus on dignity, decency, and American values in this land of immigrants. The DREAM Act must now be the singular focus until we do the right thing for DREAMers. A promise from the Speaker is not enough. We need action.”

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart:

“This bipartisan legislation continues government operations and funds programs that are critical to Americans across the nation. It also invests in our military during a time where we must provide our troops with the proper resources to defend our country, help our allies, and stand up to our adversaries.

“I represent parts of Florida that are still rebuilding from Hurricane Irma, and the $89.3 billion supplemental will go a long way in helping these communities recover from storm damage. I am proud to have worked with my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to ensure my subcommittee provided adequate funding for disaster relief programs, particularly for the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief program that repairs our infrastructure and the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Relief program that assists homeowners and local businesses.

“Florida’s crops, including its iconic citrus groves, were severely impacted, and I am grateful for the funds that will help our farmers get back on their feet.

“I congratulate Speaker Ryan and Chairman Frelinghuysen for their tireless leadership, and I look forward to continue working with our colleagues on other vital issues, including the remainder of FY18 funding and finding a permanent, legislative solution for DREAMers who were brought to the United States as young children at no fault of their own.”

State Sen. Denise Grimsley:

“Last week I wrote to our congressional delegation to reassure them that their efforts to bring disaster relief to Florida farmers were not in vain. Today, I want to thank them for their success. Were it not for leaders like Tom Rooney, Dennis Ross, Vern Buchanan, Mario Diaz-Balart, Neal Dunn, Carlos Curbelo, Marco Rubio and so many more, we would have scarcely seen results. The measure President Trump signed today is also a reminder that his and Secretary Perdue’s commitment to Florida following Irma has been fully confirmed.”

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast:

“The rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike has been ongoing for more than a decade, and significant funding setbacks have meant that it wasn’t expected to be finished for yet another decade from now. For the first time ever, we can say that this project is now fully funded at a level where it can be completed in four years instead of another 10.

“This is a major accomplishment for our community that clears the deck to now focus on other critical projects like the S.B. 10-authorized southern storage reservoir. A bipartisan group of Florida representatives fought hard for this money, and I was proud to help lead the way.”

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy:

“I’ll always put people over politics to get results for families in central Florida. Since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, I’ve helped residents of Florida and Puerto Rico get the resources they need to get back on their feet. I’m particularly proud my bipartisan initiative to support stateside schools and universities enrolling displaced students will become law.

“However, our work in Congress is far from done. Democrats and Republicans must now come together to pass an enduring solution for Dreamers so that these aspiring Americans can continue to live in the country they love and to which they have contributed so much.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz:

“Because Democrats stood united in support of vital investments in our people, this bill is a step in the right direction toward providing adequate resources for our nation’s vast domestic and defense needs. Because the Florida delegation stood united in support of essential disaster recovery funding for our constituents, this bill includes far more aid than the Administration’s initial request.

“But unfortunately, this bill also adds an additional $500 billion to the deficit, after Republicans increased the deficit by $1.5 trillion in their unconscionable tax reform bill that gave billions in tax breaks to the extremely wealthy and giant corporations. Adding insult to injury, it unnecessarily expands means testing for Medicare beneficiaries.

“Finally, because House Republican leaders cruelly stand united with President Trump, refusing to even allow a vote on bipartisan legislation to protect DREAMers—legislation supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans to ensure that courageous young people can continue to contribute to our nation—this bill is one that I regret that I cannot support.

“That we find ourselves voting on such a funding bill, amid a second Republican-controlled government shutdown and as nearly all of America sleeps, sadly reveals just how inadequate and incomplete this legislative response is to our nation’s true needs.”

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster:

“I ran for office pledging to do my part to stop the spigot of spending and get our fiscal house in order. In the last seven years, we have made small steps forward to reduce spending and slow the growth of our massive national debt. We’re currently on the path to have a prosperous economy – thanks to regulatory rollbacks, a forecast of regulatory certainty, the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“I support increased investments for the Department of Defense.  Ensuring a strong, well-equipped military is a fundamental responsibility of the Federal Government.  I have voted multiple times to increase the Department of Defense’s budget and provide funding for the pay-raises our troops have long deserved.

“I also support one-time funding to assist our agriculture industry as it continues to recover from last year’s devastating Hurricanes.  But the additional levels of spending included in this deal, adds an annual trillion-dollar deficit to our already unsustainable $20 trillion debt.

“The massive growth in debt jeopardizes our national security. Voting for this deal today would be voting to do the opposite of what I pledged to my constituents and the American people.

“For these reasons and more, I cannot support this bill.

“I pledge to continue to work hard on behalf of Florida’s hardworking taxpayers and families to advance common-sense reforms and principled policy and budgets that get our fiscal house in order.”

Pam Bondi says Rick Scott deserves lion’s share of credit for Florida’s economic growth

If Rick Scott does run for the U.S. Senate this year, Florida’s rising economy will provide a critical talking point for his campaign.

But one question might be: how much credit does he deserve?

Well, all of it, at least according to Attorney General and fellow Republican Pam Bondi.

Scott and Bondi, were joined Thursday by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, where they held a Cabinet meeting at the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center Pavillion — the traditional gathering on the opening day of the Florida State Fair.

In a formal address, Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, explained that Florida ended 2017 on a very positive note.

Nearly 205,000 private sector jobs were created in 2017, Proctor said, making for a total of 1.5 million jobs since Scott took office in January of 2011. Those numbers indicate that Scott more than doubled his “7-7-7” plan — which he campaigned on in 2010 —  when he pledged to add 700,000 jobs in seven years.

In Florida, unemployment continues to drop; currently, it’s at 3.7 percent, down from 5 percent a year ago.

Proctor said more than 185,000 people entered the job market in 2017 in Florida, a growth rate nearly four times the national average. There were 265,000 job openings across the state as of December, with registered nurses topping the list.

The number of jobs has grown by 25 percent since Scott took over, while the national average during the past seven years sits at 15 percent, Proctor said. Florida’s labor force growth rate since 2010 has more than doubled that of the rest of the nation, she added.

Those figures impressed Bondi, who followed up Proctor’s presentation by proclaiming that Scott deserved the lion’s share of the credit for the positive job numbers.

“We say that jobs have grown by 25 percent. That just doesn’t happen,” said Bondi, who was sitting next to Scott. “That happens because this man — every time I talk to him — he’s landing in a different state stealing businesses to bring them to Florida.”

“Governor, you have single-handedly done this for our state,” Bondi continued. “Thank you so much. You will never meet a harder working human being.”

No doubt the sound bite might play well for Scott if (or when) he becomes a candidate for Bill Nelson‘s Senate seat later this year

Nelson’s campaign declined an opportunity to comment.

Not that Scott needs the help.

Long considered one of the most unpopular governors in the nation, Scott’s poll numbers are rising when it counts — as he potentially faces voters in November.

A recent Morning Consult poll found the governor ending last year with a 58 percent approval rating; a University of North Florida survey shows Scott’s approval rating now stands at 63 percent.

Deflecting Bondi’s praise, Scott passed it on to the men and women who run businesses in Florida: “Business owners and people who take risk don’t get appreciated for what they do.”

Outlier? New poll shows Rick Scott up ten points over Bill Nelson

Contrary to two other polls released earlier this week, a new survey from the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economic Polling Initiative gives Gov. Rick Scott a 10-point lead over Bill Nelson in a hypothetical contest for Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat.

Although Scott has not officially declared his candidacy, the latest poll pegs the race at 44 to 34 percent, with 22 percent of voters undecided. That’s a dramatic change from FAU’s August 2017 poll that had Scott trailing Nelson 42 to 40 percent.

Fueling Scott’s impressive numbers is a favorable rating that now stands at 52 percent. Meanwhile, Nelson has seen his numbers go in the opposite direction, with his favorable rating dipping from 45 to 40 percent, while his unfavorable number jumped from 22 to 27 percent.

“(W)ith 22 percent of voters saying they’re undecided, there’s still plenty of opportunity for Nelson to turn things around,” said Monica Escaleras, Ph.D., director of the BEPI.

Undoubtedly, there will be those who label this poll as an outlier. They’re probably not wrong. After all Scott +10 stands in stark contrast to a Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy survey which had Nelson with a one-point lead over Scott, 45-44 percent. The FAU poll is also dramatically different from a University of North Florida poll that showed Nelson leading Scott 48-42 percent.

But, looking at the methodology of the FAU poll, there’s nothing glaringly wrong with it. It is an automated (robo) poll, but that wouldn’t account for Scott’s sizable lead. The party affiliation numbers check out, while the poll puts Donald Trump‘s job approval rating (41% approve/44% disapprove) at a level that does not suggest a Republican bias.

The way the poll asks about the gubernatorial race is odd — lumping the Democratic and Republican candidates all together; including John Morgan in the mix even though he has said he is not running — but that wouldn’t impact the Scott vs. Nelson numbers.

Even if this poll is off by its margin of error of four points, that still gives Scott his first lead over Nelson in a 2018 public poll. That should be enough to set off the alarm bells at Nelson’s campaign headquarters.

Chatter grows on Mike McCalister entering Ag Commissioner race

Going on a few months, Florida Politics has been tracking Republican Mike McCalister and the possibility he may enter the wide-open race for Agriculture Commissioner.

Chatter surrounding the much-discussed retired Army Colonel and former U.S. Senate candidate was loudest at the Republican Party of Florida annual meeting in January.

Bringing some solid retail politicking, McCalister worked the room as if he were already a candidate.

As of today, he is not in the race. But we are increasingly hearing that could change … and soon.

Longtime readers may recall McCalister’s surprising run for Florida governor in 2010, when he took more than 10 percent in the Rick ScottBill McCollum Republican primary, garnering over 130,000 votes in a race where Scott famously defeated McCollum by just 36,000 votes.

What made it surprising (more like stunning): McCalister spent just $8,500 on his campaign — in contrast to the Scott-McCollum primary spend of over $50,000,000.

The next election cycle, McCalister followed up with a Senate run, challenging incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Ultimately, he finished third behind former Congressmen Connie Mack and Dave Weldon.

Now the talk is even louder of a return by McCalister to a statewide ballot, most noticeable by recent forays into Republican clubs and county executive committee meetings, such as a visit at 7 p.m. to the Kings Point Republican Club for a town hall meeting deep in the heart of vote-rich Delray Beach.

Making the Republican rounds, McCalister has proved he can get votes with little cash resources. In addition to serving 33 years in the Army, Army Reserves and National Guard, he has earned real agriculture bona fides by owning and operating a Plant City tree farm.

While he hasn’t filed (yet) sources in the Republican Party say it’s a decision for the spring — which Punxsutawney Phil proclaimed is only about 5 weeks away.

Keep an eager eye on McCalister’s potential candidacy as it develops — as will Matt Caldwell, Denise Grimsley and Baxter Troutman.

Bill Nelson leads Rick Scott in new Senate race survey

If the election for Senate between Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott were to happen today, Nelson would win re-election.

That’s from a new poll from the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab.

Of likely voters in 2018, 48 percent plan to vote for Nelson, an Orlando Democrat, while 42 percent plan to vote for Scott, a Naples Republican. This is just outside the margin of error.

An additional seven percent, per the survey, are undecided.

Nelson’s advantage: More surveyed Democrats (86 percent) are going to vote for him than surveyed Republicans (79 percent) will vote for Scott. NPAs are split evenly (42-42) between the candidates.

“Even though it appears Nelson has a reasonable lead in the poll, the election results will ultimately get determined by who shows up in November,” said Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF.

“Historically, Republicans have enjoyed a turnout advantage in midterms, but with the current mood of the country, and a large number of Republican retirements, Democrats are optimistic about an impending blue wave.”

Interestingly, the popularity numbers for the candidates contravene the Nelson advantage. Both Nelson and Scott are +32.

“Both Senate candidates have net positive job approval ratings of 32 percentage points,” said Binder. “This high level of job approval is very unusual and is going to lead to a hotly contested election.”

Nelson has 52 percent approval, and 20 percent disapproval; the balance don’t know or refused to answer the question.

Scott boasts a 63 percent approval against 32 percent disapproval. Just six percent weren’t willing to answer.

Scott on Tuesday in Jacksonville dodged questions about whether or not he was polling or fundraising, referring media to public polls.

This public poll, at least, says it’s Nelson’s race to lose.

Methodology: The University of North Florida (UNF), Florida Statewide Poll was conducted by the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at UNF Monday, January 29, through Sunday, February 4, by live callers via the telephone, and calls were made from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

The margin of error for likely voters in the November 2018 midterm election is +/- 4.7 percentage points.

Rick Scott directs efforts to ease evacuations

From “dynamic” message signs along Interstate 75 to completing certain turnpike projects on time, Gov. Rick Scott called Friday for a series of improvements to help with disaster evacuations.

The directives, based in part on suggestions from the state Department of Transportation, came as lawmakers continue to review proposals aimed at addressing fallout from the evacuation of 6.5 million people ahead of Hurricane Irma. During the evacuation, motorists spent up to 12 hours on routes that typically are covered in six to seven hours.

Scott directed the department to immediately expand “emergency shoulder use” along key interstates, a strategy employed in September as traffic backed up while motorists fled north on I-75 ahead of Irma.

The governor also called for installing cameras and message signs along I-75 from Ocala north to the Georgia state line and increasing the capacity of the state’s Florida 511 website, which provides real-time traffic information about major roads.

Also, by July the department is expected to identify areas along key evacuation routes where more fuel services are needed and look at ways to expand fuel capacity for first responders.

“It is critically important that we continue to do all we can to make sure our state is fully prepared in the face of any potential disaster,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is expected to face an election challenge from Scott this fall, issued a release saying that he filed legislation in October seeking the U.S. Department of Energy to set up east and west coast gasoline reserves in Florida and had called for the state Department of Transportation to examine options for additional fuel storage.

“Unlike Nelson’s bill, this report today by the governor doesn’t offer any real solutions, it simply asks the state to look at doing something Nelson proposed five months ago,” said Ryan Brown, Nelson’s spokesman.

Scott had directed the Department of Transportation in October to work with other state agencies, ports, law enforcement and fuel retailers to determine how to increase fuel capacity during emergencies.

Scott release Friday continued to advise the department to work with Florida’s ports and the fuel industry on additional fuel storage.

Scott’s directive also calls for completing interchange improvements at Florida’s Turnpike and I-75 in 2019. The work is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2019, according to the Department of Transportation report.

Scott also said he wants to widen to six lanes a portion of the turnpike between the Lake-Sumter County line to the County Road 468 interchange in Sumter County in 2023, and to widen the highway from the Country Road 468 interchange to I-75 starting in 2025. The work is currently outlined to begin in those years by the state department.

The department review also suggested emergency shoulder plans for I-75 northbound from Alligator Alley in Fort Lauderdale; on the turnpike northbound from Orlando; on Interstate 95 northbound from Jupiter to south of Jacksonville; and on Interstate 10 westbound from I-75 to just east of Tallahassee.

The Florida House and Senate are reviewing a number of evacuation-related proposals, including an extension of the Suncoast Parkway north from the Tampa Bay region to the Georgia state line. Other proposals include using passenger rail to evacuate citizen; and testing the impact of converting portions of highways during emergencies into all one-way traffic, a process known as “contraflow.”

Department of Transportation Secretary Michael Dew told lawmakers in October that contraflow would require increased law enforcement at each interchange, limit the ability of relief operations and fuel trucks to travel into impacted areas and cause backups where lanes merge as the contraflow comes to an end.

The Senate on Thursday started to move forward with a proposal (SB 700) to set up a Florida Strategic Fuel Reserve Task Force within the Division of Emergency Management. The task force would recommend by April 30, 2019, a strategic fuel reserve plan to meet needs during emergencies and disasters.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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