Corrine Brown Archives - Page 6 of 34 - Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski surveys the wreckage of his 2016 predictions

When 2016 kicked off, the world was different, and our political prognoses reflected those false assurances.

We didn’t imagine President Donald Trump on a national level. We figured Hillary Clinton would end up taking on Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio in the general election. And we expected the rhetoric would sound like the previous two or three campaigns.

Regarding #jaxpol, we had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen also.

We figured that Ander Crenshaw would return to Congress with little opposition. And that Corrine Brown would, perhaps, end up running for Congress again from the Orlando area.

We weren’t actually thinking about the pension reform referendum from Jacksonville’s mayor either. It hadn’t even been announced yet.

In other words: baseline conventional wisdom assumptions going into 2016 were shredded by reality.

My 2016 predictions fared no better than those above.


Prediction 1: I guaranteed that the Human Rights Ordinance would go to a referendum unless Mayor Lenny Curry stopped it.

There was lots of talk on the right about Bill Gulliford and his measure to push for a popular plebiscite on expanding protections against discrimination in jobs, housing, and public accommodations to the LGBT community.

Gulliford’s bill was filed as a response to Tommy Hazouri introducing a bill that would add the LGBT community to protected classes under the current ordinance.

It looked like a showdown was imminent. Then a slowdown happened.

Hazouri couldn’t get enough commitments to get the bill through and withdrew the bill.

Some say that he felt pressure to do so because of the pension reform referendum becoming the city’s focus, and no one wanting two confusing referendums on the ballot.

The reality, though; the votes weren’t there.


Prediction 2: I said that if the Hazouri version of the HRO passed, Jacksonville politics would be a circus through August.

That was a moot point, of course. Though given the freak show nature of Northeast Florida primaries up and down the ballot, the “circus” part of the prediction held true.


Prediction 3 ruled that Florida’s 5th Congressional District race will illustrate the GOP symbiosis with Corrine Brown.

Expect Jacksonville Republicans to work, behind the scenes and otherwise, to ensure that Corrine Brown stays in CD 5 and maintains her seat. Undoubtedly, the converse will be true out west from Tallahassee Republicans. Lawson versus Brown will illustrate the dictum that all politics are local. Again,” I wrote a year ago.

This was written, of course, before Brown’s legal issues took center stage.

What ended up happening: Susie Wiles helped to show Lawson around town, including setting up an interview with the press. Denise Lee, a Democratic stalwart who works for Mayor Curry now, also helped. And even though Lawson wasn’t especially encyclopedic in his knowledge of Jacksonville issues, it didn’t really matter against a wounded incumbent in August.

And it didn’t matter in November, either, as Republican Glo Smith proved completely inept in maximizing any political advantages she might have had as the Jacksonville candidate.


Prediction 4 held that the Police and Fire Pension Fund drama would quiet down.

The reasoning: the lightning rod John Keane was no longer going to run the fund. Instead, Beth McCague would serve as a “cooler” as executive director.

The PFPF drama was quelled for much of the year. The unity push of Mayor Curry and the heads of the police and fire unions, vis-à-vis an extended push to sell the pension reform referendum bill in Tallahassee, and then with locals ahead of the referendum vote.

While things did get more interesting toward the end of the year, with a news cycle devoted to a $44 million “waiver” in pension costs, even that was muted by the city’s CFO saying that, given the larger scale of the $2.8 billion unfunded liability, the $44 million was a “hiccup.”

This prediction was less wrong than the previous three. For what that’s worth.


Unfortunately, Prediction 5 was also more right than it should have been.

We held that “UF Health’s funding woes” would still be “largely unaddressed” by year’s end.

And that, sadly, is true.

At the First Coast Legislative Delegation meeting at the end of November, CEO Russ Armistead urged the legislators not to be “embarrassed” to take federal money.

Armistead’s safety net hospital has been hamstrung both by the Obama/Rick Scott standoff on the Affordable Care Act, with Washington starving the Low-Income Pool — on which UF Health relies — of funds.

Armistead urged legislators to consider the continuation of the Low-Income Pool funding for uninsured patients, noting that the bulk of that money comes from intergovernmental transfers.

As well, he urged them to “support any federal program that will bring federal funds to Florida for health care,” saying that Florida has been “dramatically underfunded” for the last decade.

Armistead now has a new problem: the profitability of trauma centers.

UF Health’s unique value add as the only regional Level I trauma center has been challenged. And with that, adds Armistead, UF Health’s viability.

“Trauma was a losing business” years ago, Armistead said, but now “trauma is profitable.”

“I have 50 days of cash. So what will happen to us … I’ll be back in the newspaper saying we have to have additional funds,” Armistead added, “or drop to a Level 2.”

“If we don’t bring this trauma center expansion under control, I’ll be in financial trouble … and the quality won’t be as good as it was,” Armistead added.

Hopefully, President Trump can come through for UF Health. President Obama’s model did not.


Prediction 6 was a botch; “the right wing will turn on Lenny Curry” was the call.

That didn’t happen. Curry said HRO expansion wouldn’t be “prudent.” And that’s really all the social conservatives wanted him to say.


Prediction 7 was correct.

I posited that “Nikolai Vitti would have another tough year.”

And given the subtle attempt to get him to take his talents elsewhere by former Duval County School Board Chair Ashley Smith-Juarez, that prediction was on the nose.


Prediction 8 held that Jacksonville would explore privatizing some city services.

While those explorations may be happening, that didn’t quite come to pass as predicted.



Prediction 9 involved races for the state House getting interesting.

If only all the predictions were such slam dunks.

The internecine GOP warfare in House District 11 — when Donnie Horner turned his budget in the end toward knocking Sheri Treadwell out of the race — was interesting.

The same was true in HD 12, where the race between Clay Yarborough and Terrance Freeman became a proxy battle between outside groups and their mailers, with even the Florida Times-Union weighing in — twice — on the propriety of the mailpieces.

And in HD 13, where Tracie Davis lost the primary, but won the seat when Reggie Fullwood pleaded guilty to two felony counts and left his race for re-election in the ultimate October Surprise.

HD 14? That one saw Kim Daniels dismantle the best-laid plans of Leslie Jean-Bart and her activist young Democrat supporters. Like no other candidate this cycle, Daniels made distinctly local appeals in Northwest Jacksonville and won despite the kind of stories that would have sunk other campaigns.

And in HD 16, Jason Fischer dismantled Dick Kravitz, a political lifer whose last ride was squashed by Fischer, with assists from Tim Baker and Brian Hughes.

Prediction 9? On the nose.


Meanwhile, Prediction 10 — “Jax lobbyists will bear fruit” — was also on point.

They brought home 90 percent of the city’s appropriations asks and got the pension reform referendum through both houses and the governor in Tallahassee.

Not a bad ROI for $150,000. But when that money gets invested in Fiorentino Group, Southern Strategy Group, and Ballard Partners, you can expect that.

Prediction 10 was on point.


Meanwhile, Predictions 11 and 12 pointed to the perils of predicting primary elections eight months before they happened.

Prediction 11 was validated: “the Public Defender’s race would be one to watch.”

To win, “Shirk will have to go negative, somehow, but there are inherent risks in going negative against someone as respected as Cofer, especially when Cofer has an attack dog, in the form of John Daigle, who is always ready to counter-message.”

Shirk did go negative — calling Cofer a liberal Democrat or whatever.

It didn’t take.

The oppo dumps came in, time and again, against the hapless Shirk. In fact, even after the election, reporters were still fed stories about irregularities in the public defender’s office.

So far, so good.

Prediction 12, meanwhile, posited that the State Attorney’s race would be a snoozer.

At that point in late December, it was the Punch and Judy act from Angela Corey and Wes White. If Melissa Nelson was listening to “Fight Song,” it was on her morning run.

But still! We got it wrong — bigly.

We wrote that “in Jacksonville, the political reality is that Corey is one of the most powerful and respected people in public service, able to work symbiotically with law enforcement and City Hall.”

We didn’t count on Nelson getting in the race, raising over a million dollars in the space of a couple of months, bringing on Brian Hughes and Tim Baker.

We didn’t count on Corey collapsing under the weight of her own hubris, symbolized by one of her henchmen driving to Tallahassee to file an opponent’s paperwork to close the primary, even as issues with staff donations and her retirement nest egg became campaign issues.

So, how did the 2016 predictions go?

We got six right. We got six wrong.

A 6-6 record is good enough for a college football bowl appearance.

But there’s definitely room for improvement.

The 2017 predictions surface later this week; we will see if that record improves … or gets even worse.

Can we just get 2016 over with, please?

When the news came on Christmas Day that singer George Michael had died, well … can we get this year completed, please?

Just this month alone, we have lost actor Alan Thicke, astronaut/hero John Glenn, actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, former Florida Lieutenant Gov. Jim Williams, broadcaster Craig Sager and musician Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer fame. This was after Keith Emerson of the same band died in March.

We had to say goodbye this year to former first lady Nancy Reagan, a classy dame if there ever was one. We lost Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Prince, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Abe Vigoda, Leon Russell, Pete Fountain, Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey … so many others.

Make it stop!

I mention all this because it’s customary at this point on the calendar to look back upon the nearly finished year, hoping to gain some perspective about what we went through and what might be about to come.

If it’s OK with you, though, I think 2016 has been filled with so many things we would like to forget (and I’m not even talking about Donald Trump … yet) that we should cut this year short. It has been an unwelcome guest for 51 weeks, and it needs to go away.

That has been particularly true in Florida.

We learned that terrorism can happen close to home when 49 people were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

We had the Zika virus. There was green ooze from the Lake Okeechobee algae bloom, fouling nostrils along the East Coast. We had a massive sinkhole in Polk County that polluted the aquifer.

We had two reminders from Mother Nature that she is still in charge. Hurricane Hermine helped flood St. Petersburg’s streets with untreated sewage, followed by Hurricane Matthew that scraped its way up the East Coast.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, trying for a 13th term in Congress, got a double whammy – a federal indictment alleging she had misused money earmarked for charity, and then she was beaten in the November election in her redrawn district.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was humiliated when he lost the Florida Primary by a wide margin to Trump. But Rubio, who had vowed not to seek re-election because he was frustrated in the Senate, ran anyway and won.

We couldn’t even turn to sports for escape.

After winning a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Rio, U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte embarrassed himself as his country by making up a story about being robbed. The former University of Florida star lost millions in endorsement contracts after his fib was exposed.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins were terrible, and the season ended in tragedy when Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were teasingly good until they figured out what they were doing right and corrected it.

The federal government basically ground to a halt, and the election was the nastiest anyone can remember as Trump and Hillary Clinton drove Americans to drink. When it was done, the nation had elected a man who has never held public office and believes in government by tweet, wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and has hinted that we should expand our nuclear arsenal.

What possibly could go wrong?

With that in mind, you know that thing I said about needing 2016 to hurry and finish? Maybe we can coax this year into sticking around a little longer. As they say, things could always be worse.

Reading the tea leaves of the Lenny Curry-Alvin Brown meeting

Friday saw an official meeting between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and former Mayor Alvin Brown.

And with that meeting, a message to #jaxpol: the bitterness of the 2015 election was finally consigned to memory.

The picture above: worth a thousand words. Acrimony expunged, replaced by bonhomie.

The campaign for Jacksonville mayor was the most expensive local campaign in history. And that money was spent, especially on the GOP side, with a specific intent.

That purpose: to undermine what was perceived to be soft support for Alvin Brown, via a “death by 1,000 cuts” approach that saw Brown and his team on the defensive in every news cycle.

Whether Brown was missing the budget vote in city council for a Bill Cosby fundraiser, or his campaign was touting a convicted murderer as a “job creator and business leader,” Brown was on the defensive as a candidate from the fall of 2014 straight through to the 2015 election.

And when he did get it going in earnest early in 2015, there were glitches.

Brown wasn’t prepared to take fire, day after day, from Curry and Bill Bishop before the March election.

Bishop lacked real money to run the campaign, yet his rapport with local print media gave him earned media, in which he made the case that Alvin Brown didn’t merit four more years. And even when Bishop endorsed Brown after the race became a two-man battle, the endorsement and subsequent campaigning with Brown didn’t undo the damage done before the March “First Election” vote.

Curry, meanwhile, had all the money he could need, along with a political team that simply did not lose news cycles.

However, 2015’s epilogue has already been written. The meeting between Curry and Brown represents a prologue, for 2017 and beyond.

Notable: Brown reached out to Curry to schedule the meeting.

There are a number of plausible interpretations for the timing.

One such interpretation: Brown wanted to give Curry time to settle into office.

With Curry’s first term a third of the way over, he definitely should be settled in at this point.

Another such interpretation: with Brown not ending up in a Hillary Clinton administration, as was expected until the votes were counted Election Night, the former mayor had to commit to a back up plan.

And that back up plan: becoming a part of the Jacksonville scene again, and the brotherhood of former mayors.

From there, if history is a guide, options abound.

Consider the last one-term mayor in Jacksonville: Brown’s fellow Democrat, Tommy Hazouri.

Hazouri, like Brown, had a term with some tangible accomplishments.

However, Hazouri also had some issues.

The book on Hazouri was that his administration had the city’s books in “financial disarray.” That his team had issues with messaging through the media.

Those issues parallel those of Alvin Brown.

Curry was able to message during his campaign on getting the books in order, just as Ed Austin had against Tommy Hazouri. And there were times in Brown’s tenure where the message the administration wanted to get out through the press didn’t quite get out.

And all of that is the past now.

When Brown set up a meeting with Lenny Curry, it represented a radical shift from his absence from the public eye since June 2015.

Brown, even as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail, mostly avoided the Jacksonville market in the fall.

Brown was deployed on mayoral bus tours through places like Ohio, and other parts of Florida, as if a conscious decision was made not to parlay on his name value locally.

Brown did attend a November rally in Northeast Florida, where President Obama spoke on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

However, Brown didn’t speak at the event. And there was some speculation as to whether or not Brown even stayed for the entirety of the Obama speech.

Alvin Brown’s path to D.C., as a Clinton appointee, is being foreclosed even as this is typed, as Donald Trump‘s electoral votes are counted.

However, Brown’s future itself is not foreclosed.

As a mayor who lost a very close election 17 months ago, Brown may not have present-tense political capital, but it is very easy to imagine how a reinvented Alvin Brown could become a factor locally in 2017.

Congressman-elect Al Lawson won’t be in Tallahassee forever. And it is entirely possible that Lawson could face a Jacksonville challenge in 2018.

Could that be Alvin Brown?

Back in our “five people to watch in 2016” piece, we tabbed Brown as someone to watch relative to the CD 5 seat.

We haven’t written the 2017 version of the list yet.

Odds are very good that Alvin Brown will be on it again, however.

Even if Brown chooses not to run for Congress, there is plenty to keep him busy locally.

An at large city council seat will be open in 2019, and Brown theoretically could run against Bill Bishop, who has already committed to run in the race to replace John Crescimbeni, the current occupant.

If that were to happen, it would be interesting to see how Curry and his political machine might react, as there was no love lost between the two Republicans when Bishop endorsed Brown.

And other openings could manifest in Jacksonville as well.

In other words, Alvin Brown will have a second act in the limelight.

The only question now is which stage he will pick.

Corrine Brown aide reverses motion for separate trial in One Door case

On Friday, Rep. Corrine Brown‘s chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, filed for a separate trial from Brown in the One Door for Education case.

On Monday, Simmons’ lawyer — Anthony Suarez — withdrew the motion.

As Lynnsey Gardner of WJXT reported Monday afternoon, Suarez filed a motion to withdraw the previous motion, offering no explanation why.

The motion filed Friday was flush with verbiage and precedent.

Simmons’ lawyer contended “the risk of prejudicial spillover is tremendous,” given Brown’s notoriety.

He contended that a “joint trial” would “compromise” his trial right, and potentially affect his verdict, especially given the potential of “markedly different degrees of culpability” between Brown and Simmons.

Brown draws media attention at her appearances; Simmons contends that he would not draw such attention by himself.

Simmons also contended that Brown’s tax fraud charges may prejudice a jury against him.

Ironically, it is Simmons who faces the greater maximum penalties in this case.

Brown faces a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all counts are found valid.

For Simmons, it would be as many as 355 years and $4.75 million, if guilty of all counts.

The estimated restitution for Brown would be $833,000 — plus $63,000 in tax — roughly $897,000. For Simmons, the number would be over $1.2 million.

The trial is not until April. The next motion hearing is set for early January.

Ronnie Simmons files to sever from Corrine Brown in One Door trial

Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, face 24 charges between them related to the One Door for Education trial.

Much speculation has been made as to when one would file for a separate trial. On Friday, Simmons filed for severance in a seven-page document.

Simmons’ lawyer contends “the risk of prejudicial spillover is tremendous,” given Brown’s notoriety.

He contends that a “joint trial” would “compromise” his trial right, and potentially affect his verdict, especially given the potential of “markedly different degrees of culpability.”

Brown draws media attention at her appearances; Simmons contends that he would not draw such attention by himself.

Simmons also contends that Brown’s tax fraud charges may prejudice a jury against him.


The congresswoman from Florida’s 5th Congressional District, along with Chief of Staff Elias Simmons, face a combined 24 charges, enumerated in a 46-page indictment.

They plead not guilty to all.

Brown faces a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all counts are found valid.

For Simmons, it would be as many as 355 years and $4.75 million, if guilty of all counts.

The estimated restitution for Brown would be $833,000 — plus $63,000 in tax — roughly $897,000. For Simmons, the number would be over $1.2 million.

The trial is not until April. Simmons has a motion hearing set for January 9.

Post-election, winners and losers abound in Northeast Florida

The votes have been counted on the national level. Reality is setting in: Donald Trump is president-elect — despite the best efforts of the most aggressive political machine in history.

There are, of course, aggregations of who won and who lost on the national level. But due to the unique position of Duval County as a swing county in a purple state, and due to the unique role of local players, winners and losers in this Northeast Florida region abound.


Susie Wiles: Give her the credit she’s due. If it hadn’t been for the decision weeks back to have Wiles replace Karen Giorno atop the Trump campaign in Florida, there very well might be a different person as president-elect today.

There certainly would be a different Florida winner.

Wiles presented a stabilizing force. The veteran Jacksonville operative led key organizational decisions (as POLITICO reported, Wiles agitated to ensure sufficient resources were devoted to absentee ballots, a category in which the 62,000-vote GOP advantage statewide cut into the 155,000 vote Democratic advantage during early voting).

As well, Wiles was good at translating Trump’s stump persona to members of the Florida political media. Her decades of credibility meant she was able to meaningfully frame Trump’s populist appeals and flourishes as a means to an end, not as the end itself.

Lenny Curry: The Jacksonville mayor was not on the ballot, and his big pension reform referendum was in August. Curry was pilloried, including by this writer, for his decision to serve as master of ceremonies during the Trump visit to Florida ahead of that referendum. Curry’s explanation of that move was typically pragmatic, boiling down to supporting the Republican candidate as a Republican.

Did the Trump support hurt Curry? He got 65 percent on that August referendum, with internal polling from his operation showing that backing Trump shored up his support with Republicans. Since that referendum, Curry hadn’t appeared at another Trump campaign event.

Now? It doesn’t matter. Curry has positioned himself as a rare commodity: a big city Republican mayor who didn’t run away from the top of the ticket. With a GOP Congress and a Republican president as political allies, Jacksonville is as well-positioned as it can be for federal money for local priorities like dredging to deepen the harbor for JAXPORT, solidifying the arguments for Mayport and Naval Air Station Jax, and other pet projects for which federal funding has been elusive.

During the tortuous path to get federal money for Duval County recovery efforts after Hurricane Matthew, Curry echoed Gov. Rick Scott, saying Duval taxpayers deserve to get back the money they give to Washington.

Trump will be a far more valuable ally to Curry, and the city of Jacksonville, than Hillary Clinton would have been.

The Jacksonville Business Community: As we observed Tuesday evening, Congressmen-elect Al Lawson and John Rutherford are pragmatists, willing and eager to work across the aisle to accomplish policy priorities.

Lawson — who has an association with Ballard Partners and the aforementioned Susie Wiles — is still getting up to speed on Jacksonville policy priorities. But he will have a lot of help as he prepares to replace Corrine Brown atop Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Rutherford, taking over for Ander Crenshaw in CD 4, can already count as a key ally House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who swung through Jacksonville during the campaign to appear by Rutherford’s side.

While Lawson and Rutherford are disadvantaged by not having the seniority of their immediate predecessors, they will have other advantages that should translate into a bit more federal money coming Jacksonville’s way, especially as the expected infrastructure push from Trump materializes.

Brian Hughes and Tim Baker: To quote DJ Khaled, “all they do is win win win no matter what.” They carried two countywide referendums through between Aug. 30 and last night. The pension reform referendum was in August. The followup: the referendum to allow slot machines at bestbet Jacksonville.

The ads were the most positive, anodyne work of the two GOP strategists’ careers. Augmented with people at voting locations with shirts and signs promoting the referendum, the measure was buoyed by support on Jacksonville’s Northside, in Northwest Jacksonville, and in some of the more economically depressed areas of Jacksonville’s Southside.

Baker and Hughes are the political equivalents of Bear Bryant, the legendary Alabama football coach who famously said: “I’ll beat you with my team today, and I’ll beat you with your team tomorrow.” Despite the carping of other consultants, they have more signature wins than anyone.

Bill Gulliford: The Jacksonville City Councilman from the ocean side of the Intracoastal Waterway was not on the ballot, but he won a meaningful victory. Gulliford’s Beaches First political committee waded into the contentious mayoral race between incumbent Charlie Latham and challenger Cory Nichols with a couple of sharp mailers that contended Nichols’ bankruptcy a few years back disqualified him from being mayor.

Gulliford’s move was, at least in part, a response to very personal campaigning from Nichols and those who supported him.

Gulliford engaged on social media with Nichols and at least one supporter, effectively saying that the results of the election would be the ultimate proof of who was right.

Latham won by 15 points.

The Florida Times-Union: The Jacksonville paper endorsed a “change agent.” And their guy won.

Even if most staffers sold the endorsement out as a corporate pick, Morris Communications picked the winner when many other papers hedged their bets and said “Hillary or else.”


Duval Democrats: There was a lot of optimism that 2016 would be the year Duval became Blu-Val.

It didn’t quite happen. And this despite a wealth of surrogate action, including a visit from President Barack Obama, multiple visits from former President Bill Clinton, and a Souls to the Polls swing through from Rev. Jesse Jackson and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

There were two schools of thought on the surrogate visit. One was the idea that they were stacking votes. The other was the idea that they were trying to mitigate a potentially bad loss in Jacksonville.

And there was understanding that there were problems. At the Saturday event with Jesse Jackson, this reporter asked the Chicago preacher and local African-American pols if there was an enthusiasm gap Hillary Clinton faced that Barack Obama did not.

Jackson said that there wasn’t. A couple of the pols, however, affirmed there was … before following Jackson’s lead.

You think Duval Dems miss the Corrine Brown turnout machine yet? While Quick Picks were given out this year, absent were the amazing parties Brown threw to spike turnout, fetes that have been described by more than one observer as “lit.”

Glo Smith: Hard to beat Al Lawson in an election. Harder when, as a GOP nominee, you run away from the top of the ticket.

Smith had a golden opportunity to talk to the base at Trump’s rally on Jacksonville’s Westside last week. She was a no-show. And GOP and Duval voters both no-showed for her, perhaps as a result.

Smith likely wasn’t going to be able to stack the numbers in Jacksonville necessary to overcome Lawson’s 50-point win in Leon County. However, the fact that she lost what she represents as her home county by 40,000 votes to a candidate from Tallahassee suggests her political instincts are nonexistent.

Dave Bruderly: Of course he was going to lose to John Rutherford. But it was the way he lost: an amateurish campaign that wouldn’t have won him a seat on the school board. Even Rutherford’s operatives felt sorry for him.

New bipartisan era begins for Jacksonville in U.S. Congress

Northeast Florida will have a completely new Congressional delegation in January, as the Associated Press has called the races in its two districts, and both were won by candidates looking to bridge the partisan divide.

As widely expected, Republican John Rutherford downed Democrat David Bruderly in the 4th Congressional District: 280,319 to 110,257 (70 percent to 28 percent) was the margin.

Rutherford’s margins of victory, consistent throughout the district, ranged from 68 percent in Duval County to 72 percent in St. Johns and 79 percent in Nassau.

Also as widely expected, Democrat Al Lawson upended Republican perennial candidate Glo Smith in the race to replace Corrine Brown in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Lawson won handily: 64 percent to 36 percent, with a raw vote advantage of 184,163 to 103,488.

A measure of Lawson’s strength: beating Smith by 26 points in Duval in the unofficial tally. Smith carried just two of the nine counties in the district: Baker and Hamilton, where she made concerted plays.

Lawson won by 50 points in Leon County, the home base of the former “Dean of the Legislature” and Florida A&M  basketball star.

In Tallahassee at his victory party, Lawson noted it had been a long race, going from one December almost to the next, before thanking his family and campaign workers throughout the district — including Duval.

“There’s a lot of distance between the Apalachicola River and the St. Johns River,” Lawson noted, “but we took our message out there in the primary and we were successful, then to the general and we were successful.”

“The people in this district are concerned about jobs, economic development, health care … student loans,” Lawson said, vowing to make sure the government and Wall Street doesn’t “benefit off the back of students.”

Rutherford and Lawson, despite the party label divergence, had some similarities. Both were backed by industry groups and members of the Jacksonville establishment.

During his victory speech, Lawson stole a line from Rutherford: “Washington is broken,” citing “gridlock” as the reason.

“I’m just on loan to do a job for you … I want to make sure you’re proud of the person you sent up there,” Lawson said.

Both Rutherford and Lawson have voiced interest in working across the aisle to accomplish policy priorities — an important consideration as they replace tenured congressional veterans Ander Crenshaw and Corrine Brown.

Both also emerged from contentious primaries. Lawson upended a wounded Corrine Brown, whose focus and fundraising were divided by Brown’s fraud trial. Rutherford dealt with the challenge of the moneyed Hans Tanzler III and the experienced State Rep. Lake Ray; despite essentially being coronated as the establishment candidate as soon as Crenshaw announced his retirement, decisions — like standing by State Attorney Angela Corey — in her doomed primary bid cost Rutherford, a former Jacksonville sheriff, support.

Both also benefited from meaningful support from the party establishment. Lawson was ceded a speaking slot at President Barack Obama’s “Hillary for America” rally in Jacksonville. Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy came to town on behalf of Rutherford as the campaign entered its stretch run.

Rutherford and Lawson will have to work together quickly on a number of important issues, including securing dredging money to deepen the harbor for JAXPORT and ensuring that Jacksonville doesn’t lose ground in the next round of BRAC negotiations.

Lawson, though not from Jacksonville, does have meaningful Jacksonville connections.

GOP powerbroker Susie Wiles, until she took helm of the Florida campaign for Donald Trump, introduced Lawson to reporters ahead of the August primary. Lawson also ended up getting meaningful backing from the Jacksonville donor class over a Republican candidate, a sign of his reputation for pragmatism.

Democratic legend Denise Lee, a beloved former Jacksonville City Councilwoman and former legislative colleague of Lawson’s, also helped Lawson make connections with recalcitrant Jacksonville Democrats.

Lawson offered special thanks to his campaign team in Duval also.

Where might there be a surprise on Election Night in Florida?

If the chalk won every game and match-up, there would be no Las Vegas or Macau. There would be no March Madness.

If the favorites won every time, there would be no reason to even turn on the television. We watch and love sports and gambling because the underdogs can and do win.

In no-limit Texas hold ’em poker, holding a pair of aces gives a player an 87 percent chance of winning against a seven-deuce offsuit before the flop. But that still means, over time, the worst hand in poker still wins 13 percent of the time.

The same thinking can be applied to politics. Despite advantages of name recognition and money, upsets occur. There’s no better recent example in Florida politics than in 2012 when the Democratic challenger defeated Republican Chris Dorworth, who was at the time in line to become speaker of the Florida House.

Dorworth’s aces were cracked by Mike Clelland‘s seven-deuce offset. I don’t like beating up on Dorworth anymore (especially after this weekend, when he got married), but I have to ask, is there another Dorworth situation in the cards for Tuesday?

Looking at the congressional races in Florida, the opportunities for an upset are thin. Whatever changes that were to be made to Florida’s congressional delegation have already happened (Gwen Graham not running, Corrine Brown losing to Al Lawson, etc.). This isn’t to say there aren’t interesting races to watch Tuesday because there are in CD 13, 18, and 26. However, the underdogs in those races are not exactly Davids facing Goliaths. Those three races are basically coin flips at this point.

The one competitive congressional race which is not a coin flip is CD 7 where Republican incumbent John Mica is attempting to hold off Stephanie Murphy. The smart money has been watching this race for more than a month as Murphy has closed on Mica, so it would not be out of left field were Murphy to knock off Mica. Still, if you had asked political observers a year ago if John Mica was in trouble of losing his seat, the answer would have been a loud ‘No.’

At the legislative level, its important to separate the competitive from the earth-shattering. There are competitive races in SD 8, 13, 18, 37, 39, and 40 as well as half a dozen state House races, but, again these are basically coin flips. Republican Dana Young is up single digits over Democrat Bob Buesing in SD 18; no one can safely predict who will win in the South Florida seats; and the House races will largely be decided by the top of the ballot.

BUT! And this is a huge but … a Sir Mix-A-Lot-sized but … were there to be a Dorworthian surprise Tuesday night, it will probably occur in some of the state House races in South Florida.

Again, a huge disclaimer that I am not suggesting that these upsets will occur, but there has been talk — over the last two weeks, especially as Donald Trump was tanking and through South Florida’s “gangbusters” early voting turnout Sunday — that if a wave the size of the one in the movie “Poseidon” were to hit, some Republican House candidates could be in trouble, such as Carlos Trujillo in HD 105 and Michael Bileca in HD 115

Mind you, I re-watched the movie “The Big Short” this weekend, so my mind is thinking in terms of failing tranches. Not that Trujillo or Bileca or any of the other South Florida Republican campaigns should be compared with subprime mortgages. They’re not. They’ve run AAA-rated campaigns.

But that’s the thing about black swans. They appear so rarely in nature, they are almost impossible to predict. The best you can do is look in the direction they might appear.

And on Tuesday night, that may be in South Florida.

Al Lawson expands cash lead over Glo Smith in CD 5 race

The race between Republican Glo Smith and Democrat Al Lawson in Florida’s 5th Congressional District has defied traditional partisan contours down the stretch.

Smith, appearing on WJXT’s “This Week in Jacksonville” Sunday, positioned herself less as a Republican than as the sole impediment to Tallahassee controlling the traditionally Jacksonville-based seat.

Smith alluded to having productive conversations with Democrats on Jacksonville’s City Council, to having an open line of communication with outgoing Rep. Corrine Brown (who did not endorse in the CD 5 race on her “quick picks,” in what could be framed as a tacit OK to her voters to vote for Smith), and ducked the question of whether or not she backs Donald Trump.

These are interesting rhetorical tropes for her to take late in the campaign.

And if the movement of money into the campaigns of Lawson and Smith means anything, she’s probably committing to this rhetorical pivot too late to matter.

In recent days, Smith has — after a long period of relative dormancy — activated her fundraising machine.

Smith brought in $4,400 on Oct. 28, bringing her total since Oct. 21 up to $20,800.

As of Oct. 19, Smith had just $5,117 on hand from $54,625 raised.

This late-campaign surge raises the question: if Smith had been more serious about fundraising early on in her campaign, she may have had meaningful resources for electronic media buys.

A few $20,000 weeks would have facilitated that kind of outreach.

And they likely would have helped to close the gap with Lawson, a veteran politician with deep bipartisan connections and a decided resource advantage.

Lawson, as of Oct. 19, had $103,020 on hand, of $241,573 raised and another $100,000 in personal loans.

That financial advantage was augmented in the period since, with $45,200 in contributions.

Of that total, a mere $3,700 comes from Jacksonville individual contributors.

To put that number in perspective, $24,500 comes from political action committees from around the country, including Realtors, beer wholesalers, and CULAC — the PAC of the national association of credit unions.

Barring some mysterious movement in the next few days, Lawson will close this race having had access to over $386,000 of capital, compared to his GOP opponent, who ran her campaign on just over $75,000.

That almost five-to-one advantage was augmented by Lawson being better known, having more outside backing, and being a more seasoned politician.

Duval Democrats may watch Lawson closely, and one or two may be considering primary challenges for 2018.

If they are serious about that, however, they will want to ensure their money is competitive before jumping in.

Shaky transactions abound in latest Corrine Brown finance report

Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, face 24 counts between them in a federal court trial next April.

The criminal counts related to an allegedly fraudulent charity, which solicited and collected $800,000 over a period of years, but distributed less than $2,000 under its charitable auspices.

One might think she would keep a low profile politically.

One would be wrong, as Brown continues to endorse candidates and, weeks after her loss, spent over $10,000 on lodging.

Despite her federal charges and despite the fact that she is not running for office at this point, having lost to Al Lawson in the primary, Brown opted to issue one final iteration of her Quick Picks, which was distributed at a candidate forum Thursday night to the chagrin of the hosts.

There were a few surprises.

Brown opted not to endorse in the race between Lawson and Republican Glo Smith for her seat in Florida’s 5th Congressional District. And, rather than endorse a Democrat in the clerk of courts race, Brown endorsed incumbent Republican Ronnie Fussell.

Meanwhile, Brown’s political committee — “Friends of Corrine Brown” —issued its October quarterly finance report, and there were some surprises there also.

Brown put in $50,000 of her own money after Aug. 19, including $15,000 after the Aug. 30 primary was over.

The last money transfer, of $10,000, was made Sept. 13.

From Aug. 11 onward, Brown spent $92,761. Much of that money went to old allies in familiar ways, such as thousands of dollars in catering from Jerome Brown Barbeque and the Honey Dripper House.

And, interestingly enough, there was some spending after the primary itself, including gasoline purchases in the days after the primary and $11,278 for lodging at Marriott invoiced on Sept. 25 and 26.

Brown, facing corruption charges, likely will face fresh scrutiny over her latest campaign finance report, which shows spending long after the race was run.

Will Brown’s decision to dump $50,000 of unaccountable money into her campaign factor into the upcoming trial? Will the $11,278 spent with Marriott in late September raise questions for federal prosecutors?

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