Frustration over the American political process has brought together strange bedfellows: two former Florida congressmen of competing parties.
DavidJolly, a Republican, and PatrickMurphy, a Democrat, left office in 2017. They’ve since embarked on a tour, titled “Why Gridlock Rules Washington,” to share their less-than-ideal experiences in the nation’s capital.
And the duo doesn’t hold back. According to shared accounts from both Jolly and Murphy, their time in Congress was marred by partisan politics and an inability to get lawmakers to cooperate.
Jolly told listeners at a tour stop Tuesday night at Florida State University that he arrived in Washington with a plan to tackle problems — only to be encountered with a “reality” where bipartisanship, cooperation and compromise were seen as pitfalls for incumbents seeking reelection.
Like Jolly, Murphy said he came to Congress thinking he was going to “change the world.”
He shared a quick anecdote that proved to him otherwise.
Murphy said an early initiative of his to eliminate several special projects in the budget didn’t get the bipartisan support that was promised. The would-be Republican sponsor’s reelection would’ve been negatively targeted by leadership who did not want to see bipartisan success in the chamber, Murphy said.
Murphy said Democratic leadership does the same thing in tit-for-tat fashion.
The talk went on with the lawmakers outlining the problems they believe are directly linked to, even responsible for, gridlock in D.C. Those problems include gerrymandering, closed primaries, an overemphasis on campaign finance and the mainstream media habit of rewarding polarizing politicians with airtime.
Jolly and Murphy outlined potential fixes for the issues, too. Nearly all involved far-reaching changes that would alter the status quo — but the two hinted that their proposed solutions are more practical given the current national political climate.
And they might be right. Jolly said the turnout on the college circuit has been great — especially given the subject material being discussed.
“It’s not like we’re talking about really salacious things,” Jolly said. “We’re talking about gerrymandering and open primaries — this isn’t ‘Fire and Fury.’”
At least one of the solutions discussed by Jolly and Murphy had some steam in the state earlier this year.
The Constitution Revision Commission was considering a proposal that would’ve opened the state’s primaries to all voters. It was later amended to provide for advancing the top two candidates, regardless of their party affiliations, to the general ballot.
However, a committee within the CRC killed the proposal unanimously earlier this month. Currently, voters can only vote for primary candidates within their respective registered parties.
Jolly spoke in depth about opening the state’s primary election system. He said he “journeyed politically” to his stance now.
“I’m willing to say let’s open up primaries to allow candidates to compete for broader constituencies,” Jolly said.
In an interview with Florida Politics, Jolly and Murphy also discussed their time together in Congress. Jolly said he’d work on bills with Murphy, but that collaboration often was stifled by party leadership.
Jolly said the lack of a DACA fix in Washington is a “good example” of how structural issues dominate policy in Congress. He said moderate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle cannot afford compromise on the issue if they intend to be reelected.
“The problem is if the two parties actually compromised on [DACA], at least in years past, they would all be primaried back home,” Jolly said.
Jolly and Murphy also were asked if they intend to run for office in the near future.
Murphy has said he won’t run for his old seat against incumbent Republican BrianMast this year.
But on Tuesday Murphy added, “I’d be surprised if either one of us didn’t end up on the ballot at some point.” He said their interest in the state of Florida, as evidenced by the tour, could result in one of them running for office to represent the state again.
As for Jolly, who would for his old seat have to square off against incumbent CharlieCrist, “it’s going to go all the way to the filing deadline.”
Hagan’s news blackout was evident Friday afternoon in Ybor City, during one of the largest gathering of news media in recent times, where the commissioner kicked off a news conference announcing the Tampa Bay Rays desire to build a new stadium in Tampa.
Pransky asked Hagan, considering discussions about the Ybor City site had gone on for a year: “a lot of viewers are telling us their concerns that they haven’t heard a lot about the financing options that have been discussed behind the scenes. What you tell them?”
Hagan refused to answer the question.
Instead, he responded: “Noah, you’re well aware that due to your misleading reporting that I do not speak to you.”
After attempting a follow-up, Pransky was awkwardly told by public relations consultant Gina Morales that the questioning would move on with another reporter.
Once the news conference ended, Pransky and his cameraman tried to ask the same question to Hagan as he exited through the back door of the Tampa Baseball Museum, where the news conference was held.
The reporter was blocked by J.D. White, a former staffer for U.S. Rep. David Jolly who now works for public relations firm, Mercury LLC.
Watch what happened next:
Hagan is running for Hillsborough Commission District 2 seat this fall, where he is the prohibitive favorite.
Plans for a new veterans memorial near Clearwater were revealed Friday, but potential visitors will need an oxygen tank to get there.
Called “Circle of Heroes,” the memorial aims to be the nation’s first underwater dive memorial and will be situated roughly 10 miles off the Pinellas County shore. The site will be about 40-feet deep and is about a quarter mile from Veterans Reef, a popular dive site.
The memorial will feature 24 life-size concrete statues of servicemen and servicewomen from the United States Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy arranged in a 100-foot circle around a memorial featuring bronze emblems representing each military branch.
Pinellas County has pitched in $12,000 in seed money to grab the first four statues, and the total cost of the project is expected to clock in at $450,000. Former U.S. Rep. David Jolly’s nonprofit group Brighter Future Florida is spearheading the campaign to raise the rest of the money through private and corporate donations.
Jolly said the idea for the memorial came from his uncle, Heyward Mathews.
“Dr. Mathews is no stranger to the recreational diving community and certainly not to the community as whole, when it comes to the marine community,” Jolly said. “But, what you all don’t know is that this idea came from him – in large part because of his commitment to drawing divers from near and far to our area, for tourism reasons and also because of his love of diving. Dr. Mathews has spent countless hours on this project, building statues, researching how to best create this memorial and gaining community support.”
The memorial plan got praise from numerous local officials, including Pinellas County Board Chair Ken Welch, County Commissioner Janet Long, and Visit St. Pete/Clearwater CEO David Downing.
“I can’t imagine a better way to share the beauty of our coastal waters and support our troops than this unique, first of its kind memorial,” Welch said. “Circle of Heroes will be an iconic attraction for the region, highlighting the service and sacrifices of those who have fought to protect the freedoms we all enjoy.”
Long added that the memorial is “a win-win for our service members, veterans, our visitors and the local economy,” while Dowling said it would “not only enhance Florida’s reputation as a premier dive site, but it will undoubtedly grow dive-related tourism to the St. Pete Clearwater area.”
The announcement included a video of the proposed site:
Freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist brought in about $486,000 during the final three months of 2017, putting his re-election campaign past the $2 million mark for the year.
Crist’s year-end report isn’t viewable yet on the Federal Elections Commission website, though the Crist campaign said it started 2018 with about $1.76 million in the bank.
Through the end of September, Crist had raised about $1.67 million and had $1.43 million on hand, indicating that his campaign account grew by more than $325,000 after the fourth-quarter report. That puts the St. Petersburg congressman’s spending somewhere in the ballpark of $150,000 for the October through December reporting period.
Crist is the only candidate who has filed a finance report this cycle for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, though Republican George Buck recently announced he would run against the former Florida governor this cycle.
Crist likely isn’t quaking in his boots over the challenge.
There’s also a chance Crist would have to face former U.S. Rep. David Jolly on Election Day, though the odds of that happening took a blow after Jolly said he was expecting a Democratic tsunami at the polls in November.
Jolly did say, however, that “he’s still considering being on the ballot for Congress, and having conversations about some statewide possibilities that we might confront by filing deadline.”
That leaves Crist cruising along as the sole major candidate for the Democratic-leaning district with a campaign account well into the seven figures.
There’s one event for which this proud St. Petersburg native will always cross the bridge.
It’s Robert and Nancy Watkins‘ party, held in conjunction with the Children’s Gasparilla Extravaganza, an alcohol-free event celebrating the pirates’ return to Tampa Bay.
Gasparilla is an annual celebration that began in 1904. Held each year in late January or early February, it celebrates the legend of José Gaspar (Gasparilla), a mythical Spanish pirate who supposedly operated in Southwest Florida. There is the main parade one weekend and a night parade held the following week. But to kick it all off, there is the family-friendly children’s parade.
To those who may not know them — and very few people operating in Florida politics DON’T know them — Robert and Nancy may be two of the most essential players in the state’s political universe.
Through their South Tampa accounting firmmoves tens (if not hundreds) of millions in political contributions and expenditures. Additionally, Nancy serves as treasurer for dozens of candidates and committees. Among her too-many-to-name Florida clients are several A-list members of Congress and the Florida Legislature.
As we have the past five years, my wife, daughter, and I gladly accepted an invitation to view the parade from the Watkins’ beautiful home. And while my daughter was there for the beads and the floats, I attended for the politics, as the party draws many of Tampa Bay’s leading politicos.
With Bloody Mary in hand most of the day, my conversations with those participating were not for attribution. Nevertheless, I was able to glean several insights into state and local politics.
But first, a quick note about two of the children at the parade.
The first is about Lizzy Brandes, the amazing seven-year-old recently adopted by Natalie and Jeff Brandes. I say “amazing” because that’s precisely what she is. She is so much more acclimated to American life than what you could believe can happen in such a short period.
And think about, Lizzy knows nothing about our traditions, like a parade idolizing a mythical pirate. Think about how that must look through her eyes. Yet there she was, catching beads with the best of them.
The second note is about Maverick Griffin, the surprise addition to Melanie and Mike Griffin‘s lives. He’s just as cool in person as his name would suggest and it’s just incredible to see Melanie and Mike, perhaps the city’s best known young professional couple, embrace parenthood with as much enthusiasm as they have the other aspects of their lives.
Now, on to politics.
First and foremost, the attitude of the decidedly Republican crowd was less celebratory than it was in 2017. Last year, the party took place at about the same time as Donald Trump‘s inauguration and so there were plenty of folks sporting red “Make American Great Again” hats. This year, however, with the parade taking place just hours after the federal government officially shut down, there were very few, if any, outspoken supporters of the president.
Speaking of which, it’s astonishing to think of the transition one guest has made since I last blogged about the Watkins’ Gasparilla party.
I’m referring, of course, to former U.S. Rep. David Jolly.
Two years ago, Jolly held a sizable lead over his rivals for the Republican nomination for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat. Today, he is among the most prominent critics of Trump. In fact, he may be THE most prominent Florida-based Trump critic.
It remains to be seen what Jolly will do in 2018 and beyond. I doubt he runs for office. And I know Jolly would like to book a full-time gig with a cable network. But can he make that happen?
Jolly also had an impressive set of comments about the #NeverTrump movement. He spoke about what will happen AFTER the fever breaks. And about how those Republicans who did not stand up to Trump may be judged. I agree with the former congressman that reckoning will come for the Paul Ryans of the world who not only did not stand up to Trump, but enabled him.
He’s not exactly a #NeverTrump’er, but he’s close enough: Will Weatherford was missing from the Watkins’ party, although his lovely wife, Courtney, stopped by.
In a way, Brandes and Young’s fates are intertwined. It’s like that Florida Democrats do not have the resources to fund a candidate against both Brandes and Young, so now that Buesing is in against Young, Brandes may be closer to being off-the-hook.
Yet the upside for Young is higher than it is for Brandes: if she can get past Buesing, she has a better-than-even-money chance to be the first female Senate president in decades. There’s no doubt Young faces a stiff challenge from Buesing, but I think the book on him is still the same as it was in 2016, no matter how much the political environment has changed. He’s a smart man and, by all accounts, a solid lawyer and valuable member of the community.
But is he a good politician?
Young, meanwhile, has beat back everything opponents have ever thrown at her. And if she could beat the late Stacey Frank in 2010, I wager she’ll be able to get by Buesing this year.
Hard at work on the campaign trail is political consultant Anthony Pedicini, who is always one of the first to arrive at the Watkins party. He also brings much of his extended, parade-loving family to the event. And they’re great.
Of course, Pedicini spent much of the day on the phone, working on the special election in House District 72. Pedicini and his partner, Tom Piccolo, are on a tear, winning one special election after another in 2017-2018. But there’s something afoot in HD 72, despite advantages Republicans hold in that seat.
For several reasons, Democrats are excited about Margaret Good‘s chances in this seat. They’re raising serious money, although Republican James Buchanan is too. For some time, the fur has been flying in this race (no doubt part of what Pedicini was working Saturday), so keep this contest on your radar.
Hizzoner always comes to the Watkins party after working the parade route and, even more so than in years past; he was a man in full. Buckhorn knows what kind of job he’s done in Tampa and really, really would like to do the same for Florida.
I joked with him about how great it would be if he could give a speech years from now and say “Florida has its swagger back” just the way he was able to say the same thing about Tampa.
Lobbyist Ana Cruz and I spent thirty minutes practically begging Buckhorn to reconsider not running in 2018, primarily since John Morgan — who would’ve clogged the same lane Buckhorn would run in — has taken himself out of the running.
Buckhorn’s problem is that while he would almost certainly do well in a general election, he would struggle to escape the identity-based politics of the Democratic nomination. It probably won’t be the year for another middle-aged white guy — no matter how great his story — and Buckhorn’s story in Tampa is great. That is a damn shame. Because, in Buckhorn, you can literally see the same appeal Joe Biden has at the national level.
There’s more than a few key races heating up among Florida’s congressional seats, but for every true competitor in a 2018 battleground district there are a dozen head-scratchers who’ve mounted hopeless House campaigns.
No, none of these candidates have sacrificed a goat as part of a pagan ritual, but it likely wouldn’t make their long-shot odds any worse if they had.
In Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, there’s Republican Judson Sapp who billed himself as a “New Republican” when he announced Friday he would challenge incumbent Ted Yoho for the Gainesville-based seat.
“He represents a bold, new path forward and a rebirth of the Republican Party as one that represents all people – not just special interests or the elites,” his campaign said in an email.
That bold new path?
He wants “to end bipartisan obstructionism and to bring integrity and accountability back to our government.”
So far, so good. How does he plan to do it?
“He plans to use his business experience to make deals…”
The race for Florida’s 7th Congressional District might actually be competitive this year.
In 2016, Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy scored a 3-point win over longtime Republican lawmaker John Mica, and the GOP is looking to win it back even if new district lines make that somewhat of an uphill battle.
Enter Vennia Francois, an Orlando Republican who announced last week she would run against state Rep. Mike Miller, businessman Scott Sturgil and a couple others in the Republican Primary for the seat.
She’s got some political experience, having worked for former Sens. Mel Martinez and George LeMieux, but man if her message isn’t a bit dusty.
“I believe in the American Dream because I have seen so many achieve it, both in my immediate family and all across Central Florida,” she said. “But there’s much more we need to do to ensure its legacy, especially for those still struggling in the wake of the Recession of 2008-2009, and I want to lead those efforts,” Francois said in her campaign’s opening message.
If Francois wants to lead the post-recession recovery, she might need to grab a time machine and head back a decade.
Moving on to her actual policy positions, she wants spearhead efforts to close tax loopholes and enact economic policies that help small businesses create even more jobs.
Actually, forget going back a decade. She needs to figure out who traveled to the future and stole her idea for the Republican tax plan.
Also in Central Florida, CD 10 Democratic Rep. Val Demings picked up a primary challenger this week in Wade Darius, a 36-year-old Haitian-born businessman.
Darius runs his own company, TD Homes Marketing, and claims to have helped more than 200 people get down-payment assistance for homes last year. Citing the district’s large immigrant population, the he said his primary goal as a congressman would be helping reshape U.S. immigration policy.
Not a bad start.
Still, he managed to hamstring himself in record time by saying he wouldn’t take corporate campaign contributions and by bashing Demings’ record on police brutality. Maybe he should have asked Bob Poe how that one played out for him in 2016.
Then there’s Florida’s 13th Congressional District, where freshman Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist was running unopposed until Wednesday, when Republican George Buck declared for the seat.
“George Buck, is a father of two; a son who is a professional firefighter, and daughter-in law who is a nurse. His daughter is currently studying to be a middle school math teacher at USFSP. George is a Veteran (Four years active duty and Florida National Guard), Firefighter (Ret), Professor/Author.”
Thank you for your service, George, and don’t take this the wrong way, but you or somebody close to you needs to pick up a copy of When Words Collide. There’s an impressive resume somewhere under that punctuation soup, especially when looking past the ambiguity on whether the daughter and daughter-in-law are the same person,
Also, maybe take a long, hard look at whether CD 13 is the place to run. Even well-liked former U.S. Rep. David Jolly is having a hard time seeing a path to victory for a Republican in the Pinellas-based seat.
Wengay Newton received a rebuke Monday when several high-profile St. Petersburg Democrats announced their support of Vito Sheeley, the political operative challenging the incumbent in the overwhelmingly Democratic House District 70 this year.
In a joint statement, Pinellas County School Board Chair Rene Flowers, Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Council Chair Lisa Wheeler-Bowman said they were backing Sheeley’s bid to unseat Newton.
Sheeley is a former district aide to both U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, and spent some time this year in an unusual alliance with former U.S. Rep. David Jolly,the Republican who Crist defeated last November.
Kriseman’s endorsement of Sheeley shouldn’t be a complete surprise. Newton alienated several Democratic activists in St. Pete last year after endorsing Republican Rick Baker over Kriseman in the hyper-intense mayoral contest.
“Vito’s track record speaks for itself,” Kriseman said in a statement. “I’ve known Vito for years, and know his heart and how hard he will work on behalf of the people of his District and this community. We need Vito’s leadership in District 70.”
In the 2016 Democratic primary for HD 70, Kriseman endorsed Dan Fiorini, one of Newton’s opponents.
“I went to Kriseman for support in my House race. He told me to pound sand,” Newton said last year when asked about supporting Baker. But Newton insisted that backing Baker had nothing to do with that snub, saying that the former two-term mayor was the best man to lead St. Petersburg in the future.
“Rick Baker is my friend for over ten years. It’s a shame that in the areas of greatest need, they’re still talking about that here in 2017,” Newton said about the economic conditions in South St. Pete.
Welch, Wheeler-Bowman and Flowers were also strong Kriseman supporters in the 2017 mayoral race.
“Vito brings people together to listen to stakeholders, work as a team, solve problems and uplift our community — that’s something we desperately need in Tallahassee,” Welch said Monday. “I know that Vito will continue his service to our community and bring common sense solutions to the capital.
“The continued attacks aimed at diminishing our education system is besieged with unfunded mandates, and any sense of integrity has eroded daily, we need representation in line and in tune with the needs of District 70,” Flowers said. “For a strong leader aligned with our values and ideals, Vito Sheeley receives my endorsement as the next member of the House of Representatives, District 70.”
“Vito has the skills, the temperament, and the drive to represent our community successfully,” added Wheeler-Bowman, who was officially elected to chair the St. Pete City Council this year last week. “South St. Pete needs a strong voice who can go to Tallahassee, work constructively, and bring home results.”
“Simply put, Vito is the right person for the job.”
Newton held a campaign kickoff barbecue at Dell Holmes Park in South St. Pete on Saturday. He has raised $17,370 in the race. Sheeley has raised just $4,722, though his numbers for December have yet to be reported.
Sheeley said he was “humbled” by the support.
“They know me as an advocate who will always put my constituents above the broken politics we’ve had to endure for too long. I look forward to continuing that work representing District 70.”
Newton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
St. Petersburg attorney and civic activist Keisha Bell announced last week that she would soon officially enter the HD 70 Democratic race.
HD 70 covers parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
Tampa Bay is more than a body of water — so much more.
To start, an admission: I really missed writing about Tampa Bay, particularly its politics.
With all that is going on in the region surrounding my beloved St. Petersburg, it was tough to resist being drawn back into the fray.
And in the post-Rick Baker/Jack Latvala era, our political landscape here has changed.
Will those changes prove to be for the better? Only time will tell.
Either way, to rectify this absence is Not Just A Body Of Water — a new weekly newsletter focusing exclusively on Tampa Bay, its politics and players.
As a new venture, “Body of Water” presents no small challenge; we must get back up to speed, reconnect with the region, learn some fresh faces. The long-term goal is to provide you, our loyal fan base, an exclusive, subscription-only service by summer 2018.
So, among the features in “Body of Water” are big-picture analysis, interviews, and highlights in the notable work of others. There will be data, photos and interviews with the personalities helping to keep our community dynamic.
Above all, we will focus on the people and issues that make Tampa Bay — more than a humble body of water — one of hottest spots in Florida politics and beyond.
— BOB BUCKHORN’S LAST YEAR —
Term-limited Tampa Mayor Buckhorn, facing a last full calendar year in office, has been busy securing his agenda priorities — and his legacy.
While the city’s municipal elections won’t be until April 2019, Buckhorn — or at least his reputation — will be front and center throughout 2018, as voters experience what could be a contentious campaign to choose his successor.
Among Buckhorn’s most visible accomplishments include the demolition, and upcoming revitalization, of the North Boulevard Homes public housing development, to make way for a $200 million mixed-use project on the Hillsborough River waterfront.
Buckhorn also intends to collaborate further with Tampa Bay Lightning owner and Strategic Property Partners co-partner Jeff Vinik on the high-profile $3 billion Water Street Tampa project, which seeks to transform the city’s Channelside neighborhood.
Hizzonor has also been quick to promote both himself and his performance, as shown in a recent email to Tampa residents, mostly touting a recent poll giving Buckhorn high marks:
In addition to polishing his legacy, Buckhorn will spend 2018 sizing up what will soon be a growing field to vie for the mayor’s office. As of yet, no one has filed, but several names are being floated: former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, City Councilmembers Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez, and civic activist David Straz.
— PIC OF THE WEEK —
— THE ‘BURG IS SPRAWLING —
The sky really isn’t much of a limit for developers in St. Petersburg.
“Construction cranes in every direction,” writes the Tampa Bay Times’ Susan Taylor Martin. “High-rises where single-story buildings once stood.”
“This isn’t your father’s St. Petersburg.”
Estimated construction costs in the 130-year old town have reached $500 million, and there are 17 major projects underway. Five of those projects will add 1,500 rental units in St. Petersburg — complementing the 1,340 finished in the last three years.
The Beach Drive condos in the area have fared well, perhaps serving as a successful case study for investors. But the significant investments also mirror that of what’s going on in the city across the bay. The success of the Fusion 1560 complex also isn’t making investors shy away, writes Morgan.
Still, questions remain about whether St. Petersburg’s identity is enough to support major real estate ventures.
Ahead of demand?: Darron Kattan, managing director of Tampa’s Franklin Street brokerage, acknowledged there could be difficulty filling hundreds of new apartments immediately. St. Petersburg’s Avanti Apartments — one of the five underway — already is offering a free month’s rent.
But there’s optimism: “Downtown St. Pete is so dynamic that in the long run, it will support thousands more units,” Kattan said. “There’s been a fundamental kind of shift of people wanting to live in the core that we have not seen since the ‘60s.”
And the longtime residents don’t seem to mind: Former City Councilman Herbert Polson, who’s lived in St. Petersburg since 1959, “likes what he sees happening in downtown and the rest of St. Petersburg.”
— RICK KRISEMAN REJECTS LOCAL PIER RESTAURANT CONCEPT BY RICK BAKER SUPPORTER —
Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille was selected to be the restaurant four the newly rebuilt St. Petersburg Pier, with a spot in what is currently the city’s Pelican parking lot.
As first reported by Janelle Irwin of the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Mayor Kriseman chose the Florida chain over a local concept by Steve Westphal, a St. Pete restaurateur — and a donor and supporter of Baker, who lost to Kriseman in his campaign for mayor.
Westphal owns the Hangar Restaurant & Flight Lounge at Albert Whitted Airport, Cafe Gala at the Dali Museum and the Annex at 400 Beach.
Doc Ford’s, named after a character in a series of novels from Florida-based author Randy Wayne White, has locations in Sanibel Island, Captiva Island and Fort Myers Beach. White is a partner in the restaurant chain.
“Doc Ford’s has already established a reputation as a highly successful destination restaurant. The restaurant’s name and Florida theme, based on the novels by New York Times best-selling author Randy Wayne White, will appeal to both residents and visitors,” Kriseman wrote in a January memo announcing the choice.
The project, as well as the renovated Pier, is scheduled to open next year.
— ST. PETE CHAMBER SCHEDULES TALLY TRIP, ANNUAL MTG. —
St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce will be making its annual Tallahassee trip Jan. 30-31, to meet with legislative leaders and advocate for its city and members.
Members of the chamber Public Policy Committee can use the promotion code “PP17” to save 10 percent on registration. This discount is available through Jan. 12.
In a celebration of accomplishments in 2017, the Chamber will also hold its annual meeting to honor community leaders and discuss the future of the Chamber and the community.
Scheduled Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 6 p.m. in St. Petersburg’s Mahaffey Theater, the event will name the Chamber’s Member of the Year as well as pass the gavel from the outgoing Board of Governors Chair to the incoming Chair.
Event sponsors include Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, Duke Energy, St. Anthony’s Hospital and the Tampa International/Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.
Chamber members received two free tickets, with more information and sponsorship opportunities at stpete.com/annualmeeting.
>>>As of November, Matt Lettelleir, has joined the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce as Advocacy Manager. The former director of communications for the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee will now oversee tracking city, county and state legislation on behalf of Chamber members.
— PINELLAS POLS RUE JACK LATVALA’S ABSENCE —
While former Sen. Latvala faces a possible criminal investigation after his abrupt resignation, some prominent Pinellas County lawmakers are withholding judgment on the Clearwater Republican.
“I’m old enough and wise enough and I’ve been around long enough to know that you can say anything about anybody,” says Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, a Democrat. “But the last time I checked this is still the United States and you’re still supposed to be innocent until proven guilty.”
Long’s stance was similar that taken by Latvala and his legal team when he was initially accused by six women of inappropriate touching or uttering demeaning remarks about their bodies, as reported by POLITICO Florida in early November.
But Latvala gave up the fight only hours after a second blockbuster report on his misconduct went public Dec. 20 — the most explosive claim centering on allegations of a quid pro quo of legislative support for sexual intimacy with an unnamed lobbyist — now under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Among the fallout felt throughout Pinellas:
— Former Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly was “shocked” to read the report from retired Judge Ronald V. Swanson, named Special Master for the Senate, who referred his sexual harassment report to law enforcement for criminal investigation. “This isn’t the Jack Latvala that we know … I think that Jack made the right decision, and now it’s a matter for him personally and his family.”
— In resigning, “the Senator did the right thing,” says Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee Chair Nick DiCeglie. “It was a very difficult situation for him. It was a very difficult situation for his family. And I think ultimately he did the right thing there.”
— “I was certainly surprised, like everybody” reading the Swanson report, says Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “I had no idea.”
— “He’s a character, no question. He can be a bully and he’s a tough, tough guy when it comes to getting stuff done, but it’s a tough, tough atmosphere,” says Long, who has known Latvala for more than 40 years. He always treated her with dignity and respect, Long adds, and was proud that she was never on the receiving end of what she labels his “hissy fits.”
— “Not only Clearwater, not only Pinellas, but really the Tampa Bay area is going to not have the chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee, so we are all going to have to work a little harder, and our delegation is going to have to work a little bit harder, and I’m confident that they will,” says Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos.
— NEW LAWMAKER READY FOR RE-ELECTION RUN —
Less than three weeks after winning a special election in a Hillsborough County House district, Republican Lawrence McClure is planning a re-election bid this fall.
McClure, who defeated three other candidates Dec. 19 to replace former Rep. Dan Raulerson opened a campaign account Friday for the November election, according to the state Division of Elections website.
Unaffiliated candidate Shawn Gilliam of Plant City also has opened an account for the District 58 race.
— POST-SESSION FUNDRAISING FRENZY BEGINS IN TAMPA —
Nothing says post-Session in Florida like a good, old-fashioned fundraising frenzy.
And with the balance of the Senate in play, especially with an expected “wave election,” raising big money for campaigns is more essential than ever.
On Tuesday, March 27, just after the end of the annual 60-day legislative work session, a group of first-term Republican state lawmakers from across Florida is holding a joint fundraiser in Tampa to support their re-election efforts.
Listed on the invite are Sens. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, Doug Broxson of Pensacola, Panama City’s George Gainer, Travis Hutson of Palm Coast, Melbourne’s Debbie Mayfield, Kathleen Passidomo of Naples, Gainesville’s Keith Perry, Sarasota’s Greg Steube and Dana Young of Tampa.
The event begins 5 p.m. at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club, 5320 Interbay Blvd. in Tampa.
— FORMER RICK SCOTT OFFICIAL IN LINE FOR PINELLAS-PASCO JUDGESHIP —
Mary Thomas, a former top attorney at the Department of Elder Affairs under Gov. Scott, is under consideration for a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judgeship.
Thomas, who was a onetime candidate for North Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, is a finalist on the list of 11 names for the 6th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), sent to Scott in November to fill two vacancies created by the retirements of Mark I. Shames and John A. Schaefer.
After years living in Tallahassee, Thomas, a former state government lawyer under then-Gov. Charlie Crist, relocated to Pinellas County. In 2016, she lost the GOP primary to Panama City urological surgeon Neal Dunn, who later went on to win the now GOP-leaning district.
Pinellas Park Fire Chief Guy Keirn is retiring after last three years as chief. Deputy Chief Brett Schlatterer will be Keirn’s replacement.
Keirn’s last day is Jan. 22.
In his retirement letter, Keirn, a 33-year veteran of the fire department, said he wants to spend more time with family and his 1-year-old grandson.
Keirn said while having dinner recently, he and his wife, Susie, began discussing retirement, where he said: “It’s time.” He added that working for the Pinellas Park Fire Department was the “best decision I made in my life.”
— GRAND MARSHAL —
It is that time of year again for the Gulf Coast — Gasparilla.
Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla named former Tampa Bay Lightning Center Vincent Lecavalier as Grand Marshal of the 2018 Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest and Gasparilla Parade of the Pirates.
This year, Pirate Fest will be Saturday, January 27. EventFest Inc. produces the annual celebration; Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino — Tampa serves as title sponsor.
“Tampa Bay is a special place with great traditions, and the Lightning and Gasparilla are two of them. I look forward to representing both with pride in the parade,” Lecavalier, an NHL All-Star, said in a statement.
Gasparilla is Tampa’s historic community celebration of the apocryphal legend of pirate José Gaspar, featuring a series of events (for both adults and kids) that include the Gasparilla Invasion, Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, the Gasparilla Distance Classic, a film festival, and the Parade of the Pirates, which has been presented by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla since 1904.
Gasparilla’s 2015 centennialwas the third largest parade in the United States, with more than 300,000 people — over a million people attending at least one of the various events — generating nearly $23 million for Tampa’s economy.
Events also include the Pirate Fest Street Festival, presented by Budweiser with live entertainment in downtown Tampa both before and after the parade.
Diane Bailey Morton is starting the new year as executive director of the St. Petersburg Warehouse Arts District by launching a new membership drive. Local business executive and community advocate Lorna Taylor is pledging a $10,000 match if the Warehouse Arts District Association can add 200 new members during the drive.
A healthy lifestyle can start early, according to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
But it starts with family support — a perfect household New Year’s Resolution.
Per All Children’s, “Families that eat right, get plenty of physical activity, limit screen time and have good sleep habits are more likely to raise children with a normal body weight.”
The hospital recommends the following each day: nine hours of sleep, five servings of fruit and vegetables, no more than two hours in front of a screen, and an hour of physical activity.
Oh, and stop the sweetened drinks, too. That means no soda, sweet tea, lemonade, sports drinks, or even juice.
Need some help?: First Steps: Fit4AllKids is a free six-week program available for families with overweight children in the community. It’s offered year-round in St. Pete for children ages seven-plus.
Don’t forget about the flu: The Bay area already is seeing an increase in patients with the flu virus, according to All Children’s, and over a dozen pediatric deaths have occurred from the flu nationwide. The hospital recommends getting a flu shot (it’s not too late) and routinely washing hands to avoid the virus.
Dance against cancer: Dance Marathon is a nationwide movement that raises funds for Children’s Miracle Network through a multi-hour long “dance marathon.” It’s coming to Braden River High School on Jan. 20.
David Jolly says that if the physical boundaries in Florida’s 13th Congressional District in Pinellas County were the same as they were when he won the seat twice back in 2014, he’d already be running against Charlie Crist this November.
The reality is that it’s the same Democratic-leaning seat that he ended up losing to Crist in 2016 by a 52 percent-48 percent margin.
That fact, as well as what he predicts could be a Democratic tsunami at the polls this fall, has effectively quelled his entry into the contest, though he insists he hasn’t completely closed the door on running for political office later this year.
“I am still considering being on the ballot for Congress, and having conversations about some statewide possibilities that we might confront by filing deadline,” the Indian Shores Republican said this week.
A frequent political analyst on cable news, Jolly says that before he were to commit himself to a campaign, he needs to ask and answer the question that he says every Republican should be asking in 2018: Is this a year to be a Republican on the ballot?
“The energy on the left is massive,” he says, pointing specifically to the results in Virginia’s state legislature last November as an indicator of the pent-up momentum among Democrats nationally.
In that election, Democrats flipped 16 Republicans seats in the Virginia House of Delegates, nearly seizing control of that chamber (Republicans maintained control this week only after their candidate’s name was picked out of a bowl to break a tie with a Democrat). The last time Democrats had taken more than five seats in that body was in 1975, a year after Richard Nixon resigned from office because of the Watergate scandal.
Virginia’s house races shows that the amount of energy on the left “is remarkable,” Jolly says.
“People on the left cannot wait to get to November,” he adds. “I don’t think the right has that enthusiasm.”
Congressional District 13 was one of eight congressional districts that the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2015 needed to be redrawn by the Legislature to comply with the Fair Districts constitutional amendment, passed in 2010, that prohibited lawmakers from intentionally drawing districts that favored incumbents or political parties.
That resulted in CD 13 moving from being a rare swing district with a slight GOP advantage to becoming a large Democratic-leaning seat.
That initially led Jolly to opt out of a run for re-election to instead run for what was an open U.S. Senate seat. That changed once incumbent Marco Rubio decided to run again for the seat, compelling Jolly to attempt to win the seat that he originally said after redistricting was one that no Republican could possibly win.
With the way U.S. congressional districts are apportioned, any representative who wins their seat by less than five points is considered to be in a swing-seat district.
That makes them potentially vulnerable in a re-election bid.
Other (sometimes unforeseen) variables also determine the political landscape in an electoral cycle, such as a “wave” election that can result in dozens of seats switching parties.
For example, wave elections took place in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2014.
In 2016, Charlie Crist defeated David Jolly by 3.8 points. And while that makes the former Florida governor potentially vulnerable to a 2018 challenge, that is growing less likely by the day.
In the latest Sabato Crystal Ball (the prediction newsletter named after University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato), managing editor Kyle Kondik now moves Crist’s 13th Congressional District from “leans Democratic” to “likely Democratic.”
“Both Crist and (New Jersey Democrat Josh) Gottheimer represent ‘swingy’ districts, but these freshmen members are also raising boatloads of cash and benefit from the environment,” Kondik writes. “Crist does not have a viable challenger at the moment.”
Jolly has previously said that he would declare whether he would run again for his former seat in January, but the odds look less likely that will occur. Never a prolific fundraiser, there is still considerable doubt whether the National Republican Congressional Campaign (NRCC) would come to Jolly’s financial aid next year.
The NRCC opted not to help out Jolly when he truly needed it in his 2016 bid to maintain the seat against Crist, still indignant over the Pinellas Republican outing the organization for placing an emphasis on the need for members of Congress to fundraise every single day.
The district was also substantially redistricted in 2015, making it much more Democratic in voter registration, as well as much harder for any Republican to win.
Add to the fact that Crist had more than $1.4 million cash on hand, and it does seem a safe bet to move the St. Petersburg Democrat into the “likely Democratic” category.
Other Sabato predictions include Republican Mario Diaz-Balart moving from “likely Republican” to “safe Republican” in District 25; Republican Brian Mast in District 18 staying “likely Republican”; Carlos Curbelo‘s District 26 seat being a “tossup” against an eventual Democratic nominee and Florida’s 27th Congressional seat — vacated after 30 years by Republican Illeana Ros-Lehtinen — leaning Democratic.