Donald Trump – Florida Politics

Gas prices hit three-year high at Florida pumps

Florida gas prices hit a three-year high over the weekend, as oil prices are up about 25 percent from a year ago and the global supply glut has tightened, according to AAA auto club.

And while the annual summer peak is still a couple of weeks away, AAA spokesman W.D. Williams said Monday the travel group doesn’t foresee dramatic price increases “at this point.”

The auto group put the state average at $2.74 a gallon of regular gas on Sunday, up 11 cents from a week ago and 28 cents more than a year ago.

“Crude oil prices are higher than they have been,” Williams said. “Plus, fuel companies are switching over to what is called the summer blend of gasoline, which is more expensive to produce. We have several factors in play, so gasoline prices are up a bit.”

Florida is still far below its all-time high of $4.08 per gallon in July 2008.

The rise in gas prices caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who tweeted Friday that OPEC was “artificially” propping up the price.

“Looks like OPEC is at it again. With record amounts of Oil all over the place, including the fully loaded ships at sea, Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!” Trump tweeted.

Marco Rubio looks to ‘reinvigorate’ conservative movement in challenging political environment

Sen. Marco Rubio has made moves in the last week to re-establish his bona fides with the conservative movement, concerns of which have been somewhat eclipsed despite Republican control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress.

Last week, Rubio brought forth one of the most prominent members of the movement, Mike Needham, as a chief of staff.

Needham came from Heritage Action, and one of the outlets most historically friendly to Rubio — National Review — lauded the hire, and credited Heritage Action as “looking for ways to make sense of the interplay of populism and conservatism since before most people on the right noticed anything was changing.”

Days after the rollout of the hire, Rubio expanded on his vision of the conservative movement, and how it has changed since his failed run for President in 2016, in an op-ed for that same publication.

Building a national American conservatism” is not the catchiest title imaginable; however, the piece is worth reading for those who want to understand where Rubio is headed, both in terms of policy prescriptions and a larger understanding that the tropes that work with the donor class fall flat with the working class.

Rubio’s article is notable for a number of regions, one of which being spotlighting daylight between town hall stump speeches and donor class conclaves.

“[B]y day, I had town halls in cities throughout New Hampshire hollowed out by the new economy, and events in Iowa with Americans who esteemed the traditional values of hard work, family, faith, and community, but who felt that the people in charge of our country did not,” Rubio observed. “By night, I traveled to California, Chicago, Palm Beach, and New York to raise money at the homes of people who lived very different lives.”

Ultimately, Rubio’s approach, though lauded in conservative movement publications like NR and The Weekly Standard, didn’t resonate with GOP primary voters.

“Ultimately, President [Donald] Trump won the office I sought. As a participant in that campaign, I can attest that he owes his victory to the fact that he was the candidate who best understood that our political parties no longer appealed to millions of Americans — that being hailed as a ‘reasonable conservative’ by CNN, or a ‘pure conservative’ by conservative think tanks didn’t mean anything to the millions of Americans who felt forgotten and left behind,” the Senator contended.

Rubio’s essay goes on to point out myriad existential threats to average Americans. Economic pressures engendered by globalization, Rubio contends, threaten both the “American work culture” and families, “buffeted by economic pressures that discourage family life, and by social engineering that seeks to replace it.”

Then the Senator poses some not-exactly-rhetorical questions.

“What happens to a nation when the only economic-policy options offered are narrow economic growth without redistribution, or narrow economic growth with redistribution? Or when the social security provided by strong families is replaced by accumulating wealth or by becoming dependent on government programs? What happens when what is right and wrong is relative instead of rooted in absolute truth found by faith? What happens when citizens of a nation abandon their shared inheritance for the identity politics of wealth, race, or ideology?”

Rubio’s answer: that’s what’s happening in America today.

Meanwhile, Rubio contends, the world is sliding toward the contracts of adhesion created by authoritarianism: “By our example, we have inspired the world to favor the side of liberty. But if we fail to correct our current course, we could end up emboldening the cause of autocracy.”

Rubio namechecks U.S. allies, such as the Philippines and Turkey, as examples thereof, in addition to China and Russia.

In that context, Rubio vows to work to “reinvigorate a national American conservatism that puts the strength of family, community, faith, and work first.”

Doing that, and striking the balance between ideological sinecures and places where voters live, may be a challenge for Rubio, as his messaging in recent months on the Republican tax reform package may indicate.

In December, reported The Hill, Rubio contended that the tax bill “probably went too far” in offering benefits to corporations.

“You’re going to see a lot of these multinationals buy back shares to drive up the price. Some of them will be forced, because they’re sitting on historic levels of cash, to pay out dividends to shareholders,” Rubio said. “That isn’t going to create dramatic economic growth.”

Yet by March, Rubio was selling the bill in the Jacksonville market, an event that focused on how tax cuts allowed a given business to expand.

The willingness to drive up deficits to grow the economy is one of the hallmarks of John Maynard Keynes‘ economic theory, and Rubio sounded like a Keynesian as he lauded tax cuts in the face of increased deficit spending under the Trump administration.

“When a business is able to keep more of the money that they are earning,” Rubio said in response to a question from this reporter about how the deficit-financed tax cuts were conservative, “they’re able to reinvest it. That reinvestment creates jobs, not just in that business but in all the businesses that support them. Those jobs become taxpayers.”

Of course, this issue was addressed last decade, during the Bush administration, when VP Dick Cheney noted President Ronald Reagan proved that “deficits don’t matter” by way of pushing through tax cuts in 2003.

The Bush economy hummed along, until it didn’t. The 2008 economic crash led to a slow-burn recovery that still hasn’t reached rural areas, including in Florida, a decade later.

Rubio and his colleagues will be forced, at least through the next 2 1/2 years, to reconcile contradictions between movement conservatism and how the game of politics actually is played.

And as recent moves suggest, Rubio intends to take a lead on what could be a politically difficult process.

Adam Putnam’s latest Jacksonville visit shows difference with Ron DeSantis

The Republican campaign for Florida Governor, as it stands now, is a two-man race between Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Each candidate is betting on different paths to the nomination.

While DeSantis’ press shop sends out regular media advisories spotlighting DeSantis hits on Fox News and Fox Business, Putnam is running a more traditional campaign.

He’s not given equal time on Fox News; his opinions aren’t sought on the Robert Mueller investigation.

So Putnam does what candidates have typically done, schlepping from town to town and market to market in an effort to pitch his message — one that rarely changes — to audiences.

Jacksonville has seen Putnam many times and will see him again Wednesday morning, for an “Up and Adam” breakfast event at the Beach Diner in Mandarin.

Local reporters have gotten to hear Putnam’s stump speech enough to be able to recite it on cue. Florida, Putnam has said and will say, needs to be a “launchpad for the American dream.” And there needs to be more attention given to trade education in schools, as we learn every time the state recovers from hurricanes.

To his credit, Putnam typically takes press questions at the end of his events. For example, after an opioid roundtable in Jacksonville weeks ago, Putnam had to address a hot topic at the time: the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Safety Act.

While Putnam took issue with gun restrictions in the legislation, such as barring gun sales for those under the age of 21, he stopped short of saying he would push for a legislative repeal of the bill.

Those press encounters are spirited back-and-forths, and they help Putnam clarify his positions in local markets, even if some of them are more pleasant for the candidate than others.

DeSantis, meanwhile, teased his candidacy for months before getting into the race at the beginning of the year.

Aside from a late January rally in Boca Raton where the candidate pledged to drain the swamp in Tallahassee, DeSantis has not been a fixture in local markets.

While the Fox News perch is a unique value-add suggesting a future as a host for an “Ingraham Angle” style program if DeSantis doesn’t become Governor, weeks of inactivity on the trail have become months.

There has been little evidence of a ground operation for the candidate, who nonetheless is holding his own in polls against Putnam — no small feat, given that Putnam has been a statewide officeholder for the last eight years.

The contrast between Putnam and DeSantis, in their approaches to chasing the state’s top job, has been stark. One candidate has run a textbook campaign, boots on the ground in every county.

The other candidate has run a campaign in which the satellite dish and the cable connection have largely been substitutes.

The DeSantis approach challenges the paradigm of retail politics; while he has promised that President Donald Trump will campaign with him “very soon,” the question is what will that involvement look like.

If a Trump endorsement and cable news hits carry DeSantis to the nomination over Putnam, then it is clear that the game of politics in the Sunshine State has shifted seismically.

Philip Levine

Philip Levine tops polls in Tampa Bay, South Florida

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine leads the four-way Democratic Primary for Governor in the state’s two largest media markets, according to a pair of new polls.

The Public Policy Polling surveys, commissioned by Levine senior adviser Christian Ulvert, show Levine with 32 percent support among Tampa Bay-area Democrats and 42 percent support among party faithful in South Florida.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham took the No. 2 spot in both regions, scoring 18 percent support among Tampa Bay voters and 15 percent in South Florida, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando-area businessman Chris King scored in the single digits.

The polls also include a hypothetical head-to-head between Graham and Levine, which Levine wins 36-23 in the Tampa Bay poll and 47-21 in the South Florida poll.

Both polls were conducted before the hour-long televised primary debate aired on Tampa Bay’s Fox 13 news station Wednesday. An April 12 statewide poll of the primary race, also commissioned by Ulvert, found Levine with 29 percent support followed by Graham at 23 percent and Gillum and King still in the single digits.

“For the first time in four cycles, although Tampa Bay doesn’t have a local candidate, new polling shows a new favorite has emerged. Voters there give Philip Levine a 14-point advantage over Gwen Graham,” the Levine campaign said in a statement accompanying the polls.

“The latest polling not only reflects Philip’s message and media campaign, but also his decision to invest heavily and early in a regional field and outreach program. With Levine for Governor being the only campaign with regional offices in the Tampa Bay area, we remain best positioned to reach voters through every medium.”

Levine’s early media buys – more than $6 million so far – are certainly being noticed in Tampa Bay, where 46 percent of Democrats said they’ve seen one of Levine’s many ads over the last several months.

To that end, the South Florida Democrat has the strongest name ID in the region at 48 percent, followed by Graham at 35 percent, Gillum at 27 percent and King at 15 percent.

Among the voters who offered their opinions on the candidates, Levine’s favorability was plus-32, Graham’s was plus-13, Gillum’s was plus-7 and King’s was minus-3.

In the South Florida poll, where 59 percent said they’d seen some Levine’s ads, his name ID score shoots up to 57, Graham’s fell to 33, Gillum’s to 20, and King’s edged up slightly to 17.

Levine scored a plus-47 in favorability on his home turf, which put Graham at plus-21, Gillum at plus-8 and King at plus-3.

After the polls were released, the Gillum campaign’s communications director, Geoff Burgan, sent out an email deriding it and Levine for being “out of touch.”

“Mayor Levine can buy all the robo-polls he wants, but nothing changes the fact that he’s out of touch with Floridians. During Wednesday’s debate, he didn’t know our House Democratic Leader or the size of our state education budget, and most glaringly said he was running for Governor because he ‘ran out of things to do,’” Burgan said.

”He’s out of touch with everyday Floridians’ reality: nearly half our households struggle to make ends meet, and they need a Governor who shares their life experiences and is prepared to tackle their challenges.”

The PPP polls also included questions on Florida Democrats views on President Donald Trump and the investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Among Bay-area voters, Trump had a minus-83 favorability rating though nearly two-thirds said they Mueller to complete his investigation before Congress takes any steps toward impeaching the president. South Florida voters rate Trump at minus-80, with 56 percent saying they want the Mueller probe in the can before any talk of impeachment.

In both polls, 90 percent of respondents said they were certain to vote and 10 percent said they would probably vote.

The Tampa Bay poll was conducted by phone April 15-16 and took responses from 520 Democratic voters, two-thirds within Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and the rest split between Manatee, Sarasota and Pasco.

Nearly half of respondents were over 65 years old, while 38 percent were in the 45-65 bracket and 14 percent were aged 18 to 45. Women made up 57 percent of those polled; the sample was 68 percent white, 16 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic.

The South Florida poll was conducted by phone April 6-7 and took responses from 641 Democratic voters. The gender split matched the Tampa Bay poll, while the race breakdown was 48 percent white, 32 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic. Voters over 65 made up 45 percent of those polled, followed by 45-65 at 38 percent and 18-45 at 17 percent.

Jacksonville Bold for 4.20.18 — Can’t knock the hustle

In Jacksonville, tales of the next year of elections have just begun.

In this edition: congressional fundraising. For those needing a guide to both contenders and pretenders, a look at the money (months before voters cast ballots) will tell that tale.

Down the page, our story on City Council fundraising. Some candidates who are not faring so well saw it, as indicated by the relative paucity of glad-handing for our Jacksonville correspondent by players not really in the game.

For those who decry the “horserace coverage” of politics — is it indeed not a race? Courting the donor class, pandering to “the rubes,” emotional appeals, gaming the outcome — they are all hallmarks of a competition.

And for the title of this week’s Bold, we borrowed (stole) from Jay-Z — and not just to ensure Lenny Curry reads it.

“Can’t knock the hustle” serves as a reminder to all of those working this cycle that, even as the physical days get longer, the time to decide your fate is closer to the end than the beginning.

The anxiety of influence

“It’s good to have all these relationships in D.C., but as Senator, you have more influence.”

The above quote, by far, was the most notable offered during Gov. Rick Scott’s tightly messaged “business roundtable” in Jacksonville. It also illustrated a unique dual message; that of the outsider who can play the inside game.

Rick Scott’s ‘influence’ line was the most interesting of the 45-minute event.

Scott reprised his critique of term limits, coupled with a vision of what he would do as Senator to redress constituent concerns.

Scott vowed, for example, that he would be positioned to help get JAXPORT’s dredge federally funded.

In response to a question about waterways, Scott vowed to talk to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who (depending on who you ask) may or may not have exempted Florida from offshore drilling.

Scott also vowed to meet with heads of other federal agencies.

Scott’s tacit pitch: being able to play the inside game from day one, while still using outsider rhetoric, such as he did on taxes.

Read more here.

$300K for the Sheriff

Rep. John Rutherford, the former Jacksonville Sheriff who is now representing Northeast Florida’s 4th Congressional District, cleared the $300,000 on-hand mark by the end of March.

John Rutherford has the only money tree in CD 4.

Rutherford had not been aggressively fundraising before the just-concluded quarter. Rutherford ended 2017 with $183,748 on hand.

Among Rutherford’s more interesting supporters: Jacksonville donor Peter Rummell, who has said he would only give money to candidates who backed an assault weapons ban. Rutherford never took that position.

Corporate donors include Clear Channel, Viacom, Walmart, and Rayonier.

Rutherford faces no credible primary opponent; however, the Democratic field in the deep-red district is still shaking out, even as none of them thus far enjoy any fundraising traction.

Read all about Monday’s Democratic candidate forum here.

Brown closes cash gap

In the Democratic primary for Florida’s 5th Congressional District, there appears to be a money race after all.

Per a news release from Alvin Brown, the former Jacksonville Mayor enjoyed a 2:1 fundraising advantage in Q1 2018.

Can Alvin Brown eclipse Al Lawson? Money (so far) says yes.

And that means that Brown has pulled close to incumbent Rep. Al Lawson regarding cash on hand.

For the quarter, Brown brought in $167, 088.73; Lawson $83,866.34.

By the end of 2017, before Brown entered the race, Lawson had $100,000 cash-on-hand. Now Lawson has just under $160,000; Brown has a little over $127K.

Brown is “humbled by the widespread grassroots support for our people-powered campaign, which will allow us to connect with voters across the 5th District. Floridians have proved they are ready for new leadership as Washington politicians continue to care more about self-preservation than fighting for the people back home.”

Ward, Waltz self-finance to replace DeSantis in DC

What’s clear about the race to succeed Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District: There will be a lot of money spent to get the nomination.

Ponte Vedra businessman John Ward still leads with cash-on-hand in the seat that encompasses southern St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia counties; however, Fox News contributor Mike Waltz is close behind.

Mike Waltz is very much in the game in CD 6. (Image: Facebook)

As of the end of March, Ward had $709,340 on hand (with $555,000 of that from his own checkbook). Waltz, who loaned his own campaign $400,000, has $653,354 on hand.

On the Republican side, Ward and Waltz are demonstrating the most fundraising ability. Former state Rep. Fred Costello has $15,720 on hand. St. Johns County Commissioner Jimmy Johns has yet to report fundraising.

Two Democrats, meanwhile, also show a talent for fundraising.

Democrat Stephen Sevigny said Friday that his campaign brought in $250,000 in the first quarter. Sevigny’s total includes $50,000 in candidate loans. He finished the quarter with $227K on hand.

Nancy Soderberg, a former Ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton, currently leads the primary field with $920,000 in total fundraising after reporting $375,000 raised for the quarter. With $595K on hand, she is keeping pace with the Republicans, without spending her own money on the campaign so far.

JAXBIZ picks Duggan for HD 15

On Tuesday, JAXBIZ (the political arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce) endorsed Wyman Duggan in House District 15.

JAXBIZ endorsed Wyman Duggan at a pivotal time, with challenges emerging and money drying up.

“Wyman is an experienced, conservative leader who can make an immediate impact for our community in Tallahassee,” JAXBIZ Chair Dane Grey said. “Wyman understands the importance of growing jobs for hardworking families and attracting investment in our community.”

Duggan faces two Republican opponents in the primary and a lull on the fundraising front. For the second straight month in March, he raised just over $2,000; he has just over $95,000 cash on hand.

Duggan, a land-use attorney with deep connections in Jacksonville, has amassed a phalanx of endorsements since entering the race to succeed Rep. Jay Fant, and the JAXBIZ endorsement confirms his position as the choice of Jacksonville’s political and business establishment.

Sports complex improvements coming

On Tuesday, the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee approved moving $1.945 million from the Sports Complex Capital Maintenance Fund to fund improvements at the Sports Complex.

Improvements are coming to the Sports Complex soon. (Image: Getty)

The bill is now ready for the full Council to vote on it next week.

The money was available, per a city representative, because of “excess debt service” funds from FY 17.

Among the projects to be funded: “Seating bowl repairs and widening of the front entrance plaza at the Arena, steel painting, lighting upgrades, bleacher repairs, upgrading of video control room equipment and concourse televisions, and turf equipment replacements at the baseball grounds, and replacing aging food service equipment, upgrading the phone system, seating bowl repairs, and building system upgrades at the stadium.”

The city has spent big money on the sports complex in recent years.

In recent years, Jacksonville taxpayers have authorized $88 million of city-funded capital improvements to the Jaguars’ stadium: $43 million for the world’s biggest scoreboard, and half of a $90 million buy-in that secured a new amphitheater, a covered practice field, and club seat improvements.

Council still hashing out cannabis conundrum

Ordinance 2018-75 would revise extant code relative to medical cannabis. However, a Jacksonville City Council committee can’t figure out a way forward, with a deferral on the bill again Monday

The code was formulated in response to “Charlotte’s Web” low-THC cannabis being the single legal strain, and after an extended period of debate, processing and dispensing were allowed in commercial districts, with cultivation permitted in agricultural regions.

Council’s mellow harshed again over controversial language in cannabis bill.

That debate was tortuous; so too is this one, with the second deferral of this legislation in Monday’s Neighborhoods, Community Services, Public Health & Safety Committee pushing back the bill two more weeks.

“This bill puts our code in compliance with Florida statutes,” said a representative from the Office of General Counsel. “The statute prohibits cultivation and processing facilities within 500 feet of a school” but allows a dispensary given a waiver within 500 feet.

However, given a wide range of concerns addressed this week in committee, it is clear that a public-notice meeting will be needed to refine bill language.

Curry draws challenger

Curry faces a challenge on the 2019 ballot, and it all stems from a beef over a boat show.

Former Atlantic Beach Commissioner Jimmy Hill, a Republican like Curry, took issue with a scheduling snafu over a 2017 boat show that led to him being edged out of promoting boat shows altogether, leading ultimately, he says, to Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Can Jimmy Hill be king? Or will Lenny Curry retain the crown?

Now Hill hopes to have the last laugh … and edge Curry out of the Mayor’s office next year.

Hill believes his group was edged out of the boat show because it used Metro Park and was “the last remaining obstacle to getting rid of Metro Park.”

“The Lenny Curry administration is wholly responsible,” Hill said, for the boat show issues.

And now the ultimate revenge: a challenge on the ballot.

Hill, who worked for Curry’s election, asserts that he “misjudged [Curry’s] character and willingness to do the right thing for people.

Moreover, the challenger says he’s not alone in his chagrin with the incumbent.

“There’s a groundswell of people disappointed in the Mayor,” Hill said. “Key players in his administration are steering him in the wrong direction.”

Read more here.

City Council fundraising update

Some noteworthy news and notes from March fundraising reports for Jacksonville City Council candidates.

The first candidate to hit $250,000 raised, Matt Carlucci, is suspending fundraising for his at-large race against Don Redman.

Leanna Cumber, pictured, looks to replace the likely-irreplaceable Lori Boyer on Council.

Also starting off extremely strong: LeAnna Cumber, who has raised over $170,000 for a district race against Democrat James Jacobs, who has under $500 on hand.

Not every race is seeing robust fundraising, however; For those wanting to get money out of politics, the District 10 race offers a unique illustration. Only one of the six candidates (Kevin Monroe) has more than $1,000 on hand.

Surprising that property or union interests aren’t floating a candidate, bankrolling him and her for reliable votes on issues that may come before the council. But there’s still time.

Read about all the races here.

New JEA CEO wants privatization ‘pause’

New JEA interim CEO Aaron Zahn took over this week after a board meeting saw a vote go his way over CFO Melissa Dykes.

How long does a ‘pause in discussion’ last? (Image: Action News Jax)

There are those close to the process who believe Dykes’ tenure will be short-lived in this role, with other opportunities opening for her elsewhere.

This was not a move many predicted before recent weeks and was presaged with a game of musical chairs, in which Zahn resigned his position to pursue the interim CEO position, one filled by Dykes for the prior week, after longtime JEA CEO Paul McElroy stepped down 10 days ago.

Dykes and Zahn both lobbied board members for the position. But members, appointed by Curry, voted for the Mayor’s man.

Zahn noted that he wanted a “pause” in privatization talks, though he would not say how long that pause needed to be. We got reactions to that from some leading members of the Jacksonville City Council.

Supplementary reading: New bill would give JEA Board control to City Council.

Neptune Beach gets $375K for storm upgrades

Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Cord Byrd this week presented a $375,000 check to Neptune Beach’s Mayor and City Council.

The money was part of an appropriation to bolster the beachfront city’s stormwater drainage system on Florida Boulevard. The Northeast Florida Republicans helped secure the money state budget during the 2018 Legislative Session.

Aaron Bean and Cord Byrd present a $375K check to the City of Neptune Beach.

“Once this project is complete, Neptune Beach and the Beaches community will be better prepared for the next storm and have safer access to Florida Boulevard during emergencies,” Bean said.

Byrd added that the project “will improve the Beaches stormwater system and ensure a safe evacuation route for residents during a natural disaster.”

Neptune Beach Mayor Elaine Brown thanked the lawmakers for pushing for the funding and said it “will go a long way toward alleviating our drainage problems in our city and, most importantly, will restore safety to our evacuation route.”

Bean presents $975K to STEM advancement

On Monday, Bean presented a $975,000 check to Kathleen Schofield, executive director of STEM2 Hub; Gary Chartrand, chair of STEM2 Hub Corporate Board and a group of aspiring Northeast Florida STEM students.

During the most recent Session, Bean worked to secure funding for STEM2 Hub’s Northeast Florida 21st Century Workforce Development project, which increases the availability of STEM-related educational programs.

Aaron Bean presents $975K in state funding to the Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub.

STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — represent some of the fastest-growing, most in-demand career fields in today’s workforce.

“STEM education is vital to the future workforce of our state,” Bean said. “I envision a Florida where all children have the chance to learn these critical skills, so they can realize their truly unlimited potential. This funding moves us closer to fulfilling this vision and provides Northeast Florida’s students with the opportunities needed to compete and excel in the 21st Century.”

The STEM2 Hub project helps schools to continue offering 21st Century Skills Development programs to students in Northeast Florida, with a focus on robotics, coding and workforce-aligned after-school programs and high-quality math instruction. The goal of schools working with the STEM2 Hub is to increase the number of STEM-capable graduates.

“It is so important that we give all students the opportunity to grow competent in the skills of problem-solving and critical thinking,” Schofield said. “We must make students feel connected to community and business leaders, as well as to their schools, so that they see a pathway to their own success.”

More information about the STEM2 Hub is at stem2hub.org.

Space Florida backs new NASA leader

Florida’s aerospace agency praised the long-delayed confirmation Thursday of Oklahoma Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine as the next leader of NASA, pointing to further growth coming to the private space industry.

Space Florida officials said they anticipate Bridenstine will reinvigorate the industry, noting that he’s been hands-on in Congress.

“We look forward to working with him as the nation moves to leverage the relationships between government and the private sector and between states and federal agencies,” Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello said in a statement after the Senate confirmed Bridenstine in a vote along party lines.

“His leadership of a NASA focused on research and exploration will be critical to reinvigorating U.S. leadership in space by bringing the true strengths of all facets of American ingenuity together for the expansion of human activity in space,” DiBello added.

But President Donald Trump’s choice of Bridenstine for the job was controversial, drawing opposition from lawmakers such as U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who as a member of Congress traveled as a payload specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia in January 1986. Nelson maintained that Bridenstine is too partisan for the post.

“The NASA administrator should be a consummate space professional,” Nelson said while on the Senate floor Wednesday. “That’s what this senator wants, a space professional, not a politician as the head of NASA.”

Nelson said the administrator should also be “technically and scientifically competent and a skilled executive.”

“More importantly, the administrator must be a leader who has the ability to bring us together to unite scientists and engineers and commercial space interests and policymakers and the public on a shared vision for future space exploration,” Nelson said.

NASA’s administrator position has been vacant since Charles Bolden, who led the agency under President Barack Obama, stepped down in January 2017. The vacancy was the longest the federal agency has gone without an administrator.

Before the confirmation vote, Gov. Rick Scott tweeted his support for Bridenstine, who was named to the job last September by Trump.

“I hope Jim Bridenstine gets confirmed,” Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, tweeted. “It isn’t helping NASA to have obstructionist Senate Democrats delay the confirmation process. Like me, he served in the Navy and will fight for our space program — not just talk about helping it like so many of the career politicians in DC.”

Bridenstine’s confirmation was able to advance after Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida agreed to support the confirmation, which had been deadlocked in the Senate.

“While I wish the president would have nominated a space professional to run NASA, the unexpected April 30 retirement of the acting administrator would leave NASA, an agency whose mission is vital to Florida, with a gaping leadership void …,” Rubio said in a prepared statement.

Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, called it “terrifying” to have Bridenstine in the job as the Republican is a climate-change “denier” and doesn’t have a scientific background.

“Either Mr. Bridenstine has not bothered to read up on the scientific consensus on the most pressing scientific issue of our generation or he does not agree with that consensus,” Schatz said on the floor. “Either explanation makes him unqualified to run NASA.”

However, Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, said Bridenstine, who has served on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, will help bring a “renaissance” needed at NASA, as the U.S. has been “retreating” from space since astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969.

“From that position (Bridenstine’s) been a thoughtful leader on American space policy as it relates to national security, commerce and weather forecasting,” Lee said.

Democrats will still campaign against a departing Dennis Ross

Andrew Learned

Most candidates in (or soon to be in) the Democratic primary for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, left open by the retirement of Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross, will likely agree on many issues, especially over safety nets.

But there will be a crucial difference, said Andrew Learned, a Valrico Democrat seeking the office.

“Veterans and the military lack a voice,” said Learned, an eight-year veteran of the Navy and currently a lieutenant senior grade in the U.S. Navy Reserve unit headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

He said he has had three tours in the Middle East and saw the troubles fellow service members had not only there, but on their return.

“The number of veterans in Congress is one of the lowest since World War II,” Learned said. “There are those who need help from the Veterans Affairs and not getting it and families of deployed military are in need of care.”

Learned, 31, was born in Sarasota and graduated from high school in Fort Myers. He has lived in Hillsborough County for the past several years attending the University of Tampa and is the owner of the Valrico GradePower Learning Center, a franchise which he acquired in 2014.

In 2016, he said, he was activated and deployed for a year as lead surface planer for Task Force 51/Marine brigade in Bahrain.

Learned filed to run for the post last summer. Until last week he had been running against Ross, and it would seem hard to stop even now that the incumbent decided not to seek re-election. It is likely to be the political mantra for the six Democrats still in the race.

Despite Ross’ leaving, Learned said he blames some of the conditions in the district and the nation on Ross’ “ultraconservative” actions, causing any Republican who may win the seat of carrying on the same activities.

“If you were to take back the break given to the trust fund babies (inheritance taxes) you could give an $8,600 to every schoolteacher in the nation. I have railed against Congressman Ross for not being able to move most (original) legislation except maybe renaming the Mulberry Post office. And supporting (the president’s) use of children health care to force a tax cut for millionaires is wrong,” Learned said.

“Facts are facts, and if we pretend they are otherwise, then we are in for worse trouble.”

The remarks are an indication of how this campaign might play out this summer with Democrats aiming for Ross and local issues rather than just President Donald Trump.

“I congratulate the Republicans in office for a cut after taking eight years in control of the House and Senate to finally do something about tax reform,” Learned said, “but to give a kickback to the wealthiest one percent of the population is wrong.”

So far, Learned is competing against James Gregory Pilkington of Indian Lakes Estates, Phil Hornback of Ruskin, Cameron Magnuson of Brandon, Raymond Pena Jr. of Lakeland and Jeffrey Rabinowitz of Clermont.

A sixth Democrat, Greg Williams of Lakeland, pulled out of his yearlong race for the seat last week and endorsed Learned.

Other Democrats could enter the primary for CD 15, but they would face attacks of opportunism from these candidates who were already in the race before Ross left.

Neil Combee makes it official; announces run for Dennis Ross’ seat

Former State Rep. Neil Combee, a Polk City Republican, announced Tuesday that he will seek Florida’s 15th Congressional District seat left open by U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

Ross, a Republican from Lakeland, announced last week he will not seek re-election to the post he has held since January 2011.

Combee, 58, made his announcement at noon following his resignation as state executive officer for the Gainesville-based Farm Service Agency, a USDA agency serving Florida and the Virgin Islands and notifying his staff.

He resigned as representative for House District 39 in November when he was appointed to the federal post by President Donald Trump.

“I am a loyal supporter of President Trump and the great strides he has made for this country. While I had to think carefully about resigning my post, I can better help him and his programs by being in Congress,” Combee said.

The Combee family name is well-known in Polk County, which makes up 40 percent of the congressional district, with such names as the historic Combee Settlement neighborhood and Combee Road.

Combee is a farmer, rancher and real estate executive and served 16 years as a Polk County Commissioner. Upon leaving in 2004, his fellow commissioners named the new county administration building for him.

He served on the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District from 2005 until 2012 when he was elected to the Florida House.

Combee said CD 15 is a perfect fit since a large portion is rural and suburban and has a great deal of agriculture.

The district includes Polk County which makes up 40 percent while Hillsborough contains about 50 percent with Lake County making up roughly 10 percent of the district.

Pundits had for a long time before Ross’ announcement had said after him, the district likely would be controlled by Hillsborough voters.

“With Polk and Lake counties this is a 50-50 split, but I also have great history with the eastern part of Hillsborough with friends and associates for a long time,” he said.

Six Democrats have already opened campaigns for the seat before Ross’ announcement of his retirement. Democratic officials say that the district is winnable this year for a Democrat because of the controversies surrounding the very president to whom Combee has pledged his strong support.

But the district in some form has been represented by a Republican since then Rep. Andy Ireland of Winter Haven switched to the Republican Party in 1984.

Polk County Republican Party Chair JC Martin said he has no doubt a Polk County Republican will win the primary and the general election.

“Polk County’s favorite son (Commissioner of Agriculture) Adam Putnam will be on the ballot, and that is worth extra turnout from the Polk County side,” Martin said of Putnam’s run for governor.

Among those prominent Republicans also interested in Ross’ seat includes state Rep. Ross Spano of Dover, who is expected to announce he is switching from campaigning for Florida Attorney General to mount a run for CD 15.

Tuesday afternoon, WMNF radio reported Spano is pulling out of the AG race, and intents to enter the race for Congress. He has not yet officially filed.

Spano was behind the resolution in the last Legislative Session that declared pornography a “public health risk.” The measure recognized the health risk caused by explicit material, and recognized a need for “education, prevention, research and policy change to protect citizens of this state.”

Speculation is that state Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon is studying a run.

Also officially in the race: Loretta Leah Lax Miller of Clermont and Curtis Ralph Rogers of Dover.

Another official in the Polk County Republican Party, family counselor Ed Shoemaker of Lakeland, announced last week that he will run for the seat.

Danny Kushmer, Executive Director of International Responsible Farming Council, headquartered in Hillsborough County, also announced Tuesday that he will run for the seat as a Republican. The council is a not-for-profit corporation to tell the American farmer’s story through certification and participation in best management practices to ensure use of the latest food safety protocols.

Former state Rep. Seth McKeel and state Sen. Kelli Stargel, both Lakeland Republicans, are highly rumored as potential candidates but have said they will not run for the post.

Bill Nelson: If Russia has an edge, it’s cyber

Amid increasing tensions with Russia, Sen. Bill Nelson offered modest assurance that the U.S. has a military edge in air, water and on land — but on the cyber front, Russia has the advantage.

Vladimir Putin can beat us in cyber,” Nelson said frankly of Russia’s President. Citing the Russian breaches into the American elections process, including infiltration of voting systems and online electioneering, Nelson said Putin already has “demonstrated what he can do to an American essential institution.” While voting systems were hacked, it’s maintained that the integrity of the 2016 ballot remained intact. 

Nelson was flanked by Sen. Cory Booker, the Democrat from New Jersey, when speaking to media in Tallahassee Saturday afternoon following Friday night’s strike on Syria sanctioned by the U.S., Britain and France.

Only days ago it was widely reported that chemical weapons had been used on people in the Syrian town of Douma at the hands of President Bashar al-Assad. Friday’s assault, President Donald Trump said while addressing the nation shortly afterward, was a “direct result of Russia’s failure” to keep Assad from using chemical weapons.

Trump’s retaliation was expected. The President vowed earlier this week to launch “nice and new and ‘smart’” missiles targeting Syria. The question became not if, but when America would seek reprisal, which manifested Friday night.

Nelson supported the missile strike but criticized the President for warning the world ahead of it. 

“The President let the cat out of the bag,” Nelson said. “[Trump] lost one of the essential things in a military victory …  the element of surprise.”

Syria and Russia reported that some of the missiles, including all 12 targeting one of the bases, were shot down before making landfall. The Pentagon disputed those claims, saying all missiles touched down before Syria launched defensive measures.

Nelson, who is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, dismissed the reports of Russia and Syria. He trusts the Pentagon.

“Are you gonna believe the Russians and the Syrians? Are you gonna believe the guy who gasses his own people with the most pernicious kind of chemical attack, with all of those poisons where people foam at the mouth?” Nelson said. “You gonna believe a guy like that?”

Nelson, who wasn’t briefed ahead of Friday night’s assault, criticized the President for acting without bona fide congressional approval.

“Both of us strongly believe that the president ought to come to Congress asking for an authorization for the use of military force,” Nelson said gesturing to Booker. The Commander-in-Chief is still operating under an authorization that followed the 9/11 attacks, Nelson said. 

He added: Congress should be given the option to “weigh in” and “there ought to be a debate.”

Nelson via Twitter released a statement supporting the missile strikes late Friday night. Sen. Marco Rubio, Nelson’s Republican counterpart, did likewise via an official statement and urged the President “to follow up with a real and comprehensive strategy for ending Assad’s threat to his people, to the region and to U.S. security, and for countering Russian and Iranian support for the Syrian dictatorship’s ongoing barbarity.”

Nelson’s media availability came before he hopped on a jet to fly out of Florida’s capital city. The appearance follows Gov. Rick Scott‘s entrance into the Senate race in which he hopes to unseat the Chipley native.

Scott, via his campaign Twitter account, also has come out in support of U.S. intervention in Syria.

Jacksonville Bold for 4.13.18 — Infrastructure week

In campaigns, there is always a watershed moment when all the gauzy, aspirational rhetoric fades — like so many temporary tattoos — replaced by the hard realities of campaign finance and infrastructure.

For races on the 2018 ballot, we are there — even if some candidates haven’t figured it out.

If one is looking to win a primary in August, as many Democrats have to do this year locally, one might think that the campaign would be in high gear. The money would be in place. The team would be working.

We see that with some candidates (for example, who is working harder this cycle than Tracye Polson in her state House race?). With others, we don’t (consider Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown, who hasn’t done anything in his challenge to Sen. Audrey Gibson but buy campaign T-shirts).

The most prominent campaign event this week was the Governor’s rally Wednesday. Lots of incumbents and prospective candidates on hand; some should have taken notes.

In some quarters, People malign Rick Scott as a checkbook candidate. But he assembles the best team, has resources to message, and understands the discipline needed for such message.

He’s been working the same speech around the state, but he keeps refining it, getting more comfortable with the material. And, despite mourning a trusted aide, he has learned to reflect the affinity of the crowd. His smiles seem natural now.

And Bill Nelson is in for a fight.

As any incumbent can tell you: build the infrastructure before you need it. Because you will need it sooner than you think.

Scott Senate rollout

Gov. Scott rolled out his Senate campaign in the Jacksonville market Wednesday, with a stop at Ring Power on the Southside.

Rick Scott is already refining a credible stump speech, running with enthusiasm.

Scott’s political committee has sent out prepared remarks for each local event that have been the same as those sent out for the launch in Orlando Monday.

However, at least in Jacksonville, he deviated from the remarks, adding new details about retiring $9 billion in state debt during his tenure — a tacit allusion to the Congressional Budget Office predictions of increasing deficits over the next decade, subtly noting that Florida is not on that fiscal path under his watch.

Throughout his 10-minute speech, the Governor was upbeat, in “happy warrior” mode.

The local Democratic Party had called for protests; however, if there were protesters, they were not noticed by this reporter or other media on hand.

Scott drew a crowd of roughly 300, including numerous members of the Duval County Legislative Delegation and the Jacksonville City Council, as well as people who hope to serve in Tallahassee or City Hall.

In contrast to other events on tour, the Governor took questions. Included were answers about an elections complaint against the New Republican PAC and on Syria policy.

Soderberg rakes in more campaign donations

Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a former Ambassador to the United Nations during the Bill Clinton presidency, posted another impressive quarter of fundraising in her bid to succeed Republican Ron DeSantis in Congress.

Nancy Soderberg is running to win Ron DeSantis’ current seat.

Per a media release: Soderberg raised $375,000 in the first quarter of 2018. Soderberg raised $920,000 during her bid for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The media release does not give an indication of what’s been spent this quarter; however, by the end of 2017, Soderberg raised $544,636, with $376,000 on hand.

This puts her ahead of other Democrats in the race. Stephen Sevigny has nearly $227,000 on hand; John Upchurch, just over $123,000.

Republicans running for the seat have yet to file fundraising reports or issue media releases.

The cash on hand leader as of the end of 2017 was Republican John Ward, a businessman living in Ponte Vedra, somewhat to the north of the district that runs from southern St. Johns to Volusia counties.

Ward, who loaned his campaign $500,000, had $644,000 on hand.

Brown, Lawson make moves in congressional primary clash

The Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, a cartographical anomaly that sprawls from downtown Jacksonville west to Tallahassee, saw some moves this week by both incumbent Al Lawson and challenger Alvin Brown.

Alvin Brown again reaches out to the right wing … odd strategy in Dem primary

Lawson’s campaign showed its first signs of engagement, with the hire of self-styled “hip-hop lobbyistPhillip Singleton as the campaign’s “senior adviser,” handling fundraising and outreach.

Singleton’s comments in the media release seem to suggest that Lawson’s efforts thus far in the campaign have been lacking.

“I am ready to hit-the-ground-running and re-energize our donor and voter base,” said Singleton.

Alvin Brown also is making moves, though it is difficult to tell if his latest will help in a Democratic primary.

Brown dined with right-wing talk radio host Ed Dean this week, a curious move … even with Dean hosting a straw poll this weekend on the Southside.

Dean’s listeners tend to be Tea Party/Trump Republicans, few of whom will vote in the Democratic primary in CD 5.

Brown, of course, is no stranger to outreach to the right wing — a triangulation strategy he used when running for Jacksonville Mayor.

In an ordinary Democratic primary, it would be easy to imagine a digital ad proclaiming Brown to be a tool of the right.

However, those with memories going back two years will recall Trump’s Florida co-chair Susie Wiles helping to pitch Lawson to Jacksonville media as he ran against Corrine Brown.

Gibson slams Scott, lauds ‘moderate’ Nelson

Senate Minority Leader-Designate Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, excoriated Scott upon his U.S. Senate campaign launch Monday.

Will voters agree with Sen. Audrey Gibson that Bill Nelson is a better deal maker than Rick Scott?

“Rick Scott cannot erase seven years of leaving behind my constituents and others throughout this state and now try to take his same show to Washington. His jobs incentive programs have not provided real jobs to the average Floridian because he counts failed potential job creation as a Florida job,” Gibson said.

Scott’s relationship with President Donald Trump, Gibson asserted, is something voters should “definitely” consider, given Trump’s lack of “decorum” and “predictability.”

Besides, Gibson joked, Trump may not be President for very much longer.

As well, Gibson doubted Scott’s ability to be a “consensus builder,” which “moderate” Nelson has been for years.

“He may not necessarily characterize himself that way,” Gibson said of Nelson as a moderate, but lauded his ability to “build a bridge” and bring “balance to his position as a Senator.”

Additionally, Scott is as much a “career politician” as Nelson, Gibson said, given that he’s running for one office from another.

Could Dem take Fant House seat?

The race to replace Rep. Jay Fant in Jacksonville’s House District 15 continues, and March showed evidence of more traction from Democrat Polson.

For one thing, she’s up nine points in a poll her campaign commissioned — a major shock when one considers that for years no Democrat even bothered to run in the traditional GOP sinecure.

Blue wave in Jay Fant’s old seat? Time will tell, but the Trayce Polson campaign keeps raising money.

Polson, the sole Democrat running to replace the Attorney General hopeful, reports a combined March fundraising total of $30,821.00. She’s raised $174,103 between her campaign and political committee accounts, with $113,635 on hand.

“We have been knocking on doors since Veterans Day and one thing is very clear,” said Polson. “Voters are looking for a new leader to send to Tallahassee.”

To win that race in November, Polson will have to beat a Republican; currently, three are vying for the nomination.

In HD 15, Jacksonville land use attorney Wyman Duggan now faces two Republican opponents in the primary and trouble on the fundraising front. For the second straight month, he raised just over $2,000; he has just over $95,000 cash on hand.

Duggan leads Republicans Mark Zeigler and Joseph Hogan in fundraising.

Other races were less interesting, but you can read more about them here.

Brosche goes in on Curry

More harsh words between Jacksonville’s City Council President and Mayor.

Lenny Curry went on TV and put Anna Brosche on blast. Brosche responded in kind.

More drama on the fourth floor of City Hall this week. Like every week these days.

“As for his messaging against me, I am, quite frankly, surprised to be an object of his constant attention, one requiring a messaging campaign. While he is focused on the dynamic of our unhealthy relationship, I am going to continue my efforts to serve the people of Jacksonville, and keep asking questions to make sure everything adds up for the people,” Brosche added.

Of course, the central battleground for this conflict, at this point, is the special committee to explore the potential sale of Jacksonville’s utility, JEA.

After two consecutive Thursdays in which he took tough questions from that committee, JEA CEO Paul McElroy decided his time was up and stepped down from the highest paying public position in the city.

For Brosche, this decision adds to the current “uncertainty” surrounding the utility.

“Uncertainty has been a frequent term used in the process of evaluating a potential sale of JEA; Paul’s departure brings no exception,” she added.

Read More Here.

Speaking of JEA … a new ad

“Tell Lenny JEA is not for sale”: the latest digital ad from Florida Committee for Infrastructure Investment.

The spot, which will have a $5000+ ad buy, will appear starting Monday on digital channels and Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, per the news release.

Can unions keep up with Lenny Curry in the ad game?

The spot weaves together a narrative from local media accounts, charging Curry with taking actions to move forward with a sale of Jacksonville’s public utility despite a declared agnosticism to the topic beyond a “mature conversation” about the value of the “asset.”

“Everyone connected with the sale is also closely connected to the mayor,” asserts the copy. “According to a city auditor, Curry’s administration has been working behind your back preparing for a sale.”

A local union head expressed the rationale for the spot.

“While Lenny Curry continues to say that he is not a proponent of selling JEA, his actions are not matching his words. Our ad simply connects the dots based on evidence provided by local media. We do hope that the Mayor will listen to the will of the people and stop this push to sell JEA,” asserts D. Jason Baber, vice president of the Professional Employees Association.

“While we understand it takes a vote of council to actually sell JEA, we are asking that the Mayor as the leader of this city publicly end what we believe he started. We are asking that he publicly come out and say he is against the sale of JEA,” Baber adds. “If he is unwilling to do this, we know he and any candidate he supports wishes to sell JEA against the will of the people.”

Local unions released a statement opposing the exploration of a sale of the utility last week; this week, they continue pushing the narrative.

It remains to be seen if this will ultimately affect Curry’s re-election bid, however. The Mayor faces no credible opposition and raised $1.5 million in campaign funds in March, his first month as a filed candidate.

Sheriff raises $400K for re-election

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams is back to fundraising in earnest for his re-election bid, and both committee and hard money coffers are healthy after a strong March.

Tom Petway is one of Sheriff Mike Williams’ big donors.

Williams brought in $27,500 off 43 contributions to his campaign account, his most active month since launching last year.

He has raised $179,450 and has over $175,000 on hand.

His political committee, A Safe Jacksonville, brought in $38,000 in March. The committee has $232,000 on hand.

All donations to the committee came either from the family of Tom Petway, the former JEA Board member who kicked off the latest debate regarding privatizing the utility, or the Sorensen family of Firehouse Subs fame.

Williams’ opponent, Democrat Tony Cummings, raised no money for the second straight month, and has just over $200 banked.

District double-think?

Some interesting quotes in the Florida Times-Union regarding The District project.

Politicians will fall in line behind this development. What choice do they have?

The Peter Rummell development on Jacksonville Southside could result in $56 million of tax breaks, and $25 million of city infrastructure investment.

Yet some raise questions about the concept, currently being pushed hard by Councilwoman Lori Boyer.

Matt Schellenberg, who has said the project should have been put out for rebid years ago after the first of many stalls, questioned the wisdom of the investment.

“I would say if the city has that much money floating around, there are other areas in Jacksonville for that money,” the Mandarin Republican says.

This project would not be constructed for a few years, which leads to another question … one of timing, posed by Councilman Bill Gulliford.

“I don’t know that I would want to invest my money in it because we’re looking at a cyclical economy that’s at the top of the cycle right now.”

Indeed, what will things look like in three years?

Regardless, the City Council will make the call. To the surprise of no one, the Downtown Investment Authority approved the deal this week.

Delaney joins Rogers Towers/Fiorentino Group initiative

The next move for former Jacksonville Mayor and University of North Florida President John Delaney was revealed Wednesday via media release. He will work as part of a strategic alliance between Rogers Towers and the Fiorentino Group.

John Delaney’s next move is into the influence sphere.

The alliance, formed five years ago, includes collaboration on business and government affairs issues; business counsel; higher education issues; complex environmental matters and a variety of other government affairs needs at the local, state and federal levels.

Delaney is singularly positioned to help in these matters.

“John’s professional career has been one of the ‘most unique’ and diverse of almost anyone I know, and he brings to our clients’ needs a special perspective that will be of great value as they deal with legal issues as well as the ever-changing landscape of both the political world and government affairs arena,” said Fred Franklin, Rogers Towers managing director.

“John has been a part of some of Jacksonville’s most successful public policy initiatives,” said Marty Fiorentino, president of The Fiorentino Group. “His decades of experience in local, state and federal politics and tenure as president of one of Florida’s leading educational institutions has involved him in many complex issues where his leadership has had a real and positive impact. His addition to our team will provide exceptional added-value services as we develop winning strategies for our clients to influence public policy.”

“As I made my decision to retire from UNF, I looked for a new chapter to open in my career that offered me the chance to bring together the skills and experiences I have harnessed since starting out as a young lawyer working for former Mayor Ed Austin, when he served our community as State Attorney,” said Delaney.

“Having known Marty and Fred both personally and professionally over the years, I was aware of the great work their firms were doing. We collectively started a conversation that led to this decision. I look forward to working with the two of them and their teams to represent clients in a variety of areas both here in Northeast Florida and around the state and nation,” Delaney added.

Overton makes a political comeback

Jacksonville political veteran Jim Overton became the first of what could be many candidates for Duval County Tax Collector.

Overton, who filed this week, is no stranger to Duval County voters.

A familiar face seeks a new office.

With Tillie Fowler‘s blessing, he ran to serve her unexpired term on City Council in 1992, serving two full terms after that. Overton subsequently served three terms as Duval County Property Appraiser.

Overton tells us that current tax collector Michael Corrigan, who is under consideration to be CEO of Visit Jacksonville, encouraged him to run.

Corrigan and Overton are friends outside of the political sphere, and Overton believes that Corrigan has done a “good job” in the role, and, if elected, he will keep the office on an “even keel” for the next couple of years.

Overton notes that the tax collector’s office is a “bigger shop” than the property appraisers, but otherwise believes it’s an “easy fit.”

Overton already knows many staff members in the office he seeks, and some encouraged him to run.

Overton’s entry in the race will likely force certain termed-out members of the Jacksonville City Council who have been eyeballing a run at the office to make moves or cut bait.

Council candidate Carlucci clears $250K raised

Jacksonville political veteran Matt Carlucci, a Republican running for City Council in at-large Group 4, became the first candidate this cycle to clear $250,000 raised.

And, audaciously, he is taking a break from fundraising … having hit his campaign budget.

Matt Carlucci (center) continues to bank campaign funds.

Carlucci, who seeks to return to Jacksonville’s legislative body, drew from a diverse group of contributors again in March, as he brought in over $29,000.

Republicans, such as U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, former City Council President Kevin Hyde, and former Council colleague Dick Kravitz, gave to Carlucci, as did Democrats, such as School Board member Warren Jones and City Council candidate Sunny Gettinger.

Corporate interests, such as the Haskell Company and J.B. Coxwell Contracting, likewise featured on the contribution list.

The $29,150 raised by Carlucci is his most significant single month haul since July 2017, and comes after another former councilman, Don Redman, became the second candidate in the race.

Boylan makes up ground in Council race

Two Republicans — former WJCT CEO Michael Boylan and Chamber candidate Rose Conry — are squaring off to replace termed-out Matt Schellenberg in Jacksonville City Council District 6.

Conry, while still the front-runner regarding money both raised and on-hand, lost some ground to Boylan in March.

WJCT Board of Trustees Chair Sandra Cook and WJCT President and CEO Michael Boylan.

Boylan raised $11,400, in his second straight month over five figures in fundraising. As evidence of a genuinely divided donor class in this race, such Jacksonville heavyweights as former Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton’s Gate Petroleum, Preston Haskell and Jaguars/FPL lobbyist Paul Harden all ponied up for Boylan.

Conry’s operation is being run by Curry’s political adviser, Tim Baker; however, her $2,275 haul was the weakest of her six months as an active candidate. Among the donors to Conry in March: Bold City Strategic Partners and John Baker.

Despite the reversal in fortunes in March, Conry still holds leads in total money raised ($69,635 to $41,875) and cash on hand (approximately $63,400 to roughly $31,400).

Diamond banks $8K more

For those who might want to challenge Republican Rory Diamond as he runs to succeed termed-out Bill Gulliford on the Jacksonville City Council, it’s getting late.

Rory Diamond keeps banking campaign money. Will anyone challenge him?

Diamond, whose campaign is being handled by Curry’s political adviser Tim Baker, banked another respectable month of fundraising in March, raising $8,350. He now has raised $119,000, with over $113,000 on hand.

Among the names on Diamond’s latest report: Jacksonville investor Ashton Hudson, and University of North Florida Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Chris Warren.

Diamond has already outraised Gulliford in each of his runs. Gulliford, unopposed in his 2015 re-election bid, raised $95,000.

In 2011, when Gulliford initially won the office, he raised just over $47,000 (though he defeated Danny Becton, who raised $115,000).

JEA straw vote on November ballot

Two bills of note passed by the Jacksonville City Council Tuesday evening.

____

Straw ballot for JEA sale: 2018-141 will prime a straw ballot referendum for November to test the voters’ mood on a JEA sale.

The measure, sponsored by Garrett Dennis and John Crescimbeni (two skeptics of the need to sell), would, in theory, serve as a corrective to an impending sales pitch to sell from many directions.

Garrett Dennis and John Crescimbeni combined to push through the JEA sale straw ballot vote.

Crescimbeni noted in committee that the straw ballot is nonbinding and merely gives direction on whether to “participate in that process … weigh in and tell us they’re interested, or they’re not interested.”

A rumor the bill would be pulled from Consent ultimately proved unfounded.

____

Board reform: 2018-165, also sponsored by Dennis, will bar an active member of a board from applying for a paid position with the organization controlled by the board.

This bill was drafted after Joe Peppers, a member of the Kids Hope Alliance board who has since stepped down, made a successful play for that organization’s CEO position.

Dennis, one of the council’s most strident opponents of the reforms that brought KHA into being as a replacement for the Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey, saw Peppers as unqualified to be CEO and as someone who is parlaying relationships with the board and Curry’s team into a high-paying job.

Dennis said the bill would foster “transparency and fairness.”

Leading pot lawyers expand to Jacksonville

Bold City has a new pot law firm, which will practice out of the Riverside shopping center.

Denver-based Vicente Sederberg LLC, described as “one of the nation’s leading marijuana law firms,” is opening a Jacksonville office — serving the largest city in Florida’s burgeoning medical marijuana markets.

Vicente Sederberg partner Bryan Vicente and Jacksonville office head Sally Kent Peebles.

The extension of Vicente Sederberg — which claims to have “guided” one of the state’s five original medical marijuana licensees — is the latest development in the growing legal community for the marijuana industry.

Sally Kent Peebles will head the Jacksonville office, according to a news release.

Several lawsuits are expected after Tallahassee Judge Karen Gievers ruled that Tampa strip club entrepreneur Joe Redner can grow his own pot to treat his lung cancer.

The firm is also sponsoring the “National Cannabis Industry Association’s Quarterly Cannabis Caucus” in Tampa next week, as well as taking part in North East Florida NORML’s 420 on the Beach event in Jacksonville Beach set for (you guessed it) April 20.

T-U praises Ford’s ‘dynamic change’ at JTA

Nat Ford recently celebrated five years as CEO of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority.

“These have been the most enjoyable five years of my career,” Ford told the Florida Times-Union.

The Florida Times-Union lavishes praise on Nathaniel Ford Sr., CEO of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA). Photo: James Crichlow/Jacksonville Business Journal.

“And they have been five of the best years in JTA’s history, too,” the editorial board praises in a new op-ed. “In short, JTA has become a more modern, more responsive and more relevant transit system.”

Since taking over JTA, Ford:

— Completely overhauled JTA’s antiquated route system, increasing the on-time rate for buses to 80 percent.

— Launched the first two lines of the premium First Coast Flyer traveling into the Northside and Southside with fewer stops; a third Flyer to the Beaches will start later this year.

— “Skillfully united the community’s stakeholders” to support revamping the Skyway, transforming the old automated aerial structure into a roadway with a ramp system that can accommodate driverless vehicles.

— Installed a test track to test driverless vehicles.

— Broke ground on the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center in the LaVilla neighborhood.

— Spearheaded JTA takeover of the St. Johns Ferry, with substantial infrastructure improvements. “The ferry’s ridership numbers are now booming, and it has shed its reputation for being woefully underutilized.”

“We’ve built up a reputation that has transcended Jacksonville,” Ford told the Editorial Board. “At the state and federal level, there is a lot of confidence in our agency.”

Greyhound ready for big move

Jacksonville’s Greyhound Intercity Bus Terminal is ready to make the big move from its longtime home at 10 N. Pearl St. to a new location about seven blocks west near the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s new hub will connect national, regional and city bus service, as well as the Skyway and nearby Interstate 95.

As reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Greyhound terminal at 1111 W. Forsyth St. is the first phase of a $57.3 million JTA Regional Transportation Center project, funded by a combination of federal, state and local money.

To see video of the new facility, click on the image below:

Andy Rodgers, JTA project administrator, told the Business Journal the 9,660-square-foot facility was both on budget and schedule after about a year of construction.

The same food vendors as the current Greyhound station will operate the restaurant area.

JTA owns the building, and Rogers said it will lease it to Greyhound Lines Inc., which will move in April 17. The facility also will handle Megabus and RedCoach bus services.

UNF executes lease in historic downtown Jacksonville building

The University of North Florida is leasing the fourth and fifth floors in the historic Barnett National Bank Building in Downtown Jacksonville

The Coggin College of Business satellite campus will occupy about 16,000 square feet.

The UNF Coggin College of Business satellite campus will occupy about 16,000 square feet in the historic Barnett National Bank Building in Downtown Jacksonville.

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Barnett Building is under restoration as the first phase of a $100 million “adaptive reuse program” through a partnership of SouthEast Development Group LLC and The Molasky Group of Companies.

Rehabilitation will include a complete historic preservation of the building as well as the Laura Street Trio, a structured parking facility on the adjacent city lot at 28 W. Forsyth St.

Classrooms and faculty support facilities can accommodate as many as 200 students and a new Entrepreneurial Center to develop and support new businesses. UNF interns will earn credits through the center, working with entrepreneurs in a business incubator program.

“Most cities that have thriving entrepreneurship ecosystems usually have a university involved as part of that,” Mark Dawkins, dean of the UNF Coggin College of Business, told the Business Journal.

The UNF Coggin College of Business has four departments offering eight majors: accounting, economics, finance, financial planning, international business, management, marketing, and transportation and logistics.

“UNF wants the center to benefit not only students but the Jacksonville community as a whole,” Dawkins added.

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