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Keith Perry

Keith Perry fundraising bounces back in May

A month after he was outraised threefold by his leading challenger, Republican Sen. Keith Perry of Gainesville bounced back and expanded his cash-on-hand lead.

The first-term senator added $58,250 in May, including $47,250 through his campaign account and $11,000 in receipts for his committee, Building a Prosperous Florida.

That haul brought him past the $500,000 mark in total fundraising 18 months after filing for re-election to Alachua County-based Senate District 8.

The North Central Florida roofer now has $411,000 in the bank for his 2018 effort, putting him $105,000 ahead of leading Democratic candidate Kayser Enneking, who entered June with about $306,000 on hand.

The Gainesville physician’s May reports included $30,555 in campaign money and another $9,501 for her committee, Florida Knows Excellence. She’s raised $372,000 since entering the race nine months ago.

Perry’s campaign report lists 124 contributions, including more than two dozen checks for the maximum allowable donation of $1,000.

More than a quarter of the campaign contributions came in on May 24, when Perry held a campaign kickoff fundraiser in Gainesville with Senate President Joe Negron, Senate President Designate Bill Galvano and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson making the host committee.

Most of the campaign contributions came from within SD 8, which covers all of Alachua and Putnam counties as well as the norther half of Marion County. That’s a notable change of pace from his recent reports, one of which featured no in-district donors.

Health insurer Florida Blue topped the committee report with a pair of $5,000 checks. The only donor on the report was a political committee tied to Sysco, which chipped in $1,000.

Enneking’s campaign report showed 119 contributions, including max checks from some of her possible future colleagues.

Showing up in May were committees tied to Democratic Sens. Lori Berman, Lauren Book and Perry Thurston. Also notable were checks from Gainesville developer Ken McGurn and a committee chaired by Coral Gables billionaire Mike Fernandez, who was until recently a major Republican donor. Most of the rest of Enneking’s campaign report came in via small dollar donors chipping in $100 or less.

The committee report was topped by Crestview physician Michael Gilmore, who gave $3,000. Further down the list was a $1,00 check from Gainesville law firm Avera & Smith. Named partner Rod Smith was the 2016 Democratic nominee in SD 8. He is also a former state Senator and former chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

Before she can go head-to-head with Perry in November, Enneking has to win an Aug. 28 primary against fellow Gainesville resident Olysha Magruder. She reported about $2,600 in new money in her May report and also kicked in a $1,000 loan. She started June with a little over $9,000 on hand.

SD 8 is one of a handful of districts that became more favorable to Democrats after the Senate map was redrawn ahead of the 2016 elections. Despite Democrats holding a 9-point advantage in voter registrations, Perry ended up defeating Smith by 4 points on Election Day. SD 8 also voted in favor of Donald Trump, though only by two tenths of a point.

Time for Florida GOP to draft Pam Bondi?

Richard Corcoran must be kicking himself right now.

If the House Speaker knew a month ago what the rest of the state does now — that a former employee of Adam Putnam’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services failed for more than a year to conduct national background checks on applications for concealed weapons licenses — would he have scrubbed his gubernatorial bid and endorsed the Bartow Republican?

Probably not. And with Putnam’s campaign imploding and calls for his outright resignation from Democrats reaching a fever pitch, a nervous Florida GOP establishment may have turned its desperate eyes to the Pasco lawmaker.

It’s not clear how much damage this scandal will do to Putnam. Will it drive him from the race? Will it keep him from winning the primary? If he wins the primary, does it hobble him in a general election? We probably need another 72 to 96 hours to see where Putnam stands. But one thing is certain. He is no longer the front-runner for the GOP nomination. He probably hasn’t been for a few weeks.

As Putnam stumbles, it’s increasingly probable that twenty years of Republican control of the Governor’s Mansion will come to an end this November.

Yes, Ron DeSantis can win the general election. The people who say he can’t just because he’s backed by Donald Trump are many of the same geniuses who had Hillary Clinton winning the Sunshine State on her way to The White House.

DeSantis can win, I just don’t think he will. I think the PredictIt Market that pegs it at about a three-to-two possibility that a Democrat will win in November feels right. Conversely, the Republicans — either DeSantis or Putnam — being given about a 40 percent chance also seems about right.

If Putnam does lose to DeSantis, the Florida GOP establishment will embrace the “outsider” DeSantis even quicker than it did Rick Scott after he defeated Bill McCollum in 2010.

DeSantis’ campaign manager is Brad Herold, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Florida. DeSantis’ finance director’s last job was for Senate President Joe Negron. DeSantis’ big donors are major donors to Trump, the party, etc. In other words, there are many more overlaps between DeSantis World and the Florida GOP than there were between Scott and the then-establishment.

BUT …

Don’t for a second believe that The Establishment wants to see DeSantis beat Putnam. The heaviest of heavyweights — The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Disney, Florida Power & Light, the sugar industry, the mega-networked lobbying firms — have been investing in Putnam for more than a decade. For there to be zero return on this investment will be difficult to stomach.

The Establishment also hasn’t really liked the last eight years under Scott, at least not the way they liked it under Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. Those were the salad days. Under Scott, the governing strategy has been to stay off his administration’s radar, stay out of the news, and cut $50,000 checks to his political committee whenever one of his fundraisers made an ask.

The Establishment hoped to strike back under Putnam. However, for the third time in eight years — McCollum losing in 2010, Bush flailing in 2016, and Putnam faltering now — its plans are being thwarted.

It can’t be overstated just how shocked many establishment figures and lobbyists were during DeSantis’ recent tour of Tallahassee, where he met with dozens of top lobbyists. It wasn’t just that these insiders were alarmed by the Ponte Vedra Republican’s lack of knowledge about issues facing the state, it was the indifference and disdain he displayed while meeting with them. Almost every one of the lobbyists I spoke with who met with DeSantis mentioned how often he checked his phone, as if they were on a bad first date. He asked few, if any, questions about what concerns or suggestions they had. Instead it was just Trump, Trump, and more Trump.

The Establishment has been licking its Scott-inflicted wounds for nearly eight years and in DeSantis it sees another four years of living under an absentee landlord who, if we’re honest about it, would rather be in D.C. than Tallahassee.

So the Florida GOP, which has held hegemonic control over the state since 1998, faces limited choices.

— It can grin and bear DeSantis. That’s what most will do. There are top-tier lobbying firms already positioned to thrive under a DeSantis administration.

— It can back-door its support for Gwen Graham or Philip Levine. This is what some — not many but some — will do. And they’ll keep their Republican bona fides by doubling-down on their donations to incoming legislative leaders Bill Galvano and Jose Oliva.

OR … and with thirteen days until candidate qualifying closes, this is crazy … The Establishment could Draft Pam Bondi.

The Attorney General chose not to run for higher office this cycle. And she didn’t get/take a position in the Trump White House, despite her ties to the president. She’s coy about what her plans are for when she leaves office, although many expect her to pursue a track in television, specifically with Fox News.

She’s also never expressed any real interest in being Governor.

But … if she wanted it … it’s there.

There hasn’t been recent polling, at least none that I’ve seen, but a survey last year from Associated Industries of Florida showed Republican voters giving Bondi high marks. Fifty-four percent approve of the job she was doing, while just 12 percent had an unfavorable view and 17 percent said they had no opinion. She stood heads-and-shoulders above any Republican not named Scott, including Putnam.

Bondi would have some issues in the general election, especially because of a scandal linking a donation from Trump to a decision not to pursue a legal case against his “university,” but she also has a strong record she can run on, including her fight against pill mills.

Could she beat DeSantis in the primary? She probably has a better chance of doing so than Putnam does at this point. It would be a tall order to raise the kind of money she would need to win, but at least she wouldn’t be out-Trumped by DeSantis the way Putnam has been.

Meanwhile, the GOP Establishment would quickly transfer its support from Putnam to her because the devil you know (Bondi) is always better than the devil you don’t (DeSantis).

I don’t even know what a general election match-up would look like between Bondi and Graham or Levine, but Bondi probably has a better shot at keeping the moderate Republican women voters turned off by Trump in this so-called “Year of the Woman.”

Bondi is both incredibly telegenic and personable on a retail level, so she would give the Republicans their best chance at holding on to power. If she is the nominee, those PredictIt odds instantly move from three-to-two against to better than even money.

Only there’s just two weeks to convince Bondi that she’s the best candidate to help the party maintain control of the Governor’s Mansion through the next presidential election and redistricting process. She’d have to put on hold whatever those apolitical ambitions are that so many believe she has. She’d have to raise money 24 hours a day for the next four months. She’d have to convince Donald Trump not to weigh in too heavily in the Republican primary. And that only gets her to the general election, where a blue wave is supposedly building.

But it’s all there if Pam Bondi wants it.

Charlie Crist

Charlie Crist joins effort to block newspaper tariffs

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist has signed on to bipartisan bill that would send the Trump Administration’s new tariffs on newsprint into the shredder.

In a Friday statement Crist made clear that he wasn’t lining up behind the PRINT Act simply to take a jab at the White House, but because the tariff is already costing jobs within his Pinellas County district.

“An unnecessary trade war with some of our closest partners is already having real, negative consequences for our economy and the newspaper industry in particular. The Tampa Bay Times recently announced 50 employees would be laid off due to new tariffs — shrinking newsrooms at a time when thoughtful, credible reporting is needed most,” said Crist. “Newspapers are an integral part of our communities, employing our neighbors and keeping us informed. It’s encouraging to see bipartisan and bicameral support for protecting local news.”

The Tampa Bay Times said the tariff would cause the price they pay for Canadian sourced newsprint to jump by a third. That would cost the paper, and by extension their readers, more than $3 million a year.

That bipartisan support includes the bill’s principal sponsor, South Dakota Republican U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, and another 10 Republican representatives.

Jacksonville Bold for 6.8.18 — Tribal warfare

Two of our top stories this week deal with primary battles for Congressional seats.

They are interesting for what is said — and what is not.

Mike Waltz is pushing fellow Republican John Ward to withdraw from the race in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

Waltz, like many across the political spectrum, believe that Ward saying that recent Puerto Rican arrivals shouldn’t vote in Florida was disqualifying rhetoric.

The Ward gaffe, ironically, comes after months of his maintaining that he is the Trumpiest candidate in the race.

While the sense of that gaffe was pretty Trump-like, at the moment, he’s seriously wounded.

In the Democratic race in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, moderate Democrat Alvin Brown is looking to topple fellow moderate Al Lawson.

Brown and Lawson have both cut centrist paths through Democratic politics, laden with bipartisan rhetoric. Naturally, they both have gone negative throughout the campaign.

The latest was last weekend. Lawson retweeted President Donald Trump. Quickly, the tweets were deleted. Lawson charged that Brown’s team hacked his Twitter.

Alvin Brown’s team, meanwhile, put out a fundraising email, “Lawson Retweets Trump.”

Would there be major policy differences between Ward and Waltz, or Brown and Lawson?

Probably not.

But you wouldn’t know it from the pyrotechnics of the primary fight.

Waltz urges Ward to drop CD 6 run

Candidates in Florida’s 6th Congressional District are beginning to reach a consensus: Ward needs to get out of the race.

Ward has been under fire for weeks for comments made at a forum in April.

John Ward is facing fire from the left and the right over comments many consider racist.

His take was that displaced Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be voting in Florida, and one by one, candidates have been issuing statements rebuking Ward’s take

Waltz, one of three Republicans running to replace Ron DeSantis in the St. Johns/Flagler/Volusia district, was the latest to call for Ward’s withdrawal Monday.

“As a Green Beret Commander who served multiple combat tours overseas, it’s outrageous to me that politician John Ward would say certain American citizens shouldn’t be able to vote in our country,” Waltz said.

“In combat, no matter where we came from, we all served under the same flag and fought to ensure we all had the same rights. For John Ward to suggest otherwise makes him unfit to serve,” Waltz added.

“There is no place for politician John Ward in this or any campaign and that’s why I’m calling on him to withdraw his candidacy immediately. I urge fellow Republicans to join the chorus of conservative leaders in Florida to demand the same,” Waltz added.

Democrats Nancy Soderberg and John Upchurch have already called for Ward to withdraw. Republican Fred Costello and Democrat Stephen Sevigny likewise have condemned the comments.

Hackers in CD 5?

Saturday afternoon saw a couple of atypical retweets from the personal account of Rep. Lawson.

The RT action went to President Donald Trump, in what was either a remarkable crossing of party lines in a contested primary — or perhaps a compromised account.

After deleting the tweets, Lawson asserted the “campaign accounts” were “breached” and “hacked,” an example of “dirty politics at best.”

Lawson’s team is looking for the hackers, we are told.

Lawson’s opponent, former Jacksonville Mayor Brown, wasn’t buying the hack claims: “Years ago, Al Lawson hacked into right-wing, extreme Republican policies — that’s why he’s been supported by the NRA, applauds Trump’s agenda and drains billions of dollars from our public schools. Try as he might, he can’t fall back on sad excuses after years of selling out Democratic values.”

The tweets were not in keeping with Lawson’s public positions, even as he has indicated willingness to work with the president.

The first RT saw Lawson’s account support Trump’s allegations of Democratic corruption, cooperation with Russia and bashing of the “fake news media.”

The second RT saw Lawson’s account support Trump’s imposition of tariffs against traditional U.S. allies in Mexico, Canada and the EU, a tweet that condemned “stupid trade.”

Each of these were at odds with Democratic orthodoxy.

Brown, running against incumbent Lawson in North Florida’s sprawling, east-west Congressional District 5. has already messaged on a perceived Lawson affinity for Trump,

Monster May for Hutson

Travis Hutson‘s campaign is heating up, posting monster May fundraising numbers in his Senate District 7 re-election bid.

All smiles: Travis Hutson is going to be a player in 2018 elections statewide with this haul.

The Palm Coast Republican brought in $332,000 last month for his two committees: Sunshine State Conservatives hauled in $85,000, and First Coast Business Foundation took in the balance.

The FCBF money is of special interest, as it offers evidence of regional consolidation behind Hutson, who is pursuing the Senate presidency in 2022.

The May fundraising reception for his First Coast Business Foundation saw Mayor Lenny Curry as the special guest at an event heavy on names of prominent politicos, donors and lobbyists.

Event chairs included Marty Fiorentino, former congressional candidate Hans Tanzler (endorsed by Hutson in 2016), JEA Board member Husein Cumber, Jaguars’ lobbyist and all-around problem solver Paul Harden, and bestbet’s Jamie Shelton.

Among the standout names on the host committee: charter school impresario Gary Chartrand and the Jax Chamber mainstay Daniel Davis.

A similar group of players came together May 2017 for a fundraiser in support of future House Speaker Paul Renner, whose political committee had a $261,000 month because of it.

Hutson had hoped to raise $500,000 this cycle to help other Senate Republicans; nearing that goal, he wants to raise $200,000 more, and to that end has a golf event booked this month, and a fishing event in July.

Money where the Mouse is for Bradley

Republican state Sen. Rob Bradley is doing his part to stem the impending “blue wave” in Florida politics, via a fundraiser on the open waters.

Specifically, a July 20-23 Disney Cruise, booked in May via the Fleming Island Republican’s Working for Florida Families political committee.

Those dates indicate the cruise will be aboard the Disney Dream, christened by Jennifer Hudson in 2011. The itinerary shows the vessel plans to anchor in Nassau on the second day of the journey, followed by a stop at Disney’s private island Castaway Cay on Day Three.

The second night of the three-night fundraiser will give attendees the opportunity to “party like a pirate” — not the scary kind, of course.

Party like a pirate, helping Rob Bradley’s re-election campaign, that is.

Per Disney’s description, the celebration of all things swashbuckler encourages guests to dress up like a buccaneer and “eat like a scalawag” — options include “Jolly Rogers Barbecue Rib Salad” and “Pirates Gold-en Pot Stickers” — before hitting the deck with their mateys for a Pirates of the Caribbean-themed party and fireworks show.

The booking, including event venue, lodging, food and beverage, came in at $65,260.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman told us Thursday that the expenditure covered “costs associated with an upcoming fundraiser” for the committee, with “all proceeds [going] toward 2018 Senate races.”

This will be a group sail, not a charter, Bradley added.

There is a recent precedent for a Disney cruise fundraiser.

Per the Miami Herald, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli organized a similar event in 2013. The buy-in then was a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida.

Disney and subsidiaries have donated over $45,000 to Bradley’s committee since its inception, illustrating a shared political vision.

Contributions to Bradley’s committee swelled after he was named the Senate budget chair in November. Working for Florida’s Families pulled in back-to-back-to-back six-figure hauls heading into the 2018 Legislative Session, and since Bradley’s District 5 seat isn’t up this cycle, much of that cash is indeed likely to go toward boosting the re-election campaigns of his fellow Republican Senators.

Indicted Senate candidate raises zilch in May

Suspended Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown, currently facing 32 federal counts in a scheme to defraud with another suspended Council colleague, is still an active primary opponent in Senate District 6 for Minority Leader-designate Audrey Gibson.

Reggie Brown leaves federal court in Jacksonville with lawyer ahead of him.

Brown told media he was not suspending his campaign at his indictment a week ago, and proof of that active candidacy could be found in his May campaign finance filing: the fourth straight month in which Brown reported no fundraising.

Given that he faces, if all maximum penalties prevail, 601 years and an $8.275 million fine, perhaps explaining the reluctance.

At the end of April, which was her most recent filing, Gibson had nearly $132,000 cash on hand.

“I have not made any comments about the opponent in the race and I have none today. I continue to do my legislative duties, work to get more Senate Dems elected as Leader-designate, and focus on my re-election campaign,” Gibson said last week after the indictment dropped.

The winner of the primary campaign will face nominal November opposition from a write-in candidate.

Baker challenges Bean

Sen. Aaron Bean will face a general election challenge in Senate District 4, a Duval/Nassau district leaning heavily Republican.

The Bean Team faces a third-party challenge this year.

Monday saw Joanna Liberty Tavares file for the seat as a Libertarian.

Tavares, per SunBiz, is an officer for Sweet Freedom LLC,

The business address, at River City Marketplace, corresponds with Smallcakes Cupcakery, a well-regarded pastry shop that has 4 stars on Yelp.

Between his campaign account and his political committee, Bean had nearly $200,000 cash on hand at the end of April and will certainly be well-positioned to fundraise further (if needed), given the incumbent’s allies in the region.

Tavares joins a number of Libertarian candidates running in the region, including state House candidates Ken Willey and Ryan Ramsey. They are running in House Districts 18 and 19 respectively.

A second opponent also filed this week to face Bean — Democrat Billie Bussard.

Renner launches re-elect

Palm Coast Republican Rep. Paul Renner is kicking off his bid for a second term in House District 24 with a hometown fundraiser later this month.

Paul Renner (Image via Flagler Live)

The campaign launch event will be held at the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, 1500 Central Ave., from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. June 21. The reception will likely double as a celebration for qualifying for the ballot — Renner hit his required signature total for HD 24 a couple of weeks ago.

The first-term Republican, slated to take over as House Speaker following the 2022 elections, faces Democrat Adam Morley in the fall. Morley has is also set to qualify for the ballot by petition, though Renner likely isn’t quaking in his boots. HD 24 is a Republican stronghold, and Renner’s campaign and committee accounts are stocked with cash.

To that end, the kickoff event suggests a light $25 contribution to his campaign account to make the guest list. Those willing to part with that sum can send in an RSVP via Chad.Kunde@gmail.com.

Save the dateGibson backs Polson in HD 15

Sen. Audrey Gibson, leader-designate for Senate Democrats, endorsed fellow Jacksonville Democrat Tracye Polson in House District 15 Tuesday.

Audrey Gibson
Audrey Gibson had two choices: Endorse Trayce Polson or nobody at all. 

Polson, the sole Democrat in the race, will face one of three Republicans in the general election in November.

Via media release from Polson, both her and Gibson offered quotes of mutual approval.

“Tracye has the experience and expertise to represent Jacksonville as State Representative for District 15. She is versed in issues concerning veterans and their families, removing barriers to the successful education of our children, and quality mental and physical health of communities,” stated Sen. Gibson. “Her business acumen is a big added plus to the multiple qualities she would bring to the Legislature, and she certainly has my support.”

“Senator Gibson was very influential in my decision to run for this seat. Her expertise and knowledge of Jacksonville issues and politics have been extremely helpful in guiding my campaign thus far. I am so proud to have earned her endorsement and look forward to working with Senator Gibson in Tallahassee,” Polson asserted.

Polson’s campaign has been atypically strong for that of a Democrat running for a Republican House seat. She hopes to succeed Rep. Jay Fant.

No 4th Circuit appointment

The Jacksonville Daily Record reports a setback for Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott sought to appoint a replacement for retiring Judge Robert Foster, but 2nd Judicial Circuit Judge Charles Dodson halted that process, and ordered the reinstatement of Jacksonville lawyer David Trotti to the ballot.

Retiring Judge Robert Foster. (Image via Herald-Tribune/ Dan Wagner)

The public, Dodson ruled, has a “constitutional right” to pick Foster’s successor.

City website helps Holland builds cash lead over Kraft

Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland turned heads in April with $100,000 raised. In May, he added another $10,550 to the mix.

He has over $110,000 on hand and has yet to spend money.

Former elections supervisor Jerry Holland broke a cardinal rule of incumbency.

Holland, a popular Republican in his first term on the job, faces nominal opposition: Democrat Kurt Kraft, who is largely self-financed and has just over $260 on hand.

To counter Holland, who has been winning Jacksonville elections for decades, Kraft spent over $1,900 in May, with the bulk of that spend being on signage.

Holland likely won’t have to spend that kind of money.

Read more here.

Post-indictment path clear for Council?

On Thursday, Jacksonville City Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown were indicted on a 38-count conspiracy to defraud, after both allegedly misused city and federal funds intended for economic incentive purposes.

Who’s smiling now?

Friday saw Gov. Rick Scott suspend the two less than a year before elections, leaving the Jacksonville City Council to scramble in terms of figuring out how the constituents of the two Northwest Jacksonville Democrats would continue to have representation.

Monday morning saw the Council President-designate, an at-large Councilman, and the current Finance Chair outline the path forward.

President-designate Aaron Bowman is “hopeful we’ll have two replacements by the middle of July,” which is when Council gets back from its summer break.

Bowman will “lean on past presidents of the council” to help get those gubernatorial appointees up to speed.

“It’s easy for someone to step in and understand what’s important for their district, but understanding how the process works is a different story,” Bowman added.

“This is the governor’s decision,” Bowman said. “He’s had to do this before and he’s very confident in [the way he does it].” (Curry had a similar take).

Bowman expects the appointee to be a Democrat, but notes the appointee can move to that area if appointed.

Sam Newby, meanwhile, said he and current President Anna Brosche (two at-large members) would help with constituent issues during the suspension and before replacements were appointed.

The first wave of names, meanwhile, was reported by WJXT this week. Among the hopefuls: filed candidates Tameka Gaines Holly in District 8 and Celestine Mills in District 10.

District development ready for full Council vote

A second and final Jacksonville City Council committee approved Tuesday an ambitious plan to develop 30 acres that formerly housed JEA’s Southside Generating Station.

This approval tees the bill up for Tuesday’s agenda of the full council.

Artist’s rendering of The District.

The District (2018-313) could transform the Southbank with its radical redevelopment of 30 acres at the former Southside Generating Station property next to the Duval County School Board building.

“The District will encompass approximately 200,000 square feet of retail space, 200,000 square feet of office space, 1,170 apartments/condominiums, and a 150-200 key hotel,” per a dedicated website to the project.

Politically connected developers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz have a deal via their Elements Development to buy the land for $18.6 million from the JEA Board. That deal closes July 18.

Among the incentives for developers: a $30 million capital improvement plan and a Rev Grant (75 percent for up to 22 years capped at $56 million).

The Rev Grant extends to 2040 when the Southbank CRA sunsets.

The total post-construction-assessed value is expected to be just shy of $216 million.

Strong metrics in Jax debt affordability study

It’s rare that a Debt Affordability Study qualifies as a good-news story, but in the case of Jacksonville, most metrics are bullish.

Debt service costs and debt per capita are below targets, while reserve funds are trending toward their targets.

Mike Weinstein and Sam Mousa go through a Jacksonville departmental budget.

“Through recent strong financial management, as recognized by the ratings agencies, a strong economy, low-interest rates, and a consistent trend in reducing our debt outstanding, these metrics have continued to improve,” the report from the city’s CFO, Mike Weinstein, asserts.

And they have needed to. As the report says a bit later on: “Jacksonville has a higher than average debt burden and a slightly below average level of reserves. As will be seen later on in this study, the City has been improving in both areas over the last five years. Continuing the trend of paying down debt and increasing reserves will be viewed favorably by the ratings agencies.”

Since Fiscal Year 2013 (during Mayor Brown’s administration, when the city dealt with the hardest hits of the recession), the city has paid off $354 million in outstanding debt and has kept debt service at a consistent level. Though that debt service, a function of non-negotiable fixed costs, is described within the report as “tight,” with payments being 11 percent of each of the last two budgets, expectations are that it will become less of an impact as city revenues grow in the coming years.

“Jacksonville continues to enjoy strong budgetary flexibility to meet any future fiscal challenge,” the report maintains. “Jacksonville’s modest tax rates and average tax burden form the foundation for the City’s financial flexibility while maintaining its desired service levels. This revenue capacity and flexibility underpin the market’s positive view of the City’s debt.”

Budget strong, investments weak

Through the first six months of FY 17-18, the Jacksonville city budget is in good shape, showing a positive variance, per a recent report from the Jacksonville City Council auditor.

Hurricane Irma projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $83.1 million.

“The City is projected to experience an overall favorable budget variance of approximately $9.3 million within the General Fund/General Services District (GF/GSD). Revenues are projected to be $0.4 million more than budgeted and expenditures are projected to be $8.9 million less than budgeted,” reads the Jacksonville City Council auditor’s report.

Those savings realized in the current budget may have real-world application, as the city is still waiting on payback from the federal government for hurricane-related costs.

Regarding Matthew, 2016’s tropical nuisance, “The latest Hurricane Matthew projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $47.0 million. As of May 8, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $28.8 million related to Hurricane Matthew.”

With the Feds poised to pay back 87.5 percent of that $47 million, an extra $7 million slid into a contingency account this budget year should make up for that.

Irma in 2017 was another matter.

“The latest Hurricane Irma projection estimates the financial impact will be approximately $83.1 million. This could result in an estimated $10.4 million negative impact to the GF/GSD in the future. As of May 8, 2018, the City incurred expenditures of $54.2 million related to Hurricane Irma.”

Expect a contingency for Irma in the next budget. One wonders if the city will start planning for these storms as potential yearly impacts.

Speaking of impactful storms, city investments are starting to hit a lull.

“The Operating Portfolio experienced a net of fees return of negative 0.30% for the quarter ending March 31, 2018, which outperformed the Blended Benchmark by 27 bps. Performance of the portfolio over the last year was a positive 1.25 percent, after fee deductions. During the past three and five years, the portfolio has earned an average annual return of 1.15 percent and 1.31 percent, respectively.”

Expect anemic performance to continue: “Achieving positive returns in equity and fixed income markets has become increasingly challenging due to elevated price levels and stubbornly tight spreads.”

Homeless rights bill on pause

On Monday, the Jacksonville City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Development, Public Health, and Safety committee deferred the “Homeless Bill of Rights,” legislation that could codify civil rights for the city’s dispossessed populations.

Many of the bill’s new rights — but not all — are already in the code. (Image via WJCT)

Ordinance 2018-308, filed by currently-suspended Councilwoman Katrina Brown, contends that “the basic rights all people should enjoy must be guaranteed for homeless individuals and families,” and attempts to “assure that basic human rights are not being trampled simply because someone happens to be homeless.”

The bill would guarantee the right to move freely for homeless people, as well as rights to be “protected by law enforcement,” to prayer, to voting, to quality emergency health services, to “occupy” legally parked cars, and to have a “reasonable expectation of privacy over personal property,” at homeless camps and the like.

The right to live in one’s car and the protection of personal property, said a city lawyer, are currently the ones not protected by the municipal code.

Those proved to be the sticking points.

Councilman John Crescimbeni noted with concern that the bill could be used to justify homeless camps in public parks.

Council President-designate Aaron Bowman likewise questioned the efficacy of the legislation.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has pushed for this legislation, and Councilwoman Brown’s bill aligns with the goals of that organization.

Becton, Hazouri launch re-election bids

Two first-term councilors, Danny Becton and Tommy Hazouri, want four more years.

Becton, who represents the Baymeadows area and points south, faced no competition in 2015.

Danny Becton is ready for another term.

The filing comes just weeks after Becton lost a close race for Council VP-designate to Scott Wilson, a loss that saw familiar divides on the Council surface yet again, with most of those who voted the year before for President Brosche falling in behind Becton.

Hazouri, a political veteran who has been everything from Mayor to State Rep and School Board member, filed for re-election Friday.

Hazouri, who scored more votes than any other citywide candidate in his decisive May 2015 victory over Republican Geoff Youngblood, is running unopposed for the office.

If re-elected, downtown development and citywide infrastructure will be priorities, as will river activation and library funding.

Hazouri’s primary legislative achievement was one of his campaign promises last cycle: a vow to expand the Human Rights Ordinance to protect LGBT people in Jacksonville from employment, housing and public accommodations discrimination.

Neither has ballot opposition yet.

Anheuser-Busch employees spend World Environment Day cleaning up St. Johns River

Employees at America’s best-known purveyor of cold ones braved the heat Saturday to participate in a St. Johns River cleanup event.

The Jax branch of Anheuser-Busch’s canning operation, Metal Container Corporation, and its wholesale partner, North Florida Sales, were joined in their efforts by employees of other major First Coast businesses in honor of World Environment Day, the lesser-known cousin of Earth Day that’s been celebrated every June 5 since 1974.

Jacksonville Anheuser-Busch employees on World Environment Day.

“We were proud to celebrate World Environment Day over the weekend by taking part in the cleanup of the St. Johns River alongside our local wholesaler partner, North Florida Sales, as well as our colleagues from MCC and Nutri-Turf,” said Craig Tomeo, general manager of Anheuser-Busch’s Jax brewery.

“This month, Anheuser-Busch breweries across the United States have organized and participated in over 20 watershed cleanups, in partnership with the River Network and Living Lands & Waters; and, we’re pleased to do our part and give back to our local Jacksonville community by helping to preserve the beautiful St. Johns River.”

For the beverage behemoth, helping keep the waters clean isn’t just good PR, it’s good business — water is the most integral ingredient in a good brew.

Jaguars’ stadium: What’s in a name?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. That can be said of the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In what has become a ritual with community-owned sports stadiums, the names often change due to changes with corporations holding naming rights. In the case of the Jags, they will be playing at TIAA Bank Field in 2018, while EverBank Field becomes part of the team’s history.

A rose by any name …

The change comes as a result of TIAA Bank buying out EverBank in 2016 which also included the stadium’s naming rights. EverBank has held the naming rights for the past 8 seasons.

“Our bank’s relationship with the Jaguars — on and off the field — goes back to 2010, and we’re very proud to continue this great partnership for years to come at TIAA Bank Field,” said Blake Wilson, president and chief executive officer of EverBank,” in April.

Jacksonville Municipal Stadium originally opened in 1995 on the grounds of the old Gator Bowl. In 1997, it became Alltel Stadium after the communications giant purchased naming rights.

Alltel Stadium hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005 when the New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles. A total of four playoff games have been played in Jacksonville, including January’s 10-3 win over Buffalo.

Some in the Jaguars’ fan base was underwhelmed, but realize changes come. Others do not, with a few die-hards still calling it the Gator Bowl nearly a quarter of a century later.

With season ticket sales up for 2018, TIAA Field will be likely be rocking as the Jaguars look to take the next step and qualify for their first Super Bowl.

Trump nominates Miami-Dade judge to be US attorney

President Donald Trump has nominated a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge to be the next U.S. attorney for South Florida.

The White House said in a news release Thursday that Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan was the president’s choice to be the top federal prosecutor in a sprawling district stretching along Florida’s southeast coast from Vero Beach to Key West and includes Trump’s Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, and his Doral resort.

The position requires Senate confirmation. She would be the first woman in the position.

Fajardo Orshan was appointed to the bench in 2012 by Gov. Rick Scott, currently handling family matters. Before that, she was in private practice and previously served as an assistant Miami-Dade state attorney where she specialized in narcotics and organized crime prosecutions, according to the White House.

Ron DeSantis, Matt Gaetz teaming up for two campaign rallies Saturday

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is running for Governor, and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz are holding a pair of joint campaign rallies Saturday within Gaetz’ Northwest Florida district.

The two Republicans, described as “absolute warriors” by President Donald Trump, will start their day in Pensacola with a 10:30 AM (CT) rally at the Polafox House, 196 N. Palafox St.

They’ll then travel the 50 miles or so to Valparaiso, where they’re scheduled to start rally No. 2 at 2:30 PM (CT). The afternoon event will be held at Compass Rose, 303 E Glen Ave.

Both events are open to the public.

DeSantis, who currently represents Florida’s 6th Congressional District, faces Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Republican primary for Governor. The Trump-backed candidate will likely find a healthy base of support in the Panhandle region, where the president is very popular.

Gaetz, currently in his first term representing Florida’s 1st Congressional District, faces a two Republicans and two Democrats in his re-election campaign, though none of their campaigns have shown real traction.

Democrat Phillip Ehr has cracked six-figures in the money race, but his party affiliation will be a hinderance in CD 1. Republican Cris Dosev, a military veteran, finished third in the 2016 primary for the seat, however his 2018 bid is looking a little rocky.

The primary election for federal and state offices will be held Aug. 28.

Newt Gingrich talks culture wars in Palm Beach speech

To hear Newt Gingrich tell it, America has a bright future just on the horizon, full of technological advances we never thought possible … if it wasn’t for those darn leftists.

That was the brunt of his message Thursday as the former House Speaker spoke at the Palm Beach Republican Club during a luncheon at The Colony Hotel.

“The moment we are in is among the most important in American history.”

Gingrich describes the current moment as “a cultural civil war” thanks to the left’s efforts to push values that “are antithetical to a free society.”

The framing of Democrats as the enemy was a constant through the roughly 45-minute talk. “Ronald Reagan defeated the Soviet empire, but he did not defeat Marxism on American college campuses. And the result was that at a time where we were winning over our foreign opponent, we were losing to our domestic opponent.”

That opponent, a socialist and Marxist ideology that was left unchecked, has now seeped into the Democratic Party and infected most of the government, according to Gingrich. “The system’s not working. What you have is a war.”

Gingrich argued that the left’s effort to expand government and regulation was standing in the way of technological breakthroughs. He raved about advances in stem cells, genetics and artificial intelligence.

But he spent the most time on the topic of on space travel, highlighting successes in the private sector and bashing NASA for falling far behind. He detailed Richard Branson’s work on Virgin Galactic, Paul Allen’s efforts to launch deliveries into space, and Elon Musk’s success at creating reusable rockets.

However, the Donald Trump-supporting Gingrich reserved his greatest support for an unlikely target. “The person who I think is the most interesting is Jeff Bezos,” who says he plans to spend his savings to spend people to space. Those savings are pretty hefty, as Bezos was listed the richest man in the world by Forbes.

Bezos has also been a constant target of Trump, with the president repeatedly bashing Amazon and The Washington Post, both of which are Bezos properties.

Contrasting the billionaires’ work to NASA’s efforts, Gingrich said, “It’s like watching a government bureaucracy design the last great stagecoach next to the transcontinental railroad.”

Unfortunately, in Gingrich’s worldview, the Democrats and their big government dreams just keep getting in the way. “There is a potentially stunning, extraordinary, exciting America just on the other side of the bureaucracy.”

To that end, Gingrich argued the only way to truly unlock America’s potential is to defeat liberals on the battlefield of ideas. He says one key to that goal is the Trump presidency. “What Trump represents is a breakthrough that begins to totally disrupt the principles and the assumptions of the old order.”

But with efforts to frame roughly half the country as the enemy, it’s not clear what the endgame is here.

Gingrich is right that the country is divided, with the Pew Research Center showing opposing party members growing increasingly distant. In his mind, the left started it, and he and conservatives are simply fighting back.

But does that battle end with more combativeness? Or, as historian Jon Meacham argued in a recent appearance in Palm Beach, do both sides need to tone things down in order to get back to solving the big issues of the day?

Gingrich clearly chose his side, supporting a president who has often gone on the aggressive against political opponents. Gingrich had high praise for Trump’s efforts, despite working in a jab at the president’s own ideology.

“I don’t know that Trump is in any serious way a principled conservative. But he is the most successful anti-left leader of my lifetime.”

The Palm Beach Republican Club crowd loudly cheered that remark. It seems they’ve chosen to keep the fight going.

It’s a Bucs life? Tampa Bay football is a Republican stronghold

If elections were decided by football fans, then supporters of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be targeted heavily by Republicans and could be one of just a few team bases to elect someone other than a Democrat.

According to a survey distributed by FiveThirtyEight, a data-focused site headed by Nate Silver specializing in content on politics, economics and sports, the fan base of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reported political affiliations that would give a 9.5 percentage point Republican lean over Democrats — a gap larger than that of any other National Football League team’s fan base favoring Republicans.

That said, just six of the 32 teams in the League had fan bases favoring Republicans, and the results of the poll showed the average base for any given team gives Democrats a 6 point lean. There were 105 respondents who answered as Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars base came in with a 2.4 percent Republican lean and the Miami Dolphins fan base leans 7.7 percent more Democratic. The fan base of the San Francisco 49ers had the highest (22 percent) Democratic lean.

Conducted during September of last year, complementary research found that the NFL, when compared to other major sports, had the least ‘partisan’ fan base, but had the most ‘fandom searches,’ or queries online about terms related to the sport. Democratic areas held more interest in the NBA, MLB and NHL; search volumes dipped slightly in areas that were more Republican (where President Donald Trump grabbed more votes in 2016). Vice versa for college basketball, NASCAR and college football. But there is no such relationship for fans of the NFL. 

In essence, the lack of a correlation between how Democratic or Republican an area is and its interest in the NFL suggests that the sport transcends party lines.

To writers at FiveThirtyEight, that explains the delicacy with which the NFL must handle its political issues. Politics have undoubtedly been problematic in the League’s recent seasons, the primary concern is whether players should be required to stand for the national anthem. Players kneel in protest of social injustices, but some interpret such protests as disrespecting the country and its military.

“The NFL’s fan base is much more bipartisan than those of other major sports leagues, and it risks angering one side or the other if it mishandles the situation,” wrote Neil Paine, Harry Enten and Andrea Jones-Rooy of FiveThirtyEight.

The League recently adopted anthem-related rules allowing it to fine teams who kneel on the sideline during the anthem’s playing. However, the rules give teams the option to let players remain in the locker room during the anthem’s playing without punishment from the League, though it appears such policy will have to be approved on a team-by-team basis.

Though intended to ease tensions between the field and the Oval Office, the new rules did not sit well with President Trump. He tweeted Monday night, “Staying in the Locker Room for the playing of our National Anthem is as disrespectful to our country as kneeling. Sorry!”

Jeff Greene pulling votes from Gwen Graham in South Florida, pollster says

The first poll since Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene entered the Democratic primary for Governor may indicate trouble for Gwen Graham’s chances among South Florida Democrats.

The survey, conducted by respected pollster Tom Eldon, polled Broward County and Palm Beach County Democrats and found Greene pulling 6 percent support in his home county, and 3 percent support in Broward.

Overall, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine leads the two-county poll with 39 percent support, followed by Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum at 9, Graham at 8, Winter Park businessman Chris King at 5 and Greene at 4. The remaining third said they were undecided.

Based on those numbers, it looks like Greene’s siphoning supporters from Graham, not Levine as some Democratic onlookers primary have theorized. Of course, the landscape could change substantially if Greene were to actually start campaigning — he’s still radio silent one week after filing his paperwork.

The last regional poll of South Florida Democrats, commissioned by Levine adviser Christian Ulvert in April, showed Levine leading Graham 42-15 on his home turf with Gillum and King in the single digits.

In the new poll, Levine leads No. 2 finisher Andrew Gillum on the Broward side 38-12, followed by Graham at 11 percent and Greene and King with 3 percent support apiece.

The effect is even more pronounced in Palm Beach, where Graham slips into last place in the poll — a rarity for the North Florida Democrat, who generally lands in the top two with Levine.

That half of the poll also showed Levine as the top pick, ahead of his distant second King 40-8. Gillum and Greene tied at 6 percent a piece, while Graham nabbed just 4 percent among Palm Beach Dems.

The new poll also noted a high number of “surge Democrats” — those who reported paying “much more attention” to political and national news since the election of Donald Trump. Among the 60 percent of respondents identified as such, 45 percent were voting for Levine with Graham in second at 10 percent.

The SEA Polling survey was conducted June 3-5 by bilingual accent neutral interviewers reading from a translated script in English and Spanish. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.24 percentage points.

Mario Diaz-Balart votes against amendment barring offshore drilling

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart may have just helped open the door to more offshore drilling in parts of the U.S. But Florida appears to be in the clear for now.

Members of the House Appropriations Committee voted today on an amendment to prevent the expansion of offshore drilling into new areas, including the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and Alaskan waters. The amendment was to be attached to an appropriations bill for President Donald Trump’s planned expansion of offshore drilling.

The text of the amendment, proposed by Congressman Chellie Pingree of Maine, read, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to prepare a five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program that would schedule any Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas lease sale before 2022.” It would have been a temporary delay, but a delay nonetheless.

Of the four representatives from Florida that serve on the Appropriations Committee, only Diaz-Balart voted against the amendment. John Rutherford and Debbie Wasserman Schultz voted in favor of the amendment, while Thomas Rooney was not present for the vote.

However, the failure of the amendment does not affect Florida as of now. A federal law passed in 2006 already bars drilling off the coast of Florida until 2022. And the Trump administration has signaled a desire to exempt Florida from any plans to expand offshore drilling.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit group advocating for a cleaner environment, released a statement slamming the vote by Diaz-Balart.

“Representative Diaz-Balart has passed up a chance to protect Americans from Trump’s extreme offshore drilling plan, which he has said he opposes,” remarked Franz Matzner, director of federal affairs for the NRDC.

“His vote instead helps pad oil industry profits, and abandons the beach communities who’ll bear the risk of oil spills, along with every citizen who’ll experience the effects of the extreme weather made worse by increasing carbon pollution.”

The bill still must be voted on by the full House of Representatives, but it will do so without Pingree’s proposed amendment.

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