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Joe Clements: The ‘big picture’ predictions on Election 2018

This cycle, our firm has worked with dozens of Republican campaigns from Cabinet positions to Congress. One advantage of our workload has been an opportunity to see the results of dozens of polls and focus groups conducted by several national and Florida-based research firms.

Without sharing specifics on data, campaigns or researchers, I want to give a few of my big picture ideas and predictions about what is happening this cycle in Florida.

After I analyze an article of research, I keep notes in a document, which eventually provides an outline for the macro trends I notice across research products. The items below are extracted almost verbatim from my notes and I hope they help provide some context for the current cycle.

Andrew Gillum is underestimated by establishment Republicans and Democrats. Democratic activists are angry about Donald Trump and want someone who shares their anger. In a crowded primary, Gillum has a built-in advantage with African-American voters and has a clear play to voters under 35 years old. He is also hurting Philip Levine and Gwen Graham by pushing them further left.

– The Democratic left flank is the single most underestimated factor of this election. Bernie Sanders was not a fluke. For the first time in a century, there is a true socialist/social justice/leftists voter group on the left with a clear guiding philosophy that pulls and energizes the rest of the party. The problem for Democrats is that their left wing is as far, if not further from center, then the Republican right.

– The Republican conservative right has replaced the role of philosophy (conservatism) with personality (Trump). There is no longer a uniting philosophy on the right outside of populist nationalism. Republican voters appear to differentiate between Trump and other Republican candidates but do want to see reflections of Trump in their candidates.

– Trump is equal parts headwind and tailwind for Republicans. Lower propensity Republican-leaning voters do appear eager to cast a proxy vote in support of him. It’s not clear the same energy exists to cast protests votes against Trump among lower propensity Democratic voters.

– College educated suburban and urban women are going to be the Achilles’ heel for Republicans. These women previously leaned Republican but dislike Trump and will vote Democrat if a good option is available. These “Whole Foods Moms” are the 2018 manifestation of the 2004 “Soccer Moms.” They still vote for security and safety, but Parkland, not 9/11, is now their marquee fear.

– Republicans have work to do on immigration. The issue is considered vital among the Republican base but general election voters think Democrats would do a better job handling the issue.

– Democrats have a real shot at Attorney General. They have decent candidates and room to use populist messaging that appeals to Republican segments on “Big Pharma,” “Big Sugar,” and “Big Insurers.” This race will be the clearest square off between an economic growth message and a populist message.

– Millennials are likely to comprise a significant portion of the electorate for the first time this year as they’ve aged into their thirties. My prediction is that men will break slight Republican and women will break hard Democratic.

– Guns won’t be the watershed issue in the general. Both sides will use the issue to drive turnout but it does not appear to be the strongest issue with moderate voters. We are likely to hear a lot about jobs and the economy come October.

– Floridians are generally optimistic about Florida’s path, which is favorable for incumbent candidates and parties, but Democrats and Republicans live in different worlds on the issue. Republicans are happy, Democrats are not happy, and NPA voters lean happy. Democrats really need the economy to slump and Republicans need it to keep growing.

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Joe Clements is co-founder and CEO of Strategic Digital Services, a Tallahassee-based tech company. He is also co-founder of Bundl, a campaign contribution management app.

Jeff Greene says Democratic opponents ‘not electable,’ generate ‘no excitement’

Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene entered the race for Florida Governor late, days before qualifying ended late last month.

Since active, the Democrat has made up for lost time, running television ads in markets like Jacksonville where the only other opponent to buy time has been Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Can Greene run a sprint toward the finish line and win this race? Despite running a different kind of campaign than the other four in the Democratic field, he asserts that it’s possible.

And, in what has to be considered a shiv at the conventional wisdom, he claims he’s the best-positioned candidate to go up against a Republican who will be well-funded and backed by outside forces that would overwhelm the rest of the field.

We caught up with Greene in Jacksonville at a coffee shop in the hipster-heavy King Street Corridor, and the candidate seemed unfazed by going up against primary opponents, such as Gwen Graham and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who have had a year and a half to ramp up, both in Northeast Florida and throughout the state.

“If people are running for a year, a year and a half, whatever it may be,” Greene added, “by two months before the election, there [should be] some real excitement about at least one of the candidates.”

“There’s no excitement about any of the candidates,” Greene continued. “They haven’t raised any money.”

“You look at the amount of money Andrew Gillum has raised: two-and-a-half million dollars,” Greene said, calling that “pretty pathetic.”

“Gwen Graham, a few million dollars, but she’s got her dad — a very popular former Governor, U.S. Senator, running around the country, and she’s only able to raise three or four million dollars,” Greene said, later noting that the Grahams made the drive to Palm Beach to hit him up for cash before he got in the race.

(A member of the Graham campaign noted, upon reading this, that they’ve raised approximately $10 million.)

“Philip Levine, he’s put a lot of his own liquidity in the race, but same kinds of numbers,” Greene continued, noting that much of what Levine raised was brought in when he was Mayor of Miami Beach from “people wanting to do business with Miami Beach.”

“Look what Adam Putnam’s raised: he’s raised 30 million dollars,” Greene said.

“So the reality is: it’s not just whether they’re electable. Of course, they’re not electable, because they can’t possibly compete against the kind of Republican right-wing machine we’ve been competing against as Democrats for the past 20 years. We’ve been losing,” Greene said.

“To win the race … you have to be a great candidate. If you have the benefit of money, you can use it to get your message out,” Greene said. “That’s what I know I can do.”

Greene noted that his opponents weren’t creating “excitement” and can’t “get their message right,” and that’s why they are languishing behind Republicans in fundraising.

“If any of these candidates were great candidates,” Greene said, “they would have raised 30 million dollars. They haven’t raised the money because they haven’t been the kinds of candidates who inspired the Democratic base [even though] they’ve been running around the country for a year and a half.”

A discussion of money — specifically, the funding of Gillum by left-wing billionaires George Soros and Tom Steyer — soon followed, with Greene amplifying critiques that Soros and Steyer wouldn’t back Gillum without expectations of quid pro quo.

“George Soros has been to my home for dinner. I’ve been to his apartment in New York for dinner. I know George Soros, OK? He has an agenda. He’s a smart guy. He knows what he wants to get done, and he puts money behind people who are going to support his agenda,” Greene said.

“If Andrew Gillum thinks somebody’s giving him a million dollars to just go do what he wants,” Greene said, “I think he’s very naive.”

“Tom Steyer … we’re both in similar circumstances financially, we both want to make a difference, and it’s the same thing. Tom Steyer has a very specific agenda,” Greene asserted.

“I’m a very wealthy guy,” Greene said. “Before I gave somebody a million dollars, I would absolutely want to know where it’s going … when people write checks, any philanthropy, they do their homework.”

“I can’t tell you what arrangement anyone has,” Greene said. “[Gillum] keeps attacking me for my success, which I think is really unacceptable. I’ve worked my whole life to be successful … I’ve done this all on my own.”

Greene has polled in single digits in public surveys. When asked if his television ad buys had moved the needle, however, he said “absolutely” — though he demurred from sharing specific numbers.

“We’re doing better than we even expected.”

“We got in late, admittedly. But I think that my message is the one that will resonate with Florida voters,” Greene said. “We’ve absolutely tested it. We know that who I am, what I can do, is absolutely what’s good for Florida and what Floridians need and want.”

“We will get traction. None of the other candidates have,” Greene added.

Noting that nearly half of surveyed likely voters are undecided, Greene asserts that his campaign can get those voters “off the fence.”

“I’m not some guy in his 30s. I’m 63 years old. I’ve made some mistakes in my life,” Greene said, adding that he knows “how to get from Point A to Point B.”

“The best thing for Democrats is they have someone who can win this race,” Greene said. “I’m going to spend what’s needed to go against Republicans.”

The others, Greene said, lack the resources to go up against the tentacles of the Republican octopus: the “Donald Trump, David Koch, Shel Adelson, Tea Party funded Republican machine.”

Greene, who lacks the grassroots infrastructure of the more established campaigns, vowed to make up for lost time, to “work harder than any other candidate, to be in more cities, to spend time meeting voters.”

Ultimately, Greene believes the requisite financial resources are there for him in a way they aren’t for others in the field. And the grassroots will follow.

Democrats, he said, “are looking for a new kind of leader.”

Greene, eight years ago, presented a challenge to an establishment Democrat in the Senate race. Greene lost by 26 points to Kendrick Meek, who himself went on to finish third in the general election.

Greene, despite spending more on advertising (to quote Rick Wilson, Greene was “killing” Meek in mail and television), couldn’t get over the hump.

It remains to be seen if history will repeat itself. Greene (who made a chunk of his fortune off credit default swaps) has entered this race late, with enough personal resources to buy name ID, but expect that if he gets close, opponents will have oppo (such as his past as a Republican Congressional candidate) at the ready.

Ross Spano

Ross Spano leads Republican field in CD 15, poll shows

Republican state Rep. Ross Spano has a double-digit lead in the race for Florida’s 15th Congressional District according to a fresh poll of primary voters in the tri-county district.

The St. Pete Polls survey found Spano with 31.6 percent support among CD 15 Republicans, 12 points ahead of former GOP Auburndale state Rep. Neil Combee.

The race is far from over, however, with “undecided” being the choice of 37.4 percent of voters seven weeks out from the Aug. 28 primary.

Still, the new poll is a shift from late May, when the same pollster found Spano, of Dover, with 29-23 percent over Combee. That lead fell within the margin of error. The new one does not.

Spano and Combee have been considered the leading candidates on the Republican side since the field settled in the wake of current U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross’ mid-April announcement that he wouldn’t seek another term. That preliminary status had a lot to do with the geographic makeup of CD 15.

About half of CD 15 Republicans live in northeastern Hillsborough County, and Spano represents much of that area in the state House.

Another 40 percent live in northern Polk County, which Combee represented for five years before resigning in November to accept a presidential appointment with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is also a former Polk County Commissioner.

The remaining 10 percent of CD 15 Republicans live in southern Lake County.

Also running in the primary race are Lakeland contractor Sean Harper, Brandon agribusinessman Danny Kushmer and Lakeland mental health practitioner Ed Shoemaker in the primary race.

Shoemaker was the No. 3 candidate in the poll with 4.2 percent support, followed by Harper with 3 percent and Kushmer with 2.3 percent. Another 2.1 percent of Republican voters said they were supporting Curt Rogers, who did not qualify for the ballot.

Though he polled in last place, Kushmer has surged on the endorsement front this week, nabbing support from Bartow Commissioner James Clements and staunchly pro-life group Florida Right to Life. And he tacked on another endorsement, this time from Lake Wales Mayor Eugene Fultz, as the CD 15 poll was released.

“Danny, I have worked with you long enough to know that you are a man of integrity. I believe that you will represent the 15th District well. You have my support,” the Polk County pol said in a news release.

Whoever emerges from the Republican primary will go up against the winner of the Democratic primary contest between Kristen Carlson, Andrew Learned and Ray Pena. The district is rated “likely Republican” by Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

Also included in the poll was a measure of how CD 15 Republicans view President Donald Trump, and a commanding 89.5 percent said they approved of the controversial commander-in-chief. Only 4.5 percent dissented, while 6 percent were on the fence.

The St. Pete Polls surveyed voters July 8 using an automated phone call polling system. Results were weighted to account for proportional differences between the respondents’ demographics and the demographics of the active Republican primary voter population in CD 15.

The poll had a sample size of 532 Republican voters with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

Matt Gaetz dismisses Jim Jordan scandal as FBI distraction

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz came to the defense of House colleague Jim Jordan, who faces accusations of covering up sexual abuse on the Ohio State University wrestling team.

“How is Jim Jordan supposed to prove that he didn’t know something 28 years ago? Could any of us?” Gaetz tweeted Saturday.

Instead, Gaetz alleged the accusations were part of a smear campaign to distract from the FBI’s own embarrassments in mishandling a Russian collusion investigation. “This is a deliberate attempt to knock the best oversight member of Congress off his game the week [Peter] Strzok is scheduled to testify,” he continued.

Gaetz voiced his support the same day House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows called on members to publicly defend Jordan, according to CNN. Jordan, an Ohio Republican, founded the caucus in 2015.

The Washington Post reported Sunday a seventh former wrestler is accusing Jordan of knowing of sexual misconduct by athletic doctor Richard Strauss in the late 1980s and failing to report it.

Jordan worked as an assistant wrestling coach at the school from 1987 to 1995. Strauss died in 2005.

Strzok, the FBI agent referenced in Gaetz’s tweet, will testify Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, according to CBS. Strzok will discuss his involvement into the 2016 probes into Hillary Clinton’s email use and potential Russian meddling in the presidential election.

An Inspector General’s report last month spotlighted a text message exchange between Strzok and fellow agent Lisa Page, with whom he was romantically involved.

Page texted Strzok that Trump was “not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok responded “No. No, he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

Gaetz on Saturday also retweeted a Fox News report where Jordan denied being aware of any sexual abuse.

Jordan in the interview said the law firm making sexual abuse allegations was connected to the Steele dossier, a controversial piece of opposition research alleging connections between President Donald Trump and Russian officials.

Jeremy Ring criticizes Jimmy Patronis’ ‘racist’ clemency questions

Democratic challenger Jeremy Ring, in his bid to unseat Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, tore into the Cabinet member for posing allegedly racist questions during a clemency hearing in June.

But Patronis’ re-election campaign dismissed the criticism as name-calling and signs of desperate campaigning by his opposition.

A number of Democratic officials statewide called into question Patronis’ judgment during a June 14 hearing for Erwin Jones, an applicant seeking clemency, about how many children he had and how many mothers there were to those children.

Former state Sen. Ring, a Coral Springs Democrat, issued a letter to supporters labeling the remarks as “intolerance and ignorance” while demanding Patronis recuse himself from clemency hearings in the future. “It is unconscionable that applicants would be asked in a public hearing how many children and how many different mothers of those children,” Ring said. “Not only should that have zero to do with Mr. Jones ability to have his rights restored, but smacks of racism, intolerance and ignorance.”

Additionally, Democratic state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa, a candidate for Attorney General, said Patronis’ line of questions sounded “racially biased.”

“If having a child by more than one or even two mothers were the standard, President [Donald] Trump wouldn’t be eligible for clemency for crimes he may have committed,” Shaw said. “The CFO should apologize to Mr. Jones and to the African-American community for even considering, lest uttering such a question.”

The critiques came on the same day the newly launched Florida Phoenix published an article about Florida’s subjective process for restoring rights to ex-felons.

But Patronis’ spokespeople say accusations of racism remain baseless, and specifically said Ring’s use of the issue to further his campaign showed signs of desperation. “Jeremy Ring stooped to a new low today to try and distract from the fact that he’s being heavily out-fundraised and outworked by CFO Patronis,” said Katie Strickland, campaign communications director for the incumbent.

Strickland said a study of the full transcript shows Patronis only raised the baby-mother issue because Jones had a history of violence with multiple mothers of his children. “In one case a woman was sent to the hospital and in another case, a child was harmed,” Strickland said. “The focus of the conversation was about how to best protect all involved and the community from a convicted felon with a decades-long history of arrests.”

The CFO’s office referred all questions about the controversy to the Patronis campaign.

Jacksonville Bold for 7.6.18 — Fireworks or fizzle?

After a brief sabbatical, Bold is back.

The campaign season — local state House and Senate races and special elections, and statewide battles — is in full swing.

Competitive races abound up and down the ballot, along with more than a few cakewalks.

Since we took our break, we’ve also seen a new Jacksonville City Council president.

Jacksonville celebrates the return of Bold.

Aaron Bowman, an ally of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, is expected to presage an era of good feeling.

Will this happen? The mayor’s office hopes so.

With Jacksonville’s municipal elections running through May of next year, the local political season is a different matter than just the August/November cycle we see in state and federal races.

Ahead of us: close to a year of campaign finance watching, ad analysis, guessing and second-guessing, tips that do (and sometimes don’t) pan out.

People often say that FloridaPolitics.com covers the miscellany of the political scene, which otherwise would be ignored.

They’re right.

And for those of you who miss the content during the week, we try to bring together the best of the best (even in a slow week such as this) to you in Jacksonville Bold.

Great to be back!

LGBT group backs Lawson over Brown

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown faced questions about his commitment to LGBT rights during his four-year term, and those questions have continued to dog him as he mounts a primary challenge to Congressman Al Lawson.

The latest example: the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus choosing to endorse Florida’s 5th Congressional District incumbent, a first-term legislator from Tallahassee.

No surprise: Al Lawson gets backing from a prominent LGBTA group.

“Congressman Lawson has always been on the right side of the issues for the LGBT community,” said Terry Fleming, president of the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus.

“We are proud he’s our representative in Washington who will stand up for equal rights for all, and that’s why the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus is pleased to endorse Congressman Al Lawson for re-election,” Fleming added.

Lawson was “humbled by this endorsement from the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus.”

“Throughout my career,” Lawson added, “I have believed in true equality for all and fought to ensure no person is ever discriminated against due to his or her age, race, sex, religion or sexual orientation. We have made great strides in our nation, but there is still so much more we can do. I will continue to work to drive that path forward.”

Bean in cash cakewalk thus far

In Northeast Florida’s Senate District 4, incumbent Sen. Aaron Bean continued to hold a commanding lead over three opponents as of June 22, the most recent reportage date for state candidates.

The first three weeks of June, however, saw slow fundraising for Bean, who raised nothing for his political committee (Florida Conservative Alliance) and $4,500 in hard money, including maximum $1,000 contributions from Friends of Dana Young and GrayRobinson.

Boon times for Aaron Bean, as challengers struggle for cash.

Between the two accounts, Bean has roughly $160,000 on hand.

Bean will face a primary challenge, via Carlos Slay, a candidate widely seen as being backed by Bean’s political rival, former Rep. Janet Adkins.

Slay has not raised any money, and paid his filing fee via a personal loan.

The winner of the Bean/Slay clash will face two general election opponents, Democrat Billie Bussard and Libertarian Joanna Tavares.

Bussard has $4,500 on hand, having raised money between June 5 and June 22.

Tavares has less than $40 on hand after paying her filing fee.

What Bean is up to

The Fernandina Beach Republican will speak to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Jacksonville and will provide a postmortem of the 2018 Legislative Session Thursday, July 12, 9:30 a.m., Maggiano’s, 10367 Midtown Pkwy., Jacksonville.

Later that day, Bean will be honored with an award from the First Coast Apartment Association in appreciation for being a friend to their industry, 7:00 p.m., Sheraton Jacksonville Hotel, 10605 Deerwood Park Blvd, Jacksonville.

Yarborough dominates in HD 12 cash dash

State Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican in his first term, maintained his money lead over Democratic challenger Tim Yost through the first three weeks in June.

Clay Yarborough continues to hold a strong lead over Tim Yost.

Neither candidate has a primary challenge in House District 12, a Southside Jacksonville district that encompasses the Arlington area, which means this is a race to November.

Yarborough brought in $6,700 off ten contributions in the period, with Waste Management and the Southeast Florida Chamber of Commerce pacing the political veteran’s haul.

The Republican spent nearly as much as he took in during the reporting period, with $5,755 heading out the door, mostly to consultants and for a qualifying fee.

Yost had his best reporting period of fundraising since filing last summer, bringing in $2,521 ($1,781 of it from the candidate himself, to cover his filing fee).

Yost has almost $4,300 on hand, but Yarborough holds serve, with just under $107,000 in cash available.

Duggan closes in on Polson in HD 15 money battle

Democrat Tracye Polson will carry the party’s flag against one of three Republicans in a November race for exiting state Rep. Jay Fant‘s Westside Jacksonville seat.

GOP voters will pick Tracye Polson’s opponent. Donors are leaning toward Wyman Duggan thus far.

The bookkeeping through the first three weeks of June reveals a tightening financial picture between Polson, a well-funded first-time candidate, and Wyman Duggan, a Jacksonville lobbyist.

Polson brought in $3,647 to her campaign account, which now has roughly $115,000 on hand; her political committee added another $800, pushing that tally to $14,000 on hand.

Polson still leads the money race, but on the strength of his best reporting period since October 2017, Duggan is closing in.

Duggan brought in $13,800 to his campaign account in June (pushing the total near $121,000 on hand), driven by establishment support from J.B. CoxwellW.W. Gay, and CSX Transportation.

Running behind Duggan and Polson: the two other Republicans in the race.

Yacht broker Mark Zeigler brought in $5,325, pushing the first-time candidate over $33,000 on hand.

And Joseph Hogan, whose $1,500 in the first three weeks of June pushed his total over $8,000, may be trailing in fundraising. Nonetheless, he had the biggest name contributor of the four HD 15 hopefuls this cycle: former House Speaker Allan Bense.

Fischer stays strong against Dem challenge

In the first three weeks of June, state Rep. Jason Fischer, the incumbent Republican in Mandarin (Jacksonville) House District 16, lengthened his money lead against Democratic challenger Ken Organes.

Jason Fischer continues his fundraising lead.

Neither candidate faces a primary opponent, making the race in 16 a sprint toward November.

Fischer’s political committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville, brought in $21,000; his campaign account received another $8,500.

School choice money, via Step Up for Students founder John Kirtley, comprised $10,000 of the committee’s haul; Florida Power and Light, a company with lobbyists in Jacksonville’s City Hall during the lapsed debate over potential privatization of the city’s utility, ponied up $5,000.

The $8,500 of new money in Fischer’s campaign account came from 10 contributors, including long-term care apothecary Senior Care Pharmacy, the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association, and the Southeast Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Fischer’s committee had at the time of filing $80,000 on hand; his campaign account had another $93,000.

Organes, meanwhile, raised $6,484, pushing his campaign account over $20,000 on hand.

Among Organes’ backers: former CSX CEO Michael Ward, notable as Organes retired from the Jacksonville railroad, former State Attorney candidate Jay Plotkin, and the local Sheet Metal Workers.

What Nelson is reading

Melissa Nelson, the State Attorney for the 4th Circuit Court, couldn’t have commissioned a stronger endorsement of her job performance thus far than this paean to “smart justice” in the Florida Times-Union.

Melissa Nelson gets her most robust endorsement yet. (Image via Folio Weekly)

“Among the brightest spots in Nelson’s vision is expanding diversion and civil citation programs, which seek to steer individuals away out of the criminal justice system. Diversion programs use alternatives to the usual criminal court system to process certain low-level, nonviolent offenders. Rather than rely on criminal sanctions that often do little more than force offenders to languish in a jail cell, diversion programs require these individuals to undergo substance abuse, mental health or other treatment,” the editorial from the right-leaning R Street Institute reads.

“By embracing “smart on crime” justice, Northeast Florida finds itself in good company. Conservative-led jurisdictions across the country are beginning to experiment with new ideas and reap prodigious returns on the back of evidence-based reforms,” the piece continues.

Read more here.

Ray retains tax collector cash lead

As of June 22, former State Rep. Lake Ray leads his three opponents in fundraising for the Duval County Tax Collector election to be held this August.

The election, which will see the top two candidates move to the November ballot if no one gets a majority of votes, was necessitated by former tax collector Michael Corrigan moving on to a role with Visit Jacksonville.

Ray, a Republican, has raised $128,660, with $17,350 hauled in between June 1 and June 20. He has over $119,000 on hand.

Doyle Carter, languishing third in the money race.

Ray’s closest competitor is also a Republican, former property appraiser, and city councilman Jim Overton, who has raised $90,000 total, with almost $79,000 on hand.

During the most recent three-week reporting period, Overton brought in $15,650.

Running third in the money race: current Jacksonville City Councilman Doyle Carter.

Carter, also a Republican, had the best three-week period of all the candidates. His $22,050 haul included a noteworthy donation, via the “Jacksonville Conservative Action Fund” committee, seeded solely by the Republican Party of Florida.

Carter has over $53,000 on hand.

Running in fourth place: the sole Democrat in the race, former State Rep. Mia Jones.

Jones raised $9,740 in the three-week reporting period and has just over $12,000 total.

Task force hits Jacksonville government for transparency failings

In its final report, the Jacksonville City Council Task Force on Open Government offered an indictment of Curry’s administration and the Jacksonville City Council on transparency issues.

The media has long wondered why Lenny Curry’s emails lack real discussions of city issues.

The panel, co-chaired by trial lawyer Hank Coxe and former Jessie Ball DuPont Center head Sherry Magill, says city government makes it “difficult for the public to understand governmental processes and decisions.”

Mayoral staff review of public records requests and disallowing journalists to interview department heads: two of the black marks identified.

The City Council also gets dinged for not posting text messages and emails to a public portal. Indeed, the only Council communications available without a public record request are emails to the whole Council. And text messages, for anyone in city government, are not made available without said PRR.

Critics of the city website say it’s hard to navigate, and lacking attention to SEO or navigation; the city budget for being hard to understand; public notice processes are “archaic.”

Whether legislation will emerge from this or not is a different matter.

The task force was a priority of former Council President Brosche, and it is by no means certain that her Council colleagues share her interest in increasing transparency in the ways the task force recommends.

Jacksonville leads in emerging economic centers

Some good news for once, and kudos to the Jax Daily Record for providing it.

Per a recent study from the Urban Land Institute, Jacksonville is among a leader in “emerging economic centers.”

Photo of St. Johns Town Center, via Visit Jacksonville.

Jacksonville, with 11.9 percent of urban residents living in emerging economic centers, is seeing “new urban cores” emerge.

The study spotlighted Riverside and the Town Center.

What is missing: “mixed-use districts,” with high-density housing and upscale retail.

Perhaps the District will solve that problem once it is built on the Southbank.

Car trouble

Suspended Jacksonville City Councilwoman Katrina Brown, at this point, is better known for her legal woes than anything she’s done legislatively.

Another legal action against the compromised councilor.

38-count federal indictment, spotlighting a scheme to defraud with another suspended councilman (Reggie Brown), is the reason.

However, the feds aren’t the only ones suing Katrina Brown. Also coming after her as of this week: Wells Fargo, which loaned her money using a 2000 Ford Explorer as collateral, is now suing her for a nonperforming loan.

This is Katrina Brown’s second lawsuit regarding lapsed car payments since she has been on Council: the first one involved a 2006 Porsche Cayenne SUV.

In this case, Wells Fargo subsidiary OneMain loaned Councilwoman Brown $8,300 at 25 percent interest using a 16-year-old truck as collateral on Nov. 2016, just weeks before the FBI, the IRS, HUD, the Small Business Administration and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office raided her family’s BBQ sauce plant.

Councilwoman Brown stopped making payments on the loan last summer, per the lawsuit.

This loan’s timing tracks with two of the counts against Katrina Brown in the federal indictment, which asserts that she was trying to secure a loan for $60,000 for “working capital” for her KJB Specialties from a company called LendCore through Nov. 2016, and $50-$55,000 from Credibly and Webbank in the same time frame. Part of the scheme to defraud, per the indictment, included materially altering bank statements.

Katrina and Reggie Brown, at this writing, are expected to see their federal trials begin Sep. 4.

Pretty vacant

On June 1, Gov. Rick Scott suspended two Democratic Jacksonville City Council members who face 38 federal counts in a scheme to defraud local and federal taxpayers.

While Scott has not yet picked replacements for Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, former Council President Anna Brosche solved the issue for their constituents weeks ago.

That solution: Councilman Sam Newby and Brosche will fill in for the suspended duo until replacements are appointed.

“Me stepping in to help handle things in District 10 is a very temporary situation,” Brosche said to one of many impassioned speakers at a June public notice meeting.

And indeed, it was temporary, as now current Council President Aaron Bowman exercised his authority and relieved the two at-large Republicans of those duties this week.

“That was not a legal assignment,” Bowman said. “They have five at-large representatives to represent them.”

Brosche appointed herself and Newby to the roles, she said Tuesday, because she believed the need for a point person to address concerns specific to those districts.

The move “wasn’t about legal authority,” she added; rather, it was about ensuring the constituents had representation.

Brosche also noted that, in her understanding, similar moves in the past filled in the gap for suspended councilors.

School super speaks out

WJCT interviewed Dr. Diana Greene, the new superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, this week.

(Image via WJCT)

She’s not quite sure what needs changing first.

“I don’t think what I know right now is enough information to make that determination. What are the areas that need the most improvement? But there are general areas it would matter what district I’m in. Academics is always going to be something that we can always improve. Ensuring safety and security of our students, making sure that our employees are safe in their locations at work,” Greene said. “Those are things that are happening not only in Duval but across the country, and we want to continue to focus on those same issues so that our students, when they come to school, they know that they’re in a safe environment, when our teachers come to work, they’re in a safe environment and that the No. 1 priority is doing what’s best for students to ensure their success.”

Greene also seemed open to a millage hike via referendum:

“I think any passing of a referendum requires a coalition of involved and engaged citizens in the process and stepping in July 2, being my first official day, I need to again get to know people, introduce myself to the community … It does take time. It takes time to understand what are the issues? And 1) will a referendum help solve those issues? My first role is to No. 1 get to know everyone, but No. 2, identify what are our issues?”

The board appointed Greene, who started this week.

Save the date

St. Johns Chamber of Commerce is holding a Candidate Meet-and-Greet, Monday, July 16, at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, 1050 A1A North. The nonpartisan event – from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. – will feature a straw poll conducted by the St. Johns Supervisor of Elections. It’s free and open to the public.

JTA bond rating stays strong

Bond rating agency S&P is upholding the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) ‘AA’ rating, giving stability for the regional transit agency’s local option gas tax (LOGT) revenue bonds, series 2015.

Series 2015 bonds represent JTA’s first direct debt issuance; money helps fund roadway and mobility improvements. This rating reflects an assessment of the prospects of LOGT revenues relative to the required JTA debt service payments, along with future capital needs.

“This bond rating assessment strengthens the financial position of the Authority,” said JTA Board Chair Isaiah Rumlin. “The rating allows the Authority to continue to improve safety, reduce congestion on major roadways, provide mobility options and enhance the quality of life for the community.”

JTA works with the City of Jacksonville to identify specific roadway, transit and mobility projects. Construction is underway for roadway development as well as enhancements for bicycle, pedestrian, transit and ADA accessibility. Since its inception in 2015, the program is installed 7.5 miles of sidewalk.

“The 2015 bond issuance has enabled the JTA to aggressively implement the JTAMobilityWorks initiative,” said JTA Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel Ford. “I want to thank our board of directors for their governance and commitment to effective financial management.”

JAA head to retire

Jacksonville Aviation Authority (JAA) Chief Executive Officer Steve Grossman is retiring at the end of 2018. Named CEO in September 2009, Grossman oversees the operation, maintenance, development and marketing of authority assets such as Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), Cecil Airport/Spaceport, Jacksonville Executive at Craig Airport (JAXEX) and Herlong Recreational Airport. He also serves as the primary JAA representative to the community.

Retiring JAA CEO Steve Grossman. (Image via News4Jax)

Under Grossman’s leadership, JAA achieved annual operating profit margins of at least 30 percent.

JAA Chair Giselle Carson said in a statement: “Under Steve’s leadership, JAX saw a recovery in passenger traffic after the Great Recession, celebrated its 50th anniversary, launched our Aviation Hall of Fame, developed Cecil Airport bringing over a thousand new jobs to the area and watched Cecil Spaceport bring in new technology that will take us into the future.”

Grossman has been a member of the Airports Council International World Governing Board and is a past chair of Airports Council International-North America. He currently serves on the City of Jacksonville Tourist Development Council, the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce board of trustees, and the University of North Florida Transportation and Logistics Advisory Council.

Flagler Hospital breaks ground on Murabella Health Village

Nearly 100 people attended the groundbreaking of the Flagler Health Village at Murabella.

When completed by the summer of 2019, the new facility will include 20,000 square feet dedicated to urgent care, advanced imaging, laboratory services, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, primary care and specialty care. Additionally, plans for the site include a 25,000 square foot healthy lifestyle center with fitness, prevention and education program offerings for all ages.

Flagler Hospital is expanding with a new satellite facility.

“As we broaden our reach into new markets, we do so with great enthusiasm. It is important for us to heal people when they are sick and also to support a healthier, more vibrant community,” Flagler Hospital President and CEO Jason Barret said in a news release.

Special guests at the event included Kalilah Jamall, staff assistant in the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who brought along special message from Nelson; State Sen.Travis Hutson; Jackie Smith, aide to Congressman John Rutherford; City of St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver; City of St. Augustine Vice Mayor Todd Neville and St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Operations, Greg Voss.

Jax neurosurgeons bring lifesaving work to Philippines

In June, Jacksonville pediatric neurosurgeon Philipp Aldana joined other health care professionals on a volunteer educational medical mission to his native Philippines. They make the 9,000 trip every two years to teach new neurosurgical techniques to Filipino doctors and consult on neurological cases.

As the Florida Times-Union reports, the trip is a reminder of the vast difference between health care services available in the Philippines and the United States.

Aldana, who is based at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and UF Health Jacksonville, along with his wife, Carmina Montesa Aldana, founded the Jacksonville-based Neurosurgery Outreach Foundation to help close that health care gap.

A group of Jacksonville surgeons volunteer in the Philippines. (Image via Jacksonville Business Journal)

This trip, the Aldana’s were joined by a group of volunteers that included Ricardo Hanel, an endovascular neurosurgeon with Baptist Health and Lyerly Neurosurgery; H. Gordon Deen Jr., a neurosurgeon at Mayo Clinic; and Karen Lidsky, another pediatric critical care physician with UF Health Jacksonville and Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

During their trip, the gave lectures to 50 Filipino health care providers, including 20 neurosurgeons, as well as $100,000 worth of donated surgical clips to treat aneurysms, a treatment unfamiliar in the Philippines. Also, more supplies and $15,000 for an indigent patient fund.

Working with Filipino colleagues, the group provided free surgical care to four children and four adults who had brain and spinal cord tumors, brain aneurysms, neck instability and hydrocephalus.

“It’s always something new,” Aldana told the Times-Union. “We never really know what cases we’ll encounter until a week or two before. … There is no shortage of cases.”

First Coast YMCA becomes Florida’s first Armed Services affiliate

The First Coast YMCA, partnering with the Armed Services YMCA, became the first affiliate in Florida – and one of 20 in the nation – in its mission to support service members and families in the Jacksonville military community.

First Coast YMCA. (Image via Jacksonville Business Journal)

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, First Coast YMCA has 12 branch locations across the five-county region, giving it a “unique position to serve as a central support system for Jacksonville’s military community.”

As an affiliate, First Coast YMCA can now provide armed service members and their families affordable access to wellness solutions, special rates for membership and summer camps for all military ranks, as well as free programs in Healthy Living Centers. Special rates are also available for all Honorably Discharged Service Veterans.

Cecil Spaceport tests prototype

Per the Jacksonville Business Journal: Atlanta-based Generation Orbit Launch Services Inc. tested a prototype liquid rocket engine at Cecil Spaceport.

By late 2019, the GOLauncher1 hypersonic flight test booster is expected to launch satellites from horizontal aircraft.

One of a half-dozen such facilities in the U.S., Cecil Spaceport is the only spaceport approved for horizontal launches on the East Coast.

Cecil Spaceport tests the GOLauncher1 hypersonic flight test booster. (Image via Generation Orbit)

The GO1 is “an affordable and flexible hypersonic testbed” for technology experiments in conditions between Mach 5 and Mach 8, according to a news release.

According to the Journal, GO1’s combustion engine, powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene, performed as expected during tests, the first of their kind to be conducted at Cecil. The engine test demonstrated a capability of cruising at Mach 6 at heights between 80,000 and 90,000 feet, a crucial point for hypersonic flight testing.

Jaguars fans will see more teal in 2018

If Jaguars fans like seeing their team sporting a different look from time to time, they will have the opportunity this year. The NFL has reportedly told all 32 teams they may wear alternate or throwback uniforms three times in 2018 as opposed to two last year.

Jacksonville changed their alternate uniform during the offseason, responding to those fans who have expressed their satisfaction with the teal look. Team management is equally pleased.

“True to our current identity and what we want to represent for years to come, our new uniforms are no-nonsense, all business and unmistakably Jaguars,” said owner Shad Khan. “Tradition has returned to Jacksonville.”

Teal and black are in this season.

At least one publication agrees with the fans. The Jaguars teal is ranked 11th best among those polled in a national ranking and easily the best among AFC South teams (Tennessee is next best at 21).

The question arises as to which games the Jags should wear the new look. A look back to 2017 shows they brought out the best in the Jaguars and worst in their opponents.

On November 5, they hounded the Cincinnati Bengals 23-7, with Jalen Ramsey nagging Bengals’ Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green into an ejection. On December 10, Seattle Seahawks’ defensive end Quinton Jefferson was ejected, then tried to go into the stands after a fan after Jacksonville’s 30-24 victory.

This publication suggests the best choices would be the home opener on September 16 vs. the Patriots, the October 28 game in London against Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, and the November 18 Sunday night home game against the Steelers. The pro football world will be focusing on all three games.

The best case against the home opener is a desire to wear white in the September late afternoon heat and force the Patriots to wear dark blue. In that case, the October 14 road game at Dallas or the December 16 home finale with Washington could be worthy substitutes.

Now, back to Florida

Expect more questions involving Florida-centric issues when the two Republicans running for governor meet again next month.

The lack of Sunshine State topics — from education and the future of citrus to offshore drilling — was a sore subject at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center after last week’s Fox News Republican gubernatorial debate between Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Congressman Ron DeSantis.

It also wasn’t missed by Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo, who expressed confidence that her party will retake the governor’s mansion after two decades based on what she heard during the debate at the Osceola County resort.

“This debate was a right-wing circus brought to you by Fox News and inspired by Donald Trump,” Rizzo said. “Before a nationwide audience, Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis made clear that they only have one message: Trump, Trump, Trump.”

The direction of questions was a choice of the moderators. But that focus on more national and international issues drew a reaction from Putnam, who after the debate made a point of noting how he tried to steer responses to the importance of knowledge of the state.

“I care more about the schools in Washington County than what’s going on in Washington, D.C. I care more about what’s going on in Ruskin, Florida, with congestion and infrastructure and the quality of our water, than I care about Russia,” was Putnam’s go-to line. “And I care more about the other St. Petersburg — St. Petersburg, Florida.”

His campaign kept up that theme as this week began.

“Adam Putnam ‘Florida’ mentions triple DeSantis in Fox News debate,” the campaign said in a news release Monday.

“During last week’s Fox News debate, Adam Putnam mentioned Florida 75 times in the one-hour debate versus Congressman DeSantis who only mentioned Florida 28 times,” the release began.

DeSantis, who represents a Northeast Florida district in Congress and grew up in Dunedin, did well in covering the cable channel’s issues before the national audience and in his post-event responses.

However, in an appearance Friday by himself at the state GOP’s “Sunshine Summit” — Putnam also had time on stage that day — DeSantis’ team showed it had monitored the reaction to the debate by coming equipped with a laundry list of how he cares for Florida.

“There were at a lot of issues that I wanted to get to last night that we didn’t,” DeSantis said.

Many overlap national issues, such as opposing “common core” education standards and calling for more classroom time spent studying principles in the U.S. Constitution. But DeSantis also said he would sign legislation to require that Florida businesses use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Employment Authorization Program, known as E-Verify, to determine if newly hired employees are undocumented immigrants.

That has been a red-meat issue for conservatives for more than a decade but has been opposed by farm and business groups who contend the federal program would make it more difficult to find workers.

DeSantis also tried to draw a contrast with Putnam in discussing support for coastal communities impacted by toxic algae blooms blamed on releases from Lake Okeechobee.

“We will clean up the water. We will restore the Everglades. And I don’t care what special interests say. I’m not going to do their bidding,” DeSantis said. “I’m going to stand with the fishermen and the boaters and the property owners that populate those great parts of our state. Adam obviously will not do that. He’s tied at the hip to the industry that is involved with destroying so much of what makes Florida great.”

Sugar farms in the Everglades Agricultural Area have been blamed for contributing to pollution in the lake.

Putnam and DeSantis are expected to debate one more time, an Aug. 8 event hosted by the Jacksonville University Public Policy Institute and WJXT Channel 4. In announcing the debate last month, WJXT Vice President and General Manager Bob Ellis noted the importance of “how each candidate views the important issues to our local community.”

Rick Scott lambastes Bill Nelson for ‘toeing the party line’ on judicial nominations

Gov. Rick Scott‘s Senate campaign rarely goes more than a couple of days without a new ad, and the latest spots have excoriated incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for voting with the Democratic Party on judicial nominations.

The timing of these spots: no accident, as President Donald Trump has vowed to identify his next Supreme Court nominee Monday.

Following on the “Rubber Stamp” ad rolled out earlier this week, “Toe the Line” hammers home the likelihood that Nelson won’t support that nomination, linking it to a career record of voting with former Sen. Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, heeding “party bosses” in the bargain.

The spot also notes that Nelson did not oppose any of the 700+ judges nominated by Democratic presidents.

Lauren Schenone, the Scott campaign’s press secretary, asserts that Nelson’s position on Trump’s second high court nomination shows that the three-term senator “cares more about Democratic Party bosses than the Floridians he serves.”

“He toed the party line with Hillary Clinton, President Obama and hundreds of judicial nominations under democratic presidents — and just last week, Nelson admitted that he expects to vote against the Supreme Court nominee, before even knowing their name,” Schenone lamented.

This spot, which will air on TV and digital formats, is another indication of divergent strategies between the Scott and Nelson campaigns.

Scott has been more active with ad buys than has Nelson, who is holding his resources until later in the campaign season.

Email insights: Progress Florida says GOP tax cuts ‘eaten up’ by higher gas prices

Progress Florida said in as Tuesday email that working families will be “waiting a while longer” to see any benefit from the tax cut package passed by Congressional Republicans last year.

If any benefit does come, the progressive advocacy group said any savings that do come “will likely be eaten up by higher gas prices just as they hit the road for the Fourth of July holiday and by higher health insurance and prescription drug costs.”

“Florida families have heard the rhetoric about the new Trump tax law but they aren’t seeing the savings in their bank accounts,” said Progress Florida director Mark Ferrulo. “The wealthy and big corporations have plenty to be thankful for but the rest of us who are facing rising gas prices and health insurance premiums are left wondering, what’s in it for us?”

While working families wait for their share, the group said “Florida’s wealthiest one percent will be watching fireworks at the country club in great comfort knowing that their Trump tax cuts will provide them with a $98,000 average tax cut a year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.”

Progress Florida said rising gas prices will cost Floridian’s who buy 15 gallons a week another $5.40 every time the go to the pump — that’s about $281 a year. When it comes to insurance, the group said the individual health insurance mandate stripped from the Affordable Care Act by the “Trump-GOP tax law” will cause the average family premium to go up by an estimated $1,860 a year.

Those hikes come as the top four American oil companies save $15 billion on their taxes and the top 10 pharmaceutical companies save $76 billion repatriating their offshore profits “as they rake in record profits and continue to price gouge customers and public health programs.”

“Lawmakers need to declare their independence from President Trump and Republican leaders in Congress by joining the effort to repeal the tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness.

“If they don’t the real fireworks will be at the polls this November, as voters will express their anger at politicians who favor Big Oil and drug companies over working families. We need strong health and retirement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, not more tax breaks for the wealthy and hugely profitable corporations.”

Money flows in GOP Attorney General race

Former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody continues to post six-figure contribution totals, while her opponent in the Republican primary for attorney general, state Rep. Frank White, has started to dig into his campaign treasury to pay for ads, new finance reports show.

On the Democratic side of the race to replace term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi, Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa maintains a big lead in the fundraising contest over Ryan Torrens, a lawyer from Hillsborough County.

White, a Pensacola Republican, spent more than $1 million, mostly on advertising, from June 1 to June 22, while raising $84,200, according to campaign finance reports posted on the state Division of Elections website.

White released a pair of commercials last month that are part of a statewide TV ad buy that is expected to run up to the Aug. 28 primary.

The first criticizes politicians, liberal judges and elites that “threaten the Constitution and mock our values.” The second ad highlights White’s pro-life stance and support for the National Rifle Association and President Donald Trump.

White, who serves as general counsel and chief financial officer for the chain of Sandy Sansing auto dealerships, has put $2.77 million of his own money into the race.

White had about $2.4 million on hand as of June 22.

Of the $84,200 raised between June 1 and June 22, $39,000 came from other auto dealerships and real estate companies tied to those dealerships.

Braman auto dealerships and real estate companies in South Florida accounted for $24,000.

Moody, meanwhile, posted $285,655 in contributions during the same time frame to her campaign account and the political committee Friends of Ashley Moody.

With $19,150 from attorneys and law firms, and $45,085 from bankers, insurers and real estate interests during the time frame, Moody was sitting on a combined total of more than $2.2 million as of June 22.

Moody, who continues to receive in-kind support from the Republican Party of Florida, also claimed $23,000 from auto dealers in the three-week span.

The Republican Party, through expenditures for research, staffing and consulting, has provided Moody with $382,057 in-kind assistance, including $48,995 in the first three weeks of June.

Moody and her political committee spent $143,647 during the same time, with the largest expenditure being a $100,000 contribution to the state GOP.

She also spent $19,142 on advertising and printing.

Shaw, a Tampa attorney who released his first campaign biographical video on Monday, posted $60,468 in contributions to his campaign account and the political committee Sean Shaw for Florida between June 1 and June 22.

Shaw also benefited from $40,187 worth of in-kind assistance from the Florida Democratic Party.

Shaw put $3,810 of his own money into the contest, and lawyers and claims adjusters accounted for $22,352 of Shaw’s three-week total.

Shaw, a former state insurance consumer advocate, had $388,111 available in the two accounts as of June 22, $16,858 less than when the month began.

Torrens, who is counting on increasing his finances through state’s public matching-funds program, posted $11,696 in the three-week span, including $5,450 in loans. He had $2,901 on hand as of June 22.

Jeff Siskind, an attorney from Wellington who opened a campaign account on June 20, posted a $5,250 loan to himself the same day. Almost all of the money, $5,210,92, was used to pay his filing fee to run without party affiliation.

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