For the second time in a week, Florida citrus growers got what could be considered good news for the struggling industry.
A forecastTuesday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed this season’s projected orange crop holding steady for the third consecutive month.
The estimate followed an announcement Friday by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that anxiously awaited disaster-relief programs for farmers who suffered damages in Hurricane Irma will be in place by mid-July.
“After a season of crisis, our industry finds hope in a new bloom, a new crop, disaster relief on the horizon and the opportunity a new season brings,” Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said in a prepared statement.
Despite the latest outlook, the citrus industry, which has been fighting deadly citrus-greening disease for a decade and then was ravaged by Irma in September, continues to be on a pace to produce the lowest citrus counts since World War II.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimate Tuesday said Florida will grow enough oranges in the current season to fill 45 million 90-pound boxes, a mark unchanged since the February forecast.
By comparison, the industry filled 68.7 million boxes of oranges in the 2016-2017 season, which itself was a five-decade low.
Meanwhile, estimated grapefruit production in the latest forecast fell 14 percent, from 4.65 million boxes in March to 4 million boxes in Tuesday’s report. The forecast number, if it holds, would be down 48.5 percent from the past season and 63 percent off the 10.8 million boxes filled in the 2015-2016 season.
Also, Florida’s production of specialty crops, tangerines and tangelos, is down 13 percent from the March outlook, in the latest federal numbers.
The industry had hoped to surpass 2016-2017 totals before Irma struck at the start of the current growing season, causing groves, particularly in Southwest Florida — where trees were knocked over or suffered long-term damage because of weeks of flooding that impacted root systems — to incur losses up to 70 percent, Shepp said.
In October, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs estimated hurricane damage to the citrus industry at $761 million. State officials later said damages have increased above the $1 billion mark.
Citrus officials have expressed frustration awaiting the release of $2.36 billion in federal disaster aid for farmers in Florida and other states affected by hurricanes and wildfires. The agriculture money was part of a $90 billion disaster-relief package signed by President Donald Trump on Feb. 9.
While Perdue announced Friday that programs for farmers to apply for the money will be set up by July 16, it remains unclear how claims can be filed or how money will be distributed.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday tapped two Florida appellate judges with ties to Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Gov. Jeb Bush to serve as federal district judges.
Trump said he will nominate Allen Winsor, a judge on the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal, to serve as a judge in the federal Northern District of Florida. Also, he chose Wendy Berger, a judge on the state’s 5th District Court of Appeal, to serve as a judge in the federal Middle District of Florida. The nominations are subject to Senate confirmation.
Winsor was appointed in February 2016 by Gov. Rick Scott to the 1st District Court of Appeal after a nearly three-year stint as state solicitor general in Bondi’s office. The Tallahassee-based 1st District Court of Appeal hears cases from throughout North Florida, ranging from Jacksonville to Pensacola.
Berger was appointed by Scott in 2012 to a seat on the 5th District Court of Appeal, which is based in Daytona Beach and hears cases from a huge swath of Central Florida, stretching from Brevard County to Hernando County. Berger worked from 2001 to 2005 as an assistant general counsel for Bush, who then appointed her as a circuit judge in Northeast Florida’s 7th Judicial Circuit.
Berger also was one of three finalists in 2016 for a seat on the Florida Supreme Court, though Scott appointed Alan Lawson, who at the time was one of Berger’s colleagues on the 5th District Court of Appeal.
Berger, who was a prosecutor in St. Johns County for almost eight years before working for Bush, pointed in her Florida Supreme Court application to adherence to “judicial restraint” — a common theme in conservative legal circles.
“I respect the legislative process and am committed to the principles of judicial restraint,” she wrote at the time. “I will bring to the bench self-control, integrity, respect, wisdom, good judgment, efficiency and common sense. I can be trusted to follow the law and make just and timely rulings.”
Berger and Winsor also have moderated panel discussions in recent years at Florida meetings of The Federalist Society, an influential legal group among conservatives. Winsor last year moderated a discussion titled “Combating Federal Overreach,” according to video posted on The Federalist Society website.
Judges in the federal Northern District of Florida hear cases from a region that includes Gainesville, Tallahassee, Panama City and Pensacola. The Middle District, meanwhile, covers a massive area, stretching from Fort Myers to Jacksonville and including Orlando and Tampa.
Along with saying he will nominate Berger and Winsor for the district judgeships, Trump on Tuesday also announced selecting Britt C. Grant to serve on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Florida. Grant is a justice on the Georgia Supreme Court.
Qatar has hired Donald Trump-connected Ballard Partners for counsel and assistance related to its outreach to government officials and business/NGO executives in Washington and Florida.
The firm is to receive $2.1 million in fees, plus “reasonable costs,” during the one-year campaign that runs through March 31, 2019.
Brian Ballard chaired the Trump Victory organization in Florida during the 2016 presidential campaign. After Trump’s election, Ballard Partners expanded its operations to Washington, picking up more than $3.5 million in deals with major Capitol Hill clients, including Amazon.com ($140,000); American Road & Transport Builders Association ($200,000); Reynolds American ($220,000) Geo Group ($250,000) U.S. Sugar ($300,000), the governments of Turkey ($1.5 million), the Dominican Republic and Halkbank – the Turkish state-owned bank.
The firm also recently inked a deal with the Maldives for a one-year contract worth $600,000 to help build support from policymakers and the U.S. government.
Ballard Partners topped all Florida firms in lobbying compensation last year, bringing in an average of $4 million in fees each quarter for its legislative and executive work.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have led an economic blockade of Qatar for its alleged support of terror and cozy relations with Iran.
The whirlwind PR tour of the U.S. by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has put a bright spotlight on the Kingdom’s spat with Qatar.
Ending the blockade was a priority of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. His ouster was possibly accelerated by the UAE’s disapproval of his efforts to end the blockade.
The economic boycott of Qatar reportedly went into effect a month after a meeting between the Qatari finance minister and Charles Kushner, the father of White House adviser Jared, in which he sought a cash infusion for Kushner Cos.’ financially strapped 666 Fifth Ave. Manhattan office building.
The Qataris nixed the investment opportunity, and the White House then backed the blockade of Qatar, which hosts a key U.S. airbase.
Material from O’ Dwyer’s PR News and Al-Monitor in this post.
More than $100 million will likely be spent during the next seven months as two of Florida’s top elected officials go head-to-head in the mid-term contest for a spot in the U.S. Senate.
The long-anticipated contest in which Gov. RickScott will try to unseat U.S. Sen. BillNelson became official on Monday.
Key issues that could shape the contest include the mass shootings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and hurricanes Irma and Maria.
But a third man not in the ring, President DonaldTrump, is expected to play a pivotal role throughout the campaign.
AlexPatton, a Republican political consultant from Gainesville, simply called the contest a “proxy battle” about Trump.
“No issue will take as much importance other than, ‘Will you support Trump?’ ” Patton said. “Hell, I’m not sure it’s even about supporting Trump’s agenda — it’s about do you support him.”
Scott formally entered the race Monday with an announcement in Orlando, and the contest is considered one of the keys to control of the U.S. Senate.
Neither Nelson nor Scott would be described as overly charismatic.
Scott, 65, is in his eighth year as the state’s top executive. Nelson, 75, the only statewide elected Democrat, is completing his third term in the Senate.
SusanMacManus, a political-science professor at the University of South Florida, said the race will be “highly nationalized.”
“By Election Day, Floridians will be thinking Trump and (House Minority Leader) NancyPelosi are on the ballot along with (Senate Majority Leader) MitchMcConnell and (House Speaker) PaulRyan,” MacManus said. “Florida Democrats have warned the party not to focus too much on Trump. But for other Democrats, all they need is to see the strong connections between Scott and Trump.”
The Nelson-Scott contest will be a marquee event in Florida on a ballot that also will feature a governor’s race, contests for the three statewide Cabinet positions and potentially more than a dozen proposed constitutional amendments.
Scott’s history suggests he will attack Nelson aggressively as “a liberal and ineffective,” said AubreyJewett, a political-science professor at the University of Central Florida.
“Scott will also emphasize his role in restoring the Florida economy in terms of jobs and growth and probably seek to portray himself as successfully dealing with the Parkland shooting and the nursing home deaths in South Florida,” Jewett said, referring to deaths after Hurricane Irma. “Nelson will attack Scott for his ties to President Trump over and over again and also on nursing home deaths after the hurricane and for not doing enough in the aftermath of the Parkland gun deaths. Nelson will point to his moderate-to-progressive record on a variety of issues that are frequently more in step with Florida public opinion.”
Historic trends show the party that lost the White House in the previous election having a strong mid-term surge. Democrats playing up a “blue wave” in November will have to retain Nelson’s seat to have any hope of reclaiming a majority in the Senate.
The Democratic group American Bridge 21st Century anticipates Scott will revert to digging into his own bank account to offset any backlash against the White House.
Scott spent at least $73 million of his own money to win his first campaign and another $13 million four years later. His closely aligned state political committee Let’s Get to Work burned through $5.8 million after the 2016 contest to mostly promote his agenda.
Nelson’s re-election committee has just over $8 million on hand and minutes before Scott’s announcement on Monday sent out an email saying, “The only way we’re going to defeat Rick Scott and protect Florida’s Senate seat is if everyone — and I mean everyone — gives $5 or more right now.”
Patton said even with “oodles and oodles” of money flowing into a Senate contest, which is considered a toss-up by most political prognosticators, the Nelson-Scott match will “pale in comparison” to feelings about Trump.
“Trump will drown everything else out,” Patton said.
Calling the Trump-factor “huge,” Jewett said Democrats appear unified in their dislike of Trump.
“Scott must walk a fine line when it comes to President Trump,” Jewett said. “Scott must not alienate the Trump voters — without them he has little chance of victory — but on the other hand probably will not appear personally with Trump and (will) seek to make the election about the incumbent Nelson rather than a referendum on Trump, which will be difficult to do.”
The governor was an early endorser of Trump and chairs the New Republican PAC, which has raised money for the president. Scott has also embraced their friendship on issues such as securing funding to speed work to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and getting the Trump administration to issue a statement that Florida would be removed from offshore drilling plans.
Trump during public events repeatedly encouraged Scott to run for the Senate.
However, the governor has on occasion tried to put some distance between himself and Trump, such as when the president used a vulgar slur to disparage Haiti and African nations or when Scott urged Congress to extend the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program for children who are undocumented immigrants.
None of that means the opposing parties won’t zero in on the rival candidates.
Democrats have already focused on low and stagnant wages to counter Scott’s job-growth narrative. Playing up companies that have handed out bonuses or pay increases, Republicans have gone after Nelson for voting against a federal tax overhaul approved by Congress last year. Nelson criticized the tax bill as being unfair in favor of corporations.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has long focused on Nelson, including portraying him as working for “Washington liberals.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last week set up a website called “Self-serving Scott” that seeks to delegitimize Scott’s improved poll numbers.
Nelson and Scott share one part of their political pasts: They both beat Republican BillMcCollum, a former congressman and state attorney general.
Nelson, a Florida native, defeated McCollum in 2000 to move into the U.S. Senate and later defeated former U.S. Rep. KatherineHarris and former U.S. Rep. ConnieMackIV in his 2006 and 2012 re-election bids.
Nelson has lost only one contest since first appearing on a ballot in 1972 when he ran for the state House. He fell to former Gov. LawtonChiles in the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Scott, a former health care executive who settled in Naples, upset McCollum, the party establishment pick, in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010. Amid Republican waves, he defeated then-state Chief Financial Officer AlexSink in the 2010 general election and former Gov. CharlieCrist in the 2014 election.
In recent months, Democrats, able to focus on special-election contests since Trump’s 2016 victory, have won a number of races nationally in areas carried by Trump. That includes a state House district in Sarasota County that was won by Democrat MargaretGood.
Gov. Rick Scott sought to reclaim his image as an outsider when he announced Monday morning in Orlando that he is running for the U.S. Senate.
Scott ended more than a year of little suspense as he formally announced his Republican bid for the Senate seat held by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. He did so on the eighth anniversary of his announced run as a true outsider for the Florida’ governor’s office, and made it clear he’s intending to capture that same tone.
On Monday Scott made no specific references to Nelson, though he railed against career politicians, a label Nelson can wear as someone who’s been in public office since the 1970s. And he made no reference at all to President Donald Trump, whose unpopularity could become Scott’s greatest challenge with voters who know the president and governor have been close.
Instead, he chose to turn back the clock to 2010 when he came out of no where, talked of nothing but jobs, brushed aside Florida’s Republican establishment, and then won the governor’s office. He even finished his announcement rally Monday with his trademark slogan from that campaign, shouting, “Let’s get to work!”
Scott made his announcement in front of a couple of hundred supporters crowded into the warehouse area of ODC Construction in Orlando.
“When you go to Tallahassee and make real change, guess what happens? The first they are is mad at you. They say you don’t fit into Tallahassee. I think that’s true,” Scott said. “I didn’t fit in in Tallahassee because I didn’t play the insider game. I never intended to fit into Tallahassee. And guess what? I’m not going to fit into Washington either.”
Scott repeatedly called for “shaping up” Washington, and he even called for term limits, something that apply to Nelson, who’s seeking his fourth term representing Florida in the U.S. Senate.
Other than the term-limits support and pledging to continue his jobs push, Scott made no promises and offered few policy statements or philosophies. He did not meet with the media, though he did answer a couple questions shouted at him as he pressed through the throng to leave after his speech.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said when asked about getting back on the campaign trail. “I’m going to work hard to get my message out. I’ll be coming out with a variety of proposals over the next several months. It starts with: we’ve got to get rid of career politicians.”
Nelson responded earlier Monday with a written statement: “I’ve always run every race like there’s no tomorrow – regardless of my opponent. While it’s clear that Rick Scott will say or do anything to get elected, I’ve always believed that if you just do the right things, the politics will take care of itself.”
Scott declined to comment on Nelson.
“We have a record of getting things done in this state. I’m going to take that same record to D.C. We’ve got change the national economy like we’ve done with the Florida economy, and that’s what I’m going to take there. It’s a can-do attitude that says we’re going to get our country back to work,” Scott said instead.
Let’s just cut to what figures to be the essence of a showdown between three-term incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and two-term Republican Gov. Rick Scott for a Florida U.S. Senate seat.
Scott’s entry into the race, long a foregone conclusion, becomes official Monday and signals the start of what could the most expensive and nasty race in the country. These days, that’s a high bar to hurdle but it can be done here.
There also could be a false assumption about this election.
So, you think Democrats are building toward a blue tsunami this fall? You think Donald Trump’s record unpopularity will suck down Republican candidates like the vacuum effect from a sinking ship?
As we know in Florida all too well though, it’s dangerous to make assumptions about politics. And Scott’s candidacy already is a problem for Democrats.
To have any hope for their party to gain control of the Senate, Nelson must win. To do that, he will need lots of money from the national Democratic machine, potentially taking resources away from races in other states.
Scott, meanwhile, could again choose to self-fund a large part of his campaign, which would be heaven-sent to Republicans.
There are 33 Senate races this fall and nearly a dozen are expected to be competitive. Democrats must defend 25 seats, including 10 in states where Trump won in 2016. Eight of those seats are considered tossups.
That brings us back to the two things that matter most in this campaign: Guns and Trump.
Scott has been joined at the hip to Trump, which Nelson’s camp will exploit to the max. It may not matter as much as Democrats would like, though.
While Trump’s approval is hovering around 40 percent, and perhaps a little higher in Florida, his people will turn out and vote no matter what. In a mid-term election, turnout is the key and Democrats have fallen short there in the past.
The X factor is whether the slaughter of innocents at Parkland brings out thousands of new voters. If so, it could turn the election in Nelson’s favor.
Although Scott pushed through and signed a law imposing modest gun restrictions after 17 people were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he still is closely identified with the National Rifle Association.
Nelson, on the other hand, proudly points to his F rating from that organization. And in an interesting twist, he has developed a close working relationship with his Republican counterpart in the Senate, Marco Rubio.
Rick Scott, who is about to formally declare his campaign Monday to become Florida’s next U.S. Senator, is a man whose life has twice defined The American Dream.
Scott still frequently tells the story of how he rose from a working-class childhood spent partly in the projects to pursue a Navy career, then work his way through a college education, a law degree, and, finally, overwhelming success and fortune in the business world.
And then he showed that a man willing to spend $73 million of his own fortune and stay laser-focused on a single, resonate issue – let’s get to work – can rise from absolute political obscurity in a matter of months to blow away the party’s establishment, and then get elected governor of one of the biggest, most complex states in America.
His third act might make those against-all-odds aspirations seem easy. Now he wants to defeat Florida’s most popular Democrat, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, in a time when almost every Republican with close ties to President Donald Trump has lost or at least dramatically underperformed in recent elections.
This undoubtedly will be the national marquee matchup of the 2018 elections. Florida’s seat is the biggest in play in the battle for the U.S. Senate. Trump needs a big election win this year. Already, Democratic and Republican national groups are weighing in, and Scott’s not even officially a candidate yet. Come autumn, any political organization with a few tens of millions of dollars to spend is going to want to spend a lot of that in Florida.
“Enormous amounts. It’s going to be large, large amounts, because, as frequently is the case, this Florida race has national implications,” said University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett. “There’s only maybe about six or seven U.S. Senate races that are going to be competitive, and Florida is right at the top of the heap as one of those races. So Republicans would dearly love to knock off a Democrat and make a gain, not just hold a Republican seat, but actually gain a seat. If they did that it would be virtually impossible for Democrats to gain control of the Senate.”
Scott and Nelson are as much of known quantities as Florida voters will ever get in a big race.
Eight years ago Scott ran for governor on a promise of jobs, period. In practice, once he was in office, that broke down to the whole agenda of business-friendly, conservative policy moves, cutting spending, cutting taxes, cutting regulations, handing the keys to boards and commissions to business interests. Seemingly almost nothing else mattered.
In the beginning of his first term those moves appeared harsh. Florida was in the throes of the Great Recession, so the cuts went deep. Schools laid off teachers. Community health and services programs shut down. Big transportation projections, notably the high-speed train envisioned to connect Orlando and Tampa, were cancelled.
Stunningly quickly, Scott’s popularity plummeted to lows not seen before in Florida. By his first spring in office, 2011, polls had his approval rating down around 30 percent, with disapproval ratings approaching 60 percent.
Those ratings improved only slightly and slowly over time. They remained underwater when Scott was re-elected in 2014, and for the most part stayed that way until this year. Even today, at best, he only flirts with majority popular approval.
Yet Florida’s economy went from bust to boom, with his administration claiming 1.5 million new private sector jobs since 2010. A Republican establishment that overtly didn’t like him at first rallied. The business sectors embraced him.
“Rick Scott has a singular, Terminator-style focus on jobs and the economy and he never, ever, ever breaks message,” said Republican strategist Rick Wilson. “For all the drama we go through in this state, what’s the big issue right now? Jobs and the economy still dominate every other subject.
“It’s not guns. It’s not immigration. It’s not any of the pet issues, left or right. It’s the economy,” Wilson continued. “If Rick Scott can draw this discussion onto the ground of what’s better for the economy and for Florida’s families, he has a tremendous opening, and probably one of the only openings in this country for a Republican to pick up one of the Senate seats.”
But if the Democrats have anything to say about it, and they’re likely to have many millions of dollars worth of that opportunity, much of the discussion will focus on Scott’s strong and consistent support for Trump.
Democratic strategist Steve Schale bears scars from 2010, when he advised Democrat Alex Sink’s failed campaign against Scott. The difference maker that year, he insists, was the wave of voter opposition to President Barack Obama.
“The thing I learned in 2010, the hard way, and certainly we learned it around the country, is when people want to send a message to an incumbent president, the only way they can do that in the midterm is through the people and the party on the ballot,” Schale said.
With this year’s mood, Schale added, “You’d much rather be Bill Nelson than Rick Scott.”
In person, Scott is affable, soft-spoken, civil, even friendly, never projecting mean-spiritedness or harsh rhetoric, at least never publicly. There is no Trump-like abrasiveness, or Bernie Sanders-style crustiness, perhaps due to the Terminator-style focus Wilson described.
Yet Scott also has physical appearance and mannerisms that have made people uncomfortable, whether he’s appearing in person or on TV. His bald-dome look [softened in more recent times with grandfatherly hints of silver hair on the sides and, often, a Navy ball cap] looked stark. His interactions with people could come off as standoffish. His laugh could be cringe-worthy.
In that book, Crews quotes the late Tom Slade, who had been Scott’s campaign co-chair, as saying that he gave Scott “an ‘A’ for strangeness.”
“This is not the kind of thing you want to get from your campaign chair,” Crews said. “So he’s kind of an odd personality.”
Floridians have gotten used to it, Wilson suggested.
“If Rick Scott is not the most natural, slick, sweet-talking politician, and he’s not, that’s OK,” Wilson said. “What’s not his brand? Backslapping bullshitter.”
There may be an age factor in his favor. Nelson is 75 and sometimes looks and sounds every bit of that. Scott is 65 and comes off as robust, even spry. That may not become an overt issue in the campaigns. But if Scott keeps up his routine of multiple trips, every week, always looking as if he’s on the move, Nelson will have to do likewise. November is a long seven months away.
Nelson also is among the most-traveled politicians anywhere, boasting that he gets to every county in the state during his terms. Just last week he was in Palatka, Jacksonville, Madison County, Port St. Joe, Tindall Air Force Base, and Orlando. He can put on the drawl and be at home in Marianna, or put on the ritz and be at home on Palm Beach.
“Always when I have an opponent I assume they are the toughest opponent and I run like there’s no tomorrow,” Nelson said last week.
But Scott may travel on a different level, popping up in two or three cities, two or three or four days a week, every week. Orlando, West Palm Beach. Miami. Ponce Inlet, Green Cove Springs. Fort Walton Beach. They all get their turns to see the governor come to town.
“The thing about Scott, he has long been underrated for his political skills,” Schale allowed. “He’s sort of been branded as the outsider, a little awkward, and all those things. The reality is, he’s a tireless worker.
“At the same time, I think Nelson is equally underrated. All Bill Nelson has done is won five consecutive statewide elections. His wins… they aren’t fancy. But I tell people he’s like a running back who just has a nose for the goal line,” Schale added.
Scott won both of his elections by razor-thin margins while spending more money than anyone has ever seen in a Florida state election. And the first time, he did so as an outsider to the Republican Party.
He was able to pay to establish what Crews said may have been the largest gubernatorial campaign ground game in state history, and flooded the Florida airwaves with very simple, appealing commercials, showing him getting into his SUV, slamming the door, and declaring, “Let’s get to work.”
“In the past, his clear asset has been the overwhelming amount of money he had, and I think that’s going to be a big factor this time,” Crews said. “If he can get the kind of distance between his campaign and Nelson’s campaign, that he got between his and Alex Sink’s, and between his and Charlie Crist‘s [in 2014.] the latest research in political science shows it’s the differential amounts between candidates that makes the biggest difference.”
Campaign money has never been a problem for Scott. Backed by his personal wealth, Scott’s campaigns and committees spent about $80 million to elect him in 2010; and, with enormous support from business interests the next time, they spent about $60 million to re-elect him in 2014. By contrast, Nelson spent less than $18 million, including money from his PAC, in his latest, 2012, re-election campaign.
Pollsters are doubtful that the landscape favors much improvement for him. There is the Trump factor; the mass migration of Puerto Ricans coming to Florida tends to register as independent voters, or, about a third of the time, as Democrats, but rarely as Republicans; and the divisive guns issue’s ability to mobilize angry young people, seemingly as strong in Florida as anywhere.
“There are certain things that matter in elections, things that have nothing to do with the candidates, [such as] how President Trump fares in the public eye, because you can’t fight a tide,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “The question is whether there will be a tide or not. I’m not saying there will be…. It’s not impossible, but it is often difficult to fight that tide.”
Democrats already have fired off a few rounds of some of their best ammo as warning shots, signaling even before Scott gets into the race that they’re prepared to make the campaign against him ugly negative.
Already, Democrats are calling attention to Scott’s personal wealth, investment and finances, and any conflicts of interest the Democrats can imply from his pro-business record; his potential mishandling of communications with nursing homes, combined with the horrific tragedy that took place at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills following Hurricane Irma; his relative legislative inaction following Orlando’s Pulse nightclub massacre; his early deep cuts in funding for education, mental health and disability programs; his less-than-convincing record fighting against off-shore drilling; and his initial support for and then opposition of Medicaid expansion in Florida, among others.
We’ve got all of that loaded up, Democrats have been saying in recent weeks.
“Rick Scott is notorious for his dishonesty and for prioritizing his own self-serving politics at the expense of hardworking Floridians,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein declared, setting the tone.
Nelson has never been known for such negative campaigning, and even this year he may not have to resort to it. The outside groups will be happy to carry that load.
The same is true for Scott.
“With little to show for his time in Washington, other than his free ride to space as a congressman, it isn’t hard to see why Do-Nothing Democrat Bill Nelson is one of America’s least effective and most vulnerable Democrats,” observed Republican National Committee spokesperson Taryn Fenske.
But the Democrats’ most explosive ammunition likely is that with Trump’s name on it.
“There is plenty of video out there, plenty of statements out there, where Rick Scott says, ‘Rah, rah, Donald Trump.’ Those will be Democratic ads,” Wilson forecasted.
In this week’s Bold, a recurring motif … pitched political speech.
From a senator saying the president could kick off the next Great Depression, to a gubernatorial campaign telling an opponent is DOA, the knives were out.
Shivs went toward Jacksonville’s mayor for exploring the value of JEA. And toward a chair of a local party … for her committeeman husband using a phrase at a party dinner that many on hand saw as objectionable.
Don’t worry, there were shivs for him as well.
Almost five months before primaries, and nearly a year before the first city elections, Northeast Florida politics are like a Ginsu ad.
The knives are out. And Jacksonville Bold is the whetstone.
Nelson: Metal tariffs = Smoot-Hawley Act
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson met with Anheuser-Busch executives in Jacksonville Monday to address business concerns about the Trump administration’s plan for tariffs on foreign products.
Beer execs were concerned that an imposed 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum would cost them millions of dollars and slow down investment in growing their business.
For Nelson, the tariffs signal a more significant issue.
“What it portends,” said Nelson, “is the starting of a trade war.”
“We get into a trade war, and the prices of a lot of consumer goods we buy from overseas are going to rocket up,” Nelson said. “A trade war ultimately runs into a recession, which was part of the reason for going into the Depression back in the 1930s.”
Nelson noted the Smoot-Hawley Act, which raised 900 import duties all at once, ultimately was what “plunged us into a Depression.”
“This could be the beginning,” Nelson said, saying 9 million people have jobs that will be affected by this imposition of aluminum and steel tariffs.
WaPo wallops Wiles
The Washington Post delivered a hit on inexperienced political appointees in the Donald Trump White House. Caroline Wiles got fragged.
The Post reminded readers that Wiles “was one of six White House staffers dismissed for failing FBI background checks” then was “made a special assistant to the president, a post that typically pays $115,000.”
Susie Wiles, the mother of Caroline, ran Trump’s Florida campaign as it got momentum. That, asserts the Post, is why she was hired.
“The younger Wiles has an unusual background for a senior White House official. On a résumé she submitted to the state of Florida, she said she had completed coursework at Flagler College … On her LinkedIn page, she simply lists Flagler under education. A Flagler spokesman said she never finished her degree,” the report says.
Another shot of nepotism followed: “Wiles has had a string of political jobs, including work at her mother’s lobbying firm and as a campaign aide for candidates her mother advised, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Trump.”
And then, the rap sheet: “Over the years, she has had multiple encounters with police. In 2005, she had her driver’s license suspended for driving while intoxicated … In 2007, she was arrested for driving while intoxicated and arrested for passing a ‘worthless check.’ She was found guilty of a misdemeanor for driving under the influence. The charge related to the bad check was dropped in a plea agreement.”
Go figure; she didn’t sit for an interview for this piece.
Defense lawyers: Brown jobbed out of fair trial
Per First Coast News: “The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is asking for a new trial for Corrine Brown after she was convicted on multiple counts of fraud and corruption and sentenced to five years in federal prison.”
At issue: the dismissal of a juror who claimed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Brown and her defense have consistently contended that juror was dismissed in error and this group agrees, saying that “seeking guidance from God does not amount to jury misconduct and is not a basis to remove a juror who is otherwise qualified to serve.”
Brown’s attorney filed a 64-page brief last week in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing the Jacksonville Democrat’s conviction should be tossed out because the juror was improperly dismissed from the case due to his religious statements.
“The record in this case supports only one conclusion: that this juror was basing his verdict on his view of the sufficiency of the evidence, after prayerful consideration and as he saw it, in his mind, guidance from the Holy Spirit,” Brown’s attorney, William Mallory Kent, wrote in the brief.
Big Mo for DeSantis
An internal memo from the Ron DeSantis campaign for governor made the rounds this week. And he may be winning the nomination.
The memo notes that DeSantis is winning with little effort against an “establishment candidate … who has spent more than $6 million … and has been running quietly for eight years.”
DeSantis has the best name ID, per internal polling, along with strong favorables and the lead in a two-way race against Adam Putnam and a three-way race with a “potential third challenger.”
Also, Trump Twitter came up bigly: “The president’s job approval is strong, and so is his endorsement.”
DeSantis also has good oppo against Putnam’s pre-Tea Party voting record in Congress, and wins the “blind bio” test, per his polling, 55 to 29 percent.
Payne draws challenger in HD 19
A Starke Democrat entered the race for North Central Florida’s House District 19, where they will take on incumbent Republican Bobby Payne, as well as Libertarian Ryan Ramsey.
Paul Still, an elected Supervisor for the Bradford County Soil and Water Conservation Board, was motivated to run by a water issue Payne supported that he sees as a “boondoggle.”
While Still won’t face primary opposition, the struggle is real in deep red HD 19 for the former chair of the Bradford County Democrats, as the party is not well-organized throughout much of the district.
Duval DEC committeeman out over ‘colored people’ comment
In the last week, Parker and King have dealt with some adverse press, related to an ongoing outcry both within and outside the party about her husband, with the offensive comments framed as a cause for both Parker and King to step down.
King notes that she has “told John from the beginning that the most appropriate course of action for him was to resign. Although we disagree on this action, our members are committed to respecting the process to resolve this issue.”
Meanwhile, the chair of the Duval GOP finally, a week after this controversy blew up, issued a call for King and Parker to resign.
On Wednesday, Parker acquiesced, resigning both leadership positions.
“Today, I accepted the resignation of John Parker as state committeeman and DNC member,” King said in a statement. “I do this with the certainty that it is the right thing for our party. Although he has dedicated over 35 years of service, his statements and actions necessitated his departure.”
The 30-second spot, which employs a child’s voice, includes a plaintive, heart-tugging script.
To hear the video, click the image below:
“Mommy and daddy, they’re saying that Lenny Curry is trying to sell JEA,” says the youth in the spot, a child who is remarkably hip to the mechanics of municipal utilities for his age.
“Don’t let him sell JEA,” the youngster continues. “Don’t let him sell our future.”
The call to action: to call 630-CITY and tell Curry not to sell JEA.
This particular political committee has ties to one of Curry’s chief political rivals. Its registered agent and treasurer, Heather Pullen, has connections to Lisa King, the chair of the Duval Democrats.
“Baseless attacks and lies from a political committee affiliated with and supportive of Democrat Lisa King are not how we will protect the value of taxpayer assets at JEA. The mayor remains committed to ensuring that facts inform all future plans for our utility, and that those plans respect taxpayers and the promises made to JEA employees,” said Brian Hughes, Curry’s chief of staff.
Meanwhile, Council President Anna Brosche wants more disclosure from the city finance department on JEA. CFO Mike Weinstein stonewalled the Jacksonville City Council requests for financial information, saying in an email last week: “They’re on their own.”
There is, however, one positive JEA augury for the Mayor’s Office. Curry met with linemen Tuesday; per WJXT, it went well.
Hughes noted that the mayor’s “meeting with JEA lineman this morning was part of his continued commitment to having conversations about the future of JEA with all stakeholders. The meeting went well offering him the opportunity to hear feedback and information from the people who put their lives on the line, not only in emergencies, but every day to provide service to the citizens of Jacksonville.”
Council bills teed up
Straw ballot for JEA sale: This bill had some controversy before unanimous passage in Finance Tuesday morning.
2018-141 would set a straw ballot referendum on the November ballot to test the voters’ mood on a JEA sale.
The measure, sponsored by Garrett Dennis and John Crescimbeni (two skeptics of the need to sell), would, in theory, serve as a corrective to an impending sales pitch to sell from many directions.
Crescimbeni pitched the bill to Rules, noting that the straw ballot is nonbinding and merely gives direction on whether to “participate in that process … weigh in and tell us they’re interested, or they’re not interested.”
The bill cleared Rules without a single no vote.
Board reform: 2018-65, also sponsored by Dennis, would bar a member of a board from applying for a paid position with the organization said board controls while serving on that board.
This bill was drafted after Joe Peppers, a member of the Kids Hope Alliance board who has since stepped down, made a play for that organization’s CEO position.
Dennis, one of Council’s most strident opponents of the reforms that brought KHA into being as a replacement for the Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey, sees Peppers as a) unqualified to be CEO and b) parlaying relationships with the board and Mayor Lenny Curry‘s team into a high-paying job.
Dennis said the bill would foster “transparency and fairness.”
Gaffney lawsuit rolls on
A whistleblower action involving Community Rehabilitation Center, the nonprofit of Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, continues to be hashed out in the 4th Judicial Circuit Court; it is now a discrimination suit.
Former CRC employee Darlene Peoples contended in a late-May whistleblower lawsuitin Florida’s 4th Circuit that she was “unlawfully terminated” by the nonprofit … after she was allegedly exposed to risk from HIV-positive clients without proper training and licensure. [Complaint against CRC]
Peoples worked for CRC from 2013 to Sept. 2016. In June 2016, Peoples was reassigned to be a “mental health counselor” from her previous position, “substance abuse counselor,” in a move her original filing describes as “ill-advised.” She claimed training deficiencies were rampant in her preparation to deal with HIV positive clients, and when she attempted to get redress (including from CEO Gaffney), she was fired.
The latest motion from Peoples, a “motion to compel,” came Mar. 22. At issue: an alleged inability to comply promptly with plaintiff requests for discovery regarding interrogatories and documents (emails).
From the JAX Chamber: “Jerry Mallot announced today that he will retire from his roles as President of JAXUSA Partnership and Executive Vice President of JAX Chamber. Mallot’s retirement is effective Sept. 1.”
“This is truly the best city and region in the country to live and to do business — and that certainly helps when you’re bringing top companies to the region,” Mallot, who has been with the Chamber since 1994, said.
Mallot helped to broker deals with Fidelity, Deutsche Bank and Amazon, per the Chamber. Those were three big gets.
“The investment he’s helped attract to our city is remarkable,” said JAX Chamber Chair John Peyton, who served as Jacksonville’s mayor from 2003-11 and worked with Mallot on several high-profile projects. “Jerry is so incredibly skilled at finding ways to get a deal done; it’s been a privilege to work with him over the years.”
“It’s amazing to look around at different projects and see how far we’ve come,” Mallot said. “We have so much momentum here, and I look forward to seeing it continue.”
Nassau’s Lincoln Day dinner sells out
Nassau County Republican Executive Committee (REC) announced its 2018 Lincoln Day Dinner has reached capacity with 116 tickets distributed, a first for the annual event.
The 2018 Lincoln Day Dinner is among the various Republican fundraising events to honor Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth U.S. president and first from the Republican Party. The Nassau County event was held Thursday at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island beginning with a cocktail hour and silent auction.
Keynoting the Lincoln Day dinner was Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis; featured guests includedCongressman John Rutherford, state Sens. Aaron Bean and Denise Grimsley, state Reps. Cord Byrd and Matt Caldwell, as well as various local leaders and candidates.
“Although we are still days away from hosting the event, the revenue and enthusiasm for this banquet have exceeded all expectations,” Nassau REC Chair Justin Taylor said. “In fact, we had to add seats to accommodate demand. We are seeing about a 50 percent participation increase from last year’s Lincoln Day, and I think that is a direct reflection of our party’s enthusiasm leading into this year’s election cycle.”
In 2004, Congress passed an amendment as part of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005.
The amendment “authorized the Secretary of Defense to assign members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, under certain circumstances and subject to certain conditions, to assist the Department of Homeland Security in the performance of border protection functions.”
Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation resoundingly supported the security measure, with one exception: Adam Putnam.
Putnam was one of only 20 House Republicans to vote against the amendment.
Florida Politics reached out to Putnam’s campaign to see why he voted against the amendment 14 years ago, and whether or not he supports the policy that change has facilitated since.
The statement, via spokesperson Amanda Bevis, addressed the latter and elided the former.
“Adam Putnam supports President Trump’s actions to secure our borders, including activating troops for this critical purpose,” said Bevis. “Without strong border security to prevent illegal aliens from unlawfully entering our country, the lives of American citizens are endangered. We must do what we can to secure our borders and keep American citizens safe.”
This issue is especially relevant in light of President Donald Trump deciding to station troops on the southern border as a block against illegal immigration … effectively continuing a policy that is more than a decade old.
As CNN and other outlets report, President George W. Bush, then President Barack Obama, took advantage of this authorization to fortify the border.
In Aug. 2006, Bush’s Operation Jump Start saw Border Patrol agents in Texas, California, Arizona, And New Mexico.
They were deployed as a hedge against so-called “catch and release” tactics, allowing accelerated deportations.
Obama’s Operation Phalanx, which started in 2010 and ran through 2016, was the follow-up to Jump Start.
Both operations used members of the National Guard as a hedge against posse comitatus restrictions; the Trump proposal will do the same.
Putnam’s vote went against the party of a decade ago, and today’s GOP is more hard line on these issues.
One suspects that his vote on this amendment will be framed this summer as out of step with the Republican Party of Trump. And that Putnam may have to explain his policy evolution in upcoming debates.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham goes hard against President Donald Trump in her first digital video ad of the 2018 election, calling him an embarrassment, a divider, and a bully, and vowing that as Governor she would stand up against him.
As graphics play out her words, Graham begins the video by saying that she wants to be someone who bridges divisiveness, something she believes Trump deliberately promotes.
“Donald Trump is an embarrassment. Donald Trump is an example of a bully,” Graham says in the ad, as the video switches to show some of her characteristic hugs. “I see it as my job to stand up to Donald Trump. It is the Governor’s job to look out for the state of Florida. And I will look out for the state of Florida. Donald Trump is not going to be able to stand in my way of doing what’s right for the people of Florida.”
Graham’s campaign said the ad will be backed by a “significant buy” across various digital platforms, and will begin by targeting the Palm Beach area before expanding statewide.
Graham is in a battle royale for the August 28 Democratic primary, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park businessman Chris King. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.
“While our country and state face serious challenges, Donald Trump is still taking weekly vacations to Mar-a-Lago and spending much of his time on the golf course,” Graham stated in a news release announcing the ad. “I hope Trump sees this ad during one of the many occasions he is checking Twitter because I want him to know that I will always put Florida first.”