Empower Jacksonville – Florida Politics

Religious right group opposes Peter Rummell development over Second Amendment issues

The District, proposed by developers and political influencers Peter Rummell and Michael Munz, is headed this month to Jacksonville City Council for approval.

Some members have questioned the lavish incentives (a $30 million capital improvement plan and a Rev Grant for 75 percent for up to 22 years capped at $56 million).

Now, Empower Jacksonville, a religious right organization founded last year in a thus-far unsuccessful challenge to Jacksonville’s LGBT protections, objects to the incentives that City Council will vote on.

The reason? Rummell‘s stated opposition to backing candidates who don’t support an assault weapon ban (an assertion belied by the facts, as Rummell backs Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Rep. John Rutherford).

“Peter Rummell’s anti-2nd amendment rhetoric is not in line with Empower Jacksonville’s values,” said Harry Lewis, Co-Chairman of Empower Jacksonville. “We cannot support hardworking Jacksonville citizens’ tax dollars lining Mr. Rummell’s pockets through the development of The District. We will engage our supporters to put their councilman or councilwoman on notice that a vote for The District is a vote against the 2nd Amendment.”

‘Legally defective & fatally misleading’ – ballot access DQ for Jax anti-LGBT rights group

Empower Jacksonville, a group seeking to allow referendums to change Jacksonville’s charter, received a major, perhaps fatal, setback Thursday from the city’s Office of General Counsel.

Empower Jacksonville, associated with the Liberty Counsel, wanted two ballot items voted on in August 2018.

The first: a referendum to change the city’s charter to allow citizens to challenge any law via referendum.

The second measure: a straw ballot on whether or not LGBT protections in the Human Rights Ordinance should be subject to a citizen referendum.

That play, audacious though it may have seemed, is now in grave peril.

Thursday, they got bad news from the Office of General Counsel: “This Office has reviewed the Supervisor’s Memorandum along with the provided materials and has determined that the proposed petition is legally defective and fatally misleading. It cannot be lawfully placed on the ballot.”

The objections of the OGC: “The initiative petition is not legally sufficient. The ballot Title and Summary do not comply with all requirements necessary to appear on the ballot. The General Counsel has the duty to prevent a legally defective petition from appearing on the ballot.”

The memo develops that case, asserting that the ballot item “unlawfully proposes to give the voters a referendum power not provided to them by law.”

The City Council, per the charter, has “legislative power and duties,” not a popular vote. Empower Jacksonville, via the referendum, seeks to negate the charter by giving it a super-legislative power.

“The voters become a super-legislative body with power to permanently withdraw substantive legislative power from the City Council. As noted below, the Mayor has no authority to veto ordinances adopted through the process created by the Proposed Amendment,” the memo asserts.

“The Title and Summary make no note of this extraordinary power. They do not note the creation of power untethered from any checks or balances. They do not in any way hint at, much less state, the chief purpose of the Proposed Amendment,” the memo continues.

Another issue: the “ballot summary fails to note that the Proposed Amendment substantially overstates the power to repeal ordinances by referendum vote.”

“The Summary fails to inform the voters that the Proposed Amendment will alter multiple functions of city government … The Summary fails to inform the voters that the Proposed Amendment substantially alters executive and legislative functions and powers of the City.”

The OGC memo concluded by saying the “Proposed Amendment effectively creates a new, supreme, fourth branch
of government — the citizenry — with authority to exercise the powers and perform the functions of the legislative and executive branches of the Consolidated Government.”

Moreover, the OGC opinion is binding for the Supervisor of Elections office, the memo adds, citing precedent and case-law.

And for the anti-HRO forces, it’s back to the drawing board.

One can expect the deep pockets of the Liberty Counsel to mount a challenge to this opinion, but one of the hallmarks of Jason Gabriel‘s tenure as General Counsel has been to assert the primacy of the office in matters including pension negotiations, and one can expect him to defend his office’s prerogatives here as much as needed.

Opponents of the HRO have fought Jacksonville in court, but have been rebuffed.

In December, the 4th Judicial Circuit granted Jacksonville’s motion to dismiss with prejudice a complaint for declaratory relief from the law.

Jacksonville HRO sponsors to be honored, as fight to keep law commences

Last February, Jacksonville expanded its Human Rights Ordinance, giving protections to the LGBT community in the workplace, public accommodations, and housing markets.

This February 3rd at the Florida Yacht Club, Equality Florida will honor the three sponsors of the legislation: City Council VP Aaron Bowman and Councilman Jim Love (two Republicans), and Councilman Tommy Hazouri (a Democrat).

Unsurprisingly, Equality Florida gives itself credit for passage.

“After a nearly 10-year campaign, Jacksonville ended its reign as the only major city in Florida without an LGBT inclusive Human Rights Ordinance. In February 2017, we saw unprecedented leadership and investment in this battle by Equality Florida, the citizens of Jacksonville, and these three elected leaders – resulting in the updated HRO on Valentine’s Day.”

The citizens of Jacksonville — specifically stakeholders — had a lot of input. Bowman is the VP of a business development and recruitment wing of the JAX Chamber (Jax USA). Groups like the Jacksonville Civic Council were instrumental in leveraging support, as was Jaguars owner Shad Khan — a singularly influential figure who publicly urged passage and lobbied wobbly councilors behind the scenes.

And the passage of the HRO had a salutary effect: Jacksonville’s score of 67 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index puts it on par with Miami, and represents a quantum leap from scores in the 20s a couple of years back.

But this level of protections is under attack.

Though the legislation moved through last February, a ballot challenge may be in the offing, via Christian conservative group Empower Jacksonville.

Empower Jacksonville, a political action committee, brought in $10,100 in November — pushing it to $31,430 raised and just over $23,000 on hand. (December numbers were not posted as of this writing on the morning of January 8).

Empower Jacksonville seeks to have two ballot items next August. The first: a referendum to change the city’s charter to allow citizens to challenge any law via referendum.

The second measure: a straw ballot on whether or not the HRO should be subject to a citizen referendum. The specific area of contention: the additions to the law this February, not the previously extant law.

The group is collecting petitions currently to get ballot access; as one would suspect, churches will be a primary collection point for the roughly 27,000 needed.

And in the context of petition collecting, the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality is pushing back.

The group urges people to “decline to sign,” and then “to note where you saw the petitioner and what was going on and then send a quick e-mail” to the JCE.

As well, JCE asserts that petitions may be collected extralegally (on property that they have no right to be collecting petitions on, including private property that is not their own, and government properties.

Ultimately, the Empower Jacksonville group will seek to put LGBT rights up for referendum; in Houston, where similar legislation was passed, a ballot challenge was successful.

Could a similar fate strike Jacksonville in the end?

A.G. Gancarski’s 10 people to watch in Northeast Florida politics: 2018 edition

Politics in Northeast Florida is about to heat up, with state races in 2018 and Jacksonville municipal elections in 2019. Here are ten names worth watching.

Alvin Brown: Is he running for the U.S. House against Al Lawson? Mayor against incumbent Lenny Curry?

He will have to decide, one way or another, this year.

We’ve gone into the challenges Brown would face against Lawson: among them, primarying an incumbent; not being known west of Duval County; a lack of buy-in among Jacksonville Democrats (who think he disappeared after losing the Mayor’s race in 2015, only returning ahead of running for whatever this year or next); and a lack of buy-in among the donor class.

The Peter Rummell-types have moved on, some to Lawson. And the trial lawyers probably aren’t that hyped up on taking Alvin to the next level.

That said, there almost has to be a Jacksonville candidate — and Alvin Brown looks like the best bet. Still.

Those familiar with Brown’s thinking say it’s Congress or bust. Time will tell.

Lisa King: The new chair of the Duval Democratic party is fired up and ready to go when it comes to the 2018 cycle.

Expect King, an establishment Democrat from the Hillary Clinton wing of the party, to manufacture media coverage every time there is an opportunity.

Unifying the party and building donor confidence will be key this year, as King tries to turn Duval into “Bluval.”

Carlo Fassi: One of the sharpest political minds in Northeast Florida that most people outside of downtown haven’t heard of.

Fassi is running Baxter Troutman’s campaign for Agriculture Commissioner — sort of the Royal Rumble battle royal of GOP primary races.

Before turning his attention to statewide work, Fassi worked for State Attorney Melissa Nelson, first as her campaign manager, then handling public affairs in her office.

Fassi is not a self-promoter by trade — and that may seem anomalous to fans of the political consultant game.

But expect this: no matter how Troutman fares this year, Fassi will be increasingly sought after for Republican candidates down the road.  

Reggie Brown: Is he running against Audrey Gibson for the state Senate?

To us, that sounds like a suicide mission. And we’re skeptical it’s going to happen.

Brown, a Jacksonville City Councilman, would run into some of the same issues Alvin Brown would run into versus Lawson. How does he credibly challenge a Senator who is poised to lead the caucus after the November election? Specifically, one who has institutional buy-in with corporate and institutional donors.

Rory Diamond: Diamond, an alumnus of the George W. Bush White House, the California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger administration, and head of the charitable non-profit “K9s for Warriors,” is highly regarded among local Republicans.

He’s a current Neptune Beach City Councilman, and he’s making a run for Jacksonville City Council in 2019.

He also has roughly $100,000 banked.

Yet he will face a competitive race.

There are those who contend that Diamond isn’t enough of a social conservative to replace termed-out Bill Gulliford on the City Council.

There will be a candidate that attacks Diamond on those grounds.

Garrett Dennis: With Brian Hughes moving into the office of Mayor Lenny Curry as chief of staff, there are strong expectations that the political and the policy sphere will essentially become one.

With that in mind, it’s worth watching the only Democrat on Council who has acted like a Democrat: Garrett Dennis.

Alone among Council Democrats, of whom at least a few have functioned like adjuncts of the Mayor’s office, Dennis has embodied an actual attempt to put checks and balances on the Curry agenda.

He’s taken risks. Taken slings and arrows for his trouble. But on a City Council that has not offered much resistance to any of the reforms in the last thirty months, Dennis is the sole reminder that there are two political parties in this town, each with their own agendas.

Empower Jacksonville: There’s not a breakout star of this group — a Christian conservative Liberty Counsel front that would like to see, ultimately, a City Council referendum to overturn the LGBT protections in the Human Rights Ordinance expansion of 2017.

But the group is very much worth watching. It seeks to have two ballot items next August. The first: a referendum to change the city’s charter to allow citizens to challenge any law via referendum.

The second measure: a straw ballot on whether or not the HRO should be subject to a citizen referendum. The specific area of contention: the additions to the law this February, not the previously extant law.

Those additions: protections of LGBT people in the areas of housing discrimination, workplace protections, and public accommodations.

This underscores a larger rift in the Republican Party between religious conservatives and more pragmatic conservatives; naturally, the latter category is called RINOs by those in the religious camp.

Aaron Bowman: A VP for business recruitment for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, Bowman also is City Council VP.

And he will walk into the presidency next year.

Bowman has been an interesting case. A dyed-in-the-wool Republican, the former Mayport base commander nonetheless is the kind of Republican who embodies the “kinder, gentler America” former President George H.W. Bush talked about.

He ran for office against a Christian conservative, vowing to push for the aforementioned Human Rights Ordinance expansion. And that went through this February.

The book on Bowman among some on Council was that he thought he should have been in leadership from the start. That didn’t sit well with some Council veterans.

He’s there now, of course, and the way he won the Council VP election in 2017 was notable. Pledges materialized seemingly from thin air, with Bowman becoming the runaway choice.

Meanwhile, during the presidency of Anna Brosche, Bowman avoided making waves on hot-button issues like Confederate monuments. He clearly is amassing political capital. Will he use it during his presidency? Or does he have more ambitious plans down the road?

Earl Testy: Why Testy?

Despite having just $13 cash-on-hand, the self-styled “radical Republican” has already become the most quotable Jacksonville candidate since Rep. Kim Daniels.

Testy is known for mansplaining about how sexual harassment was a function of the female libido.

“They have themselves and their libidos to blame for much of their own abuse by men,” Testy posted to Facebook.

And if that isn’t enough, he also advocates the “conversion of Negro Democrats to the Republican Party.”

“I devote a portion of the time remaining in my life to facilitating the conversion of millions of Negro Democrats back home to the Republican Party,” Testy remarked.

Testy is running against an establishment Republican — Randy DeFoor — who will have all the endorsements and money she needs.

There likely will be a Democrat in this race — and other candidates — before all is said and done.

So why are we watching him? The reality is that he will get a sizable chunk of the vote… in the most liberal district in the city. Which says quite a bit about where Duval County really is.

Tracye Polson: Can Polson, a clinical social worker by trade, do the seemingly impossible and turn Rep. Jay Fant’s red district blue?

The Democratic candidate for House District 15 is about to find out.

Polson is keeping pace with the Republican in the race — Jacksonville lawyer Wyman Duggan — in terms of fundraising.

She also is aggressively canvassing the Westside Jacksonville district, an approach that she and her volunteers hope overcome the tendency of some voters in the district to just vote for the Republican.

Polson does have a primary opponent, but he is essentially unknown to local Democrats. Polson, by contrast, is a known quantity.

Opponents of Jacksonville’s human rights ordinance continue to raise money, organize

One of the under-the-radar political stories of the 2018 cycle in Northeast Florida: the move by religious conservatives to overturn Jacksonville’s LGBT protections.

Empower Jacksonville, a political action committee, brought in $10,100 in November — pushing it to $31,430 raised and just over $23,000 on hand.

Empower Jacksonville seeks to have two ballot items next August. The first: a referendum to change the city’s charter to allow citizens to challenge any law via referendum.

The second measure: a straw ballot on whether or not the HRO should be subject to a citizen referendum. The specific area of contention: the additions to the law this February, not the previously extant law.

Those additions: protections of LGBT people in the areas of housing discrimination, workplace protections, and public accommodations.

The bill has carve-outs and caveats: protections for churches and church schools, businesses with under 15 employees, and no possibility of prison time for violating the ordinance. The Jacksonville Human Rights Commission handles investigations.

There have been a couple of violations claimed, both on the grounds of housing discrimination; in other words, the dread specters of people exploiting the ordinance to make dubious claims have yet to come to pass in the ten months since it has been law.

Nonetheless, for those on the religious right, it’s a matter of principle — and political activism.

The group is collecting petitions currently; as one would suspect, churches will be a primary collection point.

Empower had an organizational meeting Tuesday evening at the Salem Centre. Expect a ramp up for petitions in the months ahead.

Anti-LGBT rights political committee ramps up in Jacksonville

Empower Jacksonville,” a coalition of Jacksonville Christian conservatives looking to challenge the city’s Human Rights Ordinance and other so-called “unjust laws,” is now street-legal, with committee paperwork officially filed with the Duval County Supervisor of Elections.

Empower Jacksonville seeks to have two ballot items voted on in August 2018. The first: a referendum to change the city’s charter to allow citizens to challenge any law via referendum.

The second measure: a straw ballot on whether or not the HRO should be subject to citizen referendum. The specific area of contention: the additions to the law this February protecting LGBT citizens from employment, housing, and equal accommodations protections, not the previously extant law.

The Liberty Counsel is behind this effort, with Jacksonville-born barrister Roger Gannam offering legal representation for the group.

Referendums in Jacksonville typically have required serious money to sell them, with marketing for both pension reform and an expansion of slot machines that never actually came to pass costing $2 million each to sell to the general public.

The Empower Jacksonville referendum actions may not require those kinds of resources, as Christian conservatives are able to get signatures and support for their efforts on Sundays and through other church-related outreach mechanisms.

Empower Jacksonville is confident that it will have the resources it needs, Gannam said at a kickoff presser last week.

Jax conservatives to make straw ballot challenge to LGBT rights law

On Valentine’s Day, the Jacksonville City Council voted to expand the city’s Human Rights Ordinance to include LGBT people.

On Thursday, a group of local Christian conservatives, backed by the Liberty Counsel, united under the banner of Empower Jacksonville to challenge that law — and all laws that citizens deem to be “unjust.”

Empower Jacksonville seeks to have two ballot items in Aug. 2018. The first: a referendum to change the city’s charter to allow citizens to challenge any law via referendum.

The second measure: a straw ballot on whether or not the HRO should be subject to citizen referendum. The specific area of contention: the additions to the law this February, not the previously extant law.

Small businesses are “fed up with the city telling them how to run their businesses, their bathroom policies, who they can do business with, and what they can and cannot say,” said the group’s co-chair, local banker Bennett Brown.

Liberty Counsel lawyer Roger Gannam is handling the technical side of these initiatives for the group, and he expressed confidence in their progress and eventual success.

Noting that the group got 9,000 signatures for an HRO referendum in 2016, Gannam asserted that they will have no problem meeting the threshold this time out.

The HRO, said Gannam, is a “sword hanging over the heads” of the people of Jacksonville.

“This is a message to the entire city government of Jacksonville,” Gannam said, “a clear message to any politician” with future political ambitions.

Ballot access is not a done deal, says LGBT activist Jimmy Midyette of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality.

“The petitioner’s committee, if they’ve formed one, can’t have legally collected any petitions yet,” Midyette said.

Mayor Lenny Curry‘s public information officer Tia Ford offered a statement on behalf of the executive branch Thursday afternoon.

“The City of Jacksonville has a process that allows citizens to gather signatures to put issues that are important to them to vote by referendum. The mayor respects citizens’ rights to follow that process. The mayor and OGC have not been given any additional information for review, so we’d need to see it before we can discuss it any further,” Ford stated.

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche was unaware of this citizen initiative before we asked, and Brosche looks forward to input from the city’s General Counsel, she told us Thursday afternoon.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons