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Delegation for 9.18.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Nelson would be happier than most with Kavanaugh delay

Senate Republicans hoping the Judiciary Committee would hunker down and vote out the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, now realize they have one more desperate roadblock to sidestep. With a name now attached to the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct more than 30 years ago, the committee’s scheduled Thursday vote is now in jeopardy.

Now there is a name attached to Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser: Christine Blasey Ford.

For those old enough to remember back to October 1991, they might be uttering Yogi Berra’s line about “déjà vu all over again.” It was that autumn 27 years ago when law professor Anita Hill rocked Capitol Hill with accusations of sexual impropriety against nominee Clarence Thomas.

After lamenting a “high-tech lynching,” Thomas was ultimately confirmed by a 52-48 vote. Before allegations by the California research psychologist against Kavanaugh became public last week, many were predicting a similar vote when the nomination came before the full Senate.

Calls to delay Thursday’s vote quickly began with Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin taking the lead. Other Democrats followed, but retiring Arizona Republican Jeff Flake said the accusations needed to be addressed and fellow committee Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he would “gladly listen,” and “compare that against all other information we have received about judge Kavanaugh.”

“If the committee is to hear from Ms. (Christine BlaseyFord, it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled,” said Graham.

Through her attorney, Ford has indicated a willingness to testify before Congress.

Democrats have long hoped to drag out the confirmation process until after the midterms, if at all possible. Should the “blue wave” occur and sweep out the GOP majority, Kavanaugh’s nomination would be doomed.

That would be just fine with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is engaged in a tight race against Gov. Rick Scott. While some red-state Democrats running for re-election will find it politically healthy to vote for Kavanaugh, Nelson is in a tougher spot.

While some Trump-voting Democrats might hold a “no” vote against him, enough of the Democratic base could turn on him if he votes for the nominee. A recent poll revealed that 80 percent of Florida voters would not base their vote on this issue, but 31 percent of Democrats said they would be “less likely to vote for Nelson if he votes to confirm Kavanaugh.”

On Monday, Nelson called for an “investigation” into the allegations. He also affirmed his readiness to meet with Kavanaugh, a meeting he has “requested four times.”

This is the era of the “#MeToo” movement, where women are coming forward, and now believed, with accounts of harassment and assault perpetrated on them by powerful men. Bipartisan efforts to further mainstream the issue continue in Congress (see below)

Such a movement did not exist in 1991 while the Thomas hearings were in progress.

Kavanaugh has a letter of support signed by 65 women who knew him during his high school days saying Ford’s accusation does not fit the Kavanaugh they knew then or know now.

This will be a big week for the future of Kavanaugh and the person who nominated him, President Donald Trump. If there are further delays by the end of the week, Nelson will consider it a victory.

Rubio campaigns for Tennessee Senate candidate

During the campaign for Nelson’s Senate seat, Scott and his surrogates have regularly criticized the incumbent Democrat on his three terms in office. One of those critics has not been Marco Rubio, who pledged not to attack the state’s senior Senator and is keeping that pledge.

To help the GOP keep their Senate majority, Rubio traveled to Tennessee in support of his party’s candidate, Rep. Marsha Blackburn. In support of Blackburn, Rubio warned that her opponent, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, is “trying to pull a fast one.”

Marco Rubio says former Gov. Phil Bredesen is trying to pull ‘a fast one’ on Tennessee voters.

Bredesen is one of those Democrats who tell voters “they are middle of the road, moderate, work with both sides,” he told a Blackburn campaign event in Brentwood, Tenn. Those promising moderation, Rubio said, “when they get to D.C., they vote 99.9 percent of the time with people that Tennessee would never vote for if they ran for office, here.”

Rubio praised Blackburn as “a great candidate,” while her opponent “is trying to pull a fast on you.”

A spokeswoman for Bredesen responded in a statement: “Just like Governor Bredesen, Tennesseans are independent thinkers who can make up their own minds and don’t need to be told what to do by out-of-state politicians.”

The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows the race as a dead heat.

 Scott distances himself from Trump in new Spanish ad

Following Trump’s much-panned comments regarding the Puerto Rican death toll estimates, Scott was in the position of publicly disagreeing with the President. Now he has released a new Spanish-language ad that looks to put some space between himself and Trump.

The ad, titled “Compromiso,” features Scott speaking in Spanish about his promise to put voters in front of partisan politics.

“When I don’t agree with what President Trump does or says, I’ve said it,” Scott begins.

To view the video, click on the image below:

“My only commitment is with you,” he continued. “For me, what’s important is that your family have the best opportunities. I ask for your vote so that together we can make Washington work for our families.”

Following Hurricane Maria last year, Scott and Nelson received similar levels of approval for their handling of Puerto Rican evacuees into Florida. The two candidates are also in a dead heat among Latino voters.

House, Senate negotiators agree to avoid shutdown

One of the issues now destined to play a minor role in the fall campaigns is the seemingly never-ending threat of a federal government shutdown. A stopgap spending bill was agreed upon by House and Senate negotiators late last week which would keep the money flowing until December 7, will be voted on this week in the Senate and next week in the House.

This action is usually necessary when Congress cannot agree on spending bills, forcing either a stopgap measure or a massive omnibus spending bill covering multiple agencies. Last year, the $1.3 trillion price tag of the omnibus bill brought Trump to pledge he would never sign another one like it.

Matt Gaetz is no fan of stopgap budget measures.

This year, Congress is doing a much better job of getting the individual spending bills debated and passed. The deadline is October 1, but when it became apparent a few would remain, the desire to prevent a shutdown prompted the stopgap measure.

All of that depends upon whether Trump will sign the bill, but negotiators have been told he would approve it. It will be attached to funding bill covering the Department of Defense and other programs, making a veto highly unlikely.

Previous stopgap or omnibus spending bills have met opposition from members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz is one of those who oppose such legislation on principle, but with Congress on track to complete the bills before the year ends, conservatives may wind up supporting it in the end.

Voting “no” on defense funding might be difficult as well.

Chief Justice flexes muscle in ‘dark money’ case

Candidates from both sides have long complained about third party attacks from organizations funded in part by anonymous donors contributing “dark money.” As one organization was about to unwillingly reveal their donors after a federal appeals court refused to issue a stay on a lower-court ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts stepped in, blocking the ruling.

The affected party in the case was former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove and his Crossroads GPS organization that was trying to influence a 2012 Ohio U.S. Senate race. Those involved with these organizations argued that if the ruling stood, a chilling effect on independent expenditures might have followed.

Chief Justice John Roberts blocks a court ruling on anonymous ‘dark money.’

“Upon consideration of the application of counsel for the applicant and the response filed thereto,” Roberts wrote in his brief order, “it is ordered that the order of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, case No. 16-259, is hereby stayed pending further order of the undersigned or of the Court.”

Third party groups such as Majority Forward is one of many that have become involved in campaigns around the country. While both parties benefit from the secret resource, Majority Forward came to the rescue of a prominent Floridian.

As Scott was dramatically outspending Nelson earlier this year, it was the $2.7 million provided by the dark money group that kept the three-term Democrat from being totally overwhelmed by Scott’s advertising onslaught.

While Scott is expected to be well-funded, other Republicans are expected to take full advantage of current law. Democrats are outraising Republicans, including incumbents, in several races around the country as they seek to regain the majority in both the House and Senate.

Murphy, Curbelo warn of  ‘deep fakes’

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall and Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy from Winter Park have both expressed concerns about “deep fake” videos. Both have also called on intelligence leaders to assess the potential threat.

Curbelo and Murphy signed a letter with Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff from California calling on Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to publicly report on the implications of new technology potentially affecting affairs in a democracy.

Florida lawmakers call on Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to investigate ‘deep fake’ videos.

“You have repeatedly raised the alarm about disinformation campaigns in our elections and other efforts to exacerbate political and social divisions in our society to weaken our nation,” the letter reads. “We are deeply concerned that deep fake technology could soon be deployed by malicious foreign actors.”

‘Deep Fake’ videos are created by an artificial intelligence-based human image synthesis. It is used to combine and superimpose existing images and video onto source images or videos. Essentially, it is designed to put the likeness of a selected person on video to make it appear that person was doing something they were not.

“Deep fake technology can be used by our enemies to undermine our nation’s security and democracy, which is why the Intelligence Community must provide a comprehensive report to Congress on the threat posed by deep fake technology,” said Murphy, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“We need to know what countries have used it against U.S. interests, what the U.S. government is doing to address this national security threat, and what more the Intelligence Community needs to effectively counter the threat.”

Curbelo agreed with Murphy claiming that fake video technology has the potential to disrupt every aspect of society, including elections.

“With implications for national security, human rights and public safety, the technological capabilities to produce this kind of propaganda targeting the United States and Americans around the world is unprecedented,” Curbelo said.

Webster praises passage of VA funding

Last week, a series of spending bills were approved and sent to Trump for his signature. Among those was a bipartisan VA funding bill that earned effusive praise from Republican Rep. Daniel Webster of Clermont.

Webster was laudatory of the process that led to passing the spending bills. Funding for federal agencies has recently been lumped into huge spending packages.

Daniel Webster is celebrating the passage of a VA funding bill.

“For the first time in 8 years, Congress is not funding these agencies through what is commonly called a Continuing Resolution — a slush fund that allows the agencies to follow their own path independent of proper congressional oversight,” Webster said in a news release. “There is more work to be done if Congress is serious about reducing the spigot of spending, which requires returning to the budget process our Founding Fathers envisioned.”

Among the areas covered includes funding to enhance the VA’s electronic records system, enhanced mental health treatment, infrastructure upgrades to combat cyberattacks from hostile nations, and funding for family housing.

In addition to funding military construction and the VA, the three-bill spending package also includes funding for energy and water, along with appropriations for the legislative branch. The Senate approved the measure 92-5 while the House voted 377-20 in support.

Democratic poll gives Carlson one-point lead in CD 15

Republican Ross Spano is heavily favored to win the District 15 House seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Dennis Ross, but a poll conducted by Spano’s opponent says it is anyone’s race. According to an internal poll, Democrat Kristen Carlson leads Spano by one point, 48-47.

New Democratic polling gives Kristen Carlson a slim lead in CD 15.

Carlson outraised Spano by nearly $100,000 during the primary campaign, but Spano had a $60,000 advantage in cash on hand as of the last FEC fundraising report on August 8.

Carlson is a former prosecutor and general counsel to the Florida Department of Citrus. Spano is a state representative who was backed by Rubio in last month’s primary.

The Larry Sabato Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report list the race as “Likely Republican” while Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzales rates it as Solid Republican.

The survey contacted 400 likely voters with a 4.9 percent margin of error.

 Mast named subcommittee chair

For the second time this year, Republican Rep. Brian Mast has taken on a different role in his committee assignments. On Monday, he was named the chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation by Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster.

Mast’s appointment is effective immediately and lasts through the end of the 115th Congress, which occurs in January 2019. He replaces Duncan Hunter of California, who was indicted on multiple charges of campaign finance fraud.

Brian Mast moves up to a new leadership role.

“Oversight of the Coast Guard and the nation’s maritime transportation system is a vital responsibility of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee,” said Shuster. “Brian is an effective member of this subcommittee and has a firm grasp of the issues. He understands the critical nature of the Coast Guard’s missions and is ready to take the gavel.”

In May, Mast was appointed to the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He welcomed his new role in a statement.

“Maritime transportation is a critical issue for Florida, and the Coast Guard has an important presence in our state, which is why I asked Chairman Bill Shuster for the opportunity to take on leadership of this subcommittee,” Mast said. “The Coast Guard plays an essential role in maintaining the rule of law on our waterways, including securing our borders and enforcing marine pollution laws. Working together, I’m confident we can ensure they have the tools they need to succeed at these critical missions.”

His future in keeping the gavel depends on first defeating Democrat Lauren Baer in November and the Republicans maintaining a majority in the House.

Frankel, women’s caucus hold hearing on workplace harassment

As the anniversary of the Harvey Weinstein assault allegations approaches, the House Caucus for Women’s Issues recently hosted a hearing about what has become the #MeToo movement. The hearing was appropriately titled “#MeToo, What’s Next? Turning a Movement into Action.”

Caucus members heard from leaders from some industries to discuss ways to promote respect and dignity in the workplace, and ultimately to find innovative and creative solutions to the problem of workplace harassment. The hearing was hosted by caucus co-chair Lois Frankel and the caucus leadership group consisting of bipartisan Members of Congress.

Lois Frankel is turning the #MeToo movement into action.

“Women, like men, go to work to take care of their families,” said Frankel, a Democrat from West Palm Beach“Sexual harassment is a real economic issue and a big factor that’s holding women back from opportunities and advancing in their careers. We heard the wisdom of our panelists on some solutions, and I hope measures going through the House like reauthorizing VAWA, banning mandatory arbitration, boosting spending for the (Equal Employment Opportunities Commission), and passing the EMPOWER Act will help create safer workplaces.”

This is the third hearing in a series of hearings on sexual harassment in the workplace conducted by the caucus. The first hearing focused on sexual harassment in the service sector and the second heard from survivors and experts from fields where women are often outnumbered.

South Florida Republicans join call for new Violence Against Women Act

With the issue surrounding sexual harassment and sexual violence playing out in the Kavanaugh hearings, legislation combating the menace was set to expire on September 30. As Congress is dealing with preventing a government shutdown (see above), Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the law will receive the same extension until December 7 as the stopgap spending bill.

Before its inclusion in the funding bill, 46 Republicans called on Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to reauthorize the law. In a letter, the signees said VAWA “has helped to protect and support millions of Americans who have faced domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”

Several members of the South Florida delegation are calling to renew the Violence Against Women Act.

Among delegation Republicans signing the letter included Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, as well as Carlos Curbelo of Kendall.

“This is not a partisan issue,” the letter continued. “VAWA has been continually reauthorized on a bipartisan basis in Congress. We must act now to strengthen and maintain this critical law.

Congress first passed the VAWA in 1993 and most recently reauthorized it in 2013. Along with passing other spending bills, it is likely to be reauthorized during a lame-duck session of Congress in November or December.

Mucarsel-Powell under attack from multiple angles 

Florida’s 26th Congressional District Democratic candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is the target of numerous attacks on behalf of Curbelo as well as another from his campaign. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is revisiting allegations of ties between her and a Ukrainian oligarch named Ihor Kolomoisky.

Mucarsel-Powell has already faced scrutiny over her husband’s work for Kolomoisky during the Democratic primary. She called the ad “a complete lie.”

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell faces digital attacks on several fronts.

radio ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund tried to link Mucarsel-Powell to Kolomoisky as well. The NRCC ad, titled “Connection,” has brought attention to the claims again.

It claims Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign “has received thousands in contributions from Kolomoisky’s associates.”

Also, Curbelo is criticizing his opponent for accepting money from the BOLD PAC, chaired by Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas. Cardenas was accused of molesting a 16-year-old girl in 2007, which he denies.

BOLD PAC, which serves as the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, also contributed $5,000 to Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign. The caucus denied admission to Curbelo in 2017.

On this day in the headlines

September 18, 1978 — President Jimmy Carter announced to the world Sunday night that a “framework for peace” in the Middle East has been reached at a summit meeting with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin. Carter said the documents signed by the two leaders at Camp David “will provide that Israel may live in peace within secure borders.”

The agreement calls for a five-year transition period during which Palestinians will “retain full autonomy.” It also allows Israel to station troops at locations within the West Bank and Gaza.

September 18, 2012 — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is dealing with a new headache as a video surfaced of him telling wealthy donors that almost half of Americans “believe they are victims.” Romney told the gathering “there are 47 percent of people who are with (Barack Obama), who depend on government, who believe they are victims.”

The campaign went into damage control putting out a statement that Romney “wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy.” An Obama adviser said the Democratic campaign might use Romney’s comments from the fundraising video in television advertisements.

 

Brightline buying Las Vegas-California high-speed train project

Brightline, the operator of the private passenger-train service in South Florida with approval for high-speed trains into Orlando and longer-term vision to  Tampa, announced Tuesday it is buying the project of a proposed high-speed train to link Las Vegas and Southern California.

Brightline, long known as All Aboard Florida, announced Tuesday it has reached agreement to buy XpressWest with rights to develop a federally-approved corridor from California to Las Vegas. Brightline also announced it is acquiring 38 acres of land adjacent to the Las Vegas strip for the construction of a station and mixed-use development.

Brightline will take over the development, construction and operation of the project and work with federal and local transportation officials, the company announced.

“Brightline’s model is setting a new standard for train travel in America,” Patrick Goddard, president of Brightline, stated in a news release issued Tuesday by that company. “Today’s announcement is an important milestone for our company as we reimagine transportation between these major metropolitan areas. We look forward to working with the region’s stakeholders to make this vision a reality.”

The proposed California-Nevada line would be only the second privately-funded express intercity passenger rail in the United States, following Brightline’s Florida rail line that currently links Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, with development underway for a route from there to Orlando.

XpressWest, formerly known as DesertExpress, has received federal approval to develop a 150-mph private passenger train line linking Las Vegas to Victorville, Calif., a city still a good 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles. However, Brightline notes the proposed Victorville station is only a “30 to 45 minute drive” from Southern California’s “Inland Empire”, the largely-independent metropolitian area of San Bernardino and Riverside, which itself has an estimated population of 4 million.

XpressWest also planned to eventually extend a line from Victorville into the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and Brightline includes that intention in its announced plans.

“Brightline is changing transportation in our country by connecting heavily trafficked corridors that are too long to drive and too short to fly,” Wes Edens, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of Fortress Investment Group, the money behind Brightline, stated in the news release. “Our experience in Florida is proving that private-sector investment has a meaningful role to play in developing transportation infrastructure. We’re excited to bring Brightline’s world-class and convenient travel experience to Southern California and Las Vegas.”

The company did not release information about the terms of the purchase.

The announced purchase comes just three weeks after Brightline secured Florida state permission to sell $1.75 billion worth of federally-authorized private equity bonds, though money from that is exclusively reserved for development of the Florida train service.

The Florida project has been controversial, particularly for many people in the ride-over communities of Florida’s Treasure Coast. Martin and Indian River counties are suing in federal court to stop the federal financing of the West Palm Beach to Orlando leg.

The XpressWest project has been in plans for many years and once expected to break ground on construction by 2012, but still has yet to do so. The Wall Sreet Journal is speculating Tuesday that the Brightline purchase could “breath new life into a long-delayed project.”

Brightline said it expects to break ground next year and begin offering service as soon as 2022.

The first phase of the corridor is expected to be built on a right-of-way within and adjacent to Interstate 15, traversing 185 miles with no at-grade or pedestrian crossings in the sparsely-populated desert area of southern Clark County, Nev., and northern San Bernardino County, Calif.

At-grade crossings have been the key concern of opposition along Florida’s east coast, where there are scores of at-grade crossings for the Brightline train’s proposed route to Orlando.

Last Call for 9.17.18 — A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics

Last Call — A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics.

First Shot

Since 1998, more than 373 charter schools have closed their doors in Florida, “causing problems for some school districts,” according to a new Integrity Florida report released Monday.

The number of for-profit charter schools continues to grow at a rapid pace each year and now makes up nearly half of all charter schools in the state, the group said Monday.

“Florida is averaging almost 20 charter school closures per year and that comes with a cost to taxpayers,” said Ben Wilcox, Integrity Florida’s research director, in a news release.

Added Alan Stonecipher, the organization’s research associate: “Floridians and their elected officials need to think about where this is heading, and whether we’ll end up with a parallel, duplicative education system, or a unified system as the (state) constitution requires.”

Key findings include:

— The charter school concept has evolved into “a competitive relationship between charters and traditional schools, rather than a cooperative one.”

— “Lax regulation of charter schools has created opportunities for financial mismanagement and criminal corruption.”

— “Local school boards have seen reduced ability to manage charter schools in their districts.”

School choice advocate John Kirtley, a venture capitalist long involved in education reform efforts, was mentioned in the report on his fundraising for the cause.

“The Florida teachers union is one of the largest spenders in state political races — they spent over $2.5 million in 2016 alone, more than double what FFC spent,” referring to his “Florida Federation for Children,” Kirtley told Last Call in an email.

He also is founder and chairman for Step Up for Students, a school choice scholarship program initiated by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

“Parents who want choices, particularly low-income parents, have no means to counter that spending,” Kirtley added. “That’s the role of The Florida Federation for Children. We invest in the process on behalf of those parents.”

Added Erika Donalds, a Collier County School Board member and charter school founder, “This report tries to use a few bad apples to define all charter schools.

“The truth is, the majority of charter schools are great examples of student success and school resourcefulness,” she said. “Charters are achieving results for students with fewer dollars — that’s not debatable …

“And charter schools are in fact the most accountable type of public school in Florida, because parents can remove their children at any time, and if they fail two years in a row, they close.”

For the full Integrity Florida report, click here.

Evening Reads

Bill Nelson calls for investigation into allegations against Brett Kavanaugh; no response from top Republicans” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times

Citizens rising up against the Florida Legislature, Rick Scott, and private property zealots” via Julie Hauserman of the Florida Phoenix

Scott campaign stop in Venice besieged by protesters slamming governor over red tide” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Ron DeSantis spoke to group whose founder says devout Muslims can’t be loyal Americans” via Trevor Aaronson of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

DeSantis says he won’t accept sugar money. He was endorsed by a group fueled by it” via Emily Mahoney and Langston Taylor of the Tampa Bay Times

DeSantis, Andrew Gillum pile up matching funds” via The News Service of Florida

Scott Israel helping Gillum raise money” via Anthony Man of the Sun-Sentinel

Race for Governor could have a big financial impact on companies in the education market” via Sean Cavanagh of Education Week

Two debates planned between DeSantis, Gillum” via Danny McAuliffe of Florida Politics

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell criticized for taking PAC money linked to politician accused of molesting teen” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida

Florida Democrats get schooled on how to be winning candidates” via Mitch Perry of the Florida Phoenix

Florida Republican Party says it raised $7.6M in two weeks” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics

Florida workers comp rates going down again, but future challenges remain” via Amy O’Connor of the Insurance Journal

Mike Weinstein retiring after high-impact career at Jacksonville City Hall” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union

Down it goes: Florida bar exam pass rate plummets again” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics

Quote of the Day

“Socialism is a dead-end street. While I don’t think that Andrew Gillum would like to see empty store shelves and people starve in the street, that is ultimately what it comes to … Every time we’ve seen it tried, it failed.” — GOP Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell asked about the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

Bill Day’s Latest

Breakthrough Insights

Wake Up Early?

The Florida Department of Children and Families will hold another in a series of meetings across the state about infant and early childhood mental health. That’s at 9 a.m., Valencia College, School of Public Safety, 8600 Valencia College Lane, Orlando.

The St. Petersburg College Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet in Clearwater at 9 a.m., St. Petersburg College, Clearwater Campus, 2465 Drew St., Clearwater.

Staff members for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio will hold “mobile” office hours in Duval and Pinellas counties. That’s at 10 a.m., Lane Wiley Senior Center, 6710 Wiley Road, Jacksonville. Also, 1 p.m., Clearwater Countryside Library, 2642 Sabal Springs Dr., Clearwater.

Former Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, the Republican nominee for Attorney General, will raise money during an event in Tallahassee. That’s at 5:30 p.m., Governors Club, 202 South Adams St., Tallahassee.

Ron DeSantis, Andrew Gillum pile up matching funds

Gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum continue to be the biggest beneficiaries of Florida’s matching-funds program, which has doled out $5.36 million to statewide candidates this year.

DeSantis, the Republican nominee, received $96,938 from the program Friday, while Democratic candidate Gillum got $62,390, according to figures posted online by the state Division of Elections.

DeSantis has received an overall total of more than $1.152 million from the program, which matches individual contributions of $250 or less. Since winning the Aug. 28 Republican primary, DeSantis has received $176,426 from the state. Among the nearly 2,000 separate contributions that came into DeSantis’ campaign from across the country during the first week in September, about 1,800 were of $250 or less.

Gillum has now received $620,631 through the matching-funds program, including $125,567 since the Aug. 28 primary. In September’s first seven days, Gillum received 13,661 contributions of $250 or less. Gillum, DeSantis and three other statewide candidates are taking part in the matching-funds program. The governor’s race has accounted for just over $4 million of the overall total, with two candidates who lost in the primaries — Democrat Gwen Graham and Republican Adam Putnam — also tapping into it.

Among the candidates for attorney general, Republican nominee Ashley Moody received $760 in matching funds on Friday and has received $380,935 from the state. Democratic candidate Sean Shaw got a check for $10,391 on Friday and has received $233,093 from the program.

In the race for state chief financial officer, incumbent Republican Jimmy Patronis received a check for $4,200 on Friday. Patronis has received $309,305 through the state program. Democratic candidate Jeremy Ring has not taken part in the voluntary program.

The amount of matching funds in this year’s elections appears likely to dwarf the amount in the 2014 midterm elections. In 2014, two candidates for governor and four candidates seeking Cabinet positions drew $4.1 million from the matching-funds program during the primary and general elections.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Ice, ice, ‘Action!’

Vanilla Ice was the guest of honor at the Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism Wednesday evening.

There, the group bestowed the famed hip-hop artist with the 2018 Film Florida Legends Tourism Ambassador award, which is presented annually to entertainment legends who keep the Sunshine State on their mind and involved in their work.

“Vanilla Ice has been a recognizable artist for nearly 30 years, all the while being a wonderful ambassador for Florida,” Film Florida President Bonnie King said.

In honoring Ice (born Robert Matthew Van Winkle) King cited the artist’s record-breaking and successful hip-hop career — hit song “Ice, Ice Baby” was the first hip-hop song to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts — and his devotion to Florida, which includes hosting an annual block party in Wellington and starring in his own Florida-based home improvement reality show, “The Vanilla Ice Project,” now in its eighth season on the DIY channel.

Ice also annually presents the music video award, now named after him, at The Palm Beaches Student Showcase of Films.

Added King: “Vanilla Ice continues to help others and accomplish so much, while representing the state of Florida in such a positive way.”

In receiving the award, Ice now joins the ranks of prior recipients Burt Reynolds, Sharon Gless, Emilio and Gloria Estefan.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

Florida chips in ahead of Florence — Private and public utilities sent aid to the Carolinas this week, anticipating additional cleanup and restoration efforts would be needed following Hurricane Florence, which made landfall on the North Carolina coast Friday morning. More than 200 crew members from 18 public power companies made the trip, according to the Florida Municipal Electric Association. As well, Tampa Electric Co., Florida Power & Light Co. and Gulf Power Co. sent line workers to help restore power. Gov. Rick Scott prepared the Florida National Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law-enforcement officers to deploy for affected areas if needed. He also waived weight requirements for emergency vehicles heading to the storm.

Lawmakers pass on revisiting security funding — A panel of state lawmakers this week ultimately rejected a request from Gov. Scott to reconsider funding appropriated to a program that arms non-teacher faculty in schools. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission convened on Friday, and despite repeated urges from Scott to unlock leftover funds trapped in the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, the item was not listed on the meeting agenda. Both House Speaker-designate Oliva and Senate President-elect Bill Galvano had pushed back against Scott’s request. Scott had pointed out that just $9 million of the $67.5 available for the Guardian Program had been used. He suggested the remaining $58 million could be used to help offset the cost of staffing safe-school officers or law enforcement personnel at every school.

UCF misspending prompts resignation, investigation — University of Central Florida Chief Financial Officer William Merck stepped down this week after it was discovered the school improperly used $38 million to construct a campus building. On Thursday, UCF President Dale Whittaker told the state university system’s Board of Governors that the school has replenished the state money, while taking steps to investigate the problem and to prevent similar occurrences in the future, reports the News Service of Florida. That action, however, didn’t keep House Speaker Richard Corcoran from launching an investigation into the misuse of funds. In a Friday letter, Corcoran announced that Incoming Speaker Jose Oliva would chair the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee “to investigate the misuse of funds by the University of Central Florida.”

Justice application period begins — The Florida Supreme Court Nominating Commission began accepting applications this week to fill three upcoming vacancies at the high court. Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince face mandatory retirement next year on the same day Gov. Scott will turn over the governorship to whoever is elected in November. The nine-member panel has 60 days to forward three to six names for each vacancy. Scott, who has argued that he has the authority to nominate new justices during his final day in office, announced this week that he intends to cooperate with the next Governor to pick new justices. That didn’t sit well with Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum. His campaign’s spokesperson said, “In our understanding of the Constitution, the next Governor will appoint the next three Supreme Court justices.”

Justices to consider sweeping ‘bundling’ challenge — The state Supreme Court will examine challenges to three amendments proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission. Former Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead filed the lawsuit, which claims each of the amendments improperly lumps issues together or ‘bundles’ the amendments. The three amendments at stake include a proposal that would ban vaping in the workplace and offshore drilling; a proposal that deals with governance of the state-college system and death benefits for survivors of first responders and military members; and a measure that would remove constitutional language that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and would revise language to make clear the repeal of criminal statutes does not affect the prosecution of crimes committed before the repeal.

Scott, Putnam welcome tree recovery money

When the Florida Division of Emergency Management announced it had received more than $340 million in federal Citrus Tree Recovery Program funding this week, Gov. Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam were happy.

To them, it was the culmination of their hard work paying off for Florida farmers.

Adam Putnam welcomes $340 million in federal aid for citrus tree recovery.

“Since October, I have been fighting for Florida’s citrus growers to get the relief they deserve to replant and rebuild their livelihoods,” Scott said. “This includes, traveling to Washington to advocate for relief and activating a $25 million Florida Citrus Emergency Loan Program last year.”

“We’ve worked tirelessly with Florida’s agriculture industry, elected leaders and government agencies to help our citrus industry recover from Hurricane Irma’s unprecedented damage,” Putnam said. “Thanks to the hard work of so many, this much-needed piece of disaster assistance is finally on the way and will go a long way to help Florida’s citrus industry rebuild.”

In total, $343,331,216 is now at the ready to offset tree replacement, grove rehabilitation, system repairs and future economic losses incurred by Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in Southwest Florida a little more than a year ago.

State expands Blackwater River forest

The Blackwater River State Forest is extending to another 800 acres, state officials announced this week.

The expansion was made possible through a partnership between the Florida Forest Service, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Santa Rosa County, the Naval Air Station Whiting Field, and the Trust for Public Land. The land was acquired through the Forest Legacy Program.

The Blackwater River State Forest, located in the Panhandle, is expanding by 800 acres.

“Florida’s state forests are vital ecological and economic resources for our state, and we must continue to prioritize the protection of Florida’s unique natural spaces,” said Agriculture Commissioner Putnam. “This addition to Blackwater River State Forest will enhance natural resources and provide more recreational activities for Floridians.”

The land is expected to benefit endangered species in the area while also acting as a buffer space between NAS Whiting Field and the community.

Since 1990, the Forest Legacy Program has protected more than 2.6 million acres of land in the U.S., according to the Department of Agriculture.

Instagram of the Week

State leaders convene to highlight missing children

Alongside hundreds of law enforcement personnel, public officials and citizens, First Lady Ann Scott and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen remembered Florida’s missing children this week in Tallahassee.

The annual event, Florida Missing Children’s Day, also serves to recognize the state’s child protection efforts.

On Florida Missing Children’s Day, Seminole County K-9 handler Deputy John Locklin and Panzer received the Jimmy Ryce K-9 Trailing Team of the Year Award.

In 2017, according to FDLE, there were more than 32,000 missing children incidents reported to law enforcement.

“As a parent and grandparent, Missing Children’s Day is a solemn reminder that no family should have to endure the heartache of a missing child,” First Lady Scott said. “I pray for continued strength and healing for the families, and the safe return of the loved ones still separated from their families.”

Added Swearingen: “The safety and security of Florida’s children continues to be a major priority for FDLE, as is the successful recovery of those who are missing.”

First-generation students to receive scholarships

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart presented more than $1 million to Florida College System Chancellor Madeline Pumariega this week during the State Board of Education meeting.

The funding, made possible by the Florida College System Foundation, will help first-generation students who wish to pursue careers in health care.

“These scholarships will open doors for students that otherwise might not have existed,” Stewart said.

Florida College System Chancellor Madeline Pumariega received more than $1 million in scholarship money for first-generation students. 

With the help of the Helios Education Foundation, Florida Blue and Bank of America, the scholarships seek annually to relieve the national nursing shortage while also incentivizing college attendance.

The Florida College System boasts 28 institutions. More than 60 percent of the students attending these colleges work part-time while enrolled.

‘BearWise’ money doled out

A total of $500,000 has been awarded to 10 Florida communities to help them reduce bear-human conflicts, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission announced this week.

The money, known as BearWise funding, will be used to help offset the cost of bear-resistant trash containers and other equipment.

BearWise funding helps provide bear-resistant trash cans, reduce the number of bear-human conflicts.

BearWise funding was prioritized for communities that had passed ordinances requiring trash be kept secure from black bears. Among those communities: The City of Apopka, Lake County, Santa Rosa and Seminole County.

The remaining funding went to the City of Mount Dora and Collier, Marion, Okaloosa, Volusia and Walton counties.

According to FWC, $2.1 million worth of BearWise funding has been provided to local governments since 2007.

Alexander concerned over university funding model

State Rep. Ramon Alexander asked the State University System Board of Governors to reconsider and reform parts of the performance-based funding model used to dole out additional money to institutions.

Alexander’s letter to the board preceded its Wednesday and Thursday meetings.

Because the current system does not provide any funding to the bottom three universities, Alexander argues in his letter, those institutions are “disproportionately” harmed.

State Rep. Ramon Alexander has questions on how Florida funds its university system.

“Last year, many institutions showed growth and improvement, nonetheless, despite all efforts, they received no additional state funding,” Alexander said in a statement accompanying his letter. “These funding disparities take a serious toll on the lower performing colleges and universities.”

He added that the current model “fosters a system of competition” between the much larger universities in the state, which have different missions. In other words, it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all awarding opportunity.

Alexander highlighted how both the University of North Florida and Florida A&M University have improved their performance scores. But, since the schools are still rank among the bottom three institutions, they weren’t awarded performance-based money.

Davis helping host HBCU College Fair

State Rep. Tracie Davis will be collaborating on Saturday with The Center, One Foundation and Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis to host the second-annual Historically Black Colleges and Universities College Fair.

All nearby parents and students are welcome to attend the event, which will last from 10 a.m. — 2 p.m. today at Kingdom Plaza in Jacksonville.

The Center, One Foundation hosts the Second HBCU College Fair on Saturday.

Noting the “long and rich history” of HBCU’s, Davis said she was excited to help host the event.

“HBCU’s accept and provide scholarships to help more low-income and first-generation college students to ensure that all students get a fair chance at a good education,” she added.

Davis’ office also claims the demand for HBCU attendance is growing. It is expecting more than 1,000 people to attend the Saturday fair.

Lawmakers honored for ‘conservative’ clean energy work

Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes along with Republican state Reps. Ray Rodrigues and Holly Raschein were honored this week as Conservative Clean Energy Champions.

They were joined by 41 other conservatives across the U.S. that were recognized by Conservatives for a Clean Energy Future, a nonprofit advocacy group seeking to promote pragmatic renewable energy.

Conservatives for a Clean Energy Future President Mark Pischea named Jeff Brandes, Ray Rodrigues and Holly Raschein as Conservative Clean Energy Champions.

“I want to thank you for all you do to help support the development of favorable clean energy policies in state capitols across America,” wrote CCEF President Mark Pischea in a letter to the honorees. “We look forward to continuing to work with you — and our Champions — to continue making a difference for our clean energy future.”

Champions, Pischea added, “are fighters for our nation’s transition to clean energy.”

National Lifeline Awareness Week

The Public Service Commission wants Floridians to know that struggling financially shouldn’t block Floridians from quick access to emergency services — or even to family and friends.

The commission is participating in National Lifeline Awareness Week, an effort to promote awareness of a discount on landline, cellphone or internet services for low-income families.

One discount of $9.25 cents per month is available per household.

Lifeline helps low-income Americans stay connected in the modern world.

Recipients must have an income at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Alternatively, at least one member of the household must receive benefits through Medicaid, supplemental security income, federal public housing assistance, veterans’ pension and survivors’ benefits, or tribal benefits.

Learn more on the Federal Communications Commission’s website.

“In this day and age, it’s very difficult to function without a phone,” PSC Chairman Art Graham said.

“We want consumers to know that if they already participate in an approved federal assistance program, they probably qualify for Lifeline and can easily apply for their discount.”

Kuryla elected Florida Ports Council chair

At the recent Florida Ports Council annual board meeting in St. Petersburg, PortMiami Director and CEO Juan Kuryla was elected chairman. Kuryla replaces Port Everglades Chief Executive/Port Director Steve Cernak.

“Florida has 14 dynamic seaports that specialize in diverse business sectors from cargo to cruise. These ports, with their access to the third largest population in the U.S., serve as vital economic engines creating thousands of new jobs over the past five years,” Kuryla said.

Newly elected Florida Ports Council Chair Juan Kuryla, director and CEO of PortMiami.

“I am honored to have been chosen by my colleagues to lead the Florida Ports Council and I look forward to continuing the work of my predecessors in growing jobs and commerce for the great state of Florida.”

Port of Palm Beach Executive Director Manuel Almira was elected vice chairman and Port Panama City Executive Director Wayne Stubbs was elected secretary/treasurer. All positions are one-year terms.

The Florida Ports Council is the professional association of Florida’s 14 public seaports, providing advocacy, leadership and research on seaport-related issues at the state and federal level.

Base rate reduction coming for Peoples Gas customers

Customers of TECO Peoples Gas System can look forward to lower bills under an agreement approved by the Public Service Commission.

The PSC signed off on a settlement between the company and the Office of Public Counsel, which represents consumers before the commission.

The commission attributed the estimated $11.6 million deal to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the GOP bill that directed most of its savings to corporations. Peoples is Florida’s largest natural gas utility, serving 370,000 customers in the state.

Good news for TECO People’s Gas customers.

The base rate reduction per customer heating the average house will amount to $1 per month, beginning in January.

“We want to ensure that customers directly benefit from recent changes to the federal tax law through lower bills,” PSC Chairman Art Graham said. “This agreement ensures that these savings for Peoples’ customers will continue beyond 2019, and we found it to be in the public interest.”

 ‘AOB’ issue still in the fore

Following Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ lead, Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier again condemned the practice of assignment of benefits, or AOB, abuse.

Patronis recently called on reforms to curb the fraudulent practice.

Per Altmaier, “Now, more than ever, is the time for a solution to the abuse and fraud that continues to threaten the affordability of insurance in Florida.”

Once again, Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier is blasting assignment of benefits abuse.

Altmaier said AOB reform is a “top priority” for his office. AOB agreements allow contractors and repair personnel to essentially “stand in the shoes” of an insured person, according to Altmaier’s office.

“The excessive litigation fueled by bad actors who abuse AOBs will only result in higher premiums for our consumers,” he explained.

FSU surges in national rankings

Florida State University jumped seven spots to the No. 26 rank among national public universities in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges 2019” guide.

“Florida State University is one of the best universities in the nation, and we are excited that U.S. News & World Report recognizes our academic excellence,” said President John Thrasher. “Student success is at the heart of our mission at Florida State, and these rankings are a reflection of that commitment.”

FSU Provost Sally McRorie says the ‘drive to 25’ may come sooner than expected.

The latest ranking continues a rising trend for FSU. The school ranked No. 43 on the same list three years ago and has since steadily increased its status among public universities. The 2019 rankings mark the biggest single-year jump in university history, according to FSU officials.

Internally, FSU leadership has committed to becoming a ‘Top 25’ public university. Provost Sally McRorie said that goal could be achieved sooner than expected.

“Our ‘drive to 25’ is almost finished and a little earlier than I think any of us expected,” McRorie said. “That’s a testament to the very hard work of everybody across campus.

“We’re planning for what comes next!”

Hurricane happily ever after

Florida’s capital city played a small but significant role as Hurricane Florence churned toward land.

For a local couple intending to wed in North Carolina, Tallahassee was the next-best thing.

A slight change of plan for Sam Hajjar and Hayley Watts. (Image via theknot.com)

According to the Tallahassee Democrat’s Nada Hassanein, who reported the story, Sam Hajjar and Hayley Watts moved their wedding to Tallahassee ahead of the storm’s landfall Friday morning.

Watts, who had to re-plan everything with short notice, told the Democrat it’s “the wildest thing I’ve ever done.” But she’s thankful there’s a “sunny” forecast for the wedding now.

The couple, who grew up in Tallahassee, will now wed at the Red Hills plantation.

Capitol Directions

Delegation for 9.14.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Hurricane politics now a way of life

Among many lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina 13 years ago is that politics are a big part of natural disasters. Rightly or wrongly, depending on one’s view, then-President George W. Bush took a big hit on his approval rating based on how he was perceived to have handled preparations and the aftermath of the storm that devastated New Orleans.

Those criticizing Bush latched on to his praise for FEMA director Michael Brown. “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.” is still remembered.

Those supporting Bush and the FEMA effort eagerly repeated the admonition of Lt. Gen. Russel Honore as he rebuked some in the media about casting blame.

“You’re stuck on stupid” became a rallying cry.

Waves slam the Oceana Pier & Pier House Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, N.C. (image via ABC News)

In 2018, the politics began before Hurricane Florence even reached the shore. A Washington Post editorial — not an op-ed, an editorial — said President Donald Trump is “complicit” in extreme weather due to his skepticism on the role of humans in climate change.

The President also fired up his opponents by revisiting last year’s devastation of Puerto Rico brought on by Hurricane Maria. The purpose of an early week briefing was to demonstrate how his administration was ready for Florence, but all that was heard were the words “incredibly successful” when describing last year’s effort in Puerto Rico.

Shortly after that, a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 80 percent of Puerto Ricans have negative reviews of the administration’s response. More than 70 percent are critical of the Puerto Rican government’s response, with two-thirds unhappy with Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who recently reported the results of studies that increased the death toll estimate to nearly 3,000.

Trump’s Thursday tweet that the revised estimate was wrong and inflated, fanned the flames. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami said it takes “a warped mind” to doubt the figures, while Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, an American of Puerto Rican descent, said Trump was “dancing on the graves” of those who perished.

Two of Trump’s most prominent backers, Gov. Rick Scott and Republican Congressman (and nominee for Governor) Ron DeSantis, both disagreed with Trump and did not question the estimates.

Which brings us back to Florence.

As the hurricane approached, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon accused the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of transferring nearly $10 million from FEMA and giving it to ICE.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson jumped in via Twitter.

“Less than a year after an unprecedentedly severe hurricane season — and just at the start of another — the Trump administration diverted nearly $10 million from FEMA, including its preparedness, response and recovery programs,” he said. “This is unacceptable!”

DHS did not dispute the interagency transfer but says none of those funds could have been used for hurricane preparation or response.

“The money in question, transferred to ICE from FEMA’s routine operating expenses, could not have been used for hurricane response due to appropriation limitations,” said DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton. “DHS/FEMA stand fiscally and operationally ready to support current and future response and recovery needs.”

In the end, if FEMA performs well, this will not be an issue. No matter what happens, the administration will be criticized for something while Trump and his team will say they did great.

While the politics continue outside of the Carolinas, Florida sends best wishes to those going through what our state endured last year.

Nelson, Scott agree on debate dates, networks

Nelson’s campaign has announced that there will be an October 2 debate vs. Gov. Scott, hosted by Telemundo in Miami. The event will be broadcast by network affiliates in Miami, Fort Myers, Orlando, Tampa, and West Palm Beach.

This debate will be the first of three between the two high-profile candidates. Scott, who entered the race in April, poses the first real threat to Nelson as they are tied according to a Quinnipiac poll released last week.

Scott has already attacked Nelson with an ad accusing him of debate dodging. Nelson outlined his acceptance of the debate as Scott “finally” agreeing to take the stage with him. Scott responded to Nelson urging him to accept the other two debates.

Serving as debate moderators will be Telemundo’s Marilys Llanos and Jackie Nespral, news anchor at WTVJ Channel 6. A second debate, to be shown on CNN on October 16, has been agreed upon, but with no further details yet available.

Nelson, Scott dueling education ads

A recent ad from Nelson criticized Scott’s record on education. The ad called “Math” says Scott’s policies have led Florida to a ranking of 40th in the nation when it comes to education.

“Less money for teachers, less money for students,” the ad states. “When it comes to public education, Rick Scott failed our kids.”

To view “Math,” click on the image below:

In rapid response, Scott launched his own ad called “First.” Nelson is not mentioned and instead shows Scott listing on a message board the areas in education where Florida ranks first among the 50 states.

The script asserts that Florida’s “strong economy” has led the state to lead in “fourth-grade reading and math scores … eighth-grade reading … High school AP classes and college education … ranked first in the nation.”

To view “First,” click on the image below:

In a race expected to be among the most expensive, if not THE most expensive in the nation, the battle of the airwaves will continue until November 6.

Rubio praises protesting Dolphins player

Week Two of the NFL season got underway Thursday night, but the previous week seemed to center more on football and less on any protests conducted by players during the national anthem. One of those who did kneel was Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, who was praised by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio did not salute Stills for “taking a knee,” but instead tweeted support for the player’s service to the community. Stills spent 9/11 working with local area veterans, saying it was “powerful to be with them on this day.”

Miami’s Kenny Stills (left) and Albert Wilson kneel during the national anthem. (Image via Steve Mitchell/USA Today)

“You don’t have to agree with how or why he has chosen to exercise the 1st Amendment before every game to acknowledge the hours he gives voluntarily, on his day off, to serve his fellow Americans,” Rubio said in the tweet.

The two-term Senator says he does not agree with the anthem protests, but says players have a right to do what they are doing. While lauding Stills’ volunteer work is one thing, acknowledging the right of Colin Kaepernick to be an activist in the movement he started could be another matter to Rubio’s Republican and conservative base.

“Look, I support his right to stand for what he does. I don’t agree with what he did, but I support his right to do it,” Rubio said in May.

Republicans and conservatives hold up Kaepernick for special scorn after photos surfaced soon after he launched the kneeling movement showing him wearing socks depicting police officers as pigs. Rubio also told TMZ in May that Kaepernick deserves to be on a team.

The controversial quarterback has been out of football after opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in 2016.

Gaetz bill on cannabis research clears committee

The use of cannabis for research took another step forward on Thursday when the House Judiciary Committee approved the Medical Cannabis Research Act. The bill is sponsored by, and a top priority of, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach.

Gaetz has been a strong proponent of updating laws to further the use of medical marijuana around the country, as well as its use in research. He says legislation on this topic has not come out of Congress in 40 years.

Matt Gaetz’s medical cannabis research bill passes committee.

The bill has 40 co-sponsors comprised of 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans. The six Floridians signing on range from Republican Reps. Ted Yoho of Gainesville and John Rutherford of Jacksonville among conservatives, to progressive Democratic Reps. Darren Soto of Orlando and Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach.

Moderate Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Carlos Curbelo of Kendall are also co-sponsoring the bill.

“We must ensure that an adequate and uninterrupted supply of research-grade cannabis is available to safe harbor provisions for research facilities,” Gaetz said before the hearing. “I am proud to lead the efforts to unlock cures through important scientific research.”

If enacted, the Department of Justice would be required to issue more licenses for cannabis research. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a hard-liner on legalizing marijuana.

Despite the insertion of a controversial provision precluding anyone with a felony or misdemeanor drug conviction from engaging in cultivation, the measure was reported out of committee on a voice vote.

Dunn’s veterans’ education bill moving in Senate

Nine months after passing the House 420-1, legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City is finally showing some movement in the Senate. The Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act, which would expand veterans’ job and educational opportunities, recently cleared the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The bill requires the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop a veterans outreach plan and publish data on veterans’ participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in its annual “Indicators” report.

Neal Dunn’s veteran education bill makes headway in the Senate.

It updates the NSF Noyce Teacher Scholarship program, fellowship program, and cyber grant programs to include outreach to veterans. Additionally, the bill tasks the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy with examining how to increase veteran participation in STEM career fields.

“Our veterans deserve every opportunity to succeed when they enter civilian life and this important legislation is a step in the right direction by expanding educational and job opportunities for our heroes,” Dunn said in a news release. “With the surge in technology over the last decade, we desperately need more experts in the science and math fields. Our veterans are equipped to take on this challenge and many have already worked in the technology field while serving our country.”

Castor announces $1.4 million reimbursement for local schools

Not only did Hurricane Maria force many Puerto Rican families to relocate to Florida, children of school age were placed in local schools throughout the state. Tampa was no exception and Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor sought reimbursement for the local school district.

Last week, she announced that Hillsborough County Public Schools will receive $1.4 million in federal reimbursement for costs incurred during the 2017-2018 school year for serving K-12 students displaced by the hurricane.

Kathy Castor is announcing $1.4 million in reimbursements for Hillsborough schools.

Hillsborough County Public Schools enrolled approximately 1,500 students displaced due to Hurricane Maria and 70 percent of students have remained in those schools for the new school year.

“Hillsborough teachers, caseworkers and the school district aided students and families from Puerto Rico to ensure that their education was not disrupted in the wake of one of the most serious disasters in American history,” Castor said in a news release. “I am very proud of their dedication to the education of these students and support for families.

Additionally, a total of $75 million funding is being disbursed to colleges and universities around the country that enrolled displaced students. The University of South Florida received about $171,000 for its work aiding displaced students.

Castor has been leading a Puerto Rico Recovery & Assistance Task Force made up of local and regional government, nonprofit and faith-based organizations to maximize collaboration and assist relocated families following the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Mast touts compromise for South Florida reservoir

South Florida delegation members believe a major cause of the algae-infested water in their region is a giant step closer to being fixed. Earlier this week, Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City announced a deal between the House and Senate to pass a bipartisan Water Resources Development Act that would, among other things, officially authorize building a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

The significance of that action is that instead of releasing the polluted water from the lake into local waterways, that water can be directed into the reservoir. It would also expedite an enhanced regulation plan for the lake.

Brian Mast seeks compromise for South Florida water woes.

The House had previously passed the bill in June but had not received a vote in the Senate.

“This bipartisan bill includes all of the Treasure Coast priorities from the version passed by the House on June 6, 2018 and also includes an updated bipartisan provision that I wrote with Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Bill Nelson to authorize the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir,” Mast said in a communication with constituents. “Getting this bill signed into law is absolutely critical in our fight for clean water.”

Mast said the compromise bill is expected to be voted on in both chambers during September.

 Wilson questions Trump’s fitness to lead

Things between Trump and Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson have been rather quiet since last year’s dust-up over a planned condolence call to the widow of Wilson’s Miami Gardens constituent. It got uglier when White House Chief of Staff John Kelly got involved.

Amarosa had faded from the headlines as well but reinserted herself. She released a secret recording of Trump talking about terrorists in Niger, the country where Wilson’s constituent, Sgt. LaDavid Johnson and three Army colleagues were ambushed and killed in October 2017.

Frederica Wilson believes Donald Trump is completely unfit for office.

On the recording, played on the television program, The View, Trump can be heard saying that being a terrorist is “the only thing” one can do in Niger to earn a living. He also said, “I wouldn’t want to be a terrorist right now.”

In describing his administration’s efforts to fight terrorism Trump further said, “you know people don’t say that’s the reason they’re there is because we forced them out (of the Middle East) and it’s not nearly as intense, but it’s pretty intense, you see that happening.”

Wilson took umbrage at those comments, claiming it represents another piece of evidence showing why Trump should not be President.

“The recording is yet another example of how unfit Mr. Trump is to serve as our nation’s commander-in-chief and how he cannot resist any opportunity to massage his insatiable ego by taking false credit,” she said in a statement. “Unlike the four men who lost their lives much too soon, hero is a word that will never be used to describe him.”

“Sgt. Johnson’s family is still waiting for answers about how La David got separated from his unit during the deadly ambush in Niger,” Wilson added.

Barzee Flores claims Diaz-Balart’s health care record is ‘hurting families’

Democratic challenger Mary Barzee Flores has introduced her first ad of the election campaign for District 25, criticizing incumbent Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart on his health care record. In a new ad in the new ad titled “Afford,” Barzee Flores blasts the incumbent for accepting contributions from drug manufacturers and his health care votes.

“When I was a teenager, my dad died because we couldn’t afford the health care he needed,” Barzee Flores says in the ad. “So, when Congressman Diaz-Balart takes over a hundred grand from drug companies, votes to let them raise prices and to take coverage away from people with pre-existing conditions, I know exactly how that’s hurting families.”

To view “Afford,” click on the image below:

Barzee Flores went further in criticizing the veteran Republican.

“My opponent, Mario Diaz-Balart, has spent his 30-year political career looking out for the corporate special interests who’ve lined his pockets, not the working men and women of South Florida,” she said in a statement to Florida Politics.

The Diaz-Balart campaign responded harshly to the ad’s content.

“These are the type of lies you would expect from a radical,” the campaign statement read. “Mario has a record of supporting protections for pre-existing conditions, providing resources for mental illness, and seeking to lower skyrocketing premiums for hardworking Floridians.”

Barzee Flores’ ad comes after Diaz-Balart went after her in an earlier ad over cases handled by attorneys at her husband’s law firm.

House passes Ros-Lehtinen-named Israel security bill

As her career in Congress winds down, Ros-Lehtinen was honored by her House colleagues this week by naming legislation after her. A bill to enhance security assistance from the U.S. to Israel was renamed the Ileana Ros-Lehtinen United States-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018.

The original version was jointly introduced by Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton. Ros-Lehtinen is the chair and Deutch the ranking member of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Speaking on the House floor, Ros-Lehtinen said she was “humbled to have my colleagues rename bill after me.”

This bill codifies the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel that resulted in an unprecedented $38 billion in security assistance over ten years. The bill also ensures Israel has access to the weapons needed to defend itself against any and all threats, enhances Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge to better address evolving threats, and authorizes new cooperation on drones, space, and global humanitarian projects.

“My friend Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has been a stalwart friend of Israel throughout her time in Congress, and it is a fitting honor that this bill to strengthen the US-Israel relationship bears her name,” Deutch said. “Israel is under constant threat from every direction. A threat to Israel, our strategic ally in a turbulent region, is also a threat to our national security. Enhancing Israel’s security is a step toward strengthening our own national security.”

On Wednesday the House passed the bill by a voice vote. The Senate passed the companion bill on August 1.

On this day in the headlines

September 14, 1993 — Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed their draft peace agreement at an emotional White House Rose Garden ceremony, an event that put a dramatic human face on their emerging reconciliation but also showed how difficult it may be to achieve a secure peace. Nudged by their host, President Bill Clinton, a somewhat reluctant Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and an eager PLO Chief Yasser Arafat shook hands before the world’s cameras.

But in words and symbolism, the ceremony, conducted before virtually the entire Washington political establishment, two past presidents and eight former secretaries of state, showed how difficult the road ahead may be. Clinton said the world was grateful for the important step taken by the two leaders adding “their tenacity and vision has given us the promise of a new beginning.

September 14, 2013 — American and Russian negotiators meeting in Geneva moved closer to an agreement that would ultimately strip Syria of its chemical weapons. After a marathon second day of talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, both sides expressed optimism.

A significant sign of movement at the U.N. came when the Obama administration effectively took force off the table in discussions over the shape of a Security Council resolution governing any deal with Syria. Obama reportedly maintained the right to respond without U.N. backing if Syria reneges on its commitment, but Russia would not allow a resolution to contain the authorization of force.

Last Call for 9.13.18 – A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics

Last Call – A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics.

First Shot

Hearsay is generally inadmissible in a court of law. But it can be juicy.

Take this extended morsel, tucked into a filing at the Division of Administrative Hearings in a case lodged by The Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (FHBPA) against the state over Calder Casino’s gambling permit.

The horse industry is in a battle for its life as track owners seek to get rid of live racing but hold on to lucrative games like slots and poker.

Here’s the thing: Dog and horse tracks in Florida generally are required to keep running live races to have slots and card games that usually make facilities more money. Calder, a Hallandale Beach facility that holds a limited schedule, is trying to ditch horse racing entirely to switch to jai alai.

It’s not alone, the FHBPA says.

“The FHBPA has heard that two other permitholders that operate slot machines in Broward County, i.e., the Mardi Gras greyhound track (now called “The Big Easy Casino”) and The Isle harness horse track (a.k.a “Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park”), either are considering or are intending to seek summer jai alai permits with the further intent to effectuate a permit swap to summer jai alai without impacting their respective slot machine licenses.

“If those permitholders are also able to swap their longstanding permits for a summer jai alai permit, then of the seven permitholders in Miami-Dade and Broward that are authorized to conduct slot machine gaming under … the Florida Constitution, six of the seven permitholders will become either jai alai permitholders or summer jai alai permitholders.

“Obviously, the switch to jai alai is not because of the popularity or profitability of jai alai; wagering records … demonstrate how extremely unpopular betting on jai alai games has become.

“Instead, it is the FHBPA’s position that the permitholders’ desire to switch to summer jai alai is caused exclusively by the fact that summer jai alai operations require the least amount of infrastructure and the least amount of dedicated real property and employ the cheapest form of labor—all of which results in the least amount of slot machine profits being spent by the permitholder to achieve the minimum pari-mutuel gaming activity necessary to satisfy the ‘live racing or games’ requirement for slot machine licensure.”

We called spokespeople for both The Big Easy and the Isle Casino — and got no response.

Evening Reads

‘Mr. President. SHUT UP’: Florida Republicans pan Donald Trump’s Puerto Rico conspiracy” via Marc Caputo of POLITICO Florida

Bill Nelson is still dodging on Brett Kavanaugh” via Pam Bondi for the Washington Examiner

Morning Joe mocks Ron DeSantis for ducking tough questions on Florida issues” via Steve Contorno of the Tampa Bay Times

What Andrew Gillum’s trip to New York City means in the FBI investigation” via Lawrence Mower of the Tampa Bay Times

Andrew Gillum releases first TV ad recalling ‘grandmother’s voice’” via Ryan Nichol of Florida Politics

Ron DeSantis fundraising in Coral Gables next week with Jeb Bush” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald

Republican group condemns Mike Hill’s primary campaign calling it ‘deceitful’ and ‘sexist’” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal

SEIU Florida announces $5M spend on November election campaigns” via David Smiley of the Miami Herald

David Hogg, Emma González to headline voter registration rally in Tampa Saturday” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times

State finance problems loom as next Governor comes into office” via Diane Rado of the Florida Phoenix

Florida trade mission to Dominican Republic organizing” via the staff of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Brightline charges on despite effort to stop the train” via Mike Sinan of Florida Daily

Soaring stock makes Darden Orlando’s first $15 billion company” via Kyle Arnold of the Orlando Sentinel

Miami Beach could soon arrest people operating Airbnb-like rentals without a license” via Kyra Gurney of the Miami Herald

Quote of the Day

“I went back to work the next morning. There’s lots to be done.” —Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who lost this year’s Republican primary for Governor.

Bill Day’s Latest

Breakthrough Insights  

Wake Up Early?

Statewide candidates and political committees face a Friday deadline for filing reports showing finance activity through Sept. 7.

The State Board of Education will meet in Collier County and take up numerous issues, including a 2019-2020 budget request for the education system. That’s at 8:30 a.m., Collier County School Board, 5775 Osceola Trail, Naples.

A symposium will be held in Hillsborough County about sex trafficking in schools. That’s at 8:30 a.m., Hillsborough Community College, Dale Mabry Campus, Auditorium, 4001 West Tampa Bay Blvd., Tampa.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission, made up of House and Senate leaders, will receive a presentation about the state’s new “Long Range Financial Outlook.” The annual document analyzes past spending and future needs. That’s at 11 a.m., 412 Knott Building, the Capitol.

In new ad, Bill Nelson depicts Rick Scott as Donald Trump’s ‘amigo’

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s reelection campaign released two television ads Wednesday evening.

One, titled “Amigo,” is a Spanish-language spot that claims President Donald Trump and Nelson’s Republican challenger, Gov. Rick Scott, are just that: amigos.

Translated from Spanish, the opening lines of the 30-second ad: “Tell me who you hang out with, and I will tell you who you are. Rick Scott and Donald Trump are great/close friends/pals.”

The ad debuts as some speculate Scott is attempting to distance himself from Trump. A POLITICO story on Monday noted the term-limited Governor is campaigning alongside old-school Republicans like former President George W. Bush.

Accompanying “Amigo” is another 30-second television spot titled “Know.” The ad attempts to call Scott’s environmental record into question. It also highlights Scott’s association with a company fined for Medicaid fraud.

Both ads make the claim that “you just can’t trust” Scott.

News of these ads followed two national groups on Wednesday putting an untold sum behind negative digital ads targeting Scott.

Latest polling of the high profile race suggests the two candidates are neck and neck. A Wednesday forecast from elections analysis group FiveThirtyEight put the race as a tossup.

Watch the two ads below:

Florida agencies, utilities poised to provide Hurricane Florence aid

Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that Florida state agencies and electric utilities are taking steps to provide help after Hurricane Florence hits land later this week.

Scott’s office said Florida has sent two urban search-and-rescue teams to North Carolina and South Carolina; a nursing team of 29 people to North Carolina to help with special-needs shelters; and five ambulance teams to North Carolina to help with medical evacuations.

The assistance also includes Florida utilities sending crews to help restore power after the hurricane and the state suspending requirements for transportation of animals to help in the movement of livestock from areas affected by the hurricane. Florence is expected to approach the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina late Thursday and Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“We will continue to do all we can to support our neighbors in the Southeast as we prepare for Hurricane Florence,” Scott said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “In Florida, we are fortunate to have the best emergency management professionals in the world to respond to disasters in our state and to help other states during times of emergency.”

Last Call for 9.12.18 — A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics

Last Call — A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics.

First Shot

“The sign said you got to have a membership card to get inside,” the old song goes. Or at least a parking pass.

The state is prepared to spend up to $200,000 to replace signs at its downtown Tallahassee office buildings and parking areas.

The Department of Management Services, which acts as the state’s real estate manager, this week advertised bidding for “qualified signage fabrication and installation contractors.”

The scope of work includes a variety of signs, including not just those with the names of the various office buildings, but also ones for “Tow Away Zone,” “Do Not Enter,” and “Reserved Parking” on parking decks.

Judging by photos of current signs sent by DMS spokeswoman Nina Ashley, it’s time for a refreshing.

“In many of the pictures you can see the rusting and pitting on the signs being replaced, most if not all of which we estimate are at least 25 years old,” Ashley said.

Sealed bids will be “received, publicly opened and read aloud” at 2 p.m. Oct. 4 at the department’s office of Real Estate Development and Management in the Southwood office complex.

Evening Reads

Democrats won’t stop, can’t stop, spending big bucks on television ads” via Gideon Resnick and Sam Stein of The Daily Beast

Red tide and blue-green algae could block Rick Scott’s path to the Senate” via S.V. Date of Huffington Post

Andrew Gillum slightly ahead of Ron DeSantis in governor race, poll shows” via Anthony Man of the Sun-Sentinel

Facing attacks over Tallahassee’s crime rate, Gillum lands endorsement from Hillsborough State Attorney” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times

DGA gives Gillum another $1M as RGA hits the airwaves for DeSantis” via Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida

DeSantis pledges Everglades help, oil-drilling opposition in environmental plan” via Marc Caputo and Bruce Ritchie of POLITICO Florida

Bank account closures leave Nikki Fried reluctant to file reports” via Arek Sarkissian of POLITICO Florida

With Amendment 10 safe on the ballot, advocated launch voter education push” via Elizabeth Koh of the Miami Herald

New Republican ad blasts Debbie Mucarsel-Powell for husband’s Ukranian connections” via Alex Daugherty of the Miami Herald

Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano will speak in Melbourne” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics

Florida saw record high number of tourists in first half of 2018” via Kevin Derby of Sunshine State News

AT&T plans to launch 5G in Orlando early next year” via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel

Amazon’s Top 25 toys for the 2018 holidays” via Sonja Haller of USA Today

Quote of the Day

“Experts: Get out if you can.” — Wednesday’s front page headline of the Star-News (Wilmington, North Carolina) as Hurricane Florence approached.

Bill Day’s Latest

Breakthrough Insights

Wake Up Early?

The state university system’s Board of Governors will meet after holding a series of committee meetings. Committees start at 8:30 a.m., with full board at 2 p.m., New College of Florida, Harry Sudakoff Conference Center, 5845 General Dougher Place, Sarasota.

Staff members for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio will hold “mobile” office hours in Broward, Pasco and Gulf counties.

— 9 a.m., Health Fair, 1176 N.W. 42nd Way, Lauderhill.

— 1 p.m., Pasco County Government Center, 8731 Citizens Dr., New Port Richey.

— 3 p.m., Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10069, 1774 Trout Ave., Port St. Joe.

The Florida Department of Children and Families will hold one in a series of meetings across the state about infant and early childhood mental health. That’s at 9 a.m., Florida Office of Early Learning, 250 Marriott Dr., Tallahassee.

The Florida Supreme Court is expected to release its regular weekly opinions at 11 a.m.

Lindsay Cross, Democratic candidate for Senate District 24, will hold a news conference to “announce her endorsement by influential Florida environmental groups and outline her plans to address the red tide and algae outbreak.” That’s at 11 a.m., Archibald Park (Madeira Beach), 15100 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg.

Fox News host Jeanine Pirro will appear at a meeting of the Trumpers Club Miami Dade. That’s at 6 p.m., DoubleTree by Hilton Miami Airport & Convention Center, 711 N.W. 72nd Ave., Miami.

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