Florida Senate Archives - Page 7 of 29 - Florida Politics

Bob Buesing says he’s not worried about Joe Redner taking votes away from his effort to defeat Dana Young

In his speech to the weekly “Cafe Con Tampa” breakfast gathering in South Tampa Friday, independent state Senate candidate Joe Redner said, if elected, he would introduce the most ambitious environmental legislation the state has ever seen.

Redner’s agenda would include regulating “polluters in the dumping of toxic chemicals,” as well as eliminating fracking and promoting solar and other alternative forms of energy. The iconoclastic businessman and activist offered other policy prescriptions if elected, but when asked if he would be able to change his “lone ranger” persona to bring others to his side, admitted simply, “that’s the way I’ve always been.”

“I’m not afraid to speak up. I can change some of those people,” he said, referring to the other 39 Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate. “They need to be shamed that what they do is just unbelievable and nobody is getting up to them and saying, ‘wait a minute, you can’t do that, this is going to be the results of what you’re talking about doing.'”

Among those sitting in the audience listening to Redner speak was Bob Buesing, the Democrat in the race who, in one poll, was tied with Republican Dana Young in the newly created Senate District 18 seat. More than a few observers believe Redner will pull votes away from Buesing in the election, hurting his chances of defeating Young. Buesing disagrees.

“I’m not worried,” Buesing said. “My story’s my story. His story’s his story,” adding that Redner will also take votes away from Young. That’s the line other Hillsborough Democrats have been offering reporters when asked about the possibility that Redner, who has run for several other state and local offices as a Democrat, will damage Buesing’s electoral chances in the fall.

Buesing calls himself “the effective candidate who can do things.”

“What the voter needs to understand about Joe is that there are 40 state senators, and you need to get 21 to get a bill passed,” he said. “Joe Redner saying, ‘I want to do X’ doesn’t mean anything unless he can persuade 20 more state senators to join him. The lone ranger comment is right on.”

Redner is angry about the direction that the GOP-led Legislature has taken Florida over the past decade, and he took aim specifically at Young in his speech. “I have a problem just sitting idly by and watching people like my opponent Dana Young destroy our tourism industry by destroying the environment,” he said at one point.

Redner said he’s been an activist his whole life. “They say you can’t fight city hall and win, but I did, over and over again,” he said, referring to his fights with the City of Tampa regarding his adult entertainment clubs on First Amendment issues, or when he sued the Hillsborough County Commission when they enacted a ban on gay pride events.

“Some of you will only see me as an adult business owner,” he said.”That happens all the time and that’s OK with me. And let me tell you something; I don’t lie, I don’t cheat, and I don’t steal, I treat people with respect that deserve it.”

Redner is a multimillionaire who has ran a multitude of successful businesses outside of his world famous Mons Venus adult club on Dale Mabry Highway, and he contrasted his business reputation with that of Donald J. Trump.

“I never cheated an employee or a vendor out of money or anything,” he said. “You can be a successful business owner and not be a liar, a cheat, or a thief. You can also be a business person who cares deeply for the environment and your fellow human beings.”

Redner said, if elected, he would call for the state to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour (something Democrats have been unsuccessful in promoting over the last two sessions). He said he pays his lowest-paid employee at Not Your Average Joe’s Pizza, his pizza parlor, $13 an hour.

“To do that, I have to raise my prices,” he said. “If everybody had to pay $15 an hour, it’d be a level playing field.”

Buesing says he supports raising the minimum wage “incrementally” to $10 an hour from the current $8.05. He says it should then go to $12, and ultimately $15 an hour, though he did not lay out how many years that would take.

Redner had plenty to criticize when it comes to public education, again taking aim at his Republican opponent.

“Dana has been in the House for six years micromanaging education,” he said. “She’s been complaining about what they could have fixed anytime in those six years. We pay hundreds of millions of dollars for … companies with ties to the administration to grade tests we don’t need. She knows what’s wrong, she’s not going to fix the problem, but she knows people that want them fixed so she pays lip service around election time. Look at her record — in six years she hasn’t done anything to fix education. This is Florida; we don’t have working air conditioners in our schools. They are falling apart, but we get plenty of private schools built!”

Redner was asked by Hunter Chamberlain (who lost to Janet Cruz in the HD 58 special election in 2010) if he supported charter schools, and would he be willing to buck the teacher’s unions to provide more competition?

“We don’t need competition in the public schools, we need to teach students!” Redner barked back. “Competition is out of the business world,” he said, calling that “nuts.”

“Dana Young is not concerned with the bickering from her opponents, she has focused her time meeting voters and doing what she has done best — working hard for the residents of Tampa,” responded Young campaign spokesperson Sarah Bascom. “Mr. Redner and Mr. Buesing are simply echoing hollow talking points written by people who don’t understand what is important to Tampa Bay families.”

Personnel Note: Two nominated to Board of Veterinary Medicine

Gov. Rick Scott Monday nominated two new members of the state panel that oversees Florida’s veterinarians.

Subject to confirmation by the state Senate, Rudd Nelson and Sharon Powell would join the Board of Veterinary Medicine for three-year terms ending on Oct. 31, 2019.

Nelson, 43, of Lighthouse Point, is himself a veterinarian who owns Bayview Animal Clinic in Fort Lauderdale. He holds a doctorate of veterinary medicine from Mississippi State University. He succeeds Terry Spencer on the board.

Powell, 53, of Fort Myers, is a veterinarian at the Edison Park Animal Hospital. She received her doctorate of veterinary medicine from Kansas State University and succeeds Nanette Parrato-Wagner.

The board oversees licensure and regulation of Florida’s veterinarians, including professional discipline.

Florida House, Senate set interim 2017 committee meeting schedule

The calendars are set.

House and Senate leadership announced Monday the schedule for interim committee meetings. Both chambers will head to Tallahassee for committee meetings in December, before meeting for two weeks in January and three weeks in February.

According to memos to members, the Florida House will hold committee meetings from Dec. 5 through Dec. 9. The Florida Senate will be in Tallahassee from Dec. 12 through Dec. 16.

Members will be back in their districts until after the winter holidays, heading back to Tallahassee for committee meetings from Jan. 9 through Jan. 13. They’ll head back for another week of committee meetings from Jan. 23 through Jan. 27.

In February, members will be in Tallahassee for committee meetings during the weeks of Feb. 6, Feb. 13 and Feb. 20.

They’ll have one week back in their district before the annual 60-day legislative session begins March 7.


Gainesville PD: Complaint withdrawn in Keith Perry case

A Gainesville man has withdrawn his complaint against Rep. Keith Perry.

Norman Leppla withdrew his complaint against Perry on Thursday, according to the Gainesville Police Department. The notice of withdrawal comes one day after the police department released surveillance video showing Perry striking Leppla after a disagreement over a yard sign.

But Leppla’s decision to withdraw his complaint doesn’t automatically put an end to the issue. In an email Thursday, a spokesman for the Gainesville Police Department said the agency will forward the complaint withdrawal affidavit to the State Attorney’s Office, which will then “determine how the case proceeds at this point.”

Gainesville police had already forward the initial complaint to the state attorney. Alachua County court records show the complaint was filed Sept. 13.

According to an incident report, Leppla, 46, said Perry hit him “with an open hand against the left side of his neck against his will.” The incident happened after Leppla removed one of the yard signs Perry had posted in his yard. Surveillance video shows a prolonged argument, and included footage of Leppla bumping Perry.

“Anyone who knows me, knows that it takes quite a bit to rile me up. What began as a silly disagreement over a legal campaign yard sign — that was authorized by the owner to be placed in his yard — escalated, and for my part in that, I apologize,” said Perry in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “As you can clearly see in the video, I approached Mr. Leppla in good faith to resolve the issue and at one point, he even agreed to help place the sign back where he found it. I did not react when he chest-bumped me, the first contact made by either of us. In fact, it wasn’t until he made threatening comments to my wife and spit in my face that I pushed him away to prevent him from spitting on me again.”

Perry, a Gainesville Republican, is running for Senate District 28. He faces Democrat Rod Smith in November.

Capitol parking garage waterproofing is ‘carcinogenic’

Waterproofing in the Capitol’s underground parking garages now will have to removed because it’s “carcinogenic,” a state official said Wednesday.

Tom Berger, director of the Real Estate Development and Management Division, spoke in front of a Cabinet aides meeting in the Capitol. The division is part of the Department of Management Services, the state’s real estate manager.

The Capitol grounds now are being excavated to remove trees and topsoil that were bearing down on the complex’s underground garages.

The Senate garage, in continuous use since 1978, was shut down “in an abundance of caution” in May, officials said, after its primary support girder showed signs of stress.

The original waterproofing, which contains coal tar pitch, had degraded over the years and was letting in water. Structural engineers then saw “an accelerated deterioration” of parts of the garage because of intruding water.

Coal tar pitch, historically used in roofing, contains chemicals that can cause cancer, though it’s usually not a danger to human health unless it’s heated and the vapors are breathed in. Also, the waterproofing is on the outside of the garage’s concrete roofs and walls and is being replaced now because it’s failing, not because it’s hazardous, spokeswoman Maggie Mickler said.

“To ensure the safety of our state employees,” DMS held “right-to-know meetings in August to inform employees, who reside in the Capitol Complex, about the upcoming coal tar pitch abatement,” Mickler said in an email.

“The abatement process is a highly regulated procedure that utilizes licensed professional contractors to secure and contain the abatement site,” she said. “The vendors will carefully remove the substance and monitor procedures to ensure safety. The Department of Management Services will take all necessary precautions to keep the employees, residents and visitors safe in the downtown area.”

Unfortunately for senators and staffers, it’ll be June 2018 before they can again park under the Capitol complex. They’ve been relocated to other state surface parking spots downtown.

Workers will replace nearly 4,000 tons of dirt and landscaping with a lighter concrete mix, Mickler said.

The House underground garage, which had much lighter signs of stress, also will be repaired, she added. But it will remain open until repairs start in about two years.

In 2014, both parking garages had structural analyses, and DMS started getting money from the Legislature in fiscal year 2014-15 to reinforce the garages.

Jack Latvala wants answers after Tallahassee’s Hermine experience

State Sen. Jack Latvala on Tuesday said he is considering calling for legislative action next session to address the City of Tallahassee’s response to Hurricane Hermine.

Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, is slated to be the next Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Specifically, he said he questions whether community-based power operations—such as City of Tallahassee Utilities—are positioned as well as they could be to recover after major storms.

Hermine, a Category 1 hurricane at landfall, knocked out electric service Thursday night to hundreds of thousands across north Florida, including nearly 68,000 in Tallahassee alone.

As of Tuesday morning, local officials said 14,000-16,000 remain without power.

“In fact, there are several issues that have come to my attention with regard to municipal power agencies,” Latvala said in a text, without elaborating. “Their members’ ability to repair their utilities after a storm is only one part of it.”

Barry Moline, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, could not be immediately reached for comment. A message was left for city spokeswoman Alison Faris.

He added: “The citizens in Vero Beach have voted twice to get out of the electric business as a city but have been stymied by a contract that appears to have no end.”

Vero Beach, which also runs a municipal utility, has flirted in recent years with selling its electric system to Florida Power & Light, an investor-owned utility.

Personnel note: George Levesque joins GrayRobinson

George T. Levesque (Large)George T. Levesque, formerly the top lawyer to the Florida Senate, is joining the GrayRobinson law firm’s Tallahassee office.

Levesque will be “of counsel,” meaning he will work on a case-to-case basis and not as an associate or partner. The firm announced the hire Tuesday.

“We are excited to add George to our capital city office,” said Mayanne Downs, the firm’s president and managing director, in a statement. “His relationships and experience in Tallahassee are unmatched.”

Levesque began his career in a law firm practicing civil litigation defense, before serving as special counsel and policy adviser to the Florida House Speaker.

He represented that chamber in the Seminole gaming compact negotiations.

Levesque also has served as the Florida House’s general counsel, before becoming general counsel to the Florida Senate, where he was involved in redistricting and litigation over it.

Last year, he was on a list of finalists for an open seat on the 1st District Court of Appeal. The position eventually went to Thomas “Bo” Winokur, Gov. Rick Scott‘s assistant general counsel.

Levesque received his undergraduate degree from the conservative Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina and a law degree from Florida State University. Levesque is admitted to practice law in Florida and Georgia.


Elected unopposed, Florida lawmakers must decide what to do with leftover campaign cash

With nearly $3.5 million in the bank and no races to spend it on, some Florida lawmakers are left figuring out what to do with the last of their campaign cash.

While their colleagues are sweating out contested races, 42 members of the House and Senate are looking for ways to spend down the war chests they didn’t end up needing. They have a few options, and just about a month left to decide what they’re doing with the extra dough.

State law requires candidates to dispose of any surplus funds within 90 days of either being elected, eliminated or winning unopposed. That means the more three dozen House and Senate candidates who won in June have until Sept. 22 to dispose of excess funds.

Their options are limited. Return a portion back to donors or donate to charity. Set aside $20,000 for their re-election campaign, give up to $25,000 to their party, or transfer some to an office account.

And for some candidates, the best answer to do a little bit of everything.

Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley won re-election in June when no one challenged him in the newly drawn Senate District 5. The district is much larger than his current Senate district and includes 10 full counties.

“I spent a lot of time after session up until qualifying getting to know the counties in the Senate district,” said Bradley. “I spent a great deal of time and effort getting to know the nine new counties I was going to represent.”

To do that, Bradley raised $481,756 toward his official campaign. Records show he spent $201,708 through June 24, the last day of qualifying, much of which dedicated to advertising. Bradley said he sent a lot of mailers and was active on social media to try to convince voters he was the right man for the job.

It worked, but it left him with $280,047 in his campaign account.

So what’s he going to do with it? Bradley said he was giving $25,000 to the party to help with Senate re-election campaigns. He’s also planning to set aside $40,000 — or $10,000 a year for each year he’ll be in office — to fund his office account. The rest of the money will be given to charities, most likely ones that help at-risk teens and children in his district.

Of the 42 House and Senate candidate who were elected unopposed earlier this summer, Bradley ranked among the Top 5 fundraisers this election cycle. Lauren Book, an Aventura Democrat, was in the top spot.

Book, a first-time candidate and a child abuse advocate, didn’t garner an opponent this election cycle. Some of it might have been name recognition, but a healthy war chest didn’t hurt. Records show Book raised $586,659.

Steve Vancore, a Democratic political consultant who worked with Book, said she made sure to communicate with her would-be constituents early on in the campaign. She qualified by the petition method, working the community to get twice as many of the signatures she needed to get on the ballot.

“It’s a poor strategy not to be spending money,” said Vancore. “It takes a lot to get on the ballot by petition. You want to do polling, so you’re not freaking out, and you should be communicating with voters in the late spring and early summer.”

Records show Book had $203,074 in the bank as of June 24. Among other things, Vancore said Book planned to send a “thank you” communication to voters in the district with her leftover funds. State law allows candidates to purchase “thank you” advertising for up to 75 days after a candidate withdraws, is unopposed, is eliminated or elected.

Other top fundraisers included Sen. Denise Grimsley, who raised $371,021; George Gainer, who raised $324,217 and loaned his campaign $500,000; and House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran, who raised $305,345. Majority Leader Bill Galvano raised $269,415, while Sen. Wilton Simpson raised $260,560. Both Galvano and Simpson are in line for the Senate presidency.

Corcoran and Rep. Jim Boyd were the only House members who were among the Top 10 fundraisers elected unopposed. Boyd raised $169,150. Corcoran had $79,618 in the bank.

A spokesman for Corcoran said the Land O’Lakes Republican planned to give the maximum $25,000 donation to the party, do paid “thank you” ads, and donate at least $25,000 to several organizations, including Guiding Star Tampa/Life Choices Women’s Care, Volunteer Way, New Life Solutions, Oasis Pregnancy Center, and the West Pasco Pregnancy Center.

Senate candidates might have dominated the list of Top 10 fundraisers elected unopposed, but plenty of House candidates raised big money.

Thirty House candidates were elected without opposition, who had a combined $1.5 million in the bank.

Rep. Dane Eagle was among those House candidates to go unchallenged. He raised $125,511, and had $44,575 left.

Elected in 2010, this was the first time Eagle has won a race unopposed. He was prepared to run a full-fledged campaign this year and was ready to do that until the last minute. He said he used his campaign account for radio ads to keep constituents informed.

Eagle gave some of his surplus funds to local charities and the party. He said he was doing his part to help make sure the House retains a Republican majority.

“Fortunately for myself and my colleagues in Southwest Florida, it’s a Republican stronghold so you can keep it in Republican hands, but there’s other parts of the state where it’s 50-50,” he said. “(We’re doing) as much as we can help bring those people back, and bring people I’ve worked with back that are darn good legislators.”


SD 13 race pits familiar names as Dems hope to flip seat

This used to be Andy Gardiner country, a Florida Senate district at the heart of GOP power, and now three Democrats are fighting for it like it’s theirs for the taking Tuesday.

Tuesday’s Democratic Florida Senate District 13 primary will pit three former elected officials, all with at least decent name recognition, one of them, former state Rep. Mike Clelland, with enormous amounts of campaign money; one, former state Rep. Linda Stewart, with a legendary ground game; and one, former Orange County School Board Member Rick Roach, with 16 years in the local spotlight.

Because redistricting has changed SD 13, dominated by central and east Orlando, from a strong Republican lean to a moderate Democratic lean, this is one of the Florida Senate districts the Florida Democratic Party thinks it’s most likely to flip this year, and even Gardiner, the outgoing Republican Senate president, has hinted he thinks it will flip.

Standing in the door disagreeing is Realtor Dean Asher, who’s got his own big piles of campaign money and much of Central Florida’s business community behind him. But Asher will have to wait to see which of three very different candidates he’ll have to take on.

“I am the favorite,” to win, Stewart bragged this week.

It’s an odd boast coming from a candidate who has raised just $25,400 for her campaign through Aug. 12, less money than Clelland sometimes collects in a week. Yet Stewart’s name recognition is high and her ground games have long set standards in Orange County, where she was three times elected county commissioner and once as state representative for House District 47.

Roach also calls her the front-runner, and Clelland clearly has recognized her strength, for he and his political action committee, “Common Sense for Central Florida,” have run attack ads focused on Stewart.

Clelland has raised more than $285,000 in his campaign fund and another $452,000 for Common Sense, which is collecting five-figure checks from firefighters’ unions and law firms, representing his background as a career firefighter who went to night law school and became a lawyer. His campaign also is being supported by Christian Ulvert’s Engaged Florida PAC and the Florida Democratic Party, who’ve both run Clelland ads in Orlando.

But Clelland said never mind the money.

“I made 208 phone calls today and then I went knocking on doors,” he said. “That’s what we’re focused on: we’re talking to voters.”

Meanwhile, as Clelland has been attacking Stewart in in TV commercials and mailers, and Stewart has been dismissing Clelland as someone who doesn’t know the district [Clelland moved in this year; he previously represented House District 29 in Seminole County], Roach has been the candidate showing up at every event and drawing crowds of more than 100 to his own town halls.

“I have talked to literally 2,000 people in the last two years in small groups and one-on-one,” Roach said. “I formed my campaign on what they told me.”

The trio agree with Democratic policies on almost all issues, though they’ve clearly quibbled over details, particularly as Clelland and Stewart have traded jabs on gun votes. But each has and focuses on individual strengths: Clelland, with his background in public safety; Stewart with her background as an environmental, women’s issues and community activist; Roach with his background as a school board member and former teacher.

Roach, who’s gotten a number of education-related endorsements from teachers unions to school administrators, combines his understanding of the schools and their challenges with economic themes. His message: strip the schools of much of the testing-prep, turn those test-prep positions, including reading teachers, back into shop classes and technical teachers. Graduate students who can get technical jobs and careers. Increase employment in higher-wage, skilled-labor jobs, reduce impacts on social services, including prisons.

“Once I discovered the talent gap, that I learned from the Chamber of Commerce, once I learned we had over 200,000 job openings, most of which don’t require college education, that pay good wages, I thought, well hell, why don’t we put people in those jobs,” Roach said.

“I know what’s happening in education. We’ve clogged it up with prep courses. So we can’t give kids auto education, construction, heating and plumbing. We’re too concerned about driving up standardized test scores. So if we just simply clean out all the junk in schools and use these tests the way they were designed, you could actually put between 10 and 15 courses in 1,000 high schools that all matched up with those jobs,” he said.

Stewart, whose endorsements have ranged from the National Organization of Women to mental health advocates to environmental groups, and said those represent the issues she’s best known for.

“People do want you to take a stand on assault weapons and no-fly, no-buy, which I have done a number of times,” she said. “People want you to take a stand on women’s issues, anything dealing with any kind of restrictions to abortion, they’re very concerned the government is getting too concerned about their personal lives. They’re also very concerned about the award of Amendment 1 money being diverted.”

Clelland has gotten endorsements from various first responder groups, law firms and a handful of establishment Democrats such as former Orange County Chairwoman Linda Chapin.

“It’s education, health care, Medicaid expansion, and water has resonated, particularly in Orange County, where quantity is as important as quality,” Clelland said. “I think those are the important things. That’s what I’m focused on.”

Don Gaetz applies to be UWF president

State Sen. Don Gaetz wants to be the next president of the University of West Florida.

Media outlets in the Florida Panhandle report that the Niceville Republican is among more than 70 applicants for the job.

Gaetz is serving his second term in the Florida Senate and faces term limits in November. He served as Senate president from 2013-2014.

He currently chairs the Senate’s budget subcommittee on education, which includes funding for universities, state colleges and public schools.

A presidential search committee will interview candidates over the next month, and the school’s Board Of Trustees will meet with three finalists on Sept. 15.

UWF Provost and Executive Vice President Martha Saunders has also applied.

The Pensacola university’s current president, Judy Bense, is retiring at the end of the year.

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