Florida Senate Archives - Page 7 of 27 - Florida Politics

Tom Lee, Bill Galvano to remain powerful GOP voices in Senate

Two key Republicans will be returning to the Florida Senate in new districts and without opposition.

Bill Galvano of Bradenton and Tom Lee of Brandon were the only candidates to meet Friday’s noon filing deadline and thus have been assured of returning to Tallahassee.

Lee’s political future had seemed uncertain after court-ordered redistricting could have placed both him and Galvano in the newly drawn District 21, which covers parts of Hillsborough and Manatee counties.

Lee declined to run against Galvano, and after considering a run for the Hillsborough County Commission opted instead to move within the boundaries of the new District 20.

The move keeps two powerful GOP voices in Tallahassee.

Galvano is in line to become Senate President in 2019, provided Republicans keep their majority in that body. Lee served as the chair of the appropriations committee in the last session.

Galvano picked up high-profile help recently when Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam campaigned for him in Wimauma in southern Hillsborough. Galvano has worked closely with Putnam to attack citrus greening, which threatens the livelihood of the state’s citrus farmers.

He was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2002, and then to the Senate in 2012. He served as Republican majority leader in 2014.

Lee initially was elected to the Senate in 1996 and was re-elected without opposition in 2000. Redistricting forced him to run again two years later, but he was again elected without opposition. In 2004, he served as the Senate president.

After losing a statewide election in 2006 to Alex Sink for chief financial officer, Lee left politics before returning in 2012.

“I just humbly look forward the privilege of serving West Central Florida in the Senate,” Lee said in a statement Friday. “When a public servant does a job between elections, the re-elections tend to take care of themselves.

“I represent everyone in our district, not just those in our party. Without a Facebook or Twitter account, I tend to rely on the old-fashioned way of doing things.”

Lee hopes to close on a piece of property within the boundaries of his new district by early next month.

In campaign filings with the state, Galvano listed his net worth at $2.064 million. Lee listed his net worth at $2.9 million.

Darren Soto gets gun-control congressman’s endorsement

Democratic State Sen. Darren Soto‘s relatively newfound commitment to gun control has won him another endorsement for his U.S. Congress election bid from a member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut.

Himes, whose district is near but does not include Newtown, Connecticut, home of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, made news last week when he protested the House’s moment of silence after the Orlando Pulse gay nightclub massacre, because, as he said, it was time for Congress to stop being silent.

Around the same time Soto, running in Florida’s Orlando-based 9th Congressional District, was leading an Orlando Democratic legislative caucus’ call for a special session of the Florida Legislature to talk about gun control.

Soto is in a tough primary battle in the Aug. 30 CD 9 Democratic primary with Dena Grayson, Susannah Randolph and Valleri Crabtree.

Soto has adopted significant gun-control positions in the past year as a member of the Florida Senate, helping lead opposition to two failed measures. One that would have allowed open-carry of firearms in Florida, and the other would have allowed students to have guns on campus. However, prior to that his record on gun rights versus gun control had earned him an A rating from the National Rifle Association, the highest among Florida Senate Democrats. Last week he objected to that characterization, arguing it was based on little data and now his rating has fallen to a C.

He got an A in gun control in Himes’ book.

“Just over one week ago, Orlando experienced the most horrific tragedy on U.S. soil since Sept. 11. We were all stunned and wanted badly to prevent this from ever happening again,” Himes stated in a news release. “Your state senator, Darren Soto, answered that call by pushing for a special session to change Florida’s gun laws. Darren is a leader. He’s someone who I am proud to endorse and look forward to working with in Congress.”

Last week Himes walked off the House of Representatives floor during a moment of silence for the victims of the Orlando shooting. Congressman Himes, who is pushing for stricter gun laws, said the moment of silence was perfectly emblematic of congressional gross negligence on gun reform.

“Democrats across our country are sickened by these mass shootings and want to make a change,” stated Sen. Soto. “Last week, I made a push to keep guns out of the hands of those on the no-fly lists and the FBI terrorist watch lists. This is about commonsense gun reform. I look forward to working Jim Himes in Congress to make tragedies like the Pulse shooting a thing of the past.”

Gwen Margolis to retire from Florida Senate, drops re-election bid

Gwen Margolis has dropped her re-election bid, announcing Thursday she plans to retire from the Florida Senate.

The decision ends a more than 40-year career in public service. Margolis, a Miami-Dade County Democrat, is 81.

“My passion has been to serve the people of Florida and my commitment from day one was to make our community a better place for all,” she said in a statement Thursday. “I look back at the 40 years of public service with great humility and joy as I reflect on all the work we accomplished to empower people’s lives. It has been a remarkable journey and one that has allowed me to see how our country, state, and nation evolved on so many issues.”

Margolis was first elected to the Florida House in 1974. She served in the House until 1980, when she was first elected to the Florida Senate. She spent 12 years in the Senate, serving until 1992.

In 1990, Margolis became the first woman to lead the chamber as the Senate president. She served in that role until 1992.

“Sen. Margolis shattered glass ceilings in 1990 when she ascended, with the support of her peers, as the first woman to serve as Senate president,” said Allison Tant, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. “She set a mark in history that will always be remembered and one that the Democratic Party is forever grateful for.”

In a statement Thursday, Senate President Andy Gardiner said Margolis is “a dedicated public servant for more than 40 years, and she has a special place in Florida’s history as the first woman to lead the Senate.”

“Gwen has been a wonderful friend to our family, and I wish her well in all her future endeavors,” he continued.

Margolis spent about a decade — from 1993 until 2002 — on the Miami-Dade County Commission, where she served as the board’s chairwoman for six years. She returned to the Florida Senate in 2002 and served for six years.

Margolis returned to the Florida Senate in 2010, and was in the midst of another re-election bid. But she found herself in hot water this week after making disparaging comments about her rivals.

According to the Miami Herald, Margolis referred to three of her opponents as “Haitians” and dismissed two others during a local Democratic meeting Monday. At least one of her opponents denounced her comments, and a local party official called on Margolis to apologize.

In a statement Thursday, the state’s Democratic leaders lauded her years of service, but did not make mention of the incident.

“Serving with Gwen Margolis has been a true treasure because of her passion to be a fierce advocate for our community,” said incoming Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon. “There are few leaders in our state with the leadership and the presence like Gwen Margolis, and the Florida Senate and the Democratic Caucus will always be grateful for her service. I know I will continue to see Gwen lend her passion to important causes in our community of Miami-Dade County.”

Christian Ulvert, the senator’s campaign consultant, said Margolis has “never been afraid to stand up for the values and principles that make us all proud Democrats.”

“She was an early voice in the fight for equality and justice and it’s because of leaders like Gwen that LGBT Floridians today have been able to knock down barriers,” said Ulvert. “She is a role model to many and a friend to all.”

Her decision now throws the Senate District 38 race into a state of flux. Five other Democrats — Anis Blemur, Philip Brutus, Daphne Campbell, Don Festge and Jason Pizzo — have all filed to run for the seat. The qualifying deadline is June 24.

 

Why we should pay attention to the SD 30 primary

I missed it.

It wasn’t THAT big of a deal. But I missed it nonetheless.

Hey, I was on a business trip and sometimes when I am not at the console, a few details escape me, and sometimes the big things float right by and I miss them.

This was the latter.

With only a few short weeks until qualifying, most of the state Senate races are starting to take shape. And, of course, there are some surprises. Last week we saw Lizbeth Benacquisto draw what appears to be a fairly well-funded primary challenger who announced he is immediately dumping $200,000 of his own money into the race.

Now in the scheme of things, that is probably nothing more than an annoyance as Benacquisto has far more than that already on hand in both hard and soft. And with the heavy club of the Senate President — and a lot of friends — $200,000 is a noticeable, but not major, obstacle.

Now, if she were a Democrat. In a primary. And had less than $75,000 on hand in hard and soft and no Joe Negron to lean on … that would be a problem.

A big problem. A really big problem.

That’s the way it is with Rep. Bobby Powell, who is running for a Palm Beach state Senate seat. His new opponent, Michael Steinger, also opened his account with $200,000. In a Democratic primary where donors are a lot scarcer, that kind of money is a lot more than just an annoyance.

And Steinger didn’t just drop his own dime, he also raised a considerable sum ($211,000) in a very short period of time bringing his FIRST MONTH total to well over $400,000.

That is what I missed.

To put that is perspective, consider that at the end of last month and taking ALL Senate Democratic candidates into account through the end of April, only seven of them (out of 45) had raised over $200,000 — and that includes seven incumbent Senators (only one who has raised more than $200,000. Good job Senator Montford.)

And of the seven candidates who raised $200K, only two (Lauren Book and Gary Farmer) managed to accomplish that in 30 days or less.

That’s the big thing. We covered it like everyone else but I didn’t quite put our finger on what a big deal that is.

And for the Powell supporters, DO NOT MISREAD THIS. I am not saying he is going to lose. I am familiar with the demographics of this seat (the seat is heavily Democratic and just over a third of the Democrats are black) and I understand the challenges Steinger faces.

But with more than FIVE TIMES the cash on hand as Powell, this is a big deal. Steinger made a statement and nobody should miss that.

… even if you are on a really cool business trip.

 

State drops charges against ‘Capitol Pitbull Dude’

Prosecutors have dismissed the criminal case against the man known as “Capitol Pitbull Dude.”

Leon County court dockets show charges of trespassing and resisting an officer, both misdemeanors, were dropped last week against 35-year-old Antonio Ringo Davis. 

Davis first became known as “Capitol Pitbull Dude” and “Capitol Bulldog Guy” after he and his dog were escorted out of a Senate committee hearing this past session.

A written explanation for the “nolle prosequi” from the State Attorney’s Office in Tallahassee showed that prosecutors “believe he may have mental health issues.”

Also, Davis had said he intended to return to South Florida. Assistant State Attorney Jessica Tehlirian wrote she did “not believe it is a good use of state resources to bring him back to Tallahassee for the charges against him.”

Other court records show Davis was first diverted to Veterans Court, a special tribunal for military veterans that offers “substance abuse, mental health, and holistic well-being” services. His service information wasn’t disclosed.

But he was sent back to regular criminal court after telling court officials he “did not wish to receive (any) services.”

Davis caused a scene at the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee on Feb. 16. Lawmakers were considering a proposal by Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner that would have bumped up lawmakers’ annual salaries from $29,600 to $50,000.

Amateur smartphone video captured him — and his dog, which appears to be a pit bull — shouting about how Florida nonprofits had ruined his life.

Committee Chairman Jeremy Ring ordered him to leave, and he was escorted out of the building by sergeants-at-arms and Capitol Police.

Davis was given a written warning on Feb. 18 by a Senate sergeant-at-arms “due to his aggressive behavior toward Senate staff.”

Then on Feb. 24, reports show he tried to get into the Senate Office Building in the Capitol Complex, ignoring instructions by police.

During an arrest, he yanked his hand away from an officer, then grabbed hold of his uniform and ripped it, a report said.

Davis shouted several times during the arrest, “You’re going to regret this!”

“Davis’ mental health could have been a factor in this incident,” police said in the report. “Please consider a mental health screening.”


Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Randolph Bracy newsletter criticized by SD 11 opponent Chuck O’Neal for going beyond district

A recent official House of Representatives mailing from state Rep. Randolph Bracy has one of his Florida Senate Democratic primary election opponents crying foul because the newsletter went beyond the House district.

Last week Bracy sent out an Official Florida House of Representatives Newsletter for Spring 2016, containing  all the usual positive reports and handsome photographs any house member might share with constituents. The newsletter has all the appropriate and required information that a House member’s newsletter should have.

But the mailing went out throughout the Senate District 11 area where Bracy is running this year, not just within the House District 45 area he currently represents. It contains no references to nor disclosures from his state senate campaign.

Bracy said he believes he did everything properly.

But one of his opponents, Chuck O’Neal, said that if that is so, there still is a problem in his eyes, claiming that Bracy, “violated the public’s trust, if not the law” by using the House newsletter to raise his profile outside his district.

No one has filed any official complaints.

Bracy has three opponents in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary for SD 11, O’Neal, former state Sen. Gary Siplin and former state Rep. Bob Sindler. O’Neal and Sindler live outside HD 45, and they both said they received Bracy’s newsletter at their homes.

“If this is legal, then Florida voters need to understand that their tax dollars are being used to provide incumbent legislators with an advantage over their challengers,” O’Neal said.

Bracy said he was careful to not use tax dollars for letters mailed outside his district, and sought counsel on how to handle the newsletter appropriately. The expenses for the rest of the mailing that went beyond HD 45, he said, came out of his own pocket. He said he was advised he could have his campaign reimburse him if he wished, but he has not done so yet.

“I got everything approved by the House [General Counsel’s Office] attorneys and the Florida Division of Elections. So I was told to send it out the way I did,” Bracy said.

Neither the House General Counsel’s Office nor the Florida Division of Elections would comment about the matter to FloridaPolitics.com.

O’Neal responded, “Our understanding is that Bracy can send his official House newsletter outside his House district using his own funds. Yet it appears he has used his campaign account to reimburse his House account for the cost of the mailer. [Which Bracy denied.] In that case, why does the mailer not indicate “Paid for by Randolph Bracy for Florida Senate?”

Florida law does not necessarily stipulate between campaign expenses paid by a campaign fund or by the candidate himself. The law requires “any political advertisement that is paid for by a candidate” to include the written disclaimer, “Political advertisement paid for and approved by [name of candidate, party affiliation] for [office sought.]”

The newsletter contains no references to Senate District 11, nor to Bracy’s campaign. It offers his assessments of the 2016 Legislative Session, with reports on issues relating to such issues as his constituency services, the environment, education, economic development, taxes and the state budget.

“This is not campaign related,” Bracy replied.

Siplin once had a similar issue, and was the subject of an ethics complaint in 2012. The resolution of that might have set precedent for allowing for Bracy’s newsletter to go beyond his House district.

Siplin was term-limited out that year. But his wife, Victoria Siplin, was running in a Democratic primary to succeed him. [She lost that election, though she was since elected to the Orange County Commission.] Gary Siplin’s House newsletter that summer included prominent pictures of her. It also went out to residents who did not live in the district Sen. Siplin was representing, but who did live in within the redrawn district in which Victoria Siplin was running. One key difference: Gary Siplin paid for it entirely with House funds. And so the complaint against him alleged he had misused taxpayers’ money by sending the newsletter to people who should not receive it.

The Florida Commission on Ethics found his “use of public resources to communicate with constituents in his existing and newly drawn Senate district would not constitute a violation,” and dismissed the complaint.

Siplin declined to comment on Bracy’s newsletter.

Sindler said he did not want comment negatively on the newsletter, but added, “It’s not something I would do; that’s for sure.”

Democratic State Senate Districts 11, 13, candidates to debate in Orlando

The Young Democrats of Orange County are hosting a primary debate that will draw most of the Democratic candidates running for the Florida Senate in Districts 11 and 13 next Tuesday.

The debate, set for the Dr. J.B. Callahan Neighborhood Center in Parramore, has drawn all four candidates in SD 11 and two of three candidates in SD 13. The SD 11 debate is set to start at 6:20 p.m. and the SD 13 debate at 7:30. Each debate is to last an hour.

Committed are SD 11 candidates state Rep. Randolph Bracy, former state Sen. Gary Siplin, former state Rep. and former Orange County Commissioner Bob Sindler, and businessman and environmental activist Chuck O’Neal.

The candidates slated to come in the SD 13 race are former state Rep. Linda Stewart and former Orange County School Board member Rick Roach. Former state Rep. Mike Clelland has declined, saying he has an out-of-town commitment that night, said YDOC President Robert Walters.

Senate District 11 is in west Orange County, while SD 13 is in east and north Orange County. The county’s third district, 15, will not be represented in this debate though Walters said it could have a future debate.

 

 

Redistricting plaintiffs seek sanctions against Corrine Brown

The winners of the congressional redistricting fight are seeking to make Corrine Brown pay for challenging them.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and others last week filed a motion for sanctions against the north Florida congresswoman.

Brown had unsuccessfully fought the redrawing of Florida’s congressional districts. Specifically, the Jacksonville Democrat had asked the court to set aside her redrawn seat, the 5th Congressional District.

Brown said her new district violates federal voting laws by cutting down the influence of minority voters and discriminates against them. A panel of federal judges said Brown had “not proven (her) case.”

The redistricting plaintiffs now want Brown to pay their legal fees to fight the case in federal court, their motion said. She has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“A long history of prior litigation and utter lack of essential proof leave no room to make those claims,” they said. Brown and others who challenged the decision “have no reasonable chance of success and their claims are frivolous.”

The plaintiffs successfully argued that the map OK’d by state lawmakers after the last census was gerrymandered, or unconstitutionally favored Republican incumbents and challengers.

The Florida Supreme Court changed Brown’s seat from a north-south district that meandered from Jacksonville to Sanford, to an east-west district that runs from Jacksonville to rural Gadsden County.

She has said she intends to run for re-election, but already faces a Democratic primary challenge from former state lawmaker Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

“Congresswoman Brown and her counsel … had no legitimate basis to file, nor to continue advocating, their clearly deficient claims,” the plaintiffs’ motion says.

“It is only fair that Congresswoman Brown and (her) counsel pay the cost incurred to bring their baseless, opportunistic misadventure to an end.”

Andy Gardiner, Lars Houmann, call for more health care access, but not Medicaid

At an industry-sponsored summit in Orlando Tuesday, outgoing Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and the leader of one of Florida’s biggest hospital system both called for urgent help in providing more access to health care.

But not through Medicaid.

Gardiner, an Orlando Republican, and Lars Houmann, president of the Florida Division of Adventist Health System, told the Florida Health Care Affordability Summit that the great challenge is opening up health care to uninsured and low-income residents of Florida.

“I would encourage you to also talk about access, and access for all individuals,” Gardiner told the forum, organized by the Associated Industries of Florida.

They both said Florida has another chance, and should take it, to negotiate with the federal government for a waiver from the federal Medicaid program that might allow the Sunshine State to take federal Medicaid expansion money but use it for alternative programs to Medicaid.

For the past three years, the federal government has been trying to encourage states to accept money to expand Medicaid programs to provide coverage for people too poor to buy Obamacare insurance, but who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. In Florida’s case, that’s about $50 billion over ten years. Gardiner’s Senate has twice crafted deals to negotiate waivers with the federal government for Florida-driven programs, but the Florida House has refused.

“If the desire in the state of Florida is not necessarily to look at free-market options, that is for a debate for another day, I would encourage you to talk about models like the money we put into free and charitable clinics,” Gardiner said.

Houmann also urged expansion of access to uninsured and laid out economic slides showing what they cost hospitals and Florida.

He also stressed that at Adventist Health, which runs the Florida Hospital systems in Orlando and Tampa Bay, the strategic thinking is turning toward keeping people healthy — keeping them out of hospitals.

Yet he argued that Medicaid is just a bad program for both patients, doctors and hospitals, and should not be expanded, but replaced with something that works better. Medicaid, he argued, comes with too many strings and too little money to be a good business for doctors or hospitals, and patients are punished because few doctors accept it, and their services suffer from overload.

“Yes, it is an entitlement program. Yes, it does take care of a larger part of our population,” he said. “But frankly, I could not put my heart into term ‘expand Medicaid.’

“I could put my heart into bringing the money that the Affordable Care Act made available for Florida for expanding coverage,” he added. “Frankly, this is a political lecture; we did have an opportunity to bring a deal to Washington … to restructure our program. But we couldn’t get that done.”

Bob Sparks: Joe Negron’s bus tour should hear the sounds of a changing workforce

Senate President-elect Joe Negron was back in school this week. Not as a student, but as a legislative leader looking for on-the-ground information designed to help craft the 2017-18 education budget.

Negron will push for $1 billion in extra spending for colleges and universities.

While students are traditionally fond of road trips, Negron and four Senate colleagues embarked on one of their own. They went on a listening tour of all 12 public universities in the span of four days, interacting with students, faculty and administrators.

Negron was joined by Miami Republican Anitere Flores, Fort Myers Republican Lizbeth Benacquisto, Miami Democrat Oscar Branyon and Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford. The group traveled by bus on a tour looking everything like a political campaign.

Sure it was, but to quote Jerry Seinfeld, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Spending an hour or so at a college campus will not provide sufficient time to ask all of the important questions, let alone obtain the needed answers. It does provide the perfect opportunity to hear personal stories for use in the public relations world as well as in committee hearings.

Negron has a worthy goal of restoring the Bright Futures scholarship to its former status of having the top award cover tuition and fees, plus a $300 stipend per semester to go toward textbooks. In today’s world of higher education, the $300 covers the cost of only two or three new textbooks, but parents would be grateful for the extra help.

The tour began on last Monday at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, where the senators mingled and asked questions. From there, it was on to Tallahassee for stops at Florida State and Florida A&M.

Sophomore Demarcus Robinson told the story Negron and his colleagues needed to hear. As reported in the Tampa Bay Times, Robinson shared with Negron that he may not be able to return to Florida A&M in the fall because he is behind on his payments.

Robinson and those like him who truly want to go to college could have their lives changed by a reinvigorated Bright Futures. The program, founded in 1997, now serves 44 percent fewer students than at its peak of 179,000 and provides $200 million less in scholarship money.

If nothing else, this tour previews a major focus of the 2017 Florida Senate. Negron deserves credit for his commitment to the issue, but there are some realities that should enter into any discussion.

Bright Futures should be revived, but only to cover those who not only meet academic qualifications, but also those who clearly wish to be in a four-year college. Not all have such desires. Both students and the community alike are better served when those with technical and computer skills receive focused training coinciding with their talent and goals.

Another FAMU student lamented all of the “requirements” of a four-year institution. There are plenty of good reasons for a broad-based college education, but it is not for everyone.

Negron also believes in the “2 plus 2” program as a tool for many families looking for lower costs. This program allows students to begin at one of Florida’s 28 colleges (former known as Community Colleges) and then proceed to a four-year university if they wish.

The courses at the two-year colleges are less expensive and will help families cut costs before transferring to a university. Starting at a two-year college may also help a student determine that a college or university is not for them and they can make other career choices.

While the tour is over, perhaps the senators are still listening. Make the commitment to our colleges and universities and fix Bright Futures, but do not lose sight of one important fact.

The 21st century workforce is not the same as it was 20 or even 10 years ago.

***

Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee.

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