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Jac VerSteeg: Want a president from Florida? Don’t send Rick Scott to the Senate

It’s bugging me that Florida, now the third-most populous state, never has managed to get a Floridian elected president.

It looked like there was a great chance this year, with Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio starting out as strong possibles. Even Ben Carson looked like he had a shot at one time. But each saw his candidacy collapse.

Donald Trump has deep Florida ties. The state could kind-of claim him if he were elected. But it’s not clear he could even carry Florida in the general election.

I’m not sure what needs to happen for a Floridian to be elected president. But I’m sure what should not happen. Do not elect Rick Scott to the U.S. Senate in 2018. He is virtually a conglomerate of all the weaknesses of this year’s Floridians who ran – plus Trump’s bad points.

More on that in a minute.

First, here are sad facts about Florida’s lack of a president. The two states above Florida in population and the five states below Florida all have sent men to the White House who were residents at the time of their election.

California has sent three (Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan). Texas has sent three (Lyndon Johnson, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush).

Then comes Florida with zero, zip, nada.

New York has sent six (Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt). Illinois has sent three (Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Barack Obama).

Pennsylvania has sent one (James Buchanan). Ohio has sent six (William Henry Harrison, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding). Georgia has sent one (Jimmy Carter).

So what is Florida, chopped liver?

The best way for a modern politician to get elected president is to have a resume that includes serving as a governor or as a member of Congress – preferably as a U.S. Senator.

You have to go all the way back to Dwight Eisenhower to find a president who wasn’t either a governor or member of Congress. Eisenhower, of course, represents the third-best way to become president – be a national war hero. Changes in the nature of modern warfare make that avenue unlikely.

Although being a senator or governor is the best way to become a president, Florida has proved that serving in those positions is not sufficient to do the trick. Former Gov. Jeb Bush and current Sen. Marco Rubio both failed this year. And Bob Graham – who was both a governor and a senator – completely failed to stir significant national interest when he ran for president in 2004.

Were Scott to be elected to the Senate in 2018, he would be on track to share Graham’s sterling resume. Even though Scott would be the state’s junior senator, he would be the state’s premier national politician.

But Scott would have zero chance of becoming the first Floridian elected president. Why? He shares the worst faults of all the Floridians who failed before him.

Scott is nerdy like Bush and Graham. Like many nerds, he is not a gifted public speaker.

But at least both Bush and Graham were accomplished nerds. They were policy wonks who truly understood how government works. Scott is more creepy-nerdy. Lacking a nerdy passion for policy, he has failed to put his stamp on the state.

Which means that, like Rubio, Scott’s ambition outruns his abilities. He is a creature of press releases and ribbon-cuttings. But what has he done? Where is the tax cut he championed this year? Where is the Seminole Compact he negotiated? Both failures. When you get down to it, Scott shares Rubio’s distaste for doing the hard work of government.

Then there’s the fact that Scott, like Trump, can claim the mantle of “Successful Businessman.” Perhaps that will become the new best way to be elected president.

Unfortunately, here again Scott shares the worst aspects of Trump’s claim to fame. Trump is under attack for multiple business failures, including bankruptcies and the allegations of scandal surrounding Trump University.

Scott never will be able to shake the taint from the $1.7 billion fine levied against his former company, Columbia/HCA, for Medicare fraud. He is Trump with all the sleaze but none of the marketing genius.

Now, none of this means that Scott can’t be elected to the Senate. He was, after all, elected governor twice.

But I am focused on finally getting a Floridian elected president. It doesn’t seem plausible to me that the candidates to replace Rubio in this year’s Senate race will be presidential material – at least anytime soon. (Can anybody even name the declared candidates without resorting to Google?)

The task, then, would be to find someone to send to the Senate with some pizazz, skill and national appeal. Such as…?

What about the next governor? Well, Florida Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam might fill the bill. He was a high-ranking GOP member of the U.S. House before refocusing on state politics and his current position. Much would depend on his accomplishments were he to be elected governor in 2018.

But the end of Putnam’s potential first term is a long way away. There simply is no other Floridian on the horizon to replace Bush and Rubio as credible (once credible) presidential candidates.

Meanwhile, both the Democratic and Republican frontrunners are from New York. It looks like the Empire State will get another president. And for the foreseeable future, Florida will remain the Chopped Liver state.


Jac Wilder VerSteeg is a columnist for The South Florida Sun Sentinel, former deputy editorial page editor for The Palm Beach Post and former editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Jax mayor, sheriff, state attorney all to speak out at rally against sexual violence

On the heels of a new Florida law requiring speedier testing of rape kits, advocates in North Florida are speaking out about the high rate of sexual assault in the region.

A Community Speak Out is set for Tuesday morning at Jacksonville City Hall, featuring representatives from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office,  State Attorney’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Women’s Center of Jacksonville’s Rape Recovery Team, and other community service agencies, along with survivors.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Angela Corey are all scheduled to discuss collaborative efforts to process untested sexual assault kits through the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI).

Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, will discuss the statewide impact of the SAKI project because the 4th Judicial Circuit is the only one in Florida selected for funding.

It’s timely. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, with the goal of raising public awareness about sexual violence and educating communities and individuals on how to prevent it.

Corey’s recent announcement of the grant her office had received to test the rape kits had been a campaign issue for her opponent, Wes White.

Florida activists continue to push fracking bans

The grassroots push to ban fracking in Florida continues.

Activists are mobilizing fracking foes to call and email Calhoun County Commissioners and demand an emergency meeting on the issue.

The sparsely populated county is in the Panhandle, west of Tallahassee.

“Calhoun County will have the Cholla Petroleum Company begin seismic testing any day now,” reads the invite to one Facebook organizational effort. “This is for fossil fuel extraction for oil or gas. Fracking via hydraulic fracturing and matrix acid stimulation is a threat to Florida’s environment and water supply.”

The social media rally comes after news that seismic testing in Calhoun and Gulf counties was on hold because of a legal challenge.

“Cholla Petroleum is days away from starting their seismic testing in Calhoun and Gulf counties. They were challenged but apparently it did no good. Cholla is a fracking company out of Texas. They will be drilling and blasting across the Dead Lakes and very close to the fragile Apalachicola and Chipola rivers. Gulf County passed a resolution, but Calhoun refused, as they have close ties to the Neal Timber Company that owns most of the land in that area.”

Meanwhile, a measure that would have regulated fracking in the state died this legislative session.

Bob Sparks: No heroes in Trump campaign vs. reporter feud

Donald Trump’s campaign manager is now part of the Jupiter, Florida police blotter. His victim, according to the probable cause affidavit, is a battered and bruised former reporter for the conservative Breitbart News.

Corey Lewandowski and Michelle Fields were not household names prior to this avoidable public spectacle. If the cable news outlets and bloggers have their way, the video capturing the incident will loop over and over again.

As all of this plays out, there is every reason to believe that neither will emerge as sympathetic figures. Breitbart News, Fields’ now-former employer, did not bathe itself in glory with the way it handled this incident.

There appears to be little doubt that Lewandowski grabbed Fields as she attempted to ask Trump a question following a rally at the Trump National Golf Club on March 8. Fields provided a photo via social media showing bruises on her left arm. Washington Post reporter Ben Terris corroborated Fields’ account of events.

A video appears to show that at that point, Lewandowski was in violation of Florida law. Section 784.03(1) (a) (1) says a misdemeanor occurs when someone “(a)ctually or intentionally touches or strikes another person against the will of the other.”

He would also have violated this broad statute had he only gently escorted her away from his boss. Any contact, no matter how slight, designed to keep Fields away from Trump would most certainly have been touching her against her will.

There is nothing wrong with a reporter trying to do his or her job of asking questions provided they remain professional. No evidence exists that she violated that standard. It is also worth noting that the incident occurred in the area reserved for media.

Trump is, of course, outraged on behalf of his campaign manager. Trump claims Fields grabbed him as she tried to ask her question. “Can I press charges?” he Tweeted.

The video does appear to show Trump recoiling his right arm in an apparent reaction to being touched. Whoever touched Trump would officially be in violation of the statute used against Lewandowski. We can only hope Trump was being glib and not considering legal action.

Fields would have been better served by being more glib and less litigious. A multi-round Twitter fight, as opposed to filing a complaint against Lewandowski, would be better than the course she chose.

She has demonstrated an ability to compete on social media. Her best course of action now would be to get this thing settled as soon as possible or drop the charges, but that may not happen anytime soon.

This sideshow is yet another shiny object that distracts the electorate, the media and columnists. Such distractions keep the focus on misdemeanors instead of the serious issues before us.

Fields is just the latest tool, but her legal action is responsible for the tsunami that will flood multiple news cycles (joining Trump’s recent comments on abortion). In hindsight, she will probably regret taking it this far.

Originally, Lewandowski denied touching her and called her “delusional” and an “attention seeker.” A Trump campaign spokesperson labeled the accusations “entirely false.” Then came the video.

Were he still living, Richard Nixon spokesman Ron Ziegler could relate. When confronted with evidence contrary to one of his Watergate-era statements, he famously said “that statement is no longer operative.”

After Fields made her claims, Breitbart actually published a story challenging her version of events. This was not a huge surprise since the publication has long been in the tank for Trump.

Some of her fellow reporters in the Breitbart newsroom were imploring the publication’s management to support her. Fields resigned, as did Editor-At-Large Ben Shapiro.

Of all the words Donald Trump utters through multiple forms of media, he pledges to never use his two most famous when it comes to Lewandowksi: “You’re fired.”

This incident alone does not disqualify Lewandowski for his job, but perhaps the tone-deafness of its negative potential on women voters does. In a normal election cycle this would be damaging, but what do I know? I am one of thousands of members of the club that has been wrong about Trump’s lasting appeal.

In a rational world, a simple apology for being too rough would have prevented this. Even Breitbart called for that. But if your campaign thrives on controversy and the campaign manager generates some of his own, then Michelle Fields is a godsend.

Hopefully she is prepared for the vitriol that will continue for the foreseeable future.


Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.


Seminole County elections official says D.C. organization tried to register dead cat to vote

Pointing out that only live humans can cast ballots, Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Michael Ertel has set up a special website to help voters in Central Florida differentiate among all the election-related mailings they’re getting in this campaign season.

The website www.OfficialElectionMail.org leads voters to the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections website, www.VoteSeminole.org, where a link will display recent and upcoming mailings which emanate from the Seminole County elections office.

According to Ertel’s office, the move stems from efforts by the Washington D.C.-based Voter Participation Center to increase voter registration along Florida’s crucial swing I-4 corridor.

The VPC says it’s focused on increasing voter turnout among unmarried women, people of color, millennials and other historically underrepresented groups: “the three demographic groups who comprise the Rising American Electorate (RAE),” according to the Center’s website.

However, Ertel said he was sent a tweet about the mailer from a voter who stated the Voter Participation Center tried to register her dead cat to vote.

“While some may chuckle at the thought of a dead cat being offered the opportunity to register to vote, this is a serious matter, as it causes many voters to believe our office would send this, as the mailer had the words ‘Government document enclosed. Do not discard.’ on it,”  Ertel said.

“Because we are the swing region in the largest swing state in the country, the I-4 corridor and Central Florida is going to the epicenter of the 2016 elections. As the highest voter turnout county which I-4 runs through, it is incumbent on us to ensure our voters have faith in the process. Misleading mailers from out-of-state interests drives a dagger into the heart of our voters’ confidence in the process. It’s my job to ensure my county voters know which mail is official — they’re then smart enough to determine the motives of any other mailers on their own.”

Rick Scott touts new jobs at Anheuser-Busch in Jacksonville

Highlighting the creation of 75 new jobs, Gov. Rick Scott was on hand at a groundbreaking ceremony for Anheuser-Busch’s new $175 million aluminum bottle line at its Jacksonville facility. The company employs 840 people across Florida.

“Manufacturers like Anheuser-Busch are incredibly important to our state, and I am excited to join them in celebrating their ongoing expansion project and the creation of 75 new jobs,” Scott said. “We have cut taxes more than 55 times since 2010, including permanently eliminating the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment, which has saved Florida families and job creators $5.5 billion. By cutting taxes, we are sending a message across the country that Florida is the best place to succeed, and we will continue to do all we can to make Florida first for jobs.”

Jacksonville will be the second facility to produce Budweiser and Bud Light aluminum bottles, which first hit shelves in 2013. Anheuser-Busch has also operated a brewery in Jacksonville since 1969.

Scott, who is known for courting businesses around the country to relocate to low-tax Florida, also made news this week when he urged Yale University to move to Florida to avoid taxes on its massive $25.6 billion endowment (a proposal met with a cool reception in New Haven).

Ronald Ambar: Hispanics want leaders who support clean energy

As a Hispanic business owner, I am deeply concerned about the effects of climate change on my family, my community and my business. Many communities are already experiencing the effects of climate change, like poor air quality and extreme weather, firsthand.

Our economic prosperity and security in Florida will be in jeopardy if these conditions worsen. It is important for people of all parties to support candidates who will advance a clean energy economy for our communities.

It is critical that we act now. Hispanics are 165 percent more likely to live in counties with polluted air. Hispanics are also three times more likely to die from asthma than any other racial or ethnic group, and one in five Hispanic adults are unable to pay for asthma medicines.

Health and economics are intimately linked. We cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy workforce, and businesses will not thrive if their workforce is in debt with medical bills.

Moving to a clean energy economy would reduce the health and economic burden on Hispanic communities. Achieving more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030 will not only save lives, but it will also breathe life into the economy by creating more than a million new jobs.

Transitioning to a clean energy economy is overwhelmingly popular in the Hispanic community. According to polling by Hart Research, 79 percent of Hispanic voters in key battleground states favor a goal to power our country with more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030 and 72 percent say they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who supports this goal.

Hispanics are also expected to make up a third of the American workforce in 2050 so we have an unprecedented opportunity to shape the clean-energy economy.

It is not too late to avoid the worst consequences of climate change but time is running out. The longer we delay the transition to a clean energy economy, the more devastating the economic impacts will be on low income communities and many Hispanics.

Powering America with more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030 is a bold, achievable goal that will help address the threat of climate change, grow our national economy, and improve quality of life.

Voters support bold clean energy goals, and now we need to bring that support to the ballot box by selecting candidates who outline concrete plans to achieve #50by30.


Ronald Ambar is the CEO of Planet Up Technology and the former President of the Central Florida Brazilian American Chamber of Commerce. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Persistent problems at Eureka Garden complex outrage Jax activists

News that problems still persist at Jacksonville’s troubled Eureka Garden public housing complex has local activists such as Denise Hunt steaming.

“I’m disgusted. I was assured these problems would be solved, and I even offered a case management plan of action to help solve some of the inequities out there. I feel like I got snowballed,” Hunt told WJCT, although she was more supportive in her remarks about local officials.

Both Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio have expressed outrage about the ongoing deplorable conditions at Eureka Garden and demanded action.

HUD officials have ordered the owner of the Tennessee-based Global Ministries Foundation, the Rev. Richard Hamlet, to clean up conditions at the complex, along with another one in Jacksonville, or sell the properties.

“We’re talking persistent mold, persistent roaches, and health hazards like problems with unsafe stairs,” Hunt said. “He’s been given adequate time to address this and it’s horrible. It’s ridiculous.”

Report says Medicaid expansion would help Florida patients with mental problems, substance abuse disorders

Expanding Medicaid would greatly help the nearly 1 million uninsured Floridians who have a substance abuse or mental health issue.

That according to a policy brief released Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The report examines how Medicaid expansion would affect people with a substance-use disorder or mental illness.

In particular, it focuses on the 19 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid (such as Florida) and issues such as substance abuse disorders, and mental and behavioral health programs that often go untreated among poor and uninsured people.

“Medicaid expansion offers clear benefits to states,” Vikki Wachino, director for the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said on a conference call with media outlets.

Wachino noted that in states where Medicaid has been expanded to cover more patients, there’s been a decrease in residents skipping medication, along with those having trouble paying medical bills. Additionally, Wachino said the expansion is saving hospital systems billions of dollars.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act. Louisiana will soon be the 31st.

The Florida House last year voted down a proposal to expand Medicaid, arguing that paying for the program over the long term would be too expensive.

However, states that expand the program see big reductions  in the amount of uncompensated care provided by hospitals, said Richard Frank, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“That goes straight to the bottom line of hospitals that are often stretched. People with mental health and substance abuse disorders tend to be disproportionately uninsured, so they contribute quite a bit to that uncompensated care amount. That’s one financial impact that expansion would have.

“The consequences of a state’s decision to reject Medicaid expansion are far-reaching and have major implications for the health of their citizens,” Frank said.

The Affordable Care Act provides coverage to states for the full cost of Medicaid expansion through 2016. Then financial support drops down to 90 percent by 2020, although President Barack Obama has since proposed that the federal government fund 100 percent of the cost for three full years to any state that expands Medicaid.

Presidential primary lifts Republican voter registration as Democrats sag

The Donald TrumpMarco RubioTed CruzJohn Kasich show that came to Florida this winter provided a boost of more than 100,000 registered voters for the Republican Party of Florida while the Hillary ClintonBernie Sanders affair gave no such bounce for the Florida Democratic Party.

Florida’s final voter registration counts going into the state’s March 15 presidential primary showed  an increase of 103,872 registered Republicans since the 2014 general election. At the same time, the number of Democrats register to vote in Florida declined by 58,390.

Along the way, the GOP flipped four counties from having more Democrats to having more Republicans: Bradford, Columbia, Baker and Washington. Since then, monitoring daily voter registration counts, Republican officials say they have taken two more counties, including one of the state’s most populated, Pinellas.

Democrats still hold significant voter registration advantages statewide and in all other urban counties though. And presidential general elections such as the one this November have historically led to robust summer voter registration efforts for Democrats.

A FloridaPolitics.com analysis of voter registration figures from the book closing for Florida’s presidential primary found that 37.8 percent of the state’s voters were registered as Democrats, and 35.5 percent as Republicans. The remaining 26.7 percent were registered either as independents or with minor political parties.

But for now, Democrats are losing ground. Democrats held a 3.8 percent advantage over Republicans in 2014, and that slipped to just under 2.4 percent last week.

Statewide, 4,569,788 Democrats were registered to vote in the presidential primary, a reduction of about 1.3 percent since the 2014 general election.

There were 4,276,104 registered Republicans registered for last week’s primary, a 2.5 percent increase from 2014.

Florida also had 3,214,856 voters who registered either as unaffiliated or with minor political parties. That was 83,733 more than in the 2014 general election, a 2.7 percent increase.

Democrats biggest advantages continue to be in the predominantly African-American and low-population counties of the central Panhandle, such as Gadsden, Liberty and Madison, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2 to 1. Democrats also still hold double-digit percentage leads over Republicans in several large counties – Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Orange – though Republicans made gains in each of those since 2014.

Republicans’ stronghold remains the western Panhandle counties of Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton, as well as the north Florida counties of Clay, Nassau and St. Johns, where they enjoy 2 to 1 (and growing, in the latest counts) advantages.

By flipping Pinellas the GOP would get its first red county with at least a half-million voters. Democrats still control the other six, including their single-digit percentage leads in Hillsborough and Duval.

Democrats made gains versus Republicans in only two counties: Seminole and Alachua. In Seminole, the Democrats signed up 2,836 more voters, while Republicans signed up 2,047 more. That sliced the GOP’s lead in voter registration there to 6 percent more than Democrats, down from 6.4 percent in the last election. In Alachua a very slightly better performance by Democrats in registering voters only padded that party’s already big lead in voter registration, now 18.7 percent.

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