Gwen Graham Archives - Florida Politics

Darryl Paulson: Republican prospects in the 2018 Florida congressional campaign

Republicans have controlled the Florida congressional districts for almost three decades.

During that time, the size of the Florida congressional delegation has jumped from 23 in 1990 to 25 in 2000, and 27 in 2010. Projections have Florida adding two more seats after the 2020 census, growing the delegation to 29 seats in the House of Representatives.

Only California and Texas have larger delegations.

Currently, Republicans hold 16 of the 27 congressional seats, meaning Democrats need to flip three seats to take control of the delegation. How likely is that to happen?

That’s the topic of Paulson’s Politics for next week.

Three decades of Republican control of the delegation is testimony to the party’s ability to attract quality candidates and to provide them with the organizational and financial support essential for victory.

Is Republican dominance of the delegation over?

At one point, there were as many as seven more Republicans than Democrats in the Florida delegation. Democrats had hoped that a judicial redraw of the congressional district lines in 2016, due to a League of Women Voters challenge to the legislature’s redistricting plan that they believed violated the Fair District Amendment, would allow Democrats to pick up a number of congressional seats. In the end, Democrats picked up one seat, reducing the Republican advantage to 16 to 11.

Floridians elected eight new members to the Florida delegation in 2016, the highest turnover rate of any state with at least eight members. Typically, 90 percent of House members win re-election.

Three incumbent Republicans retired and were replaced by three new Republicans. Two Republicans lost to Democrats and another Republican, Daniel Webster, moved from District 10 to 11 after his District was redrawn and made heavily Democratic. Republicans picked up two seats that had been held by a Democrat. Gwen Graham decided not to seek re-election after her District 2 seat was redrawn to favor Republicans, and Patrick Murphy abandoned his House seat to run unsuccessfully for the U. S. Senate. Republican Neal Dunn won the Graham seat and Brian Mast won the Murphy seat. The net result was a one seat gain by Democrats.

One Republican strength has been that Republican voters have been more motivated than Democrats to turn out on Election Day, especially in midterms. Democratic advantages in voter registration numbers have been diminished by Republican advantage in voter turnout.

A recent Washington Post/ABC Poll indicates that the Republican edge in motivation will not be there in the 2018 midterms. An identical percentage of Republican and Democratic voters, 63 percent, indicated that they are certain to vote in 2018. That number may change by Election Day, but it has to be a concern for Republicans.

Republicans in Florida have been advantaged over the past three decades due to their organizational strength and their ability to finally support their candidates. This is no longer the case.

Democrats, who have had a long history of forming a circular firing squad and executing their own members, finally seem to have their act together. It is now the Republicans who are divided. When Gov. Rick Scott’s hand-picked candidate to lead the party was defeated by state legislator Blaise Ingoglia, Scott told Republicans not to contribute to the party, but instead to his own Let’s Get to Work PAC.

The flow of money to the Florida Republican Party has slowed to a trickle, making it difficult to support more than a small number of candidates. During the first six months of 2017, the Florida Democratic Party raised $3.5 million compared to only $2.4 million for the Republicans. This is, and will be, a major problem for the Republican Party and their candidates heading into 2018.

NEXT WEEK:  An analysis of the 2018 congressional races. Will it be status quo, or will Florida experience a political tsunami?

Former FDP chairwoman aware of Bittel’s ‘objectifying’ behavior, calls on him to resign

Allison Tant, the former Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, said Friday that out of “moral necessity” Stephen Bittel, the current party chairman criticized for creating a hostile work environment for women, should step down.

Tant said that since she left, and Bittel took over in January, at least seven women — who are in their 20s and continued to work for the state’s party — have sought her to complain about Bittel’s inappropriate behavior toward them.

“These are young women who cannot trust their boss with their solitary presence,” Tant said. “They need other eyes to keep them safe while they work? It’s unacceptable.”

Female staffers have complained about Bittel belittling them in front of male lobbyists and elected officials, and Tant said she is “infuriated” that accomplished, smart women who believe in the value of the Democratic party are being treated in a “demeaning” and “objectifying manner” by their leader.

“When I left I told him, please, be good to these people, we had just taken a tough loss and it was demoralizing,” Tant said. “He gets there and the war starts happening. It’s been hard for me to see this.”

Since POLITICO Florida reported late Thursday that six former state party staffers and consultants complained about Bittel creating a hostile work environment toward women — that included making suggestive remarks and having a breast-shaped stress squeeze-ball at his work desk — Bittel has apologized. He did not deny the women’s accounts.

“I’m infuriated that the story is: he’s not a predator and it’s OK to apologize. It’s not,” Tant said.

In the wake of the reports, all four Democrats running for governor — Gwen Graham, Philip Levine, Andrew Gillum and Chris Kinghave asked Bittel to resign. Tant wants him to step down too. She says it is out of “moral necessity.”

“We cannot be the party to speak for the vulnerable and voiceless; demand equal work for women and stand up to women being sexually abused and let this roll,” Tant said.

UPDATE: On Friday morning, Bittel announced he is resigning following reports that he created a hostile work environment for women by “belittling” them in front of male staffers and making suggestive remarks.

Gwen Graham: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel ‘must resign’

Gwen Graham, a top Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has asked Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel to resign following reports that he was “creepy” and “demeaning” toward women in the workplace.

Graham said this morning she called Bittel — who has apologized for his behavior and did not deny the account of six unnamed women who talked to POLITICO Florida — to tell him he should resign.

“No one should have to work in an uncomfortable environment,” Graham said in a statement. “Bittel’s behavior and the atmosphere he has created is unacceptable. He must resign.”

Andrew Gillum, a Democrat who is also running for governor, has also called on Bittel to step down.

Janet Cruz first to react to Stephen Bittel accusations

Janet Cruz was one of the first Democrats to respond on Friday to a POLITICO Florida report that Florida Democratic Party chairman Stephen Bittel has created a hostile workplace environment for women through constant inappropriate comments and suggestions.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with Stephen Bittel. He’s always been kind and respectful to me,” the Democratic House Minority Leader wrote in a text Friday morning. “No woman should be made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe, and I encourage women to be courageous and speak up. My office is open, and a safe place.”

While the women told POLITICO that they were never touched inappropriately, they said Bittel’s suggestive remarks, invitations to go on his private plane and even his possession of a breast-shaped stress squeeze-ball kept at his desk made them uncomfortable.

Bittel, a millionaire Coconut Grove developer who was just elected to serve as party chair in January, apologized for his behavior and did not deny the accounts of the women who talked to POLITICO Florida.

“Every person, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexuality should be treated with respect and valued for their hard work and contributions to our community, and if any of my comments or actions did not reflect that belief I am deeply sorry,” Bittel said.

Since Cruz’s response, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham and Philip Levine have all released statements saying that Bittel needs to resign.

This is the second time that Bittel has had to apologize for his actions since becoming party chairman, and the second time that Florida Democrats have had to defend him.

At the FDP’s Leadership Blue Gala in Hollywood in June, Bittel angered members of his own party for racially-tinged remarks made backstage at the party’s most prominent annual fundraising event.

“I know Stephen Bittel, and I have never, ever thought of him or known him to be a racist,” Cruz said in July. “I think perhaps he might be elitist, but I have never known him to be a racist, so I was really sad that was the focus of the press and the focus of the attention.”

The Bittel story follows national fallout on sexual harassment that has dominated the media landscape over the past six weeks, initially sparked by the New York Times and New Yorker revelations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

The story hit home in Tallahassee after it was revealed last month that South Florida Democratic state Sen. Jeff Clemens engaged in an extramarital affair, resulting in his resignation.

Two weeks ago, POLITICO Florida reported anonymous allegations by several women that Clearwater state Senator and Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala acted inappropriately around them. Latvala denies the charges, and now faces two Florida Senate complaints about sexual harassment.

UPDATE: On Friday morning, Bittel announced he is resigning following reports that he created a hostile work environment for women by “belittling” them in front of male staffers and making suggestive remarks.

Ben Diamond endorses Gwen Graham for Governor

The field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates could keep growing, but St. Petersburg Rep. Ben Diamond announced Thursday that he’s backing former Congresswoman Gwen Graham in the primary race to take over for Gov. Rick Scott.

“Gwen Graham has shown she is not afraid to take on the special interests or status quo. Gwen understands that hardworking Floridians should not have to pay investor-owned utilities for nuclear power plants that are never built or for fracking exploration,” Diamond said in a press release from the Graham campaign. “As governor, Gwen will stand with Florida’s families over Tallahassee special interests.”

Graham last week came out against utility companies putting the financial burden of their ventures on ratepayers through nuclear cost recovery fees and fracking exploration.

“For 20 years, the Republican politicians in Tallahassee have turned a blind eye to the Public Service Commission and utility companies as they’ve taxed seniors, small business owners and families. That ends when I’m elected governor,” she said.

Diamond also applauded Graham, the daughter of former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, for her support of Florida Forever and other environmental programs.

“For too long, leaders in Tallahassee have ignored the will of the voters by refusing to fully fund Florida Forever. Gwen will listen. She will continue the legacy and leadership of her father in working to conserve Florida’s lands and protect Florida’s water supply for our children and grandchildren. As governor, I know Gwen will fully support Florida Forever and be a good steward of our environment.”

Florida voters in 2014 overwhelmingly backed the Florida Forever ballot amendment, dedicating more money for Florida Future — only to see meager appropriations in the three years since.

A senate bill filed for the 2018 Legislative Session seeking to commit the Sunshine State to spending $100 million a year on land acquisition and preservation through the Florida Forever Trust Fund cleared its first committee stop last week.

Graham called Diamond a “true leader” and said she was “proud to have his support.”

“Working with Floridians across this state, we will end the special-interest stranglehold on our government. We will fight to conserve our land and protect our clean water for generations to come,” she said.

Graham is currently in a four-way primary for the Democratic nomination for governor. She faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who entered the race on Nov. 1.

Graham has raised about $4 million for her campaign, putting her behind only Levine among Democratic candidates. Looming on the horizon is the possible entry of Orlando attorney John Morgan, who told Florida Politics Thursday he would decide whether to run in the first quarter of next year.

It’s ‘Us vs. Tallahassee’ in Philip Levine’s first TV ad

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine says it’s “Us versus Tallahassee” in his first TV ad for the 2018 Florida governor’s race.

Released Thursday, Levine’s political committee All About Florida produced the ad, titled “Lead.”

The 30-second spot, which introduces the Democratic gubernatorial candidate’s vision for Florida, comes is part of an $800,000 ad buy across the state. The campaign will run for five weeks.

In it, Levine offers a direct message, senior adviser Christian Ulvert said in a statement Thursday announcing the ad, with a “call to action to do the right thing.”

“This election cycle will come down to which candidate puts forward a bold agenda and can back it up with an actual record of getting things done,” Ulvert added.

In the spot, Levine criticizes “Tallahassee” twice — the home of two of his Democratic opponents, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Mayor Andrew Gillum.

“Here in Florida, it’s time … to address climate change by addressing Tallahassee’s climate of denial. It’s time to restore power back to the level where people live, instead of Tallahassee, where politicians live,” Levine said.

“It’s time to make a day’s pay enough to avoid a lifetime of dread. Why a living wage? Because it’s the right thing to do.”

 

John Morgan: Set your watch to first quarter of 2018

Orlando celebrity attorney John Morgan is always upfront about things he loves and hates, and the “loves” column includes the tease, while the “hates” column includes long campaigns, so it’s no surprise that Morgan’s been teasing a Democratic run for governor for a year, while making no commitments.

Watchers have been wondering as Morgan has toured the state speaking to Tiger Bay Clubs and elsewhere about his Democratic vision for Florida, and the state’s Democratic field has expanded with candidates not quite raising excitement: how long will this go on?

“I will decide in the first Q,” Morgan replied by email to such a question from FloridaPolitics.

That was a follow-up to a post he put on Facebook Wednesday, in which he set six months of campaigning as the optimum. The Democratic primary, featuring former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park businessman Chris King is Aug. 28, 2018. Six months earlier would be Feb. 28, 2018.

“Sometimes less is more. People are sick of campaigns that go on forever with endless money grubbing,” Morgan posted. “Why do in 2 years what you can do in 6 months? The road goes on forever but the party never ends.”

Adam Putnam widened fundraising lead in October, while Phil Levine made a splash

Gubernatorial candidates raised big bucks last month, none more so than Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam who added $1.2 million between his campaign and committee accounts.

Putnam raised $571,932 of that sum through his campaign account and another $616,235 through his political committee, Florida Grown.

The former congressman and state lawmaker spent a combined $466,801 from the two accounts to leave him with nearly $14.7 million in the bank with a to-date fundraising total of $20.4 million.

Putnam’s campaign account received dozens of checks for $3,000, the maximum contribution for statewide races, with several donors doubling down with checks through their company’s subsidiaries or from their family members.

The October donor roll includes a political committee tied to Florida Transportation Builders Association, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association and insurance company GEICO, among many others.

Florida Grown, which passed $17 million raised last month, picked up a $150,000 check from the Associated Industries of Florida on the last day of the month as well as $50,000 contributions from California Republican David Jenkins, Dallas-based Tenet Health, real estate group Rayonier Inc., and GMRI, an Orlando-based subsidiary of Darden Restaurants.

Among the expenditures were $115,755 in payments to Harris Media for digital advertising and web development, 17 payments combining to over $75,000 for Lakeland-based Silloh Consulting, and $43,430 to Tallahassee-based Forward Strategies for fundraising consulting.

As reported last week, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine brought in nearly $1 million for his political committee, All About Florida. With all candidate reports in, that total puts him in second place behind Putnam for October.

Levine filed as a candidate on Nov. 1, so he has yet to file a finance report for his campaign. His committee account is flush, though, due to him plunking down $2.6 million of his own money.

The committee had about $5.4 million socked away at the end of the month, earning Levine the No. 2 spot in cash on hand.

Embroiled Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala’s October numbers came in at $513,101 raised between his campaign and political committee, Florida Leadership Committee, putting him in a distant third place among the declared major-party candidates.

The new money was offset by $152,147 in spending, leaving Latvala with a little over $5 million in the bank, good enough to put him in third place for cash on hand as well.

Campaign donors included a committee tied to the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, hotel company Marriott, and North Palm Beach attorney James Williams Jr. and his wife, Maureen Williams.

On the committee side, Latvala picked up $25,000 checks from American Traffic Solutions, a political committee tied to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Sugar and public employee trade association AFSCME Florida.

Expenditures included a $50,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida, which paid that back with more than $60,000 worth of “in-kind” contributions last month, $30,000 to Champion Digital Media for advertising, and $20,000 to St. Pete mayoral candidate Rick Baker’s political committee. Baker lost that election to incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman earlier this month.

Former congresswoman Gwen Graham, who touted her fundraising efforts earlier this month, came in behind Latvala with $346,573 raised between her campaign and committee, Our Florida. Heading into November, the North Florida Democrat had raised more than $4 million between her campaign and committee and had $2.66 million of that money on hand.

Winter Park businessman Chris King, running as a Democrat, tacked on $151,834 through his campaign and committee, Rise and Lead Florida, while Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum came in last place among the major candidates. His campaign announced last week that it had raised $80,107 in October, though his committee, Forward Florida, saw negative fundraising last month.

King’s fundraising total to-date clocks in at about $2.7 million, with about $1.7 million on hand. Gillum has raised nearly $1.6 million to date, and had $557,571 on hand at month’s end.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has not officially declared for governor, brought in $267,200 in October through his political committee, Watchdog PAC, making it the committee’s slowest month yet.

AIF’s Voice of Florida Business political committee gave the Land O’ Lakes Republican $50,000 last month, while Auto Glass America, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and a couple other donors chipped in with $25,000 apiece.

His $4 million on hand total would currently put him in the No. 4 position if he were to enter the race.

Republicans, agencies welcome Rick Scott’s budget

Gov. Rick Scott’s new $87.4 billion proposed budget has been welcomed by some major Republicans and state agencies.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who pushed legislation combating the Governor’s job incentives and tourism priorities last year, said he welcomes working with Scott to do what “is right for Florida taxpayers.”

“We are confident that together with the Governor and Senate we can produce a budget that cuts taxes, imposes accountability and transparency and ensures the future fiscal health of the state,” Corcoran said in a statement.

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) sang praise for the Governor’s proposed budget, which includes a $10 million investment for an additional 130 child protective investigators and Florida Abuse Hotline counselors, $2.2 million to expand care for victims of human trafficking and $15 million to enhance substance abuse service capacity statewide, along with other items helpful to DCF’s core mission of protecting the vulnerable.

“Governor Scott’s proposed budget shows his commitment to Florida’s most vulnerable citizens and the importance of providing resources to allow DCF to ensure the health and safety of Florida’s families,” said DCF Secretary Mike Carroll in a statement.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam thanked Scott for his proposed raises to wildland firefighters and law enforcement officers. The proposed budget specifies $2.4 million for a 10 percent raise to all Florida Forest Service Firefighters.

“These proposed raises will help us recruit and retain the best law enforcement officers and wildland firefighters to keep Floridians and visitors safe,” Putnam said.

The Florida Department of State (DOS) — with nearly half a million dollars and five staff positions proposed on the budget to create a cyber-security section for mission critical systems and $14.3 million in grant funding for cultural, historical and library grant programs — also lauded Scott.

“Governor Scott’s commitment to investments in library grants, cultural programs, and historic preservation support cultural heritage tourism and economic development, ensuring Florida continues to be one of the world’s best places to live and visit for generations to come,” Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said.

The Florida Department of Education applauded Scott, too. K-12 public schools received a proposed budget of $21.4 billion in state and local funding, an increase of $769.6 million; Florida colleges received $1.24 billion in state operating funds, an increase of $31.9 million; College students got a proposed continuation of  Bright Futures’ funding for 100 percent of Florida Academic Scholars’ fees and tuition.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the proposed budget demonstrates Scott’s dedication to Florida students.

“This continued investment in our state’s public education system will help to maintain the momentum to the benefit of current and future generations,” Stewart said.

But, despite the praise from his party colleagues and agencies, the term-limited Republican Governor hasn’t won the hearts of Florida Democrats.

The Florida Democratic party denounced the budget as “self-serving politics”

“At every turn, Scott is proving he’s only ever looking out for himself,” the Democratic Party of Florida said in a statement. “And he can’t run away from seven years of budgets that have left hardworking Floridians worse off than when he took office.”

Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum called the budget an attempt to “cover up seven years of failed policies.”

“Budgets reflect our values, and for seven years we’ve seen just what the Governor’s values are: cuts on top of cuts to programs that are critical for working families,” Gillum said.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who also is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, pointed to the budget as last-ditch effort to make up for prior education cuts.

“In his first year as governor, Scott cut more than $1 billion from Florida’s schools and we still haven’t recovered from those massive cut,” Graham said. “Adjusted for inflation, per-student funding would still be less under Rick Scott’s new budget than it was when he took office.”

Gwen Graham goes nuclear over recovery fees, fracking fees

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham wants to put a stop to Florida utility ratepayers paying for nuclear power  plants that were never built or which never worked, or for paying for fracking exploration in Florida.

The former congresswoman from Tallahassee went nuclear Tuesday denouncing the 2006 law that allowed Florida investor-owned utility companies to charge advance fees for nuclear power plants that were never built, something that the Florida Public Service Commission has allowed, to the tune of more than $3 million in fees, she said. She charged that the commission is out of control.

Her statement Tuesday in some ways echoes that made last month by her rival for the Democratic primary nomination, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who welcomed her on board the position Tuesday, yet also said “it feels like an election year conversion” for Graham.

Graham faces Democrats Gillum and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park businessman Chris King in seeking the 2018 Democratic primary nomination to run for governor.

On Oct. 17, Gillum declared in a statement, “Instead of forcing everyday Floridians to continue ponying up money for Florida Power & Light, the PSC should instead force FPL to pay for their Turkey Point nuclear energy license. Working people in this state face enough financial hardships as it is — they should not have to fork over more money to an enormous corporation who controls most of the state’s major energy decisions. Corporations have run roughshod over this state for too long, and when I’m Governor it will finally end.”

On Tuesday, Graham also called for an end.

“Floridians should not be forced to pay for nuclear power plants that are never built or for fracking exploration,” Graham stated in a news release. “For 20 years, the Republican politicians in Tallahassee have turned a blind eye to the Public Service Commission and utility companies as they’ve taxed seniors, small business owners and families. That ends when I’m elected governor.”

She also criticized both Gov. Jeb Bush and current Gov. Rick Scott for what she said was stacking the commission with what she called “unqualified, industry-friendly commissioners.” She then went after Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, for having voted for an unbuilt nuclear power plant while he was in Congress, and then go after likely Republican gubernatorial candidate House Speaker Richard Corcoran for appointing to the PSC nominating commission.

In 2015, the commission accepted a utilities’ request to allow the charges to Floridians as much as $500 million a year for natural gas fracking projects. The Florida Supreme Court ruled the commission exceeded its authority by approving it.

Now proposed legislation that would grant the commission new authority to charge what Graham called “the fracking tax.”

She pledged that as governor she would fight that and push for a statutory ban on any fracking tax.

“Rick Scott has appointed unqualified, industry-friendly commissioners. Adam Putnam voted to approve the construction of a $24-billion nuclear expansion that is unlikely to ever be built. As Speaker of the House, Richard Corcoran makes half of the appointments to the PSC Nominating Council — which has refused to consider consumer advocates for the PSC,” Graham said. “Their records make it clear that Corcoran and Putnam would continue to allow the Public Service Commission and utilities to charge Floridians with outrageous and unfair taxes.”

Corcoran’s office responded by saying he has six appointments to that commission, and they included Democratic House Leader Janet Cruz and consumer Ann Marie Ryan.

The watchdog group Integrity Florida recently labeled the PSC a “Captured Regulatory Agency,” asserting it has been captured under the influence of the very utilities it is responsible for regulating.

“The Public Service Commission is out of control. As governor, I will appoint consumer advocates who will vote in Floridians best interests — not the special interests,” Graham said. “I will fight to repeal the advanced nuclear recovery taxes and to ban utilities from ever charging customers a speculative fracking tax.”

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