Gwen Graham – Page 3 – Florida Politics

Florida Democrats: Republican debate a ‘right-wing circus’

Republican gubernatorial candidates Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis squared off in their first debate Thursday night and within minutes of the 6:30 p.m. start time, Florida Democrats had a lot to say.

That has a lot to do with the first question of a debate dominated by national issues rather than Florida-centric ones addressing the wedge issue to end all wedge issues: Abortion.

Now that President Donald Trump is slated to get a second Supreme Court appointment, Democrats fear — and many Republicans hope — that the issue can be relitigated in the nation’s high court.

The Florida Democratic Party spelled out those fears 10 minutes into the Republican debate with an email saying that if SCOTUS overturns Roe v. Wade, “Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis would lead Florida’s war on women.”

“Both candidates have spent their careers attacking women’s health and aligning themselves with some of the most anti-choice organizations in the country. And as governor, if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, either candidate would likely sign legislation that would attack women’s health — and outlaw abortion in Florida,” FDP said, backing up their statement a truckload of links to articles detailing the two Republicans’ anti-choice records, including that both Putnam and DeSantis receiving 100 percent ratings from National Right to Life.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, a Democratic candidate for Governor, echoed FDP in a series of tweets shortly after the debate started.

Her campaign used those quotes in a post-debate news release touted her as the “only candidate in the seven-way race for governor with a legislative record of defending a woman’s right to choose,” as well as her 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood and endorsements from EMILY’s List and Ruth’s List.

Also on blast were the Republican candidate’s stances on guns, which have dominated much of the rhetoric in the Democratic race ever since the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, not to mention the mass shooting in Annapolis, MD, just hours before the debate.

Both candidates cast the blame for MSD on everything but the tool that carried it out, but Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who often touts his successful court battle with the National Rifle Association on the campaign trail, didn’t need to wait to reheat Putnam’s most famous statement of the campaign season to date — that he’s a “proud NRA sellout.”

Orlando-area businessman Chris King also seized on his Republican rivals’ comments on guns, blasting Putnam specifically for his comments on the shooting du jour.

The Guv hopeful followed up after the debate wrapped with a statement lamenting the debate’s focus on the president, whose name popped up in many questions and nearly every response of the evening.

“Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis just spent 60 minutes one-upping each other on who’s the bigger Trump sycophant. From their NRA loyalty oaths to their fantasyland ideas to ban so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ in Florida (of which there are none), the first Republican debate wasn’t a race to the right — it was a race to the bottom,” he said.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who sits atop most polls in the five-way Democratic primary, hit his GOP opponents for their focus on blaming Barack Obama for everything from health care to, as Putnam asserted, the degradation of political discourse.

Most Democrats admonished Putnam and DeSantis for going “Full Trump” at the debate, and FDP chair Terrie Rizzo was among them. Her post-debate statement wasn’t one of frustration, however, but one of confidence and anticipation of Election Day.

“After tonight’s debate, I’ve never been more confident that Democrats will retake the Governor’s Mansion in November. This debate was a right-wing circus brought to you by Fox News and inspired by Donald Trump. Before a nationwide audience, Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis made clear that they only have one message: Trump, Trump, Trump,” she said.

“Both DeSantis and Putnam failed to substantively discuss issues they will have to address as Governor of Florida — like public education — and instead focused on divisive and demagogic rhetoric. In stark contrast to the Republican gubernatorial campaigns, Florida Democrats are standing up for public education, affordable health care and an economy that works for every one of us — and that’s why we are confident of victory in November.”

New R. Jai Gillum video offers women’s perspective for Andrew Gillum

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum‘s campaign has released a second internet video starring his wife R. Jai Gillum, offering a woman’s perspective on her husband and the issues, and perhaps a subtle effort to suggest to Democratic women voters that there is an alternative to defaulting to vote for Gwen Graham.

In the new one-minute, 50-second video being released Thursday, “First Lady Gillum Hosts Women for Andrew Gillum,” R. Jai Gillum offers a much calmer demeanor than her sometimes fiery husband, as she meets with a group of women in a living room setting. [She is currently Tallahassee’s first lady to her husband’s role as mayor.]

R. Jai Gillum also declares that a candidate’s being African American, or being a woman, is not a reason for voters to pick someone. She then discusses briefly issues, notably abortion, education, attracting jobs, and children, saying that someone has to do something different in the governor’s mansion.

She is no stranger to public policy and politics, She works for the the Florida Dental Association’s Foundation and has significant public sector experience, including working in the administration of former Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the party’s 2010 nominee for governor.

With this video and the previous one, “Meet Florida’s Next First Lady: R. Jai Gillum!” she and her husband also are offering something the other four Democratic candidates, and the two major Republican candidates have not yet attempted to offer: a suggestion of a partnership, the unstated assumption that the candidate and the potential first lady come as a team. It also provides Andrew Gillum the opportunity to balance his often in-your-face style with her more intimate approach.

Gillum faces Graham, Jeff Greene, Philip Levine, and Chris King in the August 28 primary, while the Republicans are fielding Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis.

In the one-minute, 50-second new video she covertly addressing Graham’s advantage as the only woman in a five-way primary: “Yes, I know that African Americans would be proud to have the first African-American governor. And women would be proud to have a woman governor. But that is not why an educated electorate picks their leaders.”

In new ad, Gwen Graham vows to ‘take it back’

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is unveiling a new online video that also will serve as her introduction at this weekend’s Florida Democratic Party conference decrying 20 years of Republican rule of Florida and declaring that if she’s elected governor Democrats will “Take it Back.”

The two-minute, 26-second video features dramatic music of pounding piano chords and drums as ominous images of Florida and Republicans give way to rapid-fire clips of Graham on the campaign trail, interrupted occasionally by slaps of text following the theme, “We Will Take Back” one aspect or another of Florida.

Along the way, Graham narrates, briefly pointing out: “It didn’t used to be that way.”

Graham then goes through her basic platform points on health care, public schools, gun control, and “for people to want the best for each other.”

There also are the obligatory shots of her father, former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, though he’s not explicitly identified. As those nostalgic pictures roll, she says, “I grew up in a household where public service meant caring about the people of the state and caring about the state itself. We’ve lost that, but we’re going to take it back.”

Graham created the video to be shown at the Democrats’ Leadership Blue event in Hollywood. Her rivals for the August 28 Democratic primary for governor, Andrew Gillum, Chris King, Philip Levine, and Jeff Greene also are expected to provide such videos.

Graham’s campaign also is announcing Thursday it will place an online buy behind the video to target Democrats in Hollywood over the weekend. Her campaign announced it is also holding a Leadership Blue “Women for Graham” kickoff party Friday night that will feature locally elected women, EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock, and a nationally known special guest who will announce her endorsement of Graham.

Among her points, Graham gets unusually feisty — for her — declaring, “As governor, I’m not going to allow Florida to be the testing lab for all of these right-wing charter school privatization models,” and “It’s B.S. that there’s nothing that we can do to get these weapons of war off our streets and out of our schools.”

And while the video includes no fewer than 15 shots of Graham’s trademark hugs, she also takes issue with her own generally civil behavior and reputation, stating, “do not mistake my friendliness for any single bit of lack of resolve.”

Chris King touting internal poll showing all his numbers rising

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King is releasing results of internal polling Wednesday that show his support numbers rising across the board in four Florida markets heading toward the August 28 Democratic primary.

The survey by David Binder Research finds a relatively tight race for the top four contenders in a survey of likely Democratic primary voters found in a combination of Gainesville with Panama City, Jacksonville, Orlando and West Palm Beach. It also shows King making significant progress there and among specific demographic groups: both men and women, white, African-American and Hispanic voters, and across four age brackets.

Overall the survey of 519 likely Democratic voters, polled two weeks ago by cellphone and land-line, found former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham leading with 21 percent, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine essentially tied with her at 20 percent; King at 11 percent; and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum at 9 percent.

At the time of the survey, the fifth major Democratic candidate Jeff Greene had only just launched his campaign; he barely showed up in the poll, at just 2 percent. The final 37 percent of voters were undecided.

David Binder Research, a California-based firm that was an in-house pollster for the Obama For America campaigns in 2008 and 2012, claimed a 4.3 percent margin of error for the overall results.

“We’ve said all along in this campaign that when voters meet Chris King, they tend to support him,” King’s senior adviser Omar Khan said in a statement the campaign is releasing along with a summary of the poll results Wednesday morning. “As we continue to introduce Chris and his bold, progressive vision to voters across Florida, we’ll continue to see support for his candidacy grow. Democrats are looking for a fresh, bold vision for Florida’s future in 2018 and this survey proves Chris is uniquely positioned to win among a crowded field of conventional politicians from the political establishment.”

King’s campaign was more interested in the change since the previous David Binder Research survey. Among Democratic voters “certain to vote for King,” he was barely showing up outside of the margin of error in an early March statewide poll. That was before he [and Graham and Greene] began television advertising. King’s numbers have gone up 5-10 percent in all four markets and within all the demographic groups when comparing the surveys.

King’s campaign did not release any statewide numbers for the June survey.

The King campaign also released the following analysis provided to it by David Binder Research along with the results:

“The survey indicates that voters respond very favorably to information about King’s experience living his progressive values every day and his bold policy priorities. Voters from across all demographic groups react positively to King being a proven progressive with a criminal justice reform plan that ends the death penalty, legalizes and taxes recreational marijuana, expands Medicaid to cover 800,000 more Floridians, and expands high-wage job opportunities by making community college and trade schools free. Voters react favorably to King’s courage to hold politicians’ of both parties feet to the fire in taking on the NRA.

“Additionally, results from this survey show that King has special appeal to important voter segments that are expected to turn out in high proportions in the August primary. King grows his strong base with females, progressives, African-Americans, Hispanics, and voters across all age groups throughout the state to lead all other candidates by a wide margin after voters hear communication about his priorities and policies.

“The survey clearly shows that if voters hear about King’s story and his plans to work on behalf of Floridians, his support level could grow to 33 percent, which in this crowded field of Democratic candidates would be more than enough to ensure the Democratic nomination for Governor of Florida.”

Adam Putnam

NBC News poll: Adam Putnam clear GOP Gov. front-runner, Democrats split

A fresh poll shows Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam with a solid lead in the Republican primary for Governor, while on the Democratic side it’s still anybody’s race.

The NBC News/Marist Poll found Putnam leading Northeast Florida U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis 38-21 percent, with 39 percent undecided. That lines up with another recent poll, commissioned by the pro-Putnam Florida Chamber of Commerce, which gives the second-term Commissioner a 32-15 lead.

On the Democratic side, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is on top with 19 percent support, followed by former Congresswoman Gwen Graham in the No. 2 spot with 17 percent support.

The other three Democrats vying for the Governor’s Mansion — Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Orlando-area businessman Chris King and Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene — combine to have 15 percent support among Sunshine State Democrats, 47 percent of whom say they haven’t decided who they will support in the primary.

Only about a third of those who said they were supporting a particular candidate in the Democratic primary said they were firm supporters, adding a layer of mystery regarding who is really on top in the five-way race primary.

Undecideds make up a much higher share of the Democratic side in the NBC News/Marist Poll than they did in a recent poll from RABA Research, which also found Levine and Graham in tight contest for the top two spots 27-26 percent, followed by King at 15 percent, Gillum at 8 percent and Greene at 3 percent.

Crosstabs included in the poll mainly focused on President Donald Trump and the national political climate. Floridians gave Trump a negative job approval rating, with 43 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving; that meshes with the 56 percent who told NBC News/Marist that they didn’t think Trump should  be re-elected to another term in 2020.

When it comes to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the president, 46 percent of Floridians say it’s fair, while 36 percent are calling foul. About one in six said they were unsure.

Despite the mediocre-to-negative outlook on the president, 46 percent of Floridians say the economy is improving and he deserves some credit. A quarter of Floridians recognized the improvements, but don’t credit them to Trump, while another quarter says the economy has stayed flat since he took office. Just 1 percent said the economy has worsened in the past 18 months.

Philip Levine talks Medicaid expansion, pre-existing conditions in new ad

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is out with a new ad for his gubernatorial campaign detailing his plan to fix Florida’s health care system.

The 30-second spot, “Remedy,” is Levine’s first ad covering health care since he hit radio in the early phase of his campaign with English- and Spanish-language ads encouraging listeners to sign up for health care plans through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. It’s backed up by a $1 million ad buy.

The new ad features Levine speaking with patients in a clinic waiting room as he talks about health care in Florida and his plans to fix the problems with it.

“This is where families come for help, but we’re now ranked almost dead last for health funding, leaving thousands of Floridians on waiting lists fighting for their lives,” Levine says in the ad. “I’m Philip Levine and I’m running for Governor to give everyone the health care they need.”

Levine then details his health care plan: “We will expand Medicaid, end the waiting lists, and unlike the president we will cover pre-existing conditions, because no one should go to bed at night fearing they can’t afford to wake up.”

Though health care has been a staple of Democratic campaigns for a decade, the issue has been forced to take a back seat for the past several months of the 2018 election cycle as Puerto Rican migration, gun control, and most recently immigration issues have dominated much of the dialogue in the race to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Levine is running against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and Orlando-area businessman Chris King in the Democratic primary. Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene joined the field at the beginning of June.

Graham also recently released an ad saying she would expand Medicaid if elected governor and the other candidates have stated they would do the same, often using the topic to ding Scott for his flip-flop on expanding the federal and state health insurance program for the very poor.

To date, Levine leads the pack in fundraising with more than $15 million raised and more than $10 million spent so far, including a substantial amount of self-funding. That could change in the coming weeks depending on how deep Greene is willing to dig into his own pockets — he has told multiple media outlets that he is willing to spend “whatever it takes” on his campaign.

The ad is below.

Andrew Gillum

Andrew Gillum announces details for Orlando town hall

Central Floridians won’t get to see a gubernatorial debate Tuesday, but they can still hear directly from at least one of the five Democrats vying to succeed term-limited Gov. Rick Scott in the fall.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said after the cancellation that he’d still be in Orlando to come Tuesday evening, and on Saturday the campaign followed up with the details: 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at 1001 N. Orange Ave.

Those interested in attending can swing by the event’s Facebook page and RSVP — the sooner the better, as space is limited. The campaign also said there free parking is available at the venue.

The town hall announcement also made sure it was known who the holdouts were that caused the Orlando debate to be scrubbed: Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge corroborates: Gillum, Orlando area businessman Chris King had committed to the debate, as had Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene, who was not a yet a candidate when the event was scheduled.

In fairness to Graham and Levine, who sit atop most polls of the Democratic primary, the Orlando debate was not one of the five they committed to in April, but their reticence to participate may have something to do with the strong performances of Gillum and King in the three debates that have already taken place — both have delivered multiple applause lines and earned strong reviews.

The two remaining debates from those five will be held July 8 in Ft. Meyers and August 2 in Miami. The primary election is Aug. 28.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — At the old ballgame

In her lifelong fight against child abuse, state Senator Lauren Book has found a friend in America’s favorite pastime.

The Plantation Democrat brought together 1,000 middle and elementary school children from seven schools in the Bronx for a walk to advocate for child safety and protection Thursday.

Lauren Book brings her crusade for child safety to the Bronx.

Led by Book, the large group of children approached Yankee Stadium — the heart of the Big Apple borough — as they chanted “Whose streets? OUR streets!”

Once inside, the children were joined by Yankee’s staff and players as they paced the warning track. As most stars should be, the activists were recognized over the stadium’s PA system.

It’s the fourth time the Senator has linked the surrounding neighborhood with one of the most popular teams in baseball, proving that her influence and advocacy knows no geographical limits.

The walk followed recent fatal shootings killing two young people outside local schools. Book paralleled the spirit of Bronx youth with that of Parkland.

“These students remind me that advocacy has no age limit,” Book said. “I wish I could shield these children from violence, abuse and poverty they experience daily, but the reality is, something more powerful is going on here: a new generation is being raised up that will combat these things themselves. It’s not about me, it’s about them.”

In the Bronx, Book also teaches lessons from her “Safer, Smarter Kids” curriculum. The first of its kind program is also taught in Manhattan. As part of the walk, Book donated to a local children’s advocacy center 200 copies of her book “Lauren’s Kingdom,” which encourages children suffering abuse to speak up.

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

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

Take 5

Governor disavows immigration practice — Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter this week to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar calling for an end to the practice of separating migrant children from their parents when they are detained for being in the country illegally. The letter preceded President Donald Trump’s announcement later this week that he plans to end the immigration policy via an executive order. “I have been very clear that I absolutely do not agree with the practice of separating children from their families,” Scott wrote. “This practice needs to stop now.” In the letter, Scott requested HHS to notify him of unaccompanied migrant children in the state and made several inquiries regarding health care, education and social services being provided to the children. He also offered a helping hand from the state to reunite children with their parents.

Plans advance to close Broward nursing home — The state won a key victory this week in a series of legal battles with a troubled nursing home in Broward County. An appellate court upheld a state agency’s decision to suspend the operating license of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, the nursing home where authorities linked several patient deaths to negligence following a power outage caused by Hurricane Irma. Also upheld by the court were moves to suspend the facility’s participation in the Medicaid program and block Medicaid admissions. Meanwhile, the state still is battling the nursing home over whether it should be required to turn over death records of thousands of nursing home patients across the state. A circuit court judge ruled last week that the state Department of Health should provide the records for a reasonable fee. State attorneys this week filed an appeal to that ruling, reports the News Service of Florida.

Feds could join FIU bridge lawsuit — The federal government is “actively considering whether to file a statement of interest” in a Miami Herald lawsuit seeking records held by the state Department of Transportation, reported Jim Rosica for Florida Politics. The records requested pertain to the FIU footbridge that collapsed in March killing 6 people. The Herald and two named reporters are seeking “emails, meeting minutes and other records relating to the bridge’s design and construction” from DOT. The U.S. attorney who filed the document this week cited the involvement of a federal entity, the National Transportation Safety Board, as a rationale for potentially justifying involvement in the lawsuit. The state Department of Transportation has cited an ongoing NTSB investigation as just cause for not releasing the records sought by the Herald, as they cannot release the information without NTSB approval.

Groups push halt to early voting ban — University students who are suing over the state’s ban on early voting at college campuses filed a motion this week to halt the ban ahead of this year’s election. The motion seeks a “preliminary injunction to prevent Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner from enforcing” the ban, according to a news release. Matt Dixon of POLITICO Florida notes that the students who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit are supported by the Democratic-aligned Andrew Goodman Foundation, along with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Florida and other groups. Writes Dixon, “the groups argue the push is not political, but rather to ensure that younger voters are not treated differently.” Sponsoring the plaintiffs — made up of nine students from the University of Florida and FSU — is Priorities USA Foundation. The group’s Chairman Guy Cecil said, “We’re confident that we will prevail in court when this case goes to full trial, and in the meantime urge the court to stop Secretary Detzner from suppressing the vote any further.”

Florida relevant in landmark sales tax ruling — A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that’s being acclaimed by some as a move toward “leveling the playing field” between physical retails stores and online sellers could significantly affect the dollar amount of taxes remitted in the Sunshine State. Reports Jim Rosica for Florida Politics, “Estimates have varied on how much Florida would get if it captured taxes on its residents’ online purchases, from $200 million to more than $750 million.” The recent court ruling walks back an earlier precedent that online retailers could only be required to collect sales taxes on purchases if they had a physical presence in the state. The ruling supported a South Dakota law that required online retailers to collect sales taxes on orders from customers within the state. Currently, Floridians are required to pay sales taxes for online orders, and while large online retailers like Amazon already collect sales taxes, other smaller outlets do not, reports Axios. Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Retail Federation lauded the ruling. TaxWatch said the decision signals an opportunity for Florida to modernize its tax system, and the FRF pointed to the ruling as a chance for legislators to create equity between brick-and-mortar stores and online sellers.

Scott targets algae blooms

Amid reports of algae blooms in the Caloosahatchee River and east to the St. Lucie River estuaries and the Indian River Lagoon, Gov. Scott directed the state Department of Environmental Protection to order the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to “redirect the flow of water out of Lake Okeechobee to the south.”

Rick Scott is asking the Army Corps of Engineers to redirect water being released from Lake Okeechobee

“Two years ago, we saw the devastating impact of releases from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and estuaries which caused widespread algal blooms and led to the declaration of a state of emergency in four counties,” Scott said in a statement Wednesday. “We are taking immediate action to do everything in our power to solve this problem.”

In response to the order, reports, USACE began reducing overall discharges Friday. “Some have noted that there is no storage nor not enough conveyance for the water to go to the south, and that is going to be a problem,” reports TCPalm.

In his request, Scott noted that the state has a tentative agreement with the Donald Trump administration to expedite repairs to the federal Dike from where water needs to be discharged.

Added Scott: “Also, working with the Florida Legislature, I signed a law that accelerated the EAA reservoir to move more water south of the Lake, to help ease these discharges. But, while we continue to wait on the federal government’s action on the Dike and EAA reservoir, we are going to do all we can to protect our waterways as we enter the hot summer months in Florida.”

Bondi touts scam-targeting operation

Operation Main Street, a nationwide initiative focused on stopping scams that target small businesses, saw success in the Sunshine State.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced this week that of the 24 actions taken against scammers during the initiative, four were in Florida. The following businesses caught the wrath of the Attorney General: Florida Corporate Filing Services, GNA Housekeeping, LLC, United Business Services, Inc., and US Yellow.

Pam Bondi is targeting small business scams.

According to a news release from Bondi’s office, US Yellow tricked “small businesses into believing US Yellow provided free local listings with local Yellow Pages” and then charged businesses more than $1,000 a year for a listing.

For the other named scammers, Bondi’s office obtained final judgments for deceptive practices.

“Small businesses are vital to Florida’s economy, employing more than 3 million Floridians and contributing to our state’s economic strength,” Bondi said.

Instagram of the Week

#WeShouldAllCare 🇺🇸 #KeepFamiliesTogether @nymag @justinteodoro

A post shared by Congressman Darren Soto (@repdarrensoto) on

The Week in Appointments

Collier County Clerk of the Circuit Court

Crystal Kinzel will fill a vacancy created by the death of Dwight Brock. Her term began June 20 and will last through Nov. 13. She was the Chief Deputy Clerk of the same circuit.

Lake County Clerk of the Circuit Court

Gary Cooney will fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Neil Kelly. His term began June 15 and will last through Nov. 13. He was the Chief Deputy Clerk of the same circuit.

Education Dept. lauds family involvement initiatives

The Florida Department of Education this week announced the winners of its 2018 Family and Community Involvement Award, which recognizes schools for their efforts to get families and communities involved in education.

“It is my pleasure to recognize these schools with the Family and Community Involvement Award,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. “As a former teacher and principal, I have seen firsthand how family and community involvement can positively impact student achievement. My congratulations to our schools for their innovation in creating meaningful programs that connect students, parents and the community.”

Winning awards for their initiatives were Callahan Intermediate School in Nassau County, Denn John Middle School in Osceola County, Gulf Middle School and Hudson Elementary School in Pasco County, Killearn Lakes Elementary School in Leon County, Minneola Elementary School in Lake County, Poinciana Elementary School in Monroe County, Thomas L. Sims Middle School in Santa Rosa County and Woodlands Community Middle School in Palm Beach County.

The winners will be formally recognized and invited to share their award-winning programs at the Educational Strategies and Student Engagement Institute in November.

FWC staff recognized for conservation efforts

John Hunt, a biologist working for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and FWC officer Michael Bibeau were both honored this week by the Florida Guides Association for their conservation efforts.

John Hunt, with Captain Phil Chapman, was honored by the Florida Guides Association.

For his “passionate commitment” to protecting marine fisheries, Hunt received the Capt. Phil Chapman Award. He is known across the globe for scientific contributions that have been instrumental in preserving the Caribbean spiny lobster fishery.

Gil McRae, Director of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said Hunt “embodies” the needed application of “sound science and collective problem-solving approach that relies upon strong partnerships among government, stakeholders and environmental groups.”

“Perhaps, most importantly, John is a tireless advocate for his staff within the agency,” added McRae. “He has repeatedly shown admirable dedication and commitment to his staff, serving as a model for all of us with his leadership, compassion and courage.”

For his work patrolling Pinellas County, Bibeau was honored with the Trained Eyes Coastwatchers Officer of the Year award.

“The hard work of my brothers and sisters in conservation law enforcement inspires me to do my job every day to the best of my ability,” Bibeau said.

Parks surpass prescribed-fire record

The Florida Park Service has beaten a previous record for the amount of land managed by prescribed fire in a fiscal year.

More than 80,837 acres of land have been managed via controlled burns this year. The process is extremely beneficial to the environment, and remains a safe and effective way to help woodlands; the fires are planned, set and extinguished by specialized staff.

Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper.

“We are proud of Florida State Parks staff for setting a new record for protecting park habitat with prescribed fire,” said Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper. “Florida is fortunate to have such dedicated people working in state parks reducing risks of wildfire and restoring natural systems.”

The risk of wildfires is mitigated through prescribed fires because the deliberate blazes can be used to target areas where dry, dead plants have accumulated. It’s an effective tool that allows park workers to clear brush out of the way. Other benefits of controlled burns include increased nutrients in soil and upticks in biodiversity.

There are 175 state parks in Florida, 67 of them have seen more than 390 prescribed fires this year.

Preliminary citrus budget gets approval

The Florida Citrus Commission approved a preliminary $17.68 million spending plan for the Florida Department of Citrus in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

That’s a $442,000 increase from last year, which ended up being one of the worst years for Florida citrus in recent history as it reeled from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

The tentative plan figures Florida citrus growers should produce 60 million boxes of oranges and 5 million boxes of grapefruit. The budget is based on a tax projection of $.07 per box of processed oranges, all grapefruit and all specialty fruit. A tax of $.05 is projected for fresh oranges.

Though the overall budget increased, international programs, scientific research, and administration components of the budget saw cuts.

The budget will not be finalized until October, after the USDA releases its initial crop forecast for the upcoming season. Florida growers are on track to produce just 44.95 million boxes of oranges this year, according to the latest USDA forecast, and citrus groves suffered extensive damage that could affect crop production for years to come.

No SunPass fines during update

Good news for drivers: there’ll be no late fees or penalties as the state updates the troubled SunPass electronic toll collection system.

“I share the frustrations with our customers over the rollout of (the updated system) and find it unacceptable,” said Mike Dew, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Mike Dew promises no SunPass fines during updates.

“We will not be imposing late fees or penalties on SunPass accounts until the system is providing the benefits and ease of access that our customers deserve and expect.”

“The SunPass system has accumulated toll charges for customer accounts since the maintenance period began June 1,” a news release said. “In the best interest of the customer, the posting of toll charges was withheld until the website and call center systems were operating more efficiently.”

SunPass customers will continue to be charged regular tolls, however. Once the system gets a clean bill of health, fees and penalties will resume for delinquent accounts.

Lawmakers ranked on progressive positions

It’s a common practice for activist groups and interests to dole out letter grades for lawmakers based on their voting records during the previous Session.

Typically, the results fall along party lines. And a recent report card from Progress Florida was no outlier to that trend; all of the 17 lawmakers who earned an A grade are Democrats, and very few Republicans received anything but an F grade — although term-limited Republican Sen. Rene Garcia of Miami got a C.

Unsurprisingly, Carlos Guillermo Smith earned the top grade among Florida progressives.

Votes were factored into whether they expressed support for what Progress Florida dubbed “People First” positions. During 2018, votes, like supporting an assault weapons ban, or opposing the House’s education package, met the “People First” criteria.

“Floridians don’t always know where their legislators stand on key issues impacting their lives, from access to health care and environmental protection to gun safety, the economy and supporting public schools,” said Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferrulo. “Our People First Report Card grades state lawmakers based not on what they say in a campaign mailer, but on how they actually voted on issues Floridians care about.”

Unsurprisingly, Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith topped the group’s list. The freshman Democrat helped found and chaired the Legislative Progressive Caucus. He was joined with 100 percent scores by South Florida Democrats Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez and Rep. David Richardson. Each aligned with Progress Florida on every scored vote.

Chip LaMarca recognized for local commitment

As he vies for the South Florida HD 39 seat in the Legislature, Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca was recognized this week for his work at the local level.

The Florida Association of Counties chose LaMarca as the recipient of the 2018 President’s Commitment to Service Award — the honor is bestowed upon those who address local issues and serve alongside the association.

Chip LaMarca earns kudos for his local work.

In accepting the honor, LaMarca emphasized home rule — which has come to be a hot topic of the Legislature as lawmakers have pre-empted powers to the state. The state has been criticized for overreaching into governing decisions usually determined at the local level.

“The Florida Association of Counties works on behalf of Florida’s 67 counties to advocate for home rule and legislation that is vital to the quality of life for all of our residents,” said LaMarca.

Florida Association of Counties President Christopher Constance, also a Charlotte County Commissioner, said LaMarca’s “unwavering commitment to local governments exemplifies the definition of a dedicated and selfless public servant.”

If LaMarca makes it to the House in November, Constance and the counties could have another local-friendly fighter in the state House.

Utility leaders honored for service

Four public powers leaders were honored this week by the American Public Power Association (APPA) for their important work of providing electricity to the state.

Among the honorees: Amy Zubaly, who is the Executive Director of Florida Municipal Electric Association, or FMEA; Fred Bryant, the former general counsel of FMEA and Florida Municipal Power Agency, or FMPA; Chris Gent, who is the vice president of communications for Kissimmee Utility Authority; and Michael Perri, Jr., a board member of Fort Pierce Utilities Authority.

Amy Zubaly, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) Board of Directors.

Zubaly was awarded for her 18 active years with APPA. The association recognized her important work restoring power in Florida after Hurricane Irma, as well as her efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Bryant was given the James D. Donovan Individual Achievement Award. It’s the second time he’s received the honor. He is credited with unmatched legal expertise in his field.

Perri, the board member, was recognized in his capacity as an elected official. APPA awarded him the honor for assisting in beneficial legislation and opposing potentially harmful bills.

FSU research: Church does little for opioid addiction

A new study conducted by researchers at Florida State University found that religious involvement has no significant effect on mothers who are misusing prescription drugs — like opioids.

Illegal drugs, however, are a different story; the researchers found that practicing religion could have an effect on prohibited substance use.

FSU Associate Professor Amy Burdette (Image via FSU /Bill Lax)

“However, religious communities are just beginning to discuss the dangers of prescription drug abuse,” explained FSU Associate Professor Amy Burdette, who spearheaded the research.

Across the slice of population studied — female mothers who were mostly single — drug abuse was low.

“That’s a bit of good news,” Burdette said. “Whether you’re talking about prescription drug misuse or illegal substance abuse, it’s somewhat rare in our sample — it’s not that most mothers are doing this.”

Still, Burdette believes the study should be taken into consideration by religious leaders.

“Our research suggests that church leaders may want to directly address the issue of prescription drug misuse as churchgoers may not view prescription drugs in the same way that they view illegal drugs,” Burdette said. “Not directly addressing the issue may lead to a high degree of moral ambiguity.”

Leon County balances budget without increasing millage rate

After tentatively coming to an agreement this week, commissioners for Leon County are touting the seventh-consecutive year in which they’ve drafted a budget without raising the millage rate.

The elected leaders of the county that houses the capital city are proposing a $262.5 million spending plan for the year ahead — a 3.46 percent increase from last year.

Leon County Commission Chair Nick Maddox.

But that increase is accompanied by no change in the millage rate, currently set at 8.3144 mills.

A news release announcing the budget plan said it was created during “a slowly improving economy, where growth in property tax revenues and state sales tax revenues are beginning to cover the inflationary costs of government expenses without having to reduce program services.”

“While property values continue to slowly rise in our recovering economy, the County remains committed to serving our citizens while avoiding new expenses,” said Commission Chairman Nick Maddox. “This balanced budget demonstrates that commitment.”

Making way for new Publix near downtown

If you travel Gaines Street often, get ready for detours.

Starting next week, there will be what the city calls ‘traffic impacts’ on the strip because of construction on the new Publix Greenwise Supermarket being built near Gaines and Railroad Avenue.

The city promises, however, that “access to area businesses and residences will be maintained at all times.”

Here’s the plan, according to a city news release:

— From next Monday through Sunday, July 1, the eastbound lane of Gaines from Railroad to Woodward Avenue will be closed. The westbound lane will remain open and detour signs will be posted.

— Starting Monday, July 2, until Thursday, July 5, the eastbound lane of Gaines from Railroad to Woodward will be closed daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

— Starting Friday, July 6 and lasting through Sunday, July 8, there will be a full road closure (both eastbound and westbound lanes closed) on Gaines in front of the site.

For more information, email Dwaine Stevens, the Publix Media and Community Relations Manager for the region, at

Artopia: Big Bend Cares

Artopia is a charity art fundraising event Saturday, June 23, to benefit Big Bend Cares.

Local and regional artists donate artwork for this event, which includes a few signed and numbered limited editions. With art and media including painting, sculpture, photography, arts and crafts, Artopia features both silent and a live auction at the end of the evening.

Last year, Artopia featured more than 300 pieces of original artwork, including oils, pastels, acrylics, photography, scenography, sculpture, pottery, ceramics, jewelry, woodwork, mixed media and much, much more.

In addition to all of the artwork, local businesses and individuals donate gift certificates and other perks to bid on. Tickets are $25.00; event begins 7 p.m. at the Donald L Tucker Civic Center, 505 W Pensacola St.

Capitol Directions

Democrats hope health care will be political elixir

One of the more-dramatic moments of Rick Scott’s time in office came in 2013 when he held a late-afternoon press conference at the Governor’s Mansion to declare his support for Medicaid expansion.

The prospect of Scott supporting a key element of Obama’s health-care overhaul was at one time unthinkable. Scott, a former health-care executive, had been a leading critic of “Obamacare” even before he started his first campaign for Governor.

But the Republican Governor would eventually flip again on the issue and declare his opposition to Medicaid expansion when it was proposed by the Florida Senate. The opposition of Scott and the GOP-dominated House forced the Senate to scrap the idea.

Now, Democrats eager to reclaim the Governor’s Mansion and defeat Scott in his campaign for a U.S. Senate seat have decided that Medicaid and health care are issues to run on.

Gwen Graham, who is among the Democratic candidates running for Governor, launched a television ad this week that calls it “disgusting” and “an absolute failure of the Republican Legislature” that Medicaid expansion was rejected.

Down in West Palm Beach, Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo held a press conference with U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel and others to hammer home the need for Medicaid expansion. Democrats say they plan to hold similar events in the coming weeks.

It’s not yet clear, however, if Medicaid expansion will have a major impact on the elections in a year when issues such as immigration and Donald Trump are dominating the political landscape. Democrat Charlie Crist, who challenged Scott in 2014, tried to make Medicaid expansion a major part of his campaign platform that year and lost.

Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat, maintained that health care is on the minds of voters and that Democrats want to remind them that Republicans have said “no, no, no.”

“If you believe in health care as a basic right and that regardless of your income you should be able go to a doctor and get medicine if you need it, then you have to vote Democrat,” Frankel said.

Meanwhile, the left-leaning group Floridians for a Fair Shake this week released a television ad that features twin sisters Susan Stutz of Port St. Lucie and Paula Albright of Palm City talking about surviving cancer. The ad goes after Republican Congressman Brian Mast on health-care issues and is expected to run in the West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce media market — as Democrats target Mast’s seat in that area.

Orlando Democratic guberatorial debate canceled

The Orange County Democratic Party has canceled efforts to have a gubernatorial debate in Orlando next Tuesday because Philip Levine and Gwen Graham would not agree to participate.

Orange County Democratic Chair Wes Hodge expressed regret over the last-week cancellation he announced Friday and that voters in Orange County “will not have the opportunity to hear from the candidates seeking to be their governor in one open, public forum.”

Hodge said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King had committed weeks ago, but not former U.S. Rep. Graham nor former Miami Beach Mayor Levine. The fifth candidate, newly-entered Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene, also had recently committed, his campaign said.

“Regrettably the Orange County Democratic Party has been forced to cancel the planned Democratic gubernatorial debate scheduled for next Tuesday, June 26th, due to an inability to secure all of the candidates for the event,” Hodge said in a statement. “We have been working hard over the past six weeks to make this event a success, and I would like to thank all of our volunteers who worked to make this happen. It is unfortunate that the voters of Orange County will not have an opportunity to hear from the candidates seeking to be their Governor directly in one open, public forum.”

The debate was being planned for Barnett Park on Orlando’s west side, for a 7 p.m. forum.

“The Democratic Executive Committee will be working to find another way to connect our voters directly with our five candidates seeking the governor’s office, and hope to announce another event in the near future,” Hodge added.

Gillum and King blasted their rivals for not being willing to join them. The first four Democratic gubernatorial candidates have debated three times, and Gillum and King have done well, getting strong reviews for their performances. But now Levine and Graham are showing signs of pulling ahead in polls heading toward the August 28 primary.

Gillum said he’s going to come anyway.

“It’s critical that Orange County voters hear about our priorities for this state, and since my opponents refuse to join me for a debate, I’m looking forward to hosting a town hall in its place on Tuesday night,” Gillum said in a statement. “Floridians need to know where we stand, and who we stand for.”

King said it was too bad that neither Orlando nor Jacksonville are getting to see the Democrats go head-to-head.

“Politics and politicians, as usual, have failed progressive values and ordinary Floridians for too long and Democrats deserve to judge for themselves whether the other candidates for governor offer a fresh vision and a break from the past. That’s why I’m disappointed that some candidates in this race have refused invitations to debate in Orlando and Jacksonville,” King said in a statement. “We must compete in every corner of our state and take no one for granted, and that means making sure Spanish language, African American, Caribbean and other diverse media outlets are included as well.”

Levine’s campaign responded with a reminder that the Democrats initially had agreed to five debates, even though that included none in Orlando or Jacksonville.

“Our campaign worked successfully with the Florida Democratic Party on a number of agreed-upon debates and forums. After weeks of negotiations, all campaigns agreed to five debates, including a statewide televised debate that will air in Orange County,” Christian Ulvert, senior advisor to the campaign, said in a statement. “The Mayor is excited and proud to continue to share his vision for Florida and his progressive record of accomplishments directly with voters in the upcoming three debates and town halls.”

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