Jack Latvala Archives - Page 4 of 67 - Florida Politics

Labor slams Scott Plakon ‘union busting’ House bill

A controversial bill that opponents call “union busting” was denounced in a conference call just hours before it was scheduled to be debated in the Florida House of Representatives later this week.

The proposal by Longwood Republican Scott Plakon (HB 25) has been introduced for several years now without success in the Legislature. After passing the House in 2017, the bill died in the Senate. It was on “special order” Wednesday in the House, meaning that other members can ask questions of the sponsor.

The legislation would decertify public unions in the workplace if voluntary dues-paying membership falls below fifty percent. The unions would have to report to the state annually how many employees are eligible for representation by the union and then how many of them do and don’t pay annual dues.

Florida is a “right to work ” state, meaning that employees are not legally compelled to pay union dues.

“Why would we create another hurdle to suppress union member and the rights of workers to have a voice in their workplace unless the real goal here is to eliminate the labor movement in Florida as a whole,” asked David Fernandez, communications director for the Florida AFL-CIO.

Plakon’s bill exempts police, firefighter and correctional unions, but that doesn’t mean those unions are OK with it.

“We see this as an attack on unions, and we want to stand strong with our brothers and sisters with the unions who are affected by this,” said Brodie Hughes with the Daytona-area International Union of Police Associations. “The minute you eliminate this type of stuff, you are going to have to open it up to random abuse of employees.”

Les Cantrell is with the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), which represents 3,500 Emergency Medical Technicians and paramedics who would be impacted by the bill.

“When lives are on the line, we trust out EMT’s to do the best and one of the most stressful and difficult professions in Florida,” said Cantrell. “Having a collective bargaining agreement gives them a voice to negotiate for fair wages for their work and to ensure that they have the best working conditions to do their jobs.”

The Florida Senate killed the bill last year, but one of the union’s most significant friends in the GOP, Jack Latvala, is no longer in the Senate, having resigned last month after a special master found probable cause that he violated Senate misconduct rules and sexually harassed a legislative aide.

The bill has three stops in the Senate and Fernandez hopes the chamber can reproduce its opposition to the bill, as it did last year.

“This bill is unnecessary,” he said. “It has too many holes to even count, too many questions that have remained unanswered.”

Updated 5 p.m. — House Democrats peppered Plakon with questions on the bill, such as John Cortes of Kissimmee, a retired corrections officer, asking why the bill couldn’t just “make the unions more transparent.”

Plakon said that’s what the bill is all about: “It will show, for the first time, whether (a) union is at 5 percent or 95 percent bargaining strength.”

When asked whether the bill was a union buster, Plakon plainly answered: “No.”

Senate announces new policy on sexual, workplace harassment

Prompted by a series of sex scandals that enveloped several senators, the Florida Senate on Thursday rolled out new guidelines on how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace.

The new employee code of conduct cites “patting, pinching, or intentionally brushing against an individual’s body,” unwelcome kissing or hugging as part of a greeting — including a peck on the cheek –, and sending emails, text messages or notes — whether it be a cartoon, a photo or a joke — of sexual nature, as examples that could violate the policy.

But any type of sexual harassment, whether verbal, nonverbal or physical, is prohibited. An employee found to be in violation of this policy could face immediate termination.

“The Senate has zero tolerance for sexual and workplace harassment and through these changes to our policies and rules we intend to make our commitment to a safe, professional work environment even clearer and even stronger,” Senate President Joe Negron said in a memo obtained by Florida Politics.

Any individual — including Senate staffers, visitors, senators, lobbyists and members of the media — who experiences sexual harassment in the Senate can log a complaint with numerous individuals, including human resources and their immediate supervisors.

Their identities will be kept confidential and exempt from public records.

Once a complaint is made, the first step is to investigate and try and resolve the issue informally. If no informal resolution is possible due to the severity of the allegations, the Senate may contact an outside professional service provider to conduct an investigation on the allegations. That includes interviewing witnesses.

Once a case is resolved, the Human Resources director will be tasked with provides resources to every complainant.

The new administrative policy takes effect immediately. And in the coming weeks, Negron said online anti-harassment training will be provided to all senators and staff.

The announcement comes as allegations of sexual harassment threatened to overshadow the 2018 Legislative Session since opening day. Gov. Rick Scott, Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran all addressed sexual harassment in their speeches on the first day of session.

But action on this issue became urgent after the conclusion of two separate Senate investigations late last year that said former Sen. Jack Latvala may have violated state corruption laws by trading legislative favor for a sexual encounter.

The reports contained testimony from several women in the legislative process who noted a pattern of sexual misconduct by the Clearwater Republican that stretched for years. No complaints were ever filed against Latvala in the Senate until POLITICO Florida reported the accounts of six unnamed women who accused the once powerful senator of sexual harassment.

Latvala resigned early this month and his misconduct is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers has worked to revise administrative policies regarding harassment in the Senate. The proposed change includes annual one-hour anti-harassment training for senators.

Negron said that rule change will be up for a vote on the full Senate floor next week. But Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez is concerned Senate Rules that governor senators have not changed are continue to be vague on sexual harassment.

“If we had another Latvala there are no new rules that would protect victims from the type of behavior his accuser went through,” Rodriguez said. “The rules are the same, very vague. When there are vague rules, the only ones that win are lawyers.”

The House addresses sexual harassment in its formal rules, unlike the Senate. But Negron says a violation of these administrative guidelines would be a violation of the rules.

Phil Ammann contributed to this report.

No special election for Jack Latvala seat, declares governor

There will not be special elections to replace two Florida lawmakers, Gov. Rick Scott said in a press gaggle Thursday.

Scott said that “we have listened to the Supervisors of Elections” and “we’re going to follow their lead.”

The two legislators: Villages Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, an HD 33 Republican who passed away in December; and Clearwater Republican Sen.  Jack Latvala, who resigned his SD 16 seat amidst the scrutiny of multiple accusations of serial sexual harassment.

Neither forsaken special election will affect solid Republican majorities in either chamber.

Cost was a determinant, at least in the recommendations of elections supervisors in Pinellas and Pasco: Per the Tampa Bay Times, that could have cost upwards of a million dollars.

“I really feel that this is a common-sense decision,” Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark told TBT. “The information that we’ve provided makes a clear picture.”

In the case of the Hahnfeldt vacancy, the local SOE expected a special election when the representative passed on.

But that won’t come to pass either.

In both cases, the elections would have come after the 2018 Legislative Session and the winners would have had to immediately turn around and run for re-election in the fall.

The reprieve from back-to-back elections was appreciated by former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper, the leading candidate in the SD 16 race.

“I think it was the right call. I’m not a big fan of doing two elections for the same job in one year,” he said. “That doesn’t allow you to spend time working for your constituents, and you’re spending about $1 million of other people’s money. It doesn’t affect my campaign. I would have been ready if there was a special election, or on Nov. 9.”

In addition to the Hahnfeldt and Latvala vacancies, four other seats in the House and Senate are empty: HD 39, HD 72, HD 114 and SD 31.

Only HD 72 will hold a special election before the end of the 2018 Legislative Session, which runs through early March.

Joe Henderson: Legislature move on USF could leave St. Pete rattled

Boom!

That sound you heard emanating from the western side of the Tampa Bay area wasn’t a sonic blast, or the exhaust fumes from an unidentified flying object.

But if you’re still searching for answers to why your windows rattled this morning, check out the University of South Florida St. Petersburg – or, as that campus likes to call itself, USFSP.

Officials and faculty are no doubt still pondering how their life will different if a move in the Florida Legislature to combine USF’s three branches – Tampa, St. Pete, and Sarasota-Manatee – into one big single university is successful.

So what, you ask?

So, here’s what: goodbye relative autonomy for the smaller schools and hello to a new identity of being simply a branch off the giant USF main tree in Tampa. And if you don’t know how much they would hate that in St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee, then you don’t understand university politics.

USFSP has a history of going rogue against the authority of the Mother Ship on Fowler Avenue in Tampa. The short version is this: the good educators in St. Pete don’t want to be a branch on anyone’s tree. They have wanted to be a separate entity, making their decisions.

With the blessing of the Legislature in the 1990s, that’s kind of what they got after faculty and officials in St. Pete complained about being disrespected by the larger campus in Tampa.

There were limitations to that independence, as now-former USFSP regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

She was fired by USF President Judy Genshaft for essentially dereliction of duty when she left town during the storm but tried to imply that she was on the job protecting students and the campus.

“Your conduct created an intolerable safety risk to our students and the USFSP community,” is how Genshaft phrased it.

St. Pete got the message: You still belong to me.

Not long after that, the St. Pete campus lost one its main defenders when powerful state Sen. Jack Latvala resigned after being caught up in a sex scandal that swirls today.

Latvala fiercely fought for the autonomy of USFSP while in office, and officials in Tampa were concerned that he might try to break off the St. Pete campus altogether – following the model by former state Sen. JD Alexander who hijacked the USF campus in Polk County to create Florida Polytechnic University.

Tampa officials were concerned Latvala might try to include the prestigious USF College of Marine Science in a hostile takeover. The college, while located on the St. Pete campus, has been under full control of Tampa and is a cash cow in terms of generating donations.

With Latvala gone, though, the relative silence coming from Tampa after Tuesday’s news that Rep. Chris Sprowls filed a bill that would combine the campuses indicates Genshaft probably is smiling quietly.

For what it’s worth, Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, is a USF graduate.

Without Latvala to break knees and lead the opposition, the odds that this consolidation happens would seem to be greatly increased. Sprowls told the Tampa Bay Times that everyone should be happy about this because, “It’s an opportunity for St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee to have a pre-eminent university in their community. I think, naturally, it will have them rising together as opposed to being separate limbs.”

I doubt seriously that’s how USFSP is looking at this.

It goes back to the long regional rivalry between Tampa and St. Pete, and the complaint from the west side of the Bay that Tampa gets everything.

That’s not as true as it used to be. In this case though, it might the best way to describe what might happen.

Jack Latvala mulling what to do with $4.5 million of political money

Former state Sen. Jack Latvala, who is sitting on nearly $4 million in political committee money and another $600,00 in the campaign fund for his going-nowhere bid for Florida governor, said Tuesday his unused campaign money will be returned to donors if he closes down that campaign, and he’ll decide next week what he intends to do with the rest.

The Republican from Clearwater who stepped down from the Senate because of a sex scandal, which he has denied but which continues to burn, was one of the most effective fundraisers in Tallahassee.

He told Florida Politics Tuesday he would decide soon what to do with the money.

Meanwhile, as reported earlier Tuesday by the Miami Herald, he’s been spending some of his official governor’s race campaign funds on legal fees to defend himself in the scandal. In December he made payments of $100,000 to the law offices of Steven R. Andrews P.A., and $12,705 to the Adams and Reese LLP law firm, and he made a payment of $40,000 to Andrews in November.

He also paid  $16,250 to the Republican Party of Florida in mid-December while his campaign and his Florida Senate career already were engulfed in the flames of the scandal. He announced his resignation from the Senate on Dec. 20.

Among the funds he controls, the Florida Leadership Committee has taken in more than $9.6 million over the past four and a half years, and ended 2018 with $3,949,684 left. The Sawgrass Political Action Committee had raised $64,500, but had just $9,306 left. The Twenty-First Century Florida Committee had brought in $131,400, and had only $8,401 left at the end of the year.

His governor’s campaign account had raised $977,903, and also took a $20,000 loan from Latvala. After expenses, it had $635,686 left, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

The Republican Party of Florida had made 79 contributions totaling $118,653 to his gubernatorial campaign. Latvala also received 192 contributions of the maximum $3,000 from various committees, businesses and individuals, and 1,287 donations overall since it was opened last August 11.

The big donors to his Flordia Leadership Committee include The Voice of Florida Business PAC, which had donated $325,000; the OD-EYEPAC, which had donated $187,500; Paul Jones, who had donated $135,000; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which had donated $135,000; Florida Blue, which had donated $121,000; and Bill Edwards, who had donated $100,000.

Jack Latvala’s latest accuser remembers thinking: ‘I’m trapped again’

Former Sen. Jack Latvala sent sexually explicit text messages and groped a Senate legislative aide with whom he had a 20-year relationship with, according to a Miami Herald report published Tuesday.

Laura McLeod, an aide to Sen. Lauren Book, is the latest to publicly accuse Latvala of sexual misconduct. Her interactions with the Republican is what has led the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into public corruption charges.

Here are five takeaways from the Herald report:

  1. Nearly every time McLeod went to Latvala’s Senate office, “he went to close the door and he turned around to hug me and then would grope me or touch me inappropriately.”
  2. In the Senate investigation, McLeod’s sworn testimony was backed by personal journals and text messages that “documented her interactions, frustrations and angst about dealing with Latvala.” The special master requested copies of that evidence and she complied, the Times/Herald reported.
  3. McLeod did not come forward sooner because she considered herself “a flawed messenger.” She and Latvala had previously had a consensual, sexual affair, when he was in his first eight-year tenure in the Senate. The affair ended, but started again when he became Senate budget chair and held power over McLeod’s clients. From January 2015 to April of last year, he pursued her for sex, McLeod told the Herald.
  4. A taste of some of the texts Latvala sent to McLeod: “You looked good in committee. I woke up wanting you,” one said. “No panties Friday,” he wrote another day. In February 2016, he texted, “maybe I should sit on the bill another week at least until I hear that sound!” in reference to sexual sounds.
  5. The former senator’s response: “It did not affect my service to the people of Florida in any way and I understand that Ms. McLeod acknowledged that she never felt any pressure on legislative issues, contrary to the implications of the Special Master’s report … By resigning I paid a heavy price for my weakness. I apologize again to my constituents and friends. I guess it is for the people of Florida to decide if the punishment fits my poor judgment.”

Bernie Fensterwald: Democrat wants to be true ‘citizen legislator’

When Dunedin-based Democrat Bernie Fensterwald III entered the local political scene two years ago, there was significant attention paid to his personal finances after documents showed he was worth $19.8 million.

Criticism ultimately followed after he lost his challenge to Republican Chris Sprowls in the House District 65 seat, spending just $35,000 in the race, compared to Sprowls’ $472,000.

But Fensterwald says that while the financial disclosure form is accurate, it doesn’t tell the whole story. That’s because his finances are tied up in real estate.

“It’s by nature illiquid,” Fensterwald explained in an interview at a Panera Bread in Clearwater earlier this week. “The mere fact that I have in my case $19 million doesn’t mean that there’s the liquidity to that kind of thing. Unfortunately, that’s the way it was taken.”

Fensterwald is now running for Senate District 16, which was vacated last December by Jack Latvala. There won’t be a special early election, however, leaving the voters in the Pinellas/Pasco district without representation this Session.

Former state legislator Ed Hooper is the Republican in the race, and he’s already on a Sprowls-like pace in fundraising, collecting more than $275,000 in the race to date, including $11,625 in December.

Fensterwald raised less than a thousand dollars in December and has raised $11,825 so far. When asked how much he would spend on the campaign, Fensterwald says, “Enough to win the race,” adding that he’ll make up the cash gap with people power.

Fensterwald says he’s running on a platform of public integrity.

He says Tallahassee has become a place for the permanent political class and few others, which is why he supports a proposal filed earlier this week by Boca Raton House Republican Bill Hager (HB 1335) to have a committee study moving the Legislature and the offices of the Governor and Cabinet to a location that can be accessible to more citizens.

Buttressing his point is a Harvard Kennedy School of Government study conducted in 2012 that found a correlation between political corruption in state capitals and population density. He says Orlando would be an ideal spot.

A northern Virginia native who moved to the Sunshine State in 2009, Fensterwald has been a lifelong political junkie, but he says it was the Legislature’s attempt to preempt local governments in a fracking bill in the 2016 Session that inspired his candidacy against Sprowls last year.

He was a volunteer in politics for more than two decades in the Commonwealth while making a living as an attorney, including a few years with his late father, Bernard Fensterwald Jr., a former government lawyer who later defended James W. McCord Jr., a Watergate burglar.

Fensterwald is a fierce critic of the GOP-led Legislature’s encroachment on home rule, saying he’ll never vote for a bill that preempts local governments.

The 66-year-old Fensterwald is the director and vice president of a self-storage company with locations across the Washington, D.C., area and in Daytona Beach. He supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Florida and dismisses the business community’s criticism of such a plan. He adds that he “believes it’s true'” that all of his full-time employees make at least that wage at his company.

“I think the business community in my experience has a knee-jerk reaction to any increase in wages, regardless of whether it is a legitimate concern or not,” he says.

Fensterwald says he’s split on the issue of term limits, at least in Tallahassee. He absolutely abhors legislators switching from the House to the Senate (or vice versa) to extend their political careers, but says if it were up to him, the eight-year limit in a specific House and/or Senate seat would be eliminated.

“I would prefer not to have term limits because I think what you do is you sacrifice institutional knowledge,” he says, adding that if the Legislature is going to insist on having them, “they ought to be meaningful. They shouldn’t be able to switch back and forth like that.”

For an example, Fensterwald calls the idea absurd that in some cases, Republicans who aren’t even elected yet are or have only served one term quickly size up their chances of being in line to become House Speaker. (He cites Sprowls as an example. Sprowls was voted in 2016 to become Speaker in 2020 — before he had finished his first term in office).

The Pasco-Pinellas Senate District has been considered safe GOP territory for years, but Fensterwald claims Hooper is vulnerable this year, since he’s coming off a loss in the Pinellas County Commission race to Pat Gerard in 2014.

He derides Hooper as being a career politician, an epithet that no one can ever accuse Fensterwald of.

“I think people should go up to the Legislature, apply their expertise and their knowledge, give back to the community, and go back to where they came from and resume their lives as before,” he says.

“Too many people up there who switch from the Florida House to the Florida Senate, they eventually become lobbyists, and then, they’re just part of that industry.”

This lifelong Democrat feels the energy from his party and says he’s seen it in the Democratic clubs he attends, especially in Northern Pinellas County. Whether that can carry him to get over 50 percent in November is a formidable challenge, but Fensterwald is nothing if not an optimist.

“I think District 16 is one of those seats that is doable,” he says. “I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think that it was doable,” adding that he thinks the Democrats can swing five seats this fall, taking over the Legislature’s upper chamber.

“If they can get their act together, they have a tremendous opportunity to forestall any further gerrymandering,” he says of his own party.

Here’s where Tampa Bay legislative races stand heading into the 2018 Legislative Session

The Tampa Bay area will have three Senate seats and 14 House seats on the 2018 ballot; while most of the Pinellas and Hillsborough delegations will be the same when the 2019 Legislative Session rolls around, a few races are starting to heat up.

First, the sure things.

Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young is still running solo for re-election to SD 18 and looks primed to win it with $160,000 on hand in her campaign account and another $690,000 stashed away in her political committee, Friends of Dana Young.

While that money could be put to use against a worthy challenger in the Hillsborough seat, Young has planned some other uses for it behind the scenes, perhaps helping some allies win in tougher battlegrounds.

In Pinellas-based SD 16, go ahead and pencil in former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper as the odds-on favorite to take over for Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, who resigned the seat ahead of the 2018 Legislative Session after a pair of damning reports detailing alleged sexual harassment was released.

Hooper has more than three decades of public service under his belt — eight years as a lawmaker and 24 as a firefighter — and primed for a return to the Legislature. Through the end of the year, the Clearwater Republican had amassed $245,000 in campaign cash and another $85,500 through his political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper.

His Dem challenger, Bernie Fensterwald, is limping along with less than $5,000 on hand.

On the House side, most incumbents can expect a smooth pathway to re-election. Republican Reps. Shawn Harrison, Chris Latvala, Jake Raburn and Chris Sprowls are running unopposed, and all but Harrison hold safe GOP seats. He’s nearly hit $100,000 in total fundraising, however, so he should be well-equipped to stave off a Democratic challenger.

Republican Joe Wicker is also unopposed and posting decent numbers in HD 59, which is opening up due to current Rep. Ross Spano running for Attorney General. Wicker’s also snagged Spano’s endorsement.

HD 60 Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo and HD 58 Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure are facing challengers, but each holds a substantial advantage — McClure’s district, which he recently won in a special election, has been held by a Republican since its inception despite Democrats holding a 3,300-person edge in voter registrations. Ditto for Toledo, who took over for Young in 2016.

Toledo had $77,000 banked at the end of 2017, and challenger Debra Bellanti has yet to post a report as she filed for the seat on Jan. 3. McClure hasn’t published a report for his 2018 bid, but he had $36,635 left over when he cruised through the special last month, while NPA challenger Shawn Mathis Gilliam hasn’t shown a dime since filing in April.

For Democrats, HD 68 Rep. Ben Diamond can be counted as a surefire win. He’s got $83,000 stashed away in his campaign account and his only opponent is Republican Neelam Taneja-Uppal, who has raised $0 through four months in the race.

The St. Pete-based district looks competitive on paper, but if Bill Young II couldn’t get within 5 points in an off-cycle election, Taneja-Uppal can’t have much hope to fare better.

There’s a slim possibility a couple incumbents could be knocked out in primary races.

Rep. Jamie Grant will need to get through Terry Power in the Republican Primary for HD 64, and while the longtime lawmaker likely has a handle on things, Power didn’t try to spare any feelings when he filed.

Grant has about $31,000 in his campaign account compared to about $4,000 for Power. Grant is likely to keep the money edge through the primary season, and if he wins, the district’s GOP majority will kick in and send him back to Tallahassee for another two years.

The same situation is unfolding in heavily Democratic HD 70, where first-term Rep. Wengay Newton is facing two primary challengers.

Through December, Newton had about $15,000 on hand, while challenger Vito Sheeley had about $1,000 banked. St. Petersburg attorney and civic activist Keisha Bell announced last week that she would enter the race soon, but hasn’t done so yet.

Sheeley has picked up some major endorsements, including one from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, whom Newton snubbed in favor of former Mayor Rick Baker in the contentious mayoral election last year.

With the 2018 Legislative Session pausing fundraising efforts for sitting lawmakers, Sheeley and Bell will have some time to catch up to Newton and make it a race.

Now to the unknowns.

Tampa Bay will have new blood in at least four House Seats and another new representative and senator could make the 2018 class depending on how things shake out for Tampa Democratic Rep. Sean Shaw and Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee.

Lee is currently running for re-election to SD 20, but don’t expect him to be on the ballot come Election Day unless it’s for Chief Financial Officer.

That leaves Republican John Houman as the de facto front-runner for the GOP leaning seat.

Yes, that John Houman, the candidate who goes by “Mr. Manners” and bravely attempted to explain that the only reason he has a felony DUI while most politicians got through life without one is that the politicians had “a good lawyer.”

Also running is Democrat Kathy Lynn Lewis, who filed on Jan. 3, and but in reality, it’s likely Lee’s successor hasn’t filed yet.

Shaw is running for re-election to HD 61 and had $41,000 in his campaign account at the end of 2017, but he’s currently deciding whether he’ll make a go for Attorney General. If he does, Democrat Byron Henry is waiting in the wings to take over his seat in the House.

New blood is also for sure coming to House Districts 62, 66 and 69, due to the exits of Reps. Janet Cruz, Larry Ahern and Kathleen Peters, respectively.

Democrats filed for Cruz’ seat are Michael Alvarez and Carlos Frontela. 

John Rodriguez had filed for the HD 62 race but has since dropped out. He is expected to become the legislative affairs point person for the city of St. Petersburg, replacing the retiring Sally Everett.

Only Alvarez has made progress in the money race, with about $19,000 raised and $11,400 on hand through December. By the same date, Frontela had approximately $1,000 in his campaign account; Rodriguez had $631.

HD 66 is turning into a tough primary battle between Pinellas GOP chair Nick DiCeglie and St. Pete attorney Berny Jacques.

Jacques currently leads the money race with $106,302 cash on hand between his campaign account and political committee, Protect Pinellas, but DiCeglie has outpaced him since he filed for the seat in September. The sum of his four campaign finance reports shows him with $59,427 on hand at the start of the year.

In HD 69, it’s Jeremy Bailie against Raymond Blacklidge in the Republican Primary, and Blacklidge leads with $58,000 in his campaign account and $19,000 in his political committee, Friends of Ray Blacklidge. Bailie has a little over $25,000 for in his campaign account.

Democrat Jennifer Webb has also refiled for the race after losing to Peters in 2016; she’s off to a good start with more than $33,000 on hand, including more than $13,000 raised in December.

HD 69 has kept voting for Republicans, but without an incumbent in the race, it has the potential to be a swing district. The electorate is broken into equal thirds of Republicans, Democrats and independents.

Jacksonville Bold for 1.12.18 — Smells like teal spirit

Here we are now. Entertain us.

EverBank Field was lit Sunday, as the Jacksonville Jaguars laid a smackdown on the Buffalo Bills, in a 10-3 defensive struggle that was best watched live and in the stands.

Jacksonville hadn’t hosted a playoff game this century; the crowd was hyped. And mostly Jaguar fans.

The media derided the win — but for those who saw the end, when Jalen Ramsey picked off the Bills’ QB, it was a moment of triumph.

Jalen Ramsey gives the Jags a moment of triumph.

People stayed in the stadium — a few Bills fans aside — until it was over.

It was Jacksonville’s moment.

As we enter what will be a bruising political year, it’s useful to remember that community is what brings us together.

It’s the teal, yes. But it’s more than that.

It’s the realization that it’s Duval against the world.

There are those who bet on the world.

But Sunday showed that it feels better to bet on Duval.

Especially when the Jags go over.

Doctor, heal thyself

Problems with your marriage?

Is it unhealthy?

The Florida Legislature is willing to help future couples avoid such troubles as they traipse into connubial bliss.

Do as we say … not as we do.

The solution: a “guide to a healthy marriage.”

The version filed in the House is a guide that would contain resources addressing “conflict management, communication skills, family expectations, financial responsibilities and management, domestic violence resources and parenting responsibilities.”

Monday saw Jacksonville Republican state Rep. Clay Yarborough file the House version of the legislation (HB 1323).

The Legislature wouldn’t write this guide on its own (probably for the best given that philandering ended the careers of two Senators in recent months, with another former Senator and current state Representative going through a prolonged high-profile and messy divorce).

Instead, the guide would be written by the Marriage Education Committee: a panel of six marriage education and family advocates, two picked by the Governor, two by the Senate President, and two more by the House Speaker.

In other words, the same formula that has led to a smooth-running Constitutional Revision Commission could be brought to bear on Florida marriages.

Private funds would pay for the guide w, and reading it would be a prerequisite for a marriage license.

Jay Fant files monument protection bill

Rep. Fant, a Jacksonville Republican running for Attorney General, presented the latest in a series of base-pleasing bills for the 2018 Legislative Session Monday.

Fant’s HB 1359 (the “Soldiers’ and Heroes’ Monuments and Memorials Protection Act”) contends that any wartime monument erected after 1822 on public property may only be moved for its repair or the repair of the property containing it.

Desecration of monuments would be a felony if passed.

The bill’s primary imports: forestalling removal of Confederate monuments, as happened most recently in Memphis. And establishing criminal penalties for tampering — penalties that would supersede the ordinance code or enforcement inclinations of rogue municipalities.

Fant’s hometown Jacksonville dealt with a Confederate monument removal debate in 2017; Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche took a position in favor of moving monuments to museums, as they divided the community

Fant’s legislative docket is serving up more red meat than the butcher at Avondale’s renowned Pinegrove market.

If enacted, his “Free Enterprise Protection Act” will “ensure that Florida business owners are protected from government sanctions and penalties when they are exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Fant was inspired to file FEPA by the case of a Colorado baker who balked at making a wedding cake for a gay couple, as said baker saw the act of baking as lending sanction to their choice to marry. FEPA would protect the free speech rights of businesses.

Fant also is carrying the House version of a Senate bill that would allow people to carry guns to, from, and during events in Florida’s great outdoors; if it clears the governor’s desk, everyone from crabbers to dog-walkers will be protected while packing heat.

Aaron Bean talks Rob Bradley, sanctuary cities

Sen. Bean spent some time giving his thoughts on the Legislative Session — including the benefits of an appropriations chair from Northeast Florida (Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley), and potential pitfalls for a bill he is carrying.

Aaron Bean was typically enthusiastic about 2018.

Bean was voluble on what Bradley means, both for the Senate and the region.

“I have known Sen. Bradley for almost 30 years,” Bean asserted, “and he is going to be outstanding as Appropriations Chair. He makes it look easy, but he is always the most prepared member in the room from his constant reading and research.

“As a sub-chair for the criminal justice and environmental appropriations committees,” Bean added, “members could be sure that Senator Bradley was going to know why funds were being spent, and he would be sure it was a good use of taxpayer dollars.”

“He is going to be great for Florida. It is a bonus that he is from North Florida. North Florida Legislators are still going to have to work for any requests, because Bradley is not going to give anyone a pass just because they are from our area, but he is going to deliver a budget we can all be proud of,” Bean said.

Bean is carrying 23 bills — but the most high-profile measure (a ban on sanctuary cities that should clear the House easily) may not get through the Senate.

“Our Sanctuary City bill faces a tough opening as it has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. We don’t have the votes to get it passed — yet — so we are working hard to get that done,” Bean said.

Big month for Bradley committee

Fleming Island Republican Sen. Bradley saw his political committee raise more money in November than in any other single month.

Rob Bradley is becoming a major power broker in NE Florida.

And in December, Bradley’s Working for Florida’s Families exceeded that sum, setting an internal record level of fundraising for the second straight month.

The committee hauled in $173,000, with significant buy-in from U.S. Sugar, Walmart, Florida Blue, Associated Industries of Florida and the associated Florida Prosperity Fund.

All told, the committee has over $720,000 on hand.

Bradley became the Appropriations Chair after the removal of now-resigned Sen. Jack Latvala, his predecessor in the role.

Northeast Florida legislators expect that he will be in a position to ensure that the oft-neglected region gets its fair share in the budget process.

Bradley backs Wyman Duggan

A key endorsement in the House District 15 race, as Sen. Bradley backs Duggan — thus far, the sole Republican candidate.

Bradley described Duggan as “a respected community leader who will serve with honor, integrity, and commitment to our shared conservative values.”

Wyman Duggan has all the endorsements he could want … and no primary opponents.

Duggan, meanwhile, is “honored to have the support of Sen. Bradley who has served as a conservative leader in the Florida Senate. I look forward to working with Sen. Bradley throughout my campaign and in the Florida legislature fighting for a more prosperous and brighter future for Florida.”

Duggan has scored a swath of endorsements from Republican electeds, setting up the “Your leaders trust Duggan … shouldn’t you?” mailpieces.

Jacksonville City Councilmen Danny Becton, Matt Schellenberg, Greg Anderson, Aaron Bowman, Scott Wilson, Doyle Carter, Jim Love and Sam Newby are on board. So are former Councilmen Jim Overton and Kevin Hyde. And Rep. John Rutherford, State Sen. Aaron Bean, State Rep. Jason Fischer, Duval Clerk of Courts Ronnie Fussell, Duval Tax Collector Michael Corrigan also back Duggan.

$142K haul for Lenny Curry committee

It was a December to remember for Build Something That Lasts, the political committee of Jacksonville Mayor Curry.

Lenny Curry’s fundraising is so strong that gravity has stopped applying to him.

The Curry committee cleaned up to end the year, raking in $142,000, pushing the committee up to $603,000 on hand.

The strong month comes at a pivotal time for the Mayor’s policy and political operations. The Mayor’s Office aligns with a proposal to privatize JEA, a pitch which has floated periodically over the years but returned at the end of last year, via a proposal from a key political supporter and outgoing board member Tom Petway.

Additionally, Curry likely will face at least a nominal opponent for re-election. Whether he does or not, however, his committee likely will play in Jacksonville City Council races — supporting candidates who align with his vision, and working against less cooperative Council incumbents.

Danny Becton, Sam Newby launch Jax Council VP runs

An annual tradition in Jacksonville City Council is beginning anew: the race for Jacksonville City Council VP.

Often — but not always — the VP slot is a springboard to the presidency the next year.

Two Republican Councilmen — Becton and Newby — are in the race already.

Sam Newby may be the early front-runner for Council VP.

Two more — Republican Scott Wilson and Democrat Tommy Hazouri — are giving the race a close look.

All are first-termers.

Wilson finished second in the VP race in 2017; Hazouri, meanwhile, is a former mayor and the only Democrat in the mix.

Read the whole story here.

Reggie Gaffney runs hard for re-election

One Jacksonville City Council member who doesn’t need to wonder about Curry targeting him in 2019: Gaffney.

Democrat Gaffney is a strong supporter of Jacksonville’s Republican Mayor, standing by Curry even when many other Council members cast aspersions, and the Councilman hopes that a record of tangible achievements in his district outweighs negative press.

Corrine Brown is out of the game, but Reggie Gaffney wants 4 more years.

A recent video, cut with an unseen interviewer, reveals more about Gaffney’s platform.

“District 7 is a very large district,” Gaffney said. “I like to think of District 7 as three different communities all with different needs.”

While there are many “priority projects” he could cite, Gaffney says that Amazon — “because it’s about jobs” — is No. 1.

Meanwhile, Gaffney takes credit for fixing the collapsed Liberty Street Bridge, calling it his “first project.”

Gaffney also takes credit for compelling Curry to address drainage issues in the flood-prone Lower Eastside.

Gaffney then asserted his key role in getting money for the stadium improvement projects (amphitheater, covered practice field and club seat renovations) approved in his term.

“The mayor said, ‘I need your help,’” Gaffney said, and he was willing to — as it meant “jobs” for his district.

“I said ‘let’s make it happen,’” Gaffney related.

Honors for HRO sponsors, as theocons challenge bill

Last February, Jacksonville expanded its Human Rights Ordinance, giving protections to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the workplace, public accommodations and housing markets.

It is Feb. 3 at the Florida Yacht Club; Equality Florida will honor the three sponsors of the legislation: City Council VP Aaron Bowman and Councilman Jim Love (two Republicans), and Councilman Tommy Hazouri (a Democrat).

Tommy Hazouri is one of the HRO co-sponsors set to be honored.

Unsurprisingly, Equality Florida gives itself credit for passage.

“After a nearly 10-year campaign, Jacksonville ended its reign as the only major city in Florida without an LGBT-inclusive Human Rights Ordinance. In February 2017, we saw unprecedented leadership and investment in this battle by Equality Florida, the citizens of Jacksonville, and these three elected leaders — resulting in the updated HRO on Valentine’s Day.”

Props for FPL, JEA from environmental groups

St. Johns River Power Park, the largest operating coal power plant in Florida, has been shut down, co-owners Florida Power & Light and JEA announced Tuesday.

Coal may not be the future after all …

The utilities said the historic Jacksonville plant was aging and no longer economical as one of the highest-cost facilities among both FPL’s and JEA’s generating systems.

At nearly the same time, FPL lit up four new solar power plants — some of the largest ever built — and says it is nearing completion on four more new solar farms in a matter of weeks.

The ambitious moves earned kudos from leading environmental groups.

“FPL has a forward-looking strategy of making smart, innovative, long-term investments, including solar, to reduce emissions while providing affordable, clean energy for its customers,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s interim executive director.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical to addressing climate change,” said Greg Knecht, deputy executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida. “Anytime we can replace less-efficient sources of energy with cleaner fuels or solar it’s a benefit for people and nature. Investments such as FPL’s in clean-energy technologies are key to Florida’s future health and prosperity.”

JAXPORT adds direct New Zealand, Australia service

Beginning March, JAXPORT will offer direct service to New Zealand and Australia for roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo through Höegh Autoliners’ new U.S. to Oceania direct express Ro/Ro service.

JAXPORT’s Blount Island Marine Terminal will serve as the last East Coast port of call in the rotation.

JAXPORT will offer direct service to New Zealand and Australia for roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) cargo through Höegh Autoliners. Photo credit: Lucien van Horn

The monthly service will start with the first vessel, the 6,500-CEU (car capacity) Höegh Jeddah, sailing out of Jacksonville. Vessel rotation will include Auckland in New Zealand as well as Brisbane, Port Kembla, Melbourne and Fremantle in Australia.

Horizon Terminal Services, Höegh Autoliners’ fully owned terminal owning and operating company headquartered in Jacksonville, will provide fumigation and wash down services at Blount Island.

Additional information on Höegh’s trade route to Oceania is available at icptrack.com.

UNF tops in U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Online’ bachelor’s programs

The University of North Florida earned a top spot in U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best Online Programs rankings.

Released this week, UNF is among the Top 40 colleges and universities in the country for “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs,” ranking included data from nearly 1,500 distance-education degree programs nationwide.

UNF tops in U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Online’ bachelor’s programs.

At No. 31, UNF jumped 17 spots from last year’s ranking, and is the only higher education institution from the Jacksonville area listed among the rankings in this category. The University also landed on the “Best Online Education Programs” list, a graduate-level ranking. Only degree-granting programs offering classes entirely online were considered.

“It’s very rewarding to have U.S. News & World Report rank our bachelor’s and our graduate education online programs among the best in the nation,” said UNF President John Delaney. “Faculty in our online programs are committed to this form of program delivery and have developed course materials and teaching methods that are second to none.”

More information on the “Best Online Programs” rankings is at usnews.com/online.

Sexual harassment training mandate for senators heads to Senate floor

Florida senators could soon be required to complete one-hour mandatory sexual harassment training every year as part of a new policy change advanced Thursday that came amid calls for overhauling the chamber’s handling of sexual harassment complaints.

Intensifying bipartisan talk to improve the Senate’s sexual harassment policy began last year after two former senators, Jeff Clemens and Jack Latvala, were accused of sexual misconduct, and a top Senate staffer filed a formal complaint against Latvala detailing sexual harassment over four years.

Awareness of sexual harassment at the Capitol spiked after two separate Senate investigations into Latvala’s misconduct laid out the testimony of dozens of women claiming to have been sexually harassed and at least one female lobbyists saying the Clearwater Republican was willing to trade his support for legislation for a “sexual encounter.”

According to the report, she said she “finally left her work as a lobbyist in large part so (she) would never have to owe (Latvala) anything.”

The month-long investigations conducted by a special master recommended sexual harassment training for Senate members and staff, and a review of the overall Senate culture.

In the midst of these investigations, Senate Rules Chair Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto was tasked with revising the Senate administrative policies regarding harassment after Senate President Joe Negron faces backlash for making policy changes that some said would make it harder to report sexual or workplace harassment.

“I want to make it even more abundantly clear to employees that they can and should report sexual or workplace harassment to anyone they feel comfortable speaking with,” Negron said.

Benacquisto met with several senators to gather input and on Thursday the Rules Committee unanimously voted to mandate annual sexual harassment training for senators. The policy change now heads to the full Senate floor for final approval.

Miami Democrat Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez was among the senators Benacquisto met with. He advocated for anti-harassment training — something the Florida House already mandates — as well as a clear definition that bans “retaliatory behavior” when a complaint is filed.

“The Senate took a step in the right direction by voting to require ethics trainings on sexual harassment, but it is not enough,” Rodriguez said. “Retaliation is still not defined and prohibited.”

Rodriguez took a jab at the defense tactics by Latvala as he faces anonymous allegations. His behavior even sparked a formal Rules complaint by Sen. Lauren Book who alleged he was interfering with the Senate investigation.

“The retaliatory actions taken by Senator Latvala to subvert the investigation into his misconduct still would not have been explicitly prohibited,” Rodriguez said.

“We must do more to ensure that everyone that works at and visits the Capitol feels safe.”

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