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Jacksonville Bold for 12.15.17 — #Duuuuval: The year that was

In the year-end edition of Bold, we look at the stories that shaped 2017.

A pension problem — with a solution that seemed impossible at the end of 2015.

A legendary politician sentenced to prison.

Northeast Florida politicians are moving toward leadership in the state Legislature.

Rights for the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community — finally guaranteed in an ordinance.

A “stimulus budget.”

Reform of children’s programs.

A Council President the Mayor didn’t pick.

Last, but not least — the Jaguars return to relevance.

Happy holidays, and see you in 2018.

Buy now, pay later

Pension Reform: The biggest Jacksonville story of the year — by far.

The real work began soon after Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry took office. There was the “heavy lift” in Tallahassee, one that required Curry and allies to make the sale to the Senate and the House.

Lenny Curry got pension reform through, accomplishing what previous mayors didn’t.

From there, a referendum in 2016 — passed with 65 percent of the vote.

After that, the unions had to agree to terms — that was done, more or less, before winter 2017 ended.

Then, council approval — a fait accompli … after all, it wasn’t like those deals were going to be sent back to the table.

As CFO Mike Weinstein said, the savings add up to “$1.4B less out of the general fund over the next 15 years,” and “without that revenue” from the half-cent sales tax, the city would have “difficulty matching revenue to expenses.”

So that’s the reality.

Worth watching: how the city handles the out years, as savings from the pension reform are consumed by workforce raises.

Corrine Brown goes down

Former Rep. Brown had the worst year of her life. She was convicted on 18 counts related to the One Door for Education scheme. And then she received five years in prison — though she is fighting that sentence.

Judge Timothy Corrigan’s heart: Two sizes too small for leniency for Corrine Brown.

The sentencing essentially gave voice to the jury’s verdict, with Judge Timothy Corrigan noting that Brown’s comments were “reprehensible” at times, such as when she said the Pulse massacre happened because the FBI was too busy investigating her.

Brown got a sentence that reflected a spirit of “general deterrence,” a sentence “in the mainstream” of public corruption cases in recent years. In other words, the judge did not go easy on her.

“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Corrigan said.

“The public had a right to expect,” Judge Corrigan said, that Brown would not “abuse public trust and responsibility … this was a crime borne of entitlement and greed … bad business.”

We shall see where the appeal leads, but the odds are good Brown will be in orange in a matter of weeks.

Audrey Gibson ascendant

In November, State Sen. Gibson won a narrow 8-7 vote of Senate Democrats to become Senate Democratic Leader Designate for the 2018-2020 legislative term.

Gibson will succeed current Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II when his term ends next November.

Sen. Audrey Gibson is one Duval legislator to watch, as she amasses power.

“I look forward to working with Caucus members on their priorities and ensuring their voices are heard on legislation impacting all Floridians.  I am also excited about bringing in new Democrat Senators to the Florida Senate to create a legislative balance in the Chamber,” said Gibson.

Gibson, meanwhile, may face a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.

We asked Brown what the case would be for running against a caucus leader, assuming Gibson doesn’t run against Lawson. And how he would match her fundraising and endorsements.

“All actions will be taken under consideration,” Brown said.

Time will tell if this challenge happens.

Rob Bradley helms appropriations

November also saw state Sen. Bradley move into the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The buck stops with Rob Bradley — at least regarding those coming through the Senate.

“I’m just focused on getting the job done with as little drama as possible. There’s been enough drama in politics lately. It’s time to just roll up our sleeves and get the job done,” Bradley said, noting that he’s not new to the appropriations game.

“I’ve spent a lot of my Senate career working in the Appropriations arena,” Bradley noted, “having chaired three different budget subcommittees.”

Bradley is already reaping specific benefits of his role; his political committee raised $124,000 in November — a record high for him.

As well, the region is poised to reap benefits this session, via priority environmental bills headed to Appropriations.

SB 204 approves spending at least $75 million a year on springs projects and $50 million annually on projects related to the restoration of the St. Johns River and its tributaries, as well as the Keystone Heights Lake Region.

SB 370 would mandate a $100 million minimum spend from Amendment One funds on the Florida Forever program. That number doubles the budget ask from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Paul Renner on path to Speaker

Along with Sens. Bradley and Gibson, Northeast Florida has hope in the House in the form of state Rep. Renner.

Paul Renner is still another NE Florida legislator to watch on the leadership track.

For the Palm Coast Republican, the path to winning June’s 2022 Florida House Speaker election in Orlando — with 16 votes in the first round — was not a sure thing.

But it’s a good thing.

State Rep. Clay Yarborough, the former Jacksonville City Council President who was one of those 16 Renner votes, noted that the outcome lined up with his count.

Yarborough saw “tremendous positives” for the region and the city both — positives that will be seen before 2022, as in the years leading up to Renner’s Speakership, he will be in “conversations with leadership,” and his “place at the table” will help him advocate for regional priorities.

The region, Yarborough said, can be “lining stuff up” that takes years to realize — a generational opportunity for Northeast Florida.

Considering state Sen. Travis Hutson — whose territory overlaps with part of Renner’s House district — is also in the leadership discussion, the region may be positioned to score wins, necessary as legacy costs and infrastructure burdens pile up.

HRO, at last

Valentine’s Day was especially happy for Jacksonville’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, for that was the day the Jacksonville City Council passed the Human Rights Ordinance.

Councilman Tommy Hazouri was among those leading the fight for LGBT rights.

The expansion would add sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression to the list of protected categories under the ordinance, which ensures that people aren’t discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market, or public accommodations (restrooms, locker rooms, and so on).

Curry returned the bill to the city council without his signature; the bill is now law.

“As your Mayor, I promised to convene community conversations about discrimination. At the conclusion of those conversations, I exercised an executive action to implement a clear policy for City of Jacksonville employees and contractors. I said then and continue to believe additional legislation was unnecessary. But this evening, a supermajority of the City Council decided otherwise. This supermajority, representatives of the people from both parties and every corner of the city, made their will clear,” Curry said in a statement.

Despite all the drama leading up to it, there have been just two claims — housing discrimination — made since it passed.

There is, meanwhile, a movement toward a citizen referendum to repeal it. Time will tell if that goes anywhere.

Budget bonanza

The Florida Times-Union called Curry’s third budget, passed by the Jacksonville City Council in September, a “stimulus budget.”

It was, indeed, an infusion of capital into perpetually shorted departments — and the kind of political triumph Council could share.

A rising tide lifts all boats … and glasses.

A unanimous vote was cast for the city’s $1.27 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year, one with $131M in capital improvements, and 100 new police positions.

There was a certain irony in the unanimous vote, given the fractiousness of the Finance Committee during August budget hearings — when members said they felt “targeted” by a poll from Sheriff Mike Williams’ political committee that said people wanted more cops on the street.

Curry built a political machine to get into office, and he did so even with many GOP officeholders backing his Democratic opponent’s re-election effort.

In the office are some of the best operators working the room — and he has become increasingly adept at giving Council members photo opportunities, the kind that allows them to take credit for something tangible happening in their districts.

And it is by no means clear that he will even face a challenge in 2019 — not bad, especially given the Democratic registration advantage in Dirty Duval.

Kids Hope, not Kids Hype

Jacksonville Children’s programs were reformed this year, with the Jacksonville Journey and Jacksonville Children’s Commission being rolled up into a new board — Kids Hope Alliance.

City Council was nearly united in support of Curry’s children’s program reforms.

The City Council debate was fractious, of course, with objections from Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis to the pace of pushing the legislation through and the need for a new organization at all.

Six of the seven board picks sailed through Council this week, with Brosche and Dennis voting against one who violated the in-county residency requirement that was part of the ordinance.

However, look for Brosche to be a factor going forward — she is slated to become the Council liaison to the board.

Brosche vs. Curry

The most interesting power play of the year has been the battle between Council President Brosche and Mayor Curry.

Lenny Curry and Anna Brosche have had a rivalry since she took the Council presidency.

Recall that Brosche beat administration ally, John Crescimbeni, in a pitched battle for the presidency in the spring.

Much of the noise from Crescimbeni supporters came back to the Council veteran being more “ready to lead” than third-year member Brosche, given his experience on the Council and in the VP role.

One interesting wrinkle in the race: what seemed to be a certain commonality among many of Crescimbeni’s supporters — primarily older, white males.

Did issues of youth, gender, and other demographic demarcations sway their positions?

“I certainly picked up on what you said … I had not picked up on it until you pointed it out,” Brosche added. “You pointed it out well in terms of the picture that was made. I didn’t necessarily reach that conclusion … at the outset.”

Brosche and Curry have clashed, both on her insufficiently optimistic read on pension reform, and her skepticism on the Kids Hope Alliance.

Expect that friction to be constant as long as both are in City Hall.

JAXPORT Puerto Rico relief update

A new message from JAXPORT Executive Vice President Roy Schleicher gives a December update on Puerto Rico relief efforts.

Thanks to the generous Northeast Florida donors, Schleicher says JAXPORT relief partners distributed 500,000 pounds of goods to more than 20 towns and municipalities throughout the island territory devastated by Hurricane Maria.

JAXPORT’s relief partners have distributed 500,000 pounds of goods to more than 20 towns and municipalities throughout Puerto Rico.

With roads and bridges still washed out or in disrepair, making moving large trucks difficult, many of these goods needed to be moved inland by small trucks and cars, going directly to those in need.

Donations also helped with transportation costs to send 13 full-sized shipping containers full of basics such as food, water, batteries and hygiene items from Jacksonville to San Juan. The JAXPORT shipment was over and above those from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government agencies, and did not include other relief containers organized and transported by groups outside of the JAXPORT-related network.

Residents of Northeast Florida and other areas gathered supplies in the containers, which were then sent to JAXPORT for shipment to Puerto Rico. All the supplies collected traveled to Puerto Rico via the Port of Jacksonville, the No. 1 commercial trade partner with the island.

Going forward, JAXPORT has begun discussions on the best way to continue Puerto Rican hurricane relief during the next stages of their recovery, seeing a need for support remains as the island rebuilds.

Again, Schleicher gives thanks for the donations, which put Jacksonville’s “unrivaled transportation and logistics know-how to work, quickly and efficiently,” to provide emergency aid when it was needed most.

“Along with my heartfelt thanks to all of you,” he says “I would like to specifically send my deep appreciation to [Haskell Co. CEO] Steve Halverson, who did not hesitate for a moment when asked if he could organize help for those suffering after the hurricane … Aqua Gulf Transport, Inc., Todos con Puerto Rico, TOTE Maritime and Trailer Bridge worked together to deliver hurricane relief supplies to Comerio, Puerto Rico. The town’s Mayor, Josian Santiago, and his wife received the container.”

Political preview Jacksonville: Media’s view of the 2018 Session

Members of the Jacksonville and Capitol Press Corps will offer a special preview of the upcoming 2018 Florida Legislative Session hosted by the Fiorentino Group, Tucker/Hall, and Rogers Towers.

Scheduled Friday, January 5 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. at The River Club, 1 Independent Dr., the exclusive, invitation-only luncheon will provide an opportunity to hear top Florida political journalists on what they see on the legislative horizon, with a chance for the audience to ‘turn the table’ and ask questions.

Panelists include Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times; Mike Clark of the Florida Times-Union; Matt Dixon of POLITICO; our own A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics and Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Attendees will join Jacksonville business and community leaders for a complimentary lunch and insightful preview of the upcoming Legislative Session. Complimentary parking is available. Registration is at events.r20.constantcontact.com.

Jaguars matter

To close, some good news …

The Jacksonville Jaguars are a] guaranteed a winning season and b] are playoff bound.

No one doubts Blake Bortles now.

As someone who covered the team on game day for close to a decade of futility, it’s incredible to see one of the best defenses ever assembled in teal and black.

And Blake Bortles — who has taken his share of static — conquered the learning curve and has excelled, even with his top two wideouts on the shelf.

And Leonard Fournette — a little bit Jerome Bettis, a little bit Todd Gurley. The kind of sledgehammer that breaks opposing defenses’ wills.

This year, for the first time in too long, the Jaguars matter in December. And beyond.

To quote the great Jackie Gleason … “How sweet it is!”

‘Amazon-centric’: Jacksonville pitch for Amazon HQ2 includes 200 acres downtown

Like many cities, Jacksonville is making a pitch for Amazon’s HQ2. The value add locally per a video from Burdette Ketchum: land on the old Shipyards site downtown.

The video, which was first reported by Jenna Bourne of Action News Jax, begins with sprightly acoustic guitars leading into a backing track reminiscent of the Postal Service circa 2003.

It touts Jacksonville as “Amazon-centric,” with a “one-of-a-kind urban core campus and transit,” and an “inspired year-round coastal lifestyle.”

The video also touts Jacksonville’s “leading educational institutions and regional partnerships,” and Jacksonville itself as an “emerging city inviting your partnership and social impact.”

“Just like you, we’re customer-centric. So our proposal is built around your team members,” asserts a millennial-male voiceover in a crisp tone devoid of a traditional Jacksonville accent.

“Our job will be to attract them here, inspire them, and keep them productive. Like everyone in Jacksonville, they’ll love living here,” the voiceover adds.

And, asserts the voiceover, they’ll love working here: on a “200 acre live, work, and play campus at the heart of our waterfront city, in our urban core.”

This relationship, the video continues, is one that no other city can offer. It will allow Amazon to “impact the culture and the social responsibility of our city.”

“Shovel-ready land nestled between our established office district and our NFL stadium and amphitheater will be conveyed to Amazon at no cost,” the video continues. “We will shape it together as we grow.”

The video also promises “innovative public transportation” for “Amazonians,” allowing the campus and the city’s “upstart downtown” to grow in tandem.

As well, the video pitch promises “aggressive” pursuit of the project, with the most “competitive costs in Florida.”

Mayor Lenny Curry offered a statement: “I greatly appreciate and value the work City staff and the Chamber have led on the development of this proposal. Proposals are a first step that communicate our genuine interest, commitment, and vision for a project.”

“This Amazon project, like any other project we pursue, will be negotiated against a scorecard to ensure it provides a return to taxpayers and contributes to job growth and economic development. We will continue to work hard on this deal that would result in over 50,000 jobs for Jacksonville,” Curry added.

Seminole Tribe now going after Jax ‘gambling parlors’

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has filed suit against 25 operators of what’s called “electronic gambling parlors” in the Jacksonville area, saying they violate the Tribe’s deal with the state to exclusively offer Vegas-style games.

The suit was filed in Duval County Circuit Civil court last week, records show.

The gambling parlors “infringe upon the Tribe’s right to substantial exclusivity in the operation of casino-style gambling,” says the complaint, filed by the Tribe’s outside counsel, Barry Richard of Greenberg Traurig‘s Tallahassee office.

The defendants operate outlets with names like “Fun Cade,” “Fun Spot,” and “Big Chances Internet Café,” according to the complaint. Those who could be reached Wednesday declined comment.

Richard explained that the defendants named weren’t traditional “internet cafés,” also known as “strip-mall casinos,” which were banned by the state in 2013 after a multi-state investigation netted dozens of arrests.

“Most of these places don’t even offer internet access,” he said in a phone interview. “The games they offer are resident on an in-house server. We’re talking (electronic) blackjack, all other kinds of games.

“It’s just straight-up gambling,” he added. “People are betting money to win.” The Seminoles seek a court order shutting down the parlors.

Richard said the Tribe felt compelled to sue after the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling, declined to police the operations because they weren’t serving alcohol.

As for local law enforcement, “it’s just not high on their priority list,” Richard added.

“Although these complaints are outside the jurisdiction of the Department, we are always willing to provide support or assistance to law enforcement where appropriate,” DBPR spokeswoman Suellen Wilkins said in an email.

Richard said the electronic gambling parlors—or EGPs—are “all over the state,” but most are concentrated in the Jacksonville area. The Tribe hired a gaming expert to go undercover and patronize the parlors, resulting in the suit.

Northeast Florida also is home of the “pre-reveal” games, slot machine-style entertainment devices, most often placed in bars. A Tallahassee judge’s ruling that they’re illegal slots is under appeal.

The Tribe zealously guards its exclusive right to offer Vegas-style gambling in Florida, including blackjack. An agreement known as the Seminole Compact generates over $200 million a year in gaming revenue share for state coffers and likely billions for the Tribe.

And Jim Shore, the Tribe’s top in-house lawyer, recently warned lawmakers that legislation explicitly authorizing fantasy sports play also would violate the Compact. Break that deal, the Tribe has said, and it’s entitled to pay the state not one more dime.

Northeast Florida state House fundraising paced by Republican incumbents

Some Northeast Florida state House candidates and incumbents posted stronger fundraising than others in November. Below, the tally in each district.

The highlights: strong months for Republican incumbents Clay YarboroughJason Fischer and Cyndi Stevenson.

Meanwhile, in the most interesting race in the region, Democrat Tracye Polson continues to keep pace with Republican Wyman Duggan in House District 15.

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In House District 11, incumbent Republican Rep. Cord Byrd added $4,450 of new November money to his campaign account.

This pushed his total raised to nearly $60,000, against just $2,275 spent this cycle — a machine without churn.

Among the donors: Conservatives for Principled Leadership, a committee affiliated with future House Speaker Paul RennerWalmart; and Dosal Tobacco Corporation.

Byrd faces no electoral challenges at the moment; in 2016, he beat a write-in, amassing 98 percent of the vote.

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House District 12 sees action on both sides of the partisan divide, with Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough gearing up for a general election battle with Democratic candidate Tim Yost.

Yarborough is winning the money race in the deep-red district. He brought in $24,750 to his campaign account, and $5,000 to his political committee in November.

The campaign account has almost $95,000 now; the committee account has nearly $10,000.

Meanwhile, Yost brought in $165 in November, and has $2,129 on hand.

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HD 13 Democratic incumbent Tracie Davis won’t face an electoral challenge in the primary or the general election, and because of that, even a slow month of fundraising doesn’t occasion alarm.

Davis brought in $525 in November, giving her $28,715 raised and on hand — as she has yet to spend any money.

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HD 14 Democratic incumbent Kim Daniels ended October with less than $600 on hand. She’s better positioned after November receipts.

The evangelist/representative raked in $3,000, with donations from ABC Liquors and TECO Energy standing out.

Daniels also had negative expenditures — always a good place to be for the budget conscious — as a $1,500 spend on a multimedia consultant was refunded in November.

Daniels has just over $5,000 on hand.

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HD 15 — much like HD 12 — is a race that will reach its conclusion in November, as there are both Republicans and Democrats vying to fill the shoes of Jay Fant, who is part of the battle royale for Attorney General.

Republican Wyman Duggan had a $8,950 haul, which brought him to just over $82,000 on hand.

Democrat Tracye Polson raised $8,929 in November in hard money, but spent over $13,000 — $10,700 on consulting and political research.

She has roughly $50,000 in her campaign account, and an additional $13,000 plus in her committee account — giving her over $63,000 to work with.

The question for Polson: will the early frontloading of expenditure on consultants be paid for with continued donor interest, or will she have to go out of pocket to keep up with Duggan, a favorite of sectors of the GOP donor class?

 

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HD 16 looks like it reached its conclusion already. As we reported last week, Republican Rep. Jason Fischer added $25,000 last month to push his campaign past $100,000 mark in total fundraising.

Fischer, currently in his first term, raised $24,850 and spent $7,648 during November, bringing his to-date total to $113,902 raised with $80,217 cash on hand.

Fischer’s committee, Conservative Solutions for Jacksonville, banked $8,000 raised and spent.

At month’s end the committee had $37,386 on hand, giving Fischer a combined total of $117,603 between his two accounts.

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HD 17 incumbent Republican Cyndi Stevenson had her strongest month of fundraising since filing for re-election.

November brought $22,505 of new money to Stevenson’s account via 82 contributions, giving the St. Johns County Republican $74,954 on hand.

Stevenson, an incumbent in a safe Republican seat, won’t face real competition in 2018.

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HD 18 incumbent Republican Travis Cummings brought in $16,500 in November, pushing him to $106,250 raised.

Among the donors to the Orange Park Republican: Walmart, Walgreen’s, Visa, and the Florida Psychological Association.

Cummings, who doesn’t even have nominal ballot opposition, spent over $4,400 in November. Expect some new snapshots of the state Rep; he is spending over $1,000 on photography services.

For that price, they are contractually bound to get his good side.

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HD 19 Republican incumbent Bobby Payne is headed for a general election showdown with a Libertarian candidate, and — as with every other incumbent — fundraising continues apace.

November saw $4,450 of new money hit Payne’s account, pushing him near $60,000 raised, and over $57,500 cash on hand.

Payne’s Libertarian opponent, Ryan Ramsey, has yet to raise money in four months as an active candidate.

Jacksonville Bold for 12.8.17 — Progress report

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry took a victory lap on Facebook this week.

“2.5 years in office. Much done- pension reform, public safety investments, board reforms, reforms on how we serve kids, storm prep & relief, infrastructure, etc. The list goes on. However, that’s yesterday. I’m focused on winning today. Big things ahead. Love y’all Duval. We are just getting started.”

 

None of this was a given.

Pension reform was a heavy lift both in Tallahassee and locally, with unions and the city council.

Board reforms saw Curry castigated by former Alvin Brown supporters, who charged him with politicizing the boards.

Public safety — the new hires are being trained up and integrated into the force. However, that is still clearly a work in progress.

But still, Curry can take credit for a lot in just over half a term.

In a time when Tallahassee is mired in the Jack Latvala drama and Washington D.C. struggles to get what passes for tax “reform” through, it’s telling that Jacksonville’s Mayor is positioned to take a victory lap.

Though there are rivals to the Mayor who say that perhaps he gets too much credit — both in Jacksonville and Tallahassee — thus far he hasn’t had many missteps.

Could JEA privatization be a bridge too far? Or the proposed $18M+ purchase of land for a Peter Rummell development.

Time will tell. And so will Jacksonville Bold.

One Door to the slammer

After a legal ordeal lasting the better part of two years, Corrine Brown and her two co-conspirators in the One Door for Education case — former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and the former CEO of the charity, Carla Wiley — were sentenced.

No one got off easy.

“A sentence of probation for a member of Congress convicted of 18 counts would not be sufficient,” Judge Timothy Corrigan said.

No one got off easy.

Brown got 60 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $62,650 to the IRS, and $452,000 of additional restitution, and $664,000 of forfeiture.

Brown will appeal, though attorney James Smith has yet to determine if he will see that appeal through.

Simmons and Wiley, meanwhile, got lesser sentences.

Wiley got 21 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,515 in restitution is also owed, along with a $654,000 forfeiture judgment.

Simmons, meanwhile, got 48 months in prison, three years of supervised release, $452,000 of restitution and an additional $91,000 to the House of Representatives for pay for a phony employee of Brown’s staff. An additional $721,000 of forfeiture is due.

Travis Hutson on Jack Latvala: ‘Napalm and matches’

It was inevitable that Republican senators would have to weigh in on the ongoing war between Republican Sen. Latvala and Rachel Perrin Rogers, a Senate aide accusing him of serial sexual harassment.

Via POLITICO, one of the first was from Northeast Florida: Sen. Hutson of St. Johns County.

Republican senators are joining calls for Sen. Jack Latvala to resign in light of scandal.

“This highly respected and regarded establishment is being burnt to the ground, and I feel Senator Latvala is running around with the Napalm and the matches,” Hutson told POLITICO.

“This is only going to get worse. And the best thing for everyone — every senator, every staffer, every accuser and/or accused — would be a resignation so that we do not have to deal with this problem anymore,” Hutson said.

Hutson also told POLITICO that donors to Latvala’s political committee should ask for refunds.

There is a school of thought that Latvala may use his committee to exact revenge against clients of Brian Hughes — Perrin Rogers’ husband. Hutson’s comments seem to indicate that strategy could be undermined by a wave of refunds and a bipartisan condemnation of Latvala.

Meanwhile, Sen. Audrey Gibson — a Democrat — was somewhat more circumspect than Latvala.

 “First,” Gibson said, “I have continually maintained my sensitivity and support of women who believe they have been harassed in any way by anyone, being able to come forward and file a complaint. Secondly, Senator Latvala and/or Republican Leadership are the determinants on resignation matters.”

Cord Byrd’s fix for a ‘broken system’

A new bill in the Florida House would offer a vehicle for people with “legal disabilities” a road via circuit courts to the restoration of civil rights.

HB 903, filed by Jacksonville Beach Rep. Byrd, would offer remedies for those whose civil rights were suspended after felony convictions.

Cord Byrd introduced this bill Wednesday, holding a presser to push it.

“Currently,” Byrd wrote on Facebook, “the average wait time for Restoration of Rights is over nine years, with some as long as 11 years. Over 22,000 applications are pending, with only a few hundred being processed each year. Clearly, the system is broken.”

The Byrd bill allows those seeking restoration of rights to petition their county’s circuit court; exceptions to this rule would be registered sexual predators or sexual offenders.

Appeals are possible, and those petitioners who find their bids rejected have the right to file anew a year after said rejection.

Some people wait decades to get their rights back, long after they have proved that the threat they once posed to society has been removed.

Byrd’s bill would be a potential corrective to these onerous delays.

Jay Fant challenge to HRO?

Rep. Fant, a Jacksonville Republican who is also running for Attorney General, filed Tuesday what he calls the “Free Enterprise Protection Act.”

Jay Fant, in the AG race, may have to enforce his law should it pass, and should he win.

HB 871 would prevent “discriminatory action” by any governmental entity in the state against businesses.

Said discriminatory action would include attempts by government to “alter the tax treatment” of businesses, which would include imposing penalties against them for crimes unlisted in the legislation as filed.

It would also include attempts to deny or revoke a business’s exemption from taxation, as well as withholding or denying a business’s “access or entitlement” to property, including “speech forums.”

The bill would also prohibit governments in Florida from discriminating against “internal policies” of businesses, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Fant’s bill, if passed, could be used as a springboard to challenge local laws that conflict with rights enumerated in the bill, including Jacksonville’s own Human Rights Ordinance.

The HRO, as it is called locally, was expanded in 2016 to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, protecting their rights in the workplace, in the housing market, and in public accommodations, such as restrooms and locker rooms.

Fant told Jacksonville Republicans earlier this year that Mayor Curry could have done more to stop that bill, which was approved by 2/3 of the City Council, from becoming law.

Plea deals for child deaths draw scrutiny in House bill

Legislation filed in the Florida House Monday would compel state attorneys to explain why they cut plea deals in cases where children were killed.

Rep. Tracie Davis’ bill is designed to provide more clarity in deaths from childhood abuse.

HB 867, filed by Jacksonville Democrat Tracie Davis, would require state attorneys to explain in writing why they accepted a plea deal to lesser charges and penalties than originally filed in the case of the death of a child.

On Tuesday morning, Davis told us that there are many cases in which children die at the hands of abusers, and that drove her to file this bill.

“The number of children dying by abuse is alarming and steadily increasing through our communities. As I worked with families, it was [disturbing] to discover that many perpetrators are given a plea deal to a lesser crime in order for them to reveal the details of the crime,” Davis said.

Often families are unaware of changes to the charges. Davis added.

“I strongly feel that families have the right to know when a charge involving a child killed in an abusive situation deserve to know why the charge was decreased,” Davis noted.

JYDs roll out ‘cocktails with a candidate’ series

The Democratic race for Governor is beginning to heat up, and the Jacksonville Young Democrats are offering chances to meet with candidates via cocktail mixers in the coming months.

Libations and orations: Democratic gubernatorial candidates this winter in Jax.

Democratic candidates thus far have largely concentrated their efforts south of I-4, but Jacksonville’s young Democrats are clearly looking to change that.

The “Cocktails with a Candidate” series kicks off Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at downtown’s Zodiac Bar and Grill, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who appeared already at a JYD event in February.

Gillum — a pre-candidate at that point — discussed what his campaign would do to reach out to minority voters and young voters, as part of what he called an “18-month view of engagement” that would mobilize voters.

2018 brings — at least tentatively — two of Gillum’s opponents: Gwen Graham and Chris King to town.

Brian Hughes moves to Curry’s chief of staff

Comms specialist Hughes is — effective Jan. 2 — chief of staff for Mayor Curry, in a classic example of building something that lasts.

“To me and dozens of other elected officials, Brian Hughes has been a senior adviser on important matters of public policy and communications,” said Curry.

Brian Hughes, Lenny Curry’s new chief of staff.

“Working with me, Brian has already put a powerful imprint on our city’s future. From the pension solution to restructuring how we serve Jacksonville’s children with the Kids Hope Alliance, Brian applied his strengths to benefit this great city. I am honored to have him join my administration in a leadership role to help manage this successful team as we continue to accomplish big things,” Curry added.

City Council members — who will now have to work with Hughes in a different capacity — had a reaction.

Council President Anna Brosche said that “it’s my understanding that this is just formalizing how things have functioned for quite some time.”

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, often the sole voice of opposition to Curry’s initiatives, expected a different hire.

“I thought Ali Korman Shelton was a shoo-in for the job. She has served the mayor and our city well. As a council member, I look forward to working with Mr. Hughes,” Dennis said.

That’s entertainment

Curry is closer to the big reveal of what his proposed downtown “entertainment district” will look like, per WJXT.

Ambitious plans from Lenny Curry.

“(The) riverfront. That’s where the Shipyards are. But also begin to think about an entire entertainment district moving a little bit north, between the football and baseball fields,” Curry said. “Just kind of a little teaser there. Big things could be coming.”

With a key rhetorical assist: Alan Verlander of the JaxSports Council.

“We need that fan district. We need a plug-and-play kind of place that people can go to. That’s the missing link here. You look at Nashville, look at Atlanta, you look at Dallas. Those places, they have destination points for their fans,” Verlander said. “We don’t have that here.”

“If they walk out the door and they see there’s things to do, they’re going to extend their stays for weekends around their conferences, and they’re going to have a great representation of Jacksonville,” added Visit Jacksonville VP Katie Mitura. “And when they leave, they are going to talk about the great time they had.”

Privatize, don’t criticize

The groundswell no one really predicted a month ago to privatize JEA continues to swell, per a Florida Times-Union dispatch.

Board chair Alan Howard gave CEO Paul McElroy 60-90 days to complete a report on such.

Outgoing board member Tom Petway made the pitch. Can Lenny Curry hit a home run?

“If, after what I anticipate will be a healthy debate, a decision is ultimately made to pursue privatization, that process will be open to all bidders so that we can achieve the best result possible for the citizens of Jacksonville and JEA’s customers,” Howard wrote.

T-U reported Nate Monroe notes that ratepayers may see savings: “The utility’s October survey of what other utilities charge showed a JEA residential customer pays $111.76 for 1,000 kilowatt-hours compared to $103.07 for a Florida Power & Light customer.”

We will see how it goes. The Mayor’s political operation is working this story hard, as a friendly dispatch in Sunshine State News indicated this week.

Kids Hope picks all but confirmed

To quote the departed Jim Nabors, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”

The Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee did their best impression of Mayor’s Office staffers Tuesday, confirming six picks to the seven-person board of the nascent Kids Hope Alliance … with a seventh pick (Gary Chartrand?) held in abeyance.

Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee confirmed six picks to the seven-person board of Lenny Curry’s Kids Hope Alliance.

Rebekah Davis, a former member of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission board of directors; Kevin Gay, an earlier Jacksonville Journey board member; former Jacksonville Sheriff and current Edward Waters College President Nat Glover; Iraq War Bronze Star recipient Joe Peppers; and Tyra Tutor, a senior vice president at The Adecco Group North America.

The controversial (to some) choice: Marvin Wells, the first African-American graduate of the UF College of Dentistry. But not for reasons of qualifications.

Wells doesn’t live in Duval County — a clear requirement of the ordinance.

But rules are made to be broken, and the Rules Committee was happy to accommodate. Despite protestations from Councilman Garrett Dennis, who is not on Rules but was visiting the committee, Wells joined the rest on Tuesday’s Consent Agenda.

Shazam!

No more room at the morgue

The opioid overdose crisis in Jacksonville has taxed city resources on a number of fronts, including those not visible to the public, such as the Medical Examiner’s office.

Numerous city hall conversations this year have spotlighted the pressures created by the unnatural and unbudgeted deaths of the overdose crisis.

Bodies on top of bodies in the Duval County Medical Examiner’s office.

Tuesday saw the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee discuss facilities, including short-term and long-term solutions.

The short-term fix would be cooling trailers, but Medical Examiner Valerie Rao is angling for a new building.

That concept has support from Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, who believes the project should be prioritized in the city’s capital improvement plan.

However, Rao nettled other Finance members by not having outlined the business case for the new building with specifics.

The building she suggested as a model — in Orlando — cost $16 million to build in 2010.

Jax Council candidate blames sexual harassment on female ‘libido’

Jacksonville City Council candidate Earl Testy may be losing the money race to fellow Republican opponent Randy DeFoor in District 14; however, he certainly is garnering earned media.

But not for reasons any sane person would want.

Testy took a provocative position on the current tsunami of sexual harassment charges Monday.

Testy took women to task, asserting “they have themselves and their libidos to blame for much of their own abuse by men.”

“Feminists have no more call to be proud of their abuse of sex than men do, albeit seemingly passive,” Testy asserted.

Testy equated the current spate of revelations with “Gay Pride logic.”

“Sin is sin,” Testy asserted, “regardless of male, female, homosexual or heterosexual orientation.”

Testy advanced his insights in reaction to an article on National Review Online by longtime conservative pundit Mona Charen, a woman who has never asserted that the female libido is “to blame.”

Terror plot foiled

In custody right now: A Filipino national who was willing to die to kill as many people as possible at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida.

Per CBS News, 69-year-old Bernandino Gawala “Nandie” Bolatete was arrested this week for possessing an unregistered silencer, a federal crime.

Bernandino Bolatete, a foreign national, was stateside on a green card.

Bolatete, a gun enthusiast, had a purpose in mind.

“I just want to give these freaking people a taste of their own medicine, you know,” the foreign national told an undercover detective.

“The suppressor is not really that ‘quiet’ but it can be used on the 4th of July or New Year (sic) time, it can easily blend with the sound of fireworks,” Bolatete added.

Per Action News Jax, Bolatete’s lawyer argued that this was just “talk,” but as one might expect when a foreign national travels to the states to kill a bunch of Americans, his bond request was rejected, and he’s still in lockdown.

Jacksonville mulls letting courts handle employee drug screens

Jacksonville may be mulling a change its employment drug test procedures soon, and that could bring revenue to the courts.

That’s the gist of an internal email chain obtained by FloridaPolitics.com. However, there are caveats that may preclude this from happening.

On Nov. 29, Diane Moser — head of employee services for the City of Jacksonville — was among a group that went to the courthouse to look over their drug testing procedures.

“The big picture is that Courts is trying to figure out a way to bring in more money and would like the City to help,” Moser wrote in an email to other senior staffers in the mayor’s office.

“Their lab is currently running 250,000 to 300,000 tests per year using a high tech system called Paracelsus.  They are trying to expand this program as well as start a program for employment testing.  The cost of their current test to other agencies is $30.00.  They are not currently doing any drug testing for employment,” Moser added.

However, there are sticking points. One such:

“They would need to obtain licensure through the Agency for Health Care Administration, a state requirement, as well as licensing through the Health and Human Services for DOT compliance. At this point, we do not have an idea of how long these licensures will take,” Moser wrote.

Another sticking point that may preclude this idea from coming to fruition: the “low” number of drug tests (1,627) that the city performs.

“We explained that we used to conduct more because at one point we tested everyone we hired but that we only test safety sensitive and DOT positions for pre-employment (we also test the entire population for reasonable suspicion and post-accident),” Moser wrote.

And there are still other potential roadblocks.

For one thing, the court drug testing does not involve hair samples — an apparent sticking point.

As well, there is an optics issue, per Moser: “Do we really want to send our applicants and employees to a lab that conducts tests on drug offenders?”

The courts charge $30 per person, compared to the current city rate of $25; however, the courts run a 15-panel test and the city runs just a seven-panel test, perhaps accounting for the price break.

Brian Hughes, ‘bad boy of comms,’ to be Lenny Curry’s chief of staff

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry brought his political adviser into the administration Wednesday, naming Brian Hughes as his Chief of Staff.

Hughes begins in his new position January 2, 2018.

“To me and dozens of other elected officials, Brian Hughes has been a senior adviser on important matters of public policy and communications,” said Curry.

“Working with me, Brian has already put a powerful imprint on our city’s future. From the pension solution to restructuring how we serve Jacksonville’s children with the Kids Hope Alliance, Brian applied his strengths to benefit this great city. I am honored to have him join my administration in a leadership role to help manage this successful team as we continue to accomplish big things,” Curry added.

Indeed, Hughes has been an influential figure, shaping stories and narratives both in Curry’s campaign and as a post-election political adviser who has helped Curry refine messages to sell initiatives, such as those mentioned.

Hughes’ motto as a political consultant: Track. Flack. Attack. Hack.

In an interview with this writer for INFLUENCE Magazine, Hughes described himself as the “the bad boy of comms.”

“Some people feel I’m overly aggressive,” said Hughes, a “motorcycle guy who cusses and gets angry.”

Hughes, a native of Upstate New York, cut his teeth in politics as an intern for his local congressman, moderate Republican Sherwood Boehlert for one “magical summer.”

The job wasn’t glamorous: a lot of formulaic “snail mail” responses on hot-button issues of a bygone era, such as NAFTA and the Russian Republics. But Hughes “emerged with a skill in writing” and an ability to process an “unfathomable amount of info about policy and politics.”

Hughes ended up in Florida, working for former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, before taking a sabbatical from politics to pursue interest in film, then serving in the Gulf War.

But politics was always there.

Hughes, motivated by his own Gulf War experience, traveled to Afghanistan to research a documentary on military chaplains. However, the siren call of politics in the Sunshine State was too much to resist.

By the end of the last decade, Hughes was back in the game, with work for Jeff Atwater and Lizbeth Benacquisto. And he met his second wife in Tallahassee, which provided further incentive for the itinerant Hughes to put down roots in Florida.

In that timeframe, Hughes also met Curry via the Republican Party of Florida, setting the stage for an association that vaulted Curry to the mayor’s office and Hughes and his chief collaborator, Tim Baker (with whom he overlapped in work with Benacquisto and Atwater), to the famed Data Targeting firm, and ultimately toward a platform in which Hughes and Baker revolutionized political communications in Jacksonville.

Indeed, Baker and Hughes had an impressive array of candidates, both local and statewide, before this hire.

In the Jacksonville market alone, Hughes and Baker handled the 2018 bid of Wyman Duggan for State House District 15, and 2019 bids of Rose Conry, Rory Diamond, Randy DeFoor, LeAnna Cumber and Ron Salem for Jacksonville City Council.

The two also did committee work for Mayor Curry, Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson.

On the state level, Agriculture Commissioner candidate Baxter Troutman and Attorney General hopeful Frank White are among the candidates the two worked for.

What happens now?

Hughes told Florida Politics that “all clients are informed and have made appropriate plans. I continue working with them until December is concluded. And as a civilian I will continue to be a fan rooting for these great people to reach the goals we shared.”

Indeed, informed sources tell me Baker will have new collaborators and it will be full steam ahead on these campaigns — the culmination of an eight year run, including a radical reshaping of how politics was done in Northeast Florida.

City Council members — who will now have to work with Hughes in a different capacity — had reaction.

Council President Anna Brosche said that “it’s my understanding that this is just formalizing how things have functioned for quite some time.”

Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, often the sole voice of opposition to Curry’s initiatives, expected a different hire.

“I thought Ali Korman Shelton was a shoo in for the job. She has served the Mayor and our city well. As a council member, I look forward to working with Mr. Hughes,” Dennis said.

Councilman Bill Gulliford described Hughes as “very good in the campaign business and there are a lot coming up. That seems to be his passion so I am surprised he would take a ‘desk job.'”

The hire was “a little surprising,” but Hughes is “smart and capable.”

“I suspect he will keep it interesting,” Gulliford added.

Council Vice President Aaron Bowman said he has a “high respect” for Hughes, whom he expects to be a “strong asset to the Mayor and the administration.”

And Councilman Tommy Hazouri — a former mayor himself — had a favorable reaction.

“Hobson’s choice. The mayor trusts him, and the mayor has the right, of course, to make his i- house appointments, among others. Hughes is certainly politically savvy. Even with his very partisan background,” Hazouri said, “I find he works well with both sides of our aisle as, while we have party affiliations, our Council recognizes that there are no Republican or Democratic potholes.”

Indeed, Hughes had an amazing run as a political communicator.

Able to play the heavy easily, Hughes made what could be called a “babyface turn” in helming Nelson’s primary election knockout of Angela Corey.

But he will be best known for the 2015 mayoral race, and the aftermath.

Hughes was so out front for his client that, even as Hughes was discussed as an official hire after the election, people told this writer that Hughes would be a deal breaker.

Hughes discussed that triumph with this reporter on election night.

“For all the hype, the thing that made the difference was Democrats crossing over.” Their data had told them that was a viable target, and in communicating his message to “all of Jacksonville, people heard it.”

Hughes has worked in the system and has transformed the system. Now, along with Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and CFO Mike Weinstein, he will run the system.

Jacksonville Bold for 12.1.17 — So much winning

In this issue of Bold, there’s not a lot of unwelcome news.

Today, there’s:

Travis Hutson potentially ascending to Senate leadership.

— The local paper’s editorial board finally noticed Hutson’s Senate colleague, Rob Bradley.

— A popular local politician — Sheriff Mike Williams — is (finally) officially running for re-election.

— If you read far enough, you’ll find the latest “big idea” in Jacksonville politics — a potential privatization of the local utility.

— And two new Sumatran tiger cubs — a “critically endangered” species — were born at the Jacksonville Zoo.

Some issues of Bold — and undoubtedly many future ones — will be packed with scandal and drama.

This one, luckily for the local political class, is not.

6th Congressional District race has Duval flavor

Though Duval County is now comfortably north of Congressional District 6, it’s worth watching as — at least by proxy — it could be argued to be a Jacksonville seat.

Incumbent Ron DeSantis has not decided whether to run for re-election or run statewide, yet wife Casey Black DeSantis is and presumably will continue to be a fixture on Jacksonville television.

The likely Democratic nominee — Ambassador Nancy Soderberg — has been a longtime professor at the University of North Florida.

Jacksonville-based candidates are eyeing the 6th Congressional District seat.

And a potential GOP candidate — former Green Beret Mike Waltz — was an alumnus of Stanton High School (Go Blue Devils!)

At a time when Congressional District 5 (a seat currently held by Tallahassee’s Al Lawson) may or may not be in play for a Jacksonville politician such as former Mayor Alvin Brown, it’s worth watching to see if CD 6 will end up as a Jacksonville seat by proxy.

Read all about it here.

Travis Hutson on leadership track?

St. Johns County Sen. Hutson may be on the Senate Leadership track.

But it’s going to take some time to find out, as Florida Politics reported this week.

The two front-runners to be potential Senate Majority Leader in 2022 are Hutson and Tampa’s Dana Young, according to more than a dozen sources, including several members. Beyond Hutson and Young, sources say Dennis Baxley and Greg Steube should be seen as dark horses.

And we typically get these things right. Florida Politics was first to report about the conclusion of the race between current Senate President Joe Negron and one-time rival Jack Latvala, as well as the eventual outcome of the recently concluded contest for House Speaker beginning in 2022.

There’s a lot of time between now and the 2020 vote. However, Hutson atop the Senate and Renner atop the House would make for a unique and welcome convergence for Northeast Florida.

Paul Renner previews Legislative Session, talks harassment

Palm Coast Rep. Renner — a Jacksonville lawyer who chairs Ways and Means and is on track to be Speaker in 2022 — spoke to a crowd on the Southside Wednesday.

While Florida has “the right policies,” is headed in “the right direction” and has a “bright future,” the state nonetheless faces challenges.

Among those challenges: population growth, including a near-term influx from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico and long-term expectations that Florida could add 6 to 8 million people in the coming years. And roads and other infrastructural issues.

Paul Renner covered a lot of subjects Wednesday in Jacksonville.

Renner also discussed the pervasive issue of sexual harassment in Tallahassee.

“Two points: one is that human beings being are who they are, in any organization you’re going to have five to 10 percent who can’t help themselves in their personal conduct. We need to identify that and ask them to return home because they’ve lost the trust of the people who elected them,” Renner said.

Renner’s second point: term limits.

“You see some of these problems. You look at John Conyers in Congress: he’s 88 years old and has had some serious allegations against him,” Renner added. “Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, there’s a period of time after which people become co-opted, happier to be there than to do what the people sent them there to do.

“They’d rather spend time drinking scotch at the club or doing things that they don’t have any business doing than to do the people’s business,” Renner added. “Do I think that’s widespread among elected members? I do not. But it is an issue, it is a problem, and it’s something we have to take seriously. And as these things arise, it’s something we have to address.”

Staff boosts for Jay Fant AG campaign

When it comes to the GOP race for Attorney General, Fant is in it to win it.

Is Jay Fant for real? These new hires suggest yes.

Fant faces former circuit court judge Ashley Moody and fellow Republican Reps. Frank White and Ross Spano in the GOP primary for AG, and has seen his campaign lag in recent months as his rivals, particularly Moody and White, have picked up steam.

The Jacksonville Republican’s revamp effort includes bringing in Randy Enwright and Jim Rimes of Enwright Consulting Group to lead his political team and turning to The Tarrance Group for polling. Former Rick Scott communications chief Melissa Stone is also coming on board via Cavalry Strategies.

Fant is also going all in on advertising with the Strategy Group, which helped President Donald Trump last election cycle and have worked on 11 other Attorney General campaigns nationwide.

Josh Cooper’s Strategic Information Consultants will be handling opposition research, while Strategic Digital Services, founded by Matthew Farrar and Joe Clements, will handle the digital media operations.

Fant has messaged to the right of the field, but has seen his credibility hamstrung by a shoestring operation. Now that problem has been solved.

Fant wants Franken gone

Rep. Fant — as is often the case — is holding forth on issues beyond the state Legislature in which he serves, and the Attorney General’s office in which he would like to serve.

Fant’s latest rhetorical broadside: a full-throttle smackdown on Sen. Franken, accused of letting his hands wander during photo ops.

Fant wants Franken gone.

No affirmations for Al Franken from Rep. Jay Fant.

“Senator Marco Rubio said yesterday that Senator Al Franken should resign, and I fully agree with him on this. Senator Franken has already admitted to mistreating women in a way that would be offensive to come from any person, but is completely out-of-bounds for an elected official representing our public trust. He must go,” Fant said.

“As the father of two daughters, I am sickened by public officials misusing the power of their office for harassment. Sexual harassment is wrong in any workplace,” Fant added, “but is especially disgusting when it involves someone who represents the public trust.”

Fant is embroiled in a crowded four-way race for the GOP nomination for Attorney General. Two of his opponents — White and Spano — are House colleagues. A third competitor, Moody, is a retired Hillsborough County judge.

Times-Union gives props to Bradley

Sen. Bradley was lauded by the Florida Times-Union editorial board last month, and — as it ran during the Thanksgiving holiday — some of our readers may have missed it.

The Times-Union issued plaudits for Rob Bradley, even as future of Tallahassee coverage in question.

Bradley, the current Senate Appropriations Chair, was celebrated for sponsoring a bill that would earmark $100 million for the state’s “Florida Forever” conservation program.

If this sounds like déjà vu, it’s probably because Florida Politics wrote about the bill two months ago.

“This ought to be easy. Florida voters approved that funding by a whopping 75 percent vote three years ago. But the Legislature has a maddening habit of ignoring the will of the voters,” the T-U ed board remarked.

With the Times-Union yet to announce a replacement for the respected Tia Mitchell, it will be interesting to see how the Jacksonville paper covers Bradley — and the Florida Legislature — in 2018.

Kim Daniels settles disputed election spending

Rep. Daniels cut a deal this week with the Florida Elections Commission. She will spend $1,500 to settle claims that she paid campaign money from her 2015 Jacksonville City Council re-election bid on promoting her book, “The Demon Dictionary.”

Rep. Kim Daniels spent campaign money … to support Rev. Kim Daniels’ book. But all is forgiven now.

As Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly reported in February 2015, Daniels spent $4,000 of campaign funds to promote her book, The Demon Dictionary, in a religious magazine called Shofar.

Daniels also offered editorials in the magazine, and no disclaimers marking the communiqué as campaign communications were included.

A local activist/journalist, David Vandygriff of JaxGay.com, filed an FEC complaint, and in March 2016, staff recommended to the commission that there was probable cause to believe that an election code violation might have occurred.

Daniels faces no opposition thus far in her 2018 bid for re-election.

Second Democrat jumps into HD 15 fight

Many connected Jacksonville Democrats are solidly behind Tracye Polson in her bid to replace Fant in House District 15.

But to get to the general election against a Republican (Wyman Duggan is the only one to have filed yet), Polson must fend off a primary challenge.

Tracye Polson will have to beat a primary challenger to get to the general election.

Jacksonville Democrat Matt McAllister filed last month for the seat.

McAllister is an unknown quantity for local Dems; Polson, meanwhile, has hosted fundraisers for Sen. Bill Nelson and the Duval County Democratic Party.

Mike Williams files for re-election

Jacksonville Sheriff Williams filed for re-election Tuesday, opening a campaign account and launching an operation well ahead of the 2019 vote.

Can Mike Williams be beaten? So far no one has filed against him.

Despite the formal filing for re-election, it’s clear that Williams has been working in that direction for months.

Williams’ political committee, “A Safe Jacksonville,” has raised $154,000, and has $131,000 on hand.

The committee’s spending in September and October reflected a nascent re-election campaign, with a $10,000 October spend with Jacksonville consultant Bruce Barcelo on constituent polling, after a September spend of $8,900 with Data Targeting Research for the same.

While we don’t have access to the internal polls, the most recent public poll shows that Sheriff Williams is popular, with 67 percent approval countywide … including 60 percent of Democrats.

Bad trip? Or hit piece?

The Florida Times-Union offered a long-form look at the political symbiosis between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan.

The Shad Khan/Lenny Curry connection was a long read on Thanksgiving weekend.

The subtext may be more interesting than the text.

Historically, there has been a pattern when the T-U would go in on Curry’s administration on one issue or another; a Cold War of some length, followed by rapprochement.

“Curry’s current travel practices have blown up the old system,” writes the T-U’s Nate Monroe, who adds that “Curry considers himself a reform mayor who championed hard-won changes to the old ways of doing business, often touting his interest in increased transparency and accountability for the massive consolidated government he oversees. But Curry might be sidestepping that goal when it comes to his own office.”

In a media market like this, with a few dedicated City Hall reporters between print and television, the relationship between Curry and the local paper is worth watching. While the T-U editorial board is pretty much on lock, the news side is more skeptical — as Monroe’s article suggests.

Curry faces no imminent challenges to re-election, and — as compared to Alvin Brown, who attempted to stay above politics — is exceedingly well prepared for a re-election campaign.

But the path forward can get more treacherous if articles like this one occlude the larger narrative.

Tree canopy tango

Jacksonville City Councilman John Crescimbeni introduced legislation this week that opposes a state bill (HB 521/SB 574) that would cut the heart out of the city’s protections of its tree canopy.

John Crescimbeni struck a blow for home rule with his recent tree bill.

The state bill, filed by Republican Greg Steube in the Senate and Democrat Katie Edwards in the House, would prohibit cities such as Jacksonville from stopping landowners from removing trees located on their own private property.

Crescimbeni’s Jacksonville City Council bill (2017-822) contends that the legislation is “harmful to the environment and contrary to the overwhelming wishes of Jacksonville citizens,” and that the state legislation is an “assault on home rule.”

The Crescimbeni bill, if it moves through committee, will be voted up or down by the full Council in 2018.

Price of sex discrimination to be paid by Jax taxpayers

WJXT reported on the city of Jacksonville getting ready to dole out almost half a million dollars to settle two sex discrimination cases.

“The city tried unsuccessfully to get both lawsuits dismissed, and in each case, the city’s general counsel said the agreed upon settlement would be far less than what the city might have to pay after a jury trial and lengthy court battle,” reports WJXT’s Jim Piggott.

For a taste of what these women had to endure, consider the example of 65-year-old Deborah Jones, a jail employee.

Jones claimed her boss called her an “old, demented, worthless whore” and who “didn’t need to worry about inmates hanging around a dark parking lot because ‘they don’t rape old, ugly women.’”

Reggie Gaffney raises $10K in re-election bid

It appears that, despite issues during his first two years in office, that Jacksonville City Councilman Gaffney will have the resources he needs to best lightly-funded opponents.

Four more years of photo-ops for gaffe-prone Reggie Gaffney?

October revealed fundraising that, while slow compared to many other candidates in the city, dwarfs opponents in Council District 7, which includes Downtown, Springfield and points north.

Gaffney brought in $9,100 in October, pushing him to $10,100 raised — with all but $228 of that cash on hand.

Gaffney’s money came in chunks: $2,500 in three checks from local dog track interests; $2,000 from three property management entities housed at the same address (437 E Monroe St. Ste 100); and $2,000 more from two property management companies with the same post office box in Yulee.

One opponent has $1,800 banked; the other has $0 in reserve.

Privatize JEA? Tom Petway says yes.

The big news out of Tuesday’s meeting of Jacksonville’s JEA Board wasn’t on the agenda.

Tom Petway delivered a ‘mic drop’ moment while leaving the JEA Board.

Board member Petway — one of the earliest supporters of the candidacy of Jacksonville Mayor Curry — announced his intention to leave the board Dec. 31. And he revived a major conceptual proposal on his way out.

Petway suggested that perhaps the time has come for the municipal utility to move into a “private sector marketplace” model.

“The majority of people in Florida are served by a private-sector marketplace,” Petway said, asking the board to consider where JEA “fits” in that emergent paradigm.

At a press availability Wednesday, Curry further discussed the audacious proposal by one of his staunchest political supporters.

“[Petway and] I’ve had abstract conversations about challenging the utility to think big,” Curry said. “Numerous times.”

“I’ve been about reform, challenge, changing the status quo,” Curry added. “And he certainly challenged the organization to think big yesterday.”

This concept has been floated twice in the last decade, and couldn’t get traction.

However, some City Councilors — notably, Council liaison to JEA Matt Schellenberg and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — are receptive, even as Council President Anna Brosche wants to know more.

This will be a 2018 story to watch.

Duval Dems Chair race to wrap Monday

Earlier this month, State Sen. Audrey Gibson — the next Caucus leader for Senate Democrats — resigned as chair of the Duval County Democratic Party.

Two candidates have emerged in the hopes of replacing Gibson.

The names: Lisa King, the county party committeewoman who lost a race for state chair to freshly-resigned Stephen Bittel; and Hazel Gillis, VP of the Duval Dems’ Black Caucus.

Lisa King is one of two Duval DEC chair candidates.

“Democrats can win elections in Jacksonville. To do so,” King said, “we must be brave, build trust and be ready to work.”

Gillis, in an email announcing her bid, noted that she will “work diligently to unify our party and work for inclusion.”

The party will choose Monday evening.

Scott reappoints two to Jacksonville Aviation Authority

Gov. Rick Scott announced the reappointment of Patrick Kilbane and Giselle Carson to the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.

Kilbane, 38, of Jacksonville, is a financial adviser with Ullmann Brown Wealth Advisors. He received his law degree from the University of Notre Dame. Kilbane is reappointed for a term beginning ending Sept. 30, 2021.

Carson, 49, of Jacksonville, is an attorney and shareholder with Marks Gray PA. Carson received her bachelor’s degree from McGill University and her law degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law. Carson is reappointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2021.

Wildlight UF Health facility plans filed

Wildlight LLC has filed plans with the St. Johns River Water Management District this week for a proposed University of Florida health and fitness complex at Wildlight, the master-planned community in Nassau County.

Karen Mathis of the Jacksonville Daily Record reports that Wildlight developer Raydient Places + Properties and UF is seeking to construct two medical office buildings, with parking facilities, on 6.38 acres in Yulee at Florida A1A and William Burgess Boulevard.

In August, Raydient — Rayonier Inc.’s real estate subsidiary — and UF announced groundbreaking would begin in 2018.

UF and UF Health said Wildlight is the first step in a multiyear project is to build the community’s first health care facility on Florida A1A.

Plans include a 23,331-square-foot medical office building and a 5,888-square-foot building. GAI Consultants of Jacksonville is serving as the project agent.

Wildlight is a 2,900-acre development with 7 million square feet of office, commercial, medical, industrial and residential space. The project will include 3,200 residential units.

Originally in downtown Jacksonville, Rayonier moved its headquarters to Wildlight, a new town that it refers to as “Florida Lowcountry.”

In all, Wildlight will offer homes, townhomes and rental apartments along with shops, restaurants, parks, gardens, playgrounds, a new elementary school that opened and a trail and pathway system to connect it.

JTA holiday bus offers free rides, candy canes, music

Weekdays through December 22, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) is offering a special holiday bus, located on any one of its routes during the holiday season.

If you find the holiday bus, you can ride for free.

JTA says riders on this holiday bus will also get holiday music, candy canes, and decorations.

For more information on the holiday bus, contact JTA customer service at (904) 630-3100.

Jacksonville Zoo celebrates birth of endangered Sumatran tiger cubs

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is celebrating the healthy birth of two critically endangered Sumatran tiger cubs. The cubs’ mother, 6-year-old Dorcas, gave birth at 11:40 a.m. November 20. The tigers’ keepers were able to keep an eye on the process using a closed-circuit camera system.

Both cubs are male; they are the second litter for Dorcas and father, Berani. The Zoo’s first Sumatran tiger birth in its 102-year history is big sister Kinleigh Rose, born on November 19, 2015 — two years and a day before the arrival of her little brothers.

“One of the biggest pleasures as the Zoo’s tiger-management program evolves, is watching the effect that it has on the wellness of our animals,” said Dan Dembiec, Supervisor of Mammals. “Dorcas started out as a skittish and shy tigress, but she is now a confident and skilled mother.  She is a natural at providing her cubs with the necessary care to help them develop, and this is reflective of the care that she has received from the staff at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.”

The cubs received their first medical exam on November 28. Zoo Animal Health staff were able to quickly and efficiently examine the cubs because of the exceptional bonding and training the keeper staff has conducted with the mother. Dorcas was willing and trusting to be separated from the cubs at the request of the keepers.

Could climate change presage Jacksonville credit downgrade?

Not even three months after Hurricane Irma comes an indication, via Moody’s, that a storm may be brewing in municipal credit markets.

Via Bloomberg: “If cities and states don’t deal with risks from surging seas or intense storms, they are at greater risk of default.”

Moody’s considers six indicators to measure exposure, like how many homes are in a flood plain — an issue for Jacksonville.

During Hurricane Matthew, Jacksonville issued mandatory evacuations in Flood Zones A, B, and C; these encompassed 450,000 people.

During Irma, Jacksonville evacuated zones A and B, which encompassed 256,000 people.

Despite those evacuation orders, life was imperiled: 350 residents had to be rescued in the hours after the storm churned out of the area. Downtown Jacksonville suffered historic flooding, as did neighborhoods on the river, such as Avondale, Riverside and San Marco.

While Moody’s has yet to actually downgrade a city for not addressing climate change, Jacksonville has physical vulnerability.

As well, the city has backed away from nationwide initiatives — such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities,” which offered $1 million a year to participating municipalities.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry — who created a media kerfuffle earlier this year in backing President Donald Trump‘s intention to leave the Paris Accord, an international agreement to curb emissions and other environmental impacts, is not worried about potential future credit downgrades, he told us Wednesday.

“Sea levels are rising, in Jacksonville and the state. We certainly experience catastrophic storms … and we in Jacksonville are doing everything we can to invest in proper infrastructure on the front end, and [working] to keep our people safe on the back end,” Curry said.

“Our Public Works Department has a comprehensive plan they are currently re-evaluating and have been prior to these storms. So I would say we face the reality in front of us and those rising sea levels and those storms are a reality in front of us, and we will adjust accordingly,” Curry added.

But will that convince the bond ratings agencies?

“Budgets — real budgets and real investments speak to bond rating agencies. Not a bunch of feel-good talk that a lot of elected officials like to do that result in no real investments and no real budgets,” Curry said.

“I stand by my budgets. I stand by my work with City Council. I stand by our investments in neighborhoods and infrastructure,” Curry added.

Jacksonville’s credit ratings have improved in recent years.

However, Moody’s already expressed concern about pension reform, specifically about the deferred payment model on the $3.2 billion unfunded actuarial liability from the city’s defined benefit plans.

“The Aa2 Issuer Rating reflects the city’s high fixed costs, which are elevated by weak pension funding levels. Despite a new pension reform plan, pension payments will continue to constrict the city’s financial operations. The rating also reflects the city’s rebounding, large and diverse economy, coupled with a strengthened balance sheet position, that both help buoy the rating at the current level. Moody’s will closely monitor the city’s ability to control rapidly increasing fixed costs,” the agency asserted in August.

Paul Renner to speak in Jacksonville Wednesday

Rep. Paul Renner, a Republican representing Palm Coast, will speak in Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon at the Southside Business Men’s Club.

Renner, a Jacksonville lawyer, is in line to become House Speaker in 2022 — a long-awaited return to power in Tallahassee for the Jacksonville political class, which still yearns for the days of Jim King and John Thrasher.

Renner, a close ally of current House Speaker Richard Corcoran and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is starting to demonstrate big-league fundraising ability.

October saw $108,000 course into Renner’s political committees, “Florida Foundation for Liberty” and “Conservatives for Principled Leadership.” Defending a safe seat in a deep red district, that money isn’t needed for Renner’s own re-election; he can dole it out to allies and causes with which he accords.

Some of those causes may conflict with those of Jacksonville.

Flagler Live reported last month about a “startling avowal” from Renner, in favor of pre-emption of local ordinances over “home rule” — a concept cherished by local legislators, such as those on the Jacksonville City Council.

“Part of this, to be real blunt about it,” Renner said, “what you’re seeing and this is part of a larger conversation could have is the concentration of support for a more center-left or left-wing viewpoint, and this is again not Flagler County, but our major cities, San Francisco, New York. The Democrat Party has really become a party of dense urban areas and the rest of the country tends to be more conservative, more Republican.

“So part of the fight, part of the sub-context of this whole discussion, is the reason we think they’re going rogue is because it’s Bernie Sanders in charge of your local city government or county government in some cases, and doing things that really are sharp departures from the way the country has become so prosperous, so strong and so free, and so states are stepping in to say, look, we’re not going to let you destroy all the good work that we’re doing and all the economic growth we’re creating in the state for people by trying to ban or shut down particular industries that you don’t like,” Renner added.

Some have interpreted Renner’s rhetorical broadside against “rogue” cities as a potential assault on ordinances such as Jacksonville’s Human Rights Ordinance, recently expanded to protect the rights of LGBT people to employment, housing, and public accommodations.

There has also been narrative divergence about how timely the support of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was for Renner as the jockeying for leadership progressed in the spring and early summer.

Curry was instrumental in a fundraiser that raised $250,000 for Renner’s committees.

“I engaged,” Curry said, “and my political operation engaged.”

Others have groused, quietly but persistently, that ‘Team Curry’ didn’t engage quickly enough.

Expect audience questions at the Southside Business Men’s Club Wednesday on these and related topics.

The meeting is members-only and takes place starting with lunch service at 11:30 a.m. at the San Jose Country Club.

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