Jeff Brandes – Florida Politics
Clearwater aerial photo

Candidates sign up for ‘Politics in Pinellas’

Another election cycle, another edition of Politics in Pinellas.

The event, hosted biennially by the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, is set to draw at least 10 candidates for offices ranging from Pinellas School Board to state Senator.

“Are they running for office for the first time or up for re-election? This is your opportunity to personally hear the view point and strategy of those seeking public office in Pinellas County,” the event listing says.

The 2018 edition of Politics in Pinellas will be held July 26 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the EpiCenter at St. Petersburg College, 13805 58th St. N., in Clearwater.

So far, 10 candidates have signed on to participate in the event.

School Board District 2 incumbent Terry Krassner and challenger Jeff Larsen will both attend, while Lisa Cane has not yet signed up. For School Board District 3, only challenger Nicole Carr has signed up. She faces incumbent Peggy O’Shea and former Democratic state Rep. Carl Zimmerman.

For Pinellas County Commission District 6, Republican state Rep. Kathleen Peters has confirmed. She faces fellow Republican state Rep. Larry Ahern, Republican businesswoman Barb Haselden and Democrat Amy Kedron in the race to succeed longtime Commissioner John Morroni, who died earlier this year at the age of 63.

Doneene Loar, who is running for 6th Circuit Judge, will also attend. She faces Donald McBath in the nonpartisan judicial election.

Candidates from two of the county’s seven state House districts will also be in attendance.

House District 64 Republican candidate Terry Power, who faces incumbent Rep. Jamie Grant in the Aug. 28 primary, will have a table. As will Pinellas GOP chair Nick DiCeglie, who is running to succeed Ahern in House District 66. He’ll be joined by Democratic foe Alex Heeren, though Seminole Republican Berny Jacques hasn’t put in an RSVP.

Also attending incumbent Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of Senate District 24 and former Rep. Ed Hooper, the likely Republican nominee for Senate District 16.

Brandes had been facing a challenge from Democratic trial lawyer Carrie Pilon, though she announced two weeks ago that she was withdrawing from the race. The Florida Democratic Party is in the process of selecting her replacement.

Hooper is running against former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy, and recent polling shows the race is a dead heat with Hooper holding a slim advantage.

Politics in Pinellas is free and open to the public. Those who attend will be able to vote for their preferred candidates in a straw poll.

The event flyer is below.

Jeff Brandes holding ‘Super Saturday’ canvassing event

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes is gearing up for his re-election bid with a “Super Saturday” canvassing event in St. Petersburg-based Senate District 24.

“Come show your support for Jeff Brandes! Join us on July 14 at 9:00 a.m. at Crisp Park in St. Petersburg for coffee and donuts. Help Senator Brandes spread his message by knocking on voters doors in nearby neighborhoods. Then at 12:30 p.m. we’ll meet at Green Bench Brewery for lunch and drinks,” the event listing says.

Crisp Park is located at the intersection of 37th Avenue NE and Poplar Street NE in St. Petersburg; Green Bench Brewery is located at 1133 Baum Ave. North. Those looking to attend can sign up to volunteer on the Facebook event listing.

Brandes, a lifelong resident of St. Pete, is running for his final term in the Florida Senate. He was first elected in 2012 and was a member of the Florida House for the two years prior.

Democratic trial lawyer Carrie Pilon was slated to be his opponent in the Nov. 6 general election, though she recently withdrew from the race, citing serious and unexpected health problems of a close family member.

With Pilon’s exit, the Florida Democratic Party must now recruit another nominee to pick up the baton for the last four months of the 2018 cycle — a tough task only made tougher by Brandes’ prolific fundraising.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County. The GOP has a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted in favor of Barack Obama twice before being carried by Donald Trump in 2016.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

Jeff Brandes

Jeff Brandes piles on cash as Florida Democrats scramble to replace Carrie Pilon

St. Petersburg Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes doesn’t know who he’ll be up against come Election Day, but that hasn’t stopped donors from pouring beaucoup bucks into his political committee.

A newly filed campaign finance report for Liberty Florida shows the Senate District 24 incumbent reeled in a six-figure haul from a crop of well-known donors in the last week of June.

Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a candidate for Senate President in 2022, chipped in $15,000 via her Working Together For Florida political committee and Miami-based air cargo company Florida Cargo Fresh matched her while U.S. Sugar and AIF-affiliated Floridians for a Stronger Democracy each showed up at the $10,000 level.

AT&T, Allstate and GEICO also made the donor sheet with smaller contributions.

In all, Liberty Florida cashed 17 checks worth a combined $103,500 during the week and now has more than $350,000 in the bank. Brandes’ campaign account is even more flush with cash — he had $467,250 in hard money three-quarters of the way through June.

The committee cash came a week before one-time challenger Carrie Pilon’s announcement that she would abdicate her spot on the ballot due to serious and unexpected health problems of a close family member.

SD 24 has a slight Republican lean. It voted for Barack Obama twice before going plus-7 for Donald Trump two years ago, and 2018 polling has consistently shown it was possible for a Democratic candidate to flip it — a recent survey conducted by St. Pete Polls put Pilon within five points of Brandes.

With Pilon’s exit, however, the Florida Democratic Party must now recruit another nominee to pick up the baton for the last four months of the 2018 cycle — a tough task only made tougher by Brandes’ prolific fundraising.

Florida Realtors make endorsements in 87 legislative races

The political arm of the Florida Realtors rolled out endorsements Monday for nearly every state legislative election slated for the 2018 ballot.

“As Realtors, we pride ourselves on our long-standing efforts to defend private property rights, promote community prosperity and preserve a professional climate that ensures the economic growth of Florida,” said Ann DeFries, chair of Florida Realtors PAC Trustees. “Our continued success in these efforts requires legislators who share these beliefs and will work with our 180,000+ members to help Floridians and their communities thrive.”

Of the 142 Senate and House seats up for grabs this year — that includes special elections to replace Senate President Joe Negron and Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube27 were decided at the close of candidate qualifying deadline.

The Florida Realtors weighed in on 87 of the remaining set to go before voters in some form or fashion.

Four of those picks are virtually assured victory as their only challenge is coming from unaffiliated, third-party or write-in candidates. Those include HD 46 Democratic Rep. Bruce Antone, HD 38 Republican Rep. Danny Burgess, HD 17 Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson and HD 6 Republican Rep. Jay Trumbull.

Many of the other races feature an incumbent who’ll likely cruise toward re-election, such as District 2 Republican Sen. George Gainer and HD 39 Republican Rep. Josie Tomkow, though the trade association also weighed in on nearly every competitive race.

In the upper chamber, incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry of Gainesville got the nod in his bid for another term in Senate District 8, where he faces well-funded Democratic challenger Kayser Enneking.

In the Bay area’s premier battleground, Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young earned the Realtor’s support for re-election over House Minority Leader Janet Cruz. St. Pete Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes also earned an endorsement, though he’s looking set for re-election after his Democratic challenger, Carrie Pilon, bowed out of the race for family reasons.

Brandes will still face a challenger of the Florida Democratic Party’s choosing, but whoever picks up the baton isn’t likely to have the same local clout as Pilon.

In Senate District 22, a stretch goal for Democrats, the Florida Realtors endorsed Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel over Democratic challengers Bob Doyel and former Rep. Ricardo Rangel. It was the same deal for Senate District 36, where Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. faces a pair of Democrats in his bid to ascend to the Senate.

In the Democratic contest for Senate District 38, Florida Realtors picked incumbent Sen. Daphne Campbell who is facing a tough challenge from Miami attorney Jason Pizzo, the second-place finisher in the 2016 Democratic primary.

Curiously, the Florida Realtors didn’t weigh in on Senate District 16, the Pinellas and Pasco-based battleground where former Clearwater Republican Rep. Ed Hooper and former New Port Richey Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy are in a tight race for a return trip to Tallahassee.

There was also no endorsement issued for the Treasure Coast’s Senate District 25, where Stuart Republican Rep. Gayle Harrell is facing a primary challenge from Belinda Keiser, who has already put down $700,000 of her own money in her quest to succeed Negron.

In the House, another 69 candidates received an endorsement.

Notable among those was an endorsement for Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison, who faces a challenge from Democratic attorney Fentrice Driskell in HD 63, a perennial swing seat. Also making the announcement was a long list of non-incumbents who face primary or Election Day challenges.

Those included Gonzalez Republican Rebekah Bydlak, who faces former Rep. Mike Hill in HD 1; Gulf Breeze Republican Alex Andrade, who faces Greg Merk in the HD 2 primary; Lake City Republican Marc Vann in the three-way primary to succeed Rep. Elizabeth Porter in HD 10; Winter Springs Republican David Smith, who faces Democrat Lee Mangold in HD 28; Merritt Island Republican Tyler Sirois in the three-way race for HD 51; Bartow Republican Melony Bell over Jeff Mann in HD 56; Belleair Bluffs Republican Nick DiCeglie over Berny Jacques in HD 66; St. Petersburg Republican Jeremy Bailie over Ray Blacklidge in the primary for HD 69; Bradenton Republican Will Robinson over Bradenton Democrat Tracy Pratt in HD 71; Sarasota Republican Tommy Gregory over Melissa Howard in HD 73; and Doral Republican Ana Maria Rodriguez over Democrats Javier Estevez and Ross Hancock in HD 105.

Every other candidate endorsed by the Florida Realtors was an incumbent, and most of them are safe for re-election. The full list is below.

— SD 2: Sen. George Gainer
— SD 4: Sen. Aaron Bean
— SD 8: Sen. Keith Perry
— SD 10: Sen. Wilton Simpson
— SD 12: Sen. Dennis Baxley
— SD 14: Sen. Dorothy Hukill
— SD 18: Sen. Dana Young
— SD 20: Sen. Tom Lee
— SD 22: Sen. Kelli Stargel
— SD 23: Rep. Joe Gruters
— SD 24: Sen. Jeff Brandes
— SD 26: Rep. Ben Albritton
— SD 28: Sen. Kathleen Passidomo
— SD 30: Sen. Bobby Powell
— SD 34: Sen. Gary Farmer Jr.
— SD 36: Rep. Manny Diaz Jr.
— SD 38: Sen. Daphne Campbell
— SD 40: Sen. Annette Taddeo
— HD 1: Rebekah Bydlak
— HD 2: Alex Andrade
— HD 3: Rep. Jayer Williamson
— HD 4: Rep. Mel Ponder
— HD 6: Rep. Jay Trumbull
— HD 10: Marc Vann
— HD 11: Rep. Cord Byrd
— HD 12: Rep. Clay Yarborough
— HD 16: Rep. Jason Fischer
— HD 17: Rep. Cyndi Stevenson
— HD 19: Rep. Bobby Payne
— HD 21: Rep. Chuck Clemons
— HD 22: Rep. Charlie Stone
— HD 23: Rep. Stan McClain
— HD 24: Rep. Paul Renner
— HD 25: Rep. Tom Leek
— HD 27: Rep. David Santiago
— HD 28: David Smith
— HD 29: Rep. Scott Plakon
— HD 30: Rep. Bob Cortes
— HD 31: Rep. Jennifer Sullivan
— HD 34: Rep. Ralph Massullo Jr.
— HD 35: Rep. Blaise Ingoglia
— HD 36: Rep. Amber Mariano
— HD 38: Rep. Danny Burgess
— HD 39: Rep. Josie Tomkow
— HD 40: Rep. Colleen Burton
— HD 42: Rep. Mike LaRosa
— HD 44: Rep. Robert “Bobby O” Olszewski
— HD 46: Rep. Bruce H. Antone
— HD 48: Rep. Amy Mercado
— HD 49: Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith
— HD 50: Rep. Rene “Coach P” Plasencia
— HD 51: Tyler Sirois
— HD 52: Rep. Thad Altman
— HD 53: Rep. Randy Fine
— HD 54: Rep. Erin Grall
— HD 55: Rep. Cary Pigman
— HD 56: Melony Bell
— HD 58: Rep. Lawrence McClure
— HD 60: Rep. Jackie Toledo
— HD 63: Rep. Shawn Harrison
— HD 64: Rep. James Grant
— HD 65: Rep. Chris Sprowls
— HD 66: Nick DiCeglie
— HD 67: Rep. Chris Latvala
— HD 69: Jeremy Bailie
— HD 70: Rep. Wengay “Newt” Newton
— HD 71: Will Robinson
— HD 73: Tommy Gregory
— HD 76: Rep. Ray Rodrigues
— HD 77: Rep. Dane Eagle
— HD 78: Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen
— HD 80: Rep. Byron Donalds
— HD 82: Rep. Mary Lynn Magar
— HD 85: Rep. Rick Roth
— HD 86: Rep. Matt Willhite
— HD 87: Rep. David Silvers
— HD 92: Rep. Patricia Hawkins-Williams
— HD 96: Rep. Kristin Jacobs
— HD 97: Rep. Jared Moskowitz
— HD 105: Ana Maria Rodriguez
— HD 106: Rep. Bob Rommel
— HD 108: Rep. Roy Hardemon
— HD 111: Rep. Bryan Avila
— HD 112: Rep. Nicholas Duran
— HD 114: Rep. Javier Fernandez
— HD 116: Rep. Danny Perez
— HD 120: Rep. Holly Raschein

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Suspensions in suspense

A bill seeking to narrow the state’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses didn’t get very far during the 2018 Legislative Session.

But the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, promises it will be back next year, when nuanced support from the courts will accompany it.

This week, a federal judge in Tennessee ruled unconstitutional a state law that suspends driver’s licenses for those who do not pay court costs. The judge claimed the statute is “not merely ineffective; it is powerfully counterproductive.”

Jeff Brandes looks to clean up Florida’s policy on driver’s license suspensions.

Brandes’ 2018 bill would’ve prohibited suspending someone’s driver’s license for various offenses unrelated to driving — including failure to pay court costs. However, it did not address suspensions for those who fail to pay child support.

When asked about the ruling, the St. Petersburg Republican told us he was “excited” and said it should “wake up the states to the fact that the feds are recognizing the harm this does to an individual.”

While he’s sure he’ll sponsor the bill again next year, he’s unsure how it will fare against the Legislature because the state government built systems upon revenue from license suspensions and renewals. Still, he said, the ruling “helps our side of the conversation.”

Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that the ruling should stand as a “cautionary tale” for Florida. SPLC supported Brandes’ bill.

“The evidence is there to show that it isn’t an effective way to get someone to pay that debt,” McCoy said. Policy problems aside, he added: “If that system is unconstitutional in Tennessee, that can be a real problem in Florida as well.”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew WilsonDanny McAuliffeJim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

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

Take 5

Mammoth ad buy planned for Marsy’s Law— Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment creating a ‘crime victims’ bill of rights’ this week announced a $17 million ad buy to promote its passage. The total statewide ad buy will start mid-September and go into much of October and include Spanish language ads. The measure, also known as Marsy’s Law for Florida, was put on the November ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission. It must get no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the constitution. The amendment creates constitutional rights for victims or their surviving family members to attend and be heard during certain court proceedings and to “full and timely restitution,” among other provisions. At least six other states have enacted a Marsy’s Law. In Florida, the amendment has been backed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott; Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book, a sexual abuse survivor; and law enforcement and victims groups across the state.

Feds expedite Herbert Hoover dike repairs— The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced this week it would tap into supplemental funding to fund dozens of projects across the country, including the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike around the waters of Lake Okeechobee. To fast-track the project, the Corps will take $514 million from a $141 billion supplemental spending package signed into law by the president in February. Upon completion of the improvements, the Dike is expected to be able to contain more water safely, meaning the Corps will have to discharge less to surrounding estuaries. The news follows a report from TCPalm this week that blue-green algae bloom covers 90 percent of Lake Okeechobee.

After glitch, Sunpass resumes collections — The Florida Turnpike Enterprise’s SunPass system began posting this week what’s come to be more than 100 million transactions that made up a temporary backlog as the state updated its network through a contracted vendor earlier this month. The system had been down 22 days longer than anticipated, forcing some to question whether Floridians would be hit with an excessive amount of tolls to pay in a short period. After being prompted by the public and at least one member of the Legislature, the Florida Department of Transportation announced last week it would waive all late fees. Noah Pransky of WTSP first reported news of the delay in June.

Report reveals more gun permitting issues— Records released by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services detail a 2012 investigation showing that 48 employees made mistakes issuing concealed carry permits or other gun-related licenses. While the investigation began in 2012, some of the employees responsible for the mistakes had worked at the agency before Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam took office in 2011, reported The Associated Press’ Brendan Farrington. Putnam, now running for governor, has come under scrutiny after a newspaper last month reported that an employee under his watch failed to conduct a necessary background check on 291 concealed carry permit applicants. Agency inspector general Ron Russo said: “These IG reports show that we learned of a problem, evaluated it thoroughly, took action to hold employees accountable and implemented checks and balances.”

New safety requirements as back-to-school dates loom— Students in 19 districts go back to school Aug. 10, according to the Florida Department of Education. But many counties don’t expect to have the necessary amount of school safety officers in all of its elementary schools at that time. Following the February mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 dead, the Legislature rapidly passed a school safety package that, among other things, requires all schools to have an armed person on campus. Florida schools, which generally operate on a 180-day school year, are projected to serve nearly 2.85 million students in the new academic year.

Scott spends Fourth in Kuwait

Gov. Scott spent Independence Day abroad this year with members of the Florida National Guard in Kuwait.

And while Scott was thousands of miles away from home, that didn’t stop him from bringing a few Sunshine State tokens of remembrance to present to the soldiers.

Rick Scott headed to Kuwait on July 4 to visit Florida troops.

According to his office, the Governor brought with him “coffee from Lucky Goat of Tallahassee, Buddy Brew of Tampa and Social Grounds of Jacksonville, as well as fresh orange juice from Sun Harvest Citrus of Fort Myers and Key lime pie cookies from Kristi’s Key Lime Cookies of Naples” to the Middle Eastern country.

“While these brave men and women are serving their country thousands of miles from home, I am sure they are missing the local flavors of Florida,” Scott said. “I am proud to be in Kuwait and to share these products from great Florida businesses with our troops. It is important that we all do what we can to honor our active duty military, veterans and their families.”

While visiting Camp Buehring, Scott also presented the Governor’s Medal of Merit to four stationed soldiers: First Sergeant Raul Rodriguez, Staff Sergeant Christopher Crites, Sergeant Darius Williams and First Lieutenant Jessica Garey.

Bondi thanks legislators for opioid bill

A sweeping package tailored to curb the state’s opioid epidemic drew praise from Attorney General Pam Bondi this week.

The legislation (HB 21), among other things, provides for three-day limits on opioid prescriptions for acute pain. The bill’s provisions came into effect in July.

Attorney general Pam Bondi is thanking lawmakers for their work on the opioid crisis.

Bondi, who’s made a point of targeting the state’s drug crisis during her tenure as Attorney General, thanked the House bill sponsor Rep. Jim Boyd, along with Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who sponsored the legislation in her chamber. She also lauded Gov. Scott for signing the bill into law.

“We continue to fight the national opioid crisis claiming 175 American lives every day, and these new limits on prescription painkillers will help bolster our efforts,” Bondi said in a prepared statement.

As the state’s top cop she also advised doctors to be “on notice” for the new restrictions that she says “will be strictly enforced.” She asked patients who are prescribed more than the allotted limit to contact her office.

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

Broward County Court

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Phoebee R. Francois. Francois, 50, of Sunrise, is a general magistrate/hearing officer for the 17th Judicial Circuit in Broward County. She received her bachelor’s degree from Temple University and her law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law. Francois fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Claudia Robinson.

Florida Transportation Commission

Scott appointed Julius Davis. Davis, 49, of Tampa, is the president and chief executive officer of VoltAir, Inc. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Florida. He succeeds Donald Ellington for a term ending Sept. 30, 2021. This appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Florida Rehabilitation Council

Scott announced two reappointments and one appointment to the Council. M. Ann Robinson, 61, of Tallahassee, is the intake manager for Disability Rights Florida. She is reappointed for a term beginning July 2 and ending June 30, 2020. Patrick Cannon, 35, of Tallahassee, is a sales associate for Helzberg Diamond Shops, Inc. He is reappointed for a term beginning July 2 and ending June 30, 2022. Allison Flanagan, 46, of Tallahassee, is the director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. She succeeds Aleisa McKinlay and is appointed for a term beginning July 2 and ending at the pleasure of the Governor.

FDACS sends firefighters west

Florida is lending a helping hand to a few states west of the Mississippi as they battle large blazes under the hot summer sun.

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced this week it would deploy a team of 20 people to fight the Winter Valley Fire in Oklahoma.

Florida is sending 20 firefighters to Oklahoma to fight a series of massive wildfires.

As well, “29 single resources have been assembled from around the state to assist with wildfire suppression in Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, Utah and New Mexico.” FDACS oversees the Florida Forest Service.

In announcing the dispatch, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam pointed to the skill of Florida’s wildfire combatants.

“Our wildland firefighters are exceptionally well-trained, and we are ready to support suppression efforts out west in any way we can,” said Putnam. “I applaud their selfless dedication to protecting our fellow Americans.”

Florida Forest Service Director and State Forester Jim Karels cited high amounts of rainfall in Florida and an overall low risk of wildfire as justification for sending forest firefighters outside the state. The news, however, follows last week’s blaze in the Franklin County town of Eastpoint, where the fire consumed 36 homes and another four were damaged.

Dog-racing ban garners support

The Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign Friday announced endorsements from 22 local animal shelters. The group is promoting passage of Amendment 13, put on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).

The proposal, which needs no less than 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution, aims at ending commercial dog racing in the state. In Florida, 12 tracks still conduct live dog racing.

Tampa Republican Dana Young is among the advocates for a ban on greyhound racing from Protect Dogs – Yes on 13. (Image via USF News)

“These organizations serve as animal welfare first responders throughout the state, from the Panhandle to Key West,” the campaign said in a statement. “They rescue homeless animals, save lives, and provide an invaluable service to both animals and people in every community.”

The local animal shelters who announced endorsements include some local Humane Society chapters, Justin Bartlett Animal Rescue, Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue, Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League, and the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.

State could get new area code

State regulators are expected next Tuesday to approve a new telephone area code for Central Florida.

The Public Service Commission will meet in Tallahassee to consider several items, including “implementation of the 689 area code overlay in the existing 407/321 area code,” an agenda shows.

Staff is recommending “that the Commission lift its suspension of the implementation plan for the 689 overlay (and) also recommends that the Commission direct NANPA to notify the Commission of the proposed implementation date for the 689 overlay once it has been determined.”

NANPA is the North American Numbering Plan Administration. John Manning, its senior director, has said 407 numbers will run out within 12 months, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The 407 area code serves Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and parts of Lake and Volusia counties. New numbers in the 321 area code are exclusively in Brevard County.

Nominations sought for Folk Heritage Awards

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced that the department is seeking nominations for the 2019 Florida Folk Heritage Awards. The annual awards recognize individuals who have made exemplary contributions to Florida’s traditional culture.

Florida State Folklorist Amanda Hardeman.

“Each year, the Florida Folk Heritage Awards seek to honor and recognize excellence in folk and traditional arts and the community impact of Florida’s tradition bearers,” Detzner said. “The Florida Heritage Awards reaffirm our state’s unique cultural heritage by acknowledging distinguished Floridians for their skills and accomplishments in the traditional arts.”

Nominees should be individuals whose art or advocacy has embodied the best of traditional culture in their communities.

Folklife includes a wide range of creative forms such as art, crafts, dance, language, music and ritual. These cultural traditions are transmitted by word-of-mouth and demonstration, and are shared within community, ethnic, occupational, religious and regional groups.

For more information, contact State Folklorist Amanda Hardeman at (850) 245-6427. For guidelines, award policies and previous winners, visit this website. Nominations must be postmarked no later than Oct. 1, 2018, and mailed to Florida Folklife Program, Bureau of Historic Preservation, 500 South Bronough Street, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-0250. Nominations can also be emailed to folklife@dos.myflorida.com.

56-acre peninsula to be conserved

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection this week announced the permanent protection of the 56-acre Coral Creek Peninsula as an addition to Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.

The Conservation Foundation worked with DEP to acquire the property through the Florida Forever program. The state’s acquisition will enhance management of the natural resources on both the land and the adjoining state park lands.

Callie DeHaven, director of DEP’s Division of State Lands.

“The Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park has been a land acquisition priority since 1972,” said Callie DeHaven, director of DEP’s Division of State Lands. “The Coral Creek Peninsula purchase is a great example of Florida Forever dollars being used to ensure the vitality and integrity of our spectacular state parks.”

This parcel is within the boundaries of the northern half of Charlotte Harbor. “Adding this vital land to the park will ensure it is also managed for the health and diversity of its natural communities while benefiting the adjoining public lands and significant waterways,” the DEP said.

The 46,000-acre preserve buffers more than 100 miles of the shoreline of Charlotte Harbor National Estuary and over 80,000 acres of aquatic preserves. The variety of habitat supports more than 100 invertebrate species, 200 fish species, and 150 species of shore and wading birds.

Environmentalists cheer Pruitt resignation

Scott Pruitt, the troubled head of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, resigned this week following a seemingly endless cascade of reports of extravagant purchases on the taxpayer’s dime and other activities unfit for a public official.

The controversial figure’s voluntary step-down drew pointed praise from Environment Florida, a grassroots advocacy organization that fights against issues like climate change and water pollution.

Scott Pruitt’s exit brings joy to environmentalists.

“It took an endless stream of ethical lapses for Scott Pruitt to lose his job, but he should never have had that position in the first place, nor kept it as long as he did, given his actions to undermine core environmental protections for our air and water,” Environment Florida State Director Jennifer Rubiello said in a prepared statement, citing parent organization Environment America’s initial opposition to Pruitt’s appointment in December 2016.

“Presidents don’t always get a ‘do-over’ so soon after appointing cabinet secretaries who fail to properly serve the American people,” Rubiello continued in the statement.

Then she invoked a history lesson for POTUS to consider.

“We call on the president to remember that conservation is part of being conservative. And we implore him to honor the bipartisan history of environmentalism from Republicans Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon through modern administrations by nominating a true protector of the environment — so that his children and grandchildren, as well as ours, can inherit an Earth worth inheriting.”

Marijuana advocates plan protest

Advocates of medical marijuana have been approved to protest on the steps of the old Capitol in Tallahassee, according to the Department of Management Services.

Marijuana advocate Gary Stein will host “CannaFight Tonight” next Wednesday at noon, an online calendar of Capitol events shows.

Joe Redner’s pot appeal sparks protest for cannabis legalization.

It will be a “public protest of the state’s appeal” of two cases: Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner’s circuit court win to grow and juice his own medicinal cannabis, and plaintiffs backed by Orlando attorney John Morgan that won a decision allowing them to smoke medical marijuana.

Both have been challenged by the state’s Department of Health, which regulates the drug through the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, and reports to Gov. Scott.

Local officials recognized for home rule advocacy

Ensuring their advocates’ work didn’t go unnoticed, the Florida Association of Counties last week awarded county commissioners for their efforts during the 2018 Legislative Session.

The honors were presented at the 2018 FAC Annual Conference and Exposition. The award recipients were recognized for their work to protect and facilitate home rule.

Chip LaMarca is recognized for his work to protect home rule.

“County officials are uniquely positioned to achieve positive change within their counties,” said Ginger Delegal, FAC Executive Director. “During the state legislative session, they can use their position to provide insights on how a policy might impact their communities. We appreciate all of the commissioners who came to Tallahassee to advocate on behalf of home rule.”

Taking home the president’s Commitment to Service Award, reserved for those who go above and beyond in their service to local governments, was Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca. Indian County Commissioner Bob Solari and Levy County Commissioner Bob Meeks took home the Marlene Young Award, presented to officials who show exemplary leadership and commitment to FAC’s mission.

FAC offered the Presidential Advocate recognition to dozens of other local officials for their work alongside FAC.

In Leon County, commissioners Bryan Desloge and Nick Maddox were recognized.

Leon County’s public services among the best in nation

What’s Leon County doing right?

A lot of things, according to the National Association of Counties, or NACo. The group awarded the Big Bend county 10 times this year, recognizing the area as a benchmark for public service metrics like personnel management, employment and training, infrastructure, and energy and sustainability.

What is Nick Maddox’s secret for making Leon County work so well?

If NACo’s awards are any indication, then Leon County’s training on topics like sexual harassment and diversity in the workplace is strong; the county took home awards from NACo in those categories. Many other training programs and initiatives spearheaded by the county were awarded. The group also recognized other efforts, such as the county’s sidewalk prioritization.

“We are so proud to see our local County services and programs continue to receive national recognition as benchmarks for effectiveness and innovation,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox. “Our citizens can be proud of the many County programs that touch their lives every day.”

Since 2013, Leon has took home NACo hardware 56 times, meaning its systems and practices stand as shining examples for other local governments to follow.

“Our now more than 50 national awards recognize talented and innovative County employees who engage citizens on the challenges and opportunities that face our community,” said Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long. “Earning distinguished national awards like these speak to our organizational culture and our commitment to public service and excellence.”

Tallahassee crews deploying to Eastpoint

City of Tallahassee crews will deploy to Franklin County to assist with recovery needs following the devastating fire that burned more than 950 acres in the neighboring community of Eastpoint June 24.

Crew members from the city’s Underground Utilities and Public Infrastructure will depart Monday (July 9), bringing with them dump trucks, excavators and other equipment and supplies to assist with debris cleanup of the 36 homes that were destroyed during the fire.

More than 950 acres were lost in the Eastpoint fire.

“Tallahassee is a community that cares,” Mayor Andrew Gillum said in a statement. “Our residents immediately began collecting donations and delivering supplies to our neighbors in Eastpoint and the City of Tallahassee offered a lending hand with recovery efforts.

“I am extremely proud of our crews for dedicating their time and energy to helping those in need, and of our entire city for lending a hand when it was needed most.”

Also, crews will bring with them food, clothing and other items that have been donated by city employees.

Eastpoint fundraiser successful, Proof says

In its latest email newsletter, Tallahassee’s Proof Brewing Co. said its July 2 fundraiser for victims of the Eastpoint fire took in $2,200.

“Many residents lost their homes in the fire that happened June 24,” the brewery said.

Proof Brewing Company reaches out to help victims of the Eastpoint fire.

The event was made possible with the help of Tallahassee Beer Society, Eastpoint Brewing Company, Oyster City Brewing Company, The FRLA, Willie Jewells BBQ, Shell Oyster Bar and Barber’s Seafood.

All money collected goes to the Franklin Promise Coalition.

“Thank you to all that participated, and to those who helped made it happen!” Proof said.

Capitol Directions

 

Carrie Pilon, Democratic challenger to Jeff Brandes, withdraws from state Senate race

Carrie Pilon, the Democrat trial attorney challenging incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes in a battleground state Senate district, has withdrawn from the race.

Citing serious and unexpected health problems of a close family member, Pilon said, in a statement first provided to Florida Politics, that it is “impossible for me to continue forward and give the campaign the attention that it deserves.”

The first sign that something was amiss with Pilon’s campaign came last week, when the most recent campaign finance reports showed that Pilon’s fundraising efforts had dramatically trailed off. That report showed just $6,730 in hard money fundraising.

This led to speculation at last weekend’s annual gathering of Florida Democrats that Pilon was on the verge of exiting the race.

Democrat insiders attempted to persuade Pilon to stay in the race, although many were unaware of the personal issues affecting Pilon’s ability to engage in the campaign fully.

Polling has consistently shown SD 24 is winnable for a Democratic candidate. A recent survey conducted by St. Pete Polls put Pilon within five points of Brandes.

Pilon’s campaign got off to an inauspicious start.

Shortly after she made her announcement launching her campaign, Brandes touted the endorsement of Pilon’s father-in-law, Ray Pilon, a former state Representative who is seeking to return to the Legislature.

Asked by Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune if he wanted to elaborate on his decision to back Brandes publicly over his daughter-in-law, Pilon noted in a text message that as a member of the Republican Party of Sarasota’s executive committee he is prohibited from endorsing a Democrat. But that did not mean he had to support Brandes. He could have stayed quiet about the race.

Still, Pilon would go on to earn her own endorsements, mostly from other Democrats. She also raised $150,000 for her bid, no easy feat against an incumbent lawmaker.

Democrats were hopeful that in this election cycle, with its record number of women candidates, that Pilon could put SD 24 in their column.

Because she has withdrawn after the candidate qualifying period, the Democratic Party will select a replacement for Pilon. According to her campaign, the party has already identified several potential candidates.

The Democrats may end up fielding a candidate, but it’s likely that Pilon was their best bet. She was just the kind of candidate — smart enough to hold her own against the wonky Brandes, but unknown enough not to have too many negatives for his campaign to exploit — who could have given the Republican a real run.

“As a daughter of an elderly dad, I am keenly aware of what Carrie’s family is going through,” said state Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Senate Democratic Leader-designate. “Her struggle is all too familiar to thousands of families across our state, and we must do a better job of helping them.

“The Democratic Caucus of the Florida Senate was attracted to Carrie as a candidate because she has been a leader in her local community and knows how to solve problems,” Gibson added. “I have no doubt she will continue to serve her community and make Florida better. Our thanks to Carrie for carrying the mantle thus far.”

Florida Democrats’ ambition of flipping the state Senate probably ends with Pilon’s withdrawal.

Senate Democrats are also faced with the conundrum of how to fund the slate of challengers they have recruited as part of a broader effort to win control of the Chamber. The Dems have quality candidates in four other races (versus Republicans Keith Perry, Kelli Stargel, Dana Young and Ed Hooper), but probably only have the money to fund two or three full-fledged state Senate campaigns.

While Pilon’s supporters and the Democrats may be disappointed in her decision to withdraw from the race, there is one community undoubtedly relieved by it: the staff and families of the students at Lutheran Church of the Cross Day School. Both Pilon and Brandes (along with this writer) send their children to the well-regarded private school. Having two parents running against each other had already become an awkward topic on social media.

Pilon’s departure from the race heads off the possibility of any heated political debates on the school’s playgrounds or in the student pickup line.

Here is Pilon’s full statement:

“I want to thank all of my supporters and volunteers, who made this campaign special. This campaign would not be where it is today without all of you, and I will always be grateful for your support.

“It is only after much thoughtful contemplation and family consultation that I must say, with a heavy heart, that I am withdrawing from this race for personal reasons. Out of respect for the privacy of our family, I do not wish to go into great detail about these circumstances.

“However, I can say that a close family member is experiencing some serious and unexpected health problems. These health issues, unfortunately, have made it impossible for me to continue forward and give the campaign the attention that it deserves, while also being able to provide the support my family needs.

“We still have a full slate of strong Democrats up and down the ticket, and across the state, who will bring desperately needed change to Tallahassee.

“Until we change the makeup of the state Legislature, Tallahassee will continue to ignore the needs of working Floridians and continue working for special interests. I am encouraged that my short presence in this race has already brought attention to people, communities, and issues that are vital to change. I will continue to fight with our fellow candidates to ensure that change happens and will work with the Democratic Party to ensure that a strong Democratic candidate takes my place on the ballot.

“I extend my sincerest thanks to everyone who supported this campaign, and share our vision for SD-24, and Florida.”

Florida’s bizarre fireworks law still in place

It’s almost Independence Day, which in Florida means: Time to scare some birds.

Although you can buy fireworks in the state, they’re not actually legal here.

Indeed, The Tampa Tribune in 2014 called fireworks sales in Florida an “institutionalized charade,” leading one lawmaker to call for “more freedom (and) less fraud.”

Retail sales are allowed only because of a 62-year-old loophole in the law, the only known one of its kind in the country.

That allows “fireworks … to be used solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”

Indeed, anyone who’s bought fireworks from a roadside tent over the years may remember signing a form acknowledging the buyer falls under an agricultural, fisheries or other exemption.

For the record, fireworks can also be used for “signal purposes or illumination” of a railroad or quarry, “for signal or ceremonial purposes in athletics or sports, or for use by military organizations.”

Enforcement is up to local police and fire agencies, and case law says fireworks vendors aren’t responsible for verifying that buyers actually intend to chase off egrets or light up a track meet.

Every so often, lawmakers file bills either to remove or tighten certain exemptions, or to just legalize retail sales of fireworks. None have made it into law.

Only one state, Massachusetts, still has an outright ban on consumer fireworks, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association.

In Florida, former state Rep. Matt Gaetz once tried to legalize Roman candles, bottle rockets and other fireworks for recreational use. The Fort Walton Beach Republican is now a congressman.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, pushed a similar bill prohibiting sales of fireworks and sparklers only to children under 16 and requiring other buyers to sign a disclaimer saying they know fireworks are dangerous.

Current law “does not promote public safety and should be repealed to simply allow fireworks to be sold,” he has said. “More freedom, less fraud.”

And last year, state Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, filed legislation to legalize consumer fireworks in Florida. It died in committee.

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Ed. Note – This story ran previously and has been re-published as a service to our readers.

Fresh polling: Jeff Brandes, Janet Cruz lead in battleground state Senate seats; Ed Hooper, Amanda Murphy deadlocked.

Poll numbers in two battleground state Senate seats have shifted significantly since last month, while a third race remains essentially deadlocked.

In SD 16, the seat previously held by Jack Latvala, Republican Ed Hooper and Democrat Amanda Murphy remain deadlocked, with Hooper at 45 percent and Murphy at 43 percent. The good news here for the GOP is that this race has shifted ever so slightly to Hooper.

At last check-in, Murphy led by less than a point. Murphy’s May lead and Hooper’s late June one fall well within St. Pete Polls’ margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Like the previous poll, one in eight voters in the northern Pinellas and southwest Pasco district remains undecided. The shift over the past month came from Republican and Democratic voters coalescing around their party’s candidate — Hooper received 72 percent support from Republicans and 15 percent support from Democrats; Murphy received 74 percent support from Democrats and 15 percent support from Republicans.

Unaffiliated and third-party voters, who make up 30 percent of the SD 16 electorate, went plus-7 for Murphy with 14 percent undecided. White voters also favored Hooper, 47-42 percent, while Murphy carried minority voters by a substantial margin, though non-white, non-Hispanic voters only make up about 15 percent of the SD 16 electorate according to the district’s demographic profile.

Hooper holds a 5-point lead among men, while he and Murphy are tied among women. Voters aged 18 to 29 prefer Murphy by 4 points; the 30 to 49 years old bracket went for Hooper by 8 points; those aged 50 to 69 swung back toward Murphy, 45-43 percent; and voters over 70 went plus-6 for Hooper.

In SD 18, incumbent Republican Dana Young now trails Democrat Janet Cruz by a point after entering the candidate qualifying period with a nine-point lead. Of significance, since we last polled, Cruz clarified how her name will appear on the ballot, dropping her second last name, “Rifkin.”

The bounce back was expected for Cruz, who pulled just 62 percent support from Democratic voters in the May poll. The new results show an 8-point bump from her base, while Young saw her support among likely GOP voters dip from 75 percent to 72 percent.

Voters who are not a member of one of the major parties supported Cruz by a hefty 15-point margin. A month ago, those same voters gave Young a slim advantage. The poll also shows Young with a 2-point advantage among men, while Cruz holds a 3-point lead among women.

White voters still preferred Young, though the 46-43 percent split is a massive improvement for Cruz, who trailed by 15 points in the May poll. Cruz holds a near 50-point advantage among black voters, though she trails by 10 points among Hispanic voters, who make up 30 percent of SD 18’s electorate.

Cruz leads among younger voters 49-41 percent; Gen Xers favor Young 46-42 percent; the 50- to 69-year-old bracket went plus-4 for Cruz, 46-42 percent; and those 70 and up slightly favor Young, 43-41 percent.

Over in SD 24, incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes is still ahead of trial lawyer Carrie Pilon46 percent to 41 percent, which is down from the nine-point lead he held at the end of May, but still outside the margin of error.

Much like the poll SD 18, much of the change came from Pilon’s increased support among Democratic voters. She pulls 69 percent support from Democrats in the new poll, compared to 65 percent a month ago. Brandes, like Young, also saw a slight dip in GOP support.

The St. Pete Republican leads by 6 points among white voters, down from 12 points last month. He also saw his leads slip in three age groups, most notably among voters under 30, who prefer him 46-42 compared to the 59-26 margin he enjoyed in the previous poll. Voters aged 50 to 69 flipped from plus-2 Brandes to plus-3 Pilon, while older voters went from plus-22 Brandes to plus-6 Brandes.

His lead among 30- to 49-year-old voters, however, expanded to 52-35.

All three robopolls were conducted over this past weekend and only include responses from those voters who said they intend to vote in the November elections.

The races for Senate Districts 16, 18, and 24 will likely decide the course, if not control, of the Florida Senate as the Democrats have identified the three seats as a package of five to six they are targeting in the 2018 election cycle, the others being Gainesville-based SD 8, Lakeland-based SD 22 and Miami-Dade-based SD 36.

Republicans currently hold a 23-16 advantage in the Florida Senate, with SD 16 currently vacant.

Carrie Pilon craters in SD 24 money race

Florida Democrats say Senate District 24 is one of their top targets in the fall, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

Democratic candidate Carrie Pilon narrowly outraised incumbent Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes in April, but followed that up with an underwhelming performance in May. Her newest report, which covers the first three weeks of June, is more than underwhelming — it’s abysmal.

The St. Petersburg trial lawyer showed just $6,730 in hard money fundraising and tacked on another $3,000 through her political committee, Moving Pinellas Forward. Her burn rate was similarly small, which would only be a good thing if the election was a year or more away. But it’s not.

As it stands, Pilon has raised about $141,000 between her campaign and committee and has about $131,000 banked.

Brandes, meanwhile, kept trucking along with another $68,000 in fundraising. That brings him near the $1.4 million mark for the 2018 cycle to date. He has $728,500 in the bank between his campaign and his political committee, Liberty Florida.

The Pilon campaign pointed to past election results when it made the case for her candidacy, and while it’s true Barack Obama carried the district in both of his presidential elections, it’s hard to see a path to victory for a candidate being outraised ten to one.

SD 24 covers most of southern Pinellas County. The GOP has a 4-point advantage in voter registrations within the district, which voted plus-7 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Both candidates are unopposed in their primaries. The general election is Nov. 6.

Reconciliation

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police generally need a search warrant if they want to track criminal suspects’ movements by collecting information about where they’ve used their cellphones.

Republican state Sen. Jeff Brandes may not have been the first Florida lawmaker to raise concerns about that issue, but he has probably been the loudest.

In 2013, in the face of staunch opposition from law enforcement, he sponsored legislation that would have prevented warrantless cellphone searches.

Privacy in an age of boundless technological innovation is one of a barrage of issues of which Brandes is on the forefront:

— He was talking about ride-sharing before many of his colleagues knew how to pronounce Uber.

— He’s the lawmaker who paved the way for autonomous vehicle testing in Florida.

— He’s been one of the leading proponents in the Senate for the expansion of medical marijuana and the reforming of the criminal justice system.

It’s on issues like those last two which have often left Brandes with fewer allies than he would like. Then again, PolitiFact in 2011 described him as the most independent member of the Florida Legislature, at least if you go by the voting records.

Because of his forward-thinking (among several other reasons), I’ve been proud – no, make that excited – to work for Brandes’ political operation. I broke with many other progressives to support his insurgent bid in 2010 against Democrat Bill Heller, himself a good man and thoughtful lawmaker.

This November, Brandes faces a challenge from a very intelligent, exceedingly friendly challenger, Carrie Pilon, whom I’ve known since she was the president of our high school’s student government. The voters of Senate District 24 are genuinely blessed to have two competent candidates.

In any other election cycle, Team Brandes would not be very worried by the threat posed by Pilon. She’s a first-time candidate with probably a tenth of the resources Brandes has to run his campaign.

Just as he did against another smart, capable Democrat (Judithanne McLaughlin), Brandes would simply overwhelm her in a district that leans ever so slightly to the right.

But this is no ordinary election cycle. In fact, it has the possibility to be the most extraordinary non-presidential election cycle of the last 30 years. That’s because it is, simply, the Cycle of Trump.

Since Trump was elected in 2016, there has been one election after another won by Florida Democrats. If you need evidence that a blue wave is forming in Florida politics, look no further than last week. That’s when a white Democrat defeated a Cuban Republican for the Miami-Dade County Commission seat that represents – wait for it – Little Havana.

Unfortunately, if a blue wave does sweep through Florida politics, it will wipe away sensible Republicans like Brandes, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, and/or state Sen. Dana Young.

What a blue wave is unlikely to do is take out the far-right, fire-breathing Republicans who have transformed the GOP into a party that looks nothing like ‘the party of Lincoln.’

Meanwhile, moderating forces of the Republican Party are heading for the hills.

Last week, the brilliant strategist Steve Schmidt announced he is becoming an independent and is urging others to vote Democrat.

Also conservative columnist George Will suggested that voters should punish Paul Ryan‘s colleagues in the U.S. House by giving control to the Democrats.

I am a registered Republican. Not because of philosophy but because, in Pinellas County, Florida, the only real action in the primaries has been on the GOP side. Democrats have been unable to slate an entire ballot much less recruit enough candidates to enjoy competitive primaries.

For the last ten years, I’ve waged war for Brandes and many, many others against the forces of the far-right. At some point or another, we all delude ourselves into believing we are Robert Jordan.

If there were any time to leave the Republican Party, now — in this era of Trump — now would be the time. Most people probably assume I’m a Democrat anyway.

But I ain’t leavin’.

If there ever were a time for common-sense Republicans to fight for the soul of their party, it’s now. Don’t just abandon it to the #MAGA crowd.

That’s why it’s critical to support Republicans who 1) genuinely believe in limited government, and 2) are running in vulnerable seats susceptible to the blue wave.

A vote for Curbelo or Mario Diaz-Balart or Brandes or Rob Bradley or dozens of other main street Republicans is not a vote for or against Donald Trump. It’s a vote to make sure there’s still a party left after he’s long gone.

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