This is the final full month of the 2016 campaign cycle. In five weeks, we will know so much more about the future of the country, the state and our communities. But, no matter what, life will go on.
For those in “The Process” — Florida Politics’ term for the unending legislative campaign/legislative session system — it’s just two months before committee meetings begin.
In fact, like many people I talk to who are in “The Process,” we’re planning for the 2017 Legislative Session as they are monitoring the final weeks of the campaign season.
Of course, we all are fascinated by the presidential campaign, while the U.S. Senate race between Republican Marco Rubio and his Democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy, seems uninspiring. It’s like one of those Hollywood blockbusters with a big budget and exciting trailer, yet fails to deliver at the box office.
Fortunately for Tampa Bay politicos, there are several races which are not only competitive but are getting more interesting as Election Day approaches.
Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics …
When I left the Palladium Theater after the debate between David Jolly and Charlie Crist, I could have made a case for either candidate having won the showdown. Jolly landed several sharp jabs, while Crist probably delivered the hardest punch with his “invitation to lead” remark.
In retrospect, I think Jolly needed to have won the debate to be the winner, whereas the expectations for Crist were low enough that he just had to not make a gaffe and he won. That’s not only how the debate went, but how the campaign seems to be proceeding. An elected official who is one of Crist’s loudest detractors recently admitted he was surprised how well Crist did at the debate.
The demographics are just not on Jolly’s side. He has to win independents by a large enough margin to overcome the Democratic performance advantage in a presidential year. And I don’t know that he has the resources to make enough of a case. He’s releasing digital ads because he doesn’t have the money to go up on television. He’s hoping the super PAC funded mostly by money committed to him while he was a U.S. Senate candidate can keep him on par with Crist’s fundraising advantage.
I just don’t know if there is enough gas in the tank. Crist’s latest ad — the one in which he says “I’m a fan of fans” — is much improved on previous efforts. And there’s even this proof of how hard Crist is working:
That’s right, that’s Crist himself putting out signs on a Sunday morning. I haven’t seen that since he was running for state Senate.
Two weeks ago, I concurred with St. Pete Polls’ survey that pegged Jolly the slight leader over Crist. I believe the race has shifted to Crist’s advantage.
Crist and Jolly will face off again this Thursday at a forum hosted by Suncoast Tiger Bay. The event is at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and begins at noon. The deadline to RSVP is Oct. 3.
The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections will mail more than 264,000 ballots to domestic voters Tuesday. You probably have seen the countless stories about how early voting is changing campaigns, but this point cannot be stressed enough: in one of, if not the, most crucial battleground states in the country, the real Election Day is this week as opposed to the one on the calendar in November.
It’s a story for a larger piece, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, Sen. Jack Latvala has a lot to say. That’s probably nothing new, but as the incoming chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he’s never had the kind of platform he has now. As powerful as he has been, he’s never been this powerful before.
So when Sen. Latvala speaks, it’s more important than ever to listen.
Latvala has opinions on Amendment 2 (he’s against it and spending his own money to oppose it), funding for Enterprise Florida (he’s for it and thinks a compromise between Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran can be reached), raises for state employees (he’s making that his top priority next session) and a host of other issues.
In the run-up to the 2017 Session — and certainly beyond — it is probably more important than ever to listen to what Latvala has to say. After all, he has say on, oh, about $80 billion.
Speaking of the Latvala clan, state Rep. Chris Latvala handled himself very well at last week’s candidate forum sponsored by Suncoast Tiger Bay. Admittedly, he is a friend. And Chris is a partisan (he says he’s voting for Donald Trump), but his answers on a range of issues were not only smart, but they were also well-articulated and compassionate.
More than anything, Latvala demonstrated that he’s not just his father’s son (although there certainly would be nothing wrong with that).
Latvala’s Democratic opponent, David Vogel, told Tiger Bay organizers that he would not participate in the candidate forum because he objected to questions asked at a previous forum by the moderator. That moderator? Yours truly.
Creative Loafing’s Kate Bradshaw summarizes the situation:
Vogel said he didn’t like the questions Schorsch asked at another forum — namely two he posed to Joseph Bensmihen, a Republican running for a state House seat in St. Pete and a recent transplant. They were designed to show how well — or not well, actually — he knew the district, but his responses were memorable gaffes: his favorite restaurant on St. Pete’s 4th Street was a Chick-fil-A franchise, he said, and he couldn’t name the mayor who preceded current St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman.
“[Vogel] said that those questions are not serious,” Schorsch said.
First of all, Tiger Bay forums are not meant to be entirely serious. They promise to “carve up a politican for lunch,” which we all know/hope is an unserious motto.
But the kind of questions I asked Joe Bensmihen — and it should be noted that I asked each of the candidates a range of policy questions — are essential because they illuminate a candidate’s knowledge of the community he wants to represent.
Just like a question about “Aleppo” gives a voter a sense of a presidential aspirant’s grasp of geopolitics.
Vogel — far behind Latvala in polls and money — missed an opportunity to make his case to Tiger Bay members.
Republican state House candidate Jackie Toledo has a major fundraiser planned for this Wednesday. Here’s the invitation:
Newspaper endorsements probably matter less than they ever had, but at least one recommendation is worth noting.
Trilingual La Gaceta, which should be written in blue ink instead of black it leans that far to the Democratic left, endorsed Republican Shawn Harrison in House District 63 over Democrat Lisa Montelione.
“(N)ormally, we support Democrats, but lately we’ve noticed some Democrats aren’t acting like Democrats. Lisa Montelione is on that list” writes publisher Patrick Manteiga.
The endorsement notes that Montelione, Tampa’s District 7 City Councilwoman, “approved two consecutive tax increases in the City of Tampa that combined, are the largest in the city’s history.” She “also recently extended the city’s red light ticket program,” it said. “Democrats don’t privatize our policing to private, for-profit corporations. These programs hurt the poor. These tickets are hard to fight, and the system makes mistakes.” On the other hand, Harrison “is a moderate Republican. Democrats can work with him,” the paper said. … “He’s smart, compassionate, focused and does his homework. He can build coalitions.”
Look for Harrison’s campaign to waste little time printing a direct mailer with Manteiga’s words in big, bold letters.
Perhaps the most despised governmental agency in Tampa Bay is the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission. Beholden to the local taxi industry, the PTC has almost pushed ridesharing services Uber and Lyft out of the market. Yes, a deal has been reached that may keep them here, but it’s not a certainty.
Whichever way that deal breaks, the fate of the PTC will likely be decided by the Florida Legislature, of which several Tampa Bay lawmakers have their knives out for the PTC.
This makes this one of the most interesting lobbying battles shaping up in Tallahassee.
On one side, there is the PTC and its registered lobbyists at Corcoran & Johnston. That is the firm headed by Michael Corcoran, brother of incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran. On the other side, there is Sen. Jeff Brandes and Reps. Larry Ahern, James Grant, and Dana Young, who would like to abolish the PTC.
Oh, also with Brandes, Young and Co. is Speaker Corcoran, who co-signed a pro-Uber letter to the PTC.
The very fact that the PTC is paying $120,000 to lobby the lawmakers who would like to see it abolished only serves to pour gasoline on this flammable situation.
Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez has a grand opening for his campaign headquarters on Tuesday, Oct. 11. Here’s the invite: