Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 5 of 33 - Florida Politics

League of Women Voters going all in on solar power in Florida this year

The League of Women Voters in Florida is going big on solar power this year. They’re putting their political muscle behind supporting one solar constitutional amendment on the ballot next month, while opposing another such measure in November. And somewhat outside their normal lane, they’re also going to organize solar co-ops to negotiate steep discounts on rooftop solar for homeowners across the state.

“We are extremely excited to present to you today our plans to make solar the number one issue, and making Florida the number one state for solar in our country,” said LWV president Pamela Goodman on a conference call Thursday morning. “This is an educational effort and an advocacy effort.”

The League is strongly behind Amendment 4, the bipartisan supported constitutional amendment that will give a break on the intangibles tax that will go a long way in helping small businesses and commercial buildings utilize solar power. That will be on the August 30 primary ballot.

As much as the League supports that solar power proposal, they’re as equally opposed to Amendment 1 on the ballot this November, which the League contends is nothing more than a “deceptive” measure designed to do nothing more than maintain the state’s public utilities control over solar power.

The most interesting development, however, is that the League is partnering with a group called FL SUN, which will organize solar co-ops to negotiate steep discounts on rooftop solar for homeowners across the state. The campaign will begin in St. Petersburg and Orange County, with plans underway to quickly expand to Brevard and Volusia Counties, Sarasota, Alachua and many more. League officials say that joining is a co-op is not a commitment to purchase solar panels. The co-op solicits competitive bids from local installers and chooses the one that is best for the group. Co-op members then each get an individualized proposal for their home that reflects the group discount. At that point, group members can decide if they would like to go solar.The FL SUN concept has worked successfully in other states and locations including Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. More than 1,200 homeowners have gone solar through the co-ops.

The co-ops are made up of homeowners and specific geographic areas that are interested to go solar, said Angela DeMonbreun, FL SUN’s state director. She says the organization will help these home owners learn about solar and then solicit bids from area installers.

“FL SUN acts as a neutral third party consumer advocate working with both the group members and the installer the group selects to ensure the process goes smoothly,” said DeMonbreun. “FLSUN is solar  neutral, thus fostering a community driven process, by getting the groups together and selecting one installer,” adding that co-op members can save up to twenty percent of a cost to their installation.

League officials say anyone interested should check out the new website. FL SUN’s goal, they maintain, isn’t simply to get more people to join the ranks of people using solar power, it’s also to build a community of solar supporters “so that we can ensure our state has fair policies in place that allow even more people to go solar and further strengthen support here in Florida,” said DeMonbreun.

For much of 2015, there were two dueling groups trying to get their own solar power constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot. One of them was Floridians for Solar Choice, a coalition of  Tea Party activists and liberal environmentalists that aimed toexpand solar choice in the Sunshine State by allowing customers the option to power their homes or businesses with solar power and who provides it to them. The measure was fiercely opposed by the state’s biggest public utilities like Duke Energy, TECO, and Florida Power & Light, who all filed a brief with the Florida Supreme Court opposing the amendment. That measure ultimately failed to generate enough signatures by the qualifying period, and is aiming now to get their meager onto2018 ballot.

However, those same public utilities have poured millions of dollars into supporting a solar power constitutional amendment backed by Consumers for Smart Solar, which will be listed on the November ballot as Amendment 1. It is being opposed by the League of Women Voters.

“It is a deceptive ballot (measure) that is set up to do nothing more than perpetuate the utilities control over the electric market and limit solar power option to customers, said Stephen Smith, Executive Director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the chief group behind Floridians for Solar Power. “It claims to provide new solar rights, but it actually does not provide any new solar rights whatsoever.” And he said that it attempts to put language in the state constitution that states that people who currently have solar power are being subsidized by people who do not have solar. There is no factual basis to that at all.”

“We are not surprised by their opposition,” says Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for Consumers for Smart Solar. “However, Consumers for Smart Solar believes Amendment 1 gives Florida a historic opportunity to advance solar energy while protecting consumers, and we are committed to running a strong campaign to reach every voter. “

Advanced energy fields in Florida poised for growth

The number of advanced energy jobs is on the rise in Florida, and experts said the industry could add more than 5,000 new jobs by the end of the year.

A new report from the Advanced Energy Economy Institute found there were more than 140,000 advanced energy jobs in the state in 2015. The industry employs nearly twice as many people as the agriculture industry, and more people than the real estate industry.

According to the report, prepared for the AEE Institute by BW Research Partnership, employers expect to add more than 5,000 new jobs by the end of 2016, bringing the number of advanced energy jobs to more than 145,000.

“In Florida and around the country, advanced energy has become a significant market segment. That is paying off in jobs for Floridians,” said Graham Richard, CEO of Advanced Energy Economy, a national business association.

While energy efficiency jobs make up three-quarters of the state’s advanced energy workforce, 17 percent of the workforce are in fields dealing with advanced electricity generation. That field makes up the second-largest advanced energy job category in the state, with many jobs related to solar energy.

Solar jobs represent about half of those in the advanced electricity generation field. The report found about 10,600 workers are involved in solar energy.

The report’s findings come as Florida voters are being asked to consider a ballot initiative to support expanded growth in solar energy. A ballot initiative has been placed on the Aug. 30 ballot that, if passed, would extend property tax exemptions for renewable energy devices, including solar, on commercial and residential properties.

The ballot initiative was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, and Reps. Ray Rodrigues and Lori Berman, and cleared the Florida Legislature earlier this year.

The report also highlighted several other advanced energy jobs, including the advanced transportation segment. That segment employs nearly 8,000 workers, and is considered “quite large and varied.”

While the advanced fuel segment is small, the report found it was poised for growth. It currently employs about 1,600 workers, half of which work in corn ethanol.

According to the report, there are about 25,500 advanced energy companies doing business in Florida, the vast majority servicing Florida customers. The majority of employers are small businesses, with 81 percent of companies employing up to 24 permanent employees.

And who are those employees? The report found 73 percent of advanced industry workers are male, and 8 percent of the workers are veterans. One in five workers are over the age of 55.

The report concluded there was “great potential for continued economic growth and employment opportunity in the advanced energy industry in Florida.”

“It is not surprising that advanced energy jobs in Florida are growing,” said  Rep. Dane Eagle, a Cape Coral Republican and the chairman of the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee. “We need to provide a strong business environment that helps to foster the growth of these companies — with the least government intrusion as possible. The message we need to send is that Florida is open for business.”

5 reasons I’m looking forward to tonight’s “Popcorn & Politics” event

‘Tis the season.

It’s that most wonderful time of the year when candidates running in this fall’s elections begin to make the rounds at candidate forums, hob nobs, straw polls and Tiger Bay debates. It’s at these events candidates can begin to distinguish themselves from their opponents with a quick retort — or a regrettable gaffe.

Tonight, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce is hosting “Popcorn & Politics,” an event it bills as a speed network opportunity with candidates running for state Senate District 19, House District 68, Pinellas County Property Appraiser and School Board.

Presented by the Tampa Bay Times, Popcorn & Politics gives attendees valuable time with the candidates running for these key local offices. The way it works is candidates rotate from table-to-table where they will “speed network” for several minutes with Chamber members.

Here are five reasons I’m looking forward to at tonight’s event.

1. “Popcorn & Politics” is an important event for the Chamber itself as the organization continues to upgrade its purely political operations. Executive Director Chris Steinocher has done a yeoman’s job leading the Chamber out of the dark financial situation he inherited. Now, he and his political attache, Travis Norton, are working to bolster the Chamber’s political strength. It will be interesting to see how well-attended “Popcorn & Politics” is by Chamber members.

2. The mostly white Chamber of Commerce gets to meet the candidates running for a state Senate seat that will likely be held by an African-American. While much of the Chamber’s attention, politically speaking, is focused on state Sens. Jeff Brandes and Jack Latvala, whoever succeeds Arthenia Joyner in the state Senate seat that bridges Pinellas and Hillsborough will be a key player in many of the issues important to the Chamber. As it happens, there just isn’t as much interaction between many Chamber members and the SD 19 candidates as there is in other races. “Popcorn & Politics” is a solid opportunity to change that.

3. To see which Democrat running in House District 68 is the Chamber membership’s favorite. The primary in HD 68 is probably the most interesting race in Pinellas politics. Ben Diamond and Eric Lynn are both strong candidates with significant resources at their disposal. While many Chamber members won’t be able to vote in the Democratic primary, some can — and it remains to be seen which of these two candidates is the preferred choice of the local business community.

4. To determine if there is a real race for Pinellas County Property Appraiser. It’s not the sexiest of posts, but property appraiser is a key position in a market like Pinellas that sees a high volume of real estate transactions. Former state Rep, Jim Frishe is hoping his name ID from his time in office is enough to hold off Mike Twitty, who seems to be the cool kid in class. The only poll we’ve seen of this race, to be decided in the Republican primary, shows Frishe in the lead, but Twitty closing quickly. In the final weeks of campaigning, could Frishe vs. Twitty become Pinellas’ equivalent of the heated Hillsborough Clerk of the Court race?

5. To not fall asleep when talking to the candidates for Pinellas School Board. Here’s the irony: the local newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing the institutional problems in five (predominately black) south Pinellas schools, yet the attention given to the candidates running for the school board that oversees them barely registers. Want to keep schools from becoming “failure factories”? Then elect better School Board members.

“Popcorn and Politics” begins at 5:30 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Museum of History. It’s open to non-members, although there is a $25 cost for a ticket.

Mitch Perry Report for 7.12.16 — Will the FBI open another investigation into Hillary Clinton?

While there should be smiles in Portsmouth, New Hampshire later today when Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have their unity rally, some things to contemplate about Clinton, a week after the FBI announced they will not indict her in the investigation of her email server while serving as secretary of state.

A majority of Americans think FBI Director James Comey let her off easily. Fifty-six percent of Americans disapprove of Comey’s decision to exonerate her, according to a Washington Post survey released Monday, while 35 percent approve.

This poll includes liberals who think that Clinton’s behavior here was a bit shady. Over three in 10 Democrats disapprove of Director Comey’s recommendation against charges for Clinton (31 percent), and the same percentage says the issue makes them worry about Clinton’s presidential responsibility. Over four in 10 liberals say the issue raises concerns about how Clinton might handle responsibilities as president, as do 36 percent of non-white Americans and 56 percent of those under age 40.

If you watched Comey’s four-and-a-half hour performance in front of the House Oversight Committee last Thursday, you saw how chairman Jason Chaffetz asked Comey if he had investigated whether Mrs. Clinton had lied under oath regarding her emails when she gave her 10-hour performance before a committee investigating her actions in the Benghazi tragedy last fall. Come said he needed a referral — Chaffetz immediately responded, “You’ll get one in a few hours.”

Well, it took a few days, but in fact, the Oversight Committee last night referred the matter formally to the FBI to investigate. The New York Times reports this morning that while legal analysts think it’s unlikely the bureau would ultimately find enough evidence to prosecute her for lying to Congress, “there might be enough to warrant opening an investigation. That alone could prove damaging to her campaign.”

To say the least. While supporters of Mrs. Clinton will maintain the Republicans should just let go of their obsession to go after her, another investigation will not help her out, folks. It won’t. This isn’t like the Republicans when they impeached Bill Clinton, and clearly overreached. The public knew the facts there, and saw the Republicans were being bullies. Here? The fact is she’s got serious trust issues.

In other news…

SD 19 candidate Augie Ribeiro pours in $300,000 of his own cash to kick-start his very late entrance into that race.

Jeb Bush emerged from exile last night to condemn Donald Trump once again, telling voters that they’ll only be disappointed if he actually gets elected in November.

Bush says he’ll “actively campaign for Pinellas County CD 13 Congressman David Jolly this fall.

House District 61 Democratic candidate Sean Shaw talks about working with the GOP if elected, guns in the Legislature, and getting “the talk” about how to handle issues with the police from his father, the late Leander Shaw, the first African-American named to the Florida Supreme Court.

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission is poised to raise the fines incurred by Uber and Lyft drivers in the county, much to the distress of state Senator Jeff Brandes, a leading PTC critic.

Hillsborough County PTC is raising fines on ridesharing drivers, and Jeff Brandes doesn’t like it

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission is poised to begin increasing fines on Uber and Lyft drivers soon, and that’s not going down well with one of the agency’s biggest critics, state Sen. Jeff Brandes.

The St. Petersburg Republican has frequently criticized the PTC over the years for their confrontational stance towards the two ridesharing companies, and he said on Monday he intends to file legislation to prohibit the actions of special district agencies like the PTC, who he says “stand in the way of innovation in our state.”

“The Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission continues to bury their collective heads in the sand, ignoring the outcry of support from their constituents who support rideshare services like Uber and Lyft,” Brandes said in a Facebook posting “The PTC is standing in the way of services which have been proven to reduce DUIs and make our roads safer. The Public Transportation Commission is the very definition of crony capitalism, and we cannot allow this blatant corruption to continue.”

Last week, the PTC rules committee unanimously approved a proposal to increase the fines charged to ridesharing drivers who get cited by PTC agents from $700 to $900, while the fine for allowing the operation of a vehicle without a permit would also rise from $200 to $400. The proposal was introduced by Temple Terrace City Council member David Pogolirich. The two companies have never been fully in compliance with PTC rules regarding insurance and background checks since they began operating in Hillsborough County since 2014, despite several attempts to come to an agreement. PTC Chair Victor Crist thought he had a deal set in May, but that failed to come to fruition.

The state Legislature has also failed to come up with statewide regulations regarding the companies, setting the stage for each individual county in the state to attempt to find a way to get them into compliance with their rules.

Crist has had to deal with issues of his own in recent months, surviving a vote that called for him to resign from the board for recent comments he made about dissolving the agency, as well as a legal challenge by a coalition of taxi cab companies that also wanted him removed. Among the reasons cited in both cases was Crist’s comment that the agency should be dissolved, a stunning admission after he has attempted to clean up the agency’s tarnished image in recent years.

In an interview, Brandes decried the fact that the agency has no oversight other than the state Legislature, which created it as a special act during the 1970s. “Is that good public policy?” he asked about the increased fines which, if voted on next week, would go into effect beginning in August. “There’s no rational reason why they’re charging one fine versus another.”

Brandes has represented part of Hillsborough County as part of his Senate District 22 seat the past four years, but that will change in November, when he’s expected to easily win office to Senate District 24. However, that district remains in Pinellas County, meaning he won’t be able to file a local bill regarding the PTC later this year. He says, however, that there are “many options” when it comes to proposing legislation regarding special districts in the Legislature next year.

The Hillsborough PTC includes members from the county commission, as well as representatives from the three incorporated cities: Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City. Brandes said it would be beneficial if Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, for example, could join the board. Like Brandes, Buckhorn is on record as being in favor of dissolving the agency.

“When you have the head of the PTC saying ‘disband us.’ You’ve got the mayor of the largest city, saying that it’s no longer needed, it’s time for the legislative leaders to listen,” Brandes said.

Endorsement watch: Florida Parents Against Common Core, Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, Florida Retail Federation and others issue endorsements

There’s less than two months until Floridians start casting votes, and organizations across the state are rolling out endorsements for state and federal candidates.

Several organizations — including the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce — issued endorsements this week.

Florida Parents Against Common Core has thrown its support behind Rebecca Negron.

The organization announced this week it was endorsing Negron in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. In a statement this week, the organization said Negron, a Martin County School Board member, has worked to make sure parents “have a priority voice in the education of their children.”

“If elected to Congress, Ms. Negron’s ultimate goal for education on the federal level will be to return ED back to the states, a necessary move consistent with the almost-unanimous support of our parents,” said Laura Zorc, one of the original co-founders of the group, in a statement. “Negron’s belief that the best decisions in education are made by those closest to the student and neighborhood school — which are parents and classroom teachers — gives us confidence she will take the principles she practiced on the school board to Washington, D.C.”

Negron will face Carl Domino, Mark Freeman, Rick Kozell, Brian Mast, and Noelle Nikpour in a crowded Republican primary.

The Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida threw its support behind Mike Hill in his Senate District 1 bid.

In a statement this week, RLC Florida Chairman Bob White said the Pensacola Beach Republican was a superior choice for the Florida Senate.

“We believe that less government means more liberty and we work through local chapters and with our member activists all over the country to oppose government excess and demand accountability to the people and the Constitution,” said White in a statement. “We have followed Mike Hill’s career as a member of the Florida House of Representatives and before that, his tenure as president of the Northwest Florida Tea Party. Mike has championed these same principles and values and we are convinced that he is the superior choice for the Florida Senate in District 1.”

Hill faces Doug Broxson in the Aug. 30 Republican primary. In a statement this week, Hill said he was honored to receive the group’s support.

“I appreciate the confidence of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida and I am thankful for their support,” he said. “They are one of those organizations that work hard to make a difference on behalf of their members working within the legislative process.”

The Republican Liberty Caucus also announced it was endorsing Matt Hudson in Senate District 28.

“Matt Hudson has been an outstanding leader in the Florida House of Representatives,” said White. “He has championed these same principles and values and we are convinced that he is the superior choice for the Florida Senate in District 28.”

Hudson faces Kathleen Passiodmo, also a Naples Republican and state representative, in the Senate District 28 race.

“The Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida has made a difference year after year in Tallahassee,” said Hudson. “I look forward to continuing our working relationship as a member of the Florida Senate.”

The Florida Retail Federation is backing Anitere Flores in the Senate District 39 race.

“Senator Flores has been a longtime supporter of retailers’ needs, including sponsoring or supporting the popular back-to-school sales tax holidays, the Energy Star sales tax holiday and this year she sponsored successful legislation that protects consumers from gas pump skimmer fraud,” said Randy Miller, the president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “She has been a terrific partner in recognizing the importance of making Florida a retail-friendly and business-friendly state, and we look forward to the great things she’ll continue to do as the Senator for Florida’s 39th District.”

Flores faces Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the general election.

The National Federation of Independent Business announced its endorsements in several House and Senate races this week.

The group — which is Florida’s largest small-business association — endorsed Dean Asher in Senate District 13; Dorothy Hukill in Senate District 14; Joe Negron, the incoming Senate president, in Senate District 25, Dennis Baxley in Senate District 12; and Ritch Workman in Senate District 17.

On the House side, the group endorsed David Santiago in House District 27, Jason Brodeur in House District 28, Scott Plakon in House District 29, Bob Cortes in House District 30, Jennifer Sullivan in House District 31, Mike La Rosa in House District 42, Mike Miller in House District 47, Rene Plasencia in House District 50, Tom Goodson in House District 51, MaryLynn Magar in House District 82, Gayle Harrell in House District 83, Randy Fine in House District 53, and Sykes Lange in House District 54.

“Small business owners are facing huge workers compensation hikes from bad Florida Supreme Court opinions. Electing a pro-small business Legislature has never been more important,” said Bill Herrle, the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Florida, in a statement. “The endorsed candidates have demonstrated that they genuinely understand the challenges that small business owners in Florida are facing.”

Rep. Jay Fant has thrown his support behind Sheri Treadwell.

Fant, who represents House District 15, announced his endorsement of Treadwell in the House District 11 bid.

“Sheri Treadwell’s conservative credentials make her the leader we need in the Florida House,” said Fant. “District 11 voters can count on her to be a trusted voice for our Northeast Florida values of limited government and more freedom, and I look forward to working with her.”

Treadwell said she was honored to receive his support.

“Jay Fant has quickly distinguished himself as a strong conservative leader in Northeast Florida,” said Treadwell. “I am honored to have his support, and I look forward to joining him in Tallahassee to work toward our shared priorities of lower taxes, fewer burdensome regulations, and making sure our area offers opportunities for everyone to get ahead.”

Treadwell faces Wayne Bunk, Cord Byrd, Jack Daniels and Donnie Horner in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce announced this week it endorsed more than a dozen candidates in state House and Senate races.

In the state Senate, the organization endorsed Bill Montford in Senate District 3, Travis Hutson in Senate District 7, Jack Latvala in Senate District 16, Jeff Brandes in Senate District 24, Joe Negron in Senate District 25, Rene Garcia in Senate District 36, Anitere Flores in Senate District 39, and Dorothy Hukill in Senate District 14.

In the state House, the organization endorsed Blaise Ingoglia in House District 35, Ross Spano in House District 59, Larry Ahern in House District 65, Gayle Harrell in House District 83, Jose Oliva in House District 110, and Bryan Avila in House District 111.

“Now, more than ever, Florida needs leaders in the Florida Legislature that will ensure the long-term needs of Florida’s families and small businesses are placed before short-term political fixes and special interest agendas,” said Marian Johnson, senior vice president of political operations for the Florida Chamber.

Lizbeth Benacquisto has received the support of the 2016 Estero Citizens Review Committee.

The committee announced its endorsement in a letter to Benacquisto this week. In it, the committee said it looked forward to working with her to “implement our shared vision.”

“I am honored to have the support of the Estero Citizens Candidate Review Committee,” said Benacquisto. “The people of Estero work hard each and every day toward a community they can be proud of, and I am honored to have their support.”

Benacquisto faces Republican Jason Maughan in Senate District 27.

Bob Rommel has received the backing of Collier County Commissioner Donna Fiala.

Fiala, who was first elected in 2000, endorsed Rommel in House District 106. In a statement, Fiala said the Naples Republican would bring “real-world perspective” to the Florida House.

“His experience as a successful, conservative businessman will bring a real-world perspective that is sorely needed in Tallahassee,” she said in a statement. “We can count on him to champion policies that will lower taxes and lead to job creation and increased opportunity, and I look forward to working with him to move Collier County forward.”

Rommel faces Lavigne Ann Kirkpatrick and Nick Ballo in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

“Commissioner Fiala is a dedicated public servant, and I am honored to have her support,” said Rommel. “I look forward to working with her to make sure the policies coming out of Tallahassee promote free enterprise, economic growth, and opportunity in our area and around the state.”

Email insights: Dana Young touts her support of Uber and Lyft in fundraising pitch

Even before they began operating in Tampa, a coterie of Tampa Bay area Republicans have championed ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

Those state Representatives include Jeff Brandes, Jamie Grant and Dana Young.

In a fundraising pitch sent to supporters in her bid for the state Senate District 18 seat this fall, Young boasts about the work Republicans have done in Tallahassee in recent years, saying the state leads the country in job growth — and unemployment is at an eight-year low.

“But there’s still work to be done,” she says. “Special interests have blocked every attempt to allow ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, and each day scammers are coming up with new ways to rip off residents.”

Young has been outspoken at times in bashing the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC), the oft-criticized agency that regulates limousines, taxicabs and ridesharing companies in Hillsborough County.

Young co-sponsored a bill in the House earlier this year (with Plant City’s Dan Raulerson) that provided for background checks, insurance and vehicle inspection regulations for Uber and Lyft that have eluded state lawmakers for the past few years. It did not go very far, however, though the House did pass a similar bill on those issues sponsored by Shalimar’s Matt Gaetz.

The South Tampa-based Republican also called out PTC executive director Kyle Cockream last fall after the agency purchased space to place an advertorial in the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

While Grant and Brandes have called for dissolution of the PTC, Young has never gone that far, telling, “The regulatory structure of the PTC does not particularly bother me. But if the agency continues down the road to try to stifle services that the public wants, then it might be worthwhile to look at alternatives, but I’m just not there yet.”

Young concludes her fundraising email by referring to the fact that, “I’m running in one of the most competitive districts in the state, and I need your support.”

She’s received plenty to date in her race against Democrat Bob Buesing and independents Sheldon Upthegrove and Joe Redner, having raised more than $526,000 in her campaign coffers to date, with an additional $856,000 in her super PAC, “Friends of Dana Young.”

Young is accurate in that —on paper — the race should be competitive, especially in a presidential election year where Democrats running for the Legislature fare better in swing seat districts. Statistics show Democrats have a 40 percent share of the electorate compared to a 36 percent share for Republicans. Back in 2012, President Obama carried the Hillsborough County district by 1 point.

The newly constituted Senate District 18 encompasses Avila, Carrollwood, Davis Islands, Lutz, MacDill Air Force Base, Odessa, South Tampa and Westchase.

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 60-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 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.

Three states have outright bans on consumer fireworks: Delaware, Maine, and New Jersey, according to the American Pyrotechnic Association.

In Florida, 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 running for Congress.

And 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.

“Florida law on fireworks is absurd,” he told “Current law forces law-abiding parents to commit fraud by signing forms declaring the fireworks they buy won’t be used as fireworks to celebrate freedom with their kids, but to scare birds off crops.”

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

Pat Neal will not be a candidate for Chief Financial Officer in 2018

Pat Neal, a Manatee County developer and former Florida state senator, will not run for Chief Financial Officer in 2018.

Facing a self-imposed deadline of July 1 to make a decision about a run, Neal told in an exclusive interview Wednesday he will not be on the ballot in two years.

“I have a wonderful business and a wonderful family, and I have concluded that I cannot continue to have both if I pursue elected office,” he said.

Neal was first elected to the Florida House in 1974, before being elected to the Florida Senate in 1978. He served until 1986, when he lost his re-election bid. During his time in the Florida Senate, he served as the chairman of the natural resources committee and helped spearhead several environmental protection measures.

Neal has often been mentioned as a possible candidate to succeed Jeff Atwater as the state’s CFO. While Neal insisted he never thought of himself as a candidate, he said he did enjoy the exploratory phase.

But this wasn’t the first time Neal’s name has been floated as someone who might be at home in the CFO’s office. When Atwater was in the running to become Florida Atlantic University’s president in 2014, Neal was an often mentioned as being a possibility to replace him. The same happened when Atwater considered a U.S. Senate bid.

While it’s been decades since Neal served in the Florida Senate, he hasn’t completely bowed out of politics. State records show he has given $405,700 to candidates and committees in Florida during the 2016 election cycle. Records show the vast majority of that sum went to “Floridians for a Conservative Future,” a political committee in Florida.

His decision not to run means the race is wide open, with candidates on both sides of the aisle pondering whether to run for the seat.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has been mentioned as a possible CFO candidate, and Neal’s decision could make it a bit easier for him to jump in the race. The Miami Republican recently ended his U.S. Senate bid, but could be gearing up for another run at a statewide office in 2018.

Others who could be considering the office may include Sens. Tom Lee and Jeff Brandes. Much like Neal, Lee’s name was floated in 2014. Also under consideration back in 2014 were Sen. Don Gaetz, former House Speaker Will Weatherford and former state Rep. Seth McKeel.


Joe Henderson: Unopposed candidates create ‘great void’ in local politics

Elections are supposed to be about choices, but after candidate qualifying ended in Florida last week, many elections are already decided.

Voters in 11 districts won’t get to choose their state senator because the incumbent faces no opposition — seven Republicans and four Democrats, if you’re keeping score. And in Senate District 24, Pinellas County Republican incumbent Jeff Brandes faces only a write-in candidate.

The theme is the same in the state House, where 29 candidates face no opposition — 16 Republicans, 13 Democrats.

Twelve of 19 state attorney races are over before they start. Fourteen of 19 public defenders can hold victory parties. Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee is a winner. So are elections supervisor Craig Latimer, tax collector Doug Belden and County Commissioner Les Miller.

Three of the seven county commission races in Pinellas County didn’t make it to November, either. The Pinellas clerk of courts race ended on qualifying day.

What gives?

I don’t think there is one factor that explains it all.

In most, if not all, of those cases, opponents no doubt sized up the incumbent and the makeup of the district and decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of trying to raise enough money to compete.

Districts for statewide races are drawn with such eerie precision it’s almost too easy to predict the winner before the campaign even begins. Court-ordered redistricting now in effect may change some of that, but probably not all of it. That has a major dampening effect on an underdog pondering a challenge.

Voter apathy needs to be near the top of the list, too.

While debating the difference between Hillary and Trump in a bar might get you punched in the nose, local and even statewide races don’t have the same impact. I think it’s a safe bet many voters can’t name their state senator or representative, even though those elected officials have a much more direct impact than someone running for president.

It takes a special something to get the attention of voters these days. A scandal might do it, as former Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner learned in 2012. Allegations that he sent porn to a female staffer in his office turned into a political tsunami that put a spotlight on a race that otherwise would have been relatively obscure.

But that’s the system we have now.

The major political parties in this state have become adept at speaking to themselves and rallying those few who give a hoot, but there is a great void out there waiting to be addressed that could change the way things get done.

Republicans have been much better than Democrats at working the system and getting what they want. That won’t change until opponents figure out how to make people understand that the closer to home a race is, the more they need to pay attention.


Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He has covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons — Ben and Patrick.

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