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Jack Latvala, Jeff Brandes will help control the purse strings in Tallahassee next year

When the dust cleared in Tallahassee on Tuesday, one thing was clear: Pinellas was on top when it comes to the state’s funds.

Republican Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes, who represent parts of Pinellas, landed some plum appointments. Latvala will be the chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and alt. chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission. Brandes will have a seat on the Appropriations Committee and be the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development.

The news was welcomed by local elected officials who expect to ask Tallahassee for money in 2017.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office issued a statement, saying, “Their appointments are great news for the city of St. Petersburg, and the Tampa Bay Region.”

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, who will chair the commission in 2017, agreed, saying, “I’d like to think it would be very good for Pinellas County.”

Long said the county has just begun work on its legislative package for the coming year.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has also begun work on its legislative package. St. Petersburg council member Darden Rice, the PSTA chair, said two projects high on the agenda are rapid transit from the Tampa airport to Clearwater and Clearwater Beach and a bus lane on the Clearwater causeway.

Both Latvala and Brandes are aware of the need for the projects, she said. And Brandes, in particular, has already been supportive of innovative PSTA programs that involve partnerships with companies like Uber and Lyft.

The PSTA, Rice said, “is very fortunate to have two such strong senators. I think this will be very helpful.”

That help, she said, can extend to other issues. One such is the sewer and infrastructure problems facing Pinellas. Although St. Petersburg has taken the brunt of criticism after dumping thousands of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage in the bay during two storms this year, the problem with infrastructure is countywide. Latvala has called two delegation meetings for fact finding.

“I think they had a very clear picture of St. Petersburg’s struggles,” Rice said. “We need help from the state to fix our fragile infrastructure.”

Rice said she’s not talking only about St. Petersburg’s infrastructure. It’s the entire county, she said. That’s another place that the senator’s appreciation for regional solutions will be helpful.

Rice noted that Latvala is known for fighting for what he believes in. That’s good for the county.

“He’s a bruiser,” Rice said. “He’s not afraid to go in and fight for what’s right.”

At Tampa summit, officials boast about how Florida is ahead of the nation when it comes to self-driving cars

At the fourth annual Florida Automated Vehicle Summit in Tampa, government officials boasted about how far ahead of the game the state is compared to the rest of the nation in being prepared for the brave new world of autonomous vehicles. And they pledged not to  get in the way of the industry doing whatever they need to succeed with this quickly emerging technology.

“Help us help you and where you’re trying to go,” said Tom Byron, the assistant secretary for Intermodal Systems Development with the Florida Dept. of Transportation. “That’s what I’m asking. That’s it.”

There are currently 33 different companies involved in the development of advanced driver assistance systems and self-driving vehicles, including Tesla, Apple, Ford, Microsoft and Honda.

Byron boasted that unlike other states, the Florida Dept. of Transportation has a “healthy budget,” and added that Florida most importantly has the political leadership that is also unlike any other place in the nation in terms of supporting this new mode of transportation. “You’ve got proprietary data, trade secrets, we don’t want any of that stuff, ” Byron said reassuringly. “What we want to do is get input on what we can do.”

Leading this movement in Florida has been Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes, who told the audience that he was inspired to sponsor an autonomous vehicle bill in his very first year in the Legislature in 2011, after listening to a “Ted Talk” while driving up to Tallahassee from the Tampa Bay area.

The technology has changed, and so has the thrust of Brandes’ legislation in this area. Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature unanimously backed HB 7027, Brandes bill that made Florida the first state in the nation to legalize fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel. “That’s a game changer,” Brandes said, claiming that the law makes every 30-year plan created by various state and local agencies “wrong.”

“Not a little bit wrong, but a lot wrong,” he added. “This technology is just like 100 years ago when we moved from the horse and the buggy to the Model T.”

Brandes said that not are vehicles now becoming autonomous, but simultaneously they’re becoming more electric, saying that the industry has evolved to the point where it has gone from a car with 2,000 moving parts now to one that will soon just 20 moving parts. He said that upcoming electric vehicles now in production will be able to drive 200 miles on a single charge, and cost less than $25,000 by 2020 or 2022.

The St. Petersburg Republican said that he meets with hundreds of groups regarding specific issues or causes, and he says he asks all of them what their vision is, and who’s their champion. He said he is the champion of the autonomous vehicle movement in Florida. “My vision is that we continue to tread new ground, and we continue to work to make bold decisions,” he declared.

The conference started up on Tuesday with a short address by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who said that the “intellectual capital” want choices when it comes to transportation, choices that don’t include building more roads. “It’s options,” he said, listing autonomous vehicles, Uber,  Lyft, HOV lanes and/or rail lines as essential choices.

“We need options, and we need to be thinking about what the future will be looking like, and what transportation is going to look like, not just next year, but 20 years from now,” the mayor said, adding that “the success of our cities is contingent on your willingness to think outside of that traditional box.”

And Buckhorn had a message for President-elect Donald Trump regarding his pronouncements that he supports a major infrastructure project.

“We’re the third largest state in the country, and we need to start acting like it,” Buckhorn said. “We need to start investing like it. I hope that the President-elect lives up to his campaign promises and starts to invest in infrastructure,” adding that, “we need to believe in a future that doesn’t look like today.”

However, some initial proponents of such a major plan have turned cold on it. That’s because Trump is calling for the government to avoid direct spending and borrowing by instead subsidizing private developers with massive tax credits for building roads, bridges and other projects. The developers would own the infrastructure and collect resulting cash flows from tolls or fees. The liberal Economic Policy Institute argues the plan is unlikely to lead to much new investment because it’s driven more by ideology — that private enterprise always trumps direct public investments in infrastructure — than by rational policy.

Giving the keynote address was urban planner and forecaster Dr. Anthony Townsend from the company, Bits and Atoms. FloridaPolitics will have a story about his speech later this week.

Repealing PIP, implementing Amendment 4 top priorities for Jeff Brandes in 2017

Sen. Jeff Brandes will once again file legislation to repeal the state’s no-fault auto insurance requirement, saying it’s time for Florida to move away from the troubled system.

The St. Petersburg Republican said repealing the state’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) system will be one of his top priorities during the 2017 legislative session. The decision to file the bill comes just a few months after a study revealed Floridians could save an average $81 a car if the state drops the system.

“We believe that PIP is not the right product for Floridians going forward,” said Brandes.

Brandes and Rep. Bill Hager filed legislation in 2016 to repeal the law, which requires drivers to buy $10,000 PIP coverage. The proposal, which would have ended the requirement by 2019, did not receive a hearing during the 2016 legislative session.

Brandes is hoping 2017 is different, and thinks a recent analysis that showed consumers could see a savings if the program is repealed will help his cause.

Florida is one of ten states that has personal injury protection auto insurance, according to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. The program was intended to provide injured drivers up to $10,000 in medical coverage in lieu of establishing fault, but in recent years the number of PIP claims have increased.

In fact, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported Florida led the nation in PIP Questionable Claim referrals in 2009. And not only was it the highest in the nation, a National Insurance Crime Bureau report found Florida had twice as many claims as the next highest state, New York.

In 2012, state lawmakers approved legislation aimed at curbing fraudulent claims. A recent analysis for the OIR showed the 2012 reforms reduced fraud and abuse, but also suggested the state could save Floridians $1 billion a year if they get rid of the system entirely. The Palm Beach Post reported, however, those savings would only apply if lawmakers get rid of PIP without putting new requirements to offset the impact in place.

And with a host of insurance issues expected to be on the table this year, Brandes said he understands repealing PIP could be a tough sell. Still, he’s hoping the potential savings will help move the issue along.

Repealing PIP might be a heavy lift, but Brandes is hopeful the implementation of Amendment 4, which gives tax breaks to companies that buy and install solar devices and equipment.

The ballot initiative, which was on the Aug. 30 ballot, passed with 73 percent support. While backers of amendment were criticized for putting it on the primary ballot, Brandes said he thinks the decision to keep it separate from the utility-backed solar amendment was “absolutely the right one.”

Amendment 1, the utility-backed solar amendment, received 51 percent support in November, just short of the 60 percent needed to become law.

Brandes said the passage of Amendment 4 shows there is “clear mandate to implement” the amendment as passed. He plans to roll out a bill implementing the amendment in the coming days, and said he is hopeful House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, who supported the bill to get the amendment on the ballot in 2016, will sponsor the implementing bill in the House.

The amendment removes the state’s tangible personal property tax, which taxes solar equipment installed. It also authorizes the Legislature to prohibit the devices from being considered when assessing the value of the property for tax purposes.

Removing those tax barriers means more large, scale commercial property owners could begin installing solar panels or other renewable energy devices. And that, Brandes said, could give consumers more access to solar.

Brandes said he believes the implementing bill “should go through very smoothly.” That’s because it will be easy to show legislators that their community supported the amendment, even down to the precinct level.

In addition to repealing PIP and implementing Amendment 4, Brandes said he will once again take a look at local pension reform.

“We don’t file easy legislation … we file things to do with real problems,” he said. “We think pension obligations are a huge untold story in politics, that they are taking down states and nations.”

Editors note: This story has been updated.

Final round-up of the money chase in Tampa Bay’s legislative races

On Friday, candidates released their final campaign finance reports before Election Day, and reports out of Senate District 18 show Tampa Republican Rep. Dana Young pressing her fundraising advantage in the race with $1.2 million in spending.

Young spent more than $500,000 of campaign’s war chest in between Oct. 22 and Nov. 3, most of it heading to a media buy with Mentzer Media Services.

The exiting House Majority Leader also raised $67,000 for her SD 18 campaign, leaving her with about $113,000 on hand in her campaign account heading into the final few days of the election cycle.

Her political committee, “Friends of Dana Young,” spent even more money, with $700,000 heading to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee chaired by incoming Senate President Joe Negron. Young’s PAC had about $200,000 on hand Nov. 3.

Young is running against Democratic attorney Bob Buesing and a pair of NPA candidates for the Tampa-based seat, but none of her opponents have come close to competing in the money race.

Despite raising another $76,000 in contributions and putting another $35,000 of his own money into the race during the two-week reporting period, Buesing’s total fundraising is less than a quarter of what Young has been able to pull in through her campaign and committee accounts.

Buesing’s $111,000 performance was coupled with $119,000 in spending, mainly on media buys through Chicago-based AL Media. His campaign had about $53,000 in the bank heading into the final five days.

Joe Redner, the better funded of SD 18’s two NPA candidates, didn’t post any contributions during the period, though he did spend $35,000 on media. Fellow NPA candidate Sheldon Upthegrove also laid an egg in his report and showed a $100 account balance Nov. 3.

The other five Senate seats covering Hillsborough or Pinellas counties are pretty much decided, with Sens. Tom Lee, Bill Galvano and Jeff Brandes all winning re-election unopposed, and Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala only facing a write-in candidate.

The SD 19 race between Democratic Rep. Darryl Rouson and Republican John “Mr. Manners” Houman is also looking like a runaway.

Rouson raised another $41,000 during the reporting period and spent $23,000, leaving him with about $85,000 in the bank for the final stretch. Houman, best known for his nontraditional campaign website, added $0 during the period and has about $60 in the bank.

In the House, Republican Reps. Jake Raburn, Janet Cruz, and Jamie Grant have secured victory, and Sean Shaw is already on the list for the freshman class. Also expect to see Chris Latvala, Chris Sprowls, and Larry Ahern hang on to their seats with little fanfare.

In HD 63, Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison brought in about $46,000 and was outraised by Democrat Lisa Monelione, who added $55,500 to her campaign coffers.

Harrison still has the cash on hand lead with about $38,000 in the bank compared to about $10,000 for Montelione, though a money lead may not be enough to keep him in the swing seat come Tuesday.

South Pasadena Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters is also facing a decently funded Democrat, Jennifer Webb, though she out-raised her 3-to-1 in her new report.

Peters added about $61,500 and spent about $100,500, mainly on a TV buy, leaving her with about $113,000 in the bank. Webb took in another $21,000 and spent about $19,000, leaving her with about $13,000 on hand.

Republican HD 59 Rep. Ross Spano also outraised his opponent, Democratic attorney Rena Frazier, with $26,600 in contributions compared to her $13,500 haul. Both candidates spent nearly $60,000 during the reporting period, and Nov. 3 Spano had about $66,000 in the bank compared to $31,000 for Frazier.

 In HD 60, Republican Jackie Toledo crossed the $300,000 mark in total fundraising after bringing in another $38,000. Toledo, who is running to replace Young, spent $55,600 and had about $73,000 in the bank Nov. 3.

Her opponent, Democrat David Singer, raised about $8,800 and spent $8,300 leaving him with just $5,000 in the bank for the final stretch. At $161,00, his total fundraising is about half of Toledo’s.

Dana Young calls for FDLE investigation into Hillsborough County PTC

In the aftermath of published reports about questionable decisions made by Hillsborough County Public Transportation Executive Director Kyle Cockream over the past year, Tampa state Rep. Dana Young is calling for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to conduct an investigation into the agency.

“When the line is blurred between the regulator and the entities they regulate, the public cannot rely on impartiality in the government,” wrote Young in her letter to the FDLE. “The disturbing revelations of the relationship between the PTC, Mr. Cockream, and members of the taxi industry in Hillsborough County merit a full review to determine if ethical or legal boundaries have been violated.”

Among the revelations that came to light last week through a release of a large number of emails, was that Cockream coordinated with local taxicab and limousine firms to fine rideshare drivers. Members of those companies acted as would-be passengers and lured Uber and Lyft drivers to pick them up before PTC agents cited them. Officially, Uber and Lyft drivers have been operating out of compliance with the PTC since they began operating in the spring of 2014.

Cockream also traveled twice to appear before the Palm Beach County Commission in the past year when that government body discussed ridesharing. He appeared at the same time in both meetings with representatives from the taxicab and limousine industry. The PTC’s mission is to regulate taxicab, limousine, and now ridesharing operations in an even, fair fashion.

“The PTC has a sordid history marred by scandals of former board members and conflicts of interest with previous senior agency personnel,” Young said in her letter. “The history of recurrent and pervasive improprieties by the PTC has resulted in multiple attempts by the Florida Legislature to repeal the regulatory body.”

The PTC was marred by a tawdry reputation for years long before Uber and Lyft ever came to Tampa. A former PTC board chairman — Kevin White — spent time in federal prison after being convicted in 2011 of accepting at least $6,000 in bribes from an undercover FBI agent posing as a businessman seeking to curry favor with him in his official role. Incidents like that led some local leaders like Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to call for the agency to be dissolved. Those calls have been echoed by Tampa Bay area state legislators like Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant in recent years, who have proposed bills to do that, though such efforts have come up short.

Young, a South Tampa Republican, is now running for the state Senate 18 district race against Democrat Bob Buesing and independent candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove.

Through a spokesman, Cockream is offering no comment.

medical marijuana

Some Florida Republicans AWOL on talking about Amendment 2

Florida Republican leaders have been conspicuously quiet about where they stand on Amendment 2, the ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana.

“I think a lot of people are being quiet about it because they assume it’s going to pass and they don’t want to be on the wrong side,” incoming Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Latvala said last week about the relative scarcity of GOP leaders opposed to the measure.

After speaking with Latvala, FloridaPolitics.com reached out last week to four leading Republicans in Florida to determine where they stand on the issue, but five days later, only incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran responded to our entreaty.

“In 2014, the Florida House passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act that eventually became law,” Corcoran emailed Florida Politics. “The law created a strict regime for dispensing non-smoked low-THC cannabis to patients who had run out of traditional pain management options. I believe that Amendment 2 is both unnecessary and is merely a steppingstone in the full legalization playbook. The law in place strikes a balance between compassion and control and poses no danger to our kids and grandkids.”

In addition to Corcoran, this reporter also reached out to incoming Senate President Joe Negron, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

This is the second consecutive statewide election with the issue of medical marijuana on the ballot.

In 2014, the measure received over 57 percent support at the polls, short of the 60 percent required for a citizen’s led initiative to pass. Nearly every respected poll published this year shows the measure getting over the required threshold, though the polls were also favorable at this time two years ago.

Latvala took a beating on his Facebook page when he announced his opposition in September, but the Clearwater Republican said it actually demonstrated his political courage.

“To get involved in something’s that winning over 70 percent of the vote is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “It takes a little bit of courage to get involved in an issue where it looks like you’re losing.”

Many, if not most, Republicans opposed the measure in 2014, but some have come on board this year, including Tampa Bay area Republicans Jeff Brandes and Dana Young.

While some lawmakers like Corcoran says the law previously passed by the Legislature serves its purpose, critics note it also limits the growing and distribution of marijuana to just six nursery owners in the state.

“The Legislature screwed up the opportunity in the medical marijuana law,” says Brandes. “What you’ve seen them do is create a situation where only a handful of families can get wealthy.”

The measure also is getting more buy-in from the editorial boards of some of the state’s biggest newspapers. In the past two days, three newspapers — the Florida Times-Union, the News Herald of Panama City, and the Ft. Myers News-Press — have all urged their readers to vote “yes” on the proposal. All three papers’ editorial boards had opposed Amendment 2 in 2014.

The Orlando Sentinel came out with an editorial opposing the measure, saying: “It’s the right policy, but the constitution is the wrong place to do it.”

The Mitch Perry Report for 10.4.16 — And now for something completely different

Since his selection to be Donald Trump’s running mate back in July, it’s been downright amusing at times to watch Mike Pence have to answer for his new boss while being asked about his latest outrageous comment.

“Torturous” might be the best term to explain some of the responses he’s had to come up with to defend or deflect the latest comment by the GOP standard bearer. Sure, Katrina Pierson and Jeffrey Lord have lost their dignity at times on cable news, but Pence is the current governor of Indiana and a former member of Congress who had his own political persona swallowed up because of the unique position he’s in.

Tonight, Pence takes on Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine in the vice-presidential debate from Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. They’ll be questioned by CBS’ digital news anchor Elaine Quijano, the first Asian-American moderator for a presidential or vice-presidential debate, and believe it or not, at 42, the youngest such host since Judy Woodruff in 1988.

One would presumably trust we’ll hear more about policy than we did in either the first presidential debate or on the campaign trail in general. But Quijano is going to have to be compelled to ask Pence to deal with some of Trump’s statements. No doubt we’ll hear talking points from Team Trump — that their man’s ability to use the tax code to (presumably) not pay taxes for years was “brilliant” — which is what Trump surrogates (and the man himself) have been saying for the past two days after the New York Times report on the nearly billion-dollar loss he wrote off in 1995.

And what about Kaine? While he’s been a loyal soldier to Hillary Clinton on the trail (mostly by bashing Trump), there are a few policy positions that distinguish himself from the top of the ticket. For example, Kaine supports the Hyde Amendment, which has banned taxpayer-funded abortions for nearly 40 years, yet he says he will work with Clinton to overturn it as vice president. And he was a fan of the Trans-Pacific Partnership the same week he was selected as Clinton’s running mate, then came out against it (after Clinton herself reversed her stance on the TPP).

Then again, will this matter that much? The VP debate certainly did four years ago, when Joe Biden came on incredibly aggressive (almost rude) against Paul Ryan from the jump, so determined was he to be the aggressor in win the debate after Barack Obama laid an egg against Mitt Romney in their first presidential debate.

An ABC News poll released last week found that more than 40 percent of the American public couldn’t pick Kaine or Pence out of a line-up.

In other news…

Who says Charlie Crist can’t laugh at himself? The CD 13 Democratic candidate is airing a new television ad which includes an admission about his infatuation with devices that keep him cool.

Meanwhile, the David Jolly campaign team is pumped up about a D.C. website’s projection of the race to be tightening. 

Jack Latvala announced last week he opposes the medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The reaction on Facebook was fierce.

Joe Redner has gone up with the first TV of his SD 18 campaign.

Hillary Clinton has new radio ads in English and Spanish airing in South Florida pounding Donald Trump on that whole doing business with Cuba report from last week’s Newsweek.

Tampa Democrats are working hard to get as many people registered as possible before next week’s deadline to vote in the November election.

The Tampa Police Department has received a $1.9 million grant from the Department of Justice to hire 15 community police officers.

Not that it’s a surprise, but Jeff Brandes was “elected” the new state senator of District 24 yesterday, after his write-in opponent dropped out.

Jeff Brandes wins SD 24 seat after write-in candidate drops out

Jeff Brandes has won the state Senate District 24 seat.

Although the 40-year-old Brandes had no Democratic opponent (or a Republican one in last month’s primary), he was facing write-in candidate Alexander Johnson in the Nov. 8 election.

However, Johnson has now dropped out of the race, effectively making Brandes the winner.

Brandes has been in the Florida Legislature since 2010, when he defeated Democrat Bill Heller in the House District 52 race in Pinellas County.

After a single term in the House, Brandes ran for Senate District 22 in 2012, where his greatest challenge was in the Republican primary against longtime Pinellas County lawmaker Jim Frishe, who Brandes defeated 58 to 43 percent.

In 2014, Brandes’ faced University of South Florida-St. Petersburg professor Judithanne McLachlan, who the Democrats had great hopes for a serious challenge in the Hillsborough/Pinellas seat. But Brandes won easily, 58 percent to 42 percent.

All 40 Senate districts are up for re-election this fall because of redistricting, but those districts assigned odd numbers get four-year terms, while even-numbered districts get two-year terms that would require senators to run again in 2018 to get a full four-year term. In this case, Brandes will once again be running for this seat in two more years.

Jack Latvala comes out against medical pot; the internet reacts

Last Friday, Clearwater Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala announced he would be opposing Amendment 2, the imitative calling for legalizing medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.

“Amendment 2 is bad for Florida,” Latvala says in a short video on the Facebook page created for his election campaign. “The constitution is forever,” he says. “Future legislators or judges can’t change it, even if science finds it harmful.”

The reaction has been fierce on social media, with the announcement generating more than 100 comments on his campaign Facebook page, most of them negative.

“How much are you getting from liquor and beer companies to make this PA?” wrote Jose Carlos Buraschi. “Thanks to people like you, my son could not get the medicine he needed back in 2014. Now he is dead!!! Please do research before you say all this nonsense about low THC, and how that is enough. What research have you personally done to say that ‘Charlotte’s Web’ is enough to cure cancer, treat Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc.?”

There were plenty of comments suggesting Latvala was heeding the wisdom of “Big Pharma” and that he’s endangered his chances of getting elected. The odds of that happening are virtually nonexistent, however, considering that not one Democrat or Republican even bothered to file to run against him in his bid to win his state Senate District 16 next month. Katherine Perkins is a write-in candidate listed as also running for the seat.

“Apparently you’ve never saw someone who has suffered through chemotherapy and its side effects,” wrote Gail Bender. “If you had, I’ll wager that you would do ANYTHING that would help. It’s so much more important to you that you listen to those drug lobbyists. Well, guess what. Whether you like it or not, it’s coming. Oh, and like I said. Your straight answer was quite telling in whom you’ve sided with. Good luck on winning the next election. Marijuana use will help thousands of registered voters live long enough to vote you out on your next election cycle.”

Some reactions were extremely personal.

“I hope that someday your life is touched by you or a loved one having a chronic and painful illness,” wrote Norie Berndt. “Then you will understand why it’s important to make medical marijuana legal.”

It should also be noted more than 133 people gave a “like” to the video. And the reaction is much more balanced on his personal Facebook page.

The senator responded Saturday by posting a photo of marijuana edibles. “Tell me kids won’t get ahold of this pot candy if it comes to Florida. #VoteNoOn2,” he wrote.

That also generated similar negative feedback.

“Why are you blurring the lines and making up lies?” wrote Tommy Frain. “Amendment 2 gives a ton of power to the Department of Health for implementation and is very restrictive on the illness medical cannabis is allowed to be given for. What’s up with these scare tactics, Jack?”

In an interview Monday, Latvala said he wasn’t surprised by the reaction, but, to him, it’s a moral issue and doesn’t have anything to do with politics.

“I just draw the line,” he said. “It’s what you’ve got to do sometimes if you’re a leader.”

Latvala has received contributions from 10 different pharmaceutical companies in his 2016 election campaign totaling $5,500, including $500 contributions from companies like Pfizer, Merck Sharp & Dohme, and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Latvala notes the total amount of those contributions just above 1 percent of the $508,712 he’s collected in his campaign account as of Sept. 16 (there have been a handful of contributions from pharmaceutical companies to his political action committee).

“I generally take money from all legal sources, and I generally don’t worry about who I irritate to give me money,” he says, adding that he’s been tough on groups like the utility companies in Florida, yet has received contributions from them. “There’s no connection.”

Some fellow Pinellas Republicans disagree with Latvala’s stance.

“Our government has failed its citizens on medical marijuana policy,” St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes said Friday, referring to the “Charlotte’s Web law,” which legalized the use of a non-euphoric strain of marijuana to treat conditions such as epilepsy, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and cancer (and which Latvala opposed).

“Today we have a law on the books that enriches a handful of people, and places barriers between doctors and their patients by depriving them access to a treatment that could improve their quality of life,” Brandes added. “The law today must change, and Amendment 2 is a responsible option for sensible medical marijuana regulation.”

Latvala says he believes some people are coming out in support of the measure because the odds of passage look good next month, according to public opinion polls. He says it takes more courage to go against the grain.

“I think a lot of people are being quiet about it because they assume it’s going to pass and they don’t want to be on the wrong side, and I think it’d be interesting,” he says. “To get involved in something’s that winning over 70 percent of the vote is not an easy thing to do. It takes a little bit of courage to get involved in an issue where it looks like you’re losing.”

Here’s where stuff stands in Tampa Bay politics — the ‘it’s October’ edition

Hello, October.

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:

crist

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:

toledo-jackie-fundraiser

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:

henriquez-event

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