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Florida unemployment reaches pre-Great Recession low

Florida added 21,000 new private sector jobs in October, and the state’s unemployment rate notched down to 3.4 percent, the lowest it has been since just before the Great Recession ravaged Florida starting in late 2007.

The jobs numbers were announced Friday morning by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The 3.4 percent statewide unemployment rate is a drop from a high of 10.8 at the peak of the Great Recession in December 2010, and the drop of 7.4 percentage points since then is faster than the national decline of 5.6 percentage points in the same eight-year period, an announcement declared.

Florida’s annual job growth rate of 3.2 percent continues to exceed the nation’s rate of 2 percent. In the past year, 107,000 people entered Florida’s labor force, a growth of 1.1 percent.

In a news release, Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity,  said, “Florida’s economy is strong and growing. Governor Scott’s leadership and commitment to job creation in our state has helped millions of Floridians live the American Dream.”

In the 12 months ending in October, Florida added 51,300 new jobs in the education and health services sector, 51,100 in leisure and hospitality, 43,400 in construction, and 30,100 in professional and business services.

 The one sector losing jobs was government, which shed 8,900 jobs in the 12-month period.

Monroe County and Okaloosa County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate in October, 2.4 percent. Hendry County had the highest, at 5.4 percent.

OF 24 metropolitan areas, 23 saw year-over-year job gains, with the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford market leading, adding 55,400 jobs. The Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater markets each added about 29,000 jobs. Panama City was the only metro area to shed jobs, dropping 100 in the one-year run.

Brightline submits only proposal for Orlando-Tampa train line

Brightline, the operator of the new South Florida private passenger train service with plans to extend to Orlando, has submitted the only proposal to Florida officials for a proposed new route from Orlando to Tampa.

The Florida Department of Transportation announced late Wednesday that Brightline, which initiated the process by submitting an unsolicited proposal in June, was the only company to have responded after the department opened to other potential companies’ proposals with requests for proposals the department issued in June.

Wednesday was the deadline for the proposals to be submitted.

The department is looking for a proposal that would put in an intercity passenger train line that would lease and use highway rights of way owned by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

That presumably would mean the I-4 corridor between the cities, and either the State Road 417 or State Road 528 corridors from I-4 to the Orlando International Airport, which now has a constructed but not operational high-speed passenger train terminal. Brightline’s plan to extend its South Florida service up the east coast to Orlando would terminate at that airport terminal. The department also lists the Florida Turnpike as available for a possible route.

Parts of both State Road 417 and State Road 528, which both have exits to the Orlando airport, are owned by both the state department and the Central Florida Expressway authority. The other roads are owned by the state department.

The exact route into Orlando, and whether it includes any stops in Central Florida’s tourist centers, is likely to be controversial, as it was in the last major attempt, a decade ago, to bring high-speed passenger rail service between the two cities. That proposal, killed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, had divided Central Florida interests between a proposal to use State Road 528, a more expensive option that could have included a stop serving the International Drive district including the Orange County Convention Center, SeaWorld and Universal Orlando. That was opposed by Walt Disney World, which supported the shorter and less-expensive corridor along State Road 417, which would bypass its competitors.

The Florida Department of Transportation has not yet released the Brightline proposal. However, a project selection committee has been appointed and will meet to review the proposal on Nov. 28.

Ron DeSantis expecting GOP super voters to make the difference on Tuesday

The polls and the voter turnout through the weekend might have a blue tint but Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis is counting on Florida’s Republican super-voters to do what they always do – turn out en masse on Election Day – and make the difference.

“I really believe if we can get people out to vote I will be elected governor on Tuesday,” DeSantis told a crowd of about 150 people gathered in an Orlando pharmacy parkling lot Monday morning.

DeSantis made the comment during a get-out-the-vote rally that featured Republicans U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Agriculture Commissioner nominee Matt Caldwell, Attorney General nominee Ashley Moody, and congressional nominee Mike Miller, among others. So naturally, the comment was a standard line for such a rally.

Yet an edge in DeSantis’s voice sounded as if he knows it will be needed, as someone trailing by five points in three different polls released Monday morning, and with reports that Democrats had a big voter turnout over the weekend. After his Orlando speech he told reporters that the voter turnout numbers will turn.

“We have a lot of our super voters left to vote. We have hundreds of thousands of voter-advantage in terms of potential voters,” DeSantis said. “Not all the votes have been tabulated from weekend in the Panhandle from earely voting. I think we’re going to go into the election having  rough parity, which we were not anticipating. We thought we’d have to come back.

“We just have a lot of our voters who like to vote on election day,” DeSantis added. “That’s just the way they are. So I think we’re definately going to win election day.”

Considering the star power of three cabinet nominees and Florida’s Republican U.S. Senator appearing at Monday in Orlando the rally drew a modest crowd to a small space. DeSantis’s end game speech included the usual comparisons with his Democratic opponent Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and reminders that Tallahassee is being investigated by the FBI for potential corruption.

Yet DeSantis also put more emphasis Monday on seeking to define the leadership differences, and in reminding the crowd that he has at least a good working relationship with President Donald Trump, if not a mutual-admiration society, while Gillum has called for Trump’s impeachment.

“You also have to someone who is a good leader and can get this stuff done. If you look at transportation, which we obviously need in Central Florida, you should have a governor who can work constructively with the administration in Washington to make sure Florida is getting what it needs for us to be able to fix our infrastructure,” DeSantis said.

“I can do that because I can call the president, I can call key people in the administration, and I can fight for Florida and fight for Florida’s interests,” he continued. “Andrew Gillum wants to impeach Donald Trump.”

Rubio spoke only briefly, mainly warning against a state of high taxes and business regulations that he said Gillum would bring.

“We’re not going backwards,” Rubio said. “We are most certainly not going to become a state like people are leaving. That’s not going to happen.”

National groups spend $1.1 million backing Stephanie Murphy in CD 7 race

National political committees that played a major role in helping U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy win her seat in Congress two years ago are coming to her aid again, with nearly $1.2 million in outside money spent in Florida’s 7th Congressional District through last week — almost all of it on her side.

The Democratic House Majority Political Action Committee has poured about $800,000 into television advertising in the past 10 days attacking Murphy’s Republican opponent, state Rep. Mike Miller, and several other groups have pitched in for her as well in recent weeks, according to the latest independent expenditure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Much of the House Majority PAC money went into a television commercial that Miller’s campaign charged was false, and which at least one Orlando-area TV station has pulled, according to Miller’s campaign.

Nonetheless, few outside groups have been riding to Miller’s rescue. Through last Wednesday, the only independent group to help out Miller has been Central Florida Solutions, which has spent $63,878 on mailers, including some sent out last week.

So far, groups supporting Murphy have spent $1.1 million in the CD 7 general election campaign.

Murphy has gotten support not just from the Democrats, but from the No Labels Action group that pushes for bipartisan, moderate politics. That group, which to date has supported 11 Democrats and nine Republicans running for Congress this year, has spent $153,000 on mailers and digital advertising supporting Murphy.

She also has received another $125,000 in general election support, through radio advertising, from the Center Forward Committee. Four other groups, including the Environmental Defense Action Fund and the Brady Political Action Committee, have spent a few thousand dollars apiece supporting her campaign.

Donald Trump will hold another Florida rally Nov. 3 in Pensacola

President Donald Trump will fly to Florida to rally voters here at least once in November, days before the midterm elections.

The website states he will be speaking at the Pensacola International Airport at 5:30 p.m. Doors open at 2:30 p.m.

Trump already plans to host a MAGA (that’s Make America Great Again) rally in Fort Myers on Oct. 31.

Republican operatives say Trump selected Fort Myers for two reasons. First, Germain Arena is one of the largest venues in Southwest Florida. Second, energizing Republican voters in Lee and Collier counties provides a foundation of support for statewide candidates.

Notably, Gov. Rick Scott, who is challenging Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson for his U.S. Senate seat, will make one of his first campaign trail appearances since Hurricane Michael when he goes to campaign alongside Trump and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis in Fort Myers.

The Nov. 3 rally happens the same day Trump already plans to host a rally in Bozeman, Montana.

And indeed, Florida and Montana both host major Senate races this year, here between Scott and Nelson and in the Big Sky State between Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester and Republican challenger Matt Rosendale.

Of course, Trump also has a particular interest in the Governor’s race in Florida, where his endorsement of Ron DeSantis played a role in securing the Republican nomination for the former Congressman. Now, DeSantis faces a hard fight with Democrat Andrew Gillum.

Polls show both the Senate race and Governor election as dead heats.

With the addition of another Florida stop, that makes 11 rallies the president plans to hold between now and Election Day, so this may be the last time Trump visits the Sunshine State before the midterms wrap up.

Joe Biden riles up Orlando rally for Democrats

Former Vice President Joe Biden declared the nation’s two major parties are in a “battle for the soul of America” and left no doubt that he believes the Democrats are the ones offering character, moral leadership, trustworthiness, and Republicans inspired by President Donald Trump are “preying on hopelessness and despair.”

In front of several hundred people packing a downtown Orlando show venue, Biden laid out his attacks in sometimes thundering oratory, while also reserving much of his speech for soft and contemplative thoughts on the issues dividing the parties: health care, climate change, the future of Social Security and Medicare, foreign affairs alliances, and reactions to waves of alt-right white nationalism.

“I’m afraid that this is not your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said, adding that he had vowed to give Trump time, until the Charlottesville demonstrations. “I couldn’t remain silent anymore. I wrote an article for Atlantic magazine saying, we’re in a battle for the soul of America.”

Biden also was there at Orlando’s Church Street Cheyenne Saloon and Opera House, as he was earlier in the day in Tallahassee and Jacksonville, to boost the election campaigns of Democrats U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, and other candidates, including U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy. In doing so, he took shots at Nelson’s opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, and Gillum’s, former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

“You have a Governor of this state who would be the hand-maiden of the president of the United States,” Biden said of Scott.

Nelson and Murphy had their own chances, as did U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who already has won re-election by winning her primary against her only opponent.

Murphy showed unusual partisan fire for someone who has carefully crafted a centrist image of someone who strives to work in bipartisan efforts.

“This Republican-led Congress has tried to dismantle our health care and cut protections for people with pre-existing conditions. This Republican-led Congress refused to take up even the basic gun safety bills. This Republican Congress has ruled out women’s rights and environmental protection,” Murphy declared.

“This Republican Congress passed a tax law that gives Wall Street a boost while the middle class gets the boot,” she added. “Not to mention this Republican Congress paid for their tax scheme by blowing a hole in our debt and mortgaging our children’s futures.”

Demings has had plenty of practice for such attacks, but she turned instead to offer her own speech about her dream for America, bringing the Democratic crowd to delirium for several minutes.

 “I dream of an America where every man, every woman, every boy and every girl has the opportunity to succeed! Is that the America you dream of?” Demings bellowed, and the crowd’s response began to drown her out. “I dream of an America where a quality education is guaranteed, no matter the school, so that every child has an advantage and can live up to their God-given potential. I dream of an America where public education really matters.

“I dream of an America where if you get sick you are covered. I dream of an America where no one is allowed to discriminate against you… I dream of an America where Social Security and Medicare … (are) protected for you. I dream of America where people who are in charge believe in science, where environmental protection is not a last-minute campaign talking point,” she continued.

“I dream of an America where your safety matters, where you can go to church, and go to the mall, and go to a movie theater, enjoy a concert, go to a nightclub here in Orlando, or a nightclub anywhere in the nation, where our children can go to school and not worry about being gunned down by a madman!” she said.

Nelson spent most of his speech comparing himself with Scott, seeking to rebut Scott’s criticisms of him on issues, and taking shots at his Republican opponent.

“When I’m talking about my opponent, of course I’m talking about the mess he has made, that Andrew Gillum will have to clean up,” Nelson said.

He charged that Rick Scott cut public education while he supported it; that Nelson supports environmental protections while Scott “eviscerated the environmental agencies”; that Nelson always supported health care, while Scott “savaged it, and has the nerve to put an ad on the air right now saying that he’s in favor of keeping the protections for pre-existing conditions.

“In the seven years that it has been in the law he has tried to kill it by repealing it and continues to do that with a suit from the state of Florida in the federal courts right now to declare the pre-existing protection as unconstitutional,” Nelson charged.

Scott’s criticism that Nelson had done little to support NASA apparently struck a nerve. Nelson declared that he was the reason his friend, former astronaut and retired Marine Corps Gen. Charlie Bolden was appointed NASA administrator, and that has led to the explosion of new, commercially driven activity at Kennedy Space Center.

“The cape has come alive! And we are now doing two launches a week,” Nelson said. “It’s back! And Kennedy is in business!”

Joe Biden plans trio of Florida rallies next week

Former Vice President Joe Biden will make three stops in the Sunshine State early next week to rally for Democrats up and down the ballot.

At noon Monday, the Delaware Democrat will be in Tampa holding a get-out-the-vote rally alongside U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, Attorney General hopeful Sean Shaw and nearby Congressman Charlie Crist. That’s at the University of South Florida’s East Gym, 12301 USF Maple Drive, Tampa. Doors open at 10:30 a.m.

At 3:45 p.m. on Monday, Biden, Gillum and Nelson will headline a similar rally in Jacksonville, this time joined by local congressional candidate Nancy Soderberg. That’s at the University of North Florida Field House, 11852 University of North Florida Drive, Jacksonville. Doors open at 3:45 p.m.

Capping off the two-day circuit is a 3:45 p.m. rally on Tuesday in Orlando. Gillum, the Tallahassee Mayor, will not be present, although Biden will be joined by Nelson and Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, along with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. That’s at the Cheyenne Saloon, 128 W Church St, Orlando.

A news release announcing the appearances notes that Biden will make stops at college campuses “to encourage young people to vote early, and promote Democrats up-and-down the ballot.” It also highlights that early voting begins in Hillsborough, Duval and Pinellas counties on Monday.

“This election is a battle for the soul of America, and Florida has the chance to decide the future of this country. I am honored to stand with Senator Bill Nelson and Mayor Andrew Gillum as they work to restore our nation’s democracy,” said Vice President Biden. “The stakes couldn’t be higher in 2018. We need Floridian’s voices to be heard at the polls this fall, and that starts with early voting.”

Biden earlier this week endorsed Shaw, the Democratic Attorney General candidate. He has also offered support for candidates running in special elections during the past two years, even going as far as recording robocalls to go out ahead of February’s House District 72 race, which saw Democrat Margaret Good secure an upset victory.

It’s no secret that Biden, who served two terms under former President Barack Obama, is mulling his own presidential bid in 2020. And there’s an emerging trend of other presidential potentials making headlines in Florida this cycle. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his rounds through South Florida earlier this month. Another national Democratic figure, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, endorsed Democratic Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried earlier this week.

Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida backs Joe Lopez for Orange sheriff

The Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida has endorsed retired Florida Highway Patrol Chief Jose “Joe” Lopez for Orange County Sheriff, his campaign announced.

The endorsement was offered Lopez for his support of the Hispanic community, his campaign stated in a news release.

Although Lopez is registered as a Democrat, he is running as an independent and is not the Democrat on the Nov. 6 ballot for sheriff. That would be businessman Darryl Sheppard. They also face Orlando Police Chief John Mina, the front-runner, who also is a registered Democrat running as an independent candidate. Both Lopez and Mina changed their party status in late 2017, too late to qualify for the 2018 election as Democrats.

“Throughout the campaign, what I’m hearing is the voters want change,” Lopez stated in the release. “They want a sheriff who will build bridges and strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the community. To the voters of Orange County – I hear you loud and clear.”

This is the second recent endorsement Lopez has announced from a Hispanic group, following the Hispanic Civil Alliance of Central Florida, which announced its support last week.

Ron DeSantis finance ‘All-Stars’ to converge in Orlando

Ron DeSantis‘ campaign has the weekend planned out for financial supporters of the former congressman’s bid for the Governor’s Mansion.

Before the who’s who of the Republican Party of Florida meet in Orlando for a hype dinner on Saturday night, the Republican nominee’s finance team will be welcoming guests this afternoon at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa for the “7th Inning Stretch” All-Stars Finance Retreat this weekend.

From 6 to 7 p.m. Friday, the financiers will enjoy cocktails at the resort’s Napa Room. Afterward, during dinner at the California Grill, they’ll hear about DeSantis’ campaign strategies, including polling and messaging.

Tee times begin at 6:54 a.m. on Saturday. DeSantis backers can put their golf skills to the test at Lake Buena Vista Golf Course, which has hosted the PGA Tour. All golfers will have the opportunity to play against DeSantis.

Alternatively, All-Stars can attend Disney World with a VIP pass, allowing them to skip lines.

The crescendo of the weekend: The Republican Victory Dinner at the Grand Floridian Resort, when VIPs can grab a photo with DeSantis before wining and dining into the home stretch of the election. The evening reception is considered the largest fundraising event for the party.

Earlier this month, RPOF claimed to have raised more than $7.5 million since the Aug. 28 primary.

DeSantis has raised through his campaign account more than $1 million since the primary, leaving him with nearly $2.4 million on hand, according to the latest campaign finance reports. Friends of Ron DeSantis, the nominee’s PAC, has raised almost $3.9 million since the same date.

On the right track? Brightline could create Tampa/Orlando super region

Commuter passes will be available for high-speed rail travel between Tampa and Orlando if the route comes to fruition.

Brightline Vice President of Government Affairs Bob O’Malley said the private company would consider monthly packages similar to what it offers in South Florida, which cost $300 a month for unlimited rides.

Such a transit amenity could create a super-region by allowing businesses to easily connect between two cities once seen as inconvenient to access. Driving takes from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on traffic. A Brightline ride would take one hour, guaranteed, he said.

O’Malley, however, said the price for Orlando to Tampa passes hasn’t yet been determined.

“It sounds expensive,” O’Malley said during a presentation at Café Con Tampa Friday. “Unless you’re from the Northeast. Then it sounds cheap.”

Commuter passes are often a value for people who regularly commute between cities in which it’s too far to drive, but too close to fly. They can save on parking, gas, and wear and tear on their vehicles, and avoid the hassle of traffic and free up time to get work done or to relax.

Brightline is in a bidding process with the Florida Department of Transportation to lease the publicly owned right-of-way in the Interstate 4 corridor. The space in the median had been designated for public high-speed rail, but Gov. Rick Scott canceled that project in 2010, saying it would require too great a public subsidy.

Now Brightline is taking the financial risk. The company sold $600 million in private bonds, not backed by any government entity, in order to build its Miami to West Palm Beach route.

Brightline plans to sell another $1.75 billion in private bonds to fund the connection from West Palm Beach to Orlando.

The connection to Tampa is not set in stone, though O’Malley said the company was committed to making it happen. The project is contingent on striking a lease deal with the state. Political will, or rather the lack thereof, also could get in the way.

“We build roads without even thinking about it. But if it’s rail, it’s like a lightning rod for controversy,” O’Malley said.

The company hopes a change of leadership in Tallahassee won’t create any additional barriers, but he acknowledged it is a possibility. He said executives with Brightline have spoken with both gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis, and they’re “fairly confident” both will support the Tampa to Orlando project.

Orlando’s connection with West Palm Beach already is secured.

The company identified five possible sites for a station in Tampa. All are either in downtown, Ybor City or in between.

One of the possibilities is Ybor City’s historic Union Station. O’Malley said that site would require some additions and retrofits to meet the company’s needs, but would maintain the building’s historical significance.

“When we choose our site in the Tampa area it’s going to be very important to us to be sensitive to the surrounding communities,” O’Malley said. “You have to make sure [the station] fits well or the community is not going to be supportive of it.”

The company doesn’t have any plans to offer a direct connection to South Florida without going first through Orlando. Under the company’s current plan, the Brightline Orlando station would be at Orlando International Airport. The company is already renting space there.

O’Malley said the company is considering another stop somewhere in the Orlando area, but he wouldn’t say where.

If the Tampa connection becomes a reality, O’Malley said the company may someday add a stop in Lakeland, but it would likely be a secondary stop that didn’t have the same level of frequency as Tampa and Orlando. Trains would run 16 times a day between the two main stations.

The company recently announced plans to install a route between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. O’Malley said other connections are being considered between Atlanta and Charlotte and some routes into Washington, D.C.

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