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Rick Scott’s Spanish commercial pushes his Puerto Rico cred

Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s U.S. Senate campaign is launching a new Spanish-language commercial touting his efforts on behalf of Puerto Rico and providing praise for him from Puerto Rican Floridians.

The 30-second spot,  “Presente,” is running on Spanish TV stations in Tampa and Orlando as part of what the campaign describes as a “major ad purchase,” according to a news release.

Translated to English, the praise Scott receives includes Jeannie Calderin stating, “I’m supporting Gov. Rick Scott because the truth is that when Puerto Ricans needed the help, he was the first to be there…. Rick Scott has been there. He has been present. He has helped. And what he said he would do, he has done.”

Kelvin Valle says, translated to English, “As a veteran, I’m very grateful to Rick Scott. He has created jobs and he’s put people back into the labor force, and that’s why I support him…. Rick Scott will fight for us in the Senate.”

Their comments come with interspersed video shots of them speaking and Scott appearing at various events with Florida’s Puerto Rican community, including the Puerto Rican parade in Orlando two weeks ago, and of various factory and distribution center scenes.

Scott faces Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson this year.

Republican super PAC changes approach ahead of November

What’s old is new for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC dedicated to maintaining the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

During a conference call with media ahead of the 2018 midterms, CLF emphasized its paradigm shift in campaign strategy; rather than focus almost exclusively on big TV buys, the group is investing heavily in groundwork in the field.

The move is evident in Florida, where two CLF field offices operate in districts held by Republican congressmen Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo, both of whom are considered vulnerable by pundits and pollsters alike.

CLF’s field strategy has been in play since February 2017, but the group has continued to demonstrate its dedication to the old-fashioned, localized approach — one that it hopes will work for the other 29 districts across the nation where Republican incumbents face tough Democratic challenges.

“This micro-targeted focus on ground game will be a key component to maintaining the Republican majority in 2018,” said CLF Executive Director Corry Bliss.

The field advocacy is data-driven, backed by surveys of local electorates. In each district, the PAC conducted issue surveys and developed messages accordingly. Give or take, the group targets between 50,000 and 80,000 voters per district. High school- and college-aged volunteers make up the typical demographic for CLF field workers who are making phone calls and knocking on doors.

In CD 18, held by Mast, organizers are messaging on veterans’ issues, highlighting Mast’s opening of an office in the local VA, along with his work on Lake Okeechobee.

In Curbelo’s South Florida district, CD 26, the group’s strategy is different.  

“For Curbelo, our biggest focus is talking about his work on immigration, protecting the Everglades …  as well as the Keys and national marine sanctuaries,” CLF Communications Director Courtney Alexander told Florida Politics.

The messaging is part of a three-pronged strategy CLF has adopted: ensuring the middle class is aware of Republican-backed tax cuts and their anticipated benefits, localizing each election, and reminding voters that if Democrats usurp the majority, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, someone the group describes as divisive, would become Speaker.

In close races in the Sunshine State, the ‘localizing’ tool appears to be most apparent. Though, notably omitted is discussion of gun issues, which could make or break Mast and Curbelo in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre at  Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Both candidates have separately messaged on gun control, with Mast going as far as penning a high profile op-ed supporting an assault-weapons ban.

When asked if CLF planned to incorporate gun control in its messaging on behalf of the two congressmen, Alexander maintained the group’s work would focus on their congressional achievements.

“Both Congressman Mast and Congressman Curbelo are strong incumbents that run good campaigns and are doing a really good job — a really good job representing their constituents,” Alexander said. “Our job at CLF is to promote the policies that they’re doing, or what they’re accomplishing on behalf of their constituents and the work that they do on local issues.”  

And while CLF is investing heavily in groundwork, it’s not planning to skimp on television spending — at least not to a noticeable degree.

Ahead of the midterms, CLF set out to raise and spend $100 million. According to the group, it’s on pace to break that goal and has surpassed previous fundraising records. Florida Politics reported in April that Mast and Curbelo are reaping the benefits of that fundraising, with early ad buys reaching $1.67 million for Curbelo in Miami-Dade airwaves, and a bit of digital spending coming Mast’s way. CLF has dedicated $10 million — an unprecedented amount for the group — on digital ads in targeted districts across the nation.

CLF did not have details ready for other congressional races, notably CD 7 held by Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy. She will face a potentially tough battle against the Republican nominee, from a bench that includes Scott Sturgill, state Rep. Mike Miller, Vennia Francois, and Patrick Weingart.

Alexander, however, hinted that Murphy will be affronted with opposition research from the super PAC.

“There is oppo on everybody, and there is certainly oppo on Stephanie Murphy,” Alexander said.

Darren Soto versus Alan Grayson showdown set

The Democratic primary showdown between U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and his predecessor Alan Grayson officially became a two-man battle Friday afternoon as ballot qualifying closed for Florida’s 7th Congressional District.

The winner will be met by Republican candidate Wayne Liebnitzky, who drew no Republican primary challengers between him and the November general election.

Soto, completing his first term representing CD 9, covering Osceola County, south Orange County, and eastern Polk County, is an Orlando lawyer and former Florida state representative and state senator.

Grayson, who served CD 9 for two terms and CD 10 for one term, is an Orlando lawyer who took the past couple years off from politics after losing the Democratic primary for Florida’s U.S. Senate race in 2016.

Their battle for the August 28 Democratic primary is expected to be a bruising, marquee contest.

Liebnitzky, a St. Cloud businessman, lost the 2016 general election to Soto.

He is the only candidate of the three who qualified for the ballot this time by petition, turning in more than 5,000 certified signatures. Soto and Grayson sent in $10,440 checks.

Another Republican had filed, but Sean Buchan stepped out of the race months ago without formally withdrawing and did not qualify for the ballot.

Florida Chamber of Commerce endorses Adam Putnam for governor

The Florida Chamber of Commerce on Thursday endorsed Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam to be the state’s next governor.

Putnam joined Chamber leaders Thursday morning at a press conference at the Rosen Plaza Hotel in Orlando, billed as a “special announcement.” The news came amidst a Chamber conference on poverty and prosperity. 

“I am proud to have the support of the Florida Chamber of Commerce,” Putnam said. “The Florida Chamber has a long and proven history of supporting businesses across the state, and I look forward to working alongside the Florida Chamber to ensure Florida continues to build on its legacy as the most business-friendly state in the nation.

Putnam promised “as governor” to focus on vocational, career and technical education in middle and high schools to better prepare students for the workforce.

“Together, we will continue to strengthen our workforce and provide opportunities for our young people to ensure Florida remains as the best place to do businesses,” Putnam said.

Among those with Putnam were former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, chair of the Florida Chamber Political Council; Tracy Duda Chapman, chair of the Florida Chamber Board of Directors; and Mark Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

From Wilson: “Adam Putnam is the leader Florida needs to keep Florida’s momentum going. Adam Putnam knows Florida best, and I know without a doubt he believes in free enterprise and economic opportunity for every single Floridian.”

Putnam faces U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in the Republican primary fight, with Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran waiting in the wings to possibly enter the fray.

The leading Democrats are former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Winter Park businessman Chris King.

Last week, the Florida Chamber endorsed Gov. Rick Scott in his Republican bid for the U.S. Senate.

Rick Scott pledges to fix ‘unfair’ taxes for Puerto Rico

With the flood of Puerto Rico migrants to Florida and an effort by that commonwealth’s governor to organize them to support the island, Florida Gov. Rick Scott pledged in Orlando Thursday that if elected to the U.S. Senate he’d seek to change ‘unfair’ tax measures for the island.

“I’m for reduced taxes, but we’ve got to be fair,” Scott said.

The statement is in part a criticism of details of the recently approved federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that President Donald Trump pushed through Congress in December, and which Scott supported then and said he still supports. “I’m glad they passed the tax reductions,” he said.

That law, though, includes tax measures that hit Puerto Rico hard, notably with a 12.5 percent intellectual properties excise tax on profits derived from patents and trademarks held by Puerto Rican companies, seen as a sharp blow particularly to the fledgling health and pharmaceutical industry that has been blooming there.

Scott’s opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, already was a strong critic of the intellectual property tax, and of another measure that denied Puerto Rico island residents from being able to use a new $2,000 child tax credit. Nelson called the tax bill “a knife in the neck” of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has been an angry critic of that and other measures in the bill and earlier this week he came to Orlando to announce his support for a private effort to organize Puerto Rico migrants stateside to register and vote for federal candidates in Florida and elsewhere that supported the Puerto Rico tax measures.

Scott, who just returned from a trip to Puerto Rico while Rossello was in Florida, said he has spoken with the Puerto Rican governor about the tax.

“We shouldn’t be tasking things between states or territories, then they get more difficult for one part of the country to do better than the other one,” Scott said.

At a campaign stop in Orlando, Scott was specifically asked if he would seek to change those measures if he were elected.

“Oh yeah,” he said.

 

Debbie Mayfield urges Rick Scott to ‘protect’ state from Brightline bond questions

Armed with newly-raised congressional skepticism about the legitimacy of a financing method used by the company, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield on Wednesday urged Gov. Rick Scott to pull Florida from the financing deal backing Brightline’s proposed private passenger railroad along the east coast.

Scott’s office replied that it would review it.

At issue is $1.75 billion in federal, tax-exempt private activity bonds [PABs] that were approved last year for construction of the rail line for the privately owned and operated, higher-speed, passenger train railroad being developed by Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida.

Brightline has promised high-speed, private passenger rail service connecting Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando, pledging to do so with private money. Service already has begun between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, and is expected this year to connect to Miami, with Orlando still a few years away.

Opposition has centered largely within the ride-over counties of Florida’s Treasure and Space coasts, between the planned stops in West Palm Beach and Orlando. They have raised strong objections to potential safety and disruption issues the trains may pose.

Yet now the company’s decision to seek and use federally-tax exempt PABs to raise capital for the project has led critics, notably now Mayfield, a Republican from Melbourne, to seize on this financing option as a potential critical weakness in the project.

Last week a congressional hearing raised questions about whether Brightline should have been approved for the bonds. Following up this week, Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wrote U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao raising more questions about the deal.

Brightline has noted that it followed all federal rules and received the approval through appropriate processes, and that courts that reviewed the financing have agreed.

On Wednesday Mayfield sought to bring those questions to Scott’s attention and caution him that he should do something about protecting Florida’s reputation, and specifically that of the Florida Development Finance Corporation, which also approved Brightline’s PAB financing plan, and through which the bonds would be sold.

“In light of the cloud of uncertainty that has been placed on the legitimacy of the allocation of PABs to AAF, there must be an effort to protect the FDFC from a potentially embarrassing situation that could also jeopardize the state of Florida’s reputation,” Mayfield wrote.

Brightline already has spent $600 million to upgrade railroad tracks in South Florida, between West Palm Beach and  Miami. The longer, higher-speed, more expensive phase involves upgrading tracks and laying new tracks between West Palm Beach and Orlando. And that’s next.

Mayfield called for Scott to not let Florida participate in financing that deal, at least for the time being.

“As I previously indicated, I respectfully request that you take action and direct the FDFC to not act as a conduit for AAF, its affiliate Brightline North Segment Borrower LLC, or any other affiliate of AAF, to sell $1.15 billion in PABs while there is an active discussion and analysis taking place at the federal level for the next 90 days.”

A response from Scott’s office declared, “We will review it.”

Last week at a hearing of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Operations, largely under questions from Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast of Palm City and Bill Posey of Rockledge, federal officials revealed they had approved the bonds under a very broad interpretation of the law. That led subcommittee Chairman U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, to suggest that what happened appeared to him to be outside what Congress intended when it authorized the financing mechanism.

Rubio wrote Chao Tuesday wanting to know any precedents that might compare with Brightline’s case.

Marco Rubio joins calls questioning federal financing behind Brightline

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday joined his congressional colleagues U.S. Republican Reps. Brian Mast and Bill Posey in questioning whether All Aboard Florida should have received $1.75 billion in federally authorized, tax-exempt private activity bonds to build its private, higher-speed railroad from South Florida to Orlando.

Mast, of Palm City, and Posey, of Rockledge, led a congressional challenge of the appropriateness of the bonds during a hearing last Thursday of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Government Operations.

In a letter Tuesday to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Rubio raised the same question Mast and Posey posed, plus a couple more.

“AAF’s project has raised questions regarding whether federal financing was appropriately used. I urge the Department of Transportation to provide clarity,” Rubio wrote.

At issue is the interpretation used by the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine whether the privately owned and operated Brightline railroad being planned from West Palm Beach to Orlando would qualify under federal laws that restrict private activity bonds’ usage.

The federal tax-exemption on bonds is explicitly available in the law to either passenger trains that can go at least 150 mph, or to surface transportation projects that have previously received federal transportation funding.

The Brightline train, as envisioned, could go as fast as 110 mph between West Palm and Cocoa, and could top out at about 120 between Cocoa and Orlando. The current trek from West Palm to Fort Lauderdale has a maximum speed of 79 mph. The next leg, to Miami, opening later this year, also has a maximum speed of 79 mph.

At the hearing last week, a U.S. DoT official maintained that Brightline qualified for $1.75 billion of tax-exempt bonds as a surface transportation project that had previously received funding, up to $9 million for upgraded road crossings. Posey, Mast and other members of Congress at that hearing criticized that interpretation, saying they understood “surface transportation” to be defined as roads and highways, not railroads. They also argued that the road crossings that had received the federal funding were not owned by Brightline and thus shouldn’t have been considered a part of the Brightline project.

Brightline President Patrick Goddard testified that his company followed all the U.S. DoT rules, and that the approval of private activity bonds has been successfully defended in court, more than once.

Though Rubio appeared unconvinced in his letter Tuesday.

“It is not clear that Brightline’s proposal should have qualified for these funds,” he wrote.

He wanted to know three things:

– “Is DOT’s interpretation that any surface transportation project that utilizes Title 23 funds, no matter the dollar amount, would qualify for funding through private activity bonds?”

– Is there precedent for other rail projects that did not meet the 150 mph threshold receiving funding?

– Has DOT previously denied rail projects based on the 150 mph threshold not being met?

Job growth tops 1.5 million in his tenure, Rick Scott says

Florida added 12,500 new public sector jobs in March pushing the jobs growth tally over 1.5 million during his tenure, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday in Orlando.

The latest numbers from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity show the state’s unemployment rate holding at 3.9 percent, with the professional and business services sector leading the way in the 167,000 new private jobs created in the past 12 months.

“Now we’ve passed 1.5 million jobs in seven years and three months, which is exciting to me because as you know it’s what I ran on back in 2010, 700,000 jobs in seven years, and now we’ve way more than doubled that,” Scott, who recently announced his bid for the U.S. Senate, said at VOXX International, an automotive electronics and audio components manufacturing company in Orlando.

The latest numbers show 38,100 new jobs in the professional and business services sector, 32,300 in leisure and hospitality, 31,600 in construction, 21,200 in education and health services, and 15,600 in financial services over the past year.

The office also cited an annual job growth rate of 2.3 percent in Florida, compared with 1.8 percent nationally, and the 3.9 percent unemployment rate represents a decline of 6.9 percentage points since December 2010, faster than the 5.2 percentage points decline seen nationally.

Mikaela Nix fundraiser to feature Jennifer Carroll, Jason Brodeur, Chris Dorworth

Former Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, state Rep. Jason Brodeur, former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, and Trump 2020 Club founder Randy Ross are helping host a Republican Mikaela Nix‘s campaign in Florida House District 47.

Carroll, Brodeur, Dorworth, and Ross are among host committee members for an event Mikaela has scheduled for April 25 at The Acre Orlando in College Park. Seminole County Commissioner Bob Dallari also is a member of the host committee.

Mikaela, of College Park, is in a Republican primary battle with Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park for the nomination to run in HD 47, which likely will be an open seat because Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park is running for Congress. Anna Eskamani is running for the Democrats in the district, which covers north-central Orange County.

Philip Levine

Philip Levine stakes I-4 presence with Central Florida coordinator

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine has staked his presence in the I-4 corridor with the announced hiring Wednesday of Jonathan Santiago as his Central Florida regional coordinator.

Santiago has worked as a Central Florida regional organizer on the last two statewide operations for Hillary For America’s 2016 Florida team and the Crist for Governor campaign in 2014.

“Jonathan is a veteran of Central Florida politics whose organizing and grassroots knowledge will enforce the campaign’s mission to reach voters in every community across the state,” Levine’s Campaign Manager Matthew Van Name stated in a news release. “We’re excited to expand our team with dynamic young talent that will allow the campaign to build momentum and continue its strategy of engaging with voters in all of Florida’s 67 counties.”

The move by Levine, who is based in Miami, comes as Democratic rivals Chris King and Gwen Graham established their campaign headquarters in Orlando, the critical Democratic fulcrum in the always-critical I-4 Corridor. Fourth Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum also staked his own presence Tuesday night with a downtown rally featuring a rousing introduction from state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, the Orlando Democrat who chairs the state Legislative Progressive Caucus.

“I am fired up and ready to get to work to elect Mayor Philip Levine as our next Democratic governor of Florida because his record shows someone who will fight for all communities, including mine,” Santiago stated in the release.  “We saw firsthand last year how Mayor Levine stepped in to help mobilize relief efforts for Puerto Ricans and took on Donald Trump when his administration failed to act swiftly. There is no doubt that the people are ready for change in the Governor’s mansion in 2018 and I am ready to put in the elbow grease and work hard to elect someone who will govern in a way that truly reflects the values of our diverse communities across our state.”

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