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Thanksgiving place setting

What Florida’s political elite should be thankful for

From the soup kitchens of Tallahassee to the conch houses of Key West, from the toniest mansions in Coral Gables to the double wides in Dixie County, people from all walks of life will sit down to celebrate the most American of holidays: Thanksgiving.

“Americans traditionally recognize the ‘first’ Thanksgiving as having taken place at Plymouth colony in the autumn of 1621,” according to, the website of George Washington’s Virginia estate. “The 1621 thanksgiving celebration, however, did not become an annual event.”

More than a century later, “Washington issued a proclamation on Oct. 3, 1789, designating Thursday, Nov. 26 as a national day of thanks,” it says. “In his proclamation, Washington declared that the necessity for such a day sprung from the Almighty’s care of Americans.”

But “the 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation … did not establish a permanent federal holiday,” the site adds. “It was not until the Civil War of the 1860s that President (Abraham) Lincoln initiated a regular observance of Thanksgiving in the United States.”

Thus we come to the tradition of eating and giving thanks, including by the state’s elected officials (and yes, by candidates and players in The Process).

Once God, country, family, and good fortune are given their due, here’s what some of the state’s most prominent leaders should be grateful for:

Marco Rubio – For the proverbial “second chance.” He’s finally becoming the influential U.S. Senator he was supposed to be.

Bill Nelson – For the wave of opinion coming that may enable the Democrat to hold off the inevitable challenge to his seat from self-funding, always-on-message Gov. Rick Scott.

Rick Scott For Nelson, who, despite 17 years in the U.S. Senate, is not well known enough to about half of Florida’s voters, according to a recent poll. No wonder Bill keeps inundating us with press releases of all the concerned letters he writes.

Adam Putnam – For the anonymous “POLITICO 6” who have torpedoed Jack Latvala’s gubernatorial campaign, giving the Bartow Republican an even wider lane to the Governor’s Mansion in 2018.

Jimmy Patronis For Matt Gaetz muscling him out of a state Senate race a few years back. Now he’s the appointed state Chief Financial Officer, with the full faith and credit of the Rick Scott political machine behind him to get elected to a full term in 2018.

Joe Negron For having just one session left as Senate President. It was a long, bruising road to the presidency, with an extended and nasty battle with Latvala. And since he won the gavel, relations with the House have bottomed out, while several Senators have faced debilitating scandals. Has it really been worth it?

Pam Bondi – For state Sen. Tom Lee’s proposed constitutional amendment banning greyhound racing. The term-limited Attorney General regularly brings shelter dogs to Cabinet meetings to get them adopted. Will she make this issue her own as one springboard to her post-2018 ambitions?

Richard Corcoran – For the seemingly hapless Senate, which allows him to ally with Scott when needed to advance his priorities. A post-Session declaration of his own candidacy for Governor is a virtual lock. 

Jack Latvala  For all the donors who gave to his campaign for Governor before the reports of claims of sexual harassment against him came out. No matter how the case against him plays out, he’ll have millions of dollars to make others miserable once he leaves the Legislature.

Buddy Dyer For no term limits as Orlando mayor. How about just chucking the election pretense? Mayor-for-Life, anyone?

Bob Buckhorn For … , well, the Tampa mayor says he’s too busy hunting a serial killer right now to be thankful. We bet he will be thankful once that evildoer is caught.

Brian Ballard For the gift that keeps on giving: His relationship with President Donald Trump. We’d wager he’s … hold on a second, he’s signing another client, we’ll get back to you.

Vivian Myrtetus – For one million hours of volunteer service in the state after Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The CEO of Volunteer Florida has good reason to be proud, and we should be proud of our fellow Floridians who helped neighbors in need.

State seeks end to satellite TV tax fight

Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reject a challenge to the constitutionality of a state law that sets different tax rates for satellite and cable-television services.

Bondi’s office, representing the Florida Department of Revenue, filed a brief last week arguing that the Supreme Court should not take up the challenge filed by Dish Network.

The satellite TV industry has long argued that a law setting a lower state tax rate for cable services discriminates against satellite companies and violates what is known as the “dormant” Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

But in the brief last week, attorneys for the state argued that a federal telecommunications law prevents local governments from taxing satellite services. As a result, the brief said, the state set a higher tax rate for satellite services and shares part of the money with local governments. Meanwhile, local governments can tax cable services.

“If a state taxes communications services at the state and local levels, as Florida does, the only way to ensure that the state receives the same revenue from satellite as other communications services while ensuring that local governments may also receive revenue is to tax satellite at a higher rate and share the revenue with local governments,” the 49-page brief said.

The case has high stakes for the state, along with the cable and satellite industries. A 2015 ruling in favor of the satellite industry by the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal raised the possibility of Florida having to pay refunds to satellite companies.

The Florida Supreme Court, however, overturned the 1st District Court of Appeal ruling in April and sided with the Department of Revenue. That prompted Dish Network to take the dispute to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state’s communications-services tax is s 4.92 percent on the sale of cable services and 9.07 percent on the sale of satellite-TV services. Local governments also can impose communications-services taxes on cable, with rates varying.

Dish Network contends the different state tax rates on satellite and cable are a form of protectionism that violates the “dormant” Commerce Clause, which bars states from discriminating against interstate commerce.

“In particular, it forbids a state from taxing or regulating differently on the basis of where a good is produced or a service is performed,” Dish Network said in a September petition posted on the SCOTUSblog website, which closely tracks the U.S. Supreme Court. “That’s exactly what the unequal Florida tax does. It puts a heavier duty on pay-TV programming that is assembled and delivered without using massive infrastructure within the state.”

But in the brief filed last week, Bondi’s office said the combination of state and local taxes can lead to cable services being taxed at a higher rate than satellite services.

“Because local governments set their own local CST (communications-services tax) rates, the statewide satellite CST cannot perfectly match the combined CST rates for other communications services,” the brief said. “But in all nine years examined, the average satellite subscriber paid a lower CST rate than the average cable subscriber, giving satellite a tax advantage every year.”

It is unclear when the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to take up the case.

(Disclosure: The News Service of Florida has a partnership with Florida Internet & Television, a cable-industry group, for a periodic news program about state government and politics.)

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Ashley Moody, meet Ross Spano: Notes from Reagan Day BBQ

When the Hillsborough County Republican Party began promoting its Reagan Day BBQ weeks ago, attendees were promised appearances by Adam Putnam, Richard Corcoran and Jack Latvala.

Instead, they got Baxter Troutman and Bob White.

Many statewide and Hillsborough County-based Republicans were running in 2018 who put in some time at the cattle-call-style event on Sunday afternoon, held in the cavernous 81 Bay Brewing Company brewery on South Gandy in Tampa.

Although the event was scheduled from 1-3 p.m., the candidates weren’t allowed to speak until halftime of the Miami Dolphins-Tampa Bay Bucs game broadcast on most of the televisions at the brewery, and were only given a few minutes to introduce themselves.

Troutman is the Winter Haven-based former state representative running for the GOP nomination for Agriculture Commissioner, along with Denise Grimsley and North Fort Myers state Rep. Matt Caldwell, who also attended the event.

White, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida, also is running for governor, with an emphasis on campaign finance and ethics reform.

“We have a swamp in Tallahassee that we have got to drain,” he said. “It is every bit as dark … as the swamp in Washington, D.C., and I’m the only candidate for governor that is committed to that issue.”

The event was noteworthy as being the first time that Ashley Moody and Ross Spano have shared the same space since Spano announced last week that he would run for attorney general, joining Moody, Jacksonville state Rep. Jay Fant and Pensacola state Rep. Frank White. Current GOP Attorney General Pam Bondi is term-limited next year.

Moody and Spano are both Hillsborough County Republicans who will be vying for the same voters over the course of the next 10 months.

Spano was up first, beginning by reciting an anecdote when he was in the 8th grade and confronted a big kid who was bullying a smaller child.

“I promptly got my tail kicked! But guess what? I never saw that bully bullying another child,” Spano shouted (the acoustics were challenging to say the least).

“I’m going to fight to make sure the innocent people are protected. That’s my passion. It’s in my gut. It’s what I do,” he continued citing his legislative work on combating human trafficking.

Noting his current position as chair of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Spano said that he was the “only one in the race” to have criminal justice legislative experience.

“You can look at my record and know where I stand,” Spano continued, adding that he will fight for the public like no other attorney general in state history.

Moody talked up her experience in the courtroom.

“Not only will I bring our conservative principles and priorities to the office in Tallahassee, but I can start this job on day one,” she said. “I’ve been a judge. I’ve been a federal prosecutor. I’ve been a lawyer. You want to talk about true experience? I’ve been in the courts on both sides of the bench.”

Moody said the pursuit of the office was a job interview, and the voters are her boss. “Hold me accountable, because I’m accountable to you.”

Tampa House Republicans Jackie Toledo and Jamie Grant also addressed the crowd.

Toledo told the audience she was “super excited” about her legislation (HB 41) on pregnancy centers that promote childbirth, while Grant warned the crowd that “we’ve got a very difficult cycle in front of us” regarding the 2018 election season.

Two more sheriffs back Ashley Moody for Attorney General

Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody picked up endorsements from two more county sheriffs Friday and now has the support of the top cops in a third of Florida counties.

Bradford County Sheriff Gordon Smith and Washington County Sheriff Kevin Crews added their names to a list that already includes a score of other sheriffs, including those from BayBrevardClay, Hernando, Indian River, Lake, PascoPinellas, Sarasota, Sumter, Walton and other counties.

“When it comes to the security of our state, we don’t need a politician.  We need a trusted, conservative leader who has spent a lifetime in service to the law.  That is why I support and endorse former prosecutor and Circuit Court Judge Ashley Moody for Attorney General. She has the drive, commitment, and most importantly, the experience needed to keep our state safe,” Smith said.

Crews also highlighted Moody’s experience, adding that Moody is the only candidate in the field that is a “qualified, seasoned, and effective conservative.”

“Her life experience not only as a federal prosecutor and judge, but as the wife of a federal law enforcement officer and a mother, gives her a unique perspective that combines compassion and strength. Ashley Moody is the right person at the right time for Florida. I wholeheartedly support her candidacy and am proud to endorse her to be Florida’s next Attorney General,” he said.

Moody was grateful for the endorsements of both sheriffs, and lauded Smith for his decades-long career in law enforcement and Crews for his “long history of combating drug offenders that profit off the pain of our communities.”

Moody is leading in endorsements among an expanding primary field to take over for termed-out Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Moody and Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant were the only two GOP candidates in the mix for a few months before Pensacola Rep. Frank White threw his name into the hat last month. On Thursday, Hillsborough County Rep. Ross Spano made it a four-way primary.

Moody had a similar lead in the money race before White made a splash in his first-month report, released earlier this week.

Bolstered by $1.5 million of his own money, White had $1.73 million on hand in his campaign account to begin November, putting him ahead of Moody, who through the same date had about $920,000 in her campaign account and another $207,000 in her committee, Friends of Ashley Moody.

Fant had about $910,000 on hand to start November, including $750,000 in loans, while Spano joined the race with about $44,000 on hand from his House re-election campaign.

Ross Spano enters race for Attorney General

Hillsborough County Republican Ross Spano announced plans Thursday to run for Attorney General, becoming the third member of the House and the fourth Republican seeking to replace term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi next year.

Spano, the chairman of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee is joining a Republican field with Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville, Rep. Frank White of Pensacola and Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge.

“If I felt like the right person was in the race to be the attorney general of the state of Florida, you can trust me, I wouldn’t be running,” Spano said. “I’m the only person among the three that are in the race right now that has these following things: the legislative experience; the conservative values; and the actual courtroom experience. I’ve been practicing law for 19 years. I’ve been in the courtroom for that time.”

Spano, who was first elected to the House in 2012 and has been ruminating with his wife on the statewide contest for about eight months, also described a long-held belief in defending victims of inequality or injustice.

Spano, who practices in the areas of estate planning, trusts, business law and corporate formation, appeared undeterred that he is entering a contest in which Fant, White and Moody have a head start in amassing cash and in lining up endorsements.

All three have raised more than $1 million through their campaign accounts and affiliated political committees. White’s money includes $1.5 million that he contributed to his campaign. Fant has put $750,000 of his own money into his campaign.

Moody, from Spano’s backyard, has the backing of Bondi.

Spano, who lives in Dover and is a father of four, said he will start to roll out endorsements in the next few weeks.

As for catching up financially, he has a way to go.

His House re-election account raised $13,000 in October, and he began November with nearly $44,000 on hand.

“I’ve been through this process before, not on a statewide basis, but even in our House race we’ve had to spend a half-million dollars,” Spano said.

He went through $242,000 when first elected, $234,000 in 2014 and $372,000 for his 2016 re-election.

A new political committee, known as Liberty and Justice for All, also could help boost his candidacy financially.

Ryan Torrens, an attorney from Hillsborough County, is the only Democrat to have opened a campaign account for the race. News reports in recent weeks also have raised the possibility that Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat, could run for the Cabinet post.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Pam Bondi, state attorneys general call for more legal accountability in opioid crisis

Pam Bondi has joined more than 40 state attorneys general Wednesday on a letter to congressional leaders urging them to repeal a 2016 law to restore the ability of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to hold drug manufacturers and distributors of opioids more accountable.

“The opioid crisis is affecting families across our country and we need every tool available to combat this epidemic and save lives,” Florida’s attorney general said in a press release. “To ensure the Drug Enforcement Administration is able to stop the oversupply of dangerous prescription opioids, Congress must repeal the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016.”

Public officials reacted with alacrity to the 2016 measure following a Washington Post/60 Minutes report in October saying a handful of members of Congress, allied with the nation’s major drug distributors, prevailed upon the DEA and the Justice Department to agree to a more industry-friendly law, which undermined efforts to stanch the flow of pain pills.

More than two million Americans are addicted to prescription or illicit opioid. Since 2000, more than 300,000 have died from overdoses involving opioids.

According to the National Association of Attorneys General policy letter that Bondi has signed onto, the 2016 law effectively strips the DEA’s ability to issue an immediate suspension against a drug manufacturer or distributor whose unlawful conduct poses an immediate danger to public health or safety.

Florida joined a bipartisan coalition of 41 state attorneys general who recently sent subpoenas and demanded additional information about potentially unlawful practices in the distribution, marketing, and sale of opioids.

A bill from Missouri Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill seeks to repeal the Ensuring Patient Access and Effect Drug Enforcement Act of 2016. She will lead a roundtable discussion on the issue during a meeting of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee later this month.

Co-sponsors of the 2016 bill were U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Palm Harbor GOP Rep. Gus Bilirakis. Bilirakis has been attacked by one of his Democratic 2018 opponents for his sponsorship of the bill. He responded in an op-ed found here.

Tom Lee defends dog racing ban; Pam Bondi noncommittal

State Sen. Tom Lee fired off a tweetstorm Wednesday in support of his proposed constitutional amendment to ban greyhound racing in Florida.

Lee—a Thonotosassa Republican, previous Senate president and current candidate for Chief Financial Officer—called dog racing “cruel and inhumane,” and added the “greyhound industry opposes any real reform.” (His tweets are at bottom.)

He filed the proposal as a member of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), which convenes every 20 years to review and propose changes to the state’s governing document.

Meantime, Attorney General Pam Bondi—a Tampa Republican who regularly brings shelter dogs to state Cabinet meetings to get them adopted—declined to say whether she would support the amendment. Bondi also sits on the 37-member CRC.

“As a member of the commission, I look forward to reviewing the more than one hundred proposals that have been filed,” Bondi said in a one-sentence statement to Florida Politics.

Lee’s amendment would phase out live racing over three years, mandating a one-third reduction in race days in 2019-20 and a two-thirds reduction in 2020-21.

“All dog racing in connection with any wager for money or any other thing of value is prohibited on and after July 1, 2021,” the proposal says.

Lawmakers have long failed to pass legislation that would remove the requirement that tracks offer live racing to offer other kinds of gambling, known as “decoupling.”

Efforts to ban the use of steroids in dogs also have died; in fact, a draft bill circulating this month would ensure that trainers could give dogs steroids and allow trace amounts of cocaine in their system.  The 2018 Legislative Session begins in January.

Jack Cory, spokesman for the Florida Greyhound Association, has said Lee’s proposal “is bad for Florida and it is bad for the greyhounds.”

“It would cost over 3,000 Florida jobs, put over 8,000 beautiful greyhounds at risk and create 19 mini-casinos throughout Florida,” Cory said, referring to other gambling, such as cards, that would continue at pari-mutuel facilities.

Lee’s tweets are below:

Official Florida House photo

Frank White makes financial splash in Cabinet race

Bolstered by $1.5 million of his own money, state Rep. Frank White in less than a month has made it a three-way race – in terms of money – among the Republicans seeking to replace Attorney General Pam Bondi next year.

Meanwhile, in the race to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, two lawmakers outpaced their rivals in October fundraising.

And state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who is running for a full term after being appointed to the Cabinet post in June, picked up $431,100 in October for his political committee.

With the 2018 general election a year away, state candidates and political committees faced a Monday deadline for filing reports showing finance activity through October.

White, a Pensacola Republican first elected to the House in 2016, posted $1.65 million in contributions in October, with $1.5 million of that coming from the candidate himself.

White had $1.73 million on hand in his campaign account to begin November in a GOP primary contest that also includes Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville and Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge.

Besides his personal contributions, White picked up $51,000 from the Sansing family and their auto dealerships via 17 separate $3,000 contributions. White is chief financial officer and general counsel for the Sansing Dealer Group, a group of dealerships in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

The influx of cash put White’s fundraising total ahead of the $1.2 million collected the past five months by Moody for her campaign account and the political committee Friends of Ashley Moody.

Moody, who received $10,112 in October from the Republican Party of Florida through in-kind donations of campaign staffing, posted $105,490 in contributions last month for her campaign account and $43,000 for the political committee.

Fant, meanwhile, had the weakest fundraising month but has totaled just under $1.2 million for his personal account and an associated political committee known as Pledge This Day.

Fant’s war chest includes $750,000 of his own money that he put up in September.

Fant’s political committee didn’t bring in any money in October, while he picked up $12,358 for his personal campaign account.

Democratic candidate Ryan Torrens, an attorney from Hillsborough County, raised $9,934 in October. Since entering the contest on May 22, Torrens had raised a total of $49,106 while spending $42,401, as of Oct. 31.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Ahead of possible AG run, Ross Spano steps up fundraising

Ross Spano may or may not be soon announcing a candidacy for Attorney General, but he was certainly in a more aggressive fundraising mood last month, collecting $13,000 for his campaign coffers. That’s the most he’s raised since January.

The Dover Republican is laying low since it was reported that he is considering joining fellow Hillsborough County Republican Ashley Moody, Jacksonville state Rep. Jay Fant and Pensacola state Rep. Frank White in the contest to succeed Pam Bondi.

Seven of the 17 contributions he received in October in his race for re-election come from political committees, while the rest of his contributors show an interesting dichotomy – with major backing from health care and/or pharmaceutical industries, as well as the alcohol and tobacco industries.

Making the donor roll with $1,000 checks were Florida Blue, pharmaceutical companies Novartis and Pfizer, R. J. Reynolds parent company RAI Services, and alcohol distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits.

Spending cam it at just $450 – $350 for accounting and $100 to

Spano’s House District 59 seat was one that Florida Democrats thought they had a chance of winning in 2016, but Spano easily beat back a challenge from Democrat Rena Frazier, winning 54 to 46 percent.

Spano now has $51,000 in his campaign account, which he could use for a statewide bid. That would put him far behind Moody and Fant in fundraising.

Moody has through her regular campaign and PAC raised more than a million dollars, and has $1.1 million on hand between her campaign account and political committee.

Fant is close behind, though he has yet to file his October finance report, and much of his total comes from a $750,000 loan to his own campaign.

White has likewise has yet to file October numbers; he carried $76,000 over from his House re-election before he moved to the Attorney General partway through last month.

Spano would also be behind in securing endorsements, especially since he hails from the same area as Moody, who announced last week that she now has 20 endorsements from current Florida sheriffs, including most in the Tampa Bay region.

On the same day, White added his third such endorsement during his brief tenure in the race.


Ashley Moody, Frank White add sheriff endorsements in AG arms race

Republican attorney Ashley Moody notched her 20th endorsement from a sitting county sheriff Wednesday, while her newest primary opponent Pensacola Rep. Frank White added another himself.

Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith called Moody “uniquely qualified” to be Florida’s next AG as he joined the throng of sheriffs backing the former circuit court judge, who hail from Bay, Brevard, Clay, Hernando, Indian River, Lake, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota, Sumter, Walton and other counties. 

Moody also got the nod from a handful of state attorneys and current Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Smith said: “Through her years prosecuting criminals to her distinguished career as a judge, she has extensive knowledge of our legal system and the issues facing our communities. I know she truly understands the Opioid and Meth epidemics affecting Florida. We need an Attorney General that has actually worked with law enforcement to fight crime. I know Ashley Moody will work with us to find solutions and resources to tackle this problem. She has the best tools to do this. This is why I fully support Ashley Moody for Attorney General.” 

Moody, a fifth-generation Floridian and Hillsborough County native, is the current front-runner in both endorsements and fundraising in the race to replace Bondi, who can’t run for re-election in 2018 due to term limits.

White switched over his House re-election campaign to the AG race last month and has been giving Moody a run for her money as of late.

In a Wednesday news release, White touted his own endorsement from Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley.

Ashley’s endorsement is the third White has received from a sitting sheriff, though he has also got thumbs up from U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, a former Duval County sheriff and past chair of the Florida Sheriff’s Association.

“Frank White is a man of faith, principle and conservative values. He shares my resolute commitment to keeping Floridians and our community safe. Frank has an unwavering support for law enforcement and the rule of law,” Ashley said. “I’m proud to endorse Frank White for Attorney General.”

White responded: “I’m grateful to Sheriff Ashley for his support. With our shared values and commitment to conservative principles, we will make Florida safer when I serve as Attorney General.”

Moody and White are joined by House District 15 Rep. Jay Fant in the GOP primary for AG, and though Fant has not been able to keep up when it comes to endorsements, he has kept it close on the fundraising trail by dipping into his own pockets to fund his campaign.

Through September, Moody had raised over $864,000 in hard money and another $200,000 in political committee money. Fant brought in $208,000 and had fronted himself a $750,000 loan. White brought about $77,000 cash on hand to the race from his House campaign but has not yet to filed a campaign finance report as an attorney general candidate.

There are also rumblings that Republican state Rep. Ross Spano, who represents Moody’s Hillsborough County home turf, is considering a run.

First reported by the Tampa Bay Times, Spano has been telling friends and fellow lawmakers that he intends to make a play for attorney general rather than run for a fourth term in HD 59. If he does, it could split the field and force some tough decisions by Bay area politicians as both he and Moody are well-liked among the East Hillsborough crowd.

Also running is Ryan Torrens, currently the only Democrat to file. That could change soon, however: HD 61 Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat and former state Insurance Consumer Advocate, said late last month he was contemplating a run.

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