Richard Corcoran Archives - Page 3 of 69 - Florida Politics

Senator files ‘certificate of need’ repeal bill, identical to House priority

Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a bill Wednesday that would toss a controversial “certificate of need” hospital regulatory process as the House fast-tracks an identical bill.

House Republican leaders and Gov. Rick Scott, a former hospital CEO, have long supported repealing the “certificate of need,” but the effort has stalled in the Senate.

This year, though, the bill has a powerful advocate in the Senate: Budget Chairman Rob Bradley, who last Session filed a bill to scrap that regulation.

“By eliminating the state’s restrictive CON process we’ll increase competition and drive down the cost of health care for Floridians,” Bradley said.

The House bill filed by state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, a Fort Myers Republican, is already set for a week-one floor vote, an indication that it is again a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Brandes’ bill has yet to be referred to committees.

Under both bills, the “certificate of need” would be repealed for hospitals only. Current law requires health care providers to have a “certificate of need” before building or converting hospitals, nursing homes and hospices.

The regulation was initially created in 1973 by the federal government as a method to control costs and it was repealed at the federal level in 1987. Several states have maintained some form of it, including Florida.

House Speaker vows to pass ‘sanctuary city’ ban bill on week 1 of Session

On week one of Session, House Speaker Richard Corcoran is determined to pass a bill that would penalize local officials who support the passage of so-called “sanctuary city” policies.

The bill “will enforce the rule of law,” Corcoran tweeted Tuesday.

State Rep. Larry Metz, a Lake County Republican, championed an identical bill that passed the Florida House in the last week of Session. The same effort, however, went nowhere in the Senate.

House leadership has made it a priority to push through the bill this Session, but whether history will repeat itself in the Senate remains to be seen.

Republican Sens. Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach and Greg Steube of Sarasota are leading the charge in their chamber to pass a similar proposal to the one in the House.

The Senate bill has been referred to two committees, but no hearings have been scheduled yet. The first stop would be the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Steube.

The controversial proposals have received pushback from DACA recipients, immigrant advocates, undocumented immigrants, who fear banning communities that act as “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants would make crimes that occur to them harder to report.

But Republicans who support the effort, including Corcoran, argue that elected officials cannot uphold the rule of law and support sanctuary cities at the same time. Corcoran has said that if they do support such policies, they should be removed from office.

HB 9 states that police chiefs, sheriff or mayors in communities that honor these policies — currently there are none in Florida — are to be fined or removed from office.

If the bill becomes law, the move would have an “indeterminate” financial burden on local communities. The bill does not guarantee reimbursement for the costs that come from fully complying with federal immigration authorities. That includes the price of holding inmates in county jails past their sentences so that immigration authorities can come pick them up for deportation.

Democrats opposed the measure last Session saying such a law would face constitutional hurdles because it could violate a person’s right to due process.

Corcoran, who is very likely to run for governor and is expected to announce once Session is over, is in support of hard-line immigration policies. He has vowed to pass the sanctuary city bill and praised President Donald Trump for ending protections for Dreamers.

“At the end of the day, I will always err on the side of our citizens and defending the rule of law,” the Land O’Lakes Republican wrote on his website.

Lottery lawsuit on ‘pathway to resolution,’ new filing says

Attorneys for the Florida Lottery and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have confirmed a tentative end to their fight over a multi-million dollar agency contract, saying in a Tuesday court filing they’re officially on a “pathway to resolution.”

The sides filed a status report in the case, now with the 1st District Court of Appeal, asking that the lawsuit stay open but continue in a holding pattern till April 1, after the end of the 2018 Legislative Session.

That’s because the “resolution of this matter will turn on the results of the appropriation process,” the report said. The 60-day Session is scheduled to end March 9.

Last month, the Lottery agreed to tweak a multi-year deal—for new equipment and other items—to require legislative oversight and approval.

The Lottery, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, already released redacted documents detailing changes in what was originally a contract worth $700 million over an initial 10-year period, with three available 3-year renewal options.

Among others, the changes include reducing the number of “full-service vending machines” and requiring the vendor, International Game Technology (IGT), to “support the Lottery’s marketing efforts” by kicking back $30,000 a month. 

Corcoran had sued in February, saying the Lottery was guilty of “wasteful and improper spending” and “signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.”

The contract was for new retailer terminals, in-store signage, self-service lottery vending machines, self-service ticket checkers and an upgraded communications network. Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

Corcoran’s lawsuit said the Lottery “cannot enter into a contract that obligates the agency to pay more in subsequent fiscal years than its current budget authority allows.”

Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Karen Gievers agreed with Corcoran and invalidated the deal in March. The Lottery appealed. Both sides asked the appellate court to put a hold on the case as they worked on a resolution. 

2017 Roundup: Turbulent times in Tallahassee

Scandal, storms and sniping were the hallmarks of 2017 in Florida, where political squalls and natural disasters created havoc in the Capitol and sent tremors through the Sunshine State.

The resignations of not one, not two, but three state senators, the impacts of hurricanes Irma and Maria and infighting among Republican lawmakers were just some of the highlights of a year to which many are eager to bid adieu and perhaps even more wish never happened at all.

Sexual harassment, parts I and II

The political drama that gripped the Senate and rocked the Capitol this fall is atypical of an election off-year.

But the scandal that eventually forced out one of the Legislature’s most powerful members mirrored the ignominies that brought down powerful men in the media, in the movies and in boardrooms across the country.

The toppling of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, accused of sexually assaulting or harassing dozens of women, and the ensuing #MeToo social-media campaign emboldened women to tell stories of abuse or inappropriate treatment that remained under wraps in state capitols like Florida’s — among other work environs populated by powerful men — in some cases for decades.

In Florida, the focus on sexual conduct began in late October with the resignation of former state Sen. Jeff Clemens, who left the Legislature after admitting he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist. Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who resigned after a report in Politico Florida about the dalliance, was slated to take over as leader of the Senate Democrats following the 2018 elections.

Instead, constituents in his District 31 will remain without a senator until after the Legislative Session ends in March.

Before Capitol insiders even caught their breath following Clemens’s resignation, an even-more prominent senator — Jack Latvala — was in the spotlight.

For years, Latvala flexed his muscle as a power broker, often putting the brakes on right-wing priorities of his fellow Republicans and championing legislation that benefited teachers, firefighters, cops and prison guards.

But the Clearwater Republican likely will go down in history as a villain accused of engaging in a pattern of sexual harassment and possibly breaking ethics rules and laws.

To the end, Latvala steadfastly maintained his innocence, pointing the finger for his downfall at political foes and even a special master brought in to investigate the senator’s alleged wrongdoing.

Latvala, 66, announced his resignation Dec. 20, less than a day after Special Master Ronald Swanson, a former judge, recommended a criminal probe into allegations that the longtime lawmaker had promised legislative favors for sex.

Latvala quit amid increasing pressure — including from Gov. Rick Scott — to step down after Swanson found probable cause to support allegations that the senator had repeatedly groped Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers and engaged in a pattern of making unwelcome remarks about women’s bodies.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is handling a preliminary inquiry into allegations of possible public corruption.

The inquiry is based on Swanson’s findings related to an unidentified former lobbyist. Swanson found that the testimony of the former lobbyist and text-message exchanges between the senator and the woman indicated that Latvala may have violated ethics rules as well as “laws prohibiting public corruption” by agreeing to support the lobbyist’s legislative priorities if she would have sex with him or “allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner.”

Latvala — a churlish and sometimes crass curmudgeon — has been a political player for four decades. He returned to the Senate in 2010 after an earlier stint that ended because of term limits.

But his political fortunes quickly plummeted in the aftermath of the revelations. Less than two months ago, he held the powerful title of Senate appropriations chairman, a post he lost after the allegations were made public.

In his resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala condemned the process that resulted in Swanson’s damning report. The resignation is effective Jan. 5, four days before the start of the 2018 Legislative Session.

An unyielding Latvala — painted as a vindictive bully by witnesses — took some parting shots at Negron in what might have been his final words to the Senate, saying he hated to leave his constituents in the lurch.

Latvala’s woes may not be over, due to the criminal investigation and a possible civil lawsuit by Perrin Rogers, who took to social media following the senator’s resignation announcement.

Perrin Rogers, whose Twitter avatar is Wonder Woman, said she came forward “as the mother of a son.”

“I could no longer look myself in the mirror; I could no longer in good faith encourage him to have courage and be kind,” she tweeted on Dec. 21. “Because having courage means standing up against wrongdoing. Especially when others are in harm’s way. To the women who have been harmed, I offer support, love and strength.”

Sexual harassment, part III

In the midst of the Latvala inquiry, allegations of sexual harassment ended the career of a utility regulator before it even began.

Ritch Workman, a former state representative picked by Scott for a spot on the Public Service Commission, withdrew from the job after Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, said he manhandled her at a charity event last year.

Workman’s appointment to the Public Service Commission was slated to take effect in January and would have been subject to later Senate confirmation. Benacquisto said she wouldn’t put his appointment on her committee’s agenda because of his “abhorrent” behavior more than a year ago.

Workman, a Melbourne Republican, “approached me from behind, pushed his body up against me and made vulgar and inappropriate gestures,” Benacquisto said in a statement, describing the incident.

Benacquisto, who has said publicly that she was raped as a teenager, said she immediately asked Workman to stop, but he continued to make the comments and gestures until others intervened.

An emotional Workman told The News Service of Florida he did not recall the incident, but that “the right thing to do is to get out of the way.”

“I have absolutely no recollection of being inappropriate with Sen. Benacquisto. I have nothing but respect and admiration for her. It breaks my heart that this has come out like this because it’s not the kind of person that I am,” he said.

A different kind of harassment

Long before the #MeToo cultural revolution began, another state senator was forced to resign after a profanity-tinged and racially charged outburst at a private club near the Capitol.

Miami Republican Frank Artiles left the Senate after the 2017 Legislative Session began and less than six months after he defeated incumbent Democrat Dwight Bullard in a brutal contest for the newly redrawn District 40 seat.

The former House member — a tough-talking, U.S. Marine veteran who earned the moniker “Frank the Tank” from fellow lawmakers — stepped down amid a Senate investigation into reports that he had insulted two black colleagues and others at the members-only club.

Artiles faced widespread condemnation for a rant that reportedly included calling Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, “girl,” a “bitch,” and a “f—ing ass—-.” Artiles also reportedly used the word “niggers” or “niggas,” though he contended that he did not direct the word at anyone in particular.

“It is clear to me my recent actions and words that I spoke fell far short of what I expect for myself, and for this I am very sorry. I apologize to my friends and I apologize to all of my fellow senators and lawmakers. To the people of my district and all of Miami-Dade, I am sorry I have let you down and ask for your forgiveness,” Artiles wrote in a resignation letter to Negron, a Stuart Republican.

‘Cardiac Kids’ make peace

Lawmakers were forced to return to the Capitol for a June special Session after Scott — who could be gearing up for a U.S. Senate run next year — vetoed the state’s public-education funding formula that had been included in a budget passed a month earlier.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran spent much of this year’s 60-day regular session on a legislative jihad against the economic-development agency Enterprise Florida and tourism-marketer Visit Florida. Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican, clashed frequently with Scott about the agencies.

Among the speaker’s more prominent complaints about Visit Florida was a $1 million deal with Miami rapper Pitbull, along with sponsorships of Fulham Football Club in England and the Visit Florida racing team.

After months of bickering between Scott and Corcoran, the June special Session focused on funding for public schools and economic development.

But the special Session quickly devolved into another opportunity for an intra-party boxing match, with Democrats gleefully painting a narrative of dysfunctional Republican leadership and rumors of a special Session collapse.

Hours after the Session seemed on the verge of falling apart, legislative leaders and Scott struck an agreement salvaging their priorities but setting off renewed criticism over backroom dealing. Among other things, lawmakers pumped more dollars into public schools, agreed on money for Visit Florida and set up a new economic-development fund.

Lawmakers also approved legislation setting the framework for the state’s growing medical-marijuana industry after a voter-approved constitutional amendment broadly legalized the product.

The deal emerged after a 30-minute harangue on the penultimate day of the week-long Session by Negron, who told reporters that the Senate would need more concessions from Scott and the House for the Session to end successfully.

That led many observers to predict that lawmakers might miss a deadline to end the special Session, much as they needed overtime to finish the state budget in May following a similarly chaotic process during the regular Session.

But on the final day of the special Session, out of the backrooms came a compromise that Scott, Corcoran and Negron supported.

“We call ourselves the cardiac kids,” Corcoran told reporters. “We get you guys all worked up, and then we come to a nice smooth landing and we accomplish a tremendous amount of policy.”

Celebration, then scandals

State Senate Democrats had some celebrating to do, at least for a while, after a closely watched victory in the race to replace Artiles.

In a campaign viewed as a litmus test of President Donald Trump and Florida Democrats’ ability to make gains in local and statewide elections next year, Miami businesswoman Annette Taddeo coasted to victory, defeating former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Republican who stepped down from his House seat to run for the Senate.

Taddeo’s victory in Senate District 40 bolstered the hopes of Democrats, who have been outnumbered in the Senate for more than two decades, as they prepare to combat Republicans in local and statewide races in 2018.

But fallout from sexual harassment scandals quickly put the damper on Florida Democrats’ revelry.

Clemens, who was in charge of fundraising for Senate Democrats and took some of the credit for Taddeo’s win, walked away from the Legislature in late October.

Less than a month later, then-Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel abruptly resigned. The hurried exit of Bittel, a veteran fundraiser chosen to head the state party in January after a fractious leadership contest, came hours after a news report accused him of creating an uncomfortable work environment by leering at women and making suggestive remarks.

Blowing in the wind

State officials have yet to put an overall price tag on Florida’s costs from Irma, which left destruction from the Keys to Jacksonville.

But the historic storm caused an estimated $2.5 billion hit on crops and agriculture facilities, $6.55 billion in insured losses and a more-than $1 billion price tag for utility customers to cover the costs of power restoration.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam‘s department estimated in October that the state’s already-reeling citrus industry took a $761 million hit from Hurricane Irma. Since then, a number of lawmakers and Putnam said the damage estimate has grown to possibly more than $1 billion, as fruit continued to fall early from trees that were flooded by the September storm.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria — which battered Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands — also had a major impact on Florida, as evacuees from the territories continue to flood into the state.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, more than 269,000 people have traveled from Puerto Rico to Florida in the past three months, but it is unknown how many are considered to have relocated from the island. More than 10,000 Puerto Rican children have enrolled in Florida schools since the storm.

Nearly one-third of the island remains without power, and water supplies are getting worse, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Hospitals also remain in disrepair, according to a report by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who visited the island Thursday.

“The people of Puerto Rico are our fellow American citizens. They should not be treated like they’re being treated. It’s just not right,” Nelson tweeted.

Story of the year: Allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct roiled the Capitol, resulting in Clearwater Republican Latvala and Lake Worth Democrat Clemens resigning from the Senate and former Rep. Workman withdrawing from an appointment to the Public Service Commission.

Quote of the year: “But I have had enough. If this is the process our party and Senate leadership desires, then I have no interest in continuing to serve with you. I, therefore, will resign my seat in the Florida Senate at midnight, January 5, 2018.” Clearwater Republican Latvala, in a Dec. 20 letter to Senate President Negron.

Richard Corcoran: 2017 Florida Politician of the Year

Richard Corcoran apologized as he slid into his seat on the outdoor patio at The Capital Grille, an upscale eatery at Tampa’s swank International Mall. He was running a little late and battling a head cold.

Corcoran passed on his usual glass of red wine. Instead, he opted for chilled Fiji bottled water.

Our waiter smiled, welcomed him back by his name, said it was good to see him again and left to fetch the water. And things were going smoothly as I threw out questions to the Florida House Speaker and — he didn’t know this at the time — Florida Politics 2017 Politician Of The Year.

Corcoran, a Republican from Land O’Lakes, discussed policies he will pursue when his second and final term as Speaker begins in January.

Basically, if you liked his performance in 2017, you will love it in 2018.

And if you didn’t, well, buckle up.

His agenda will include continued battles for tax reform, immigration reform, regulatory reform, and, as always, an emphasis on transforming the way students receive their education.

“Hopefully, it will be the same (as last Session),” he said. “Hopefully it’s just as disruptive and just as transformative.”

We won’t learn whether he plans to formally enter the 2018 race for Governor until after the Session, but if you’re looking for clues, consider this statement: “I do things a little unconventionally, but we’re still raising money” for a possible campaign.

He talked with an obvious love for the values his parents instilled in him. He swapped stories about his friends, including Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. He spoke of his faith, which is deep and central to his being. He said Gov. Rick Scott “has done a great job.”

“We’re now No. 1 in fiscal health. That’s an amazing stat, to be the third-largest state in the union and No. 1 in fiscal health,” Corcoran said. “If you look at all the other large states — California, New York, Pennsylvania — they’re all at the bottom five. The closest (big state) to us is Texas, and they’re like No. 27 or 26.

“For us to be No. 1 in fiscal health says something. That’s a focus on creating an atmosphere that the small businesses can go out there and create jobs. It’s about deregulation, tax cuts, and getting out of their way.”

But about 25 minutes into a 40-minute give-and-take, I asked if he wishes he could take back the widely referenced remark that the Florida public school teachers union is evil.

I think he had been waiting for that one. He sat straight up in his chair, his voice rising, arms waving; even through a raspy, congestion-clogged voice, you could tell the question touched a nerve.

“I didn’t say that,” he said, eyes narrowing. “Go back and listen to the tape.”

I did go back and listen, and it’s true. Corcoran did not call the union evil, although a quick Google search reveals a string of stories with headlines saying he did.

Corcoran’s statement then was that the union’s lawsuit to stop his ambitious plan to expand Florida’s education voucher program for low-performing schools was “evil.” If successful, he believed the suit would keep primarily low-income, minority students trapped in an education system that was failing them.

He didn’t back off then. He isn’t backing off now.

“Does the teacher’s union want to be honest? Do the Democrats want to be honest? Does anyone want to debate me, anytime, anywhere in this whole state, on that lawsuit? No!” he said.

“Does Andrew Gillum (want to debate)? No! Does Gwen Graham? No! None of ‘em. I’ll do it any place, anytime, anywhere. Instead, they just go around saying, ‘Richard Corcoran said teachers were evil.’ No, that’s a lie. They say, ‘Richard Corcoran said the teacher’s union is evil.’ No, that’s a lie.

“What Richard Corcoran said, for the whole world to hear, in a very public setting, was that a lawsuit that takes the most underprivileged, underserved children and takes them out of a failing school and puts them into a school that gives them a 40 percent greater chance of going to college, and you file a lawsuit to end that program, that is evil.”

That exchange captures the essence of Richard Corcoran, as explained by people who know him best.

He is master of details, fiery and unapologetic when he believes he is right, and on a mission to turn the status quo into rubble.

Away from the office, he loves Florida Gators basketball and Tampa Bay Buccaneers football. He is all about family. He is a loyal friend and a relentless foe, but if you have earned his respect, he can easily separate the personal side from professional.

Take Janet Cruz, for instance.

As House Minority Leader, Cruz is a liberal Democrat and was outspoken at her belief that Corcoran’s education overhaul — his cherished House Bill 7069 that passed last spring — was an unwarranted attack on public schools.

But even though she said then she was “shocked” at Corcoran’s remarks, the two get along well.

“Janet is a great person. We’ve sat right there and smoked cigars together,” Corcoran said, pointing to an outdoor spot.

Cruz confirmed that.

“The Speaker and I have always had a good relationship that I believe we were able to build over our shared love and dedication for our families. Although we rarely agree on policy, his door has always been open, and even when we argue, I know that there will never be any hard feelings because of the mutual respect we have for one another,” she said.

“Richard is genuine in his beliefs, as I am in mine, and I know that when we walk off the floor for the last time after this session, we will depart as we arrived — as friends.”

This is the Richard Corcoran his supporters expected to get when he was elected to the Florida House in 2010 after two previous campaigns for a seat ended in defeat.

“I had more doubt that Richard would get elected to the Legislature than that he would take over a leadership position there,” said close friend Paul Hawkes, who has served as both a state representative and chief judge of the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal.

“Gov. (Jeb) Bush used to say that some guys run to be, and so guys run to do. To be a doer means you upset people. You can never change the status quo without upsetting some people. I always thought Richard would want to run and would run.”

Go back to the words he used to forecast his plans for 2018: disruptive and transformative. They are central to everything about his idea of governing.

“If you have an idea you want to get in front of Richard and you want him to embrace it, show him how it upsets the status quo,” Nocco said. “If it’s a new way to look at the problem and this is how we can change things, he’ll embrace it wholeheartedly.”

That was the essence of Corcoran’s bare-knuckles fight to win approval for his Schools of Hope program. It provided $140 million, or up to $2,000 per student, for expanded programs at struggling public schools in low-income areas.

It also authorized money for state-approved charter operators to open new schools within 5 miles of those at-risk public schools. Corcoran said the program gives parents the chance to opt out of a failing school, but critics say it is a drain on already-strapped public-school budgets.

It was the most divisive issue in the last Legislative Session as state public-school teachers flooded Tallahassee with protests. Corcoran, whose wife, Anne, helped found and operate the Classical Prep charter school as a volunteer, was resolute that offering alternatives is a better way.

“He is determined. He gets an idea in his head (if you will), and he is determined to fulfill that idea, that dream. That’s extremely impressive. He’s very competitive. He doesn’t like to lose,” said Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, Corcoran’s neighbor and a former state legislator.

“He is one who will do whatever it takes to win a battle — ethically, morally and legally, but he’ll do what it takes to win what he thinks is right.”

I shared that quote with Corcoran, and he nodded in agreement.

“Truth is objective and noble. If there is an objective and noble truth, you pursue it,” he said. “That’s why a lot of speeches I give are about truth and justice. That’s from Socrates. He’s got tons of good lines. He gave one that said show me who’s teaching your kids and I’ll show you the future.”

Corcoran is all about the future, even if — or maybe especially if — that means turning the present on its ear. Controversy doesn’t scare him, and tough fights don’t intimidate him. Being the Speaker gives him the chance to craft a future for Florida he believes will be better than what was here before.

To get there, he will bloody your nose if need be. He knows how to work a room or twist an arm. He knows what he wants and will try to win over opponents with a righteous, confident argument. If that doesn’t work, he knows how the system works and what it takes to win.

No hard feelings, though. When the battle is over, sit down. Have a cigar. Have a glass of wine.

“I’m a nice guy,” he said. “I really am.”

It’s not personal. It’s about a vision, and Richard Corcoran is confident that he has the right one for Florida.

Never satisfied, environmentalists should just take the win for Lake O reservoir

Closing the book on 2017, among the most notable political battles centered on Lake Okeechobee water issues.

While lawmakers reached a compromise earlier in the year, this food fight may be far from over.

Last Session, environmental activists, working with Senate President Joe Negron, hammered out a bill that (at one point) called for buying up to 60,000 acres of working farmland south of Lake O.

But an equally vocal group of Everglades farmers, joined by local leaders and community advocates, strongly opposed the plan, pointing out the negative economic impact that Negron’s land buy would have on the Glades farming community.

What the Legislature ultimately approved – in the form of a somewhat more palatable Senate Bill 10 – was praised by environmental activists, farming interests (including the sugar industry), local and state leaders.

Heralded as a “grand compromise,” SB 10 began the process of building a new southern reservoir, settling the issue once and for all.

Or so many thought.

With a lower price tag than originally proposed, SB 10 called for using only state-owned land, closing the door on eminent domain to take privately-held acreage.

Arguably, it was the most significant victory of Negron’s Senate presidency, paving the way for construction of up to 360,000 acre-feet (an acre of water, 1 foot deep) of water storage, which could help tackle future algae blooms, like those that plagued his district a year earlier.

In June, following a high-profile bill signing on the banks of Lake O, bringing together Gov. Rick Scott, Negron, Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg, Glades leaders and others, it seemed as if happy days were here again. With choruses of Kumbaya and hallelujahs ready to break out, construction of the reservoir was about to begin.

Rick Scott visits Lake Okeechobee ahead of the ceremonial bill signing of SB 10, which authorizes a reservoir to collect runoff south of Lake O.

All seemed good, right? Wrong.

Since then, a handful of environmental organizations – the Everglades Foundation, the Sierra Club, Bullsugar among others – began raising concerns over the South Florida Water Management District’s modeling used to develop the reservoir.

They just don’t use enough land, the environmentalists say.

As outlined in SB 10, SFWMD developed four models for a southern reservoir for presentation to the Legislature by Jan. 9. Ranging in cost from $1.4 billion to $1.9 billion, each model includes an above-ground storage reservoir on adjacent state-owned land south of Lake O … exactly how the Legislature – led by Negron – first envisioned.

So why now the red flags?

Is it possible that, after a rare legislative success, these environmental groups are seeking further relevance? Or are they so hell-bent on buying land, they will risk a Hail Mary pass to get what they wanted – and lost – in the Legislature?

Perhaps these concerns are less about the survival of the Everglades than they are about the survival of the Everglades Foundation (and its satellite organizations)?

Attempting to quell the rising anger from environmentalist groups, Negron wrote a letter to the SFWMD in early December, asking if it had enough land to construct the reservoir. In response, SFWMD Executive Director Ernie Marks said that the district indeed has more than enough property to do the job.

To follow SB 10, all SFWMD needs to do is construct slightly higher reservoir embankments. In addition, using state-owned lands set out in the bill will also keep costs down, officials said.

Nevertheless, these environmental groups refused to be satisfied, moving the goal posts by demanding more land.

A recent Facebook post from Bullsugar highlighted concerns of the Friends of the Everglades, which allege, among other things, that the SFWMD’s reservoir models violate federal water quality standards.

 

This tactic is nothing new. Environmentalists have intervened before to block construction of a southern reservoir.

In 2008, the National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and others went to court to stop a similar project. The Everglades Trust, led by the late Thom Rumberger, decried that reservoir as “unnecessary and expensive.”

The suit, along with an ill-fated 2008 U.S. Sugar deal struck with then-Gov. Charlie Crist, succeeded in halting work on the reservoir, which is still virtually unused and available. This idle land became a key talking point in the debate over SB 10.

In January 2017, SFWMD officials publicly challenged the science used by the Everglades for a “study” on a southern reservoir. SFWMD Hydrology and Hydraulics Bureau Chief Akintunde O. Owosina wrote a scathing letter to Everglades Foundation scientist Thomas Van Lent, declaring: “The assumptions you made in the model input were obviously selected to reduce northern storage and create an outcome in favor of southern storage.”

In the end, neither the Legislature nor the SFWMD used the Foundation models – widely denounced as flawed – for SB 10. Instead, they patterned designs after four other district projects, including Scott’s much-heralded Restoration Strategies Water Quality Plan and the C-43 storage reservoir – long supported by environmental groups.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, environmental activists raise these concerns – objecting to the project size and water quality – just as a long-awaited reservoir appears to be finally within reach.

These latest complaints, advanced only six months after signing SB 10, will ring hollow in the halls of the Florida Capitol. And Senate leaders, such as newly-minted Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley (an SB 10 sponsor) will have little interest in revisiting the issue, especially in an election year.

Putting it bluntly, it’s dumb to cast doubt on Negron’s signature policy achievement, but it is also unsurprising for a group not exactly known for its political savvy.

Instead of congratulating Negron and Speaker Richard Corcoran for their efforts, environmental groups criticize that it simply wasn’t good enough. Besides showing a great deal of ingratitude, not just to Negron and Corcoran, it’s also a slap in the face to incoming leaders like Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Oliva.

As 2017 winds down, Eikenberg (and others) should consider being a bit more gracious and take the win.

Also, they should be wary of any attempt by rank and file members to pull the football away (like Lucy with Charlie Brown) before reaching the end zone.

Poll finds an independent John Morgan as spoiler, even contender, in Governor’s race

A new poll from Gravis Marketing finds that if Orlando lawyer John Morgan gets into the Florida Governor’s race as an independent candidate, he could spoil the chances of Democrats, and might present the strongest independent challenge in memory.

The poll finds that, in head-to-head matchups, leading Republican candidate Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam runs dead-even against either of the top Democratic candidates, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham or Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Gravis Marketing, of Winter Springs, then introduced the third candidate, Morgan, who declared earlier this month he would not run for governor as a Democrat but left the door open, slightly, for an independent challenge. The poll found Morgan would take far more votes away from either of the top two Democrats and Putnam wins handily.

Yet the poll also shows that without campaigning, Morgan already appears as an independent with contender-caliber support against the two major parties’ candidates.

The Gravis poll finds that nine months out from the primaries, 18 percent of Democrats prefer Graham and 12 percent favor Gillum, while former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine gets 6 percent, Winter Park businessman Chris King receives 3, and noncandidate Jeff Greene, a South Florida businessman, 2 percent.

On the Republican side, Putnam draws 23 percent while U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach, who has not announced his intentions to run, would get 12 percent. The only other major declared candidate, state Sen. Jack Latvala, who submitted his resignation from the Senate last week amid allegations and investigation of sexual misconduct, would get 3 percent.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who, like DeSantis, has made no move yet, would get 2 percent. Maverick Republican candidate Bob White drew 1 percent.

The poll also finds Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson leading Republican Gov. Rick Scott 44-39 in a potential contest for the U.S. Senate election next November.

The poll, conducted Dec. 19-24 of 5,778 registered voters across Florida, has a 1.3 percent margin of error, according to Gravis.

In head-to-head Republican-Democratic contests for the governor’s office, Putnam and Graham tie at 32 percent, while Putnam and Gillum tie at 31 percent.

With Morgan in the race, Putnam draws 27 percent, Graham 23, and Morgan 17. With Gillum representing the Democrats instead of Graham, Putnam draws 26 percent, Gillum 22; and Morgan 18.

In head-to-head matchups with Corcoran as the Republican, Graham leads 33 percent to 24 percent, while Gillum leads Corcoran 33 to 22 percent.

With Morgan in those races, Graham and Gillum still lead, but by only 3 or 4 points, while Morgan enters right behind, essentially creating tight three-way packs, 24 to 20 to 18 in the Graham question, and 23 to 20 to 19 in the Gillum scenario.

Gravis did not test DeSantis in head-to-head or three-way general election contests.

House members look for $2B in projects

House members have hit the $2 billion threshold in requests for projects they’d like included in the budget that lawmakers will piece together during the 2018 Legislative Session, which begins Jan. 9.

As of Wednesday morning, 1,220 different projects had been proposed, ranging from $2,700 sought by Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican, to upgrade sleeping quarters at the local emergency operations center (HB 2741) to $69.5 million sought by Palatka Republican Rep. Bobby Payne for drinking-water infrastructure improvements in Palatka (HB 3259).

Other big-ticket items include $30 million for infrastructure improvements to utilities at the University of Florida (HB 2733); $34.4 million for Lake Nona Campus Building 2 at Valencia College (HB 2437); and $50 million for the Data Science and Information Technology program at the University of Florida (HB 4063).

Republicans account for 829 of the projects, which if all were put in the annual spending plan would require about $1.5 billion. Democrats have offered 390 projects with a combined value of $491.6 million.

House members are required to individually file spending proposals as bills, which is not required in the Senate. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has said priority for funding will go to proposals related to hurricane relief.

The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness has received 160 recommendations to deal with storm-related issues, including extending north the Suncoast Parkway toll road as a new evacuation route, leasing a cruise ship to carry evacuees from the Lower Keys and requiring utility lines to be placed underground.

The member budget proposals are separate from most of the recommendations before the select committee.

Don Hahnfeldt, Republican lawmaker, former submarine commander, dies unexpectedly

Republican state Representative Don Hahnfeldt has died of cancer. He was 73.

Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran confirmed Hahnfeldt’s death Monday afternoon, notifying members “of the passing of our friend and colleague Representative Don Hahnfeldt.”

Corcoran echoed the consensus assessment of Hahnfeldt: that he led an impressive life, which included service as a submarine commander in the U.S. Navy. A biography on his campaign website touted that under Hahnfeldt’s leadership, “a group of nuclear experts confronted the challenge of dealing with radioactive waste disposal from the infamous Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in Russia.”

After a 32-year military career, Hahnfeldt moved to The Villages, the rapidly-growing retirement community located in central Florida. There he served as president of The Villages Homeowners Association, then as a Sumter County commissioner. In 2016, he was elected to the Florida House.

Hahnfeldt represented District 33, which includes Sumter and parts of Lake and Marion counties.

Don Hahnfeldt, far left, along with other House members, is sworn in by Judge Nicholas Thompson, during Organization Session in November 2016.

As a state lawmaker, “he was committed to always doing the right thing for his community and for Florida,” attested his colleague, state Rep. Joe Gruters.

Known as a traditional conservative, Hahnfeldt recently filed legislation to increase the minimum legal age from 18 to 21 to buy cigarettes, tobacco chew and electronic vaping devices and products. He also earned extensive media coverage earlier this year for his proposal to require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets.

“Don was someone who served without wanting anything in return,” remarked state Rep. Randy Fine. “He was unafraid to stand up for his convictions in a world where too many struggle.”

Gov. Rick Scott expressed his condolences to Hahnfeldt’s family via a statement released Monday.

“My wife Ann and I are saddened by the news of Representative Don Hahnfeldt’s passing,” Scott said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

Hahnfeldt is survived by his wife, Cheryle, his three children, Christiana, Katherine, and Jennifer, and seven grandchildren, John, Analiese, Madalyn, Thomas, Andrew, Henry, and Cullen.

After Corcoran shared the news of Hahnfeldt’s passing, House members took to social media to eulogize their former colleague.

“Very saddened by the passing of Don Hahnfeldt,” Rep. Dane Eagle tweeted. “He lived an impressive life and was an immovable, principled force in the Florida House. Many prayers to his family. Hold your loved ones close this Christmas and every day.”

Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican slated to become House Speaker in 2020, tweeted: “Our whole Florida House family is saddened by the passing of our colleague Rep. Don Hahnfeldt. Our hearts go out to his wife, his children and his grandchildren. As well as all their friends and neighbors. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.”

Hahnfeldt’s death comes little more than two weeks before the Jan. 9 start of the 2018 Legislative Session. He served on six legislative panels, including serving as vice chairman of the House Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Gwen Graham mocks Matt Gaetz’ FBI probe, taunts Adam Putnam, Richard Corcoran

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, a former member of Congress herself, on Friday attacked U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz for his campaign to get the FBI investigated and to halt the bureau’s investigation of President Donald Trump, then challenged her Republican rivals to state their positions.

Graham, of Tallahassee, took to Twitter first, calling out, “Matt Gaetz, what are you so afraid of?”

Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, has been one of the leaders in a Republican congressional effort to both get an investigation of how the FBI looked into Hillary Clinton allegations of misconduct last year, and to get Special Counsel Robert Mueller fired for what Gaetz and the other Republicans in the effort contend has been a partisan, biased “witch hunt” investigation of alleged connections between Trump, his election campaign team, his White House staff, and Russia.

“Calls to fire him undermine the fundamental rule of law,” Graham tweeted. “The special counsel and DOJ must be allowed to investigate – even the president – without partisan interference.”

Gaetz office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about Graham’s tweets.

She then went after Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The former is the leading Republican candidate in the governor’s race, the latter a likely major candidate. That included a mash-up picture of Corcoran and Putnam standing with Gaetz, who stands behind a podium with a Trump campaign sign.

“Congressman @MattGaetz asked Republicans to join his attacks against Robert Mueller. Do @AdamPutnam and @RichardCorcoran stand with Gaetz or do they stand with the rule of law? Floridians deserve to know,” Graham tweeted.

In a press release her campaign then put out, Graham also went after another potential major Republican gubernatorial candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach. Both Gaetz and DeSantis flew with Trump to Pensacola last week and joined him at a campaign rally there which, in part, was aimed at supporting Roy Moore in the neighboring Alabama U.S. Senate race.

“Today Congressman Matt Gaetz called on his Republican colleagues to join him in a partisan campaign to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Floridians deserve to know, do their leaders stand with Gaetz or with the rule of law?” Graham stated in the news release. “Adam Putnam and Richard Corcoran won’t be able to hide from the president and his connections to Russia forever — they must answer whether or not they stand with Matt Gaetz against Robert Mueller.”

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