Richard Corcoran Archives - Page 4 of 89 - Florida Politics

#7 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Richard Corcoran

Although he had a good run in his two years as House Speaker — and managed to make a splash as a prospective candidate for governor, the Land O’ Lakes Republican falls five spots this year.

He claimed the No. 2 slot last year after his raucous showdown with Gov. Rick Scott over VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida funding.

Richard Corcoran might have ranked higher than he did this year had the political winds not shifted as they did over the course of the last several months — and if he wasn’t about to term out and face an uncertain future in politics.

Earlier this year, he seemed to be sowing momentum. His Watchdog PAC released a TV ad demonizing immigrants via an inaccurate depiction of the shooting death of Kate Steinle, followed by Corcoran’s plea to Floridians to support a crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities. That ad was red meat to potential GOP primary voters, but critics said it was racist.

Barely two weeks after it first aired, in the middle of the 2018 Legislative Session, gunman Nikolas Cruz killed 19 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. As students across the state rallied for stricter gun laws, Corcoran’s PAC released yet another ad targeting illegal immigration, which some critics considered tone-deaf, given how the gun debate still raged.

Corcoran demonstrated his muscle in shepherding through a compromised gun law that raised the gun-buying age from 18 to 21 and mandated that schools train certain personnel to carry guns on campus. The NRA panned the bill for what it saw as limitations to the Second Amendment, though Corcoran seemed to make amends with the group in a letter to the Constitution Revision Commission calling on the panel to turn down a proposed amendment that could have banned assault-style rifles (which the commission did).

Another legislative win for Corcoran was an education package that shifts state dollars away from public schools and toward scholarship programs that favor charter schools, which school choice advocates heralded earlier this year. It also set new membership requirements that could potentially diminish teachers’ unions.

“The Speaker’s left a mark on the region,” said Seth McKeel of Southern Strategy Group. “He’s been a powerful and constant voice of conservatism in Florida.”

By the end of Session, many observers were ready for Corcoran to announce a run for governor, but a couple of forces were working against him. First, his potential primary opponents were way ahead of him in their fundraising. Second, the two major Republican candidates — Trump favorite Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — would have made it difficult for him to craft a message that stood out to primary voters. In May, he announced he would not run and endorsed Putnam.

Corcoran’s Watchdog PAC had some $2 million when he dropped his bid for governor.

Corcoran ranked second in 2017.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#12 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Janet Cruz

First elected to her Tampa state House seat in 2010, Janet Cruz served as House Minority Leader over the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions. She’s the first Latina to serve in that capacity.

While Democratic leaders in the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature often have little influence, Cruz has managed to have some sway.

She has been effective at getting her party’s message across in the critical months leading up to the 2018 midterms.

When Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel was accused of inappropriate behavior toward female staffers in November 2017, Cruz was the first to issue a statement condemning his actions. Following a report dealing with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct in the Capitol, namely against former Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, Cruz said she was “horrified.”

At the start of the 2018 Session, Cruz also called out House Speaker Richard Corcoran on a bill targeting so-called sanctuary cities.

She’s terming out at the end of this year, but she’s far from finished.

In 2017, she announced a run for Hillsborough County Commission. But Cruz dropped that bid in April and then jumped into the race for state Senate District 18 against Sen. Dana Young, the incumbent Republican elected to the newly-drawn seat in 2016.

Cruz cited a desire to pass laws that may prevent mass shootings like the one that occurred in Parkland as a key reason for jumping in and criticized Young for missing three votes on amendments to the gun bill the legislature was debating earlier this year.

“I love our community and I am fed up with lawmakers who put the interests of the NRA, the for-profit school industry, and insurance companies before the people they represent,” Cruz said in a news release heralding her candidacy.

SD 18 went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but winning wouldn’t exactly be easy. For one, Young is a well-funded Republican incumbent with moderate sensibilities not too far off from those of the district, which runs from South Tampa up through northwestern Hillsborough County. Plus, some Democrats aren’t happy that her entrance into the race prompted Bob Buesing (who had also been Young’s Dem opponent in 2016) to exit.

Given her track record in the House — and her tendency to gravitate toward leadership roles, should she and a handful of fellow Democrats manage to flip the Senate in November, good things would likely be in store.

Cruz Rifkin climbed to No. 12 from the No. 19 spot last year.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “Probably could have easily won Hillsborough County Commission race, but Parkland massacre set her eye on Young’s Senate seat.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd endorses Adam Putnam in new illegal immigration ad

Floridians won’t hear Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam speak in his latest television ad.

Instead, they’ll hear testimony and a de-facto endorsement from Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who delivers a 30-second spiel on the need to deport “illegal immigrants” to keep communities safe and promises Putnam, who’s running for Governor, will help law enforcement do so, if elected.

The ad, which will begin airing across the state Tuesday, opens with Judd saying, “I’ve dedicated my entire adult life to keeping Florida families safe and I know Adam Putnam has our back.”

The focus of the ad then turns to illegal immigration — particularly in cases when immigrants who are not citizens are convicted of a crime.

“Adam believes we have the responsibility to keep our borders, cities and neighborhoods safe and secure,” Judd continues. “He’ll make sure that illegal immigrants who commit crimes will be held accountable and deported — not released back into our communities.”

Judd closes with: “Adam Putnam will stand with law enforcement and enforce the rule of law.”

It evokes memories of Republican state House Speaker Richard Corcoran‘s January ad cut by his Watchdog PAC, which focused on the issue of sanctuary cities, or the concept that local authorities could, in theory, refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials, effectively creating a ‘sanctuary’ for immigrants who are not citizens.

But there are stark differences between the Speaker’s television venture and Putnam’s latest. Corcoran’s ad depicted the killing of a woman in California by an undocumented immigrant, whereas Putnam’s features only him and Judd, and avoids the term ‘sanctuary city’ altogether.

Corcoran, then widely expected to enter the Governor’s race after the 2018 Legislative Session, aired the ad after the House quickly passed a bill banning sanctuary cities in the state. He decided in May to stay out of the race and subsequently endorse Putnam.

For Putnam, messaging on immigration through television marks an investment in a strategy that tracks to the right as he competes against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination. DeSantis has the backing of Donald Trump, and is frequently on Fox News defending the President.

The ad also is a working endorsement of Putnam from Sheriff Judd, who is influential in Republican circles and known well beyond the borders of Polk County (where Putnam is originally from). Judd helped lead a series of workshops called by Gov. Rick Scott immediately after the Parkland shooting. He is a staunch advocate for arming teachers and championed what eventually became the Guardian Program. He is one of Corcoran’s appointees to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

The ad also could act as quick damage control for a story published last week that undoubtedly called Putnam’s leadership into question. Although, a poll that coincided with that story still reflected strong support for the Agriculture Commissioner.

Time for Florida GOP to draft Pam Bondi?

Richard Corcoran must be kicking himself right now.

If the House Speaker knew a month ago what the rest of the state does now — that a former employee of Adam Putnam’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services failed for more than a year to conduct national background checks on applications for concealed weapons licenses — would he have scrubbed his gubernatorial bid and endorsed the Bartow Republican?

Probably not. And with Putnam’s campaign imploding and calls for his outright resignation from Democrats reaching a fever pitch, a nervous Florida GOP establishment may have turned its desperate eyes to the Pasco lawmaker.

It’s not clear how much damage this scandal will do to Putnam. Will it drive him from the race? Will it keep him from winning the primary? If he wins the primary, does it hobble him in a general election? We probably need another 72 to 96 hours to see where Putnam stands. But one thing is certain. He is no longer the front-runner for the GOP nomination. He probably hasn’t been for a few weeks.

As Putnam stumbles, it’s increasingly probable that twenty years of Republican control of the Governor’s Mansion will come to an end this November.

Yes, Ron DeSantis can win the general election. The people who say he can’t just because he’s backed by Donald Trump are many of the same geniuses who had Hillary Clinton winning the Sunshine State on her way to The White House.

DeSantis can win, I just don’t think he will. I think the PredictIt Market that pegs it at about a three-to-two possibility that a Democrat will win in November feels right. Conversely, the Republicans — either DeSantis or Putnam — being given about a 40 percent chance also seems about right.

If Putnam does lose to DeSantis, the Florida GOP establishment will embrace the “outsider” DeSantis even quicker than it did Rick Scott after he defeated Bill McCollum in 2010.

DeSantis’ campaign manager is Brad Herold, a former executive director of the Republican Party of Florida. DeSantis’ finance director’s last job was for Senate President Joe Negron. DeSantis’ big donors are major donors to Trump, the party, etc. In other words, there are many more overlaps between DeSantis World and the Florida GOP than there were between Scott and the then-establishment.

BUT …

Don’t for a second believe that The Establishment wants to see DeSantis beat Putnam. The heaviest of heavyweights — The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Disney, Florida Power & Light, the sugar industry, the mega-networked lobbying firms — have been investing in Putnam for more than a decade. For there to be zero return on this investment will be difficult to stomach.

The Establishment also hasn’t really liked the last eight years under Scott, at least not the way they liked it under Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist. Those were the salad days. Under Scott, the governing strategy has been to stay off his administration’s radar, stay out of the news, and cut $50,000 checks to his political committee whenever one of his fundraisers made an ask.

The Establishment hoped to strike back under Putnam. However, for the third time in eight years — McCollum losing in 2010, Bush flailing in 2016, and Putnam faltering now — its plans are being thwarted.

It can’t be overstated just how shocked many establishment figures and lobbyists were during DeSantis’ recent tour of Tallahassee, where he met with dozens of top lobbyists. It wasn’t just that these insiders were alarmed by the Ponte Vedra Republican’s lack of knowledge about issues facing the state, it was the indifference and disdain he displayed while meeting with them. Almost every one of the lobbyists I spoke with who met with DeSantis mentioned how often he checked his phone, as if they were on a bad first date. He asked few, if any, questions about what concerns or suggestions they had. Instead it was just Trump, Trump, and more Trump.

The Establishment has been licking its Scott-inflicted wounds for nearly eight years and in DeSantis it sees another four years of living under an absentee landlord who, if we’re honest about it, would rather be in D.C. than Tallahassee.

So the Florida GOP, which has held hegemonic control over the state since 1998, faces limited choices.

— It can grin and bear DeSantis. That’s what most will do. There are top-tier lobbying firms already positioned to thrive under a DeSantis administration.

— It can back-door its support for Gwen Graham or Philip Levine. This is what some — not many but some — will do. And they’ll keep their Republican bona fides by doubling-down on their donations to incoming legislative leaders Bill Galvano and Jose Oliva.

OR … and with thirteen days until candidate qualifying closes, this is crazy … The Establishment could Draft Pam Bondi.

The Attorney General chose not to run for higher office this cycle. And she didn’t get/take a position in the Trump White House, despite her ties to the president. She’s coy about what her plans are for when she leaves office, although many expect her to pursue a track in television, specifically with Fox News.

She’s also never expressed any real interest in being Governor.

But … if she wanted it … it’s there.

There hasn’t been recent polling, at least none that I’ve seen, but a survey last year from Associated Industries of Florida showed Republican voters giving Bondi high marks. Fifty-four percent approve of the job she was doing, while just 12 percent had an unfavorable view and 17 percent said they had no opinion. She stood heads-and-shoulders above any Republican not named Scott, including Putnam.

Bondi would have some issues in the general election, especially because of a scandal linking a donation from Trump to a decision not to pursue a legal case against his “university,” but she also has a strong record she can run on, including her fight against pill mills.

Could she beat DeSantis in the primary? She probably has a better chance of doing so than Putnam does at this point. It would be a tall order to raise the kind of money she would need to win, but at least she wouldn’t be out-Trumped by DeSantis the way Putnam has been.

Meanwhile, the GOP Establishment would quickly transfer its support from Putnam to her because the devil you know (Bondi) is always better than the devil you don’t (DeSantis).

I don’t even know what a general election match-up would look like between Bondi and Graham or Levine, but Bondi probably has a better shot at keeping the moderate Republican women voters turned off by Trump in this so-called “Year of the Woman.”

Bondi is both incredibly telegenic and personable on a retail level, so she would give the Republicans their best chance at holding on to power. If she is the nominee, those PredictIt odds instantly move from three-to-two against to better than even money.

Only there’s just two weeks to convince Bondi that she’s the best candidate to help the party maintain control of the Governor’s Mansion through the next presidential election and redistricting process. She’d have to put on hold whatever those apolitical ambitions are that so many believe she has. She’d have to raise money 24 hours a day for the next four months. She’d have to convince Donald Trump not to weigh in too heavily in the Republican primary. And that only gets her to the general election, where a blue wave is supposedly building.

But it’s all there if Pam Bondi wants it.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Remembering Anthony Bourdain at FSU

First known for cuisine and later his storytelling, chef and TV star Anthony Bourdain had a knack for traveling the world and telling the world about it.

After news broke Friday that Bourdain tragically ended his own life in France, the world mourned and celebrated his work — which, we’ve learned, brought him to all the nooks and crannies of the planet, even Tallahassee.

Highlighted on Twitter by Gus Corbella of Greenberg Traurig, a clip shows Bourdain speaking with a group of prospective writers at Florida State University in 2011. It’s worth watching:

“I started writing at age 44 after 28 years spent standing in kitchens,” Bourdain tells the students. “Who would want to read about the squalid life of a not-particularly-good cook? This subculture of chefs and cooks and dishwashers …”

He offered tips to the students as well: “I never read what I’ve just written if I can avoid it.” And at least one student interviewed in the clip said she was inspired by how late he began to document his experiences through prose.

Even Bourdain, who at the time had reached stardom and notoriety, walked away from the lecture with something to gain. He said the writing students at FSU were likely more serious about writing than he is, and that speaking with them was flattering.

“It just feels good,” Bourdain said. “I’m walking around thinking like, ‘Damn, I’m a writer.’ ”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew WilsonDanny McAuliffeJim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

State gets election security money — The Florida Department of State received $19.2 million in federal election security money this week following pressure from county and state leaders to apply for the funding. The money is part of a $380 million package approved earlier this year by Congress to enhance election security in all 50 states. In May, supervisors of elections in Florida first raised concerns that the state had not applied for the $19.2 million set aside for it, as reported by Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times. Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson applied further pressure on the Department to apply for the funding before the midterm elections. The Legislature will need to unlock the funds before the Department of State can distribute money to each county’s election office.

Tourism on record track — The first three months of 2018 saw a record number of visitors come to the Sunshine State, according to Florida’s tourism-marketing agency VISIT Florida. An estimated 33.2 million visitors traveled to Florida from January through March. The previous three-month high was 30.9 million visitors. In 2017, the Legislature appropriated $76 million to VISIT Florida for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The same amount was appropriated during the 2018 Legislative Session. The public-private agency has recently led efforts to advertise Florida tourism in Canada, and the number of visitors from that country was up 2.5 percent during the last quarter.

Judge lifts stay on marijuana smoking ban — Following her ruling last month that Florida’s ban on smoking medical marijuana is unconstitutional, Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers lifted the stay, or hold, on the ruling following the state’s immediate appeal of Gievers’ initial ruling. Gievers’ order now will come into effect Monday. But while smoking the plant for medicinal purposes will be considered legal, patients still can’t get smokable marijuana until the Department of Health finalizes new rules for Gievers’ decision. An attorney representing the state said the rule-making process could take months to complete.

Parkland panel meets again — A group charged with unearthing facts and recommending improvements to prevent another mass school shooting met again this week to review the Feb. 14 tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The fact-finding commission, which includes lawmakers, local authorities and citizens, was included in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed in the 2018 Legislative Session. Andrew Pollack, a former member of the commission, Thursday announced his resignation from the panel, citing the need to focus his efforts on electing members to the Broward County School Board. He is the father of one of the slain Parkland students. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who heads the commission, directed the conversation Thursday toward risk-assessment protocols that must be implemented ahead of the next school year, reports the News Service of Florida. Among them: Evidence-based youth mental health awareness and assistance curriculum, the Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool, and a student crime-watch program.

Scott’s disclosure set for appeal hearing — A lawsuit challenging whether Gov. Rick Scott properly disclosed his wealth will now be heard by the 1st District Court of Appeal. Scott’s office argues that the issue brought forward, which claims the Governor did not fully disclose the details of his personal wealth through the use of a blind trust, should be heard by the Florida Commission on Ethics. A circuit judge ruled otherwise earlier this year, and now the appeals court will have its say on what authority will consider whether Scott properly disclosed his finances. Filed in 2017, Scott listed a net worth at $149.3 million, including a blind trust worth $130.5 million.

Puerto Rico PD gets some backup

The Puerto Rico Police Department is now home to 25 Florida Highway Patrol vehicles.

“Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last year, I have visited the island six times to offer guidance, assistance and support. We’ve made it a priority in Florida to aid Puerto Rico in their recovery from this devastating storm,” Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday.

Florida is giving some mobile help to the Puerto Rico Police Department.

“I’m glad that the Florida Highway Patrol, on behalf of Floridians, has stepped up and honored a request to provide additional surplus police cruisers to the island. These 25 vehicles will assist law enforcement efforts as they work to rebuild. We will continue to do all we can to support Puerto Rico’s recovery.”

The cache of cruisers each had more than 80,000 miles of service in the Sunshine State, and had been out of circulation and awaiting surplus auction before they were donated to PRPD.

“The Florida Highway Patrol is proud to continue assisting the Puerto Rico Police Department following Hurricane Maria,” said FHP Director Gene Spaulding. “These donated vehicles are another way Florida is supporting the people of Puerto Rico in their recovery.”

Though, as the Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas tweeted this week, “Oh so many questions this election year … @FLGovScott says he’s sending 25 used FHP vehicles to Puerto Rico. But his prison system struggles to have working vehicles to transport inmates. It’s received half of what it’s asked for in vehicle replacement.”

Veterans honor Putnam for outdoor initiatives

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was recently recognized at the Jacksonville Purple Heart State Convention.

Putnam, who also is vying for the Republican nod in the Governor’s race, was awarded the Military Order of the Purple Heart Distinguished Service Award.

Adam Putnam was recognized at the Jacksonville Purple Heart State Convention.

During remarks at the convention, the commissioner cited his work in Operation Outdoor Freedom, which gives certain veterans the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors at no cost.

Putnam said that camps across the state have served over 3,600 veterans so far, making it the only program of its “kind, size and scope,” at least to his knowledge.

“The therapy that’s taking place in those woods and around those campfires is extraordinary. We would not be able to continue to identify and promote this program without your help,” Putnam said. “We need to be able to let every veteran know that this is an opportunity for them and a small way for the State of Florida to say thank you for your service to our great country.”

Two camps currently operate: Camp Prairie and Peace River Camp. Both are overseen by the Florida Forest Service, which Putnam oversees. Putnam also has dedicated a Purple Heart Trail in the Withlacoochee State Forest.

Jimmy Patronis recognized for PTSD legislation

The Florida Professional Firefighters group this week honored Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis for helping champion a new law that gives first responders access to mental health care through the state’s workers’ compensation system.

Jimmy Patronis is being honored for PTSD legislation giving access to mental health care.

“I am proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish for our firefighters and other first responders. As Florida’s State Fire Marshal, I will keep fighting for those that serve and protect all of Florida. My goal is to also ensure cancer is a covered treatment, providing greater health care access to all first responders. I’m grateful that I was able to join the Florida Professional Firefighters this evening and receive this great honor,” Patronis said of the award.

Notably, the new law allows first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to receive care and treatment under workers’ comp provided by the state. First responders in Florida have suffered from PTSD as a result of their line of work. The disease has led many to take their own lives.

The CFO this week also presented more than $1 million in grant funding for firefighting equipment and facility updates across the state. The grants were awarded to Florida’s Firefighter Grant Assistance Program to Felda Volunteer Fire Department, Montura Volunteer Fire Department and Pioneer Plantation Volunteer Fire Department in the amounts of $55,414.60, and were accompanied by an additional $843,000 given to the City of LaBelle Fire Station.

“These grants will support our firefighters, improve their emergency response, and help them do their jobs safely and efficiently,” Patronis said in a prepared statement. “No matter the size of the community, fire service needs for families remain the same. Florida’s firefighters put their lives on the line every day to protect our friends and family, and we must do everything to support their heroic efforts.”

Instagram of the week

Light lunch. #Alsace

A post shared by anthonybourdain (@anthonybourdain) on

RIP Anthony Bourdain.

CFO commends SEC for enlisting crypto chief

Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis said he was a fan of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s decision to bring on its first-ever cryptocurrency adviser.

“The SEC’s appointment of a cryptocurrency chief is a forward-thinking and bold move. My office has been closely following cryptocurrency, and as with all emerging technology, there comes a new risk for consumers to be defrauded,” Patronis said in a news release. “With the Seminole County Tax Collector now accepting bitcoin as a form of payment and Tampa/St. Petersburg and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale ranking seventh and eighth in the top 10 bitcoin-friendly cities, it’s important we stay ahead of the game when it comes to consumer protection.”

The SEC named Valerie Szczepanik to oversee how securities laws apply to emerging cryptocurrencies.

The SEC announced the appointment of Valerie Szczepanik Tuesday. She’s tasked with overseeing how securities laws apply to emerging digital asset technologies, including cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and Ethereum.

Citing the recent consumer alert his office put out on cryptocurrency scams, Patronis said he’s already directed his staff to set up a call with Szczepanik “to discuss how we can continue to protect consumers in our state.”

The week in appointments

Martin County Court

Jennifer Alexandra Alcorta Waters will fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Curtis L. Disque. The 41-year-old from Palm City is a partner at Fox, Wackeen, Dungey, Beard, Bush, Goldman, Waters, Robison, van Vonno & McCluskey, LLC. She received an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest University and received a J.D. at the University of Florida.

Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees

Dr. Lee Mandel fills a vacant seat for a term that began this week and ends Sept. 10, 2020. Mandel, 53, of Fort Lauderdale is a physician with the South Florida Sinus and Allergy Center. He received an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and Pursued medicine at the University of South Florida.

Pasco-Hernando State College District Board of Trustees

Robin Schneider, 55, of Springhill and Al Hernandez, 46, of Odessa were reappointed for terms ending March 31, 2022. Lee Maggard, 31, of Zephyrhills, was reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2022.

New College of Florida Board of Trustees

Garin Hoover, 55, of Sarasota, fills a vacant seat for a term ending Jan. 6, 2023. He is the owner of Hoover Realty and a retired attorney.

Florida seniors earn National Merit Scholarship

The National Merit Scholarship Corp. announced this week that 4,000 students nationwide had earned a college-sponsored scholarship, including 300 Florida high school seniors.

“These students’ scholarship earnings clearly demonstrate that hard work pays off, and I am immensely proud of them for representing the State of Florida so well,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. “I also want to commend their educators and parents whose support and encouragement over the years have contributed to their success.”

The scholarships provide between $500 and $2,000 annually for up to four years of undergraduate study at the institution that awarded them.

It takes some work to earn a National Merit Scholarship — to make the grade, students must apply for the scholarship in their junior year, write an essay, score well on the SAT and lock down a recommendation from a high school official.

Mel Ponder recognized as Legislator of the Year

The Florida College System Council of Presidents (COP) and the Association of Florida Colleges (AFC) named Rep. Mel Ponder, a Destin Republican, as its 2018 Legislator of the Year.

The groups said they “recognize an exemplary legislator annually when his or her contributions during the Legislative Session significantly enhance and support the Florida College System.”

Mel Ponder: Florida Legislator of the Year.

Ponder sponsored HB 75, which now allows Florida colleges to waive certain postsecondary fees, not covered by the Department of Defense, for active duty members of U.S. Armed Forces using military tuition assistance.

“This new law will further open access to college for the men and women of the military to attend Florida’s top-rated colleges in the nation,” the groups said in a statement.

Ponder will be formally presented the award at the Council of Presidents annual meeting in Tampa June 11.

Benacquisto launches local photo contest

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto is encouraging photography enthusiasts in her area to submit local pictures to be displayed to the public.

An email distributed this week from the Fort Myers Republican asks Southwest Florida photogs to snap their favorite spots and submit them by Aug. 31.

Lizbeth Benacquisto asks Southwest Florida photogs to snap their favorite spots to be displayed at the Richard H. Rush Library Gallery.

Submissions will have a chance to be displayed at the Richard H. Rush Library Gallery, as well as other areas around Lee County. The pictures also have a chance to get sent out in Benacquisto’s monthly newsletter.

Text from an email advertising the event reads, “There are beautiful places and unforgettable moments that take place across Lee County each day: Show us the ones that mean the most to you!”

Take a hunter safety class this summer

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reminds Floridians if they haven’t completed the state’s hunter safety course requirement, now’s a good time to sign up.

Many of these classes, offered statewide, fill up fast. And people born after May 31, 1975, must complete the FWC’s hunter safety class before they can buy the type of hunting license that allows them to legally hunt alone.

In Florida, safe hunting is no accident.

If one is new to our state, these classes will make new residents aware of Florida’s hunting laws.

For those who just relocated from inside the state, the FWC says the classes are “a great way to meet other hunters. You can make some new hunting buddies or maybe even get a line on a great hunt club that’s looking for new members.”

Register for a hunter safety class by going to MyFWC.com/HunterSafety or by contacting your nearest FWC regional office.

Florida Forest Service announces Longleaf Pine program

The Florida Forest Service announced this week that the Longleaf Pine Landowner Incentive Program is now accepting applications from eligible, nonindustrial private forest landowners. Applications will be accepted through Friday, July 13.

The goal of the program is to increase the acreage of healthy Longleaf Pine ecosystems in Florida by helping nonindustrial private forest landowners make the long-term investment required to establish and maintain this valuable ecosystem.

Florida Longleaf Pines.

The program offers incentive payments for completion of timber stand improvement, invasive species control, prescribed burning, planting Longleaf Pine, native plant understory establishment and mechanical underbrush treatments.

The program is offered for private lands in Florida counties located west of the Aucilla River and several counties near the Ocala National Forest.

Application forms and more information on program requirements and procedures can be found by visiting FreshFromFlorida.com or by contacting your local county forester.

DHSMV: Drive slower, stay cooler this summer

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) has launched its Safe Summer Travel Campaign.

Partnering with the Florida Highway Patrol, Department of Children and Families, Department of Transportation, Florida Police Chiefs Association, Florida Sheriffs Association and AAA, the team offers a wide variety of advice, but all agree safety begins with easing up on the gas pedal.

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wants all motorists to drive safe and always ‘Arrive Alive.’

“There are more travelers on Florida’s roads than ever before, so it’s critical to remember to slow down, stay cool and be safe,” DHSMV Director Terry Rhodes said.

Besides slowing down, the groups encourage prevention methods, like making sure proper child restraints are in place.

However, the first line of defense should be checking your tires, according to the DHSMV. Data recorded by the agency showed there were more than 3,306 tire-related crashes last year, resulting in 285 serious injuries.

And with the hot summer sun upon the state, the groups warn to never leave children or pets in vehicles unattended. Moreover, suspicious or aggressive behavior on the roadways can be reported by dialing *FHP (*347).

VISIT FLORIDA unveils cooperative marketing effort

The state’s tourism marketing agency is now allowing industry partners to ‘buy into’ over 200 shared marketing opportunities and small business programs.

Developed with Miles Partnership, the cooperative marketing idea is expected to extend the marketing dollars of the 12,000 industry partners associated with the public-private marketing agency.

“Our new offerings allow all of our small, medium and large partners across the state to buy into unique opportunities that fit their needs and maximize their budgets,” VISIT FLORIDA CEO Ken Lawson said.

VISIT FLORIDA CEO Ken Lawson.

New programs include, per the agency, “nontraditional, such as a Google Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) content optimization program; North America, which includes tried and true sanctioned print and digital programs in publications such as AAA, Wall Street Journal and Golf Digest; International, which includes new Brand USA program packages; Regional, which focuses on brand development of regional parts of the state to build successful media plans; and Small Business, such as a video content production program to allow businesses to tell their own unique stories.”

News of the cooperative is timely, as it comes as businesses prep for the next fiscal year.

VISIT Florida and Miles Partnership designed the concept with the help of feedback and collaboration from industry partners at the agency’s Leadership Summit in December.

Florida Bar to hold convention in Orlando — with yoga

The Florida Bar will hold its annual convention June 13-16 in Orlando and will focus this year “on the importance of living and enjoying a balanced lifestyle.”

West Palm Beach attorney Michelle Suskauer will be sworn in as the Bar’s 70th president. Vero Beach attorney John M. Stewart will be sworn in as president-elect; he will become president in June 2019. The convention is being held at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek.

West Palm Beach attorney and Florida Bar President-elect Michelle Suskauer.

“Living Well, Working Well: The Balanced Lawyer,” the theme of this year’s convention, emphasizes the positive effects of learning to balance family, work, health and fitness.

This will be the first time the convention offers health and wellness activities including yoga, meditation and more. Mindfulness, stress-management and integrating work-life balance are key themes the discussions and programs will focus on.

Other highlights include:

Judicial Luncheon— Held Thursday, June 14, the luncheon will feature Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga presenting “The State of the Judiciary.” Lawyer, author and mindfulness instructor Jeena Cho will be the keynote speaker. Justice Labarga’s remarks (starting about 12:30 p.m.) and Cho’s presentation (starting about 1:15 p.m.) will be streamed live on The Florida Bar’s Facebook page.

General Assembly— The centerpiece event June 15 will include installation of incoming Bar officers and Board of Governors members. Suskauer will be sworn in as the Bar’s new president, and Stewart will be sworn in as president-elect. The entire General Assembly from 9:30 a.m.-noon will be streamed live on The Florida Bar’s Facebook page.

50-year members — The Bar will honor 313 attorneys for 50 years of service at a special luncheon. Also honored will be 14 senior counselors, who have practiced for 50 years or more but have not been members of The Florida Bar for the entire time.

Harvard faculty to lead Executive Leadership course at Florida Poly

Business executives from all over Florida are invited to participate in a one-of-a-kind leadership course developed by Harvard professors and taught at Florida Polytechnic University this Aug. 5-10.

The immersive weeklong Florida Poly Executive Leadership Course is designed for mid-career professionals looking to improve their leadership skills. Attendees will learn how to better understand their market, execute creative change, and grow their organizations through flexible and adaptive leadership.

Florida Polytechnic University welcomes Harvard professors emeritus Drs. Earl Sasser and Paul Marshall.

The course is led by Harvard professors emeritus Drs. Paul Marshall and Earl Sasser to provide participants with the most advanced leadership strategies through hands-on activities, real-world case studies, group breakouts and self-reflection.

“What makes this course unique is that it is led by Harvard faculty and modeled by what people can find at Harvard,” said Florida Poly’s president, Dr. Randy K. Avent. “It’s also a resident program which brings the opportunity to build valuable relationships with leaders from other companies.”

Attendees will spend their evenings in a residence hall. The registration deadline is July 22. For more information, contact executiveeducation@floridapoly.edu or 863-874-8614.

AARP Florida tracks lawmakers’ votes

How state legislators voted in the 2018 Legislature on issues of interest to older Floridians can be seen with the release of AARP Florida’s 7th Annual Legislative Voting Record.

This year’s voting record contains detailed, vote-by-vote information on key legislation important to those age 50 and older.

AARP wants to know how Florida seniors are voting.

AARP said it alerted legislators that it would consider their votes on certain proposals to be key votes for this voting record.

And because key decisions often occur at several stages during the long process of legislative consideration of a bill, the voting record tracks legislative committees’ actions as well as final votes.

The voting record provides information about legislative votes based on broad topics, such as regulated utilities, the state budget, health care and supportive services, prescription drugs, consumer protections and livable communities.

“AARP Florida’s Legislative Voting Record makes it easy to track legislators’ decisions on key issues that matter most,” AARP Florida State Director Jeff Johnson said.

The complete version of the 2018 voting record can be viewed and downloaded here.

Ports group highlights promising data

A five-year mission plan released by the Florida Ports Council bears good news: Cargo and cruise activity is increasing.

The nonprofit’s strategic plan, “Connecting Commerce: The 2018-2022 Five-Year Florida Seaport Mission Plan,” provides a few insightful data points. Among them: a 4.9 percent increase in Florida’s waterborne trade, and a $4.3 billion increase in the value of containerized cargo moved.

Gov. Scott added commentary to the news, citing the state’s $1.4 billion investment in ports since December 2010 — the month before he assumed office.

Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler.

“Florida’s hardworking businesses have created more than 1.5 million private sector jobs since December 2010. This job growth would not be possible without our incredible seaports,” Scott said.

Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler said continuing investments in ports will continue to contribute to economic growth.

“Now that Florida ports have the infrastructure to accommodate more cargo, we are seeing steady growth year after year in total cargo tonnage and value of cargo, as well as the number of cruise passengers,” Wheeler said.

“With $3.3 billion in capital improvements at Florida’s seaports identified over the next five years, we expect these numbers to continue to grow creating a stable economy for current Floridians and future generations.”

Florida Wildlife Federation praises ‘extraordinary generosity’

The Florida Wildlife Federation (FWF) recognized philanthropists Sam and Betty Shine this week, after their donation of “a critical tract of land, over 6,000 acres in size, to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge south of Tallahassee on the Gulf of Mexico.”

The land donated by the Shines will expand the Refuge northward to U.S. 98, “thereby protecting this environmental jewel from development and pollution,” the FWF said in a statement.

Philanthropist Sam Shine, founder and former CEO of Samtech. (Image via Christopher Fryer/News and Tribune)

As a habitat, it will “provide a perpetual home for a wide variety of plants and animals, including the Florida black bear and the indigo snake.” The tract’s protection also affords increased water quantity and quality to the aquifer, which helps Apalachee Bay.

“This is the latest in a long line of environmental projects involving Sam and Betty, and the Florida Wildlife Federation greatly appreciates their altruism,” said Manley Fuller, FWF president.

Capital craft brewery gearing up for move

Renovations began this week at the new South Monroe Street home of Tallahassee’s Proof Brewing Co., the city’s first craft brewery.

The move is into a 70-year-old, 34,000 square-foot former Coca-Cola bottling plant a short drive from downtown. Proof outgrew its current location, a 7,500 square-foot former warehouse in the city’s Railroad Square Art Park.

Proof Brewing Co., Tallahassee’s first craft brewery, is making a big move.

“The support and encouragement we’ve received from our community about the news of our expansion has been incredible,” it said in an email. “It’ll be here before we know it.”

The company, owned and operated by Byron and Angela Burroughs, already has begun receiving new equipment, including 60-barrel fermenters, with more tanks slated for the future.

“Every square inch is getting positioned with something,” the email said.

“The new space will allow us to take on several fun new projects — from seasonal and year-round cans, to more barrel-aged beers.” It’s expected to be open no later than January 2019.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

AFP Florida releases 2018 lawmaker scorecard

Americans for Prosperity-Florida on Wednesday released its scorecards grading Florida lawmakers on their votes during the 2018 Legislative Session.

AFP-FL examined more than 6,000 individual votes on 66 different issues in crafting its “Economic Freedom Scorecard.” Each bill where AFP kept score relates to one of the tentpoles of the group’s “Five for Florida” plan, which advocates for “lower taxes, government transparency and accountability, decreased regulatory burdens, school choice, and eliminating cronyism.”

A sampling of the legislation graded include bills to cut sports incentives, create film incentives, provide tax cuts for businesses and the bill that created Amendment 5, which if passed by 60 percent of voters in November would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature for any tax or fee increase.

“This was one of the most successful sessions for free-market, liberty-advancing policies that will have an immediate and lasting impact towards making Florida the best state to live, work, and raise a family. We applaud the efforts of the 66 Florida lawmakers that earned their ‘A+’ on the most comprehensive scorecard in the state,” said AFP-FL Director Chris Hudson.

“We want to especially commend outgoing Speaker of the Florida House, Richard Corcoran for his principled leadership which has helped revamp our Florida education system to ensure that more children can receive the education that best fits their needs, for his commitment to reducing job-killing red tape, and his commitment to good stewardship through eliminating wasteful spending to ensure that taxpayer resources can be put to their highest and best use.

“We look forward to taking this scorecard across the state as our grassroots teams will be sharing these results with their local communities to show how their lawmakers voted on key issues throughout the year.”

Given the conservative group’s chosen metrics, it’s not surprising Republican lawmakers scored higher marks than their Democratic colleagues.

In the Senate, 15 GOP members earned an “A+” while the lowest-scoring Republican earned a “B,” a full grade higher than the best performing Senate Democrats. The grading curve played out similarly in the House, where more than 50 Republican lawmakers aced the test and 32 Democrats outright flunked it.

AFP-FL said it plans to spread the word about lawmakers’ grades with digital and direct mail campaigns. A sample mailer that will go out in support of Pinellas Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls touts his “A+ for helping make Florida a better place to live, work and raise a family.”

The example mailer is below.

AFP-FL Economic Freedom Scorecard - Chris Sprowls

Joe Henderson: FEA to Republicans: You get an F, and you get an F, and you …

It seems only fair that the Florida Education Association decided the Legislature deserved to be covered with the same sauce it has for years been ladling on public schools.

Hence, the report card the Association just gave lawmakers, based on how they voted on education issues over the last two years. Not surprisingly, Republicans — aka the Charter School Expansion Rubber Stamp Collective — fared poorly.

I can just picture Oprah Winfrey announcing the outcome: “You get an F! And you get an F! And you …”  

In the Senate, 16 of 24 Republicans were given F’s, along with most of the GOP House members. This is not surprising, for two reasons:

1: Richard Corcoran, who served as House Speaker for the last two years, was hellbent to overhaul public education in Florida. He made huge strides in that direction, supremely confident that he knew what was right and making sure members of his caucus understood that.

Public-school teachers and union members generally loathe him. I don’t think he minds.

2: While public-school teachers for years have known the deck is stacked against them in the Legislature, they appear to realize that demoralized acceptance of the disrespect from Tallahassee isn’t a winning a strategy.

The primary argument in favor of charter schools is that they offer students stuck in failing schools an alternative. Actually, that is true. Some students do extremely well in charters, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Public schools must accept any student — whether disruptive or disinterested. Nothing is (or can be) demanded of parents in terms of school participation. And if the students flunk out, it can drag down the whole school’s grade, under a formula determined by the state to punish teachers.

Charters can enact much stricter rules and require support from parents. At Tampa’s Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School, for instance, families must spend at least 20 hours each year in some volunteer service there.

Public schools don’t have that option.

Failure to meet that requirement means, according to the school handbook, means the student can be expelled. Excessive tardiness or absences can get a student kicked out.

Not so in the public schools, unless a student is 16 years or older.

You get the idea.

Charter schools can boast of some impressive numbers; Brooks-DeBartolo perennially gets an “A” rating and seems by any standard to be a success story.

But charters can also cap enrollment — this case, around 600 students — while public schools have to take any student living within their boundaries.

Teachers at charters also are not unionized.

That always has been the issue, I believe, for lawmakers. They hate dealing with the teachers’ union.

So, they fought back the best way they know how — with grades, to show how public schools lag, with ridiculous requirements that set some schools up for failure, and by diverting money to the charters.

Charter schools this year received more than $91 million from the state under a capital funding program enacted in 2017.

And the FEA told lawmakers if you want to play that game, OK, here’s your grade.

I doubt few, if any, F-rated Republicans are worried about that, any more than a Democrat who gets the same rating from the National Rifle Association stays awake nights.

In our ultra-polarized atmosphere, politicians now wear rejection from the other side as a badge of affirmation.

But there should be at least a little warning to Republicans, used to running roughshod in the Legislature.

Between shootings on campus and being on the receiving end of the back of lawmakers’ hands, they have had enough. If enough of them follow the NRA and take this report card to the polling place, it might just tip a few seats.

If that happens, the FEA will no doubt award itself an “A.”

Putnam Ad 5.17.2018

Adam Putnam’s committee has spent $3.25M this month

Adam Putnam is on a spending spree.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate’s main fundraising vehicle, Florida Grown PC, tacked on another $226,000 in contributions through the first three weeks of May according to contribution reports on its website, but those gains were outstripped by nearly $3.25 million in spending.

Receiving the bulk of those funds was Smart Media Group. The Virginia-based company took in just under $2.8 million for three media buys — $872,000 on May 4, $1 million on May 10 and $925,000 on May 17. That last check was likely drafted to run Putnam’s newest campaign ad, which touts his plan to invest in vocational education and slams so-called “liberal elites” for their perceived lack of respect for trade workers.

The other $425,000 or so in spending included about $160,000 in payments to Chicago-based i360 for database services as well as a $150,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Florida, alongside numerous smaller expenditures.

When it comes to money received, Disney is so far the top donor in May. The House of Mouse gave the Polk County pol nearly $70,000 through a pair of its subsidiaries — $50,000 via Disney Worldwide Services and $19,794 via Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Florida Grown also received $25,000 checks from NBCUniversal, Georgia businessman Wayne Pearson, Lakeland retiree Mark Clayton Hollis Jr. and Building On Your Dreams, a political committee connected to Bradenton Republican Rep. Jim Boyd.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran put some cash on the table, too. His political committee, Watchdog PAC, cut the second-term Agriculture Commissioner a check for $20,000 last week.

Watchdog PAC was Corcoran’s main fundraising vehicle for what most onlookers though would be a gubernatorial — or even Attorney General — campaign in the fall. He ended speculation about his political future a couple weeks ago when he announced he would not make a statewide run and would instead back Putnam over U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in the Republican Primary for Governor.

The contribution came in on May 17, about a week after the endorsement.

Following Corcoran’s contrib on the ledger were trio of $10,000 checks, one each from TKM Farms, Saunders Real Estate and former TECO Energy CEO John B. Ramil.

The most noteworthy donor under the five-figure mark was Tallahassee lobbying firm Johnson & Blanton, which received $1.25 million in compensation during the first quarter. That includes $425,000 for its work lobbying the Governor and Cabinet, including Putnam.

As of April 30, Putnam’s committee had raised $23.43 million and had about $15.3 million banked. The 43-year-old Republican has also amassed nearly $5.5 million for his campaign account, with $3.6 million on hand. DeSantis’ April finance reports showed total fundraising of $7.8 million and a little over $7 million banked.

Finance reports covering all of May are due to the state on June 11.

Ardian Zika

Ardian Zika endorsed by former Pasco state Senator

Ardian Zika has added another backer in his bid to replace term-limited House Speaker Richard Corcoran in House District 37.

The Land O’ Lakes Republican announced Wednesday that John Grant, who represented Pasco and Hillsborough counties in the Florida Senate from 1986 to 2000, had endorsed him in the four-way Republican Primary for Pasco County-based seat.

“For fourteen years the voters of Pasco County gave me the honor of representing them in the Florida Senate,” Grant said. “They elected and re-elected me because I shared their values. Ardian Zika shares those same values and that’s why I am supporting his election to the Florida House of Representatives, District 37.”

Grant joins St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, former House Speaker Will Weatherford,  Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco, and the Fraternal Order of Police in endorsing Zika.

“I am honored to have former Florida State Senator John Grant’s endorsement,” Zika said. “Senator Grant represented the residents of Pasco County for fourteen years in our state capitol. He fought for lower taxes, less government, more personal responsibility and freedom. I am grateful for Senator Grant’s example and for his support and endorsement of my campaign.”

Zika is running against Ryan BoneyBill Gunter and Elle Rudisill in the primary. Democrats Tammy Garcia and Denise Mestanza-Taylor are also running.

Through April, Zika had raised more than $183,000 for his campaign and had $170,000 in the bank. Rudisill is in a distant second place with $13,500 banked, while Boney and Gunter each have $0 in their campaign accounts.

HD 37 covers the majority of inland Pasco County, including the communities of Land O’ Lakes, Odessa, Heritage Pines, Shady Hills, Meadow Oaks and Moon Lake.

The district is a Republican stronghold. Corocran never faced an Election Day challenger in his three re-election campaigns since HD 37 was redrawn. The seat voted plus-27 for Donald Trump in 2016.

School boards continue battle over controversial law

School boards from across the state have gone to the 1st District Court of Appeal as they continue to challenge a controversial 2017 law that includes steps to boost charter schools.

Eleven districts signed on to notices filed last week indicating they will appeal an April 17 ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper that upheld the law. As is common, the notices do not detail the arguments the school boards will make at the Tallahassee-based appeals court.

The legal battle centers on a measure, commonly known as HB 7069, that was a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, and became one of most-controversial issues of the 2017 Legislative Session. The wide-ranging law included changes such as requiring county school boards to share local property-tax revenues with charter schools for building-related expenses. It also set the stage for adding new charter schools — dubbed “schools of hope” — that will serve students whose traditional public schools have been considered low-performing.

School boards filed the lawsuit last year arguing, at least in part, that HB 7069 infringed on their constitutional authority to operate public schools within their districts.

 But Cooper rejected the school boards’ arguments.

One notice of appeal was filed last week by the school boards in Alachua, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie and Volusia counties, according to documents posted on the Leon County clerk of courts website. Another notice was filed by the Collier County School Board, which intervened in the case after it was originally filed in circuit court.

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