Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

Report: Brenda Snipes resigns as Broward elections supervisor

Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes submitted her resignation, according to a report in the Sun-Sentinel.

The departure comes after a contentious recount that drew national scrutiny on the office, and after a number of leaders called her for removal from office.

The Sun-Sentinel sources Burnadette Norris-Weeks, counsel for the Supervisor of Elections Office, who told the newspaper she had seen a draft of Snipes resignation letter. The paper could not confirm when Snipes planned to leave office but said she will likely stay no longer than early January.

Snipes already indicated earlier in the week she likely would not seek re-election.

She originally took office after an appointment by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003, coincidentally after the Republican Governor removed Miriam Oliphant from the post following the mishandling of a midterm election.

Now Snipes has come under sustained fire for irregularities this year. Earlier this week, Bush joined a chorus of critics of the elections supervisor.

“There is no question that Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes failed to comply with Florida law on multiple counts, undermining Floridians’ confidence in our electoral process,” Bush tweeted on Monday. “Supervisor Snipes should be removed from her office following the recounts.”

But she suffered heavy criticism from all sides.

With a recount concluded and Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson conceding in the U.S. Senate race to Gov. Rick Scott, Democrats think poor ballot design may have contributed to an unusually high number of undervotes in the contest in Broward County. Nearly 25,000 fewer voters bubbled in that race than the Governor’s contest or even some constitutional amendments. The Senate race came down to 10,033 votes.

And after a machine recount on three statewide races this year, Snipes realized her staff had misplaced more than 2,000 ballots, prompting the office to leave in place original tabulations over the objection of Republican candidates.

The entire recount process became fraught with tension from the start when protracted vote counts in Broward and Palm Beach counties, both Democratic strongholds, dramatically tightened the margins in this year’s U.S. Senate and Governor’s races, and completely erased a lead Republican Matt Caldwell appeared to hold in the Agriculture Commissioner race on Election Day.

Caldwell declared victory on Nov. 6, he said, based on a belief his 40,000-vote lead over Democrat Nikki Fried at the time exceeded the number of outstanding votes left in the race. Then Broward County continued to add an additional 80,000 ballots into state totals over the next two days. Fried took the lead in Thursday and kept it through a statewide recount process.

Fried today declared victory herself after a manual recount that left her with a 6,753-vote lead. Caldwell, meanwhile, has sued Snipes office, his attorneys alleging elections officials logged in 6,873 vote-by-mail ballots accepted after polls closed on Election Day.

Make no mistake, Florida’s recount results were historic

A 12-day recount process in Florida ultimately failed to change the outcome of three statewide races. But make no mistake, the result of this ballot scrutiny was historic.

For starters, of course, this election marked the first time the Florida vote was close enough to send three statewide races—U.S. Senate, Governor and Agriculture Commissioner—to a machine recount.

But the motion in two of those races made history itself.

FairVote, a nonpartisan election reform group, released a study two years ago that looked at the history of statewide recounts dating back to the year 2000.

The study shows recounts for statewide races remain rare—only 27 races out of 4,867 statewide contests in 15 years ended up in a recount situation. Of those, only three such recounts—the 2008 Minnesota Senate race, 2004 Washington gubernatorial election and a 2006 Connecticut Auditor election—ever overturned the original outcomes of the races.

That hasn’t changed in the past three years, and presuming nothing changes in Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner contest this year, the Sunshine State won’t change the numbers either.

But the FairVote study also shows most recounts don’t significantly change the margins between the major candidates.

In fact, Florida still holds the record for margin shift. That’s from the 2000 presidential recount, the granddaddy of them all. There, an initial tabulation of Florida votes for president found Republican George W. Bush with a lead of 1,784 votes over Democrat Al Gore.

Few living here at the time will forget the dragged out legal and political fight that ensued over the next 36 days. The result, Bush’s lead dwindled to 537. That swing of a net 1,247 votes wasn’t enough to stop Florida’s electoral votes from delivering Bush the presidency, but it stood for nearly two decades as a record swing in totals before and after a recount.

That is until now.

Now, a machine recount in Florida’s three statewide races produced little shift. Republican Ron DeSantis’ lead over Democrat Andrew Gillum in the Governor’s race shrunk by one vote, from 33,684 to 33,683.

There was more motion in other races. The margin between Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Bill Nelson actually grew from 12,562 in the initial tabulation to 12,603. The margin between Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican Matt Caldwell dwindled from 5,326 votes to 5,307.

The little motion in the governor’s race did not force a hand recount of votes, and Gillum threw in the towel on Saturday. But the other races remained in the 0.25-percent margin to trigger a hand recount.

That produced significant motion in the races.

A Florida law passed in the aftermath of the 2000 recount says a hand recount only need look at undervotes and overvotes, not the entirety of more than 8.2 million votes in the race.

That means all candidates inevitably would gain votes as only ballots that didn’t register got this final look.

In the Senate race, the gap between Scott and Nelson dropped to 10,033 votes. That’s a 2,570-vote shift from the machine recount totals and a 2,529-vote shift from the original tabulation.

That’s more than double the shift in margin between Bush and Gore.

The manual recount also significantly changed the vote difference in the Agriculture race as well. There, the gap between Fried and Caldwell grew by 1,446 from the machine recount and by 1,427 from the original tally.

This means Florida lays claim to the three biggest shifts ever in the number of votes separating statewide candidates for office as a result of a hand recount.

That may alarm those who thought reforms put in place after 2000 guaranteed the initial tabulations of votes could be relied upon. But perhaps more disturbing may be that thousands of votes remain unaccounted for even now.

Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, following the revelation a machine recount found thousands fewer votes than the initial tabulation, says her office has misplaced over 2,000 ballots.

Palm Beach County also missed a deadline on the machine recount, and didn’t start a hand recount of the Agriculture Commissioner race before the deadline to have it complete.

And Hillsborough County refused to submit its machine recount when it came up nearly 900 votes short of the initial tabulation.

In some cases, these actions may reduce the shifts in margin between votes in Florida’s biggest races. But in others, particularly that hand recount for Agriculture Commissioner in Palm Beach, it well could make the gap grow.

And none of this gets into some 150 votes in Bay County that may yet get tossed because they were sent via email or fax.

In any case, this recount proved historic, and cemented Florida’s notorious reputation as a home to election count controversy.

Bill Nelson ends recount fight, concedes to Rick Scott

Sen. Bill Nelson formally brought to a close his recount fight in the race for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat and conceded to Republican opponent Rick Scott.

“I was not victorious in this race but I still wish to strongly reaffirm the cause for which we fought: A public office is a public trust,” said Nelson.

Nelson made his public statement shortly after a hand recount of over and undervotes statewide drew to a close.

Scott released his own statement recounting the conversation between the men.

“I just spoke with Senator Bill Nelson, who graciously conceded, and I thanked him for his years of public service,” said Scott.

Nelson’s lengthy statement thanked the people of Florida for entrusting him for decades.

“Well, things worked out a little differently than Grace and I had hoped. But, let me say, I by no measure feel defeated,” he said.

“And that’s because I have had the privilege of serving the people of Florida and our country for most of my life. And I don’t think anyone could have been as blessed. It has been a rewarding journey as well as a very humbling experience.”

The manual recount cut Scott’s lead over Nelson to just 10,033 votes, or 0.12 percent of more than 8.1 million votes cast.

But that’s not close enough for any pending litigation to realistically eliminate the gap.

In truth, Nelson’s chances at victory, however slim, seemed dashed once Broward County completed its manual inspection of undervotes. Nearly 25,000 fewer votes were cast in the heavily Democratic county for the Senate race than for Governor, despite the federal race appearing first on the ballot.

Most attribute that to poor ballot design, which put the Senate contest in a column below voter instructions, but Nelson attorney Marc Elias suggested a machine calibration issue left thousands of votes uncounted.

Had that been the case, it should have been remedied in a manual recount of votes. Instead, Nelson picked up just 410 votes in the hand tabulation.

Nelson thanked campaign staff for support through the campaign and the recount process.

“First, I want to say thanks to all of you who rallied to our cause, you walked the precincts, knocked on the doors, made phone calls, and contributed your time and your resources. And with an optimistic heart, I wish to say something else: We may have been heavily outspent in this campaign, but we were never outworked.

“To all Floridians, whether you voted for me, or for my opponent, or you didn’t vote at all, I ask that you to never give up this fight.”

Nelson’s concession signals the close to an 18-year Senate career and a dramatic turnaround in electoral fortunes for the long-time Florida politician.

In the year 2000, as Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore lost by 537 votes to Republican George W. Bush after a historic statewide recount, Nelson won his Senate run over Republican Bill McCollum by 284,747 votes, almost five percent of the vote.

In 2006, he defeated Republican Katherine Harris by more than 22 percentage points, and in 2012, he beat Republican Connie Mack IV by 13 percent.

Both of his previous re-election campaigns took place in strong Democratic years, as did this one, but his decades of experience could not fend off a challenge by Scott, who pumped nearly $70 million of his personal fortune into the Senate race this year.

This marks a third straight statewide win for Scott, this time by his narrowest margin, even as he claimed a majority of votes for the first time.

Scott ran a campaign praised for discipline and for its outreach to Hispanic voters. While the Latino vote nationwide continues to trend Democratic, Scott’s relationship with Puerto Rican and Cuban leaders helped him maintain a strong performance in the Sunshine State.

The Republican Governor took time off the campaign trail to mark the anniversary of when Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, and he tallies endorsements from island officials.

Meanwhile, his campaign aggressively painted Nelson as an out-of-touch pol who overstayed his welcome in Washington.

As Nelson leaves the scene, he outlined policy positions he hopes endure beyond his time in office.

“You must fight to protect the fundamental right to health care and against any attempt to rollback our progress on things like pre-existing conditions. You must fight to preserve the natural wonders of this state, from the Everglades to the Pine Forests to the beaches and offshore waters. Say ‘no’ to drilling — not one rig off our coastline.”

He also alluded to his trip to space as a Congressman in 1986, a journey that earned a spot forever in NASA’s manifest of astronauts.

“As a country, we need to continue to launch rockets and explore the heavens. I have seen the blue brilliance of the earth from the edge of the heavens.  And I will fight on to save this planet, our homes and our cities, from the spreading plague of the greenhouse gases that infect our atmosphere, and play havoc with our weather, and risks the planet our children and grandchildren will inherit.”

While being called the last of the Florida moderates, he touted a record of progressive votes in Washington.

“Every single one of us needs to keep fighting to strengthen Social Security and Medicare, for the generations that are there and to come.  It’s your Medicare, it’s your Social Security; you pay into those programs. They belong to you, and not to the politicians who are plotting to rob your retirement.

“I will continue to fight on and on for the inalienable human rights that are the soul and glory of the American experiment: civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and the sacred right to vote.”

And he made reference to the recount that marked this dramatic end to his Senate career.

“We must end all forms of voter suppression, make it easier for Americans to vote, and honor the ideal that we are governed by the majority and not by the minority rule.”

As for his future, he left unclear whether he has another political run in him but said he would not bow out of public life.

“Yes, I will continue to fight hard for what’s right, and I will also encourage others to seek common ground with their colleagues on the other side of the aisle.

“Inevitably, at times, that effort will fall short. But we have to try. We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy; where truth is treated as disposable, where falsehoods abound, and the free press is assaulted as the ‘enemy of the people.’

“There’s been a gathering darkness in our politics in recent years. My hope today can be found in the words of John F. Kennedy, who said civility can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.

“Thank you, all. God bless you, and God bless our country.”

Nelson’s concession immediately drew comments from both sides of the political aisle

Republican President Donald Trump congratulated Scott.

“From day one Rick Scott never wavered. He was a great Governor and will be even a greater Senator in representing the People of Florida. Congratulations to Rick on having waged such a courageous and successful campaign!” he tweeted.

Florida Democratic Party chair Terrie Rizzo praised Nelson’s record of service. “

“Senator Bill Nelson has led with integrity, humility, courage, and vision – always putting the best interests of Floridians first. From fighting for better schools and health care, to protecting our environment – Senator Nelson has always stood for what is right. Florida is better because of his leadership,” she said.
“We want to thank Senator Nelson for his years of service, and his leadership to our party. The sacrifices he made to serve this state, and our nation, will not be in vain.”

Elias, with the recount behind him, also said kind words about Nelson. “I am incredibly proud of Senator Nelson. Representing him has been an honor. During the recount, the margin narrowed but did not close. Thank you to the election officials for their diligence, and the volunteers and staff who worked to ensure that every lawful vote counted.”

Chris King, the Democratic lieutenant governor candidate this year, said, “Because of Senator Nelson, Florida families enjoy beaches and coasts free of oil rigs, and our children still dream of touching the stars. Thank you, Senator, for your public service.”

Florida finished its hand recount. Here’s how it turned out.

A complete hand recount of a close U.S. Senate race and an even tighter Agriculture Commissioner contest ultimately produced no change in outcome.

Election officials in Florida’s 67 counties faced a noon deadline today to submit results of a manual recount on two statewide races separated by less than a 0.25 percent.

In the high-profile Senate race, Republican Rick Scott ultimately received 4,099,505 to Democrat Bill Nelson’s 4,089,472. That’s a divide of just 10,033, or 0.12 percent of more than 8.1 million votes cast.

A machine recount of the race put Scott at 4,097,689 and Nelson at 4,085,086, a lead of 12,603. But while each lead of the race has tightened the margin, Scott remains the leader.

Scott this morning called on Nelson to concede the race.

“Be remembered as the statesman who graciously conceded after 42-years of public service,” Scott’s campaign said in a statement, “or be remembered as the sore loser who refused to face the people he served.”

Nelson’s campaign said the senator will make a public statement today at 3 p.m.

As for the Agriculture Commissioner race, Democrat Nikki Fried ultimately won 4,032,954 to Republican Matt Caldwell’s 4,026,201. That’s just 6,753 votes, or 0.08 percent of the vote.

The machine recount showed Fried at 4,024,666 and Caldwell at 4,029,973, a lead of 5,307.

But the manual recount grew her lead to its largest point yet.

Both races, though, remain the subject of ongoing litigation.

Nelson, the three term incumbent, fought successfully to have a deadline extended for voters to contact elections supervisors about signatures on mail-in ballots. That deadline passed last night at 5 p.m.

Caldwell continues to seek answers on why Broward County counted some 80,000 ballots after Election Day. His attorneys contended in court last week that Broward officials counted thousands of votes received after polls closed.

Hand recounts also were ordered in two state House races and a state Senate race.

In Florida Senate District 18, Democrat Janet Cruz appeared to edge incumbent state Sen. Dana Young, holding a 382-vote lead following completion of a hand recount in Hillsborough County.

In Florida House District 26, Republican Elizabeth Fetterhoff holds a 61-vote lead over Democratic incumbent Patrick Henry.

Meanwhile, in Florida House District 89, Republican Mike Caruso held a 32-vote lead over Democrat Jim Bonfiglio.

There, Jim Bonfiglio had sued Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections to count his race ahead of the Agriculture Commissioner contest.

Cygnal Polling founder talks firm’s success in Florida midterms

While many polls missed the mark in Florida’s multiple statewide midterm races, some surveys nearly hit the nail on the head in what turned out to be a chaotic cycle.

Cygnal, a polling firm founded by Brent Buchanan, was one of the better pollsters in terms of the U.S. Senate and Governor’s races here in the state.

Buchanan spoke with Florida Politics regarding Cygnal’s success, as well as his view of the state of polling in general.

As detailed in a blog on Cygnal’s website following the initial vote tallies, the pollster pegged GOP candidate Ron DeSantis to win the Governor’s race by 0.6 percentage points. Many other pollsters had Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum leading throughout the race.

DeSantis holds a lead of 0.41 percentage points at last count.

Their Senate projection was a bit further off, though still well within the margin of error. Cygnal had Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson ahead by 1.8 percentage points. He’s currently trailing his GOP opponent, Rick Scott, by 0.15 percentage points.

And that projection of a 1.8 percentage point lead for the Democrat was closer than most. FiveThirtyEight’s “Lite” projection model, which focused just on polling averages, had Nelson up by 3 percentage points.

Buchanan talked about what goes in to pollsters’ forecasts to make them more or less accurate.

“The accuracy comes from correctly predicting what the turnout composition was going to look like,” Buchanan said. “We knew that it would be a bigger midterm percentage turnout than historical midterms, just because of the energy that you saw and the interest and enthusiasm.”

Sure enough, turnout in Florida was up by 24 percent over the previous midterm cycle in 2014.

“We did 76 surveys in Florida this year, so we got a good feel for how things were looking and feeling in different competitive parts of the state that helped inform our ability to project what we thought the turnout would look like from a composition standpoint,” Buchanan added.

Still, in a field based so much on science or data, hearing the terms “predict” and “project” might seem odd to some election watchers.

But pollsters are often tasked with making some assumptions. It’s obviously impossible to survey every potential voter. So pollsters contact a few hundred or a few thousand people, and then use the sample to project what the full electorate might do.

That can involve tweaking the numbers in different ways. For instance, if a pollster projects a younger voting population than normal, but didn’t get a lot of young people to answer a particular survey, the pollster may give more weight to the answers of those young people who did answer.

But Buchanan said Cygnal did its best to get accurate samples to begin with: “You try on the front end to make those assumptions as you field, so you don’t have to weight it as much on the back end.”

Buchanan says the firm tries to break down voting population by age, gender, geography and party registration, among other factors.

Even though Cygnal surveyed races in multiple states, its Florida numbers were among its best. So how did they come so close in the Sunshine State?

“The close nature of Florida politics helps,” Buchanan noted. “I don’t know who put this out there, but I saw somebody that said, ‘If Florida had to choose between ice cream and a punch in the head, it would be 50.1 to 49.9 [percent].’ So that’s just the nature of the beast in Florida Politics.”

That is, Buchanan says they pegged a narrower range of possibilities for Florida than they may in other states, given the history of close elections here.

And while questions have been raised about the state of polling over the years, Buchanan argues it’s the interpretation of the polls that need an adjustment, rather than the surveys themselves.

“I think the biggest problem is not that pollsters are getting it wrong, I think it’s that people are viewing polling through the wrong lens,” Buchanan said. “It’s really hard to make a decision off of a single piece of information, and I consider a single poll as a single piece of information.”

As discussed above, different pollsters might make different assumptions about the electorate. So given the same raw data, they can churn out different results based on those assumptions.

During its polling of several 2018 midterm races, The New York Times showed the public how much those numbers can change based on who’s projected to show up on Election Day.

Buchanan says Cygnal does the same in its private work.

“That’s what we’ve started to do this year, is to show our clients various scenarios in the polling data, not just giving them one piece of information,” he said.

The takeaway: Don’t base your predictions off one set of assumptions from one pollster. It’s a good tip to keep in mind, given that polling for 2020 is already well underway.

Broward County hand recount nets little for Bill Nelson

With a hand recount of U.S. Senate votes in Broward County complete, Democrat Bill Nelson netted less than 300 votes, according to Republican Rick Scott’s campaign.

That’s bad news for the Democrat, who hoped the examination of some 32,000 undervotes in the heavily Democratic County would help close a 12,603-vote deficit in the election.

Miami Herald reporter Alex Harris on Saturday tweeted that Nelson picked up 410 new votes in the hand recount of undervotes, while Scott won an additional 136 votes. That’s a 274-vote gain for Nelson from Broward County.

Scott held a 0.15-percent lead on Nelson after a machine recount of votes in every county concluded earlier this week. That’s small enough to trigger a hand recount, required be Florida law should raced come down to less than a 0.25 margin.

Nelson’s team counted on a big return from Broward County, where nearly 25,000 fewer votes were cast for U.S. Senate than for governor, a statistical anomaly.

While a number of people blame a design flaw in the Broward County ballot, which placed the Senate race in a column underneath voter instructions while the governor’s race topped the center column of the ballot, Nelson attorney Marc Elias previously argued it was more likely a machine calibration problem.

Elias had hoped a recount would find thousands of votes for Senate in the county, where Nelson won nearly 69 percent of the votes already counted.

With the hand recount done, however, the vast majority of some 34,000 undervotes in the county were simply left blank by voters.

That realization dashes Democrats’ greatest hope for a different outcome in the Senate race, but Nelson’s campaign this week did win a lawsuit allowing voters whose vote-by-mail ballots were rejected based on mismatched signatures to challenge the decision.

Voters have until 5 p.m. today to contact election supervisors and confirm the legitimacy of their votes.

Additionally, most election supervisors have yet to report a count on military and overseas vote-by-mail ballots. State law allows those votes to come in as much as 10 days after the election so long as the ballots were postmarked before the conclusion of the race.

But those votes typically break for Republicans.

Cabinet meeting reset for end of November

Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet will meet by phone on Nov. 30 to consider issues such as Florida Power & Light power-plant projects in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, according to an agenda posted online.

Scott and the Cabinet initially scheduled the meeting for Tuesday but canceled that meeting.

The agenda for the Nov. 30 meeting was posted on the Cabinet website Thursday.

No explanation was given for the change of dates.

Among other things, Scott and the Cabinet could sign off on a plan by FPL to build a power plant in Broward County and revisit a dispute about a nuclear project in Miami-Dade.


Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Old he-coon reunion

December 12 will mark twenty years since the passing of Florida’s former Democratic U.S. Senator and Governor Lawton Chiles.

Yet, still to this day, the mark left on Sunshine State politics is very visible.

Most Democrats will tell you he’s the best governor in modern Florida history. And Republicans aren’t quick to dispute.

Then-state Sen. Lawton Mainor Chiles, Jr. walks along a Florida highway. Remembered by Democrats as the best Governor in Florida history, Chiles died twenty years ago Dec. 12.

Supporters, staffers, successors and opponents are celebrating Chiles’ legacy this weekend at the Chiles Jubilee — the first-ever reunion of his close friends, family and colleagues.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is delivering welcome remarks this morning at the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa. Former Florida U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham is the featured keynote luncheon speaker.

A series of other events are scheduled, including a panel discussion on the state’s crusade against Big Tobacco, featuring former Attorney General Bob Butterworth. Those in attendance will have a chance to share their favorite memory of Chiles following an evening reception.

Chiles is known notably for his unique campaign strategies and his flashy, southern command of language.

To boost his name recognition during his 1970 bid for the Senate, Chiles embarked on a 1,003-mile, 91-day walk across Florida from Pensacola to Key West.

During a 1994 debate with former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, who will deliver remarks at today’s reunion via video, Chiles — in response to being branded an “old liberal” — notably quipped: “The old he-coon walks just before the light of day.”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.

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

Take 5

Recount confirms DeSantis victory — With little change in overall margins following Florida’s state-ordered machine recount, Republican Ron DeSantis again declared victory in Florida’s race for Governor. The win was just 0.4 percent, a spread of 33,652 votes. DeSantis described the results as “clear and unambiguous” in a statement following the recount. DeSantis invited his opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum, to a summit to discuss bipartisan observations made on the campaign trail. “We have both traveled the state and met Floridians from all walks of life,” DeSantis said. “Sharing these experiences will, I believe, help us unite our state and build toward unity on behalf of the people of Florida.”

Agriculture Commissioner race in limbo — Following the completion of the machine recount of the Agriculture Commissioner race on Thursday, Democrat Nikki Fried led Republican Matt Caldwell by 5,307 votes, a slightly narrower lead than the 5,326-vote gap reported in the initial tabulation of the race. A manual recount of the race is underway. It’s the only race for Cabinet that will require further consideration. Republican Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County Circuit Court judge, will replace term-limited Pam Bondi in January. Moody defeated her Democratic opponent, Sean Shaw, by six points. Republican Jimmy Patronis will continue to serve as the state’s Chief Financial Officer. He was appointed to the post last year when former CFO Jeff Atwater resigned to take a job as CFO of Florida Atlantic University. Patronis defeated his Democratic opponent Jeremy Ring by three points.

Judge reschedules Senate discrimination hearing — U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle has rescheduled oral arguments for Nov. 30 in a case filed by the Florida Senate after allegations by a legislative aide that she was a victim of sexual harassment and retaliation. The arguments had originally been scheduled for Nov. 8 but were canceled, reports the News Service of Florida. The Senate is seeking to halt the EEOC investigation. Earlier this month, lawyers for the Senate wrote “the ongoing EEOC action violates the Florida Senate’s sovereign and constitutional rights,” including “violat(ing) the Senate’s sovereign immunity.” Rachel Perrin Rogers, a chief assistant to Senate Republican Leader and future Senate President Wilton Simpson, filed the complaint with the EEOC alleging in part that she faced retaliation for sexual harassment claims.

Incoming Speaker names top aide Carol Gormley, a health care policy expert and veteran legislative staffer, incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva. Gormley has worked as a legislative staffer for former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Before being elected to the Senate, Rubio had served a stint as Speaker of the Florida House. In 2012, Gormley worked in the state Senate as a senior policy adviser to then-Senate President Don Gaetz. More recently, she was a senior policy staffer to immediate past House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Senate starts filling out leadership — State Senate President-elect Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, on Wednesday announced his selection of Sen. David Simmons as Senate President Pro Tempore, the upper chamber’s second-in-command post. Simmons, a Longwood Republican, is a longtime state lawmaker, having served an eight-year stint in the state House before being elected to the Senate in 2010. “We have all seen David’s unmatched work ethic and tireless determination to fiercely advocate for the issues and causes he supports,” said Galvano. The Senate is expected to approve Simmons’ appointment on Tuesday, when the chamber meets for Organizational Session. Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva announced his leadership team last week, along with committee assignments.

Putnam criticizes new trade proposal

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is criticizing some of the new trade terms proposed between the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

The term-limited Republican Cabinet member delivered remarks to members of the U.S. International Trade Commission on the USMCA this week, declaring it “anything but a fair and level playing field for Florida’s producers.”

Adam Putnam criticizes the USMCA, President Donald Trump’s replacement to NAFTA.

The USMCA is expected to serve as President Donald Trump’s replacement to NAFTA.

Putnam told commissioners that specialty agricultural products are “unfairly subsidized and are pouring into the U.S. market in high volumes at prices significantly below the cost of production, resulting in negative repercussions on U.S. producers and causing disproportionate economic injury to Florida’s specialty crop industry.”

He added: “Our department, Florida’s Congressional delegation and industry groups have fought hard to protect our specialty crop industry since the inception of NAFTA, and we will continue to do so as this new agreement moves forward.”

DEO highlights apprenticeships

Both job seekers and employers stand to reap enormous benefits from apprenticeships, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity.

“Apprenticeships help Florida’s employers recruit and keep the talent they need to remain competitive,” DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor said this week in news release noting National Apprenticeship Week.

Apprenticeships keep Florida employers in the game, says, DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor.

Getting an early jump on skills training helps novice job seekers gain hands-on experience in prospective fields. It can also help with finances, as apprenticeships are typically accompanied by wages and can reduce or replace student debt.

The DEO in partnership with the Department of Education and CareerSource Florida recently secured the national Apprenticeship USA grant to help build out early skills-based training programs in the Sunshine State.

“We are proud that Florida’s public education system offers students of all ages and backgrounds pathways to reach their academic and career goals,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Instagram of the Week


The week in appointments

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention State Advisory Group

Alyssa Beck, 23, of Jacksonville, is an advocacy specialist with the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.

Kevin Higgins II, of Riviera Beach, is a former security specialist with PSC Security Services.

Both are appointed for terms that end at the pleasure of the Governor.

Children’s Trust Governing Board of Miami-Dade County

Marissa Leichter, 41, of North Bay Village, is a program manager with the Florida Foster Care Review. Her term is through March 17, 2020.

Tiombe Bisa Dunn, 44, of Miami, is a psychologist with the School Board of Miami-Dade County. She is reappointed for a term through March 17, 2022.

Sanford Bohrer, 70, of Pinecrest, is a partner with Holland and Knight, LLP. He succeeds Miguel Balsera and is appointed for a term through March 17, 2019.

Nicole Gomez, 34, of Miami Beach, is an associate with LSN Partners, LLC. She is appointed for a term through March 17, 2021.

Richard Dunn Jr., 57, of Miami, is a senior pastor with the Faith Community Baptist Church. He succeeds Maria Alonso and is appointed for a term through March 17, 2019.

Lourdes Gimenez, 63, of Miami, is a former administrative director with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She succeeds Lileana De Moya and is appointed for a term through March 17, 2022.

Constance Collins, 60, of Surfside, is the President and Founder of Lotus House Women’s Shelter. She is appointed for a term through March 17, 2021.


OIR’s Murphy wins top honor

One of the insurance field’s highest honors has gone to Susanne Murphy, deputy commissioner for property and casualty in the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

That’s the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Robert Dineen Award for outstanding service and contributions to the state regulation of insurance. She shared the honor with Mel Anderson, a deputy commissioner in Arkansas.

NAIC President Julie Mix McPeak, Deputy Commissioner Susanne Murphy, Commissioner David Altmaier.

Murphy was cited for her advocacy for expansion of the private flood insurance market in Florida and elsewhere, and for helping to lead the state’s recovery from the hurricanes that have hit in recent years. She’s also known as an authority on insurer solvency.

“I cannot be more proud of Susanne and her recent recognition as being acknowledged at the national level for such a prestigious award is quite an achievement.,” Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said. “Susanne Murphy is a prominent player in our nation’s insurance arena, and we are extremely fortunate to have her expertise here in the Sunshine State.”

Irma claims still stack up

Insurance claims arising from Hurricane Irma have surpassed the 1 million threshold, and they’re worth more than $11 billion.

The actual numbers as of Wednesday were 1,002,821 claims, valued at $11,082,199,367. Some 92.4 percent had been resolved.

By far, the largest number of claims came from Miami-Dade County, at 128,661, followed by Collier at 95,273, Broward at 84,042, and Lee at 84,032.

Hurricane Irma is still giving Florida headaches one year later.

The Office of Insurance Regulation had no records identifying the origins of 11,049 claims. The storm made landfall on Sept. 10, 2017, and proceeded to ravage the length of Peninsular Florida. Homeowners have three years to file claims.

“Following Hurricane Irma, and the recent landfall of Michael, we have continued urging residents to contact their insurance company as soon as possible,” Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said. “This is done to limit AOB abuse, the occurrence of additional non-covered damage from interfering and prolonging the claims process, and expediting consumers’ path back to normalcy.

As always, consumers who have insurance-related questions or concerns are urged to contact CFO Jimmy Patronis’ Insurance Consumer Helpline by calling 1-877-MY-FL-CFO.

State regulators provide for hurricane victims

Helping hands have come from across the state and country to the aid of those affected by Hurricane Michael.

This week, even the state Office of Financial Regulation chipped in, providing more than 385 lbs., of non-perishable food and other items to support ongoing relief efforts.

Left to right: Chief of Investigations Steve Horn, Interim Commissioner Pam Epting, Director of Securities Lee Kell, Director of Financial Institutions Jeremy Smith, Director of Consumer Finance Greg Oaks.

The powerful Category 4 storm that swept through the Panhandle and Big Bend on Oct. 10.

“I am proud of our team, and their generous efforts to help friends and neighbors in the Panhandle region who were impacted by this devastating storm,” said Interim Commissioner Pamela Epting. “As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, these donations will benefit families who need them most.”

Donations were delivered to Second Harvest of the Big Bend, a regional food bank serving 11 counties in the Big Bend area.

State reopens hurricane-battered park

Falling Waters State Park in Chipley is again open for day use after briefly closing its gates following Hurricane Michael.

Falling waters state park
Falling Waters is home to the highest cascade in the state.

“Thanks to the hard work of park staff and volunteers, Falling Waters State Park is open for day use,” said Florida State Parks Director Eric Draper. “We hope to reopen all of the state parks impacted by Hurricane Michael as soon as possible.”

As its name suggests, Falling Waters is home a quiet cascade, in fact, the largest one in the state.

According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Falling Waters suffered significant damage from the powerful Category 4 storm, sustaining downed trees, debris, and structural damage.

Just seven of the 31 state parks closed because of the storm remain unopened.

Utility association recognized for Irma outreach

For its outstanding communication efforts exercised before, during and after Hurricane Irma in 2017, the Florida Municipal Electric Association recently took home an award from the American Public Power Association.

The ‘Award of Merit,’ presented during the American Public Power Association’s Customer Connections Conference in Orlando, honored the “use of social media to communicate information about hurricane preparation, mutual aid coordination, power outages and power restoration efforts in advance,” of the powerful storm, according to FMEA.

Amy Zubaly, FMEA Executive Director, pictured with Coleman Smoak, chair-elect, American Public Power Association and general manager, Piedmont Municipal.

“Not only were we able to get timely information out about outages and power restoration numbers, we were also able to increase the general public’s understanding of the power restoration process and priorities,” said Amy Zubaly, FMEA Executive Director. “We proudly accept this award and thank the American Public Power Association for bestowing this honor upon us.”

According to FMEA, other members of the group received similar distinctions. Among them: Orlando Utilities Commission, Lakeland Electric, Kissimmee Utility Authority, Beaches Energy Services and Keys Energy in their respective categories and classes. The Florida Municipal Power Agency also was recognized.

University system launches campaign

Those tasked with overseeing the state’s 12 public universities want others to know more about the good work that comes out of each institution.

The State University System announced this week the Our Success is Your Success campaign, an effort to promote universities’ impacts on “social mobility, scientific research, and economic growth.”

A new campaign from the Florida State University system is helping to promote cooperation for “social mobility and economic growth.”

“Our message is simple: When our State University System prospers, so does the rest of the state,” Board of Governors Chair Ned Lautenbach said of the campaign.

To market the good news, the campaign will use social media and other communications. It is being carried out in coordination with the Florida Student Association.

The effort will be carried out by the Florida Student Association, which will host the first-ever State University System day at the capital on February 6.

Florida College System awards Best Practices

Four Sunshine State colleges were recently awarded the Florida College System Chancellor’s Best Practice recognition.

“The Chancellor’s Best Practice Awards is an opportunity for our colleges to showcase innovative program strategies that have proved successful at their colleges and in their communities,” said Chancellor Madeline Pumariega. “The best practice awards recognize colleges for creating successful programs and then sharing the high impact practices with all institutions in the Florida College System.”

The higher education panel distinguished Florida Gateway College for its Second-Chance Pell Pilot Program, which offers education access to inmates upon release.

Florida College System Chancellor Madeline Pumariega recognized four state colleges for their ‘Best Practices.’

North Florida Community College took home the award for its
“Dual Enrollment Video Conferencing Model,” which caters to rural high school students seeking college credit.

Pensacola State College received the recognition for its Bellwether Virtual Tutoring Program, which helps an estimated 1,000 students each year find individualized help for their studies.

At Polk State College, the award honored the Establishing Leaders in Teacher Education (ELITE Program), which “provides a seamless pathway from high school to college to employment for aspiring teachers, helping students meet local workforce demands through an affordable fast-track pipeline,” according to the Florida College System.

State featured at medical trade show

Enterprise Florida, the state’s principal economic development organization, this week set up shop at MEDICA, the world’s largest medical trade show.

Joining Enterprise Florida at MEDICA’s Düsseldorf, Germany, were nearly 50 other Florida companies. The annual trade show this year spanned Monday through Thursday.

Florida is represented by a record number of Florida-based companies, and this year also marks the 30th consecutive year Florida has attended the show.

The state’s strong representation at the international event is a good sign for Florida’s medical services industry. Last year, Florida companies reported more than $122 million in sales following the show.

“We are so appreciative of the companies that are joining EFI at MEDICA this year,” said Joe York, Vice-Chairman of Enterprise Florida’s Board of Directors. “Events like MEDICA help Florida’s small and medium-sized businesses expand internationally and showcase their products and services to the life science industry.”

In terms of industry size, Florida is the second-ranked state for medical device and pharmaceuticals manufacturing. Nearly 30,000 Floridians work in biotechnology, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and medical device manufacturing industries, according to Enterprise Florida.

‘Course change’ for license suspensions?

Some free-market think tanks are trying to reform the state’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses for crimes not related to operating an automobile.

The James Madison Institute and Reason Foundation released a joint study this week arguing the practice hurts Florida and its taxpayers because it leads to increased court costs and unemployment.

The state suspends licenses for a series of nondriving offenses, the study points out. Among them: most drug crimes, failure to appear in court and failure to pay child support.

Driver’s license suspensions “cut off a vital lifeline for individuals in the workforce,” says Sal Nuzzo.

“These suspensions cut off a vital lifeline for individuals in the workforce, and can herald an endless cycle of fines, court costs, and liabilities that make escaping the criminal justice system nearly impossible,” write Sal Nuzzo, JMI’s vice president of policy, and James Craven, a senior fellow of criminal justice reform at Reason Foundation.

Nuzzo and Craven recommend the state reconsider using license suspensions as a punitive or compliance measure. Other states like California, they note, ended suspensions for minor offenses. In some cases, they suggest giving judges more discretion over suspending licenses, or opting out of the practice entirely.

FSU snags global distinction

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities recently recognized Florida State University its strategies to internationalize the institution.

Sally McRorie, FSU provost and vice president for academic affairs, accepted the 2018 Platinum Level Institutional Award for Global Learning, Research & Engagement last Sunday.

McRorie, along with a team of FSU leaders, accepts the prestigious national award from APLU President Peter McPherson.

The association said FSU had an “extraordinary global-engagement” network. The school received the only ‘Platinum’-level award at the ceremony.

“I think we’re contributing to FSU’s reputation as a place where students can really experience engaged learning in multiple areas, including international study,” said assistant provost Stephen McDowell. “But it’s not only about people who travel abroad. Florida State also creates opportunities on campus for people to engage with students, faculty and speakers from other countries.”

The university also advances its international mission through more than 100 international agreements with partners in 32 countries. In total, FSU faculty members have established affiliations with about 200 institutions worldwide.

More than $1 million in scholarships for study-abroad classes and assists talented students in other countries. International students with at least two semesters abroad can enroll for later classes at FSU and pay in-state tuition.

Hometown hero honored

A shooting earlier this month at a Tallahassee hot yoga studio left two dead and five others injured rocked the nearby community.

But without Joshua Quick, who confronted the shooter allowing others to escape, the casualties could’ve been worse.

In his final City Commission meeting, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum gives the key to the city to Joshua Quick, the man who helped save lives during a shooting at a hot yoga studio last month.

For his actions during the tragedy, Quick was awarded an honorary key to the city by the Tallahassee City Commission, including Mayor Andrew Gillum.

“I am overwhelmed with gratitude,” Quick said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “I cannot overstate my gratitude to everybody — the first responders and even the people who were in the yoga studio with me who saw firsthand what transpired.”

A law school student at Florida State University, President John Thrasher announced on Friday that the university would begin raising funds to relieve Quick of his tuition and related expenses.

Capitol Directions

Governor appoints 10 to circuit, county courts

Soon to be former Gov. Rick Scott on Friday announced 10 appointments to multiple Circuit and County Courts, according to a news release:

— Alexander Bokor to the 11th Circuit Court.

Bokor, 40, of Miami, is a Miami-Dade County Judge. He received his bachelor’s degree from Southern Methodist University and his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Bokor fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Stephen Millan.

The 11th Circuit Court covers Miami-Dade County.

— Natasha DePrimo to the Broward County Court.

DePrimo, 38, of Davie, is a senior attorney at the Florida Department of Transportation. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and her law degree from the University of Florida. DePrimo fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Arlene Simon Backman. Backman and her husband, Paul Backman, both served as Broward judges and retired a week apart.

— Christopher Ferebee to the 7th Circuit Court.

Ferebee, 44, of Ponte Vedra Beach, is the Managing Assistant State Attorney, St. Johns County, for the 7th Circuit State Attorney’s Office. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and his law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law. Ferebee fills the vacancy created by the removal of Judge Scott DuPont, whom an ethics panel said had a “reckless disregard for the truth” ahead of his removal from the bench by the Florida Supreme Court.

— Paige Hardy Gillman to the Palm Beach County Court.

Gillman, 34, of Palm Beach Gardens, is an attorney with the Law Office of Hugh Behan. She received both her bachelor’s degree and law degree from the University of Florida. Gillman fills the vacancy created by the removal of Judge Dana Marie Santino over her campaign tactics in a 2016 judicial election.

— Carlos Guzman to the 11th Circuit Court.

Guzman, 48, of Coral Gables, is a Miami-Dade County Judge. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston and his law degree from Villanova University. Guzman fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan, who earlier this year became the first woman U.S. attorney for South Florida.

— Vegina “Gina” Hawkins to the 17th Circuit Court.

Hawkins, 45, of West Park, is an Assistant State Attorney for the 17th Circuit State Attorney’s Office. She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and her law degree from Nova Southeastern University. Hawkins fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Michael L. Gates.

Lody Jean to the Miami-Dade County Court.

Jean, 40, of Coral Gables, is President of the Law Office of Lody Jean. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and her law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law. Jean fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Wendell Graham.

— Robert Gregory “Gregg” Jerald to the 5th Circuit Court.

Jerald, 38, of Ocala, is General Counsel and Staff Commander for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Florida and his law degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law. Jerald fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Jonathan Ohlman.

— Frank Ledee to the 17th Circuit Court.

Ledee, 54, of Hollywood, is an Assistant State Attorney for the 11th Circuit State Attorney’s Office. He received both his bachelor’s degree and M.B.A. from Barry University and his law degree from Nova Southeastern University. Ledee fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge John Contini.

— Dustin Stephenson to the 14th Circuit Court.

Stephenson, 44, of Panama City, is an attorney at Dustin Stephenson, P.A. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from Florida State University. Stephenson fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge James Fensom.

Steve Cona

Prepping for Hillsborough School Board, Steve Cona III resigns HCC board

Steve Cona III has officially resigned from the Board of Trustees for Hillsborough Community College, submitting a letter of resignation to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday.

“It has been a pleasure and a great honor being a part of Hillsborough Community College. I am so proud of all we have accomplished in the past five years, and I have no doubt the college will continue these successes in the future,” Cona wrote.  

Scott appointed Cona to the HCC Board of Trustees in 2015.  His position will remain vacant until a gubernatorial appointment is made. That’s not likely to happen until after January when Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis assumes office.

Cona resigned to serve on the Hillsborough County School Board. He ran against retired Hillsborough County Schools administrator Bill Person and won with 54 percent of the vote.

Cona is President of the Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast Chapter. The first-term candidate raised more money than his challenger, mostly from conservative political action committees.

Cona wants to work to create more sustainable and fiscally responsible business decisions on the school board, a skill that will be put to use as the district begins allocating funds raised by the one half percent sales tax increase voters approved to fund school district infrastructure and education programs.

The majority of that revenue will go toward repairing and replacing air conditioning systems at Hillsborough District schools and properties.

Cona also supports working with private industries to create skills-based learning programs for high school students so they can graduate career ready.

Person was a second time candidate, narrowly losing another race for school board in 2016. He’s a retired school teacher, principal and school administrator.

Cona will replace outgoing Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes who did not seek re-election in order to run for a seat in the House of Representatives, which she won.

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