Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

CareerSource Florida narrows in on new president

CareerSource Florida, the corporation that serves as the state’s workforce preparation and placement agency, interviewed three finalists Friday to replace Chris Hart as president, including the agency’s current vice president of policy, Michelle Dennard.

Dennard, Mikkel Dixon, the executive director of Florida Career College in Margate; and Kyla Gutierrez-Guyette, the project director of ResCare Workforce Services in Orlando; all were interviewed by a committee of the CareerSource Board of Directors Friday. The committee members will submit their scoresheets to the agency’s chairman Britt Sikes Monday, and he will recommend the selection to Gov. Rick Scott.

The trio aims to replace Hart, who left at the beginning of this month to become the new chief executive officer of Enterprise Florida, the state-chartered corporation that acts as the state’s commerce agency.

Hart had been at CareerSource for nine years and when he left he commanded a salary of $260,000. The next president and chief executive officer of the organization will not come close to that, at least not anytime soon. The job was advertised as paying between $100,000 and $120,000 a year.

Dennard is a lawyer trained at Florida State University, with a background of having worked for both the Republican Party of Florida and in the governor’s office under both Charlie Crist and Scott. Under the governors’ office, she was a senior attorney with the Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development. She’s since been director of strategic business opportunity for Scott’s Department of Economic Opportunity, general counsel for Thinkspot, and, since 2014, vice president of policy and senior policy director for CareerSource.

Dixon, who holds a master’s degree in business management from West Texas A&M University, has been with private, for-profit career schools since 2009. That included tenures as a school executive for Keiser University in Fort Lauderdale and GlobalHealth Education in West Palm Beach, before moving on to Florida Career College. With that company, owned by International Education Corp. he has served in executive roles at campuses in Fort Lauderdale, Lauderdale Lakes and, since 2015, in Margate. Last year the company ranked him its #1 executive in Florida for the first quarter of 2016.

Gutierrez-Guyette, who studied law at the University of Mississippi and completed a master’s degree in history from the University of South Alabama, was director of the Gulfport, Mississippi, Chamber of Commerce in the early years of the last decade. She has since held management and executive positions in workforce development agencies and private and nonprofit workforce development and management companies in Hawaii, Tennessee, and Florida. She’s been with ResCare in Orlando since 2013.

CareerSource Florida is the statewide workforce policy and investment board charged with guiding workforce development for the state of Florida. CareerSource Florida provides oversight and policy direction for talent development programs administered by the Department of Economic Opportunity, Florida’s 24 local workforce development boards and their 100 career centers. Together, the CareerSource Florida network connects employers with qualified, skilled talent and Floridians with employment and career development opportunities to achieve economic prosperity.

Florida unemployment rate holds steady at 4.9% in December

Florida’s unemployment rate remained unchanged in December, holding steady at 4.9 percent for the second month in a row.

State officials, however, touted gains made in 2016, boasting Florida businesses created 237,300 private sector jobs in 2016.

“Over the last six years, we’ve worked each day to make it easier for job creators to invest and create new opportunities in our state, and we will continue to do everything we can to help Florida out compete other locations as the best place for jobs,” said Gov. Rick Scott in a statement.

Scott typically makes the monthly jobs announcement during a press conference, but the Naples Republican was in Washington, D.C. on Friday for the inauguration of Donald Trump.

“Today, as we proudly welcome a new president who will make job creation a top priority across our nation, we stand ready to fight for another great year of economic growth in Florida,” he said.

According to the Department of Economic Opportunity, Florida’s job growth has exceeded the nation’s rate since 2012. The agency reported December was the 77th consecutive month with “positive over-the-year growth.”

The leisure and hospitality industry continues to make the most gains, growing by 4.6 percent year-over-year.

“With more than 250,000 job openings across the state and more than 1.25 million new private-sector jobs created in the last six years, it’s clear Florida is a great place to find a good job,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “Our low unemployment rate and strong record of job creation prove Florida is a great state to do business.”

The majority of the state’s 24 metro areas saw gains in December compared to the same time in 2015. The Orlando metropolitan area once again led the state in private sector job growth, adding 48,300 new private sector jobs in 2016.

The Orlando area’s leisure and hospitality industry saw the largest job growth over the year, adding 16,000 new jobs over the year; followed by education and health services with 10,200 new jobs; and construction with 9,7000 new jobs.

The Orlando area, according to the Governor’s Office, had the second-highest job demand of all the metro areas in December. It also had the second highest demand for high-skill, high-wage jobs.

“As job creators continue to grow in Central Florida and all across our state, we are seeing more and more families find the opportunities they need to succeed,” said Scott in a statement. “We will keep working to build on this success and make Florida first for jobs.”

The Tampa area added 29,100 new private sector jobs in 2016, and had an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent in December. The construction industry saw the most growth over the year, adding 8,400 new jobs; followed by professional and business services with 6,700 new jobs; and trade, transportation and utilities with 4,900 new jobs. The Tampa area led the state in demand for high-skill, high-wage STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) occupations in December.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville added 22,800 private sector jobs in 2016 and had a unemployment rate of 4.4 percent in December.

Floridians head to D.C. for Donald Trump inauguration

A hush has fallen on the state capital.

Sure, there’s plenty of work to do before the start of the 2017 Legislative Session. But some Florida politicos are using this week to flee Florida and head to Washington, D.C., for President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Gov. Rick Scott will be there. An ardent supporter of the New York Republican, Scott was the chairman of the super PAC that backed Trump’s presidential bid. He was expected to head to D.C. on Tuesday, one day before the Florida Sunshine Ball, hosted by Scott and his wife, First Lady Ann Scott.

But don’t think the Naples Republican (and possible 2018 U.S. Senate hopeful) spent the day in his tuxedo and dancing shoes. According to his official schedule, Scott was scheduled to meet with General John Kelly, the incoming Secretary of Homeland Security; Republican Reps. Francis Rooney and Neal Dunn; and Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Trump transition official.

Susie Wiles, the Jacksonville political guru who helped lead Trump’s Florida campaign, traveled to D.C. on Wednesday. She’ll be on hand for all of the festivities; as will uber lobbyist Brian Ballard, the chairman of Trump’s Florida finance committee.

And it should come as no surprise that state Rep. Joe Gruters and his wife, Sydney, will be in town for the event. Gruters was one of the first big name Floridians to back Trump, and never wavered in his support throughout the campaign. The couple plans to head up to D.C. on Thursday, and plan to attend the swearing in and go to the Liberty Ball.

Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota County GOP state committeeman, also has a full dance card. He planned to attend several events hosted by the governor, as well as an event hosted by Rep. Vern Buchanan.

“With Florida being Trump’s second home, Washington, D.C., feels like it’s been invaded by the Great State of Florida,” he said in an email. “Incredibly excited to experience this event as one of just 304 Electors to have cast the votes necessary for him to become our next President.”

Former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli — joined by fundraisers Trey McCarley and Kris Money —will be there too. Crisafulli was another top Trump supporter, and played a key role in getting him to the Space Coast for rallies throughout the campaign. His name was floated as one of several Floridians who could land a gig within the Trump administration.

He won’t be the only Florida Speaker in attendance. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is will be there, even though he was a slow to warm to Trump. (He backed former Gov. Jeb Bush, then Sen. Marco Rubio, and then Sen. Ted Cruz before somewhat reluctantly backing Trump.) And look for Senate President Joe Negron, who as Republican elector helped Trump officially clinch the presidency, in the crowd.

Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo are expected to be in town; the Miami Herald reported they’re sharing a two-bedroom apartment they snagged on Airbnb. The paper also reported Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez is making the trek north.

You’ll likely see Nick Iarossi and Scott Ross, along with their wives Debbie and Ashley, dancing the night away at one of the parties this week. Both supported Sen. Marco Rubio, but eventually joined Team Trump.

Jim Smith and Monte Stevens, both with Southern Strategy Group, are in D.C. for the inauguration. They’re in town with Ambrosia Treatment Centers, which provides care to people suffering from substance abuse, in hopes of raising awareness about the need to make top-notch care available to as many people who need it as possible.

Their trip isn’t just about business, though. Stevens is planning to tweet about all the action from the firm’s Twitter account, @SoStrategyFlorida.

Hayden Dempsey and Fred Karlinsky with Greenberg Traurig both have jam-packed schedules. Their calendar of events includes the Florida Sunshine Ball; the Republican National Lawyers Association Luncheon, which features a keynote address by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and an inaugural reception hosted by the Greenberg Traurig Washington, D.C. office for clients and friends.

Meredith O’Rourke, one of the state’s go-to Republican fundraisers, plans to spend the week in D.C. with “fellow Republicans and strong supporters of our clients, while looking forward to a new day for our country.”

You might spot David and Melissa Ramba, Michael Fischer, Andy Gonzalez, Evan Power (and his wife), Bill Helmich, and Todd Lewis, Nick DiCeglie, Jay Beyrouti, Justin Bean, Bob Fisher, Travis Horn and Matt Lettelleir as you flip through the channels for inauguration coverage.

Robert Hawken is turning the trip into a learning experience for his daughters. They’re planning to take an overnight train from Jacksonville to D.C. for the inauguration. Once there, they planned to attend the Florida ball and check out the parade.

Lake County Property Appraiser (and former state representative and state senator) Carey Baker be in the nation’s capital; so will Richard DeNapoli, the former chairman of the Broward Republican Party.

Even Rep. Charlie Crist, the state’s former Republican governor, will be on hand. The St. Petersburg Democrat said he was looking forward to attending the event.

“I didn’t support Mr. Trump, but I respect the fact that he’s been elected the president of the U.S.” said Crist last week.

He won’t be the only Florida Democrat in the bunch: Democrats Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Bill Nelson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz are also planning to attend the inauguration.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos could mean more Florida charter schools, a lot more

Betsy DeVos, whose children never attended public schools, may soon lead the nation’s Department of Education. Assuming she is confirmed, care to take a guess what Florida public education will look like four years from now?

Perhaps former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is DeVos’ biggest cheerleader, can provide some insight. He wrote a stirring endorsement of her in Tuesday’s USA Today, coinciding with her hearing before a U.S. Senate confirmation panel.

“Instead of defending and increasing Washington’s power, Betsy will cut federal red tape and be a passionate advocate for state and local control of schools. More importantly, she will empower parents with greater choices and a stronger voice over their children’s education,” Bush wrote.

“In the two decades that I have been actively involved in education reform, I have worked side-by-side with Betsy to promote school choice and put the interests of students first. I know her commitment to children, especially at-risk kids, is genuine and deep.”

Let’s dissect those words.

First, the biggest federal overreach in education was the No Child Left Behind program signed into law in 2002 by Jeb’s brother, President George W. Bush. It had strong bipartisan support in Congress and from the business community, which argued that U.S. public school students were falling behind those from other nations in math and science.

In the name of “accountability” for schools, NCLB mandated a battery of standardized tests for students. It also allowed students from poor-performing schools to transfer to ones with better overall test results.

There were other federal demands on local school districts, including offering free tutoring to students in need. Of course, the money that was supposed to pay for that never quite materialized in the federal budget, and many schools still struggle to provide that service today.

“Accountability” testing has become a raw spot for teachers, who can face reprisals if low-performing don’t improve.

By not “defending and increasing Washington’s power” we would assume DeVos would defer more education power to Florida. That may not be much help. Besides the federal mandates, Florida tacked on many other tests, leading to teacher burnout and complaints they were only “teaching the test” to bored students while Republicans touted charter schools as the answer.

In the next four years, Florida undoubtedly will have many more than the 652 charter schools currently serving more than 270,000 students. That is an increase of 134 charters and about 90,000 more students since Rick Scott took over as governor in 2011.

Public school teachers and administrators complain loudly that some of those charters don’t have to meet the same standards they do and don’t have to accept problem students.

Charter advocates counter that many financially secure people already can (and do) opt out of public education by sending their kids to expensive private schools.

Tampa’s highly regarded Jesuit High School, for instance, charges nearly $15,000 in tuition, plus other fees. Tampa Prep High School charges more than $22,000 a year in tuition, although it also offers needs-based financial help for those who can’t afford to pay full freight.

Offering charter alternatives to students who couldn’t think about getting into schools like that is only fair, advocates say.

It’s a bedrock Republican ideal: private business is better than government programs, and private education (or charter schools) can be a good alternative to public schools in many cases.

Class, let’s review: School “choice” means less money for public education. Hillsborough County, the nation’s ninth-largest school district, already is grappling with severe budget problems. That presumably will get worse.

We will see more private charter schools – probably a lot more.

That will be done over the wailing and teeth-gnashing of Florida Democrats (like that matters, given their general impotency these days) and the state teachers’ union.

Florida Republicans will celebrate that victory with particular vigor.

 

Florida scientists pen letter to Wilbur Ross — calling him to defend Florida’s coastline

A group of Florida scientists have an urgent message for Wilbur Ross: Support science and defend Florida’s coastline, as it could save your own home.

Ross, Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Commerce, has owned a $22 million, 15,500-square-foot Palm Beach mansion on the Intracoastal Waterway since 2008.

“In your new role as the Secretary of Commerce, you have a unique ability to influence multiple sectors of our economy,” goes the letter, signed by 13 officials, including 11 professors from Florida universities.

“You will direct scientific research both within government, and at universities through NOAA. You can also work with businesses, engineers, and industries to develop solutions to address climate and energy challenges.”

The letter is signed by some of the same 25 scientists who penned a similar letter to Trump October, shortly before his upset victory in November, urging him to act on climate change. They did not receive a response. Nor did they hear anything back from the president-elect after following up with a letter signed by approximately 10 university professors, as well as a physical oceanographer from NOAA in late December.

Another letter penned to Gov. Scott in 2014 resulted in a meeting with five climate scientists meeting during that (election) year, where they attempted to persuade the governor that human-induced climate change is very real, and a threat to Florida’s economy.

As the scientists note in their letter, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is housed in the Department of Commerce. That agency’s mission is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.”

Ross’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee takes place Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 10 a.m.

The scientists’ letter points out that if action is not taken, seas could rise by as much as 2 feet by 2060, and up to 6 feet or more by 2100.

“You have an incredible opportunity to be a steward who will help restructure America’s energy problems, and turn our climate crisis into another American success story,” the scientists write in their letter. “We want to emphasize the magnitude of the problem — the future of Florida hangs in the balance. The stakes could not be higher. You are in a critical position to support sound science and solutions that can help America solve this problem. We implore you to recognize the urgency of climate change, and take your new position with great humility and the same dedication and tenacity you have shown throughout your career.”

Read the letter below:

Jan. 17, 2017

Mr. Wilbur Ross

Invesco Global Headquarters

Two Peachtree Pointe
1555 Peachtree Street, N.E., Suite 1800
Atlanta, Georgia 30309

Dear Mr. Wilbur Ross,

Congratulations on your nomination. You have a distinguished career and now you are presented with the opportunity to become the next Secretary of Commerce — a position with enormous influence on American society.

We are a group of Florida scientists, many of whom work daily with data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); one of the agencies you will be in charge of at the Commerce Department.

Like you, we share an affinity for Florida. As a Florida resident, you know how precious the coastline is, and the fragile beauty of our state.

You are known for your problem-solving skills, and your ability to salvage distressed businesses. We were struck by a statement you made in your CNBC interview where you said, “the solutions are always more fun than identifying problems. We’re basically optimists even though we’re dealing with situations that have a lot of pessimism.”

Like you, climate scientists are facing a distressing situation as we study the projected impacts of sea level rise. However, we remain optimistic that our challenges can be solved with American ingenuity, entrepreneurship, strategy and new technologies.

We encourage you to use your exceptional problem-solving skills to look closely at the intersection between our changing climate, our economy, agriculture, industry, jobs and human health.

The Commerce Department defines part of its mission as “work[ing] with businesses, universities, communities, and the Nation’s workers to promote job creation, economic growth, sustainable development, and improved standards of living for Americans.”

In your new role as the Secretary of Commerce, you have a unique ability to influence multiple sectors of our economy. You will direct scientific research both within government, and at universities through NOAA. You can also work with businesses, engineers, and industries to develop solutions to address climate and energy challenges.

We call on you to:

Protect our coastline.

Florida has over 1,100 miles of coastline, a portion of which you are intimately familiar with, and surely appreciate. Current forecasts predict up to 6 feet of sea level rise in the next century. Under a worst-case scenario, we could see 2 feet of sea level rise by 2060. And while that may seem like a distant threat, right now with king tides there can be “sunny day flooding” in coastal states.

In order to protect our coastlines, it is crucial to continue the monitoring and projection of future environmental changes in the atmosphere and the ocean. None of this research can happen without adequate funding. We must prioritize research funding in the direction of climate change studies, especially in the context of sea level rise. Vital observations and research into phenomena affecting climate change impacts, such as variations in the ocean circulation that can, and already are, increasing sea level rise along our coastline must be maintained.

Support robust science.

The same way that you evaluate companies before you purchase them, scientists are learning about our climate, our weather, our oceans and our coast, so that policymakers can make informed decisions. We echo The Union of Concerned Scientists’ call for a strong and open culture of science and believe in adhering to high standards of scientific integrity and independence. You know from experience the role of in-depth research in executing a successful strategy, and so you should appreciate the value that scientists bring to the table to understand the impacts that change in our natural world will have on human systems — our ports, our coastal properties and our weather patterns.

Embrace clean technology.

As the Secretary of Commerce, you can help put America at the forefront of scientific research, and position us as leaders in the international competition for clean technology development.

We know many of your investments have been in traditional industries like coal and steel, but we encourage you to learn as much as you can about new energy technologies. Embrace clean energy solutions not only to address our energy needs but to create good paying jobs in our communities.

The Department of Commerce encompasses much more than just NOAA, but we want to make a heartfelt plea to you to understand how incredibly important NOAA’s contribution to society is. NOAA states on its website that it “enriches life through science.” NOAA’s mission is “Science, Service and Stewardship.”

You have an incredible opportunity to be a steward who will help restructure America’s energy problems, and turn our climate crisis into another American success story.

We want to emphasize the magnitude of the problem — the future of Florida hangs in the balance. The stakes could not be higher.

You are in a critical position to support sound science and solutions that can help America solve this problem. We implore you to recognize the urgency of climate change, and take your new position with great humility and the same dedication and tenacity you have shown throughout your career.

Thank you, and good luck on your nomination hearing.

Sincerely,

Senthold Asseng, Professor

Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering

University of Florida

***

Keren Bolter, Research Affiliate

Center for Environmental Studies

Florida Atlantic University

***

Jeff Chanton, Professor

The John Widmer Winchester Professor of Oceanography

Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science

Florida State University

***

David B. Enfield (ret. 2015)

Dept. of Physical Oceanography

NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic & Meteorological Laboratory

***

Pamela Hallock Muller, Ph.D., Professor

College of Marine Science

University of South Florida

***

David Hastings, Professor

Marine Science and Chemistry

Eckerd College

***

Barry Heimlich, Vice Chair

Climate Change Task Force

Broward County

***

Ben Kirtman, Professor

Department of Atmospheric Science

Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Sciences

University of Miami

***

John H. Parker, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry and Environmental Science

Department of Earth and Environment

Florida International University

***

Randall W. Parkinson, Ph.D., P.G., Research Faculty Affiliate

Institute for Water and Environment

Florida International University

***

Brad E. Rosenheim, Ph.D., Associate Professor

College of Marine Science

University of South Florida

***

Philip Stoddard, Professor

Department of Biological Sciences

Florida International University

Mayor of South Miami

***

Harold R. Wanless, Professor and Chair

Department of Geological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences

University of Miami

***

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are strictly those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of their respective organization.

 

Donald Trump inauguration a special moment for Brian Ballard

This isn’t Brian Ballard’s first inauguration, but it will likely be one of his most memorable.

Ballard, the president of Ballard Partners, is one of several Floridians expected to attend President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration this week. And while his schedule is flush with lunches and galas, he’s most looking forward to the moment Trump takes the oath of office.

“The swearing-in, for me, is going to be the cool part. It’s almost hard to comprehend and put into words. It’s going to be a hugely impactful moment,” said Ballard. “Seeing him take the oath and the government becoming Trump government, which is hard to fathom even for me. It’s going to be so exciting and emotional.”

For Ballard, that moment will also mark the culmination of months of work behind the scenes to help send Trump to the White House.

A top fundraiser for Sen. John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, Ballard served as finance chairman for Trump’s campaign in Florida. Days after Trump won the presidency, he was selected to serve as one of the finance vice chairs on the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

The two men’s relationship goes beyond politics. Ballard served as the The Trump Organization’s lobbyist in the Florida Legislature for several years.

But Ballard wasn’t all in with Trump from Day 1. He initially supported former Gov. Jeb Bush, signing on early and raising thousands upon thousands of dollars for the former governor and Right to Rise, the super PAC that backing Bush.

He later shifted his support to Sen. Marco Rubio, saying the Bush campaign’s decision to attack the Miami Republican didn’t sit well with him. Once he joined Team Trump, Ballard emerged as one of the New York Republican’s top advisors.

There have been rumblings Ballard might be nominated for an ambassadorship, but he has dismissed them. With a multi-million construction project underway at the corner of Park Avenue and South Monroe Street and a full roster of clients ahead of the 2017 Legislative Session, Ballard appears to have plenty of things to keep him busy in Florida’s capital city.

But that isn’t stopping him from enjoying the festivities and celebrating with friends.  Ballard and his family planned to travel to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Once there, the schedule is filled to brim with events.

A black tie dinner was scheduled for Tuesday evening to kick off the official festivities. A lunch-hour reception is scheduled for Wednesday, followed by a dinner to honor Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

There’s a leadership luncheon Thursday, and the “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration,” a public event at the Lincoln Memorial. That evening, you might be able to find the Ballard family at a candlelight dinner.

When Trump raises his right hand to take the oath of office Friday, Ballard will be there. And he and his family will be on hand later in the evening, this time decked out in tuxedos and ball gown for the inaugural ball at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

And that is only a piece of Ballard’s schedule.

“It’s incredibly filled with events,” said Ballard, who last attended an inauguration nearly 30 years ago for President George H.W. Bush’s inauguration. “Every night there’s parties before and after, there’s lunches every day. I’m getting a lot of invitations.”

One other event definitely on his calendar: The Florida Sunshine Ball hosted by Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott. The inaugural ball, according to the Miami Herald, is being sponsored by Let’s Get to Work, Scott’s political committee.

“This is unique because of the president-elect and our relationship,” said Ballard. “You think of people who get sworn in as president as (someone) who is bigger than life, not someone you know very, very well. Knowing someone and seeing him take the oath of office, I’ll never experience (that again).”

Rick Scott to host jobs summit in Orlando

Gov. Rick Scott will focus on jobs during a summit in Orlando next month.

Scott is scheduled to host a jobs summit on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3 at the Caribe Royale in Orlando, according to an online invitation. The event, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida, appears to be similar to an education summit the Naples Republican hosted in 2016.

According to the invitation, the event will bring together “Florida’s top business leaders, economic developers, educators and community leaders” to discuss ways to “shape the future of Florida’s economy to create good, high-paying jobs for all Florida families.”

Scott first mentioned his plans for an economic conference back in September.

“I will be hosting an economic summit with economic development leaders and job creators from across the state to discuss how we can bring even more opportunities to Florida. Florida undoubtedly has a lot to offer to out-compete other states for jobs wins,” he said in a Sept. 29 statement. “Our business climate, low taxes, education system, workforce, transportation infrastructure and even the weather are all variables that companies look at when considering locations to move or expand. But, we cannot lose sight that economic incentives are an important part of this toolkit.”

The summit comes just one month before the start of the annual 60-day Legislative Session, where economic development and job growth is expected to take center stage. Last year, Scott said he would request $85 million for economic incentives to bring jobs to Florida.

While Scott is a supporter of incentives, he’ll face opposition in the Florida House. The House blocked an effort to create a dedicated funding source for incentives during the 2016 legislative session, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said he does not support incentives.

 

Stephen Bittel for Florida Democrats, what do you have to lose?

Over the weekend, Florida Democrats elected Miami rich guy Stephen Bittel to lead their party. The choice was controversial and left many members screaming that Bittel is the wrong man at the wrong time.

They have their reasons, I guess.

But, let me ask a simple question:  Whom would be the right person?

The political cosmos has been trying to send a message for years to Florida Democrats. They haven’t been listening.

They have lost five consecutive races for governor (or, put another way, they haven’t been in control of the governor’s mansion in this century). Republicans also control both chambers of the Legislature. Republicans pass whatever laws they want, many of which trample on Democratic ideals. All the Dems have been able to say is, “May I have another?”

This has happened despite the fact Democrats have long held the lead in the number of registered voters in Florida (that number, by the way, is shrinking).

It takes a special something to have turned such an advantage into what is essentially political irrelevance in Tallahassee. Democrats used to console themselves because they delivered the state’s electoral votes to Barack Obama during his presidential campaigns, but they couldn’t even keep that trend going last November against Donald Trump.

So, to borrow Trump’s own slogan and apply it to Bittel: What have you got to lose? At least the guy seems to have some energy a willingness to engage in the fight.

“Contentious elections are reflective that there are Democrats all over Florida that are passionate, committed to coming together, moving forward together to win elections. So contentious is good. It means you care,” Bittel said after beating four other candidates with more established track records.

He has a point there. Florida Democrats have “contentious” down to a science. What they haven’t shown is any evidence that they have a realistic game plan for returning some political balance to the state.

Bittel made his mark by donating and raising large amounts of money for Democratic candidates. While he told reporters Saturday at the Democratic gathering in Orlando that he is not a billionaire, as was reported, he obviously is a person of substantial wealth and energy.

Democrats? Listen up: You need energy. You need passion. You need a sense of purpose. And most of all you need to explain, in clear words, why you’re better for the state than Republicans.

Democrats deluded themselves into believing voters would never elect Rick Scott, but they didn’t understand the beautiful simplicity of his “Let’s Get To Work” message. They talked themselves again into believing that surely voters wouldn’t re-elect Scott.

Now, Scott likely is coming for Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat in a couple of years, and in Adam Putnam Republicans appear to have a strong gubernatorial candidate ready to make his run. This kind of ballot box domination should send a message that doing things the same ol’ way is a losing strategy for Democrats.

So when Bittel talks about greatly expanding the staff at the state Democratic headquarters in Tallahassee and, as reported in FloridaPolitics.com, promising to “ …  grow this party to a size and strength that has never been seen before,” Democrats should be at least a little invigorated.

That is, assuming they still remember what that feels like.

Brian Burgess: Adam Hollingsworth appointment could be blip on Rick Scott’s legacy

As his second term in office winds down, Rick Scott should be considering his legacy as Florida governor, particularly if he wants to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

It’s that same legacy that makes Scott’s recent decision “bizarre,” at least in the eyes of The Capitolist’s Brian Burgess.

Burgess refers to Adam Hollingsworth, Scott’s former Chief of Staff, who the governor named this week to the University of North Florida board of trustees.

As Burgess writes, the appointment “predictably created a wave of justifiable outrage,” one which could needlessly jeopardize both the reputation of Florida’s University System and Scott’s legacy.

Hollingsworth’s earlier admission of academic fraud – lying about a public relations degree from the University of Alabama in 1990 – makes him, in the view of many (including United Faculty of Florida UNF Chapter President  John White), ineligible for a position in academia.

“It seems to me someone should be disqualified from overseeing or evaluating the value of the degrees that we grant at UNF if they lied about having one,” White told the Florida Times-Union. “Granted, that was a long time ago, but it seems to me it is an egregious affront to what we stand for at this university

Yes, the unwanted attention did force Hollingsworth to resign. But Scott’s penchant for dropping people from his circle who generate any bad press – the latest example being Visit Florida’s Will Seccombe – leaves many scratching their heads over Hollingsworth’s placement at UNF, as opposed to a less controversial board appointment.

Hopefully, this will remain just a minor blip on Scott’s legacy, which Burgess is ardently defending.

Tale of 2 parties: Florida GOP high, Dems low ahead of 2018

The state Republican and Democratic parties met two miles from each other Saturday, their first meetings since Donald Trump carried Florida in November’s election, but the atmosphere and enthusiasm were worlds apart.

As both parties chose their leaders, it was easy to see which has more confidence heading into an election cycle when the governor’s office and all three Cabinet seats will be open. Republicans were aglow in victory after Trump stunned many political observers by winning the state Barack Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. At the same time, Democrats held a contentious election to choose a new chairman with little talk about this past election.

“How good does this feel? We defied the mainstream media, we defied conventional wisdom, defied the pollsters,” Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told GOP county chairs. “Right across town, Democrats are having their election and they’re not feeling near as good.”

As both parties prepare for 2018, Republicans are focused on how to build off the momentum Trump built with voters who traditionally haven’t been part of the political process while Democrats elected wealthy real estate developer and major party donor Stephen Bittel as chairman in hopes of ending two decades of futility at the polls.

“Donald Trump got a lot of people off of the couch and got them involved. It is our job at the Republican Party of Florida to harness all of that passion, all of that energy, and keep them in the game,” said state GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, who was easily re-elected. “And when we do, and mark my words we will do it, we will cripple the Democrat Party for a generation.”

After the Democrats elected Bittel, a group of protesters stood outside the meeting room holding signs that read, “SHAME,” ”This is not the party of the people” and “People over $$.”

Still, Bittel tried to paint the best picture of the party’s future.

“We have had an under-resourced operation in Florida for a long time. That changes, starting today, and we will build a different kind of party, I’m a different kind leader and we will change things,” Bittel said. “I grew up in Florida in an era when we won everything. I’m looking forward to that era again.”

But Bittel, 60, grew up more than four decades ago, and there’s a new generation of Democrats who have rarely seen victory.

Florida hasn’t elected a Democrat as governor since 1994. They’ve lost 14 of the past 15 Cabinet races. And despite Democrats’ success in passing a ballot initiative that requires political districts to be drawn in a way that doesn’t favor parties or incumbents, Republicans maintain huge majorities in the Legislature and hold 16 of Florida’s 27 U.S. House seats.

Republicans appear better situated heading into a critical state election. Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the three GOP Cabinet members, including Putnam, are leaving office because of term limits. Also in 2018, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is seeking a fourth term, and it’s widely thought Scott will challenge him in what could be Nelson’s toughest re-election yet.

But despite under-performing again in 2016, Democrats think 2018 can be different. Democratic strategist and former state party political director Christian Ulvert pointed at several pluses. First, Nelson, the one consistently successful Florida Democrat since 2000, will be on the ballot.

“This year, we have a potential for Bill Nelson setting the tone, to really set the stage from the top down,” Ulvert said.

He also said the party has a rich field of popular city mayors who could be on the ballot for statewide races, including Fort Lauderdale’s Jack Seiler, Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach’s Philip Levine, Orlando’s Buddy Dyer and Tallahassee’s Andrew Gillum.

Putnam, who is likely to run for governor, warned Republicans that despite their successes, the party cannot become complacent.

“We can’t get arrogant and cocky and lose our way,” Putnam said. “We can’t take anything for granted.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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