Rick Scott – Florida Politics

Bill Nelson, Democrats to canvass state through holiday

Amid the barbecues and other festivities this holiday weekend, Democrats will be knocking on doors in 23 of the state’s 67 counties and encouraging Floridians to register to vote.

Partnering with Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who will face a tough challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott in November, the Florida Democratic Party has dubbed the Memorial Day campaign an “‘I Will Vote’” weekend of action. The party will join a team supportive of Nelson, “Nelson’s Neighbors.”

During the weekend, the Democratic senator is scheduled to join volunteers in Orange County. Meanwhile, his wife, Grace Nelson, will be in Duval County also doing fieldwork.

In announcing the campaign, the party noted it’s less than 100 days from the Aug. 28 primary. The Democrats said the three-day weekend marks “a kick-off to a summer of activism,” which they hope will result in thousands of newly registered physical and mail-in voters.

In a news release, FDP Chair Terrie Rizzo expressed confidence in the party’s ability to capitalize on grassroots missions — such as what’s planned this weekend — in 2018. One supporting piece of evidence: Florida was the top state in the nation this week to have volunteers sign up for training with the Association of State Democratic Committees, according to FDP.

“The momentum we are seeing in our Democratic clubs and progressive groups across the state has been outstanding,” said Rizzo, “There is tremendous enthusiasm about our candidates, and it shows by the engagement we are seeing in this weekend of action, and beyond.”

Rizzo, who replaced ousted former Dem chief Stephen Bittel in December, said the party is focused on getting Democrats elected “up and down the ticket.”

Though, with the primary still months away, it makes sense that incumbent Nelson is the only named ‘partner’ in this weekend’s activities. He’s the only formidable Democrat running for his federal seat, whereas the Democratic gubernatorial race boasts four strong candidates in Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — meaning FDP will hold its tongue on that ticket until voters determine who makes the cut in August. 

Takeaways from Tallahassee — When it rains …

Our expectations of a three-day weekend filled with backyard barbecues and relaxation have been met with the reality of the precocious 2018 Hurricane Season.

As of Friday afternoon, it appears the Sunshine State will get a soaking over the holiday, thanks to the untimely formation of now-Subtropical Storm Alberto — six days ahead of the ‘official start’ to the hurricane season.

Say holá to Sub-Tropical Storm Alberto, Florida!

Per The Weather Channel, Alberto is expected to track north through the Gulf of Mexico toward the most-western portion of the panhandle. It will, however, bring strong rains across the state, particularly the bottom half of Florida, along with its panhandle and even around the capital city.

At the local level, Tallahassee has opened two sandbag locations, James Messer Park South at 2830 Jackson Bluff Road and Winthrop Park. The county also has opened four other locations expected to remain operating until the threat of a storm has passed. City officials have advised Tallahasseeans to download the Digitally app, which keeps citizens in the loop on local developments, including downed power lines and incidences of flooding.

At the state level, Gov. Rick Scott traveled to Panama City Beach Friday to warn citizens to take necessary precautions and to speak with local officials.

As far as development goes, The Weather Channel predicts that especially warm waters for May could result in Alberto strengthening to a full-fledged tropical storm later this weekend.

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

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

Special Session chances quelled — A Democrat-backed push to reconvene the Legislature this week stopped short of receiving enough support. The Republican-led Legislature voted overwhelmingly to keep lawmakers home and to operate under the budget passed during the 2018 Legislative Session. The Democrats wanted to call the Special Session to increase K-12 education funding. The move was spearheaded by Democratic Reps. Shevrin Jones, of West Park, Nicholas Duran, of Miami and Carlos Guillermo Smith, of Orlando. The lawmakers claimed that base allocations to school funding amounted to 47 cents, while Republican leadership has touted a $101.5 increase. The support threshold of three-fifths of Legislature was not met. The Senate voted 16-13 in favor, with some Republican lawmakers abstaining, and the House voted 64-41 against the concept.

Election security money uncertain — Gov. Scott this week directed Secretary of State Ken Detzner to help counties unlock more than $19 million worth of federal funds available to beef up voting security ahead of the 2018 election. That order, however, came after Detzner announced that counties would not get the money ahead of November, citing the need for legislative approval to unlock the funds. If made available, the funds would be used to prevent breaches of election security, such as those unearthed during the 2016 presidential election by Russians. The money would accompany the state’s recent announcement it will hire five cybersecurity consultants to work with elections offices across the state.

State sued over campus early voting ban — A lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida and six students from the University of Florida and Florida State University challenges a 2014 decision made by Secretary Detzner to prevent early voting on college campuses. Detzner had interpreted a prior determination that a ban on early voting at the University of Florida’s Student Union was cause to prevent early voting on all public college facilities across the state, according to the lawsuit. John Tupps, Scott’s spokesman, dismissed the lawsuit as an election-year gimmick, according to The Associated Press. “This political group waited four years to challenge this interpretation,” Tupps told the AP. “This is obviously an election-year gimmick to distort the facts.”

Statute could jam gun lawsuit — A 2001 Florida law prevents government entities from suing businesses for producing weapons that are later used unlawfully, though it’s not clear whether the law also bars members of the public. The families of two slain victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, Jaime Guttenberg and Alex Schachter, “seek to hold defendants legally responsible for their complicity in the entirely foreseeable, deadly use of the assault-style weapons that they place on the market,” according to a lawsuit filed this week in Broward County. It seeks damages from gunmaker American Outdoor Brands, formerly known as Smith & Wesson, and Sunrise Tactical Supply, where confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz purchased the weapon he used to take 17 lives Feb. 14.

Storm tax holiday on horizon — Monday marks the beginning of a weeklong sales-tax holiday for disaster-preparedness supplies. Notes Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida, that “means about 90 cents to $1.05 in sales taxes will not be applied to a $15 package of batteries or $45 to $52 is left off the purchase of a generator that costs $750.” As the state was still reeling from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, lawmakers opted to extend the duration of the annual holiday during the 2018 Legislative Session. The seven-day break, beginning June 1, is more than twice as long as last year’s. According to Turner, the break could cut “state revenue by $4.6 million. Local governments will experience a $1.2 million reduction in revenue, according to state economists.”

Scott, DEO invest in military bases

Recognizing the economic impact military installations have in the Sunshine State, Scott and the state’s jobs agency announced this week a $3.5 million plan to support projects in nearby communities.

The military complexes are estimated to contribute close to $85 billion yearly to Florida’s economy, supporting nearly 800,000 jobs in the Sunshine State. Florida bases will use the new money to improve local infrastructure and acquire land, as well as assist nearby areas and diversify local economies.

Navy veteran Rick Scott announced more spending for military bases.

“Florida is the most military-friendly state in the nation, and as a Navy Veteran myself, I am proud to announce our state will be providing nearly $3.5 million in additional defense grants dedicated to supporting Florida’s military communities,” Scott said. “Our military installations are the backbone of many great Florida communities.”

The money will arrive to communities via Defense Infrastructure Grants and Defense Reinvestment Grants, which both are administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. The former was awarded to defense partners in Bay, Brevard, Clay, Duval, Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, and the latter were disseminated across Bay, Brevard, Clay, Duval, Escambia, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Okaloosa, Orange, Santa Rosa and Walton counties.

“Defense communities play a large role in Florida’s robust economy,” DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor said. “We are proud to invest in our military installations and the local communities they support.”

Avoid gas pump ‘skimmers’ on Memorial Day Weekend, Putnam says

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose job includes regulating gas pumps, is warning of the potential to be ripped off at the pump this holiday weekend.

Namely, he’s concerned about “identity-stealing card skimmers placed on gas pumps.”

Floridians need to stay alert for card skimmers, Adam Putnam says.

“Floridians and visitors shouldn’t have to worry about losing their hard-earned money to scammers who prey on victims at gas pumps,” he said.

Some tips to defend yourself:

— Use a gas pump closer to the store because thieves often place skimmers farther away so they are not noticed as quickly.

— Check to make sure the gas pump dispenser cabinet is closed and has not been tampered with.

— Use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards have better fraud protection.

— Better yet, pay in cash inside the store.

If you think a gas pump has been tampered with, talk with the gas station manager, local law enforcement or call the department’s consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832).

Patronis: Report suspicious hurricane damage repair offers

As the 2018 Hurricane Season approaches, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis reminds Floridians to contact his Disaster Fraud Action Strike Team (DFAST) if they suspect they may have fallen victim to insurance fraud during their recovery after a hurricane.

Jimmy Patronis warns about bogus hurricane repair offers.

“As recovery efforts continue from last year, and the 2018 Hurricane Season quickly approaches, we must continue to look out for our families, friends and neighbors by reporting suspicious activity as soon as possible,” he said in a statement.

Possible indicators of post-storm fraud include a contractor or restoration professional who:

— Offered to waive or discount your insurance deductible.

— Received payment and failed to provide any repairs to your home.

— Offered to provide repairs at a cash-only discounted rate and has failed to provide repairs to your home.

— Pressured you to sign an AOB and failed to provide any repairs to your home or stopped responding to your contact attempts.

Consumers who have experienced or witnessed these types of activity are encouraged to reach out to CFO Patronis’ Fraud Tip Hotline by calling 1-800-378-0445. Callers can choose to remain anonymous.

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

1st Judicial Circuit

Stephen Pitre, 46, of Gulf Breeze, is a shareholder at Clark, Partington, Hart, Larry, Bond, & Stackhouse, P.A. He previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit. Gov. Scott appointed him to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Edward P. Nickinson III.

Okaloosa County Court

Angela Mason, 41, of Fort Walton Beach, is currently an Assistant State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit, and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit. Gov. Scott appointed her to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge T. Patterson Maney.

Miami-Dade County Court

Ramiro Christen Areces, 35, of Coral Gables, fills the vacancy created by the death of Judge Shelley J. Kravitz. Elijah A. Levitt, 39, of Miami, fills the vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Spencer J. Multack to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court.

Florida Citrus Commission

Pat Schirard, 57, of Vero Beach, is the president of GEM Indian River Select, a premium juice company that prides itself on solely using Florida citrus for production. He fills a vacancy on the nine-member Citrus Commission for a term ending May 31, 2019.

Duran delivers big for anti-human trafficking program

State Rep. Nicholas X. Duran, a Miami Democrat, this week presented a $400,000 check to a South Florida effort aimed at serving youth victims of human trafficking.

The money was given to Citrus Helping Adolescents Negatively Impacted by Commercial Exploitation (CHANCE) in Miami-Dade. It will support the development of a Campus for Commercially Sexually Exploited Youth program.

Nick Duran awards $400K to the fight against human trafficking.

Securing the funds was a legislative victory for Duran during the 2018 Session. He had submitted a request for the money during the appropriations process.

“The rights and best interests of sexually exploited children should be at the forefront of priorities in Florida. We should be taking bold measures to ensure the safety and protection of our children from violence and abuse,” stated Representative Duran. “By providing services designed to help children cope with traumatic events, we can turn negative experiences into empowerment and inner transformation. Programs like CHANCE not only treat these youths, but they provide a foundation of support that children carry with them for a lifetime.”

The new program includes integrated health services. As well, it will support a continuum of care, with statewide inpatient psychiatric programs, therapeutic group homes, foster homes and an education facility.

Hukill to be recognized by art-based nonprofit

For her many years in public service, state Sen. Dorothy Hukill will be honored at an event hosted by the ArtHaus Foundation.

On June 6 the Port Orange Republican will be recognized at ArtHaus’ 20th Annual Fun & Funky Dinner. Dubbed “Volusia — There’s No Place Like Home,” the Wizard of Oz-themed event starts at 5:30 p.m. at Root Hall at the Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona Beach.

Dorothy Hukill is recognized for her service to Volusia County arts education.

Established in 1996, the ArtHaus Foundation is a boutique nonprofit dedicated to enhancing arts education in Volusia County schools and communities. To do so, it showcases student art in Hukill’s district, provides after-school, art-focused programs, and supports art educators while also promoting cultural enrichment for the community.

An invitation reads, “Senator Hukill has dedicated her years serving and being a voice for those who call Volusia County home. In the Florida Legislature, Dorothy has been a steadfast supporter of the arts and believes in the importance of nurturing our children’s creativity and inspiring them to be true to themselves and their visions.”

Tickets for the event are $100, though sponsorship levels range between $500 and $5,000, spanning “Yellow Brick Road” to “Ruby Slippers” levels. Proceeds from the event will support ArtHaus’ mission: “Instilling the spirit of creativity & self expression in our youth & our community.”

Tournaments aid in lionfish removal

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is once again employing a unique way to incentivize lionfish removal: fishing tournaments.

The series, dubbed the 2018 Lionfish Challenge, started May 19 — or Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day — and has directly resulted in the removal of 15,000 lionfish from Florida waters so far. FWC considers the species invasive, and encourages removal due to its negative impact on Florida’s underwater ecosystems.

Tournaments begin to help control an invasive species of lionfish. (Image via Florida Sportsman)

The challenge runs through Sept. 3. Already more than 200 people have signed up to participate.

This year, some fish are tagged at artificial reefs across the state. Reeling in a tagged lionfish could net the angler a cash prize of up to $5,000. Last weekend five tagged fish were caught off Escambia County.

The area with the most lionfish action last weekend was Pensacola, where more than 9,000 of the venomous-spined creatures were hooked.

DCF, local communities join forces for foster care

The Florida Department of Children and Families announced this week that it will alongside community partners recognize and celebrate foster families and those who support them.

The news comes as May, National Foster Care Month, draws to a close. DCF said it is working with the state’s community-based care (CBC) agencies to recruit, license, and match children with foster homes.

The Department of Children and Families is celebrating Florida foster families.

“When you choose to invest in and enhance the lives of children and youth currently in foster care, you are giving them an opportunity to be successful; ultimately strengthening our communities,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said. “Opening your heart and home to a child in a time of critical need is one of the most rewarding roles you can fulfill within your community.”

According to DCF, there are nearly 25,000 children in foster care in the Sunshine State. “Each child needs love, security, and a strong foundation to build their life around,” a news release from the agency said.

DCF isn’t the only entity in the capital city celebrating foster care. The Tallahassee Democrat has published throughout the month special guest columns from foster parents.

Pratt & Whitney brings 215 more jobs to Palm Beach

It was announced this week by Gov. Scott that manufacturing powerhouse Pratt & Whitney would be expanding its site, creating 215 additional jobs at its Palm Beach County location.

Since 2012, the aircraft engine and auxiliary power unit maker created 300 Sunshine State jobs, according to a news release from Scott’s office. The term-limited Governor, who’s made a point to secure his job growth legacy before leaving office next year, chimed in on the company’s expansion plans.

Pratt & Whitney expands in Palm Beach County. (Image via the Sun-Sentinel)

“I am proud to announce 215 new jobs for families in Palm Beach County. As Governor, one of the best parts of my job is meeting families across our state and over the past seven years, I’ve heard firsthand from them just how important our focus on job growth is to their success,” Scott said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “Today’s exciting announcement shows why Florida is leading the nation in job growth and why we will never stop fighting to make sure that hardworking companies, like Pratt & Whitney, can grow and create jobs.”

Executives of the manufacturing firm gave credit to the state for its commitment to pro-business initiatives. The project was made possible through strong partnerships between Enterprise Florida, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Palm Beach County’s Business Development Board, according to the news release.

And to DEO head Proctor, the expansion “is another sign that employers are benefiting from Florida’s pro-business policies and finding the talent they need to grow in the Sunshine State.”

TaxWatch taps longtime lobbyist to Board of Trustees

Fausto Gomez, president of Gomez Barker Advisors, joined this week the Board of Trustees for the Sunshine State’s premier taxpayer research institute and watchdog organization.

With his addition, TaxWatch is bringing one of Florida’s most-respected government relations counselors onboard.

TaxWatch taps Gomez Barker Advisors President Fausto Gomez for its Board of Trustees.

“We are thrilled to welcome Fausto Gomez to our esteemed Board of Trustees,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “Florida TaxWatch was built on the idea of bringing the business community to the Legislature. Mr. Gomez’s background with both businesses and government makes him an excellent addition to the board.”

Gomez is bilingual and has significant experience in the art of government relations. He has represented clients skillfully before the Legislature, agencies and local governments in South Florida.

By joining TaxWatch, Gomez hopes to contribute to its central mission of making government more efficient.

“Now more than ever, there is a need for a nonpartisan watchdog to monitor waste and inefficiency in government,” said Gomez. “I am not only excited but honored to join Florida TaxWatch in forwarding their important mission to improve taxpayer value, government accountability and citizen understanding.”

Greenberg Traurig employee honored for advocacy

Liz Dudek, Director of Health Care Affairs to Tallahassee Greenberg Traurig (GT) location, was recognized this week for her dedication to advocating on behalf of the elderly and disabled.

At an annual dinner honoring late U.S. Senator and Representative Claude Pepper at Jungle Island in Key Biscayne, Dudek was awarded the United HomeCare Claude Pepper Award for Lifetime Achievement. It pays tribute to Pepper’s care advocacy and “honors exceptional individuals and organizations from the private and public sector who exemplify the spirit and ideals of the award’s namesake,” according to a news release from GT. United Homecare is a long-running nonprofit home health and community group in South Florida.

Kudos to Liz Dudek for her advocacy work.

“I am honored to receive the United HomeCare Claude Pepper Award and to share this recognition with the other honorees,” said Dudek. “Having spent much of my career in health care, I appreciate the importance of providing seniors in our community with the quality care that they deserve. We all have to work together to champion for the elderly to ensure that they are treated with compassion and dignity.”

Before joining GT, Dudek had served as the Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration and Deputy Secretary of Health Quality Assurance. Now at the firm, she helps “clients navigate the health care system, interact with agencies, and better understand legislative affairs and their accompanying issues,” according to the news release.

GT is an international law practice with more than 2,000 attorneys in the U.S., Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Law360 named it the largest law firm in the country in 2017.

Leon County closures, service changes for Memorial Day

Closed Monday, May 28: Leon County offices, libraries, community centers, Animal Control, Solid Waste and Rural Waste Service Centers, Household Hazardous Waste Center.

Remaining open for the holiday: Leon County parks and recreation facilities (including boat landings).

There will be a number of closures around Leon County for Memorial Day.

The LeRoy Collins Leon County Branch Libraries will close Saturday, May 26, at 4 p.m. The LeRoy Collins Leon County Main Library will close at 6 p.m. Sunday, May 27. The LeRoy Collins Leon County Main Library and branch libraries will resume normal operating hours Tuesday, May 29.

The Woodville, Ft. Braden and Miccosukee Rural Waste Service Centers will close at 5 p.m. Sunday, May 27. All Leon County Solid Waste and Rural Waste Service Centers and Household Hazardous Waste Center will resume normal operating hours Tuesday, May 29.

In the event of an animal-related emergency, service is available by calling the Consolidated Dispatch Agency at (850) 606-5800. Leon County Animal Control encourages residents to only use this service to report dangerous or aggressive dogs, sick or injured domestic animals and animal cruelty. Injured wildlife calls will be forwarded to the St. Francis Wildlife Association at (850) 627-4151.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Jacksonville Bold for 5.25.18 — Game theory

We’ve reached the point in the primary cycle where, by now, campaign groundwork and infrastructure should be well underway.

Bold is offering evidence of that proposition.

Smart candidates are bringing out the big endorsements, and less seasoned candidates making career-killing gaffes.

The operatives are talking. If our Jacksonville correspondent isn’t typing, odds are good he is fielding a call from one or another.

Sometimes, what they say may even be true.

For those who have been reading Florida Politics in the Jacksonville market since 2014, what’s clear is that we much of the work — explaining why someone is winning (or losing).

Moments have predictive value. Trends emerge from specific phenomena. And the savvy players, whether donors, consultants, pols or endorsers are making rational transactional decisions.

Some like to sentimentalize politics. But they are soon disappointed when it is revealed (yet again) that the business is a discipline — and well-organized people, and operations, tend to do the best business.

Scott trumpets yet another record low crime rate

Tuesday morning, Gov. Rick Scott was in Jacksonville with what his office called a “major announcement” on “Florida’s safe communities” and the 2017 FDLE Crime Report.

Rick Scott, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, Mayor Lenny Curry talk crime-fighting.

Crime rates have decreased during the Scott era (from a 40 year low to a 46 year low and now, a 47 year low), and his trumpeting of the statistical decreases have become a yearly tradition, which allows the outgoing Governor and current Senate candidate to spotlight budget allocations for public safety measures.

“This year, our budget invested more than $5.2 billion in public safety, a more than $300 million increase over last year,” Scott said. “This investment includes $22.8 million to pay increases for state sworn law enforcement officers, which includes the 5 percent raise I signed last year.”

Scott also trumpeted a 10 percent raise for juvenile probation officers and increased funding for prevention programs for at-risk youth.

“As our economy continues to grow,” Scott said, “we continue to invest more money in law enforcement. These investments are clearly working. Crime in our state is at a 47-year low.”

“The crime rate dropped by 6 percent in 2017, including a reduction in violent crime of 3 percent,” Scott said.

Scott spotlighted several officers who died since mid-April, including Officer Lance Whitaker of Jacksonville, asking for a moment of silence in commemoration.

Scott was accompanied by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff Mike Williams, who spotlighted local efforts, including hiring more police officers and a 36 percent decrease in nonfatal shootings in Q1 2018.

Graham returns to Jacksonville

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham found herself on familiar turf Monday evening, addressing the monthly meeting of the Duval Democratic Party.

Gwen Graham works the crowd in Jacksonville Monday.

In Jacksonville, Graham — once seen as a prohibitive front-runner for the nomination — made at least one “comeback kid” posture, noting that in her 2014 race for Congress, some political reporters bet against her and others said she couldn’t win.

Graham also noted her commitment to progressive ideals in the remarks, including education, public option for health care, and gun control measures, before saying that “these things don’t matter if you can’t win.”

Graham espoused a commitment to the “67 county strategy,” a phrase also used by opponent Philip Levine. While a candidate has to do well in South Florida and the I-4 Corridor, “elections are won or lost north of Orlando.”

And Graham insisted that went beyond just Jacksonville, noting that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton “did well in Duval but got beaten badly west of here,” by way of making the case that the key is to “not get beaten so badly in places where Democrats have lost in the past.”

“Look at the data, and you will see: the reality is you have to do well everywhere,” Graham added. “You can’t write off any part of the state and think there’s a path to victory.”

Curry backs Waltz in CD 6

A major regional endorsement from Mayor Curry went to Mike Waltz Monday in the three-way GOP primary in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The machine comes through again. [Photo: Jax Daily Record]

Curry and Waltz share some of the same political advisers; judging from the quotes of mutual admiration, there is ideological affinity as well.

“Michael Waltz is a leader and a warrior with a servant’s heart,” Curry said.

“From the battlefield to the halls of power, Mike has already demonstrated a deep reverence for the Constitution and a willingness to fight for the conservative values we share. Washington needs people who instead of saying what they want to do will simply get things done. Florida needs more conservative voices in Congress, and that’s why I am proud to endorse and support Michael Waltz for Congress,” Curry asserted.

“Mayor Lenny Curry is a true leader, visionary and champion for real conservative reform,” said Michael Waltz. “He has worked tirelessly to enact a positive conservative agenda with real results for the people of Northeast Florida. I am humbled by Mayor Curry’s support and look forward to working together in the months ahead.”

The GOP race in CD-6, where candidates vie to replace outgoing Rep. Ron DeSantis, has been an interesting one, with Waltz and John Ward both raising serious money for what will be an expensive primary straddling three media markets (Jacksonville, Daytona and Orlando).

Ward: Puerto Ricans shouldn’t vote here

John Ward, a Republican running to succeed DeSantis in CD 6, looks to have made the biggest gaffe of his political career recently.

John Ward’s comments drew fire from inside and outside his party.

According to Fox News, Ward asserted that displaced Puerto Ricans shouldn’t be allowed to vote in Florida.

“I don’t think they should be allowed to register to vote,” Ward said, given that “the Democrat Party is really hoping that they can change the voting registers in a lot of counties and districts, and I don’t think they should be allowed to do that,” Ward said at an April forum.

Instead, Ward added that Puerto Ricans “belong” in Puerto Rico.

Per the Orlando Sentinel, likely Democratic nominee Nancy Soderberg blasted the comments:

“Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, plain and simple, and every bit as American as John Ward,” Soderberg said in a statement. “Every American citizen, regardless of where they come from, deserve a vote.”

DeSantis — who took issue with Ward filing for the seat before he was officially running for Governor — blasted his would-be replacement via POLITICO, saying the comments were “beyond the pale.”

Gibson investigates ‘problem spa’

Per Action News Jax, Sen. Audrey Gibson investigated a “problem spa” on Jacksonville’s Southside late last week.

When she walked up to the building, Gibson’s reaction: “Who the hell would want to come here for a massage? It’s seedy!”

Audrey Gibson and reporter Tenikka Hughes (above) investigated a seedy spa late last week.

Gibson and reporter Tenikka Hughes had an interesting dialogue with spa staff, which we include below.

Gibson: “Do you know there’s been illegal activity at this place? Did you know about that?”

Worker: “I don’t know.”

Hughes: “You see, it says sweet, young Asian girls. None of these girls work here?”

Worker: “No, no, no.”

Hughes: “Did you know it was being advertised like this?”

Worker: “I don’t know. That’s the first time I saw.”

Gibson: “Can we come in and see your massage rooms?”

Worker: “No.”

Doubts of Gibson permeate Senate Dem caucus

Two new political committees speak to doubts about the way forward for Senate Democrats, for which Sen. Gibson is Leader-Designate.

Audrey Gibson. (Image via Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

This is the “latest, most indelible sign of a growing rift within the caucus and yet the divide may be improving the minority party’s chances of retaking the chamber.”

“In late April, Friends of Kevin Rader PC was established by David Ramba, a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist who administers dozens of political committees on behalf of a broad range of political clients. Also recently formed was Future Democratic Majority PC and, in addition to Rader, involves Sens. Randolph BracyLauren Book from Plantation, Linda Stewart from Orlando, Bobby Powell from West Palm Beach, and Darryl Rouson from St. Petersburg.”

Per one consultant: “It’s about a crisis of confidence in Audrey (Gibson) and a fear of what the caucus might become if Gary Farmer is eventually given the reins.”

Gibson faces a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown. What’s clear, however, is that the issues around the state are at least worthy of monitoring for the incumbent.

Expect big money for Hutson committee

Sen. Travis Hutson was this week supported at a fundraising reception for his First Coast Business Foundation, and Curry was the special guest at an event heavy on names of prominent politicos, donors and lobbyists.

Travis Hutson is consolidating regional support, which will allow him to reach out statewide.

Event chairs included Marty Fiorentino, former Congressional candidate Hans Tanzler (endorsed by Hutson in 2016), JEA Board member Husein Cumber, Jaguars’ lobbyist and all-around problem solver Paul Harden, and bestbet’s Jamie Shelton.

Among the standout names on the host committee: charter school impresario Gary Chartrand and the Jax Chamber mainstay Daniel Davis.

A similar group of players came together last year for a fundraiser in support of future House Speaker Paul Renner, whose political committee had a $261,000 month because of it.

Hutson is pursuing the Senate presidency in 2022, and fundraisers like this for his political committees will fuel the work to secure support for his bid.

In April, his Sunshine State Conservatives political committee got a boost reflective of similar support from different players.

The committee brought in $155,000 in April, with much of that money coming from other committees.

Firefighters back Polson in HD 15

Democrat Tracye Polson is still waiting to find out which of three Republicans will emerge from the August primary to face her in the House District 15 race.

Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters head Randy Wyse addresses a crowd downtown.

But she doesn’t have to wait any longer for the endorsement of one of Jacksonville’s most influential public-sector unions.

The Jacksonville Association of Firefighters gave its imprimatur to Polson, meaning that no matter what happens in the GOP battle, she can count on union backing.

“I am humbled to have earned the support of the men and women of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters. This endorsement is particularly meaningful to me. As a licensed mental health professional, I’ve spent many years treating victims of trauma and I know the critical impact first responders have when they arrive on the scene of fire and medical emergencies. District 15 continues to battle the opioid epidemic, having two ZIP codes with the highest rate of overdoses in the city,” said Polson.

“Furthermore, because of the stressors first responders are exposed to every day, they have increased rates of PTSD and suicide. And this impacts their loved ones and our entire community, too. I will be a staunch advocate for them and their families,” Polson added.

The local Fraternal Order of Police had previously endorsed Polson, giving her a public safety sweep.

Bowman, Wilson take Jacksonville City Council helm

The top job starting July 1 in the Jacksonville City Council will go to current Vice President Aaron Bowman, elected President-Designate Tuesday.

Aaron Bowman and Scott Wilson will lead the Council starting July 1.

There was little surprise: Weeks prior, Bowman had 13 of the 19 councilors pledging support.

Bowman, a VP for the Jacksonville Chamber‘s business recruitment wing JAXUSA Partnership, will represent a break from the chaotic, parlous dynamic between current President Anna Lopez Brosche and Mayor Curry.

Republican Scott Wilson took the VP spot — notable because he entered Tuesday with no pledges and overcame intense lobbying from the head of the Republican Party of Duval County for his opponent, Danny Becton.

BBQ botch

Earlier this month, the city filed suit against Councilwoman Katrina Brown, a first-term Democratic member of the Council’s Finance Committee, for breach of guaranty, relative to a defaulted loan of $380,000 to the Browns’ family business, CoWealth LLC. [COJ v Katrina Brown]

Questions remain about Katrina Brown’s political future after a city lawsuit was filed against her.

CoWealth defaulted on the loan after Jan. 1, 2017, per the filing, which noted that the city is owed over $346,000 in principal, in addition to interest, late charges and so forth.

The city has retained Burr and Forman LLP to represent its interests.

To recap, the city fronted CoWealth $380,000 of loans from the city of Jacksonville and $220,000 of grants in 2011 to build a BBQ sauce plant in Northwest Jacksonville. The grant money was conditional on the company creating 56 permanent jobs, but none were created.

The city won a default judgment against the businesses, but that was effectively worthless. Brown’s parents, including her mother who ran the businesses, filed for bankruptcy months ago.

This news is ill-timed for Councilwoman Brown, who has drawn no fewer than seven challengers for her District 8 seat.

Brown will stay on the Council, she said Tuesday, and will continue her run for re-election.

Another one bites the dust

Jacksonville’s latest Inspector General, James Hoffman, took all of six sentences in a terse resignation letter late Friday to end his twelve-month tenure.

James Hoffman. (Image via Jacksonville Daily Record)

Hoffman is the second permanent inspector general to leave the role in recent years, and the second one to last a year or less.

“I would like to thank you for the trust placed in me to lead the Office of Inspector General. The last 12 months have been personally and professionally rewarding. I have enjoyed learning and working in the consolidated government. I have been inspired by the professionals within the Office working tirelessly every day to make our government more effective and efficient. However, for personal and professional reasons, I resign as the Inspector General for the City of Jacksonville,” Hoffman wrote.

The resignation will be effective June 8.

Back in 2016, Thomas Cline left the position, after less than a year. Steve Rohan, a former city lawyer, also served on an interim basis in between the two permanent hires.

It took the Inspector General Selection and Retention Committee roughly that long to secure Hoffman as a permanent replacement.

Jacksonville City Council members, including the president of the body and the body’s chief advocate for an IG position, didn’t see the departure coming.

Land Trust honored for fort preservation

The North Florida Land Trust was recognized recently with the 2018 Florida Preservation Organizational Achievement award for the work they did to acquire and preserve the 1898 Spanish-American War Fort.

The property had been purchased at a tax deed sale, and the buyer had considered demolition. However, a combination of $162,500 in city funds, a $100,000 donation from the Delores Barr Weaver fund, and other support combined to meet the $400,000 purchase price.

NFLT brings home the hardware.

Per a media release: “NFLT was chosen for the Florida Trust’s Preservation Award in the organizational achievement category for the capital campaign they led to preserve the 1898 Spanish-American War Fort. NFLT partnered with the National Park Service in 2015 to serve as the acquisition and fundraising partner to save the fort. They negotiated with the landowner who had acquired the property at a tax deed sale and had planned to destroy the fort to build a house. The staff then set out on a yearlong capital campaign to raise the money needed to purchase the property and save the fort.”

“This is an example of what a community can achieve when we work together to save an important part of our state’s history,” said Jim McCarthy, president of NFLT. “When we took this on in 2015, it was the largest capital campaign our organization had ever undertaken in its 16-year history. Our then small staff of six worked very hard to achieve our goal to save the fort. With help from the City of Jacksonville, the Delores Barr Weaver Fund and many in the community who contributed to the campaign, we were able to raise the money needed to purchase this property and save a piece of Jacksonville history.”

The National Park Service will be the ultimate custodians of the fort.

Tim Nolan takes helm of TOTE

Per media release: Tim Nolan has been named the next President and CEO of TOTE Inc., the parent company to TOTE Maritime and TOTE Services.

Tim Nolan, current President of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, will take over July 16.

“I am honored and excited to step into this new leadership role with TOTE,” commented Nolan. “The TOTE team is an exemplary group of people and I am confident that together we will make this a successful transition. I look forward to working closely with customers, vendors and key stakeholders as well as all of the TOTE companies.”

TOTE’s corporate headquarters is moving to Jacksonville, where both TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and TOTE Services are currently based.

Nolan will key in on selecting his replacement in his previous role: the next president for TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico.

Art attack

WJCT reports that Jacksonville’s decision to sell “Iva,” a painting by Joan Mitchell that had not been displayed in a decade, will mean big profits for city coffers.

“Leaders in the arts community now have $2.8 million in their pockets, thanks to the auction seller’s fees being waived by Christie’s grant of a 104 percent return.”

“Iva” by Joan Mitchell.

The money will be split 50/50 by the city and its Museum of Contemporary Art.

The city’s share will go toward its Arts in Public Places program, which has $700,000 in unmet maintenance needs.

Black Creek land deals cut

The state has acquired the land needed for a project to pump water out of Black Creek and into aquifers at Keystone Heights, reports the Florida Times-Union.

The Black Creek project is expected to replenish area lakes, such as in Keystone Heights.

“The project calls for using Black Creek — which floods frequently — as an alternative water supply to meet the region’s future water needs by helping replenish the Floridan aquifer, the state’s main water source. It is the first attempt in Northeast Florida to use water from a creek or river to recharge the aquifer.”

There are critics, including HD 19 Democratic candidate Paul Still.

Still got in the race against incumbent Bobby Payne in part because of the “Black Creek boondoggle,” and he still is unmollified.

“It should be clear that the wetlands associated with Black Creek at Penney Farms require frequent high creek levels to keep them functioning and that withdrawing water at the proposed rate for the Black Creek Project would harm those wetlands,” said Still.

Chambers wins eco dev award

Via a news release from the Jax Chamber: “Cathy Chambers, JAXUSA Partnership senior vice president of strategy and business development, was honored with the prestigious Eunice Sullivan Economic Development Professional of the Year Award at the 2018 Florida Economic Development Council (FEDC) Annual Conference on Tuesday.”

“The FEDC recognized Chambers as a leader of business development success and advocacy for the profession, the region and women in the field,” the release continues. “During her tenure at JAXUSA Partnership, Chambers spearheaded efforts to attract more than 10,000 jobs and capital investment to the Northeast Florida region, including significant projects such as Deutsche Bank, Macquarie, Citibank, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Web.com, PNC Mortgage and EverBank, among others.”

“Cathy is a highly respected voice for economic development in the Northeast Florida region and the state,” said Jerry Mallot, president of JAXUSA Partnership and 1997 recipient of the Eunice Sullivan Award. “Many business decision-makers and site consultants have recounted that they are drawn to the region because of Cathy’s professionalism, credibility and knowledge. She consistently impresses our clients resulting in their investment in the region which is good, not only for them but also for our community.”

Jags’ Ramsey makes plans for fatherhood; trolls Bills’ QB

With Father’s Day just three weeks away, Jaguars’ cornerback Jalen Ramsey is looking forward to his first. He is already making plans for the future when it comes to the young Ramsey.

Whether he becomes the father of a boy or girl, he would like for the child to follow in the footsteps of his or her parents. He sees a potential track star in the 2030s.

Jalen Ramsey looks forward to Father’s Day.

Both Ramsey and his girlfriend both ran track in high school back in Tennessee. The former FSU All-American was also a track star in Tallahassee.

“Hopefully he or she will be a little track star,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ramsey is getting ready for training camp by doing something else he does well. One of the league’s best shutdown corners is also one of the league’s most prolific agitators.

The target this time was Buffalo Bills’ rookie quarterback Josh Allen. When the Bills spoke of the impending first pass of Allen’s career during a rookie workout, Ramsey retweeted “that’s a pick waiting to happen.”

Ramsey later deleted the post, but Allen was asked about it later.

Allen said Ramsey’s barb did not bother him at all. “That’s one of the best corners in the league,” he said.

One of the best talkers, too.

Rick Scott appoints new member to Florida Citrus Commission

A vacancy on the nine-member governing board of the Florida Department of Citrus has been filled.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday afternoon the appointment of Pat Schirard to the Florida Citrus Commission.

Schirard, 57, of Vero Beach, is the president of GEM Indian River Select, a premium juice company that prides itself on solely using Florida citrus for production. A fourth-generation Floridian according to Indian River Select, he is also a citrus grower in Lake, Brevard, Polk and Indian River counties. His term begins Thursday and ends May 31, 2019.

According to the commission’s website, the terms of three other members, Carlos Martinez, Vernon “V.C.” Hollingsworth III, and Aedan J. Dowling, will expire at the end of this month.

The Citrus Commission is the rulemaking authority for the Florida Department of Citrus, a state agency charged with marketing, research and regulation of the Florida citrus industry. According to FDOC, the citrus industry employs 45,000 Floridians and contributes an estimated $8.6 billion to the state’s economy annually. 

Schirard will assume his new post at a time when citrus growers are trying to bounce back from devastation caused by Hurricane Irma last year. The latest forecast from the United States Department of Agriculture predicts Florida will produce 44.95 million boxes of oranges in the current growing season —  a drop of more than 9 million boxes since October 2017, when predictions were made without factoring in the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma.

The state’s citrus industry also has been hit by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease attacks the fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. The epidemic has waned citrus production in recent decades, though farmers were on track to rebound — until Irma.

Storm brews with hurricane season on horizon

As Florida braces for heavy rains and potential flooding from a system churning Thursday over the southeastern Yucatan Peninsula, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said a slightly above-average hurricane season is on the horizon.

Gov. Rick Scott issued an advisory Thursday that said it’s “absolutely critical that every Florida family is fully prepared for potential impacts” during the Memorial Day weekend from the brewing storm. The National Weather Service forecast the system has an 80 percent chance to form into a subtropical or tropical depression by late Saturday while over the warm waters of the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.

Mark Wool, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Tallahassee office, said the system is forecast to make landfall somewhere in the central Gulf Coast area — the western Panhandle or further west — sometime Monday, with most of Florida experiencing heavy rains typical on the eastern side of a storm.

“It’s unlikely that a system this early, and with the conditions that it’s going to be encountering, will become very strong,” Wool said. “Hurricanes are extremely rare this early in the season. But we are fairly, highly confident that the main impact is going to be heavy rain, and it could bring enough rains to cause flooding problems.”

If the storm becomes a rotating system with 39 mph winds, it would take on the name Alberto and be the first of the 10 to 16 named storms predicted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this year. Of those storms, five to nine are predicted to reach hurricane status, including one to four major hurricanes, which feature sustained winds of 111 mph or higher.

An average hurricane season — June 1 to Nov. 30 — produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

Last year, the forecast was for 11 to 17 named storms and five to nine hurricanes, of which two to four were expected to become major hurricanes.

The busy 2017 season saw 17 named storms, of which 10 became hurricanes, with six reaching the major storm status.

There are still lingering impacts in Florida from massive and deadly Hurricane Irma, which made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties and traveled up the state, and Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico later in the month.

Wool noted regardless of the forecast, people hit by a single storm will consider that year busy.

“I like to use 1992 as an example,” Wool said. “That was an exceptionally slow year for tropical systems, as there were only six. But the first one was named Andrew. Most folks in South Florida will never forget that one.”

Factors for the outlook are based on the temperatures of the water, how deep warmth goes and the presence or absence of an El Nino or La Nina ocean-atmosphere pattern, the warming or cooling of equatorial waters in the Pacific Ocean, which impacts jet streams.

The Pacific pattern is currently hovering between El Nino and La Nina, which is part of the reason for the slightly above-average seasonal outlook, Wool said.

Second ‘stand your ground’ case filed at Supreme Court

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office is asking the Florida Supreme Court to take up a Hillsborough County case that deals with how courts should carry out a controversial 2017 change to the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law.

Bondi’s office filed a notice asking justices to hear an appeal from a May 4 decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal in a case involving defendant Tymothy Ray Martin, according to documents posted this week on the Supreme Court website.

The notice does not detail the arguments Bondi’s office will make, but the issue centers on a 2017 decision by lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott to shift a key burden of proof in “stand your ground” cases from defendants to prosecutors.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal agreed with Martin that the change should be retroactively applied to his case. Martin, who was convicted of felony battery in a 2016 altercation involving his girlfriend, had sought to use the “stand your ground” law to be shielded from prosecution, but a judge denied his request in a pre-trial hearing.

Also pending before the Supreme Court is a request to take up the retroactivity issue in a Miami-Dade County case. In that case, however, the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that the 2017 law should not apply retroactively to defendant Tashara Love, who was arrested in a 2015 shooting incident during an altercation outside a Miami-Dade County nightclub.

The “stand your ground” law says people are justified in using deadly force and do not have a “duty to retreat” if they believe it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. When the defense is successfully raised in pre-trial hearings, defendants are granted immunity from prosecution.

Before the 2017 change, the Supreme Court had ruled defendants had the burden of proof in pre-trial hearings to show they should be shielded from prosecution.

With backing from groups such as the National Rifle Association, the 2017 change shifted the burden from defendants to prosecutors to prove whether self-defense claims are justified.

Audrey Gibson messages against ‘Rick’s recession’

Headlining Thursday’s stop of the “Rick’s Recession” tour, Jacksonville state Sen. Audrey Gibson blasted both Gov. Rick Scott and his economic policies over the past seven years.

Hosted by the left-leaning activist group “For Our Future,” the statewide tour is to highlight that 36 of Florida’s 67 counties remain at pre-2008 recession job levels, and — specific to Duval County — 37 percent of households qualify as “working poor.”

Gibson, the Senate Minority Leader-Designate who denounced Scott‘s Senate campaign launch last month, extolled his opponent, “moderate” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (notwithstanding qualms from some quarters).

As one of the speakers, Gibson, who also faces a primary challenge in her re-election bid, described the economic challenges that she accuses Scott’s policies of making worse.

“Ten years ago,” she said, “Florida, just like the rest of the country, was slammed by the Great Recession.”

As “more and more people lost their jobs, it became more and more difficult to put food on the table … Jobs have left our country. It’s hard to get those jobs back. You almost never get them back.”

As for Scott’s job creation approach, Gibson argued that the “jobs have not come back … despite incentive dollars in the budget.”

Money was supposed to include training and move people from poverty, but often “a real job is not created,” Gibson said.

“If half of Florida is in recession,” she added, “all of Florida is in recession.”

Rural areas — such as Baker, Bradford, Putnam and Union counties — have suffered most because of a lack of economic diversification, Gibson said. The jobs that have come to Florida have not been as high-paying as have been needed.

And tourism is not reliable either, she said, despite “visit numbers up over the last few years, many of [those tourism workers] are living in poverty.”

The Department of Economic Opportunity took issue with Gibson’s framing of the numbers.

According to a DEO representative, Scott took office in 2011 and is therefore not responsible for a 2008 recession. Also, job creation numbers represent a more reliable indicator; many people have more than one job, while others may live and work in different counties.

The Department also disputes the application of the term “working poor,” accusing event organizers of manufacturing its own definitions.

Bill Nelson splits with Marco Rubio, Rick Scott over NoKo summit withdrawal

The push to give President Donald Trump a Nobel Peace Prize for solving the seven-decade-long conflict between the Koreas is imperiled, after the President on Thursday called off the scheduled peace summit with North Korean ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong Un.

“I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote. “Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.”

The President had trumpeted the summit, and a commemorative coin had already been crafted; however, the summit is off now, with the brief detente having collapsed.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Nelson was the first Florida elected official to offer a statement.

“The cancellation of this summit reveals the lack of preparation on the part of President Trump in dealing with a totalitarian dictator like Kim Jong Un. We’ve seen similar lack of preparation by the president in dealing with the leaders of China and Russia,” Nelson asserted.

Sen. Marco Rubio, conversely, “100 percent” supported the President’s decision.

“I 100 percent support the President’s decision. For two weeks now, North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un has been trying to sabotage the summit and set the United States up to take the blame. He made a big show of freeing hostages and supposedly dismantling a nuclear site to make himself appear reasonable and conciliatory,” Rubio asserted.

“But in the end it is now apparent his goal was either to gain sanctions relief in exchange for nothing, or to collapse international sanctions by making the U.S. appear to be the unreasonable party. If other leaders in North Korea want a better future,” Rubio added, “they should get rid of Kim Jong Un as soon as possible.”

Nelson’s likely general election opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, likewise aligned with the President.

“Governor Scott believes the interests of the United States must always remain our first priority and he is sure the president and our military and diplomatic leaders made the right decision,” asserted Lauren Schenone on behalf of the Scott campaign.

First quarter brings Hopping Green & Sams up to $300K

Timothy Riley

Hopping Green & Sams reeled in up to $300,000 in lobbying pay during the first quarter of 2018, keeping pace with its earnings during the same three-month stretch in 2017.

The full-service law firm reported earning up to $250,000 for its legislative efforts and up to $50,000 for executive branch work. Median compensation estimates peg Hopping Green’s first-quarter haul at $275,000.

Plying the Legislature under the Hopping Green & Sams banner were Adam Blalock, David Childs, Brittany Dover, Carl Eldred, Gary Hunter, Mohammad Jazil, Robert Manning, Michael Petrovich, Timothy Riley, Woodrow Simmons, Susan Stephens, Cheryl Stuart and Jennifer Tschetter.

Hopping Green’s executive branch roster included the above named, plus Richard Brightman, Joseph Brown, Eric Olsen and Amelia Savage.

The firm’s legislative report showed 18 paying clients, while the executive report showed five.

The Florida Electric Power Coordinating Group showed up at the top of both reports, with total payments of up to $40,000 for the quarter. Checking in with up to $30,000 paid were the American Resort Development Association, Mosaic Fertilizer and Disney.

A slew of clients followed in the $10,000 to $20,000 bracket. Notable names in that crowd included Exxon Mobil, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, tobacco company ITG Brands and Strategic Property Partners, the Bill Gates and Jeff Vinik-backed venture behind Water Street Tampa.

SPP scored a major win in the 2018 Legislative Session when Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill creating a special taxing district for the $3 billion development, which promises to transform downtown Tampa with a combined total of more than 9 million square feet of retail, office, hotel and residential space.

Hopping Green clients in the up-to-$10,000 range included the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, the Sugar Cane Growers Cooperative of Florida and Waste Management.

Making a better democracy: Brecht Heuchan and the CRC

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has finished its work and has sent eight proposals to the November general-election ballot.

The CRC process is unique to Florida, with the 37-member commission meeting every 20 years and having the power to place constitutional changes directly before voters. Like all other proposed amendments, each ballot measure must win support from 60 percent of the electorate to pass.

Brecht Heuchan, a lobbyist and political consultant who was appointed to the commission by Gov. Rick Scott, played a key role in the development of the ballot measures as chairman of the panel’s Style and Drafting Committee.

Heuchan’s committee was tasked with developing the package of proposed constitutional changes prior to the A service final vote by the full commission. The eight ballot measures will join five proposals advanced by the Legislature and by the petition process. The commission’s proposed amendments include measures banning off-shore oil drilling and workplace vaping, strengthening ethics standards for public officials, imposing term limits on school board members and prohibiting greyhound racing.

The News Service of Florida has five questions for Brecht Heuchan:

Q: Can you describe your experience as one of the 37 members of the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission and how you feel about the eight proposals that are on the November ballot?

HEUCHAN: It was a great experience for me personally, just an ability to serve, which is a blessing for sure and a big responsibility.  You are just constantly reminded of that throughout the whole process. It lasted the better part of 15 months or so. You are routinely kind of reminded of the large responsibility that you have to serve, to be disciplined, to be thoughtful, to be careful, to be deliberate and to be open-minded as well.

Just one voice of 37, all of those people are extremely sophisticated in their own fields of expertise and came from literally every corner of the state with different ideological bents and different experiences and perspectives. When you blend all that stuff together with a process that was open, you have good results. … Given that everybody had a voice and when they wanted to be loud, they could be loud, and those things were considered. But at the end of the day, it’s still a deliberative body and the will of the majority rules and so that is how a commission like that is set up.

I think because of the openness and the consideration that those voices were given, each uniquely and individually, we ended up with what I think is a good product. Those eight proposals, I plan to vote for every one of them. Some of them are more transformative than others. But it doesn’t matter. Each of them I think will help move our state in the right direction until the next time the group meets and perhaps even thereafter.

Q: You personally sponsored three proposed constitutional changes, including a measure that would have guaranteed certain rights to nursing home residents, but none of them made it through the process. What was your biggest disappointment?

HEUCHAN: I think the nursing home one was my biggest disappointment. But you know lots of people were disappointed. Not everybody got everything that they wanted, let alone some of what they wanted.

As disappointed as I was that those proposals did not move forward, you have to rely on the wisdom of other people. You have to rely on the judgment of others. When you do that, you kind of surrender yourself to the will of the body. As disappointing as it was to let go of those things, there is some, I guess, joy in knowing that the issues were heard. They had a platform. I certainly was able to say whatever I wanted.

In the end, it wasn’t enough to convince enough of the other people. But that’s OK. … You do the best that you can. I thought that we did that. My proposals were a victim of a deliberative process.

Q: The concept of grouping several constitutional changes into one ballot measure has drawn some criticism. Six of the eight 2018 ballot measures group multiple issues. Was this done by the two prior CRCs, and how would you explain it to your critics?

HEUCHAN: It was done by both of the two prior CRCs. In fact, it was done more prolifically than we did. We grouped less than either of the two earlier CRCs. In fact, at the bedrock of all of this, the Constitution that we are operating under now, which was ratified in 1968 by the voters … at its point of ratification, the entire Constitution was bundled or grouped, depending on the word you want to choose, into three amendments.

The explanation of the grouping is that it’s not a new concept. It’s not novel. It’s never been controversial, to my knowledge, until now. I was a little surprised by some of the critiques. But that’s OK, too. They have a perspective. I have a perspective.

My perspective is that you have to balance the length of the ballot with the serious consideration of the time it takes for people to work their way through a ballot, lines at the polling places. In some places in Florida, those ballots have to be translated. And whether we like it or not, more questions means a longer ballot.

But when it left Style and Drafting, it was six (grouped) and six (single subject). At the time, no one knew how many were going to pass (the full commission), so I felt a balance of grouped and non-grouped proposals was the way to go. It was dead-on even. And we brought all 12 of those to floor and only eight passed.

Q: There will be 13 amendments on the general-election ballot, the most ballot measures since 1998. Your committee discussed the issue of voter fatigue when facing a long ballot. Will that be a concern in November?

HEUCHAN: Absolutely it’s a concern. But again it’s a concern along with all the other concerns. It’s not prevailing, necessarily. I think in 2012, they had (11) amendments on the ballot. The voters of Florida are used to this sort of thing. I think 12 or 13 is not too many.

We knew we were starting with number six. So yes, that was absolutely a consideration of how many, which ones were they, where do you get in terms of the highest merit. But even that’s subjective. You could ask all 37 of those people and you would get probably 37 different answers.

Voter fatigue is always a consideration. There is a bright spot, though, in that the trends in Florida overwhelmingly lean toward voting prior to Election Day. In 2016, nearly 70 percent of Floridians who voted, voted prior to Election Day. But still you get 30, 35 percent, whatever the number ends up being, on Election Day. … You’re going to end up with a lot of people showing up on Election Day with the ticket that we have, with the Senate race at the top, the governor and the entire Cabinet, all the down-ballot races.

Q: Do you have any advice or suggestions for the next CRC that will meet in 2037-38?

HEUCHAN: Tons of advice. I actually wrote a lot of it down as well as a number of other people. We’re kind of making a time capsule, so to speak … so they can look at it. Then they can act on their own. That’s the craziest thing. You’re starting and stopping this fairly large operation in a year-and-a-half or less. It’s a huge endeavor.

The advice I would give to the next group of people is pay attention to the rules that you pass. Be as open-minded as you can when it comes to other people’s thoughts. Participate as much as you can. The more that I went to these public hearings, the more that I sat in committee meetings, the more that I learned. … You tend to lean on your compatriots who are smart in those areas.

There’s one specific recommendation that I would make that I think would have changed some of how we handled ourselves. There are two votes. There is a (majority) vote to send a proposal to Style and Drafting. And then there is a vote (requiring support from 22 members) to send it to the ballot. I personally like the 22 number but even more important than that, I would make those vote thresholds the same. Whatever it is, I would make it the same. That way you don’t have these proposals that are viewed differently, like it or not.

There is a lot of what we did that I would recommend that they consider doing, but they will have to figure it on their own. What’s good for us doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for the next (commission).

In 20 years, I obviously don’t know what our life is going to be like then and what our culture is going to be like then. Even in 1998, they didn’t have Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. They barely had the internet. They didn’t have the 60 percent (requirement for voter approval) like we do. So there are a number of significant things that are different about this day and age than it was 20 years ago. And it will be the same 20 years forward.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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