Ron DeSantis Archives - Florida Politics

Personnel note: Veteran communications pro Stephen Lawson joins Ron DeSantis campaign

From “rapid response director” on Gov. Rick Scott’s 2014 campaign, to Enterprise Florida, to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, to VISIT FLORIDA, Stephen Lawson has worked in several positions over the last four years.

On Monday, he made another jump: Communications Director for the Ron DeSantis for Governor campaign.

DeSantis campaign manager Brad Herold made the announcement Monday afternoon, saying that the campaign would be making a load of hires ahead of the Aug. 28 Republican primary contest, where DeSantis holds a major polling advantage and is eating away at the cash advantage of his lone opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“I’m proud to have a seasoned communications professional like Stephen join our team as our campaign continues to build momentum,” Herold said. “Stephen’s experience helping reelect Governor Scott shows he knows how to communicate a strong, conservative, winning message to voters across Florida. We look forward to continuing to share Ron’s vision for making Florida the best state in the country as its next Governor.”

Prior to getting his foot in the door of the Scott administration, Lawson attended the University of Florida, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and later attended Florida State University, where he earned a master’s degree in applied politics and policy.

The DeSantis campaign said Lawson will lead the communications efforts for the campaign and will work to build out a robust communications team ahead of the primary. The campaign said details on the new comms hires would be released in the coming weeks.

Ron DeSantis adds another $1M as Adam Putnam’s money machine slows to a crawl

Congressman Ron DeSantis has held an edge in the polls for weeks, but now he’s started eating into Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s fundraising lead, too.

DeSantis, whose chances surged after an endorsement from President Donald Trump, brought in more than $1 million between July 28 and Aug. 3. Putnam, meanwhile, brought in $191,901.

DeSantis’ cash mostly came in through his committee account this time around, with his campaign receiving $399,031 and Friends of Ron DeSantis adding $635,100.

By far the largest check he cashed was a $300,000 payment from Conservative Principles for Florida, the main fundraising vehicle for incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva. Showing up with $50,000 checks were Save Our Everglades PC, a newish committee chaired by Mary Barley of The Everglades Trust, and Miami-based Duty Free Group.

Included further down was a $20,000 check from The Presidential Coalition, an affiliate of Citizens United that says its mission includes “seizing upon the momentum of President Trump’s historic victory to build a ‘farm team’ of up and coming candidates who share our vision for America as a ‘shining city upon a hill.’”

On the campaign side, DeSantis received $183,005 in state matching funds alongside more than 40 checks for the maximum campaign donation of $3,000.

The state campaign matching funds program, open only to candidates for Governor and Cabinet positions, matches contributions of $250 or less from individuals who were state residents at the time of making the contribution. The first distribution of those funds is made 60 days before the primary election.

Also on the report were hundreds of small-dollar donations. Of the 1,357 campaign contributions he received, more than 1,200 were for $100 or less. Excluding the matching funds check, DeSantis’ average campaign donor chipped in $159.19.

Spending for the week was a few bucks shy of $3 million, with $2.93 million paying for media buys and the remainder paying for a list of expenses including credit card processing fees, printing, catering, direct mail and fundraising consulting from Picotte & Porter, the Jacksonville-based shop run by Gretchen Picotte and Rick Porter.

In all, DeSantis has raised $16 million for his gubernatorial bid and had $2.24 million in the bank on Aug. 3.

Putnam’s comparatively anemic campaign haul included an $81,170 matching funds disbursement, nine max checks and just over 300 contributions overall. His political committee, Florida Grown PC, added another $54,520, with a $15,000 check from The Florida Justice Reform Committee leading the way. Also on the report were $10,000 checks from Winter Park land development company Keewin, Vestcor Companies Chairman and former Ambassador John Rood as well as Heartland Dental Care founder Richard E. Workman.

Both the campaign and committee reports are tiny compared to the numbers Putnam has pulled down throughout most of his campaign. The last time Florida Grown raised less than $54,250 was the week before Election Day 2016, when Putnam was not on the ballot. The last time Putnam’s campaign account reeled in less than $56,212 — it’s total excluding the matching funds — is never.

Despite the meager week, spending totaled $2.67 million and included $2.13 million in ad buys and another $518,000 in direct mail campaigns.

As of Aug. 3, the second-term Agriculture Commissioner had raised $37 million between the two accounts and had $4.8 million in the bank.

DeSantis and Putnam are a little over two weeks away from the Aug. 28 primary election, when Republicans will decide which man will represent the party on the November ballot.

Gwen Graham adds $1.5M as Philip Levine, Jeff Greene pour more cash into Gov. campaigns

Gwen Graham’s campaign for Governor added nearly $1.5 million to its coffers last week as Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine continued juicing their campaign accounts with seven-figure checks from their own fortunes.

Though the haul is Graham’s largest yet, it mainly came in through a pair of state matching funds checks — one check for $991,598 on July 28, and another for $103,970 on Aug. 3, the final day of the reporting period.

The state campaign matching funds program, open only to candidates for Governor and Cabinet positions, matches contributions of $250 or less from individuals who were state residents at the time of making the contribution. The first distribution of those funds is made 60 days before the primary election.

The campaign tacked on another $167,500 or so from donors. While seven max checks — $3,000 for statewide races — topped the list of individual supporters, her campaign added hundreds more contributions.

Overall, Graham received a whopping 1,900 contributions from individuals and a well over 1,700 of them measured in at $100 or less. Excluding the matching funds, the average campaign contribution for the week was about $88.

The campaign haul was accompanied by another $218,150 raised for her affiliated political committee, Gwen Graham for Florida. Graham’s cousin, Stephen Graham of New York City, topped the committee report with a $50,000 check alongside Anne Pajcic of the prominent family of Duval Democratic boosters that includes former Rep. Steve Pacjic.

Checking in at the $25,000 level were Pompano Beach retiree Michael Cohen and Hugh Culverhouse Jr., the son of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse Sr., who died in 1994.

The Democratic Services Network, the Florida Institute for Politics and NARAL Pro-Choice America also cut five-figure checks, with most of the rest of the committee haul coming in from individuals who have already maxed out on the campaign side.

In all, Graham’s two accounts shelled out $1.57 million for the week, with $1.41 million of that heading to Virginia-based Screen Strategies Media for an ad buy, and another $141,501 paying for media production services from Washington-based Dixon/Davis Media Group and Virginia-based Deliver Strategies.

With the books closed at midnight on Aug. 3, Graham’s overall fundraising had had passed the $12 million mark and she had about $1.35 million banked between her two accounts.

Graham’s on hand total tops the primary field, as does her fundraising total if loans are excluded. Including them, however, puts her in third behind Levine and Greene.

Greene anted up another $4.35 million for the week, and spent another $4.6 million, and in keeping with the strategy he’s employed thus far, the campaign account served merely as a pass through for checks to media buying agencies.

Between July 28 and Aug. 3, California-based Fortune Media picked up $3.2 million in checks from Team Greene, while Washington’s The Incite Agency received $526,668 and Coral Gables-based Adkins & Associates received $78,925.

In addition to media buys, the campaign spent more than $550,000 on “communications services” — $319,000 for Washington’s Winning Connections, $227,446 for Nashville’s Counterpoint Messaging and $10,000 for Gainesville’s Everblue Communications.

Various consulting contracts and travel expenses ate away the rest of the funds.

Greene has now pumped $22.45 million into his campaign account and has brought in just $2,315 from donors. He finished the reporting period with just shy of $20,000 in his campaign account.

Levine, meanwhile, bolstered his $72,843 in outside fundraising with a $1.37 million loan, for an overall haul of $1.45 million for the week. Like his opponents, his nearly $1.5 million spending during this leg of the sprint outweighed his income and mainly went toward media buys.

The $10,343 in outside cash raised by the campaign came in from about 150 or so small-dollar donors who gave an average of $67.12 apiece. The bulk of the committee’s 62,500.00 haul came in through a $50,000 check from Cuban-born Miami businessman Paul Cejas, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Belgium during the Clinton Administration.

Levine’s TV spending rang up at $1.37 million for the week, while another $38,000 in advertising dollars were directed to various online publications $4,215 was spent boosting Levine’s tweets. The rest of the outflow mainly went toward bills to keep the lights on and the doors open at the campaign’s many field office throughout the state.

Overall, Levine has raised $25.19 million between his campaign and All About Florida political committee, including about $16.4 million in candidate loans and candidate contributions. He had about $400,000 in the bank between his two accounts on Aug. 3.

Graham, Greene and Levine are the top three Democratic candidates in most polls of the race, though recent measures have shown Graham rocketing into first place as Greene and Levine have tussled over past comments on President Donald Trump — both of them were more gracious in than glowing when they made their comments, which simply wished the president luck and success for the good of the country.

Greene has additionally come out hard against both his top-tier rivals by releasing attack ads bashing their environmental records. The Levine attack says human waste was dumped into Biscayne Bay; the Graham attack says American Dream Miami megamall being developed on land partly owned by the Graham Companies will damage the Everglades.

Coming in fourth in most polls of the five-way race is Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who raised $409,419 between his campaign and Forward Florida political committee last week.

Three-quarters of that cash came in from a pair of checks from some nationally familiar names. NextGen Climate America, the advocacy group headed up by billionaire Tom Steyer, chipped in $250,000, while Jonathan Soros, the son of business magnate George Soros, gave $50,000.

Gillum’s campaign account brought in another $100,900 from 1,370 donors who gave an average of $74.42 apiece. Spending for the week nearly hit $1 million, including $888,000 in advertising spending and along with a host of charges for campaign travel.

Since entering the race early last year, Gillum has raised $5.2 million with $817,515 on hand on Aug. 3.

Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King rounded out the pack with a report that shows signs of a slowing campaign. The week brought him just over $10,000 in new money while $109,238 went out the door. The measly numbers come after he pumped another $2 million into his campaign during the first half of July.

including $4 million in candidate loans, King has now raised $8 million between his campaign and committee, Rise and Lead, Florida. He had $779,865 at the ready on Aug. 3.

The five Democratic hopefuls are only about two weeks out from the Aug. 28 primary election, when four of their campaigns will end and the winner among them will head on to face either U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis or Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on the November ballot.

New poll shows Michael Waltz breaking away in Republican field

A new survey conducted by St. Pete Polls shows Republican Michael Waltz pulling ahead of primary opponents John Ward and Fred Costello in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The new poll commissioned for Florida Politics asked likely primary voters who they would support if the election were held today. Waltz, a St. Augustine Army veteran, would take 40 percent of the vote, results show. Ward, a Palm Coast Navy veteran, would win 21 percent, while former Ormond Beach state Rep. Costello would get 16 percent. Another 23 percent of those polled remain undecided.

The poll, taken on Aug. 10, shows an even more pronounced lead for Waltz among voters who already cast their ballot in the race. Waltz won support from 41 percent of those polled. Interestingly, Costello outperformed Ward among those eager voters, winning 22 percent to Ward’s 21 percent.

More than 23 percent of those surveyed already voted in the Republican primary.

The poll shows significant movement from survey by St. Pete Polls conducted on July 18. Then, the three Republicans appeared to be in a dead heat, with Costello just over 21 percent, Ward just under 21 percent and Waltz at 20.

Now Waltz has gone from third (really a statistical tie) to first.

Waltz leads strongly with both male and female votes, but the poll found a higher percentage of men (26) percent who remain undecided in the race compared to women (20 percent).

Ward is outperforming Costello 23-16 among women voters but just 17-16 among male voters. Waltz, however, wins 41 percent of both the male and female vote.

He also secured more than 41 percent of white voters, the vast majority of likely voters polled in the race. Ward won 21 percent of the white vote to Costello’s 16 percent.

But Ward performed best among Asian voters, winning 67 percent to Waltz’s 33. Costello, meanwhile, won over Hispanic voters, securing 33 percent to Waltz’s 20 and Ward’s 13.

Every black voter surveyed remains undecided in the race.

Among voters under age 30, Waltz and Ward are tied at 27 percent, with Costello winning 20 percent. But Waltz holds a solid lead among all other age groups, including winning 49 percent of votes age 70 and older, compared to Ward’s 18 percent and Costello’s 16.

The automated phone poll surveyed 528 registered Republicans who plan to vote in the Aug. 28 primary. Pollsters reported a 95-percent confidence level and a margin of error of 4.3 percent.

The candidates are running to succeed DeSantis, now a candidate for governor. DeSantis in 2016 won 59 percent of the vote in the district over Democrat Bill McCullough’s 41 percent, and President Donald Trump won the district with 57 percent over Hillary Clinton’s 40 percent.

Now in LG mix, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams’ re-election fundraising slows to trickle

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, according to POLITICO, is on a list of nine potential Lieutenant Governor picks being considered by Republican gubernatorial candidate U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

“The top cop in Duval County is the first and (so far) only sheriff to endorse DeSantis. If the campaign wants to emphasize law and order, the job might be for the taking for Williams. Compared to the other shortlisters, Williams has the closest personal relationship with DeSantis,” the Friday writeup asserts.

Indeed, DeSantis and Williams share a political ally (Kent Stermon), and Williams broke with most of the Republican establishment in Jacksonville and 49 sheriffs statewide, endorsing DeSantis ahead of the debate with Adam Putnam Wednesday.

“When I talk with Ron DeSantis, his view of law enforcement mirrors my own: protecting innocent citizens and holding bad actors accountable. I believe, that as Governor, Ron DeSantis will prioritize law enforcement and will be good for the citizens of Jacksonville.  I am proud to offer him my support,” Williams added.

Whether DeSantis ultimately picks Williams or not is an open question, with considerations that extend beyond personal relationships into regional and demographic appeals. However, it’s interesting that the consideration is happening at a time when Williams’ re-election fundraising has slowed.

Between his campaign and committee accounts, Williams raised just $1,450 in July. This leaves Williams with roughly $440,000 on hand.

Despite a pause in fundraising, Williams is not in appreciable danger at the ballot box. His sole opponent, Democrat Tony Cummings, has $700 on hand.

Scott Sturgill, Ron DeSantis, Ashley Moody top Sanford chamber’s poll

Republican congressional candidate Scott Sturgill, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, and Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody all came out on top in a straw poll conducted Thursday night at a Sanford Chamber of Commerce political hobnob.

The victory for Sturgill, a Sanford businessman, continues his streak of straw poll wins in Seminole County in what has been a bruising overall battle for the Aug. 28 Republican primary for Florida’s 7th Congressional District against Winter Park-based state Rep. Mike Miller, who has been winning most such polls in the Orange County side of the district.

The Aug. 28 primary for that CD 7 race will have about 58,000 eligible Republican voters in Orange and 110,000 in Seminole.

There were more than 340 votes cast in the most popular races surveyed Thursday night at the chamber’s “Last Hoorah Sanford HobNob.” In that, Miller finished a distant third in the CD 7 question.

Sturgill was selected as the favorite by 43 percent of the attendees, incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy by 33 percent; and Miller, 20 percent. Murphy’s challenger from the left in the Democratic primary, Chardo Richardson, grabbed 4 percent, while a third Republican, Vennia Francois didn’t even claim 1 percent, as she got three votes out of 342 cast in that question.

“Winning in Sanford was a great way to end hobnob season,” Sturgill declared in a news release issued by his campaign. “I’ve built my business here and this is where I call home. This is where the entire campaign started with my announcement last July.”

The straw poll marked a rare victory for U.S. Rep. DeSantis in Central Florida hobnob straw polls, though he has been dominating statewide Republican voter polls for the past month. DeSantis grabbed 28 percent of the Sanford chamber markers, to 23 percent for his Republican primary rival Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

In that survey, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum was the highest-standing Democrat in the Governor’s field, taking 17 percent; while former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham got 13 percent; former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene each picked up 4 percent; and Winter Park businessman Chris King got 2 percent.

Moody, the former judge from Tampa, continued her dominance of Central Florida hobnob straw polls, leading the Attorney General question by drawing 42 percent of the markers. Her Republican primary opponent state Rep. Frank White of Pensacola finished third. Democratic Attorney General frontrunner Sean Shaw took 25 percent, and White 20 percent. The other major Democrat, Ryan Torrens, was favored by 11 percent.

In every race on the ballot that has partisan competition, Republicans took the top spot in the Sanford Chamber’s straw poll, typical of chambers of commerce polls.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott was the pick in Florida’s U.S. Senate race of 54 percent of the participants, with Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson winning over 40 percent.

Republican Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis got 62 percent of the votes for his bid to stay in office, while Democratic challenger former state Sen. Jeremy Ring got 38 percent.

Republican State Rep. Matt Caldwell topped the straw poll in the race for Florida Agriculture Commissioner, favored by 32 percent; followed by Democrat Nikki Fried, 20 percent; and state Sen. Denise Grimsley, 15.

Republican David Smith was the top choice to succeed outgoing Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur in House District 28, topping Democrat Lee Mangold 64-36.

Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon got 55 percent in his re-election bid, while his Democratic challengers Tracey Kagan and Darryl Block got 28 and 17 percent, respectively.

Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes got 61 percent for his re-election bid, while his Democratic challengers Joy Goff-Marcil, Brendan Ramirez, and Clark Anderson took 14, 14, and 11 respectively.

Jacksonville Bold for 8.10.18 — Contenders, pretenders

We’ve hit the stretch of the primary season; where the money is being spent, not raised.

Where ads are cut, and voters engaged.

And where candidates know if they are still in the game.

No one comes out and says “well, it looks over.”

But losing candidates seem different.

We saw it with Adam Putnam, who won a Potemkin straw poll Monday in Jacksonville, but clearly seemed to be losing the war, even ahead of Wednesday’s debate.

Adam Putnam wins a Jacksonville-area straw poll, but is it enough?

We see it with Alvin Brown, whose campaign — and political career — seem to have gone up in smoke.

The Democratic candidates for Governor — well, four of them will lose, despite all maintaining a brave face in Thursday’s forum.

Optimism of months ago? Gone.

Soon enough, the cycle begins anew, with the necessary polarities of the general election.

But for now, we see the endgame of what has become a very long primary season.

Nelson, DeSantis win St. Johns straw polls

More than 550 votes were cast in straw polls from the St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections office during the St. Johns County Chamber of Commerce’s “Politics in St. Johns” series of events.

Candidate meet-and-greet style events were in Ponte Vedra on July 16 and St. Augustine on August 1.

While the polls were informal, there was at least one interesting result: Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson took a 19-vote victory over Gov. Rick Scott for the U.S. Senate contest.

Ron DeSantis takes the lead in a St. Johns Chamber straw poll.

In the race for Governor, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis enjoys a 6-point lead, according to the straw poll, with 26 percent of the total vote. This result over Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam more closely reflects the nine-point lead DeSantis enjoys in a statewide done held by the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative.

The leading Democratic vote-getter — Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — took 19 percent of the total vote, leading the next closest Democratic candidate Gwen Graham, who earned 13 percent.

Republican Congressman John Rutherford also led his Democratic rival, George “Ges” Selmont, by 40 votes. In Florida’s 6th Congressional District, former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg took a significant lead over the field, besting the next highest vote-getter, Republican Michael Waltz, by nearly 40 votes (96-47).

The Democratic challenger to incumbent Republican Rep. Paul Renner in House District 24 race, Adam Morley, also scored a 10-vote victory.

Combined, the Chamber estimates nearly 1,000 people attended Politics in St. Johns events in 2018, the largest attendance since the Chamber launched the series in 2012.

“I am very pleased to see how this series has grown over the years; it means that people are becoming more engaged. We are proud to be able to provide a platform that will help St. Johns County residents make an informed voting decision,” Chamber President Isabelle Renault said.

Dullsville

Just hours after U.S. Rep. Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Brown threw elbows in a meeting with the Florida Times-Union editorial board, the two Democrats made their respective cases at a Jacksonville AME political forum.

Alvin Brown and Al Lawson seemed subdued Monday night.

The two have jousted throughout the campaign, exchanging jabs on everything from Lawson’s positions on Stand Your Ground and ICE, and Brown’s closeness to Corrine Brown and his alleged “failure” as Mayor.

After the two sat patiently through almost two hours of forums for school board and tax collector candidates, they finally got mic time (along with Republican Virginia Fuller, who is the party’s nominee by default) as the 9 p.m. hour approached.

Judging from the mailed-in performances, it may have been past all of their bedtimes. There was no new ground in answers. No new attacks. Just sedentary pantomimes of the kind of fiery oratory seen more often in these candidates’ news releases than their live deliveries.

Neither Brown nor Lawson was on his game. Brown had the gaffe of the night, however, saying he backed a “living wage — 15 cents an hour.”

He corrected himself.

“Fifteen DOLLARS an hour,” he amended.

Supplementary reading: Is Alvin Brown a hypocrite on charter schools?

CBC backs Lawson

On Tuesday, the majority of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed Lawson ahead of the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District against Brown.

Is Al Lawson in position to run out the clock? (Image via Roll Call)

“I am honored to have the endorsement of so many of my colleagues in the CBC,” Lawson said. “They understand, as I do, the importance of fighting against some of the unfair policies of this current administration, protecting affordable health care for all Americans, protecting voting rights, ensuring access to quality public education, and strengthening marginalized communities all across the nation.”

Alvin Brown, according to sources who saw him in D.C. last year, was making the rounds of CBC members with former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown to solicit D.C. support. The en masse endorsement of Lawson suggests that strategy failed. Brown got one CBC endorsement, from Missouri U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.

Brown has pilloried Lawson as “Trump’s favorite Democrat,” painting him as out of step with the Democratic Party on some issues. The two have jousted throughout the campaign, exchanging jabs on everything from Lawson’s positions on “Stand Your Ground and ICE, to Brown’s closeness to Corrine Brown and his alleged “failure” as Mayor.

Lawson’s endorsements include prominent names, some with connections to Brown’s political past. One such: CBC chairman, Rep. Cedric Richmond, is especially notable support given that Richmond campaigned for Alvin Brown in Jacksonville in 2015 when he lost his re-election bid for Mayor.

Still another endorsement for Lawson that must feel like a cruel cut: the backing of Brown’s former political mentor, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who Brown also namechecked during the Monday evening forum.

Bradley, Cummings back DeSantis

In a sign of the changing times in the Republican gubernatorial race, state Sen. Rob Bradley and state Rep. Travis Cummings endorsed U.S. Rep. DeSantis for Governor on Wednesday.

These endorsements, rolled out hours before DeSantis debated Putnam in Jacksonville, show the influential Clay County Republicans breaking with many Jacksonville elected officials and Republican activists, who fell in line behind Putnam when he seemed certain months back.

Count Rob Bradley on #TeamDeSantis.

“I’m proud to endorse Ron DeSantis for Governor of Florida.” Sen. Bradley said in a statement. “Our state needs strong, dependable leadership and Ron DeSantis is a proven conservative who will make a great Governor. He’s an Iraq veteran with a solid conservative record and the support of our President.”

“He’s demonstrated a fierce commitment to principle in Congress, and he will bring the same values to Tallahassee. I look forward to working with him to strengthen our economy, improve our education system and bring accountability to our government,” Bradley, who serves as the Senate Appropriations chair, said Wednesday.

“Ron DeSantis is a proven conservative leader with a strong record of service to our country both in Congress and in the military.” asserted Cummings, who chairs Health and Human Services in the House.

The open question: Will other Jacksonville-area endorsements fall into line for DeSantis?

While many Jacksonville pols, including U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, state Sen. Aaron Bean, and Jacksonville City Council Vice-President Aaron Bowman, have backed Putnam, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has — at least up until now — reserved an endorsement.

Bradley defends MMJ law

Despite a Tallahassee judge declaring significant parts of the state’s medical marijuana law unconstitutional, the law’s chief architect on Tuesday said he was confident the law would be affirmed.

No smoke, no problem, says Rob Bradley, who stands behind medical cannabis law on books.

“The trial court ruling injected unnecessary uncertainty into the emerging medical marijuana marketplace,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican. “I’m confident that our appellate courts will uphold (its) constitutionality.”

In 2017, lawmakers passed, and Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure (SB 8-A) into law to implement the state’s medicinal cannabis constitutional amendment, passed by 71 percent of voters the year before. Bradley was the primary sponsor.

In recent months, however, judges have been chipping away at the law, beginning with Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ ruling that Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner can grow and make juice of his own marijuana.

In another case, Gievers struck down the law’s ban on smoking medical marijuana, saying that conflicts with the amendment. The state is appealing both of those rulings.

Bradley disagreed: “Medical marijuana is being grown, processed and sold in a safe, orderly fashion today in Florida,” he told Florida Politics.

“As more companies come online, and the Department (of Health) fully implements an integrated seed-to-sale system and a delay-free ID card system, the system will develop into a model for other states,” he added.

The department regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

“Floridians rightfully expect to have access to safe, quality medical marijuana, and also expect that the product be regulated properly like any other medicine,” Bradley said. “SB 8-A accomplishes both goals.”

Senators’ green to keep Tallahassee red

Two influential Northeast Florida Senators, Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley and Regulated Industries Chair Travis Hutson, spent big in late July as part of an effort to maintain the Republican majority in the chamber.

Rob Bradley and Travis Hutson share hugs … and an interest in a GOP Senate majority.

On July 25, Bradley’s “Working for Florida’s Families” committee moved $150,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, the vast majority of the committee’s spend in the week between July 21 and 27.

Defraying much of that spend was $70,000 worth of contributions from six groups, including the Florida Medical Association PAC and Florida Power & Light.

Bradley’s committee has nearly $800,000 on hand, suggesting flexibility for further support to the FRSCC or other friendly interests down the stretch.

Hutson’s First Coast Business Foundation committee also ponied up $50,000 on July 27.

Hutson’s two committees, FCBF and Sunshine State Conservatives, have between them $371,761. Hutson also has another $67,000 in his 2020 campaign account.

‘SYG’ Special Session?

Senate Minority Leader-designate Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, submitted her petition to call the Legislature into special session to address problems with the “Stand Your Ground” law.

Audrey Gibson’s “SYG” gambit won’t fly in a GOP state capital.

“Today I signed a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner to poll members of the Legislature for a special session to amend or repeal the ‘Stand Your Ground’ provisions in Chapter 776, Florida Statutes,” Gibson asserted.

“I signed the letter because a little boy watched his father be shot, and then die, after defending his mother from an irate man. The current statute has enabled murderous behavior, subjective interpretation, and questionable application by a sheriff, allowing an individual to potentially exact another murder in the same fashion as he roams free,” Gibson added.

“This presents a public safety hazard and is counter to the protections that should be afforded to all Floridians. While the Governor has the power to act through a Declaration of a State of Emergency in matters of public safety, his silence on Markeis McGlockton’s murder is clear indication that he is ignoring public safety and will do nothing.”

Michael Drejka killed McGlockton July 19 after a dispute over a parking space at a convenience store in Pinellas County got physical.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Drejka’s response to the altercation conforms with his read of the “Stand Your Ground” statute: “I’m not saying I agree with it. I don’t make the law. I enforce the law. Others can have the debate if it is right or not.”

Worst Democrat in Florida?

One of the smartest electoral analysts in the state, Democratic analyst Matthew Isbell, isn’t stoked about Rep. Kim Daniels winning her open Democratic primary this month against Duval County School Board chair Paula Wright.

Matt Isbell may complain, but Kim Daniels looks well-positioned.

“On Aug. 28, voters will go to the polls in Florida to cast votes in the primary election. The gubernatorial primary and a slew of congressional primaries are dominating the news. In an era where a politician can lose a primary for either being ‘not conservative enough’ or ‘not liberal enough’ — despite no other scandals — it is a shame to see one Florida politician appearing to escape serious threat: Kim Daniels,” Isbell notes.

“The frustrating thing for folks like myself is that Kim Daniels appears set to win reelection despite years of controversy and unacceptable views. Daniels only got an opponent at the last minute, and the primary wasn’t closed, ensuring Republicans could play spoiler in a race between two Democrats,” Isbell adds.

“Meanwhile, as conservatives flood in to aid Daniels, liberal aid has been more modest. The race just does not appear to be on the radar of Florida’s left-wing interests. State Democrats do not like Daniels at all, yet little effort is being made behind the scenes to aid Wright. Wright is fighting an underfunded and uphill battle against an incumbent mired in scandal and controversy. Daniels may well win on Aug. 28, despite being the least deserving of reelection of any Democrat in the state,” Isbell notes.

Daniels has a fundraising edge and has been hard to beat in Northwest Jacksonville. In this case, she is positioned to end Paula Wright’s political career.

Freeman Friday

Jacksonville’s motion to intervene in a legal challenge filed last month to a City Councilman appointed by Gov. Rick Scott will be heard in a Duval County hearing room at 2 p.m. Friday.

Terrence Freeman is settling in, but the legal challenge continues.

Judge Waddell Wallace, appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999, will decide whether the city has legal standing regarding the case of Terrance Freeman, whose residency in District 10 is under challenge after the announcement of his appointment in July.

Filing the challenge is Brenda Priestly-Jackson, a Democrat and former Duval County School Board chair who was passed up for the appointment to fill the unexpired term of suspended incumbent Democrat Reggie Brown,

Priestly-Jackson says Freeman, who established residency in the district by renting two rooms in a private home the day he was appointed, was not a legitimate pick because he moved to Northwest Jacksonville solely to serve on the Council.

The city contends it has leeway to determine residency and that the suit names Freeman as a defendant in his official capacity.

“However, the city contends the controlling law clearly establishes that City Councilmembers’ terms in office do not commence until they have sworn the required oath, among other things. As such, application of city laws, policies and procedures will be a critical component of this litigation,” the filing contends.

“While Plaintiff purports to bring her allegations against Councilmember Freeman in his individual capacity, by alleging that he assumed his mantle as an active member of the City Council immediately upon appointment, Plaintiff has actually sued Councilmember Freeman as an active, sitting member of the City Council in his official capacity,” the filing adds.

Wallace to JAXBIZ

According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, Downtown Investment Authority CEO Aundra Wallace is on the move: he will be president of the JAXUSA Partnership starting in October.

Aundra Wallace. (Image via Folio Weekly)

He will replace outgoing Jerry Mallot.

Wallace, observed Daily Record commentator David Cawton, has been involved in much of the downtown development action the last five years — a time that included a drastic change in the Mayor’s Office.

However, Wallace was impervious, working well with the Curry administration on priority projects — most recently, the District development, which donor Peter Rummell will have city incentives to help him get going on the Southbank.

Man in the mirror

In 1984, there was no more prominent pop icon in the world than Michael Jackson. With the songs from 1982’s Thriller still resonating on the charts, he and his brothers thought the time was right for a family Victory tour.

Michael Jackson’s philanthropy will finally be put to use in Jacksonville.

The tour came to Jacksonville: a three-night Gator Bowl stint in a metropolitan area much less populous than it is today, with $30 tickets a measure of what a hot gig it was.

The concert was out of Jacksonville’s league, but proving that some things never change, the city spent $275,000 to make the gig happen.

That era is long gone now. The King of Pop has passed on. In a strange twist of fate, a small piece of his legacy will remain, to impact Jacksonville youth with musical aptitude.

Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa says Jackson “gifted the city $100,000 for music scholarships to deserving Duval County students seriously interested in and actively pursuing the study of music. The funds were placed in a City of Jacksonville Trust Fund; however, only the interest earnings therefrom may be spent on scholarships.”

“To the best of my knowledge and research,” Mousa asserted in an email last week, “no scholarships have been provided from the trust fund.”

The fund has earned $73,600 in interest, Mousa said. And while the $173,600 must remain in the fund, the city can use an anticipated $5,500 of projected interest this next fiscal year for scholarships, administered via the Kids Hope Alliance, Mayor Lenny Curry‘s reformed structure for children’s programs that budget at $41 million this year.

Airbnb follies

Unlike the majority of Florida counties, the city of Jacksonville can’t figure out what to do about Airbnb taxes. A recent audit suggests missed opportunities, with Duval County losing out on $366,000 in taxes due to an inability to match municipal code with reality.

The losses, a recent audit showed, are substantial: “$366,000 in Tourist Development and Convention Development Taxes just from Airbnb in the calendar year 2017 alone.”

Additionally, there are other companies like Airbnb so that collections could be more.

The problem: Single-family homes, per the city’s zoning code, do not permit what one city councilor called “transient” housing.

However, finding a solution won’t be so easy, Mousa said, noting that the arrangement is fundamentally illegal in Jacksonville.

Mousa is “reluctant to chase tourist development taxes” of “rentals in violation of ordinance code.”

To “chase the tax,” Mousa noted, is to “validate their existence … like going to the corner to the guy selling marijuana and asking where’s my sales tax.”

Mousa did not elaborate on where such corners may be.

However, other counties have figured it out. A misconception expressed in Council committees was that Airbnb would be averse to audits and the collection of back taxes. However, other counties have negotiated such deals, and it’s a mystery why Jacksonville can’t figure it out.

Expect movement on this issue in the coming months from Council President Aaron Bowman. For now, however, the city is left out of revenue collection, much as is the case with vehicles for hire — another gap in the code that has been unaddressed for years.

Too late

A state appeals court has blocked a Clay County judicial candidate from appearing on the ballot because she filed her paperwork too late.

“We recognize that the public policy of Florida generally favors letting the people decide the ultimate qualifications of candidates,” the 1st District Court of Appeal concluded Wednesday, in an opinion by Judge Kent Wetherell II. Judges Ross Bilberry and Kimberly Thomas concurred.

“However, absent special circumstances, public policy considerations cannot override the clear and unambiguous statutory requirement that all of the candidate’s qualifying paperwork must be received by the filing officer by the end of the qualifying period.”

The court upheld a ruling by a trial judge from the 7th Judicial Circuit, who heard the case because it originated in a motion filed by incumbent Clay County Judge Kristina Mobley.

According to the court record, Lucy Ann Hoover arrived at the county supervisor of elections office at 11:55 a.m. on May 4, just shy of the noon deadline. She filed her qualifying check at 11:57, but her candidate oath at 12:01 and her financial disclosure form at 12:12. The office accepted the late documents, and certified Hoover as a candidate, under a policy of requiring only that prospective candidates be physically present and filling out their paperwork before the deadline falls.

Mobley is a Rick Scott appointee. Joe Mobley, her husband, is a member of the Fiorentino Group.

Downtown Jax plans $63M ‘innovation corridor’

Plans are emerging for a multimillion-dollar high-tech corridor to run through downtown via Bay Street, connecting Jacksonville’s budding transportation center to TIAA Bank Field. The Jacksonville Business Journal reported that a bid for federal grant funding by city agencies include a $62.9 million plan for an “innovation corridor” — with 15 autonomous shuttles deployed between the Skyway infrastructure to surface streets, as well as an array of sensors that could detect gunshots, flooding and more. The corridor would also provide an incubator for emerging technologies.

A $63 million ‘innovation corridor’ could be down Bay Street. (Image via Jacksonville Business Journal)

The joint proposal — from the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization, JEA, the City of Jacksonville and Jax Chamber — is seeking $25 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation in a competitive grant program.

The innovation corridor is meant to be a proof of concept for two current initiatives: JTA’s Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) — the evolution of the Jacksonville Skyway system — and the TPO’s Integrated Data Exchange. A fleet of autonomous vehicles would descend from Skyway’s 2.5-mile elevated infrastructure via offramps onto surface streets throughout downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, transforming the people-mover system into a 10-mile network.

JIA speeding security with bomb-sniffing dogs

Beginning this week, bomb-sniffing dogs are being employed to help speed up security checks at Jacksonville International Airport.

Transportation Security Administration spokesperson Sari Koshetz told Jenna Bourne of Action News Jax, that the dogs are helping travelers get through security lines faster. Passengers standing in line who are cleared by the dogs could move into an expedited security lane, eliminating the need to take off shoes, belt or jackets and leaving laptops in bags.

(Image via Action News Jax)

Dogs will also sniff passengers and airport employees at the gate.

TSA K-9 handler Donald “Bubba” Deason told WJAX that travelers should not be frightened by his K-9, Boomer.

“Some people have a fear of dogs. And they look at the dog and then they get, ‘I don’t want to go near the dog. I don’t want to go past the dog,’” Deason said. “And basically, we tell them the dog’s not going to hurt you. It doesn’t attack. All it wants to do is sniff.”

JIA to welcome new VIP lounge

A new VIP lounge is coming to Jacksonville International Airport, Jacksonville Aviation Authority unanimously approved this week.

Will Robinson of the Jacksonville Business Journal reports that the Authority agreed to enter a contract to develop a premium lounge, which will be available to customers from multiple airlines and customers who are willing to pay for a day of access.

A new premier lounge is heading to JIA.

“I think we’d be the smallest airport in the country with two VIP lounges,” said JAA CEO Steve Grossman.

Club JAX will open February 2019. It will be a 2,726-square-foot facility featuring a buffet with menus from local chefs, restrooms with showers and a children’s play area.

Texas-based ALD Development Corp. will spend at least $1 million to develop, manage and operate the 49-guest lounge,” Robinson noted. ALD is the nation’s largest developer of independent shared-use lounges, with 18 airport lounges in 13 airports internationally.

First-class passengers can use the lounge as part of an airline or card member rewards programs. Day passes will also be available.

“We are very confident this will be a busy lounge even without Frontier, JetBlue or Allegiant,” Graham Richards, ALD director of strategic network development, told the Business Journal. This includes airlines that don’t yet have lounge reward programs.

JAA will receive part of the lounge revenue, or $80,000 for the first contract year, whichever is higher. The initial agreement will be for seven years, with options to renew every year.

T-U praises JAA for inclusion

A Florida Times-Union mini-editorial is praising the Jacksonville Aviation Authority for winning a “nice award” from a leading airline industry trade group.

The JAA received an Inclusion Championship Award from the Airports Council International-North America for its promotion of local small businesses and workforce diversity.

“The JAA has held workshops, forums and other events to make business opportunities available for small businesses — and particularly for minority entrepreneurs.”

The Authority also won the inclusion award for embracing diversity within its organization.

Flagler Hospital employing AI for better patient care

Saint Augustine’s Flagler Hospital is turning to artificial intelligence to reduce costs and provide better care for patients.

Will Robinson of the Jacksonville Business Journal reports that Flagler is licensing software from California-based Ayasdi, an AI and data science company, for a Clinical Variation Management (CVM) application.

St. Augustine’s Flagler Hospital.

CVM will help standardize frequent care conclusions — pairing antibiotics with certain infections, length of stay decisions and defining appropriate testing, among others.

Clinical variations make up as much as 30 percent of typical health care costs, according to the Institute for Medicine. AI examines big data, taken from electronic medical records, billing and more, to help lower costs.

“We are delighted to engage with Ayasdi on this mission-critical task of creating clinical pathways for our patient population,” said Flagler chief medical informatics officer Dr. Michael C. Sanders. “Our ability to rapidly construct clinical pathways based on our own data and measure adherence by our staff to those standards provides us with the opportunity to deliver better care at a lower cost to our patients.”

New way to watch Jags games this year

Per WJCT, for the first time this year, Jaguars fans can watch preseason games on their smartphones, simply by visiting Jaguars.com/live.

The technology was rolled out Thursday for the game against the Saints, and will be used for the rest of the preseason — a useful and long-awaited add for those who might not have access to television or radio.

Almost as good as being there? Smartphone streaming available for preseason games.

“This season, the NFL has allowed us to expand access to our preseason game broadcasts via a digital stream, affording the Jaguars the opportunity to connect with more fans on multiple platforms and in more than one language,” said Jaguars President Mark Lamping in an email to WJCT News.

The Jaguars have been playing one home game in London since 2012. “The demand for NFL football continues to grow internationally, and the Jaguars have benefited from our aggressive support of the league’s global movement,” said Lamping.

Coaches get a good look at many players in preseason opener

The first preseason game brought excitement to fans, coaches and players for different reasons. Jaguars fans are looking to see those players who took them within an eyelash of last year’s Super Bowl.

Most of those in attendance knew that guys like quarterback Blake Bortles, running back Leonard Fournette and cornerback Jalen Ramsey were likely to play only the first quarter. Those watching on television knew the same thing leading some to go on to do or watch something else.

The Jacksonville Jaguars may have looked good, but looks aren’t everything. (Image via Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports)

Doug Marrone and his coaching staff already knew what those three and other starters could do. They were anxious for the second and third strings to show why they should be on the team or on the starting unit.

Obviously, those players wanted to show the coaches what they could do.

Going into Thursday’s game against the Saints, one of the questions was who would be Fournette’s backup on opening day? Would it be T.J. Yeldon or fourth-year back Corey Grant?

Would backup quarterback Cody Kessler look like he could fill in if Bortles missed any time during the season? How about impressive rookie wide receiver D. J. Chark, who has looked great in training camp?

Bortles looked terrific in his brief appearance, leading his team on a 79-yard touchdown drive to start the game. For those who stuck around, Kessler was poised during his two-plus quarters of play.

Yeldon maintained his hold on the backup running back position, while Grant was only able to gain 6 yards on 8 carries. Third-string receiver Shane Wynn showed a lot of speed, meriting a closer look.

The Saints won the game, 24-20, but Marrone will consider the night successful, if for no other reason than avoiding major injuries. Next Saturday, the Jaguars travel to Minnesota to face the Vikings.

Report: Debbie Mayfield, Bob Cortes, Ken Lawson on Ron DeSantis’ list of running mates

A report published in POLITICO Florida Friday morning says U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the front-runner in Florida’s Republican gubernatorial race, has narrowed a list to nine possible Lieutenant Governor running mates including former VISIT FLORIDA President Ken Lawson and several lawmakers, including state Sen. Debbie Mayfield.

The report states that POLITICO received the list from anonymous sources, which the news service identifies as “two top Republicans connected to the campaign.”

In addition to Lawson and Mayfield, the report lists state Reps. Bob Cortes, Heather Fitzenhagen, Jeanette Nuñez, and Scott Plakon; Kissimmee City Commissioner Wanda Rentas; Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Laurel Lee, and Duval County Sheriff Mike Williams as being on DeSantis’ list.

POLITICO reports that DeSantis might name his running mate before the Aug. 28 primary, which he is heading toward with a double-digit polls lead over rival Republican Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Adam Putnam doesn’t ‘resent’ Fox News’ role in the gubernatorial campaign

Many unbiased observers of the Florida gubernatorial race would agree that if President Donald Trump had not endorsed Rep. Ron DeSantis, who unlike Adam Putnam is a regular guest on Fox News, the race on the GOP side would look different.

Up until this week, the one debate the two Republicans had was on Fox News — a showcase of national issues that highlighted DeSantis but overlooked Putnam’s encyclopedic knowledge of the state.

Addressing media Wednesday evening after a debate in Jacksonville, we asked Putnam if he resented the uneven playing field on the conservative network, after he sniped that “water issues don’t get you booked on primetime TV.”

“No, I don’t resent it at all,” Putnam said with an edge in his voice. “I’ve been focused on Florida issues.”

“Many times those shows are focused on only national issues. In fact, overwhelmingly on national issues. That’s what the last debate was all about,” Putnam added, his voice brightening.

“Tonight was a good debate. It was all about Florida. And you got to see the distinction between candidates who know what Florida’s issues are, and candidates who only speak in soundbites about Washington’s ways,” Putnam added.

Of course, without the Fox News platform, it is not as certain that President Donald Trump — an avid fan of the network — would have endorsed DeSantis, who Putnam points out wasn’t exactly clinging to Trump during his aborted 2016 Senate bid.

“I think he did it because he’s been watching Ron on TV for a couple of years. Working that, instead of focusing on Florida, instead of making plans for Florida,” Putnam said.

Putnam more than held his own in the debate Wednesday, barbing DeSantis over and over again, often making DeSantis supporters in the live crowd uncomfortable.

But did it matter?

DeSantis could be overheard as he walked out of the building with his wife, Casey Black DeSantis, and Rep. Matt Gaetz saying that he got more texts during the Fox News debate than the WJXT event, which ran throughout the state, except in the pivotal Tampa Bay market.

Nancy Soderberg touts experience, bipartisan approach in first CD 6 ad

Former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg is the best-funded candidate in the race for Florida’s 6th Congressional District, and this week she has started putting some of that cash to work by hitting the airwaves with her first TV ad.

The 30-second spot, “Hurdles,” pitches the Democratic candidate as a problem solver by pointing to her experience as an Ambassador to the United Nations and as Deputy National Security Adviser during the Clinton administration.

That track record, the ad says, shows Soderberg would engage with both sides of the aisle in finding solutions for some of Washington’s more intractable problems, such as affordable health care.

“Everyone faces hurdles. Lord knows I have,” Soderberg says as she strolls along a running track replete with hurdles. “I helped bring Northern Ireland’s opposing sides together to secure peace. As a diabetic, I was denied health insurance. I was one of the first to say ‘let’s get [Osama] bin Laden.

“Let’s bring both parties together to deal with hurdles like unaffordable health care, protecting Social Security and Medicare. Hurdles don’t phase me, I’m about solutions,” she concludes while tipping over a hurdle.

In announcing the inaugural TV ad, Soderberg said she was “running to make Congress work for the people again” before hitting many of the same notes as the ad.

“I’ve taken on terrorists, negotiated with allies, and helped bring peace to a warring nation. In Congress, I’ll bring both sides to the table to fight efforts to cut health care, create jobs you can raise a family on, and protect Social Security and Medicare,” she said. “The people of Central Florida have been ignored for too long, and they deserve a representative who will fight for them.”

Not mentioned in the press release: Details on the media buy that’s backing it up.

Soderberg is the top fundraiser running for CD 6 with nearly $1.5 million raised and about $1 million in the bank at the end of the second quarter, though her primary opponent, Ormond Beach physician Stephen Sevigny, has brought in six-figure hauls as well and recently started rolling out his own suite of television ads.

A recent public poll put Soderberg atop the three-way Democratic primary contest with 30 percent support, followed by John Upchurch at 13 percent and Sevigny at 10 percent, with the rest of those polled saying they were undecided.

The winner of that contest has an uphill climb in the general election, however the outlook isn’t as dour for Democrats as in past cycles. CD 6 is currently held by U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who is giving it up to run for Governor. With no incumbent, high fundraising on the Democratic side and an expected boost in turnout among Democratic voters, a flip isn’t out of the question.

Running for the Republican nomination are former state Rep. Fred Costello, Fox News personality Michael Waltz and businessman John Ward. Waltz and Ward have each crossed the $1 million mark in total fundraising thanks to a hefty amount of self-funding.

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