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Money pouring in for Florida’s Congress members in tough districts

Members of Florida’s congressional delegation vulnerable because of their balanced districts each raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the second quarter of 2017, new reports show.

The latest campaign finance reports posted this week, covering money raised and spent in April, May and June, shows that Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Mast of Palm City and Carlos Curbelo of Miami had the biggest hauls in the second quarter, while Democrats Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park were not far behind.

The reports also show the heat already rising in Florida’s 27th Congressional District based in Miami, where longtime incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement and numerous Democrats and Republicans are scrambling for her seat.

Two of them, Democrat Kristen Rosen Gonzalez Miami Beach, and Republican Bruno Barreiro, raised at least $175,000 each last quarter, more than most Florida incumbent members of Congress managed.

Regardless of what they did in the second quarto of 2017, the candidates with biggest war chests all were Republican incumbents who hold fairly safe seats, U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Ron DeSantis each sit on more than $1.5 million in cash more than 15 months before the 2018 general election.

Among challengers, only Louis Sola raised at least $50,000 during the quarter, and that’s because he fueled his campaign to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson in Florida’s 24th Congressional District with a $99,000 personal loan. That’s all he reported.

Among Florida’s incumbent members of Congress:

Mast, in the 18th District, raised $733,964 in the quarter, spent $303,010, and finished the quarter with $797,222 in the bank.

Curbelo, in the 26th District, raised $705,026, spent $231,831, and finished with $1,078,588.

Crist, of the 13th, raised $551,811, spent $102,558, and finished with $1,121,494.

Murphy, of the 7th, raised $412,924, spent $150,642, and finished with $518,970.

Republican Neal Dunn of Panama City, in the 2nd, raised $337,793, spent $134,271, and finished with $270,857.

Republican Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, in the 25th, raised $296,319, spent $81,541, and finished with $748,837

Republican Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, in the 12th, raised $264,221, spent $122,127, and finished with $302,261.

Republican Dennis Ross of Lakeland, in the 15th, raised $256,313, spent $149,872, and finished with $932,904.

Buchanan, in the 16th, raised $241,662, spent $66,606, and finished with $1,982,876.

Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, in the 23rd, raised $216,626, spent $238,332, and finished with $215,220.

Democrat Darren Soto of Orlando, in the 9th, raised $157,596, spent $37,417, and finished with $171,175.

Democrat Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, in the 21st, raised $149,962, spent $132,693, and finished with $943,810.

Democrat Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, in the 22nd, raised $142,658, spent $125,991, and finished with $277,383.

Democrat Alcee Hastings of Miramar, in the 20th, raised $121,314, spent $112,396, and finished with $92,074.

Republican John Rutherford of Jacksonville, in the 4th, raised $116,784, spent $16,287, and finished with $132,332.

Democrat Kathy Castor of Tampa, in the 14th, raised $102,675, spent $64,744, and finished with $629,803.

Republican Ted Yoho of Gainesville, in the 3rd, raised $96,327, spent $42,183, and finished with $157,680.

Republican Bill Posey of Merritt Island, in the 8th, raised $93,627, spent $47,364, and finished with $506,876.

Republican Francis Rooney of Naples, in the 19th, raised $89,981, spent $57,435, and finished with $305,685.

Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee, in the 5th, raised $86,468, spent $38,501, and finished with $147,206.

Republican Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, in the 1st, raised $80,901, spent $40,417, and finished with $170,046.

Republican Tom Rooney of Okeechobee, in the 17th, raised $70,097, spent $49,182, and finished with $114,763.

Republican Dan Webster of Webster, in the 11th, raised $66,655, spent $59,304, and finished with $83,295.

Wilson of Miami Gardens, in the 24th, raised $63,709, spent $21,873, and finished with $401,544.

DeSantis, in the 6th, only raised $52,379, while spending $51,153, yet he was sitting well going in, and finished with $1,674,185 in the bank.

The Federal Election Commission did not post second-quarter reports for Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, in the 10th District. Her first quarter report showed she finished March with $189,021 in the bank.

Among other challengers, Tim Canova of Hollywood, seeking a Democratic primary rematch with Wasserman Schultz in the 23rd, reported raising $49,117 in the second quarter, spending $32,819, and finishing with $19,641.

Two Democrats in the 15th, James Pilkington of Indian Lake Estates and Andrew Learned of Valrico, put up somewhat respectable fundraising numbers seeking a challenge with Ross. Pilkington raised $26,338, spent $6,699, and finished with $19,739. Learned raised $22,289, spent $6,162, and finished with $16,127.

Robert Tager of Clearwater, seeking to take on Bilirakis in the 12th, reported raising $12,404, spending $3,320, and finishing with $11,823.

No one else raised $10,000 in the quarter.

However, several former members of Congress and former candidates kept their FEC paperwork updated.

Republican former U.S. Rep. Cliff Sterns reported raising $51,704, nearly all on interest, and spending $6,618, nearly all on account management, and finished with $1,579,227 in the bank in the 3rd.

Democratic former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who served in the 9th and moved his paperwork to the 11th; and his wife, Democrat Dena Grayson, who ran in the 9th and moved her paperwork to the 8th, both reported activity too. Alan Grayson raised $68,532 in the quarter, spent $50,340, and finished with $455,584. Dena Grayson reported raising $9,821, spending $10,117, and finishing with $729.

Democrat Nancy Soderberg opens CD 6 campaign in DeLand

Democrat Nancy Soderberg kicked off her campaign for Florida’s 6th Congressional District that historically has been based in Florida’s First Coast by heading to and appealing to its new center of gravity, Volusia County.

In her campaign roll-0ut Wednesday in DeLand, Soderberg delivered a standard, moderate-Democrat pitch that was heavy on her party’s usual positions of fixing the Affordable Care Act, protecting the environment, recognizing global warming, and promising to push manufacturing and small-business jobs.

“I love this historic iron works,” she said, referring to the buildings surrounding her debut venue, a former iron works forge that has been turned into shops and restaurants, including the Café Da Vinci Gardens where she spoke. “Since 1890 this site has been host to businesses that are the backbone of this country. This site served as a forge and metal fabrication business, for all types of welding and assembly, trailers, until the late 1960s. And these businesses represent the best of American entrepreneurial spirit. Today this area continues to thrive as a center of small business.

“Like many of you I am concerned about the direction of our country. Congress is not running,” she continued. “And you deserve better. And that’s why I’m proud to announce my candidacy to be your next representative from the 6th Congressional District. I’m running to fight for us, the people of Florida: good jobs that pay a living wage, our children’s education, and a secure retirement.”

And her speech was light on explicit jabs at Republicans, from President Donald Trump to incumbent U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

One exception involved her promise to fight to retain the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, such as full-funding for Medicaid and protections of pre-existing conditions, two policies that would have taken a hit in the American Health Care Act that House Republicans approved this spring.

“Ron DeSantis may think no one noticed his vote for that mean-spirited plan. But he’s wrong. I noticed. You noticed. We all noticed,” she said. “And you can be sure we’ll make it a big issue in 2018.”

Whether the former U.S. Ambassador takes any harsher shots, and whether she becomes a serious contender in a district the Republicans have controlled for a long time, may depend on what DeSantis, a staunch conservative, does. The three-term congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach has been exploring a gubernatorial run, which could open the seat. So far there are no other major names in the race, though last year’s brief Republican candidate, lawyer Will McBride, is keeping his paperwork fresh.

Soderberg has hired a couple of staffers, but still has not selected, or is not ready to announce her choice for, major campaign consultants. However, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is with her, sending aides to her kick-off, showing an unusually early commitment to a race, after having helped Stephanie Murphy flip the adjacent Florida’s 7th Congressional District last fall.

Like Murphy in much of her campaign, Soderberg spoke moderately, stressing forging consensus and attacking Congress in general, rather than making partisan attacks.

Soderberg also is from the Jacksonville end of the long district that runs the coast from there to Daytona Beach and then takes in al of Volusia and a corner of Lake County beyond. But she said she has rented an apartment and moved into Crescent Beach, in the middle of the district. And she made it clear she believes Volusia, bluer than most of the rest of the district, is the key.

She has a Jacksonville consulting firm, Soderberg Global Solutions, and is director of the Public Leadership Program at the University of North Florida. She also told the crowd of a couple hundred people at her debut  that she’ll be guest lecturing this fall at DeLand’s Stetson University.

“I believe we need to talk to the people of the district…. I have to do well in all the areas. Volusia is 70 percent of the district. You can just feel, not just in Volusia, but in Flagler, and Lake and St. Johns, people want to take this country back,” she said after her speech.

She occasionally spoke specifically to the district’s concerns, discussing the higher-than-average unemployment of the district and stagnant wages, and in vows to battle to reduce climate change and sea level rise, and to protect the St. Johns River.

Soderberg served as deputy national security advisor and Ambassador to the United Nations under President Bill Clinton. But except for talking about her role in Clinton’s efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland in the 1990s, she spent little of her debut speech discussing foreign policy or diplomacy.

She spoke briefly of the “need to keep this country secure. We face cyber threats, terrorists who want to harm us, intractable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria collapsing, global trade and threats from rogue states like Iran and North Korea.

“I know how to negotiate successfully, and I have a record of doing just that. I know how to make tough decisions that keep our country safe,” she said.

Nancy Soderberg launches campaign for Ron DeSantis’ seat

Former Clinton-era United Nations Ambassador Nancy Soderberg is officially running in Florida’s Congressional District 6.

In a launch video released this week, Soderberg noted her work under the Bill Clinton administration, with her “proudest moment” being representing the U.S. at the United Nations.

She also referenced the shambolic attempts at Trumpcare advanced in D.C. thus far, alluding to the incumbent’s support of the House version of the plan, without naming him though.

The CD 6 seat, currently held by Rep. Ron DeSantis, is in deep-red Republican territory in St. Johns, Flagler, and Volusia Counties. — in 2016, both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio won their general election contests by over 15 points.

Soderberg, the founder and director of the University of North Florida‘s Public Service Leadership Program, has been in the Jacksonville area for over a decade — and made one ill-fated foray into electoral politics in 2012, losing a race for the State Senate to Aaron Bean.

Among Northeast Florida Democrats, Soderberg has a unique visibility: she has become an increasingly frequent presence on MSNBC, rivaling the screen time enjoyed by the incumbent on Fox News.

As was the case in 2016, when DeSantis looked well-positioned to take the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate before Rubio decided he wanted another term, questions remain as to what the incumbent will do for his next move.

DeSantis has been linked to a run for Florida Governor. (We explored that possibility in May.)

And DeSantis’ ultimate decision could change the topography of this race, in what appears — if trends in special elections around the country are any indication — to be a pending “wave election” for Democrats.

Worst-case scenario for Soderberg: Ron DeSantis somehow does not pull the trigger on a campaign for statewide office, and Soderberg winds end up going against an incumbent with beaucoup money and a sky-high national profile.

Best-case scenario: DeSantis runs for Governor (or Attorney General, as some have speculated), and Soderberg faces the winner of a scrum in the GOP Primary.

Reviews of Soderberg’s launch have been mixed thus far.

Some local Democrats say she has been making the rounds throughout the district; others worry she will repeat the approach that didn’t work against Aaron Bean in 2012.

We caught up with former Duval Democrats’ Chair Neil Henrichsen this week; for his part, he is enthusiastic about the Soderberg bid, noting that the path to victory in Congressional District 6 may be challenging, but is still a path.

 

Jacksonville Bold for 7.14.17 — Playtime is over

As the Jacksonville City Council wraps up its two-week break, Councilmembers will get a first peek at Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget Monday.

They already know at least some of what to expect: a $100 million capital improvement budget and $8.4 million for Edward Waters College.

Now the question is: Will everyone play ball?

A.G. Gancarski has written extensively about the changing dynamics between the Mayor’s Office and Council leadership: Will there be a resolution of schismatic thinking by Monday? Or will it be by August, when the reconfigured Finance Committee mulls that budget?

Open questions — but not the only ones in Northeast Florida politics.

Two incumbent Republican congressmen have drawn Democratic challenges: one, an ambassador; another, a transgender author of vampire novels. Both teach at the University of North Florida — go Ospreys!

Business development continues, with massive interest ramping up for working with a big company in Jacksonville.

And, oh yeah, a City Councilman called the Pope a Communist. In other “What was he smoking?” news, a medical cannabis dispensary finally opened in Jacksonville.

All this (and more) in this week’s Bold.

The moral of the story:  Even in a policy pause, during a week where everyone who mattered was on vacation, Jacksonville and Northeast Florida still manage to bring the news.

CD 6 Shuffle

You may need a scorecard to keep up with the changes in Florida’s Congressional District 6, where Ron DeSantis holds the seat … for now.

Consider that DeSantis’ camp is still floating the narrative that he may run for Florida Governor — setting up an interesting contrast between DeSantis’ clipped cadence and the down-home Old Florida style of Adam Putnam.

DeSantis may not be gone yet — but this week one Democrat with a serious pedigree filed to run.

Bill Clinton nostalgists rejoice! Nancy Soderberg is back in the campaign game.

Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, a University of North Florida professor who earned her bona fides in the Bill Clinton administration, is in.

By Thursday morning, the Federal Elections Commission website listed a Soderberg for Congress campaign committee.

Democrats hoped for the benefits of a wave election, and assuming the White House dumpster fire continues, they may just have one.

The district was reliably GOP in 2016; both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio carried the area by over 15 points.

Al Lawson talks health

Rep. Lawson, in Jacksonville during the Congressional recess, spoke to the Florida Times-Union — and health care was on his mind.

“The Affordable Care Act is not a perfect law and there certainly is a lot of room for improvement,” Lawson asserted. “But let’s work together to figure out ways to bring down health care costs.”

Al Lawson has taken the lead on health care issues of late.

Lawson “doesn’t care whose name” is on health care reform, he said, alluding to the differences between “Obamacare” and the self-styled “Trumpcare.”

Lawson suggests taxing people with so-called “Cadillac” insurance plans.

In an interesting bit of news from the interview, Lawson is working with Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford on a mental health bill. The two first year congressmen held an event Thursday afternoon in D.C., where experts discussed mental health challenges for veterans.

New subcommittee for Rutherford

On Wednesday, Rutherford announced his appointment to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

John Rutherford’s commitment to ‘rule of law’ precedes his Congressional stint.

“Looking forward to using my background to support the rule of law across our nation,” the Jacksonville Republican and former Sheriff said.

Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner is chair; Louie Gohmert of Texas serves as vice-chair.

New challenger for Rutherford

Action News Jax introduced Jacksonville viewers to Monica Paige DePaul, a University of North Florida adjunct professor who writes novels, is transgender, and is running to replace Rutherford in CD 4.

DePaul has brought her politics to her vampire novels, she told reporter Jenna Bourne.

Are vampires real? As real as a Dem’s chances in CD 4, most likely.

“So that actually started way back in 2009 when Twilight came out and I was like, this is garbage. And I wanted to write something better,” said DePaul. “In my second book, Blood on the Rocks, there’s pretty obvious jabs at [Florida Governor] Rick Scott.”

DePaul, who was a Bernie Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, is the sole Democrat in the field. With Rutherford not having filed for re-election yet, the sole Republican in the field is Palatka petition collector Rob Ficker — who we profiled previously.

Is Paul Renner a Jacksonville guy?

Such was the provocative question posed by Tia Mitchell recently in the Florida Times-Union.

Mitchell’s take?

The veteran reporter notes Renner’s local roots run deep: “He grew up in Arlington and graduated from Terry Parker High School … a shareholder at the Milam Howard Nicandri Gillam and Renner law firm in the heart of downtown.”

Paul Renner won, but who was there Day One? And does it actually matter?

Mitchell also points out that The Fiorentino Group and Ambassador John Rood were among the early supporters.

Absent from Mitchell’s piece: Mayor Curry, instrumental in a fundraiser that brought in over $250,000. Curry told us at the time he and his team are “engaged” fully in the fight to get Renner over the hump. Indeed, there are those saying Brian Hughes and Tim Baker brought home four of the 16 pledges Renner needed to win.

The point? Victory, as ever, has many fathers.

Money-Go-Round

Who’s up? Who’s down? In Northeast Florida politics, campaign finance reports tell the tale.

Among those who should be exultant: Curry; Sen. Rob Bradley; Jacksonville City Council President Matt Carlucci.

“Build Something That Lasts,” Curry’s committee, brought in $110,000 in June, and now has $242,456 on hand.

Lenny Curry’s political committee had a strong June.

And “Working for Florida’s Families,” the committee associated with Sen. Rob Bradley, brought in $59,500. That committee now has $390,000 on hand.

Meanwhile, Carlucci brought in $60,000 in his first month as a candidate for a 2019 at-large seat.

Two strong performances in the House came from freshmen Jason Fischer (who had a better than $50,000 month) and Clay Yarborough (over $22,000 in June).

Gasping for air: Rep. Jay Fant, who brought in roughly $70,000 between his committee and campaign account … way below his opponent in the GOP Attorney General primary, Ashley Moody, who brought in $603,000 total.

One of Moody’s donors: the right-hand man of local State Attorney Melissa Nelson.

Moody has the backing of the entire Tampa area legal community, it seems.

Meanwhile, while Fant has lacked that backing until now, the Thursday endorsement of future Speaker Renner — a Jacksonville lawyer himself — may be a positive augury.

Smile, you’re on candid camera

The wait is over — the body camera pilot program for Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office members is finally underway, reports WJXT.

Officers are testing one of three brands of body cameras, with 30 spread out through the city.

The Axon, a TASER product, retails for $399.

The goal — body cameras for all uniformed officers — should be subject to collective bargaining, the local police union contends.

JSO’s budget puts $1.3M to begin the program; however, costs will escalate once the trial programs wrap up, when the cameras become part of the uniform for all field officers.

MMJ in the 904

For those with medical marijuana cards, the drought is over as Trulieve opened its Jacksonville dispensary this week — the eighth in the state.

Robust consumer demand for a one-time contraband product.

And this one represents progress: it was just two years ago that Jacksonville policy makers were paralyzed over the dread specter of Charlotte’s Web.

After two “moratoriums” on growing and dispensing, the city worked out some sensible zoning rules, allowing one dispensary in each zoning district.

Knox Medical will, at some point, open in Mandarin. In the meantime, expect Trulieve — which has a proven model at this point — to reassure local policy makers that medical cannabis is just another business.

Is the Pope communist?

Is Pope Francis a commie? Early Thursday, Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford said “yes.”

“I am a Catholic and he is a Communist,” Gulliford said of the pontiff.

Commie or Catholic? Bill Gulliford’s opinion shocked our readers Thursday.

What spawned that?

An article in an online publication (M2 Voice) said the Pope asserted that “world government must rule the United States ‘for their own good.’”

“I am afraid there are very dangerous alliances between powers who have a distorted view of the world: America and Russia, China and North Korea, Russia and Assad in the war in Syria,” the Pope observed in the same interview.

Alas, in the M2 Voice article, the “for their own good” line was not given in context, raising questions as to the veracity of the quote — especially given the translation from the original Italian.

Amazin’ queue for Amazon jobs

Economic development often sounds abstract. But for real life examples of what it means, consider the lines that snaked around Northwest Jacksonville’s Legends Center — those lines, with hundreds and hundreds of people, brimmed with job seekers this week.

The Jax Daily Record notes that a year ago, “Amazon announced it would create more than 1,500 jobs in Jacksonville at the first fulfillment center in the city, at 12900 Pecan Park Road in Northwest Jacksonville.”

“I think it’s going to have a really big impact here,” one applicant told the Record’s David Cawton. “You see all the people waiting in line, they’re all looking for work so, I think Amazon found the right place to land.”

Green light for Black Creek

Good news for the folks near the parched Keystone Lakes may be on its way soon, reports WOKV.

“The lakes have left us,” Rob Bradley said this year. Will they be back soon?

The St. Johns River Water Management Board this week approved a “recharge” plan that will route water from Black Creek.

The first design and construction of the plan carried by Sen. Rob Bradley of Orange Park and Rep. Bobby Payne of Palatka: $13M.

The “Black Creek Water Resource Development Plan”: a five-year, $41 million plan to capture excess water from Clay County’s flood-prone Black Creek and pipe it into the Keystone Lakes, via a discharge at Camp Blanding, where a spreader field would disperse the water to Alligator Creek.

Hopes are to wrap the project by 2023, WOKV reported.

Bradley told us in April the project “helps all of Florida” by providing an “aquifer recharge area” for the Suwannee and St. Johns River basins.

Elections matter

Perhaps no politician this century in Northeast Florida did a worse job managing media relationships than Angela Corey.

And, against that dismal backdrop, the Koch-friendly reform agenda of Melissa Nelson looks pretty good … with regular plaudits in the press.

Melissa Nelson loses very few news cycles, and Angela Corey is still a reason why.

The latest accolade: Harvard University’s Fair Punishment Project, written by Florida Times-Union alum Larry Hannan.

Hannan contrasted Corey’s “draconian views” on criminal justice with Nelson having “cleared the low bar set by her predecessor.”

This, said Hannan “offers another clear reminder that the most powerful actor in the justice system — the elected prosecutor — can and should remain accountable to her constituents.”

World Cup to Jacksonville?

FIFA World Cup 2026 action in Jacksonville? Don’t rule it out, as the city was deemed a “strong candidate” and invited to bid.

Canada, Mexico, and the United States will co-host the World Cup that year.

As correspondence from U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati to Mayor Curry reveals, Jacksonville is in the mix to host World Cup action … which will involve a whopping 80 matches over a 30-day period in 2026.

For the game. For the world. For Jacksonville? The city may or may not bid.

“Jacksonville is a strong candidate for participation in this process, given your support of soccer, stadium facilities, and the related tourism infrastructure you already have in place. As such, we will be making informal contact with the stadium and sports commission contacts in your city in the coming days, but we wanted first to make you aware of this significant opportunity, so Jacksonville can best present itself as a participant in this process,” Gulati remarked.

Curry’s office says that no decision has been made on a bid — but it’s hard to imagine him passing up on an opportunity to put Jacksonville on a global stage.

Riverkeeper disses dredging … again

The St. Johns Riverkeeper continues in its efforts to stop the seemingly inevitable JAXPORT dredge, with its latest gambit being a consultant saying that it won’t pay off.

Riverkeeper’s anti-dredge grudge slogs on.

The latest blast Tuesday: a report from New Orleans-based “port and shipping expert” Dr. Asaf Ashar, which deems the deep dredge is economically infeasible.

Ashar contends (contrary to optimistic U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates) that there is a good chance that total costs of the project could outweigh benefits.

As well, Ashar asserts that JAXPORT will likely remain a secondary port compared to Savannah and Charleston, two regional competitors, dredging notwithstanding. Ashar notes both ports have channels that are not even 47 feet deep.

Jacksonville Zoo begins major remodel, adds African Forest

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is beginning a $9 million construction on the African Forest, a major remodeling initiative of the Great Apes Loop to include gorillas, bonobos, mandrills, and lemurs.

African Forest will incorporate “wellness-inspired design” in choices, challenges and variation to stimulate the animals. The new exhibit will replace the current Great Apes Loop, which opened in 1998.

“With The Land of The Tiger and The Range of The Jaguar winning national recognition as being among the best zoo exhibits in the country, the bar has been raised. Our members and visitors now expect everything we do at the Zoo to be at a standard that will make our community proud to say Jacksonville has one of the very best zoos in the country,” said JZG Executive Director Tony Vecchio. “The new African Forest will continue that legacy. Rather than just spruce up what is now one of the Zoo’s oldest exhibits, our board of directors and staff have taken on the challenge of making the Great Apes area an experience that will be special for our visitors, and, for our animals.”

Demolition began July 5, with partial or full closings of the Great Apes Loop until completion in 2018. Because some of the residents may not be within public view, the Zoo recognizes that guests may miss seeing the animals in the Great Apes Loop and plans to take video and share pictures of them playing often. Even though only a few of the animals, such as the lemurs and siamangs will be relocated to other parts of the Zoo where they can be visited, all the primates will still have access to outdoor areas during renovations.

 

Florida Congresspeople: No to seismic testing in Atlantic Ocean

On Thursday, over 100 Congress members, many from Florida, signed off on a letter to the Department of the Interior opposing Atlantic Ocean seismic testing.

In April, the Trump Administration announced that it is considering opening the Outer Continental Shelf Planning Areas to oil and gas exploration and drilling, via seismic testing

Even for Congressmen like John Rutherford, a stalwart Trump supporter, seismic testing is a bridge too far.

Congressman Rutherford said, “Traveling through my district I have heard from countless business owners and residents along the North Florida coasts who are concerned about the risks of seismic testing to our healthy ocean fisheries. While future offshore drilling activities in the Atlantic would put our communities at risk down the road, seismic testing threatens our fragile coastal economies today. Our coastal economy should not be put at undue risk at a time when our booming oil and gas production is more than enough to meet our current energy needs.”

The letter asserts that the “decision to move forward with permits for seismic airgun surveys for subsea oil and gas deposits puts at risk the vibrant Atlantic Coast economies dependent on healthy ocean ecosystems.”

The letter also notes that information obtained from seismic surveys is proprietary to the oil and gas industry, with even Congress restricted from the information.

Rutherford was not the only Florida signatory to the letter.

Joining him: Reps. Ted YohoAlcee HastingsDennis RossFrancis RooneyDebbie Wasserman SchultzRon DeSantisTed DeutchLois FrankelAl LawsonStephanie MurphyIleana Ros-Lehtinen, and Fredrica Wilson.

Jack Latvala: ‘It is very possible I end up announcing something in the near future’

Sen. Jack Latvala didn’t use an appearance at the Tiger Bay Club of Southwest Florida to announce a 2018 gubernatorial bid.

Then again, he didn’t use it to quash any rumors about his plans for the future.

“We have several members of the press here today, so if I was to specifically make an announcement, then there wouldn’t be a reason for them to come to an announcement if I had one,” said the Clearwater Republican when asked what was in his future.

“I will say this: I have been involved in government in Tallahassee for a long time. I think I know the good and the bad, how many things happen and how to solve problems,” he said. “As I look at being term limited in the Senate, I obviously think about giving it a go and seeing what I can do. It is very possible I end up announcing something in the near future.”

Latvala, the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is believed to be considering a run for governor in 2018. If he decides to run, he’ll join Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the GOP race to replace Gov. Rick Scott. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are also believed to be considering a run.

 “If I do it, it’s going to be based on the same principles that I’ve conducted myself. There might be some yelling, but mostly how I conduct myself is straight talk,” he said. “If people ask me a question, I give an answer. If I give somebody my word, I keep it. I work hard, and I think that’s what we need to have in our public officials at every level. I’m not going to be the best looking candidate, I’m not gonna be the slimmest candidate, but I think there’s not many jobs in government that I couldn’t do.”

When asked was going into making his final decision, Latvala said it wasn’t as much about making the final decision, but having enough time to make sure he could tell everyone he’s worked with over the years what his decision will be.

“There’s a lot of preparation that goes into it,” he said. “I want to do it right.”

While Latvala’s political future was on many people’s mind Wednesday, it wasn’t the only reason Latvala attended the Tiger Bay Club of Southwest Florida’s meeting. He was also on hand to discuss the 2017 Legislative Session, as well as the special session that followed.

Latvala called the 2017 Session “the worst one” in his years in the Legislature.

“We had, without a doubt, a tough session this year. By far, it was the worst one in my opinion. It was the least fun,” he said. “I think people are letting egos get in the way of their good judgement. They’re worried about their owned advancement, they’re worried about their own philosophy.”

Still, Latvala pointed to some achievements during the 2017 Session, including a legislation backed by Senate President Joe Negron to build additional water storage south of Lake Okeechobee, which will help alleviate discharges into the Calooshatchee River. He also touted money for beach renourishment projects and pay raises for state workers, both of which were personal priorities during the 2017 Legislative Session.

And Latvala said he was among those members who were concerned with the way the Session ended, with several big bills being negotiated behind the scenes.

“I hope we learned our lesson,” he said. “I think the Senate is not doing thing that way next year, people expect us to debate things on merit.”

 

Richard Corcoran, Ron DeSantis, Jose Oliva attend Koch brothers retreat in Colorado Springs

Three of Florida’s top conservative lawmakers — including two potential Republican candidates for Governor — attended a Colorado retreat this weekend hosted by the influential Koch network.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and state Rep. Jose Oliva are listed among the big-name Republican politicians and donors at a three-day event held this weekend in Colorado Springs.

Presenting the conference is the Seminar Network, one of the satellite organizations of billionaires Charles and David Koch. The goal of the weekend is to strategize ahead of the 2018 election cycle.

In January, at a similar gathering in California, Seminar announced the Koch organization will invest as much as $400 million in the 2017-18 election cycle, up from about $250 million spent in the 2016 campaign. The spending boost, according to The Washington Post, makes it clear “they intend to deal with [Donald] Trump and congressional Republicans as they have every other administration — which could mean an impending confrontation with GOP leaders.”

“This weekend our focus will be on how to expand opportunity for those most in need and applying the principles of a free and open society to take on some of our nation’s biggest challenges,” said Seminar Network co-leader Mark Holden in a statement to The Denver Post. Holden also serves as general counsel for Koch Industries.

Held in the exclusive Broadmoor resort at the base of Pikes Peak, the annual event draws hundreds of the nation’s top conservative donors and marquee Republicans.

At last year’s Colorado Springs Koch event, the featured guest was U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan. This weekend, the guest list includes Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas, Matt Bevin of Kentucky, Doug Ducey of Arizona, and Eric Greitens of Missouri. Also in attendance were such Republican heavyweights as U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, Corey Gardner, Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Mike Lee and Ted Cruz.

In addition, Vice President Mike Pence — a noted Koch ally — stopped by Colorado Springs Friday for a series of fundraisers. The following day, a motorcycle cop was injured in a crash escorting Pence’s motorcade to the airport.

With Corcoran and DeSantis mingling among the GOP elite in Colorado, it only adds fuel to speculation on their future ambitions — most notably in the Florida Governor’s race.

In May, Corcoran launched a new political committee, Watchdog PAC, which some speculate could help fund a campaign for Governor in 2018.

Americans for Prosperity Florida, the state chapter of the Koch-funded activist network, had been big supporters of Corcoran’s push in the Florida House in 2017 to end a pair of Gov. Rick Scott‘s favored job incentive programs, which they called “corporate welfare.”

“Those are the only two choices — Governor or not run for office,” the Land O’Lakes Republican said about his new fundraising arm to the Tampa Bay Times in April. “If I can’t raise the money, I can’t raise the money, and if I raise the money and I don’t want to run for governor, I don’t run for governor.”

At the same time, DeSantis is also hearing rumblings calling him to run.

The Miami Herald reported in April that the conservative group Madison Project, which backed the Ponte Verde Beach Republican’s short-lived U.S. Senate campaign in 2016, issued a statement urging DeSantis to consider a bid for Governor. The declaration appeared on The Resurgent, a popular conservative website by political commentator Erick Erickson.

On April 12, The Resurgent ran results from a poll, conducted by Republican pollsters WPA Intelligence, showing DeSantis could fare well statewide against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is now raising money in his own race for Governor.

“While DeSantis may trail Putnam at this early date,” post said, “with 52 percent of voters undecided — and 51 percent not knowing who he is — this race is wide-open.”

Corcoran spokesperson Fred Piccolo suggested not to read too much into the Speaker’s appearance at the Colorado event. It was simply to honor Florida’s recent conservative legislative wins.

“The Speaker is a conservative,” Piccolo told FloridaPolitics.com. “The gathering was a chance to share the conservative successes we’ve had in Florida and get ideas for the future.”

Jacksonville Bold for 6.16.17 — Clique

Despite ideological differences, the people in a given legislative process tend to bond — and a vivid example was rendered this week when a gunman took shots at a Congressional baseball practice.

One Northeast Florida Republican, as you’ll see below, was close to being part of the wave of shots that led to the injury of Rep. Steve Scalise and others.

Despite the acrimonious tone in national politics, Republicans and Democrats both understand their shared reason for being in office: love of country, as all the public statements said.

Moments of a unity of purpose, however, are fleeting. Especially given how high the stakes are nationally right now, with a President prone to unexpected actions and upturning established precedents.

That said, we see other examples of unity — currently, Gov. Rick Scott is barnstorming the state for mutual admiration rallies with State Reps. Who called that a few months ago?

Ultimately, politics is a game of shared purpose. The means to achieve ends diverge, as do the donors. But the reality is that governmental bodies succeed or fail as much on the ability to coalesce internally as any external factor.

Close call for Ron DeSantis

Rep. DeSantis narrowly missed being part of Wednesday’s apparently targeted shooting of GOP congressmen, he related after the incident.

The Marineland Republican told FOX Business Network hours after the shooting that the “guy … walked up [to him and colleague Jeff Duncan] … Asking whether it was Republicans or Democrats out there.”

Ron DeSantis was a highly sought guest in the wake of Wednesday’s incident.

DeSantis continued: “we left about ten after 7. I think shots began you know within 3-5 minutes after that.

“We reported to police that there was a gentleman that confronted us when we were going to our car, and he wanted to know whether it was Republicans or Democrats that were out there. We said it was Republicans and he kind of started walking to the field.

“I don’t know if that was the guy, but I think it’s important to put that information out there and it was a little bit different than someone would do that. He was really interested in wanting to know who was out there.”

John Rutherford on House Judiciary Committee

Former Jacksonville Sheriff Rutherford, a Capitol Hill freshman, was appointed to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Rutherford is “excited” about the appointment “to a strong committee focused on upholding the Constitution,” per a statement from his office.

John Rutherford prioritizes the “rule of law” on Judiciary.

“As a former Sheriff, I have committed my life to strengthening the justice system in Northeast Florida, and I am grateful for this opportunity to support the rule of law across our nation,” Rutherford said.

Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte spoke favorably of his fellow Republican also.

“As a former law enforcement officer and sheriff of Duval County, Florida, Congressman Rutherford brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the Committee. His expertise on our criminal justice system makes him particularly well suited to serve on the Judiciary Committee. I look forward to working with John to advance our pro-growth agenda, focused on growing the American economy and ensuring that our laws are efficient, fair and enforced,” Goodlatte said.

It is Rutherford’s third committee: he also is on Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

Divisions in D.C. ‘frustrating’ Rutherford

Rutherford, new to D.C., told Roll Call he was surprised by divisions in the GOP caucus itself this week.

“I think what’s probably surprised me most is the differences within the Republican caucus. You think that everybody comes from the same experience and background. In some places, I’d be a staunch conservative, and in other places of the country, I’d be a moderate. It’s interesting to see how that works in the family,” Rutherford said.

The family, said Rutherford, could be more unified: “to come from the executive side, or at least what feels like the executive side, to the legislative branch, is a little frustrating because I’m used to, as a sheriff, I say, ‘Take the hill’ and my team would come together and take the hill.”

A former House Speaker likened the job to ‘herding cats.’ John Rutherford would agree.

“Heck, they’d even take a bullet to take that hill because they believe in something bigger than themselves. Up here, the speaker says, ‘Take the hill,’ and somebody says, ‘We’ll take ‘that’ hill ‘[indicating a different hill].”

Speaker Paul Ryan, Rutherford noted, “said one time that being the speaker is like walking through a graveyard — you’re above a lot of people but they ain’t listening to you. That’s been an interesting situation.”

Al Lawson files bill to protect Social Security solvency

Rep. Lawson, along with Democratic co-sponsors, filed a bill this week to protect Social Security until 2049.

“Social Security plays a critical role in our economy as it provides for over two-thirds of our nation’s retirees, and provides financial security to millions of disabled workers and their children,” said Rep. Lawson.

For Al Lawson and Dems, protecting Social Security is a winning issue. Where’s the House GOP on this one?

“However, as the program is currently operating, the Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted by 2034. That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Social Security for Future Generations Act of 2017, along with 17 co-sponsors and support from six organizations, including Social Security Works and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare,” Lawson added.

Bad motion rising for Corrine Brown?

Count attorney Anthony Suarez — who represents former Brown co-defendant Ronnie Simmons — as skeptical of Brown’s motions for acquittal and a new trial.

“I’ve examined the motions and believe they’re not strong enough because they don’t cite a lot of case law,” said Suarez. “They’re not going to be successful.”

Anthony Suarez, like Corrine Brown’s lawyer James Smith, is better known in the 407 than the 904.

Simmons struck a plea deal with the feds in February, pleading guilty on two counts, with his sentencing contingent on substantial cooperation with the feds.

Predicating Brown’s motion for a new trial was a claim that the juror who got bounced because he was compelled in decision-making by the Holy Spirit was removed erroneously. And the motion for acquittal was predicated on essentially re-litigating the trial, to again make the case that Brown was Simmons’ patsy — a case that didn’t fly with the jury the last go-round.

Northeast Florida Fundraising Roundup

Though Rep. Paul Renner’s political committee was the clubhouse leader in Northeast Florida fundraising in May with $261,500, donors didn’t shy away from other committees and candidates.

Below are those who have reported thus far with May numbers.

Among committees of note: Lenny Curry’s “Build Something That Lasts” brought in $27,000. Sen. Rob Bradley‘s “Working for Florida’s Families” brought in $20,000 (keeping it over $400,000 on hand). And “Pledge This Day,” Rep. Jay Fant‘s committee devoted now to his run for Attorney General, brought in just $9,000 in May.

On the hard money front, Fant did better, with $79,575 of new funding; of that sum, $8,000 came from Fant and $3,000 from the committee.

The Fants appear delighted with their first month’s haul.

Sen. Aaron Bean brought in $3,500 of new money, bringing him to just over $20,000 on hand. Rep. Clay Yarborough‘s $6,100 of May money gives him over $14,000 on hand to defend a safe Republican seat in House District 12. on Jacksonville’s Southside.

In HD 17, St. Johns’ Rep. Cyndi Stevenson saw $750 of new money. In HD 24, Rep. Renner saw $2,500 in hard money, with all the action on the committee level.

State Reps make up with Rick Scott

Break up to make up? The joint appearance of three State Representatives hammered by Gov. Scott during the regular session in Jacksonville Beach Tuesday reveals that politics is a transitory business.

Reps. Jason Fischer, Cord Byrd, and Travis Cummings showed at the Governor’s rally, and all had glowing things to say.

ProTip: When appearing with Rallyin’ Rick Scott, make sure your blue shirts match.

Byrd discussed the transformational education bill. Fischer quipped that “the Governor signed most of the budget into law.” And Cummings?

“The Governor vetoed a project or two of mine, but that’s OK,” Cummings said, given the need for tourist funding via VISIT Florida — a remarkable shift in position.

One of those projects was big for Jacksonville: $15M in money for septic tank removal that didn’t make the cut.

We asked Cummings about the anomaly of being feted by a Governor who just months back aimed robocalls at him.

“Politics is a strange business,” Cummings said.

GrayRobinson talks Tallahassee

The Jax Daily Record offered a fascinating look into GrayRobinson’s state lobbying team, as it prepared for “extra innings,” via the Special Session.

This week, the lobbyists had a “panel wrap-up” of the regular Legislative Session, flush with interesting quotes.

GrayRobinson panelists served up real talk about the Legislative Session this week.

This from one panelist, shareholder Chris Carmody: “The House gets in line and takes orders from the top. The Senate is more a group of individuals.”

And this, regarding Rick Scott’s active veto pen, which seemed most targeted at legislators who bucked his call for economic incentives during the spring.

“There’s no doubt the governor didn’t hold back his frustration on certain House votes,” Carmody said.

As seen above, at least three of the legislators made their peace with the veto pen.

JaxPort, City Councilors talk dredging costs

There are knowns and known unknowns when it comes to dredging the St. Johns River, reported the Florida Times-Union this week.

“The city’s share of the cost for deepening the St. Johns River for cargo ships could be as high as $150.7 million or as low as $47 million, according to scenarios for how to pay for the $484 million project,” writes David Bauerlein.

As deepening approaches, cost projection ranges widen.

Hopes are that the city will see federal money defray much of the estimated $484M cost, and these hopes are bolstered by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who told us about his trip to DC last week.

Trump, Cabinet officials, and staffers were “soliciting ideas from states and cities on how to get things moving,” Curry said.

“Relationships are evolving,” Curry added.

Katrina Brown ‘no comment’ on default suit

Councilwoman Brown is title manager for two companies subject to a default motion from the city for incentive funds, a $210K clawback for creating zero jobs since grants and loans in 2011. What did she have to say about it this week?

Regarding a town hall this week, she wasn’t worried about questions: “They won’t be able to bring it up,” Brown said.

No, Katrina Brown isn’t ducking questions. She just has a microphone allergy.

She didn’t want media questions either.

“I continue to tell you no comment. You can ask me a thousand times and I would still say no comment,” Brown said.

Luckily for Brown, the companies are LLCs. And this is Jacksonville, where a certain amount of lagniappe goes into the sauce.

The Feds may feel differently about the SBA loan though.

Katrina Brown has a challenger

2019 is just around the corner in Jacksonville politics, as Diallo Sekous challenge to Katrina Brown indicates.

Sekou, a community activist, thinks Brown has flopped as a counselor.

“The people deserve better than what’s been ‘sitting and not sitting’ in that seat,” Sekou said.

Diallo Sekou and Lenny Curry size each other up, with Katrina Brown in between them.

“This district is in need of serious economic development and restructuring to help create a better situation than what’s been taking place for the last 50 years,” Sekou added.

Katrina Brown’s entropy, Sekou said, isn’t helping.

“There’s nothing being done that’s impactful or sustainable. Her first two years are things the last councilperson set in place, or the mayor has set forth. District 8 cannot be seen as just ‘some area.’ It is in serious need and requires a great deal of attention, and by missing half of the [City Council’s] meetings she’s showing the concern the council person has for her district.

Sekou faces challenges. Brown will have support from the public-sector unions and other sources, and Sekou will have to run a grassroots campaign.

Gaff Gaffe?

Katrina Brown’s BFF on Council, Reggie Gaffney, has some issues of his own.

Community Rehabilitation Center — best known for its cameo appearances in the Corrine Brown trial and a Medicaid overbilling scandal — is back in the news this week.

The subject this time: a late-May whistleblower lawsuit in Florida’s 4th Circuit, filed by an employee who alleges that she was “unlawfully terminated” by the nonprofit … after she was allegedly exposed to risk from HIV-positive clients without proper training and licensure. [Complaint against CRC].

Reggie Gaffney took a council seat in 2015. His most interesting coverage has been nonlegislative though.

When she went to Gaffney for recourse, she was frustrated, and told by a superior that he would say anything “to get you out of his face.”

She was fired soon after that, and the case has been filed in Florida’s 4th Circuit.

Big rip-off Down Under

Despite the efforts of Florida politicians ranging from both Senators to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, it appears that an Australian bank may get away with stealing $44M from an energy company with Jacksonville ties: APR Energy — as an Aussie kangaroo court sided with the bank Down Under over the foreign property owner Thursday.

In early 2014 APR leased tens of millions of dollars’ worth of U.S.-manufactured General Electric Co. turbines and other equipment to Forge Group, which went bankrupt weeks later.

APR still owned the equipment, and the lease stipulated the equipment would be returned. However, ANZ seized the equipment, exploiting bad Australian law.

APR can get the equipment back — after three years of depreciation — by posting a $44M line of credit to the bank.

Money lacks personhood, yes. But this is a hostage crisis, and a very real provocation to Jacksonville, Floridian and American interests.

Former Clay schools Superintendent Charlie Van Zant Jr. cleared of ethics violation

The Florida Commission on Ethics cleared former Clay County Schools Superintendent Van Zant of accusations by a former high school principal. Former Keystone Heights Junior/Senior High School Susan Sailor accused Van Zant of plagiarizing her research to get a professional certification resulting in a pay raise.

Charlie Van Zant, recently cleared of plagiarism by the Florida Ethics Commission.

Sailor accused Van Zant of taking her research to produce a paper without attribution to earn a leadership certification from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. That certification led to a pay raise for Van Zant, an elected official with a salary set by the state.

The Florida Times-Union reports that the ethics commission determined there was no probable cause to believe Van Zant violated state law by using public resources to receive the certification.

For Jacksonville, Donald Trump means White House access

Trump barely carried Duval County in 2016. Yet, for Jacksonville power brokers, the Trump era has meant access to the White House. The most recent manifestation of that, reports AG Gancarski, was just this week, as a JAX Chamber delegation was received by one of the more influential people in Trump’s orbit: Omarosa Manigault.

Manigault has a Jacksonville connection. She recently married Pastor John Newman, and she is spending many weekends here in Duval County. (Newman was also at the White House event).

Kellyanne Conway visits the JAX Chamber delegation.

Marty Fiorentino, of the Fiorentino Group, has done significant work already with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao — a relationship worth its weight in gold as Jacksonville’s crumbling infrastructure may get a restorative reprieve from the Trumpian infrastructure plan.

Susie Wiles, as campaign chair during the stretch run, arguably won Florida for Trump, rescuing a Sunshine State operation that couldn’t get out of its own way. The president and his staff won’t forget that.

Fiorentino, Wiles, Manigault: no one would have predicted that troika as having a direct line to the executive branch in 2016, when Trump’s political obituary was written daily as he battled Hillary Clinton.

Legislative staffing merry-go-round 

Via Lobby ToolsOff: Garrett Mann has stopped being the district secretary for Jacksonville Republican State Rep. Jason Fischer.

What’s Aaron Bean doing this week?

Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Bean will be the keynote speaker at the Jacksonville PACE Center for Girls graduation and receive PACE’s Believing in Girls award in recognition of his leadership in the Legislature. The event begins 10 a.m. at the JU Swisher Theatre, 2800 University Boulevard North in Jacksonville.

On Tuesday, June 20, Bean (will address participants of the 74th Session of the Florida American Legion Boys State leadership program. The event begins 1:40 p.m. at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, 505 W Pensacola Street in Tallahassee.

UF Health intensive care unit honored for nursing excellence

The UF Health Jacksonville medical intensive care received a Silver Beacon Award from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses for improved patient care for some of Jacksonville’s sickest patients.

“We care for adult patients with complex medical conditions requiring advanced treatment modalities, so we see some of the worst cases,” said Jackqulynne Stratton, RN, nurse manager of the MICU. “Patients admitted to our unit often require complex assessment, high-intensity therapies and interventions, and continuous supervision.”

With 28 beds in the MICU, patients are transferred there from the Emergency Department and Post Anesthesia Care Unit after surgery. The unit also regularly attends to patients transferred from other areas of the hospital.

“We typically work 12-hour shifts three days a week and an on-call shift once a month,” Stratton said. “also, we have to complete mandatory continuing education courses and rely heavily on our specialized knowledge, skills and experience. We also work hard to provide a nurturing and healing environment for our patients and their families.”

Jumbo Shrimp celebrates ‘You might be the Father’s Day’ by giving pregnancy tests

If being named the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp was not enough to garner attention, the minor league baseball team adds something special to its regular Thirsty Thursday promotion — You Might Be the Father’s Day.

“You’ll know if you need to return for Sunday’s Father’s Day game,” with “an evening filled with suspense, intrigue and manila envelopes.”

In honor of Father’s Day, the Florida Times-Union reports that the Jumbo will distribute free pregnancy tests at Thursday’s game.

“So you’ll know if you need to return for Sunday’s Father’s Day game,” the Shrimp website says. “It will be an evening filled with suspense, intrigue and manila envelopes.”

Unusual promotions like this, a staple of minor league baseball, has made its mark on the former Jacksonville Suns — so far this season, General Manager Harold Craw told the Times-Union, the team averages about 5,600 fans a game, an increase of 1,500 over last season. But Thirsty Thursdays are the team’s third most popular day, after Friday and Saturday.

Armada break historic losing streak with stunning 4-1 win in Indianapolis 

The Jacksonville Armada FC said goodbye to its winless history against Indy Eleven with a club record 4-1 win in Indianapolis Saturday, reports Kartik Krishnaiyer. The Armada’s win keeps them on the heels of Miami FC atop the NASL Spring Season table.

“Indy [is] a top team,” said Armada FC head coach Mark Lowry. “Even at 3-1 and 4-1, I couldn’t relax. They have a lot of weapons on the field and credit to those guys; they didn’t stop.”

Jack Blake opened the scoring for the Armada only four minutes into the game. Taking a penalty after Derek Gebhard was fouled, Blake’s initial shot was deflected off Indy goalkeeper Jon Busch, but Blake was quick to find the rebound and the back of the net.

“We have to keep our wits about us, staying aware to be disciplined and do our job.” — Armada Coach Mark Lowry

Indy Eleven was able to equalize six minutes later when 2016 NASL leading scorer Éamon Zayed headed the ball in past Caleb Patterson-Sewell following a corner.

Both sides then struggled to convert an opportunity until the 41st minute when Gebhard ran the ball down. After meeting fierce defense, he sent the ball to J.C. Banks, who found the space to get it in and put the Armada back into the lead.

An altercation in first half stoppage time led to a yellow card given to Blake and Indy’s Lovel Palmer being ejected from the match. The teams went into halftime with Armada FC leading by one goal and Indy being down to 10 men.

Banks kept the momentum going into the second half and netted his second goal in the 50th minute. Following a corner kick, he found himself in front of the net to tap in a shot fired by Jemal Johnson around the 18-yard line.

The final goal for the Armada FC came in the 60th minute by Gebhard. Johnson was there again with the assist and sent the ball toward the net. It then only took one touch by Gebhard to give Armada the fourth goal.

“They put us under a good bit of pressure but luckily we had a good lead before we lost our goalkeeper,” said Lowry.

Patterson-Sewell was ejected in the 68th minute from the match after a handball outside the penalty area. With both teams down to 10 men, Jemal Johnson was subbed out so Kyle Nasta could fill the goalkeeper position.

Nasta held strong right after taking the pitch in his NASL debut. He immediately faced a free kick but saved the ball by knocking it out. Five more shots were sent toward the goal, but he saved each one and kept Indy Eleven from notching another goal.

“[Nasta] went in and made some great saves,” said Lowry. “He showed the composure, and we believe in him. In terms of shot-stopping, he’s fantastic.”

The Armada victory was the first over Indy Eleven in Indianapolis, and the second loss Indy faced at home this season. The wins secured Jacksonville’s second place seat and set the stage for another top-of-the-table battle against the Miami FC Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Ricardo Silva Stadium in Miami. If the Armada win, they will jump to within two points of Miami FC atop the NASL standings.

Meanwhile, at Patton Park, the Armada’s U-23 team beat Boca Raton FC 4-0. The win allowed the Armada U-23 to leapfrog Boca Raton into fourth place in the NPSL Sunshine Conference Standings. In a game largely controlled by the home team, Boca Raton hung around until the dying minutes when a Ciaran McKenna brace, the second scored a floating finish of world-class quality sunk the hopes of the visitors.

Ron DeSantis on Morning Joe: shooter may have been beyond change

Florida’s U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a third-baseman on the Republican’s baseball team who encountered James Hodgkinson moments before the Illinois Democratic activist shot up the practice field, said Thursday he was skeptical that any changed rhetoric would have stopped the shooter.

Appearing on the Morning Joe TV show on MSNBC, DeSantis recounted again, as he did Wednesday, how he and U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina were finished practicing at the Alexandria, Va., park, and in a car, ready to go back to Washington, when they were approached by a man they later identified as Hodgkinson, and that he asked them if there were Republicans or Democrats on the field.

DeSantis, of Ponte Vedra Beach, said he and Duncan had no idea that Hodgkinson was bent on a shooting rampage that would critically wound their colleague U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and wound four others before he was shot dead by law enforcement at the scene. They did not see a gun, and left before it began, DeSantis said.

On Morning Joe, DeSantis characterized Hodgkinson as a “bad guy” full of “virulence and hatred,” and expressed doubt that any changes in the heat of political rhetoric would have changed him or others like him.

“I think we’ll have to see whether this event is indicative of any larger issue. This is a bad guy. I  think clearly he had a lot of hate and rage building up, and he decided to attempt a mass murder,” DeSantis said. “And whether he was caught up in the overall climate or not… I’m a little bit pessimistic that anything much is going to change.”

DeSantis said he received a call in his Congressional office afterwards in which someone praised the shooting and declared hope that President Donald Trump would be next. He said a colleague received an email that stated, “One down, 217 to go.”

The congressman representing Florida’s 6th District – a candidate for a while last year for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, and rumored to be considering a run for Florida governor – said divided political rhetoric has long fueled America’s policy debates, to good ends.

“I look around here: we do have tough debates, but I’m not sure that if Congress thinks if a little bit of the debate is made a little bit more civil, that it’s going to change a guy like that. I’m just skeptical that would make a huge difference,” DeSantis said, then added, “Not saying we shouldn’t do it; but this guy clearly was troubled.”

Ron DeSantis describes ‘strange encounter’ with man before congressional baseball shooting

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis described a “strange encounter” Wednesday with a man in the parking lot of the congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.

The encounter occurred moments before shots fired, injuring Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Scalise was shot in the hip and is in stable condition after surgery. Some security team members were also wounded.

The North Florida Republican told FOX Business Network hours after the shooting that the “guy … Walked up to us … Asking whether it was Republicans or Democrats out there.”

DeSantis continued: “I had already taken ground balls, hit. Jeff Duncan, who I ride with, from South Carolina, he had done. So, I … and I was actually at third base he was at short. We were just shagging balls. He was at second.

“I told Jeff, hey, we got to get on the road so we beat traffic, so we left about ten after seven. I think shots began you know within 3-5 minutes after that.

“We reported to police that there was a gentleman that confronted us when we were going to our car and he wanted to know whether it was Republicans or Democrats that were out there. We said it was Republicans and he kind of started walking to the field.

“I don’t know if that was the guy, but I think it’s important to put that information out there and it was a little bit different than someone would do that. He was really interested in wanting to know who was out there.”

Police say the gunman, who opened fire with a rifle, is in custody.

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