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Steve Cona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After winning Governor’s race, Ron DeSantis seeks summit with Andrew Gillum

Republican Ron DeSantis, the 40-year-old former three-term Congressman, has defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum to become the next Governor of Florida after a mandated machine recount.

The win was just 0.4 percent, a spread of 33,652 votes.

The gubernatorial race, like the U.S. Senate and Agriculture Commissioner contests, had margins under the 0.50 percent threshold that triggers a recount. With the margin more than 0.25 percent, DeSantis is Governor-elect, after one of the most spirited campaigns in Florida in decades.

Now, the path forward.

DeSantis described the results as “clear and unambiguous” in a statement before discussing the contest of ideas that characterized the campaign and inviting Gillum to share ideas.

“Campaigns are meant to be vigorously debated contests of ideas and competing visions for the future. The campaign for Governor achieved this objective as evidenced by historic voter turnout from people of all parties across our state,” DeSantis said.

“But campaigns of ideas must give way to governing and bringing people together to secure Florida’s future. With the campaign now over, that’s where all of my focus will be,” DeSantis added.

“And, to this end, I invite Mayor Gillum to join me in the days ahead in a conversation about the future of our great state. We have both traveled the state and met Floridians from all walks of life. Sharing these experiences will, I believe, help us unite our state and build toward unity on behalf of the people of Florida,” DeSantis said.

However, even before the state released its results, Gillum said the count wasn’t done.

“A vote denied is justice denied — the State of Florida must count every legally cast vote. As today’s unofficial reports and recent court proceedings make clear, there are tens of thousands of votes that have yet to be counted. We plan to do all we can to ensure that every voice is heard in this process. Voters need to know that their decision to participate in this election, and every election, matters. It is not over until every legally casted vote is counted.”

Vote counting isn’t fully over, but there is little chance of the Governor race going into a second overtime.

County elections officials are scheduled to file their official returns to the state by noon on Sunday, with the state Elections Canvassing Commission meeting Tuesday to certify the results.

A ruling Thursday by a federal judge leaves open the possibility of more votes in the race. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued an order giving potentially thousands of Florida voters a chance to fix their ballots by this weekend if they were rejected because of mismatched signatures.

But Walker rejected a request from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is trailing Gov. Rick Scott by about 12,600 votes in their Senate race, to extend the recount deadlines. Several counties reported they were unable to complete the machine recounts by the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline, including Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Gillum would need to cut the gap between him and DeSantis by more than 13,000 votes to get within the 0.25 percent threshold.

Gillum would also have up to 10 days after the certification of the election outcome on Tuesday to file a lawsuit contesting the results, according to state law. He had not done so as of Thursday afternoon.

However, his attorney Barry Richard told MSNBC earlier in the week that Gillum was “reviewing his options” on a lawsuit, expressing concern that the election showed that Florida’s laws are impacting “the fundamental right to vote.”

“He feels an obligation to ensure that votes are counted and not to sit back when we’re beginning to learn that they are not being counted for a number of reasons,” Richard told MSNBC.

DeSantis has been in Tallahassee frequently since Election Night, and he is already rounding out his transition and embryonic administration.

At least four people are in the running to become Ron DeSantischief of staffKathy MearsScott RossScott Parkinson, and Shane Strum, according to sources familiar with the interview process.

Campaign manager Susie Wiles, who guided the campaign down the stretch, is not in that mix; she will be returning to the private sector after helming the transition process.

Wiles and Parkinson are leading the transition process, with assistance from four heavy hitters: U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, and former state House Speaker Richard Corcoran,

While DeSantis has promised continuity with the Rick Scott era, those who have covered state government throughout Scott’s eight years know that some of the harshest battles were between the populist right in the state House and the more pragmatic Senate.

On the campaign trail and in outreach, DeSantis contrasted himself with Gillum, suggesting the Tallahassee Mayor’s policies are too far left for Florida.

The Ponte Vedra Republican pledged to veto any and all tax increases for the next four years, contending that a state’s low-tax environment is its greatest asset for expanding the economy. In contrast, Gillum in part ran on a corporate tax rate hike.

DeSantis, who has described himself as a “Teddy Roosevelt-Republican,” is outspoken on environmental concerns.

He railed against his primary opponent Adam Putnam for not faulting the state’s massive sugar industry for the proliferation of toxic algae blooms plaguing the Treasure Coast. He has promised to expedite the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, expected to help ease the amount of toxic overflow into nearby estuaries.

Adding weight to his environmental policy platform was support from The Everglades Trust.

While the rough outline of a DeSantis administration continues to emerge, less certain is the immediate future of Democrat Gillum.

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Tallahassee correspondent Danny McAuliffe and The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Jacksonville Bold for 11.16.18 — A very good year.

A cottage industry among Northeast Florida political observers this year has revolved around the same question it did in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Did Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry go too far?

In 2015, he capsized a popular Mayor. In 2016, he stumped for President Donald Trump and got pension reform through (which ticked off the left). In 2017, he allowed LGBT rights to become law (which ticked off the hard right).

The question asked almost every election cycle: “Is Lenny Curry going too far?”

And in 2018? Curry brought the political operation inside the building, with Brian Hughes taking over as chief of staff.

Critics, as Curry might say, chirped. But a year into it, there has been little in the way of meaningful pushback against his administration’s agenda.

There are fewer than 60 days remaining until the end of qualifying. If a serious candidate does not file, one wonders how credible complaints about the administration will be going forward.

Given the realities of Curry’s political operation, a full-spectrum dominance machine that includes enforcement of the City Council, an outside political machine of the sort previously unseen locally, and opposition that hasn’t marshaled visible support, as of yet, one wonders why the opposition campaign hasn’t been launched yet.

How Waltz beat the national left

Florida elections saw in many respects a blue wave, as witnessed by three of the five state-level races on the ballot triggering recounts.

However, a 50/50 tendency doesn’t extend to every contested race. Exhibit A: Florida’s 6th Congressional District, the former fiefdom of soon-to-be Governor-elect Ron DeSantis.

Republican Mike Waltz, a Trump-endorsed former Green Beret and counterterrorism adviser to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, defeated Democrat Nancy Soderberg, a Clinton-era Ambassador to the United Nations.

Despite an expensive Democratic campaign, Mike Waltz mostly held previous GOP margins.

Despite Soderberg spending over $3 million directly and having even more than that come in from Michael Bloomberg and other national Democrats, despite all of the talk of a blue wave, Soderberg wasn’t able to close the deal. She went down 56 percent to 44 percent, losing in all four counties in the district.

And her campaign didn’t seem to see it coming.

Soderberg ran as a moderate Democrat in a district that the previous Democratic candidate and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton each lost by 15+ points in 2016.

Bloomberg‘s Independence USA PAC spent $3 million of its own. Fundraising was a definite prerequisite in this Daytona-centered district, which abuts the Jacksonville media market to the north and the Orlando market to the west.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before …

Per the News Service of Florida: “A federal appeals court has rescheduled a hearing in a challenge filed by former Congresswoman Corrine Brown after she was convicted in a charity scam. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week scheduled the arguments Feb. 1 in Atlanta, according to an online docket.”

Corrine Brown again revisits the ‘Holy Ghost’ issue of her trial.

This was pushed back from December and rehashes what may seem to be an esoteric claim from the original trial: “In the appeal, Brown contends that a juror was improperly dismissed from her trial. The dismissal came after the juror made statements such as the ‘Holy Ghost’ told him Brown was not guilty. Prosecutors, however, argue a district judge acted properly in replacing the juror with an alternate and disputed that the decision violated religious rights.”

Brown’s defense tried and failed to make the discharged juror an issue during her original trial. Her strategy seems to be doubling down, though it’s uncertain what has changed but the venue.

Smooth sailing for NE FL

For a second straight Legislative Session, a Clay County Republican will be key to the budget process.

Northeast Florida is sailing smoothly for Travis Cummings and Speaker Jose Oliva.

Just as Sen. Rob Bradley chaired Senate Appropriations in 2018, chairing the powerful Appropriations Committee is state Republican Rep. Travis Cummings, of Orange Park.

Cummings replaces former House budget chair Carlos Trujillo, who left the Legislature after being appointed Ambassador to the Organization of American States.

Like incoming Speaker Jose Oliva, a Republican from Hialeah, Cummings was an early supporter of presumed Governor-elect DeSantis.

For DeSantis loyalists and Northeast Florida partisans both, the Cummings appointment is good news.

He told us Friday that he was “excited and fortunate” to be chosen, noting that while Northeast Florida is “well-positioned,” he has a holistic view regarding money for school safety and the environment in what otherwise will be a “pretty tight budget year.”

Read more here.

Baker turnout boom

For those inside Jacksonville who wonder why DeSantis won and Andrew Gillum did not, it may be useful to look to the Baker County Press for insights.

Homegrown: MacClenny’s Chuck Brannan is headed west on I-10 to the state House.

The county had a 70 percent turnout for the 2018 election … the best midterm turnout in Baker history, a strong sign that the GOP campaign against “corruption” and “socialism” made a dent.

Baker also was able to get a favorite son to the state House: MacClenny’s Chuck Brannan, who will replace Elizabeth Porter in House District 10.

Baker trends deeply conservative. The GOP ticket won by 68 points or so, in race after race.

Even if the candidate wasn’t remotely competitive.

“GOP candidate for Congressional District 5 Virginia Fuller, a recent California transplant to Florida, won the county with 81.1 percent, though her opponent, Democratic incumbent Al Lawson, held a 34-point lead in the district stretching from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, 67 percent to 33 percent.”

With Jacksonville’s leading Republican officeholders all in for the DeSantis campaign, October fundraising for their 2019 campaigns was on the back burner.

Lenny Curry and presumed Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis. (Image via Lindsey Kilbride/WJCT)

And why not? Though Jacksonville has a Democratic plurality, and statewide candidates Bill Nelson, Gillum, and Nikki Fried all won here, local Republicans have no reason to doubt their ability to hold serve based on campaign fundraising.

Mayor Curry raised nothing for his campaign account and a modest $75,500 for his “Jacksonville on the Rise” political committee. He has just under $3,000,000 on hand, and still awaits a candidate with any sort of fundraising traction to file (only NPA Connell Crooms has over $1,000 on hand).

Sheriff Mike Williams raised just $2,000 in October, with no money going into his political committee over the same period. It likely won’t matter: Williams, with roughly $440,000 on hand, is up against one candidate, Democrat Tony Cummings. Cummings’ campaign account is in the red.

Property appraiser Jerry Holland raised $5,290 in October, pushing him over $148,000 on hand. Democrat Kurt Kraft has been running for three years now, and has $150 on hand.

City Council races are characterized by a mixture of well-established trends and genuine question marks.

Read more here.

Not taking it for granted

Two new bills introduced to the Jacksonville City Council Tuesday evening could, at least in theory, lead to the city returning a grant from the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE has used charitable donations to ingratiate itself with US institutions, winning hearts and minds.

Ordinance 2018-813 would return that $2.775 million grant. And Ordinance 2018-790 would appropriate $2.775 million from the city’s general fund, to replace what some critics are calling “blood money” from the totalitarian Middle Eastern regime.

Back in October, the United Arab Emirates gave Jacksonville $2.775 million toward post-Irma reconstruction. City Council voted the appropriation through without a hitch in the summer, but second thoughts clouded members (and potential 2019 mayoral candidates) Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis when they considered the UAE’s human rights record, deemed to be among the world’s worst.

The money is for various expenditures, including computer labs for Raines and Ribault High Schools, restoration of a local park, purchase of mobile medical units, with approximately $1.45 million going to projects in the Ken Knight Road area, which was among the slowest in the city to recover from Hurricane Irma.

Skilled labor shortage?

The Jacksonville Daily Record spotlights an issue years in the making, with no ready solution.

A shortage of skilled trades workers, one that started after the 2008 economic crash and has only been exacerbated in the decade since.

No solutions are in sight for a shortage of skilled trades workers.

“The trades over the last generation have been stereotyped as a second-class occupation,” one source said. “That’s starting to catch up to us, as we don’t have as many skilled laborers anymore.”

Candidates for Governor, including apparent winner DeSantis, spotlighted the needs for people to go into skilled trades.

It needs to happen soon: delays can last up to two months, asserted Bill Garrison, the executive officer of the Northeast Florida Builders Association.

Game over

On Tuesday, the Jacksonville City Council imposed a six-month moratorium on adult arcades.

No more games. Jacksonville is suspending new adult arcades for six months.

The legislation cleared committees without opposition and landed on the consent agenda, with most of the 19-person legislative body listed as sponsors even before Tuesday’s meeting.

Ordinance 2018-680 bans any new permitting for so-called internet cafes, a bane to the existence of Jacksonville lawmakers.

These establishments are predominantly in areas of town that have socioeconomic challenges already, and Council members have sought to put the brakes on what has become a flourishing industry, albeit one of dubious moral value.

Arcades often are near churches, schools, daycares and homes, and the noise, traffic, and other associated activities concern people outside the industry.

Jacksonville’s municipal code, which often seems fragmentary, lacks “performance standards or criteria pertaining to adult arcades,” offering another potential justification for the moratorium.

UNF recognized for ‘engaged’ campus

Via news release: “In recognition of the University of North Florida’s commitment to campus-community engagement and public service, Florida Campus Compact recognized UNF as the Engaged Campus of the Year for 2018 for the State University System. This is the University’s second time receiving this award.”

Ospreys give back to the community every day.

UNF is receiving accolades for its community engagement, philanthropy.

The award “recognizes institutions that advance the purposes of higher education while improving community life and educating students for civil and social responsibility. This is the highest honor for campus-community engagement in Florida.”

“UNF consistently provides remarkable service to the greater Jacksonville area and beyond through its volunteering, philanthropy and community-based teaching and research,” said UNF President David Szymanski.

A staggering 94 percent of departments offer courses with these components, leading to 1 million hours of work on projects like the Adaptive Toys Project: “UNF engineering and physical therapy faculty and students work with the Brooks Pediatric Residency Program to design, fabricate and deliver custom assistive technology, like battery-powered toy cars, for kids with developmental disabilities to aid in mobility and independence at no cost to the families.”

No benches, no homeless problem

For one Jacksonville Beach City Councilman, solving the homeless problem is as simple as removing places for them to sit.

“In a recent city council meeting, Councilmember Keith Doherty said the homeless population is an issue,” reported Action News Jax.In the meeting notes, he said Gonzales Park had become a popular hangout spot for transients.”

Too many homeless people in parks, says a Jacksonville Beach Councilman.

The solution?

“Doherty suggested in the meeting removing the benches and shelters in hopes it would alleviate the homeless from sleeping on them. He also suggested moving the City’s Veterans Memorial to the park to attract more activity and keep the homeless away.”

Whether that will work or not is unknown. Jacksonville Beach’s homeless problem continues to increase.

Home prices up, lower end sees action

Despite a slight slowdown in the Northeast Florida housing market, the area continues a trend of strong sales, particularly with lower-end homes.

Jacksonville’s entire home market is still strong, but the real action is with low-end properties.

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, homes spend an average of 64 days on the market year-to-date before the sale, a number 11 percent up from last year, as per a release from the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors. Properties in the $150,000 and $199,999 range are spending the least amount of time on the market — 44 days on average — 24 percent faster than this time last year.

The number of homes on the market priced less than $199,999 have decreased over the past year — with those available under $149,999 down almost 14 percent. As with homes more than $199,999, inventory has increased.

The percentage of properties sold over list price has increased for properties valued at or below $199,999, the Journal writes. The percent of properties selling over the listing price that is valued at more than $199,999 has either decreased or remained equal over the past year.

Marketwide, sales prices are increasing. The median sales price was $221,000, an 8.8 percent increase compared to last year.

“We are pleased to see new listings being added to the market, but sales are taking place so steadily that a sustained and significant influx of properties is needed to turn the tide away from lower than normal inventory,” NEFAR President Ben Bates said in a release.

ZOOLights holiday fun

Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens launches its post-Thanksgiving holiday season celebration with the Seventh Annual ZOOLights event, beginning Dec. 7.

ZOOLights will feature thousands of LED lights, transforming the zoo into a winter wonderland of moving sculptures, lighted trees and animal silhouettes.

Guests can walk among lights strung throughout the Zoo and listening to holiday music and enjoy a unique view of ZOOLights by boarding the Zoo’s lighted train (the train only runs from the back of the Zoo to the front). There will also be carousel rides, the 4-D Theater, marshmallow roasting, and more activities for an extra charge.

Jacksonville Zoo becomes a winter wonderland of lights for the holidays.

The dates are Dec. 7—9 and Dec. 14 — Jan. 5 (Closed Christmas Day) Sunday — Thursday 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The Zoo closes at 5 p.m. and will reopen for ZOOLights at 6 p.m.

Prices are $10 for Non-Members; $8 for Zoo Members, with a special of $5 for Zoo Members, Dec. 17 — 20 only.

ZOOLights Value Tickets includes train rides, 4D Theater and Carousel (children 12 and under): $15 for Non-Members, $12 for Zoo Members.

For more information, visit JacksonvilleZoo.org.

Loss to Colts exposes Jags

As the Jacksonville Jaguars season began to go South, observers wondered how they would react. Were there sufficient leaders on the team that could carry them through rough patches?

Others feared that with the number of strong personalities in the locker room, infighting might lead to making a bad situation worse. There was hope that the trade of Dante Fowler Jr. to the Rams was a step that could help bring the team together.

The trade of Dante Fowler Jr. to the Rams was intended as a step in the right direction for the Jaguars. We will know on Sunday.

Alas, Sunday’s 29-26 loss in Indianapolis to the Colts officially sent the season into free fall. They have lost 5 games in a row and now sit at 3-6.

The last loss seemed especially hard to take, especially to a once-proud defensive unit. Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey must have been hearing from the fans as he lashed out on Twitter.

“When I’m gone from here, y’all gone miss me,” he tweeted. “I ain’t even trippin lol.”

He might have also reacted to some indirect criticism from Head Coach Doug Marrone very well. Marrone said after the game Ramsey (without mentioning his name) blew a coverage that led to a 53-yard touchdown play for the Colts.

Some questioned whether the entire Jaguars’ defense had already left, giving up all 29 Indianapolis points in the first half. The team made a spirited comeback, only to fall short at the end when Rashad Greene fumbled in the final two minutes with the team in field goal range.

A favorite target of the wrath of fans is quarterback Blake Bortles, but he threw for 324 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The defense gave up similar numbers to Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck.

With the defense struggling, the last thing they need to see is the surging offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers will be in town Sunday, motivated by the two losses the Jaguars hung on them last year in Pittsburgh, including one in the playoffs.

Jaguars fans can only hope that somehow the 2017 version of the defensive unit can show up. Otherwise, look for a lot of points.

New push for offshore drilling as Florida awaits recount results

As Florida waits to find out the eventual results of its recounts, the Florida Petroleum Council urges renewed consideration of offshore drilling.

The timing is interesting, as presumed Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis is opposed to the practice.

The industry group asserted potential revenue of $2.5 billion as a result of offshore leasing in the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

“The projected tax revenues outlined in this new study of potential federal offshore oil and natural gas production and activity could mean substantial investments in Florida such as in areas like education and opportunities to rebuild infrastructure,” said Florida Petroleum Council Executive Director David Mica.

“This opportunity to inject one billion dollars in increased state and local revenues, coupled with the additional billions of dollars for the economies of coastal states from previous studies, is critical for any plans to help improve quality of life for Florida’s residents and the overall future of the state,” Mica added.

The industry study suggests offshore exploration “could generate additional non-bonus and royalty revenue such as personal and corporate income tax, property tax, and sales taxes. The combined associated state and local tax revenues are projected to reach nearly $155 million annually by the end of the forecast periods, according to the report.”

The timing of this study is interesting, after voters approved a Frankenstein-monster amendment to the Florida Constitution that banned offshore drilling and workplace vaping.

The industry group objected to the bundling of amendments.

Florida officials, including Gov. Rick Scott, have opposed plans by President Donald Trump’s administration to allow oil and gas drilling in federal waters beyond the nation’s outer continental shelf — a jurisdictional term describing submerged lands 10.36 statutory miles off Florida’s West Coast and three nautical miles off the East Coast.

DeSantis, in his environmental plan, said he would “utilize his unique relationship with President Trump and his administration to ensure that oil drilling never occurs off Florida’s coastlines.”

The Trump administration announced earlier this year its plans to open almost all U.S. waters to offshore drilling. The Department of the Interior’s draft five-year program for oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf proposed the largest number of potential offshore lease sales ever.

There are already measures in Florida statute that prevent oil companies from taking root on the parts of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts that fall under state jurisdiction.

The current law: “No permit to drill a gas or oil well shall be granted at a location in the tidal waters of the state, abutting or immediately adjacent to the corporate limits of a municipality or within 3 miles of such corporate limits extending from the line of mean high tide into such waters, unless the governing authority of the municipality shall have first duly approved the application for such permit by resolution.”

Ron DeSantis vetting chief of staff candidates, including some familiar names

At least four people are in the running to become Ron DeSantis‘ chief of staff: Kathy Mears, Scott Ross, Scott Parkinson, and Shane Strum, according to sources familiar with the interview process.

DeSantis “has discussed the position with all four,” one source said during an interview in Orlando where dozens of Adams Streeters are meeting for a handful of post-election conferences, though “he still plans to talk to more.”

Absent from the list is Susie Wiles, the veteran Jacksonville political operative who took the helm of Donald Trump’s Florida campaign, and more recently assumed the chair of DeSantis’ campaign for Governor during the final stretch.

Wiles is expected to return to her position as managing partner in Ballard Partners‘ Jacksonville office after the inauguration, a source familiar with Wiles’ thinking told Florida Politics.

The chief of staff position would be Wiles’ for the taking and while she is determined to assist the Governor-elect build out a capable executive branch, she’s looking forward to being back int he private sector.

Here’s a little background on the four contenders being discussed:

— Mears, chief legislative affairs officer for Florida State University, previously served as chief of staff to two consecutive Florida House speakers, Will Weatherford (2012-14) and Steve Crisafulli (2014-16).

Mears also has been a top advisor to former Senate Presidents Ken Pruitt and Tom Lee, was deputy chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, served as campaign communications director to Congressman Daniel Webster, and was a vice president at On 3 Public Relations in Tallahassee.

— Ross, an early DeSantis supporter and top lobbyist at Capital City Consulting, was Deputy Secretary at the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, serving as the chief regulator for gaming, alcoholic beverages and tobacco, hotels and restaurants, condominiums, timeshares, and mobile homes.

He also was Director of Government Relations for “one of the world’s largest gaming and entertainment companies,” as well as Executive Director of the Florida Student Association, an association compromised of more than 300,000 members across the state of Florida.

— Strum is senior vice president for South Florida’s Memorial Healthcare System.

Before that, he was vice chancellor of business development for Keiser University and was a transition adviser to Gov. Rick Scott. Strum also was chief of staff to former Gov. Charlie Crist.

— Parkinson was DeSantis’ congressional chief of staff and also has been Deputy Legislative Director to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

He also was Executive Director of the Republican Study Committee, a “caucus of conservative members of the Republican Party in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Orange County machine recount finished with no discernible changes

The Orange County vote canvassing board has completed its machine recounts of the 2018 election with very little change in the final tabulations of contested races.

Orange is the first of Florida’s seven big, urban counties — which include Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Duval — to report the machine-recount numbers. It’s among these counties that Democrats hope to make gains in the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections and solidify the lead in the Florida Agricultural Commissioner contest.

Orange County’s recounts showed no discernible difference in any of those races’ counts.

In the end, 478,999 votes were recounted in Orange County, according to the report posted by the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office Thursday morning and on its way to Tallahassee. That’s actually down slightly from the total of 479,122 total reported last week to the Florida Division of Elections, for the pre-recount total.

The results show the striking Democratic lean for Orange County, where the Democrats won by more than 110,000 votes in all three contested statewide races, through the machine recount.

In Orange County, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson topped Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the U.S. Senate election, 293,828 votes to 180,628. The percentage difference remained unchanged from last week’s count: 61.76 percent for Nelson, 37.97 percent for Scott.

Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum topped Republican nominee Ron DeSantis in the gubernatorial election, 296,063 to 174,148, via Orange County voters. The percentage difference remained unchanged: 62.22 percent for Gillum, 36.60 for DeSantis.

Democratic nominee Nikki Friedman topped Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell in the Florida Agriculture Commissioner election, 288,545 Orange County votes to 174,591 for Caldwell. The percentage difference remained unchanged: 62.30 percent for Friedman, 37.70 for Caldwell.

Andrew Gillum

National strategy? Andrew Gillum bypasses Florida press, gives Rolling Stone exclusive

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum awaits the results of the machine recount in the race for Florida Governor against Republican Ron DeSantis.

In what seems to be a strategic move, the Democrat bypassed in-state media in his first interview since rescinding his concession of the race.

Gillum preferred instead to give quotes to Rolling Stone (the kind of move someone might make who is eyeing national viability in 2020).

The big takeaway is close to the lede: Gillum saying “I’m not leaving the field.”

The full quote: “If I’m unsuccessful in this race — after a legitimate vote has been taken and after a legitimate count has been completed, and if I’m not the victor here — what I have said, certainly in this moment that we now find ourselves, is that I’m not leaving the field.”

What does that mean?

“I think my mission and my work becomes a lot more clear, first and foremost around the work that has to be done to ensure our democracy. And that means counting every vote. Every legal vote that is cast being counted. I don’t know what form that takes, really. I haven’t been able to think long enough and hard enough about that,” Gillum said.

“But I do know that I don’t want to see anybody legitimately have the excuse that they are not voting because their votes don’t count. That can’t happen. Whether I’m the one impacted by that vote or not. That can’t be the legacy of this election. I’m not gonna let that be the legacy of this election,” Gillum added.

Try as interviewer Jamil Smith might, he was unable to get a definitive statement on what’s next.

“I have not considered another office. I certainly haven’t considered what it means to run in two years,” Gillum said as the interview wrapped. “I don’t want to be that person who’s looking squarely at the shortcomings in the process right where I sit and then choose to walk away and do nothing. You know what? I’m not him.”

“And so, if there’s a place for me to help figure that out, I’m probably going to sink my teeth into that part of fixing this thing, so that this isn’t the scenario for the next candidate and the next voter and the next organizer and the next volunteer who poured everything they had into something, only to have somebody interpret that because the signature ain’t right, that their vote is not counted,” Gillum added.

Gillum also framed his rescinded concession in the light of massive midterm turnout and Republicans using his speech, given before the 11 p.m. news on Election Night, as a reason to move forward from the election.

“After understanding all of that, there was no way, in spite of how badly we wanted all of this to be resolved, that I could rest knowing that there were people out there who were not clear that their votes had been counted yet,” Gillum related.

“There was no way that we could signal to those folks who voted,” Gillum added, “those folks who worked for this thing, that I was ready to be done with it and allow Republicans to get away with saying, “Oh, well, get him conceded and therefore we shouldn’t count any more votes’.”

“I mean, that became the rhetoric — from the president. He quoted me conceding as justification as to why we ought to shut down the count. When that became clear to me, there was no way I could allow my actions to be a cover for people to be robbed of their opportunity to be counted,” Gillum added.

Gillum also addressed the mechanics of the concession, one seemingly unprompted by DeSantis.

“I told him it appears that he may be the winner in this race. He responded to me and said that if that’s the case and I’m thinking about running for anything, please don’t choose to run against him again [laughs]. And we exchanged a laugh. And that was kind of it. I mean, it almost blurs in my mind because it feels like so long ago,” Gillum said.

[Cynics might point out, perhaps, other occasions when detail blurred in Gillum’s mind, particularly those regarding Hamilton tickets and related matters].

The interview raises questions, eludes others.

Nevertheless, what is clear: Win or lose the recount, Gillum knows he has to protect his brand. And that brand may find him on a national stage sooner than later.

How the Collective PAC almost brought it home for Andrew Gillum

During the sleepy, largely oppo-free Democratic primary campaign for Governor, one of the rare moments of interest was when a previously-unknown group made moves to take the frontrunner down.

The Collective PAC, dedicated to putting African-Americans into office, spent $2 million backing Andrew Gillum during the campaign.

Of that sum, $1.75 million went to ads chipping away at Gwen Graham, who lost the primary to Gillum by 3 percent, with African-American and urban area turnout driving the surprise win.

The group dealt with the usual, including attacks on it as a dark money group without accountability. And their candidate, as of now, awaits the results of a recount.

On Wednesday, we talked to Collective PAC founder Quentin James, who noted issues of “concern” with the recount, including “mail-in ballots held up in the processing center where some of the pipe bombs were being sent through.”

Beyond those ballots, James notes a concomitant concern about rejected vote-by-mail ballots in general, saying that “over 130,000” have been rejected for logistical factors, including signature match and time issues.

But James stopped short of saying that he wouldn’t accept the results of the election if Republican Ron DeSantis prevails, as long as “every legally cast ballot is counted,” including provisional, military, and vote by mail.

“Hopefully all of these will be sorted out in the next 24 hours,” James said, adding that it may be a “few more weeks” before all is clear.

“Depending on results,” James said, the Collective PAC “may end up playing in this process.”

That would be a substantial investment, should it come to pass.

With the spread between the candidates at 0.41 percent pending the results of the automatic recount, there is a reasonable chance that Gillum may not get the benefit of the manual recount, triggered by a 0.25 percent margin.

We wondered if, in light of Gillum underperforming most polls of the general election, the Collective PAC should have invested more heavily in the race against DeSantis than it did against Graham.

“Our helpfulness was much more needed in the primary,” James related, as outside groups bolstered Gillum, and the “party coalesced” around him.

While the group did give six figures during the general and texted every registered black voter, “resource allocation” among the 50 candidates the group supported led the PAC to “spread the love.”

With Republicans looking to have prevailed, albeit by narrow margins, we had to ask if the Democratic Party could have done more for the candidate.

“I don’t think Democrats are at fault,” James related. “Andrew Gillum got more votes than any other Democrat in statewide history … Presidential-level support. The Democrats did all we think they could’ve done.”

James noted the polls tightening, as Republican oppo began to hit with swing voters, and that Gillum’s lead generally was within the margin of error in those surveys.

“I don’t think [Gillum] ran a bad campaign,” James related.

The loss, should it hold, came down to “[Donald] Trump and the Republicans dialing into their number one topic: fear.”

In the primary, Gillum was aware of his effort being buoyed by outside groups.

“I try to be my own best messenger,” Gillum said this summer, “and hope that they can pick up from kind of where I leave off, and frankly create ads and advertisements that use my voice and get my voice out there.”

While it is uncertain whether the recount will work out for Gillum and Sen. Bill Nelson, what’s clear is that the Collective PAC got significant ROI, with the worst-case scenario being that an African-American candidate came very close winning the Governor’s race.

The best case scenario? That depends on tabulation in 67 counties.

Third-party gubernatorial candidate rejects ‘spoiler’ argument

First the vote. Then the “spoiler” charge.

After every close election, the inevitable post-game narrative involves some variation of “did the third-party candidate cause a major party candidate to lose?”

A couple of examples for those new to American politics: the Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan effects in 2000. The Jill Stein and Gary Johnson blame game after 2016.

In both cases, the third-party candidates were ignored through the campaign, regarded as spoilers, with any supporters decried for having “wasted their votes.”

In the wake of Florida’s statewide triple-recount, a similar narrative has emerged in Palm Beach County.

The Palm Beach Post reported Tuesday of potentially “confused” voters in the Democratic stronghold who may have mixed up the ballot lines of Republican Ron DeSantis and Reform Party candidate Darcy Richardson.

“There’s been a lot of over-votes and those have been in the Governor’s race,” said an attorney from the local Republican Party. “It certainly appears there was confusion and based on that confusion I believe the Reform Party candidate got an uncharacteristic amount of votes more than he should have. And if that did not occur there wouldn’t be a recount in the DeSantis race.”

Whether it is possible or not to determine an appropriately “characteristic amount” of votes for a candidate without tens of millions of dollars behind him is an open question. Likewise, the question of whether his voters simply didn’t know how to fill in a ballot. And the definition of a “lot” of overvotes is yet another subjective determination.

Regardless, Richardson’s 0.57 percent of the popular vote is more than the 0.41 percent difference between DeSantis and Gillum, neither of whom were able to top 50 percent. Other third-party candidates accounted for 0.66 percent of the vote.

There are a couple of ironies in Palm Beach being the epicenter of questioning a legitimate third-party challenge.

In 2000, voters mixed up Buchanan and Al Gore on the Presidential ballot.

Yet in 2018, Richardson actually underperformed compared to statewide in Palm Beach County, garnering 0.35 percent of the vote.

On Wednesday, Richardson was unapologetic about the drama in Palm Beach, noting that one issue was ballot design.

“To the degree there was any confusion among DeSantis voters — and I’m not sure there was — it could easily have been avoided if Florida fully listed the name of each party on the ballot rather than identifying them with a ridiculous three-letter abbreviation.  It’s obviously detrimental to the state’s minor parties and every other state in the country lists a party’s complete name on the ballot,” Richardson noted.

“I disagree with the assertion that there was any widespread confusion on the part of DeSantis voters,” continued Richardson. “I’m not sure how many Republican voters in Palm Beach County may have inadvertently voted for both of us — the article wasn’t clear about that — but that doesn’t appear to have happened anywhere else in the state based on the number of ‘overvotes’ reported by various counties in both the initial and machine recount totals.

“We’ve been looking at those numbers closely,” he added.

Ballot anomalies, including a design flaw in Broward that led to apparent undervotes in the U.S. Senate race, have been a recurrent story since Election Night.

Richardson has garnered his share of criticism from Gillum supporters; an irony, he said.

“The more than 47,000 Floridians who voted for us last Tuesday clearly weren’t happy with either major-party candidate and were looking for a pragmatic, centrist alternative,” Richardson said.

“We’ve taken a considerable amount of heat since last Tuesday, but the Gillum forces are wrong in blaming us for their candidate’s apparent loss. They just want somebody to blame,” Richardson added.

“Moreover, we personally campaigned heavily in traditional ‘red’ rural counties and spent most of our time and advertising dollars in those areas — and those efforts were reflected in the proportionately higher percentage of the vote that we received in those counties compared to our results in heavily Democratic urban areas, such as Broward and Palm Beach counties,” Richardson added.

“We know for a fact that quite a few ‘Never Trump’ Republicans sprinkled across the state supported us, including several former and current Republican officeholders — most of whom, understandably, offered their support ‘off the record.’ Unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing about any elected Democratic officials,” Richardson noted.

“If anything, my candidacy kept the Tallahassee Mayor within striking distance of his unimpressive Trump-backed Republican opponent. But like I said, they just want somebody to blame,” Richardson added.

Richardson’s 0.57 percent is in line with some of his previous statewide voting totals, including 0.58 percent in his 1988 run for Senate in Pennsylvania. In his 2012 Democratic primary challenge to President Barack Obama, he actually got over 6 percent in Oklahoma.

Richardson’s spent the bulk of his adult life challenging what some might call a duopoly.

“In all of these efforts, third parties have injected new ideas,” Richardson told WJCT in August. “And that’s something we’re not getting from the Democratic or Republican parties, and haven’t, really, for most of my lifetime.”

Richardson’s gubernatorial campaign went uncovered, for the most part. However, the aftermath clearly reveals that he had an impact on the race, and a seeming need to question the legitimacy of his vote total is nothing he hasn’t heard before.

As a third-party historian, he is uniquely equipped to address these questions.

“The ‘wasted vote’ syndrome really took hold following Ralph Nader’s candidacy in 2000 and, in no small measure, has arguably led directly to the hyper-partisan polarization of American politics that we’re experiencing today where voters perceive virtually everything in strictly red and blue terms,” Richardson said.

“It’s a recipe for disaster, forcing Democratic and Republican candidates alike to the extreme edges of their parties while stifling any possibility of compromise and rationality in dealing with the myriad issues facing the country,” Richardson added.

“It also stifles the possibility of new ideas being introduced into the body politic, an important role played by third parties from the antislavery movement to women’s suffrage and the progressive movement embodied by both Teddy Roosevelt and ‘Fighting BobLa Follette in the early twentieth century. Sadly, the duopoly shuts out similar voices today,” Richardson noted.

The end result? Per Richardson, “the middle — the vast majority in this country, including those who might be slightly left-of-center or center-right — no longer has a real voice in this increasingly wretched and dogmatic environment.”

Rick Scott files recount lawsuit against Hillsborough elections supervisor

Gov. Rick Scott’s senatorial campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are suing the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections office for not allowing a designated representative for each group into the room where ballots are being recounted.

The parties filed the suit Tuesday in the Circuit Court of the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County.

The lawsuit cites Florida law that “unambiguously entitles each candidate and each political party” one representative present in the room where the recount is happening.

The parties say their representatives have been forced to monitor the recount in a separate room behind glass “without the ability to hear what is transpiring in the recount room.”

The lawsuit requests an immediate injunction against Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer and his office forcing them to allow a representative for both Scott’s campaign and the Republican Party to be physically present in the same room where the recount is being conducted.

The lawsuit cites a Florida administrative code that defines entities allowed to have a representative present during a recount as “a candidate whose ultimate success or failure in the race could be adversely or favorably impacted by the recount.”

It adds that the political parties affiliated with candidates in partisan races are also entitled to a representative.

Another provision states: “Recounts shall be conducted in a room large enough to accommodate … the necessary number of counting teams, the canvassing board members and representatives of each candidate, political party or political committee entitled to have representation.”

The lawsuit was filed by an army of attorneys from GrayRobinson including Tim Cerio, Andre Bardos, Christopher Carmody Jr., George Levesque, Jason Zimmerman, Ashley Lukis, and Jeff Aaron.

Scott declared himself victorious in his U.S. Senate bid against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, but further counting of provisional and mail ballots put the two within a less than 0.25 percent vote margin, which triggers an automatic manual recount in all 67 Florida counties.

Both Scott and Nelson have filed a series of lawsuits including one by Scott attempting to allow the state to take control of voting machines when they are not in use. That suit was rejected. Nelson’s campaign filed lawsuits seeking to block canvassing boards from rejecting unconventionally marked ballots and another, which was denied, to extend the recount deadline. That deadline is Saturday.

Statewide, more than 8 million ballots were cast in the race.

The Florida Governor’s race between presumptive winner Ron DeSantis and his opponent, Andrew Gillum, is also being recounted. A manual recount is also underway in the Florida Agriculture Commissioner race. Locally, Senate District 18 ballots are also being recounted.

The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday evening.

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