Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham pledged Tuesday to do whatever is possible to expand Medicaid in Florida including getting behind a Constitutional amendment drive if she, as governor, cannot convince the Florida Legislature to accept the federal program.
Graham met Tuesday with a roundtable of health care leaders at the Florida Hospital Association offices in Florida, hearing tales of woe and frustration about the lack of coverage available to too many Floridians and how stretched services are to serve uninsured patients.
Most in the room appeared to support the Democrats’ desire to accept the Medicaid expansion program offered by the federal government under the Affordable Care Act, and Graham laid out several strategies she said she would pursue as governor, including, as a last resort, putting it on the statewide ballot.
“My commitment is to take Medicaid expansion. We’re going to get it done, even if we have to have a Constitutional amendment, I will spearhead a Constitutional amendment,” Graham told the gathering, which included former House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford and state Rep. Amy Mercado of Orlando.
Graham spoke of seeing first-hand, when she volunteered as a worker at a Shepherd’s Hope clinic in Longwood last year as part of her WorkDays program, how difficult it is for many Floridians to obtain health care. Shepherd’s Hope was represented at the table, along with representatives of Orlando’s major hospital systems, leaders of other clinics, and representatives of various health care and mental health associations.
They spoke to Graham of a situation that not only is difficult for the 800,000 uninsured Floridians and many others with too-limited coverage, but also difficult for the hospitals. On top of that is the new population of Puerto Ricans who came to Florida after Hurricane Maria destroyed their homes and livelihoods. Many are having to go back to the island for health care, because they can afford it in Puerto Rico, but not in Florida, said Milton Vazquez civic engagement program director for the Hispanic Federation of Orlando.
“It’s not letting up,” Jean Zambrano, vice president of clinical operations at Shepherd’s Hope, said of the needs.
Candice Crawford, president of the Mental Health Alliance of Central Florida, spoke of a “man-made disaster that we are not prepared for,” while talking about the mental health and addiction treatment services that have been cut this year in the Florida Department of Corrections budget. “They’re going to be sending people back out in the community that have had no treatment. They are sick, and they need help.
“We’ve got a problem. We have over 66,000 people in this state that have serious mental illness, and have zero mental health services,” Crawford added.
Others spoke of struggles with Florida’s opioid crisis; hospitals’ emergency rooms dealing with patients seeking primary care; under-reimbursements to hospitals; frustrations with getting coverage for telemedicine programs; the lack of available medical specialists, particularly psychiatrists; and expanding the scopes of practice for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, for which Martha DeCastro, the Florida Hospital Association‘s vice president for nursing and clinical care policy, declared, “Florida really is at the bottom of the heap.”
“This is just the beginning of this conversation. I look around this table and I know we’re going to have a lot of time together, because we have a lot of serious issues on how we get Florida to where the state needs to be,” Graham said.
Last month brought U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis his best fundraising haul since first announcing his campaign for Governor at the beginning of the year.
The Northeast Florida Republican’s campaign announced Monday that DeSantis brought in more than $3 million between his campaign account and his affiliated political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis. That makes May his second most lucrative month behind January when he showed more than $3.3 million raised between the two accounts.
Neither report was viewable via the Florida Division of Elections as of Monday afternoon, and the campaign didn’t include DeSantis’ new on-hand total in the news release. The Donald Trump-backed candidate had about $7 million banked as of April 30, and the May effort puts his overall fundraising total at around $10.8 million.
Records available on the Friends of Ron DeSantis website show the committee brought in about $1.27 million last month, including a $500,000 check from Chicago-based hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin, and $100,000 apiece from Jupiter businessman Lawrence F. DeGeorge, J.W. Childs Associates CEO John W. Childs and United Automobile Insurance Co.
Expenditures topped $117,000, including $32,736 to Seaborn Strategic for direct mail services, $28,250 to Ello Creative for media consulting and $23,411 to Ross Consulting for political consulting work.
Based on those figures, the committee had more than $7.26 million on hand heading into June.
While DeSantis has posted some impressive fundraising during his short time in the gubernatorial contest, Republican Primary opponent Adam Putnamheld a fourfold lead in total fundraising at the end of last month. His cash on hand advantage may take a hit, however, as mid-month figures from his committee showed $226,000 in fundraising and nearly $3.25 million in spending through the first three weeks of May.
Most of that spending went toward media buys, an expense DeSantis has yet to incur in any substantive way due to his frequent appearances on Fox News.
Putnam had about $19 million on hand at the end of April. He has not yet announced his May fundraising numbers.
The winner of the DeSantis versus Putnam contest will the winner what recently became a five-way primary on the Democratic side. South Florida billionaire Jeff Greene announced Monday he would run for Governor as a Democrat, joining Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, Orlando-area businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.
On the Republican side, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also has had commercials out for a couple of months, while U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has had almost daily appearances on FOX News.
The Graham campaign did not give explicit details about the first ad, saying it would be revealed later this week.
“After 20 years of one-party Republican rule, Floridians are ready for new leadership,” Graham Campaign Manager Julia Woodward stated in a news release. “We’re excited to share our positive message with even more Democrats across the I-4 corridor.”
Graham raised more than any of her primary opponents in April and is beginning her paid communications strategy with more cash on hand than any other Democrat in the race, the campaign noted in the news release.
A political committee linked to the Florida Chamber of Commerce is putting seven figures behind a new ad in support of Adam Putnam’s campaign for Governor.
“This is Florida. Good paying jobs, balanced budgets, and a future as bright as the sunshine we’re so famous for. Adam Putnam will keep it going,” the ad narrator states. “Adam Putnam will keep taxes low, tackle traffic congestion, and Adam Putnam will ensure our kids have the skills they need for the jobs they want. Florida first, Florida’s best.”
The 30-second ad closes with Putnam standing alongside his family and includes clips of him working in a kitchen and speaking with factory workers. The factory clips appear to be cut from Putnam’s recent campaign ad touting his plan to strengthen vocational education opportunities for Florida students.
The Florida Chamber, via Securing Florida’s Future, Inc., is spending at least $1 million running the ad on Fox News. That major media buy is in addition to the more than $1.9 million the Florida Chamber has pumped into Putnam’s political committee — $1.32 million via Florida Jobs PAC and $575,000 via Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC.
In early May, the Florida Chamber endorsed Putnam in his Republican Primary battle against Northeast Florida U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, who entered the at the beginning of the year.
Putnam and DeSantis are the only major Republicans vying to replace Gov. Rick Scott, who is term-limited and running for Senate in the fall.
As of April 30, Putnam’s Florida Grown committee had raised $23.43 million and had about $15.3 million banked. The 43-year-old Republican has also amassed nearly $5.5 million for his campaign account, with $3.6 million on hand. DeSantis’ April finance reports showed total fundraising of $7.8 million and a little over $7 million banked.
Finance reports covering all of May are due to the state on June 11, however records on Florida Grown’s website show the committee had spent $3.25 millionas of May 21, much of it on media buys.
Philip Levine continues to set the fundraising pace for Democrats running for governor, raising $1.3 million in May and matching that with another $1.3 million of his own money, his campaign announced Monday.
With that $2.6 million haul, Levine’s official campaign and his independent political committee All About Florida combined now have brought in more than $15 million so far, far ahead of his rivals for the August 28 Democratic primary, his campaign stated.
The others, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King have not yet announced any May fundraising numbers, and their reports will not post until next week. And word early Monday indicated Palm Beach businessman Jeff Greene, perhaps the only prospective candidate who can spend more of his own money than Levine, is entering the field.
Levine, the former Miami Beach mayor, also has been burning through money far faster than any of his rivals, having spent more than $10 million through the end of April, mostly on television commercials. The spending has boosted Levine to the top of the polls, and the campaign still is expressing excitement about a survey last week that showed him with a 10-point lead over Graham, who has not yet begun any television advertising.
On the Republican side, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has raised far more money to date. He too has been spending heavily on television in the past two months, while U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has been relying on almost daily appearances on FOX News.
“With primary ballots being mailed in 50 days, Philip Levine is bringing together supporters and donors from all parts of Florida who are ready to break the cycle of Republican control in Tallahassee. Our campaign is building a formidable lead in support, fundraising, and grassroots energy, ” Levine senior adviser Christian Ulvert stated in a news release. “This strong showing of support confirms yet again that our campaign has the backing, momentum, and message to win in August and November, and elect a Democratic candidate to the Governor’s Office for the first time in twenty years.”
The Florida Democratic Party bashed Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in a Friday email for running what it calls a “slash-and-burn, Trumpian campaign for governor.”
The party pointed a news coverage of a recent campaign rally in Citrus County where the Donald Trump-backed gubernatorial hopeful railed against the “four liberals” on the state Supreme Court and refused to condemn calls from the crowd suggesting they be lynched.
“Sound more like Breitbart than a future governor of Florida? Breitbart likes that,” FDP said in the email. “Rebekah Mercer — one of the site’s owners — cut a $25,000 check for DeSantis a few days ago. The site has also emerged as one of DeSantis’ nastiest attack dogs, publishing multiple articles attacking Adam Putnam and defending DeSantis’ conservative credentials.”
FDP included links to articles on Breitbart, suggesting the right-wing news platform is serving as a sunshine pumper for his campaign, and tossed in a link to a Steve Hantler-penned op-ed on RealClearPolitics that paints Putnam as a Trump basher.
“It’s now clear that DeSantis intends to run a campaign where he defends the President on cable television — and courts the most fringe voters back home in Florida,” the email said.
DeSantis and Putnam are the only two major Republicans seeking the party’s nomination to succeed term-limited Gov. Rick Scott. Running on the Democratic side are former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Orlando-area businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King is proposing a tax on bullets to help fund new anti-gun violence and safety programs in Florida schools.
The plan, rolled out Friday at a town hall meeting in St. Petersburg, calls for dedicating existing sales tax revenue on firearms and ammunition sales to a special fund, and then adding an additional tax of 6 percent on the sale of ammunition, which he calls a “safety fee.”
The revenue from those plus some of the money he expects to free up or generate through some other parts of the criminal justice reform plan he unveiled in May would fund gun violence prevention and intervention programs, school safety measures, and other related measures.
King’s calling the plan his “Every Kid Fund” for gun violence prevention.
Some of the money also would be reserved for gun violence safety studies and to reimburse trauma centers for medical costs of treating victims of mass shootings.
Law enforcement and other key groups would be exempted from the bullets tax.
“I’m proposing the ‘Every Kid Fund’ for Gun Violence Prevention because every child deserves to grow up in a state free from the scourge of gun violence, whether it’s everyday gun violence or mass shootings,” King stated in a news release issued by his campaign. “We should be investing in new and innovative ways to keep Floridians safe and that’s why I’ll bring my bold, progressive policy to Tallahassee and send ‘proud NRA sellouts’ like Adam Putnam packing.”
King hopes to face Putnam, or U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the two leading Republican gubernatorial candidates, in November. First he must win the August 28 Democratic primary against former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. He trails them all in most polls.
He’s counting on this and other his proposals, such as his criminal justice reform package, which included legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana, and ending the death penalty, to begin to set him apart, and on his newly-begun TV commercials, to raise his name recognition from single-digits in polls.
Earlier this week he rolled out his second TV commercial, focusing on the mass shootings at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, attacking Republican Gov. Rick Scott, and stating his case to ban assault weapons
The literary field of semiotics, as articulated by French theorist Ferdinand de Saussure, boils down to a relationship between signs and their intended meaning.
The ultimate meaning of those signs is not fixed; rather, it moves with cultural interpretation.
As we find ourselves now less than three months before primary elections for the 2018 ballot, we will be inundated with signs — the symbolism of politicians either as square-jawed unstinting incumbents fighting the people’s battles, or hard-charging challengers devoted to storming the palace gates, animated by some quasi-populist crusade.
The local landscape in 2018 has its own wrinkles. A former Jacksonville mayor running to take Corrine Brown’s seat back in Congress, part of a group of Democratic primaries on the August ballot. A compelling GOP primary race to succeed Jay Fant in the State House (even as Democrat Tracye Polson presents a challenge in the general).
And so on.
What ultimately engages the mainstream media? Hard to say. The mechanics of politics doesn’t lead local TV, and the Times-Union is moving increasingly toward long-form investigations, as opposed to quick-hit coverage.
An ever-changing media landscape — and what it may (or may not) prioritize — dictates a certain randomness to which narratives will or won’t prevail.
In that context, an old lesson applies: Win every news cycle. Define the contest before it defines you.
Nelson spotlights Vilano renourishment
Sen. Bill Nelson visited Vilano Beach this week, spotlighting coastline restoration efforts as storm season begins.
Per WJXT: “With the St. Johns County Coastal Storm Risk Management Project finally on the path to being approved, Nelson met Tuesday with Col. Jason Kirk, with Corps, and county leaders to talk about the project, and what’s being done to restore the county’s beaches.”
“The entire east coast of Florida, after we had Hurricane Matthew two years ago, it chewed up the beach like you can’t believe,” Nelson said.
“The property values are going to come back,” Nelson said. “You ask the question, ‘What you can do if you’re a homeowner?’ If you’ve got a dune, keep vegetation on that dune because the sand dunes are Mother Nature’s way of protecting the upland land.”
“The goal is to finish all this out about another mile south and then north of the St. Augustine Inlet,” Nelson said. “Vilano Beach, get that 3½ miles complete, and then they will be in pretty good shape here in St. Johns County.”
Jax Councilmembers hit with federal fraud indictment
Jacksonville hasn’t dealt with a politician’s fraud trial in roughly a year. Perhaps the city was overdue.
A 61-page indictment dropped in federal court Thursday for Jacksonville City Council members, Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown.
Their first appearance was Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Alleged: a conspiracy to defraud, spread out over 38 counts.
In 2013 and 2014, Katrina Brown opened two companies — A-Plus Training and Consultants and RB Packaging — listing Reggie Brown as the principal.
According to the indictment, the companies were used solely as instruments of fraud, as attempts to siphon government money intended for economic development plans regarding a BBQ Sauce Plant that never appeared seriously meant to come to fruition.
Reggie Brown opened up bank accounts for the companies at a BBVA Compass location soon after forming the entities.
Before this, Reggie Brown — who was serving on the Council at that point — voted yes for what would be a fateful decision in 2011: to appropriate $640,000 for KJB Specialties, a Katrina Brown company, to create 56 jobs at a BBQ sauce plant in Northwest Jacksonville.
Those jobs, as reported previously, were never created — and both the federal government (on the hook for a $2.6 million SBA loan) and locals are still searching for their money back.
By the time Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown went into business together, the barbecue sauce plan was failing. And soon enough, per the indictment, malfeasance began.
Around the end of 2013, A-Plus Training was, the indictment says, used to funnel $12,500 in SBA loan funds, setting up a pattern. In 2014, $251,919 of those funds processed, with Basic Products and Katrina Brown getting over $166,000 of them, and Reggie Brown getting the remainder, prosecutors allege.
[Katrina Brown was elected to Council in 2015; Reggie Brown elected in 2010. However, some of this money went to Katrina Brown’s political activities, including a $3,500 loan from her campaign, and donations for former Mayor Alvin Brown and the Duval Democratic Party.]
The conspiracy boils down to Katrina and Reggie Brown secreting SBA money, with both Councilors engaging in fraud.
Cops snub Brown, back Lawson
U.S. Rep. Al Lawson’s re-election campaign rolled out local police union support in his primary challenge from Brown, a former Jacksonville mayor.
For Brown, this must feel like déjà vu.
Brown didn’t secure the FOP endorsement in 2011; that went to Mike Hogan.
In 2015, the FOP backed Lenny Curry over Brown: “In addition to demonstrating leadership and vision for restoring Jacksonville’s greatness, he has committed to fully support law enforcement and community leaders in their effort to eliminate crime by ensuring they have access to every resource necessary to fight crime … We are confident that the election of Mr. Curry will be Jacksonville’s best chance to help our members keep our citizens safe and move our city in a positive direction.”
While it came out sometime later that Curry had given the union assurances that he would protectdefined benefit pensions, a factor not mentioned in the endorsement, the FOP nod conferred momentum upon the Republican’s challenge of the incumbent mayor.
Meanwhile, the state FOP endorsed Lawson in his race against former Rep. Corrine Brown in 2016, and there clearly was no reason for the union to deviate from established protocol this time.
Brown to get raise if elected to Congress
At last count, a member of Congress makes $174,000 per annum.
Former Mayor Brown, a current candidate for the primary nomination in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, would stand to receive a serious pay raise in 2019 if he wins the nomination and is elected, per his financial disclosure form.
Brown has made minimal income in 2018, and 2017 also was a lean year.
In 2018, Brown brought in less than $400 in interest income, and $8,250 in consulting fees ($750 from the Westside Church of God in Christ, $7,500 fromGray Global Advisors).
2017, a pre-candidacy year for Brown, was financially healthier, with more honorarium and consulting cash.
Incumbent Lawson has not filed a 2018 disclosure; however, 2016 paperwork showed Lawson, a busy lobbyist, raked in over $200,000 in 2015 and roughly $75,000 through the first part of 2016. He also had rental properties and a mortgage that was near being paid off at the filing of his previous disclosure.
A recurrent Lawson talking point has been that Brown “failed as mayor and a lot of people in Duval are saying he’s just looking for a job” by running for Congress.
Brown’s financial disclosure does not show truly steady work since he left office nearly three years ago, suggesting that Lawson’s verbal jab may have some truth to it.
Lawson works Jax Dems at town hall
U.S. Rep. Lawson was in Jacksonville Tuesday for a town hall, as he looks to repel a challenge in the Democratic primary from another moderate who hasn’t been afraid to blur party lines in former Mayor Brown.
The question for Lawson this campaign: Can he parlay incumbency and a primary opponent who has myriad flaws into consolidating support on the eastern side of the district?
The answer is, as yet, unanswered.
Lawson spoke a lot about bipartisanship, noting that after Hurricane Irma, he worked to “convince” House Speaker Paul Ryan of the need for FEMA reimbursements, while working well with Rep. John Rutherford and Mayor Curry.
Lawson noted that on hurricane relief and efforts to fix problematic Eureka Gardens, working across the aisle is key.
Unlike any other politician in this market today, Lawson expressed interest in crossing party lines repeatedly during the event.
Lawson was asked about a claim from 538.com regarding his voting with President Donald Trump more often than some might like: “If it’s good legislation, doesn’t make a difference if it comes from Trump or anybody. If it benefits this area, I support it.”
“The man is the president of the United States,” Lawson added, noting that he finds it perplexing when people castigate him for not voting with the Congressional Black Caucus on every roll call vote.
“Nobody in the Black Caucus voted for me. That’s why I don’t understand when people say [I] don’t vote with the Black Caucus,” Lawson said, noting that he votes for what his district wants.
In an activist year, as a candidate from the other side of the district, it’s interesting to hear Lawson pitching collaboration and cooperation.
Jax elite fall in behind Waltz for Congress
Rutherford and Curry were “honorary hosts” for a fundraiser for Florida’s 6th Congressional District Republican Mike Waltz Wednesday.
The fundraiser, held at the home of JEA Board member Husein Cumber and City Council hopeful LeAnna Cumber, featured a number of interesting names on the host committee.
Among the luminaries: Jeb Bush, Jr; former Duval GOP Chair John Falconetti; power broker Michael Munz; and Total Military Management’s Kent Stermon.
Waltz is one of three Republicans vying to replace DeSantis in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, a south-of-Jacksonville sinecure hugging the Atlantic coast in St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia counties.
The GOP race in CD-6, where candidates vie to replace outgoing Rep. DeSantis, has been an interesting one, with Waltz and John Ward both raising serious money for what will be an expensive primary straddling three media markets (Jacksonville, Daytona and Orlando).
Despite his ability to bring in money, Ward had a catastrophic news cycle last week, with comments he made at an April forum saying that Puerto Ricans shouldn’t vote in Florida drawing scrutiny and condemnation from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Gibson pushes back against rumors of divided Dem caucus
Florida Politics caught up with Jacksonville’s Audrey Gibson, as the incoming Senate Democratic Leader negotiates a restive caucus and a primary challenge from City Councilman Reggie Brown.
Thus far, 2018 has been interesting in ways that could not have been forecast less than a year ago, before Gibson replaced scandal-plagued Jeff Clemens.
As we reported last week, Democratic campaign consultants and other insiders see the creation of two recently formed political committees and associated fundraising as an indirect challenge to the Gibson’s leadership.
But she was quick to tamp down any rumors of discord that could challenge her leadership.
“I’ve called every single member of the caucus,” Gibson said. “Before the article came out, I had a couple of calls from some lobbyists who said ‘Hey, what’s going on?’”
hat was the first she had heard of it. Soon after, she made calls to her Democratic colleagues.
“After the article came out, just to, first of all, say ‘remember, our goal is to win in November.’ Because my understanding was some of it was about who the next leader would be.”
Gibson has a message to colleagues: “Let’s get the job done in November. And, everyone get to know each other.”
“The response I got, was ‘we’re all heading in the same direction. We just thought we’d form these entities to try to bring in more money.’”
Gibson told them it would be “good if we could do that in a coordinated way.”
“I hear what you all are saying,” she recounted, “but in public, it looks divisive. Make sure we rein in that because we’re all heading in the same direction.”
She continues to work on behalf of the caucus.
“It’s not a reflection of me not working, me not bringing the caucus together,” she said. “Ever since I was elected, I’ve done meetings and get acquainted stuff and balloons and all those types of things to bring people together.”
Gibson wants security at HUD complexes
Per WJCT, Sen. Gibson sent a letter to Congressman Lawson and Sen. Nelson asking the two to “sponsor legislation mandating HUD negotiate in housing contracts that affordable housing complexes located in high-crime areas provide security or that the policy be created as a rule within the agency.”
Gibson, speaking at Eureka Gardens apartment complex, had some criticism for the new ownership making promises it couldn’t deliver on the facility rehab.
“I understand there’s anxiousness to do it all at one time and they should never have promised the residents that it would happen that way, but I think there should be some system of determining which apartments are in, if you will, priority disrepair and then make sure they’re communicating with all the other residents in the community,” she said.
Curry critics critique courthouse jazz fest stage
Jacksonville held another well-attended iteration of its yearly jazz festival over Memorial Day weekend, but critiques of a scheduling decision came from several local politicians.
City decision makers did not use the Jacksonville Landing as a location for a festival stage, in a move not altogether surprising given the continued legal back and forth between the city and Landing tenant Toney Sleiman.
Sleiman, a prominent political donor, set up an oppositional relationship with theCurry administration even before Curry was elected (by appearing in an ad for Curry’s 2015 opponent, then-incumbent Brown, concomitant with a Brown/Sleiman proposal to spend nearly $12 million on a teardown and rebuild plan for the declining Landing).
Since Curry’s election, the administration and Sleiman have not been able to agree on terms, and the city currently is moving to take possession of the waterfront mall from Sleiman, with each side claiming breach of contractual obligations.
While the back and forth continues in legal channels, politicians opposed to Lenny Curry used the move of a performance stage from the Landing to the “iconic” backdrop of the Duval County Courthouse as a launchpad pad for more holistic critiques.
Per WJXT: Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney seeks to broker a peace between Curry and Jacksonville Landing tenant Sleiman.
“I am going to make one last attempt to try to bring them both together, see if I (can) get both of them in the same room,” Gaffney told News4Jax. “We can iron out whatever problems they may be having so we can move the Landing forward because nobody wins right now.”
The Curry administration and Gaffney have a solid relationship. But is Gaffney really the person to broker a peace here?
KEYS 2 Drive rolled out
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams and State Attorney Melissa Nelson Wednesday rolled out the ‘KEYS 2 Drive’ (Knowledge Empowers Your Success) diversion program.
The program will help those facing primary charges of driving without valid driver’s licenses, or suspended or revoked licenses, to get them reinstated.
Of the 12,000 people faced with that fate last year, estimates are that half of that number — at least — could have been helped by this program.
For Nelson, a proponent of “smart justice,” this program is a potential reprieve for many from “the cycle of license suspension … ballooning of fines and fees” and a “costly and complicated” process of license restoration.
Eligible offenses include misdemeanor driving while license is suspended or revoked, expired or otherwise invalid, or driving outside of classification.
Sex offenders are ineligible for the program, as are non-Florida residents and those with licenses suspended in major criminal traffic offenses.
JEA privatization bills pulled
Jacksonville City Councilmen Jim Love and Matt Schellenberg, both second-term Republicans, had expressed different visions for the future of Jacksonville’s public utility.
Schellenberg’s 2018-242 would encourage the Mayor and the JEA Board to explore a review of a potential sale; Love’s 2018-248 would represent Council opposition to a sale.
Though Curry has clarified some confusion in his position, saying that he wouldn’t push legislation at this point in favor of a sale, the question is not considered closed by close observers of and participants in the City Hall scrum, despite a recent Moody’s FAQ on the under-construction Plant Vogtle asserting that “the potential to privatize was recently studied by the Mayor and City Council and rejected.”
Love and Schellenberg congregated Wednesday with a group of Councilors, including President Anna Brosche, former President Greg Anderson, Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, and Councilman Gaffney to solve the problem of legislation currently without a purpose.
Love noted the landscape has changed “radically” in relation to JEA, given a special committee and the lack of mayoral initiative on a privatization plan, as well as no board decision in favor of reviewing the option further.
Mind games continue between Curry, Dennis
Though the Jacksonville City Council is on its “fifth week,” a sanctioned break from committee meetings, the intrigue continues in the St. James Building.
On Tuesday, Curry met with a candidate for the legislative body: Marcellus Holmes.
Holmes, a former professional football player, didn’t hone into specific policy proposals when we interviewed him in April.
If elected, he will be “bringing the community together” to “meet the needs of every community” and “get every issue solved.”
Lack of specifics notwithstanding, Holmes scored a Tuesday meeting with Curry.
On Wednesday, Florida Politics caught up with Dennis, who was amused by the meeting.
Dennis has been meeting with potential 2019 candidates for Mayor; he would not specify whether those candidates were in the current field, which includes Republican Jimmy Hill, Democrat Doreszell Cohen and NPA hopeful Connell Crooms.
Dennis, as of this writing, has not filed for re-election.
Discussion has lingered for months about the vehicle Curry’s political machine could use to exact revenge on Dennis, who has stood athwart many of the administration’s initiatives.
Perhaps the meeting is an augury of meaningful support to come.
Clay opioid raid yields no opioids
Per The Appeal: “Sheriff Darryl Daniels of Clay County … is positioning himself as a social media celebrity in the ongoing war on opioids. In January, Daniels’s office filmed the aftermath of a SWAT raid that he and masked officers carried out on a so-called narcotics house on a tree-lined suburban street in Orange Park … The video documenting the raid — in what the sheriff dubbed ‘Operation: You Were Warned’ — went viral, garnering 30,000 shares and 3.4 million views on Facebook.”
Sounds good! But …
“Despite the sheriff’s announcement, the ‘raid’ resulted in only five adult arrests and one juvenile arrest, according to Elaine Brown, a lead records specialist at the sheriff’s office. According to police records reviewed by The Appeal, the drug seizures from this ‘narcotics house’ were fairly small scale and did not include opioids. In an email to The Appeal, Sgt. Keith Smith, an office spokesman, clarified that during the raid, narcotics deputies found what they believed to be 1.2 grams of heroin and fentanyl after an initial field test, but subsequent tests revealed the seizure was not a controlled substance.”
Finally, some utility news that doesn’t read like a rejected plot of “House of Cards.”
The Florida Times-Union reports that JEA “plans to team up with a private company for construction of five solar farms through 2020 that will collectively produce as much electricity as a small natural gas plant, turning JEA from a below-average utility in terms of solar power to a utility that is well above average for Florida, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.”
“Smaller utilities like Beaches Energy, which is owned by Jacksonville Beach and also serves Neptune Beach and Ponte Vedra, likewise are getting into the game. This month, Beaches Energy joined forces with 11 other municipal utilities to announce plans for 900,000 solar panels at three solar farms in Orange and Osceola counties. They would produce 223 megawatts by 2020,” adds the T-U report.
YMCA breaks ground on Jacksonville expansion
Northwest Jacksonville’s James Weldon Johnson YMCA has broken ground on a new expansion, reports WJCT. Among the renovations include an updated wellness facility, a new swimming pool, and doubling the teen program capacity with a new teen center.
Now serving around 30 to 40 teens daily, the completed center will increase that number to 100.
First Coast YMCA Social Responsibility VP and Johnson YMCA Executive Director Irvin Cohen tells WJCT: “We really, in this community, didn’t have a place where young people who were not athletically inclined could go. You either went to after-school programs after the school — which were primarily sports-related — [or] until nothing.”
Nearly all the $3.5 million for the project’s construction costs were through private donations. About 10 percent came from state funding; Cohen said it will cover programming costs.
“We all know in communities like this the consequences of idle hands can be deadly to say the very least,” Cohen added.
Local tie to NHL title hunt
Jacksonville is not known as Hockey Town, but the chair of a local company is just a few wins away from an NHL title via his ownership of a franchise.
Bill Foley, chairman of Fidelity National Financial, owns the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Foley expected a playoff team in three years, a title team in six — not a title run in the first season, he said.
Foley, 73 now, is dialing back his Duval business ties.
“He remains chairman of Fidelity’s board and is executive chairman of Black Knight Inc., the Jacksonville-based mortgage technology company spun off from Fidelity. But he said he will likely give up the executive chairman role at Black Knight, which carries more responsibility than chairman of the board of directors,” the Record reports.
Jacksonville Zoo extends popular dinosaur exhibit
“Dinosauria,” the popular dinosaur exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, will extend through Sept. 22. Beginning March 2, the program was originally slated to end July 2.
According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, Imagine Exhibitions provided the dinosaurs, the first time that the company created a zoo installation. Previously, they were supplied by Billings Productions.
“The dinosaurs were just going into storage until their next exhibit,” zoo director Tony Vecchio told the Journal. “So, I asked if they could stay here. We’ve never had dinosaurs in the summer, and if we paid full price for them it wouldn’t be viable, but the fact they were just going into storage, the company was happy to do it at a discount.”
Initially, the exhibit was expected to help boost attendance during the zoo’s slow months – July and August – as a relatively inexpensive program. The 21 life-size animatronic dinosaurs in “Dinosauria,” Vecchio said, are larger and electrically powered, with smoother hydraulic motions than previous versions.
After its success, zoo officials decided to extend the project. The exhibit will now run through September and costs an additional $4 for the public and $3 for Zoo members.
Also returning is another popular program, called “92 at the Zoo,” offering half-price admission on select days when weather forecast but the temperature above 92 degrees.
Critics aside, coach likes where Bortles is headed
Despite a huge season that had the Jaguars only 5 minutes away from the Super Bowl, there are still those that want to complain. The biggest target of those complaints usually shows up on the back of quarterback Blake Bortles.
He certainly had his difficulties but improved overall from last season. During the playoff games against Pittsburgh and New England, he bordered on spectacular.
That only quieted some of the critics, but the fifth-year veteran from Central Florida is earning the praise of someone important. His offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, believes “the sky’s the limit” when describing the offensive production capabilities of his signal caller.
“The one thing that was consistent throughout the whole [2017 season] was Blake, and Blake getting better and better,” Hackett said Tuesday after offseason OTA (Organized Team Activities) Practice No. 4. “If he keeps progressing on that upward hill, good things are going to happen.”
Jacksonville is favored to win their second straight AFC South title for good reason. No one in the AFC gave up fewer points than the Jaguars and this year’s draft only made the defensive unit even stronger.
If Bortles and his supporting cast on offense can produce points like they did at the end of last season, there is every reason to believe they can take the next step. Hackett is seeing a quarterback that is beginning to understand how to be successful.
“I want Blake to play football,” Hackett said. “There have been so many times he’s gone out there and he hasn’t been able to just go out there and play, and really think about beating a defense. As the  season went on, I think that’s where he went.”
Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis is siding firmly with President Donald Trump in the so-called “Spygate” controversy, calling the FBI’s actions to uncover Russian interference in the 2016 campaign “not normal.”
Instead, it appears the FBI used an informant to contact Trump staffers who the FBI suspected may have information about Russia’s efforts to interfere with the election. That informant was not “implanted” into the campaign but instead met with members of Trump’s team to ferret out any ties to Russia.
“If you had a problem with somebody on the periphery of the campaign, the obvious thing to do is to go brief the campaign and brief Donald Trump,” said DeSantis.
DeSantis seems to be echoing concerns by some that the FBI appeared to be targeting Trump himself rather than the Russians.
“When you are deploying surveillance powers, counterintelligence powers, against an opposition party’s campaign, that is not normal, and I think that is not what Americans want the FBI to be doing.”
That’s a break from statements from fellow Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio.
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” Rubio defended the FBI’s actions: “As far as what I have seen to date, it appears that there was an investigation not of the campaign, but of certain individuals who have a history that we should be suspicious of, that predate the presidential campaign of 2015, 2016.”
“And when individuals like that are in the orbit of a major political campaign in America, the FBI, who is in charge of counterintelligence investigations, should look at people like that.”
South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also said the FBI’s actions during the 2016 campaign were appropriate.
“I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do,” said Gowdy, a Republican.
That DeSantis is splitting with other high-profile Republicans is nothing new for him or supporters of the president more broadly. Trump has routinely attacked Republicans such as Robert Mueller, Rod Rosenstein, John McCain and others who have occasionally acted against the president’s interests.
DeSantis has clearly thrown himself behind Trump in his bid for the governorship, now supporting attacks on the FBI that even his fellow Republicans say are unsubstantiated.
How that will play out in the Republican primary remains to be seen.
Republican voters will choose their nominee for Governor August 28.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate ChrisKing is promoting Stephanie McClung to deputy campaign manager and adding two new staff members, the campaign announced Tuesday.
McClung had been serving as finance director. She was a deputy finance direct for former Gov. CharlieCrist‘s 2014 gubernatorial campaign, and for Crist’s successful 2016 congressional campaign. She also had served as finance director at Ruth’s List Florida.
Jada H. Smith of Clermont joins as the campaign’s outreach coordinator. Smith served as chief operating officer of the Experience Christian Center in Orlando and has served as chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Florida and chief operating officer of the American Red Cross Mid-Florida Region.
Caitlin Lang of Winter Park will serve as Central Florida regional coordinator. Lang organized for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 2017 gubernatorial campaign and was an organizer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign in Orlando.
“After launching our first TV spot and rolling out a bold and progressive criminal justice plan earning statewide praise, we’re continuing to expand our campaign’s presence across the state,” Campaign Manager Zach Learner stated in a news release. “In this wide-open race for governor, Stephanie, Jada and Caitlin will help us share Chris’s message of fresh ideas and new leadership and we’re excited to have them on Team King.”
King is battling with former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for the August 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary nomination. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.
Earlier this month, the King campaign announced the hiring of regional directors along the crucial I-4 corridor to lead the campaign’s organizing and outreach efforts in Central Florida and the Tampa Bay area.