Ron DeSantis – Page 7 – Florida Politics
Gwen Graham

Gwen Graham touts endorsements from mayor, two former mayors

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has received endorsements from Hawthorne Mayor Matt Surrency and two former mayors, Cindy Lerner of  Pinecrest and Shirley Freeman of Monroe County, her campaign announced Monday morning.

In a news release Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, heralded the endorsements as relevant in an era when the Florida Legislature is pursuing numerous proposals to roll back home rule protections for cities and counties.

“The current legislative assault on home rule is simply outrageous,” she stated in the news release. “As governor, I will not tolerate this Tallahassee-knows-best attitude. The state of Florida should partner with towns, cities, counties, and other local governments — not penalize them.

“Local leaders understand their communities best. I am proud to have the support of Mayor Surrency, Mayor Lerner, and Mayor Freeman, and, as governor, I will always listen to and work closely with our cities and counties when making decisions in Tallahassee,” Graham added.

Surrency also is a past president of the Florida League of Cities. Hawthorne is in Alachua County.

“As governor, Gwen Graham will respect cities and counties and work with them to do what is best for their local communities,” he stated in the news release. “She has fought alongside local governments to protect our clean water from fracking, supports returning management of our classrooms and schools to teachers and parents, and will defend home rule. As governor, Gwen will end the attacks on local government from the Legislature and listen to the people.”

Graham faces former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and current Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, along with Winter Park businessman Chris King, in seeking the Democratic primary nomination to run for governor in November. The leading Republicans are Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

“Gwen Graham believes in the science and common sense evidence that shows climate change is already impacting Florida. As governor, she will assure planning and investments that will demonstrate her commitment to supporting clean energy and stand up to Donald Trump’s dangerous policies that threaten our coastal communities and the entire state’s economy,” stated Lerner, whose town of Pinecrest is in Miami-Dade County. “Gwen is committed to sustainability and will usher in a green economy that works for every Floridian.”

Freeman’s former position, Monroe County mayor, is one of the few county-wide mayoral jobs in Florida.

“In the Florida Keys, we know how vitally important it is to stop climate change and the threat of oil drilling off our beaches,” Freeman stated. “Gwen has a proven record of always fighting offshore drilling and an unwavering dedication to protecting Florida’s environment. I’m supporting Gwen Graham for governor because I know she will always put our clean air, land, and water first.”

Gubernatorial candidates suffer from low name recognition, new survey says

Whether Republican or Democrat, Florida’s gubernatorial candidates have an existential problem

Florida voters really don’t know who they are.

A new survey released by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab lays out the name identification problem for the field in sharp relief.

“It’s a little surprising that so few people have heard of the candidates, particularly Adam Putnam who has won two statewide races, and Gwen Graham, who is a former member of Congress and the daughter of former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham,” said Dr. Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF. “These results highlight both the opportunities for the candidates to shape the voters’ perception of them and the challenges they face in getting out their message.”

The poll of 619 registered F;prod voters asked respondents to opine on gubernatorial hopefuls: Democrats Graham, Phillip Levine, Andrew Gillum, and Republicans Richard Corcoran, Ron DeSantis and Putnam.

The percentage of total respondents who had never heard of the Democrats ranges from 73 percent for Levine to 81 percent for Gillum. Graham had 11 percent favorable and four percent unfavorable toward her, while 78 percent had never heard of her. Gillum had seven percent favorable against four unfavorable, and Levine (who has bought television ads for months) had eight percent favorable and five percent unfavorable.

The landscape is almost as bleak with Democratic respondents for the party’s candidates.

The total respondents who hadn’t heard of the candidates: 65 percent for Levine, 75 percent for Graham, and 78 percent for Gillum. Of the candidates, Graham was in the best shape with the party members who responded, at 15 percent favorable and three percent unfavorable.

Republican candidates likewise have room to define themselves to voters: 67 percent of all respondents had never heard of Putnam, 72 percent of DeSantis and 78 percent of Corcoran. Putnam, with 14 percent viewing him favorably and 7 percent unfavorably, fared the best with total voters. DeSantis was at 10 percent favorable and five percent unfavorable, and Corcoran was at just five percent favorable and six percent unfavorable.

Among registered Republican voters, there was some daylight between Putnam and the others. Putnam stood at 22 percent favorable against two percent unfavorable with voters of his own party, which compares well to DeSantis (14 favorable to three unfavorable), and Corcoran (six to five).

Methodology: The University of North Florida (UNF), Florida Statewide Poll was conducted by the Public Opinion Research Lab (PORL) at UNF Monday, January 29, through Sunday, February 4, by live callers via the telephone, and calls were made from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday. 

The margin of sampling error for the total sample of 619 registered voters is +/- 3.9 percentage points. The breakdown of completed responses on a landline phone to a cell phone was 27 to 73 percent.

Gwen Graham clears the $5M mark with $450K raised in January

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham crossed the $5 million mark in fundraising last month after bringing in more than $450,000 between her campaign and committee accounts.

The Graham campaign brought in more than $300,000 of that money, while contributions to her political committee, Our Florida, accounted for the balance.

The campaign and committee reports are not yet available through the Florida Division of Elections, though the totals would put the former Congresswoman near $5.2 million in total fundraising.

At the end of 2017 she had about $2.9 million banked between the two accounts.

In a statement Graham touted the number of individual donors who have chipped in to her campaign since she entered the race, which eclipsed 14,000 in January. Graham’s campaign says that total beats all other gubernatorial candidates, Democrat or Republican.

“This month, Republicans began their 20th session in complete control of Florida’s government. Year after year, they have attacked our public schools, polluted our environment and made it more difficult for Floridians to get healthcare coverage. Voters are sick and tired of it and they’re hungry for a change in Tallahassee,” Graham said.

“Our campaign is about more than just about the governor’s election — it’s about restoring the public trust. We’re working to give the people a voice again, and I’m thankful for each and every Floridian who has joined our team through donations and in our grassroots volunteer programs from Pensacola to Jacksonville, Tampa to Key West.”

Graham was the last of the four major Democrats in the race to preview her January numbers.

Earlier in the week, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said he raised another $1 million, while Winter Park businessman Chris King said he’d post $260,000 and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum will report $154,000 for the month.

Those totals give Levine the top spot with nearly $9 million raised over the course of his campaign, followed by Graham, then King with about $3 million and Gillum with just below $2 million to date.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is running for the GOP nomination against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and likely House Speaker Richard Corcoran as well, still leads the field overall with more than $22 million raised and $16 million in the bank at the end of 2017.

Ron DeSantis

Email insights: Ron DeSantis ‘ditches Freedom Caucus’

There was little chance the Florida Democratic Party would let this week end without slamming U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, Republican candidate for Governor, for voting to approve the Continuing Resolution to end the government shutdown.

“After years of cheering for government shutdowns that hurt Florida’s economy, Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-Fox News) seemingly reversed course early this morning by voting for a bipartisan budget deal,” reads an email from the FDP. “The vote was a massive flip-flop for DeSantis — and a cynical effort to erase his obstructionist record and his support for the 2013 government shutdown which hurt Florida’s tourism economy and destroyed jobs.”

Calling DeSantis an “instigator” of the 2013 shutdown, the email refers to him as “one of Congress’ most militant deficit hawks.”

“But apparently things change when you’re running for statewide office. This morning, DeSantis tried to erase years of obstructionism by supporting the latest bipartisan budget deal. His vote has already earned him eye-rolls from across the political spectrum.

Former Republican Congressman David Jolly called DeSantis’ vote “quite a reversal” and Republican state Representative James Grant mocked DeSantis’ rhetorical acrobatics,” the FDP notes.

The message also offers many examples of DeSantis’ past willingness to hazard a shutdown during the Barack Obama presidency, including various quotes from recent years when he identified debt as America’s most pressing issue.

DeSantis, in a four-paragraph statement explaining his affirmative vote on the bipartisan resolution, observed that “meeting the urgent needs of our military and disaster-affected communities outweighs the agreement’s fiscal shortcomings in this instance.”

Philip Levine

Philip Levine vows to bring back TV, movie production industry

Accusing Gov. Rick Scott of chasing it all off to Georgia, and boasting that he has many friends in the industry, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine pledged to bring back large-scale television and film production to the Sunshine State.

Speaking at a packed Seminole County Democratic Party meeting in Altamonte Springs Thursday night, Levine said Florida had never gotten better tourism promotional advertising than in the days of Miami Vice and other shows and movies filmed in the state, and for the promotional value alone he said he is committed to bringing it back.

The former Miami Beach mayor has been consistently and strongly critical of Scott for using financial incentives to try to attract businesses to Florida, as he was again Thursday night. Yet Levine also said the TV and film production industry is different, and an exception he would make, worth offering financial incentives.

“If your core competency at this time is tourism, to not push and promote and incentivize the film and television production industry, allowing for the imagery of this state projected on TV and films worldwide, it’s ludicrous,” he said. “It is peanuts, the cost of whatever it takes to lure the film industry back. It is such small money in comparison in what you receive in worldwide exposure, let alone the production jobs it brings.

“I happen to have a lot of contacts in California, I know a lot of studio heads. They’re dying to come back. It doesn’t take much to get them to come back,” Levine said.

Levine faces former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and businessman Chris King in seeking the Democratic primary nomination for governor. The leading Republicans are U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

In further comments to the crowd and later to Florida Politics, Levine accused Scott of pushing the television and film industry to Georgia, “making it very clear that they [television and movie productions] are not welcome here.”

He did not talk about the bill being pushed by fellow Miami Democrat state Sen. Annette Taddeo, Senate Bill 1606, which would create the “Florida Motion Picture Capital Corporation” to subsidize and promote film industry. The idea of incentivizing and promoting the film industry has been pushed by others, Republicans and Democrats, though without much success. The idea of state business financial incentives in general has been staunchly opposed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and others. SB 1606 currently appears to be languishing in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee.

Levine said he considered the prospect of offering financial incentives for television and film production in Florida different from his position to oppose offering financial incentives to lure businesses.

“Having the television industry film, the film industry film scenes of Florida, with incentives, is the cheapest money you’ll ever spend and will have a multiplier effect on tourism to the state,” Levine said. “That’s one side of why it makes sense. The second side is makes sense is actually is something like $1 billion of jobs and business and opportunity.”

Jacksonville Bold for 2.9.18 — Drive, or be driven

In 2015, A.G. Gancarski coined a phrase: “Drive the narrative, or it drives you.”

It came as a response to Alvin Brown’s failure to message efficiently in his mayoral election loss to current Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

This axiom applies to politics up and down the ballot, from city council races to the presidency. Someone must set the parameters of the story — if it isn’t one candidate, it’ll be another.

We will see that in 2018.

Brown, hamstrung by sloppy re-election messaging, is taking it to Al Lawson in the Democratic primary for Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

In neighboring CD 6, Republican operatives Brian Swensen and Tim Baker are going nuclear against each other’s respective candidates (Swensen works for John Ward; Baker for Mike Waltz).

And we will see more of it.

Who will win the election?

The person who best tells a story, time after time.

As 2018 progresses, pay attention to the narrative arc.

Rutherford, DeSantis prop up Nunez memo

Rep. John Rutherford, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, defended the “Nunez memo in the context of what we already know” this week on Fox News Channel.

Facetime for Rep. John Rutherford on friendly Fox News.

“The bias that was in those text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Paige,” Rutherford said, was “what has brought the integrity of the FBI and DOJ into question” regarding inconsistencies in 2016 election investigations.

Not only bias but “impropriety,” said Rutherford, must be “ripped out by the roots.”

Rutherford, of course, is not the only Northeast Florida Republican to preach to the choir on FNC.

Rep. Ron DeSantis, starting when the memo was released Friday of last week, made similar contentions, noting that evidence of collusion between President Donald Trump and Russians has yet to be presented.

DeSantis wants Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to come in front of the Congress and justify extending the surveillance. Conservatives, including Ann Coulter, have called for Rosenstein’s dismissal.

Lawson, Rutherford push for TRICARE clarity

As legacy costs and deficits pile up, even previously untouchable entitlements like the TRICARE insurance program for military veterans and dependents are feeling the squeeze.

First Coast News reports that Jacksonville’s two congressmen, Republican Rutherford and Democrat Lawson, are seeking answers regarding autism treatment copays.

TRICARE and tribulations: Congressmen are frustrated with care, customer service issues.

Lawson wrote Humana, the insurance company, and the Defense Department demanding answers, per FCN.

Lawson said, “I am aware of poor customer service and am deeply concerned about the level of care TRICARE patients … I am also aware of providers claims of having health care costs owed by Humana because of lack of payment. This is simply unacceptable.”

“People’s premium rates are going up; we expect to hear something from them soon. The sooner, the better,” Lawson said. “We were really caught off guard that they are having these problems, the corporate people are not responding, and we want to make sure they do.”

In its response, TRICARE defended its practices, saying “Humana Military has gone above and beyond the contract requirements to pay Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for autism care providers before the 30-day contractual requirement has lapsed because we understand that many of these behavioral health providers are small businesses.”

Plan B for Lawson?

Lawson started his re-election bid slowly. He has about $100,000 on hand and no campaign apparatus to speak of, while Brown has been able to attack Lawson on optical issues like applauding President Trump at the State of the Union.

Trouble ahead for Al Lawson? Speculation emerges that he is worried about losing to Alvin Brown.

There is some thought that Lawson isn’t completely confident in his ability to beat Brown, and those feelings weren’t buried when Lawson weighed in on local Tallahassee politics, saying that Sen. Bill Montford should not run for Mayor.

“I know he needs to make a decision, and other people are leaning on him to bring stability to City Hall, but he has two years left and a lot of us hope he will finish the term,” said Lawson. “Bill carries a lot of clout in the Senate. Among Democrats and Republicans. There’s no question about it.”

If Lawson loses to Brown and Montford finishes his term, it’s very easy to imagine Lawson returning to the state Senate.

Lawson, should he lose, will have done so because Alvin Brown was able to drive the Duval base. When Lawson beat Corrine Brown in 2016, he won the western part of the district with massive numbers.

Trump lauds Lawson

In the words of someone somewhere, “Please clap.”

The Tampa Bay Times flagged Trump lauding Lawson for applauding him during the State of the Union.

Expect the Al Lawson/Donald Trump connection to be a leitmotif in CD 5 campaign materials.

“Who was that guy? He was a nice guy. I think he was a reverend. And he was clapping,” Trump said in Cincinnati. “And I wouldn’t say it was exactly a rousing — but he was putting his hands together. And I want to find out who he is. I’m going to send him a letter of thank you. And he was probably severely reprimanded.”

It’s doubtful whether a “letter of thank you” from Trump would help Lawson in a primary against former Mayor Brown, who is happy to pillory the incumbent as a DINO.

“It is deeply troubling that Al Lawson claps for the Trump agenda in Washington as people back home struggle to make ends meet. While the black jobless rate is at its lowest levels following President Obama’s years of hard work, there remains more to be done,” the former Jacksonville Mayor said.

Duval vs. Y’all

In yet another plot point in the Congressional District 5 race, Jacksonville Democrats backed Brown for Congress this week.

Duval County Democratic Party chair Lisa King led the wave.

Lisa King was removed from the Jacksonville Planning Commission for backing Alvin Brown for Mayor against Lenny Curry, per sources familiar.

Other endorsers rolled out in Wednesday’s media release include former Jacksonville Human Rights Commission Chair Mario Decunto, Duval County Black Caucus Chair Hazel Gillis, and former Northeast Florida United Way CEO Connie Hodges.

Brown is taking advantage of an as yet un-launched re-election campaign by Lawson to score some news cycle wins.

Last week, he rolled out the endorsement of former Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel Cleaver.

When CD 6 Republican candidate Ward backed Democrat Brown

The hits keep on coming in the brass-knuckled GOP primary race in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.

The latest salvo came Monday when Florida Politics obtained records of candidate Ward giving to a Democratic candidate in the 2015 Jacksonville mayor’s race.

Democratic dalliance: Trump Republican John Ward gave money to Alvin Brown’s re-election bid.

Ward, a resident of Ponte Vedra Beach, was one of several Jacksonville Republican donors to Brown, the now-former mayor primarying Lawson from the left in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Ward gave $250 in May 2014, days before Curry jumped into the mayoral race. However, most observers knew Curry was eyeballing a run as far back as 2013.

Notable: Ward’s campaign is being run by Brian Swensen, who was campaign manager for Curry in that race for Jacksonville Mayor.

Ward has attacked Waltz, his GOP primary opponent, for cutting an ad in opposition to Trump in 2016 during the fractious Republican primaries.

Another Curry strategist is running waltz’s campaign: Tim Baker.

Baker believes the donation raises questions.

“Why was it important that Ward from Massachusetts support a liberal mayor of Jacksonville,” Baker wondered.

Baker deemed Ward a “dishonest politician who will say or do anything to win an election, even hypocritically attack a decorated veteran.”

What is clear: Curry’s consultants from 2015 are running hard-charging campaigns against each other in this 2018 race, in which both Baker and Swensen have reasons for wanting to score a victory against each other.

New roadway for Cecil Commerce Center

This week, Gov. Rick Scott came to Jacksonville and — as is always the case when he visits Northeast Florida — Duval got its money’s worth.

Jacksonville got its cut from the fund, which has $50 million left to dole out.

Specifically, $6,000,000 of it: for the construction of a new 1.5-mile access roadway to the city-owned Cecil Commerce Center Mega Site to provide access for the manufacturing industry.

The money comes via the state’s $85 million “job growth” fund.

The fund, a compromise solution to Enterprise Florida’s previous practice of directing money to businesses (many were companies that had donated to Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” political committee), includes money for public infrastructure and workforce grants.

Scott also sought to ensure legislators pass another $85 million for the fund in the current Legislative Session.

While in Jacksonville, the Governor also messaged on the importance of VISIT FLORIDA, which the Senate wants to cut down to a $50 million budget (half of what the Governor wants).

Not every Jacksonville legislator was thrilled with the job growth fund spending. Sen. Audrey Gibson questioned the fund’s existence on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Motto matters to Daniels, as bill heads to House floor

HB 839, which seeks to mandate school districts display Florida’s motto “In God We Trust,” cleared its final House committee Wednesday.

The bill requires display in all “school buildings” in a given district, including school district structures.

House members are not agnostic about the motto.

The House Education committee cleared the bill with just one no vote Wednesday, with Republicans and Democrats alike generally agreeing with Kim Daniels, the Jacksonville Democratic co-sponsor of the proposal, that the motto should be displayed.

Daniels’ Republican colleagues from Jacksonville, Jason Fischer and Fant, were among supporters.

Committee chair Mike Bileca lauded Daniels for having the “courage to take this issue on,” setting up an impassioned close from the first-term Jacksonville Democrat.

“This is not Communist China,” Daniels correctly noted. “This is America … on a bad day, the greatest country in the world. The disrespect against flag and country makes me sick.”

Daniels noted that the motto is a “symbol that represents something that we need to get back to,” and the bill comes from the “spiritual, not natural realm.”

The Senate version of the bill has yet to be put on a committee agenda.

Fant blasts Moody at AG debate

The strategy in the race for Attorney General on the Republican side is pretty clear at this point.

Rep. Fant and state House colleague Frank White will team up against Ashley Moody, the runaway choice of Florida Sheriffs and the best actual fundraiser in the race, to malign her as insufficiently conservative.

Jay Fant and Ashley Moody: opposite sides of the table, and the political spectrum?

We saw evidence of this Saturday at the Federalist Society Attorney General debate.

Moody and Fant went after each other hard Saturday over third-party ads charging her as “liberal,” exchanging charges during an Attorney General’s forum held during the Federalist Society Conference at Walt Disney World Saturday.

“This is what we do in the big leagues,” Fant said.

Florida Politics had reported earlier that White appeared to be behind the independent political committee attacks; at one point, Fant denied being behind the mailers that Moody cited.

Fant, who had challenged her conservative and Republican credentials before, replied to her question by calling her a “newcomer to partisan politics,” and lecturing her that, “the issues matter, and just because the issues make you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re being attacked.

“I might also add I’m not the only campaign that has discussed this contrast. There is more to this. So, if you’re going to support a Bill McBride over Jeb Bush, we’re going to talk about it. If you’re going to have a history of suing Donald Trump, we’re going to talk about it. If you have alliances with liberals in the bar, we’re going to have to talk about it.”

Pill bill moves through House, Senate

WJCT reports on a bill by Rep. Clay Yarborough that is currently working its way through committees in the House and the Senate.

The measure would allow donating unused medicine to low-income people in need.

Second life for unused pills, if a Clay Yarborough bill passes.

“If you had a patient who was in a nursing home or a hospital, or something like that, and they had a lot of medication prescribed to them but then they passed away and the medication had not been opened or compromised in any way or expired, then those drugs could be donated,” Yarborough asserted.

“It’s just a way to help the citizens of our state and consumers in our state that would be in need and save money and use these drugs that [are] perfectly fine and there’s nothing wrong with them,” Yarborough said.

Jacksonville City Council consternation over JEA sale potential

Watching Jacksonville Mayor Curry roll over the City Council is like watching a season full of homecoming games.

However, a public notice meeting this week showed a lot of skepticism from the legislators, about the potential sale of JEA.

The utility, which has been pilloried for service issues, saw a VP grilled Monday on why serious moves toward underground power lines weren’t made in older neighborhoods.

And Tuesday, Councilors balked about the proposed sale of the utility.

Some, including Councilman Garrett Dennis, believe the sale is all but a done deal.

Notable about this meeting: Dennis, an irritant to the Mayor’s Office, had many Council members on his side in opposition to the Mayor’s Office.

Garrett Dennis takes questions from Jacksonville media, with A.G. Gancarski standing behind him.

Councilman John Crescimbeni and Council President Anna Brosche, recent rivals, wondered why the Office of General Counsel was slow in responding to inquiries.

Dennis’ Northwest Jacksonville colleagues backed his play.

Katrina Brown wants “town halls” in her district to discuss the issue.

Reggie Brown wants to make sure infrastructure, such as $3 billion in sewer projects, are addressed in the sale.

Reggie Gaffney asserted that “JEA has a plan,” and wondered when Council would be made aware.

“We’re all kind of blindsided by this,” Dennis said, vowing to ensure that the Council does “whatever is best for the shareholders … the 850,000 people who own JEA.”

For Dennis, who took on the other Democrats from Northwest Jacksonville last week, this has been a strong galvanization of support after what many activists saw as a betrayal.

Supplementary reading: Folio Weekly wonders: The sale, what the mayor knew and when he knew it?

Jacksonville Councilman takes part in anti-fracking rally

From the “blink and you missed it” files, Jacksonville City Councilman Jim Love was one of a few participants in an anti-fracking rally last weekend.

Via First Coast News, Love and the St. Johns Riverkeeper came out against fracking.

Deepwater Horizon fears on the horizon for Jacksonville Councilman Jim Love.

”We saw what Deepwater Horizon did for the Gulf Coast. We don’t need that on any part of our coast. It’s obvious we don’t need this to happen in Florida,” Love said.

“Florida is not the right place to do this sort of this. It will threaten our drinking water, it will threaten our springs and rivers and we need to stand up to ban this practice in our state,” St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said.

The Florida Legislature is mulling fracking ban bills this session.

After delays, St. Johns River dredging begins

After a Port Canaveral project delayed availability of the dredging vessel, deepening has now begun on a three-mile stretch of the St. Johns River.

“We are very pleased to initiate construction on this nationally significant project,” said Col. Jason Kirk, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville district commander. “The Jacksonville Harbor deepening project ensures our nation’s infrastructure stays strong, which in turn boosts the United States economy, bolsters global competitiveness, creates jobs and reduces risk.”

After delays, JAXPORT dredging begins.

According to the Jacksonville Business Journal, issues with a tugboat resulted in the Dutra Group missing its initial Dec. 15 start date, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ mandatory start date of Jan. 31. Dutra, a California-based dredging and marine construction company, could face financial penalties if it does not finish the project by July 31, 2019.

Dutra Group is now working on the first phase of the $22.8 million project, known as Contract A, which will deepen the St. Johns to 47 feet. About 3 million cubic yards will be removed from the first 3 miles of the channel, sent to the designated disposal site 6 miles southeast of the entrance channel jetties, the Journal reports. Work will continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week, an Army Corps representative said.

JAXPORT on upswing for Q1

Strong gains marked JAXPORT’s first quarter of the fiscal year, CFO Michael Poole said this week in a board meeting.

The port authority saw increases across the board – 14 percent more vessel calls, 16 percent more tons of cargo and 16 percent more revenue compared to the same period last year, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal. JAXPORT also handled 27 percent more containers, moving 2.7 million tons in total for $16.7 million in revenue.

Among one downside for the quarter, Poole noted. Maintenance dredging is over budget by more than $1 million, or 153 percent. Hurricane Irma forced the port authority to dredge nearly 40,000 cubic yards more than anticipated. Nevertheless, Poole is confident JAXPORT will find enough savings to offset, rather than having to ask for more funding.

JAXPORT is having a strong first quarter of its fiscal year.

Once the dredging project is complete – deepening the St. Johns River to 47 feet – the port authority will experience faster growth, said Roy Schleicher, JAXPORT chief commercial officer. The dredging project, which began this week, is scheduled to be completed in 2019. Currently, the Port of Jacksonville can handle vessels that hold 10,000 containers, but, once deepened, it can accommodate 14,000-container vessels.

“When the 14,000s start coming in when the dredging is done, our container numbers are going to go through the roof,” Schleicher told the board. “We’re really excited … All new opportunities.”

Downtown Jax eyes driverless shuttles

Traffic in downtown Jacksonville could soon include autonomous vehicles.

Driverless shuttles could be cruising Bay Street in the near future, a project that CBS 47 reports will use new technology to help recruit companies downtown.

Action News Jax’s John Bachman recently visited Las Vegas to speak with Nat Ford, CEO of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, about the pilot program in that city and how it can apply to Jacksonville.

Driverless shuttles, like this one in Las Vegas, could be on Jacksonville streets soon.

Las Vegas currently offers a driverless shuttle on a half-mile loop that includes parts of the old Las Vegas strip. The shuttle tops out at 12 miles an hour but is capable of doing 30 miles an hour.

Ford said Jacksonville could see a driverless shuttle program within the next five years. Over the next two to three years, Ford expects to convert the current Skyway platforms for shuttles – with the federal government interested in supporting driverless technology.

Driverless shuttles in Las Vegas currently cost around $250,000 each, compared to a JTA bus, which runs about $650,000 apiece.

Jacksonville Beach Pier to reopen soon

Storm-ravaged Jacksonville Beach Pier is close to a partial reopening, a year and a half after damage from Hurricane Matthew closed the iconic landmark.

Half of the pier is scheduled to open in April, according to First Coast News.

Storm-damaged Jacksonville Beach Pier to partially reopen in April.

As of this week, crews working on the pier finished re-paneling and railing half of the original length of the pier. The back half is not yet structurally stable to begin work, one of the workers told reporters.

Portions of the new railings will be recessed, allowing people in wheelchairs to fish from the pier.

The City of Jacksonville budgeted $1.3 million to replace the deck and guardrail in the pier’s front part. As for the back portion, no timeline is available yet.

 

Andrew Gillum reports $154K raised in January

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum raised $154,103 for his gubernatorial run last month, according to a Thursday statement from campaign director Geoff Burgan.

Gillum brought in $104,553 of that money through his campaign account and another $49,550 through his political committee, Forward Florida.

“Mayor Gillum’s progressive stances and courage in standing up to Republicans like Speaker [Richard] Corcoran are resonating in this race. We’re thrilled with the grassroots support our campaign is receiving from around Florida, and we’re confident that we’re raising the resources we need to compete and win our August primary,” Burgan said.

Burgan referred to Gillum challenging Corcoran to a debate over “sanctuary city” policies. Corcoran accepted and the pair is set to square off Tuesday at the studios of Florida Internet and Television.

Neither campaign nor committee reports had been posted to the Florida Division of Elections Thursday afternoon, though at the end of December, Gillum had about $483,000 in his campaign account.

Expenditure records posted online for the committee show it spent $24,755 in January, while contribution records show $25,000 of the new money came in from New York philanthropist Stephen Silberstein, while Atherton, Calif., retiree Elizabeth Simons gave $15,000 and Tallahassee businessman Richard Kearney chipped in $10,000.

Those numbers show Forward Florida with approximately $134,000 on hand Feb. 1.

Gillum is one of four major Democrats vying to succeed Gov. Rick Scott in the fall.

Earlier Thursday, Winter Park businessman Chris King said he raised more than $250,000 in January, his best total in months, while former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine touted another million-dollar month to start the year.

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham has not yet released her January numbers.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is running for the GOP nomination against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and likely Corcoran as well, still leads the field overall with more than $22 million raised and $16 million of that in the bank at the end of 2017.

Adam Putnam blasts Ron DeSantis campaign as ‘Washington-centric’

Florida’s next governor will be someone who knows the state the best, Adam Putnam said during a campaign appearance Wednesday in Southwest St. Petersburg.

As the presumptive favorite for the GOP gubernatorial nomination this year, Putnam met with veterans and other supporters at the Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay, a nonprofit that provides economic and therapeutic support for veterans and their families while promoting talent and creativity.

The visit came a day after a new poll shows the Agriculture Commissioner could have a genuine fight on his hands to win the nomination later this summer.

Putnam is only four points ahead of U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, 27 to 23 percent, according to the Mason-Dixon survey.

While Putnam has been on the campaign trail since last spring, DeSantis announced his candidacy last month and is still apparently catching up on issues of interest to Floridians.

At least that appeared to be the case last week at DeSantis’ official campaign kickoff announcement in Boca Raton when reporters asked for his take on Amendment 4, the citizen-led initiative set for the November ballot to restore voting rights to most convicted felons in Florida.

DeSantis told the Miami Herald: I haven’t looked at it yet, but I’ll look at it.”

Putnam wasn’t surprised DeSantis couldn’t offer an opinion on the issue.

“He’s running a very Washington-centric campaign,” Putnam said Wednesday. “He’s very focused on Washington issues, and Washington’s not going to solve Florida’s problems.”

Putnam should know, as he represented Polk County in Congress for a decade before returning to Florida in 2010, serving the last seven years as Agriculture Commissioner. Later this year, he hopes to extend his stay in Tallahassee for another 4-8 years as Governor.

If elected, DeSantis said he would come to Tallahassee to “drain the swamp,” a phrase invoked by Donald Trump and his supporters about Washington D.C. during the 2016 campaign.

Putnam sees some obvious differences.

“Any number of people randomly selected off the sidewalk would agree that Washington is a swamp,” he said. “Here in Florida, we balance our budget every year, we cut taxes every year, we’ve taken the unemployment rate from almost twelve to under four percent, paid off $5 billion in debt, and we’re a thriving economy, so we have the ability to focus on taking Florida to the next level, and I think that just reinforces his Washington centric view of the world.”

DeSantis spokesman Brad Herold returned the volley later in the day, calling Putnam “a creation of the Washington establishment who’s done nothing to help Rick Scott’s conservative agenda in Tallahassee over the last 7 years.”

“Now, all of a sudden, he’s running for Governor and is pretending to be a “Florida Conservative” and take credit for Florida’s job growth,” Herald said. “Adam Putnam may have been born in Florida, but his policies were born in the Washington swamp.”

As for Amendment 4, Putnam can’t get entirely behind the initiative — because he said it would allow some ex-felons who have committed violent acts to get voting rights restored. The amendment would not allow those found guilty of a murder or a sexual offense to qualify for full restoration of rights.

“I’ve always said that there ought to be a streamlined method for restoration of rights for nonviolent offenders, even first-time offenders, perhaps it’s automatic,” he said. But allowing those who commit violent crimes (with the above exceptions) to get their rights restored is a bridge too far for him, and others, he predicts.

“I think when the public hears about, for example, when Mothers Against Drunk Drivers hear about the number of manslaughter cases that will not fall under that exception and they will automatically get their rights back, I think that it goes further than I’m comfortable with.”

Putnam’s campaign mantra of “Florida First” was in prime form Wednesday, as he touted the work of Gov. Rick Scott and the rest of the state Cabinet to make sure that military veterans can transition successfully back into civilian life.

He also talked about how in 2015 the state began expediting concealed weapon license applications for active military and veterans, shortly after five members of the military were shot and killed at a Chattanooga military recruiting and training centers.

The state now waives the first application for business permits for veterans, Putnam noted, touting a program called Outdoor Freedom, offered by the Florida Forest Service that provides recreational opportunities to wounded veterans.

About two dozen people were in attendance for the low-key event, giving him plenty of time to engage with supporters.

One attendee, Mike Courtney, wore a T-shirt that proclaimed he was a Putnam supporter since “Day One.”

Courtney, a resident of Clearwater, questioned how Trump’s endorsement would play out for DeSantis in the primary.

While Trump tweeting that DeSantis was his guy (before DeSantis officially declared) has undoubtedly helped boost his name recognition, Courtney surmised the endorsement could be a problem for the North Florida congressman.

“I voted for Trump, but I’m not sure I would want him to endorse me for anything,” Courtney said laughing. “It’s going to play a part, but who knows what kind of part?”

Roger Stone descends on Tallahassee, says he will meet with Richard Corcoran

Roger Stone, an outspoken and infamous strategist of behind-the-scenes Republican politics who often is credited with orchestrating key elements of Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign, said he’ll be meeting with House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“I’m going to meet Richard Corcoran only because I’ve never met him and I’m curious to meet him,” Stone said. Corcoran has confirmed his intent to meet with Stone. 

“I’ve let it be known that I’d like to get with him if he has time,” Corcoran told the Miami Herald on Wednesday.

Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican, has yet to announce a gubernatorial bid, but extensive PAC fundraising and recent ads demonstrate an all-but-certain declaration following the 2018 Legislative Session. It’s a political prediction that is further strengthened by Stone, who spoke of Corcoran as if he already was a candidate. 

“He’s one of the candidates for governor [who] I don’t know,” Stone said.

He emphasized that the meeting will be casual and friendly, likely at a “bar or something.” A “strictly social” occasion, according to Stone. The agent provocateur said he’s interested only in sizing up the speaker.

“We have a mutual friend,” Stone said. “I expressed an interest in just meeting him, but there’s no agenda other than to take his measure.”

Stone said he has not formed an opinion of Corcoran because the two haven’t met. Though he did indicate a respect for Corcoran’s intelligence. 

“He has hired Tony Fabrizio, who in my opinion is the single best political strategist in the Republican Party today,” Stone said. “So if he’s hired Fabrizio he’s gotta be a really smart guy.” 

Stone is widely considered a pioneer of opposition research and negative advertising, both staple techniques in national and state campaigns via PACs that are not directly associated with candidates.

Stone’s name is usually preceded with qualifiers that attempt to capture a resume rich with success in the more sinister practices of American politics. He’s often described as unabashedly Machiavellian, controversial, provocative and deceitful. He told reporters of his date with Corcoran following an event hosted by the Capital Tiger Bay Club, where he gave a humorous synopsis of his involvement in shady areas of politics, a decades-long career that includes cameos at Watergate, the Brooks Brothers Riot and the destruction of the Reform Party. 

Despite his knack for finding political activity, the infamous “dirty trickster” did not express anything beyond intrigue for upcoming state-based elections.

Stone did, however, suggest that he would’ve supported John Morgan, the owner of a powerhouse law firm who received widespread publicity after flirting with the idea of running for governor as a Democrat and briefly as an Independent.

“I was hopeful that John Morgan would run,” Stone, a lifelong operative of the political right, said. “I think he’s a good man and I probably would’ve ended up voting for him.

“I think he’s been courageous and he’s really put his money where his mouth is on the question of medicinal marijuana.”

Stone said his grandparents both died of cancer and cited the dangers of opioid treatment. He said “pot” helped curb his relatives’ ailments and referenced his own marijuana usage.

“I smoked pot when I was in high school and college,” Stone said. Though he’s now “a vodka guy, to tell you the truth.”

Stone said he has not met any Democratic gubernatorial candidates. He knows Republican candidate Ron DeSantis “well” and said he’s met Adam Putnam.

But Stone maintained he has “no idea” whether he’ll get involved in the governor’s race. An author of five books — each noted for its conspiratorial audacity — he’s dedicating time toward publishing another, which he says will outline “Stone’s Rules.”

“Most of [my rules] are out there,” Stone said. His collection includes “basics like ‘two men can keep a secret if one of them is dead.’”

Stone conceded that some of the rules might be modern adaptations of the writings of Niccolò Machiavelli and Sun Tzu. However, Stone said, that’s only if you buy the idea that nothing is original.

The Florida Democratic Party was quick to criticize the reported meeting between Corcoran and Stone.

“Even by the standards of the far right, Stone is a particularly vile and loathsome figure,” the FDP said in a news release. “The fact that Corcoran is reportedly meeting with Stone marks a new low, even for the House Speaker.”

Citing Stone’s history of promoting conspiracies concerning Barack Obama‘s birthplace, along with Stone’s offensive language on Twitter (the social media site suspended his account indefinitely), FDP spokesperson Kevin Donohoe said, “Richard Corcoran should be condemning Stone’s bigoted paranoia — not embracing it. Corcoran should immediately cancel this reported meeting and make clear that Stone’s extreme, hateful politics have no place in our state.”

Email Insights: Gwen Graham says Ron DeSantis is Donald Trump’s ‘favorite lapdog’

An email sent out by the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham Tuesday said U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis’ is simply repaying President Donald Trump with his recent “ridiculously false and utterly outrageous accusations” against the FBI.

“Congressman Ron DeSantis’ conspiracy-theory attacks are quid-pro-quo payments for Donald Trump’s support. He’s Trump’s favorite lapdog in Congress, appearing on Fox News almost daily to attack the FBI,” Graham said in the email.

“Our country faces a serious national security crisis. The president may be compromised by a foreign country and Ron DeSantis would rather investigate our top law enforcement agency instead of Russian interference in our elections.”

The email links to articles and videos where DeSantis proposed defunding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, that U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes’ memo answers a lot of questions, and that he wants an investigation into the FBI and Department of Justice.

The email also calls the Northeast Florida congressman “a leading member of the conspiracy caucus defending Trump.”

“Ron DeSantis represents everything I entered public service to stop. He’s focused on partisanship and President Trump instead of the job he was elected to do — fight for our public schools, protect Florida’s environment, and boost our economy,” Graham said.

“As the wife of a law enforcement officer, I will always defend the men and women who protect our country. As governor, I will always defend our institutions from Donald Trump and his lapdogs.”

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