At long last, the Florida Times-Union has upped its column game, with two critical political reporters in higher-profile gigs.
As 2018 closed, Chris Hong started to write outdoors/lifestyle columns in additional to his dispatches on #jaxpol heroes.
However, the 2019 addition may be the one that leaves a mark on the local political scene, with Nate Monroe starting his “It’s easier here?” column.
Apparently, the “seven-second delay” was unavailable.
Monroe laid out a litany of charges: that Mayor Lenny Curry was thin-skinned, “smash-mouth” in style, and beholden to “dark money” fundraising that “will allow him to out-insult and outspend his way into a second term no matter who challenges him.”
“This election will feature few true believers,” Monroe added.
The relationship between Monroe and the mayor’s office has not been solid in recent years, and Monroe was therefore unencumbered when taking a hammer to “hacks and pretenders” Curry appointed to boards, and the “sycophantic, undistinguished politicians” he can lean on for votes.
Monroe likely will fill the former Ron Littlepage role, but with caveats. In keeping with the smash-mouth style of this mayor’s office, this will be a smash-mouth column.
Right now, Jacksonville is a smash-mouth town though.
It’s easier here?
Maybe with your mouthpiece.
Rubio, Lawson team up on agritrade
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Congressman Al Lawson joined Republican co-sponsor Vern Buchanan this week in a fight without partisan parameters: the battle for Florida farmers.
Per The Packer, the bill will “take on Mexico’s trade practices” and “make it easier for Florida farmers to petition the Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate illegal subsidies and dumping of Mexican fruits and vegetables in the U.S. market.”
Both sides of this issue are lobbied up.
The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association is in support of the legislation. The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas opposes, however, saying it merely shields a cartel of Florida farmers from supply/demand marketplace realities.
Fleming Island’s Rob Bradley, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, expects pragmatism from Gov. Ron DeSantis on cannabis issues.
As Bradley told the Tampa Bay Times late last week, “it’s going to be a priority to have the Office of Medical Marijuana Use have a culture of excellence that focuses on patient access and safety,” Bradley told The News Service of Florida in a lengthy interview Friday. “I think that’s one of the first things that needs to happen for our system to evolve to where it needs to be, and I’m convinced that he’s committed to make that happen.”
Licenses need to increase, Bradley said.
“We have a lot of challenges that need to be addressed. The executive branch needs to issue the remaining authorized licenses, and we need to look at expanding competition even further. The Department of Health needs to promulgate rules on edibles, right now. It is unacceptable that patient option hasn’t been made available yet, because it’s authorized in statute,” Bradley said.
And, allowed Bradley, it may be time to give up opposition to smokable cannabis: a sticking point from the Rick Scott era.
“As far as the smoking issue goes, I trust Gov.-elect DeSantis will do what he thinks is right,” the Republican senator said. “But it’s starting to have the feel of an issue we sort of need to have behind us and move on. … It was done for good, solid policy reasons but if the Governor-elect decides to move in a different direction on the issue, I certainly respect and understand that.”
Rep. Travis Cummings, the Orange Park Republican who helms the House budget committee, warned Tuesday that process watchers should expect conservative spending in the first budget presented to Gov. DeSantis.
He told reporters that budget writers during the next two years should be “very, very cautious.”
That means keeping up healthy state reserves and balancing the budget.
Last year lawmakers left an extra $1.2 billion on the table after passing an $88.7 billion fiscal plan.
But complicating matters is the need for an additional $6 billion in General Revenue over the next three years. Hurricane costs are a mounting concern.
Curry had a good (and high-profile) trip to Tallahassee this week. He was the host of a lunch of “thought leaders” from the Senate and House who will prove pivotal for Duval initiatives.
One of those initiatives: more state money to help with crime fighting, as Curry told First Coast News.
“If you look at this past year we’ve had a slight drop in the homicide murder rate,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and I’m going to continue my focus on public safety, and continue to ask this governor and state of Florida to help us.”
WJXT reported on the same event, and Curry noted that Northeast Florida is well-positioned.
“It’s tremendous with Sen. Bradley … (Rep. Travis) Cummings, (Rep.) Paul Renner — lots of opportunities to get resources we need back in Jacksonville,” Curry said. “I’m focused on public safety, on education, after-school programs, jobs programs and jobs. Our partnership with this governor and those leaders out of North Florida is going to reap dividends.”
Those familiar with the Mayor’s political operation note that many a heavy hitter pledged to go to bat for Curry if expected challenges from Councilors Anna Brosche (Republican) and/or Garrett Dennis (Democrat) manifest.
The DeSantis inauguration has, as we’ve noted before, provided the latest example of Jacksonville and the region positioned to do great things in Tallahassee.
Cummings and Sen. Rob Bradley lead the budget chambers. Rep. Renner is on track to be Speaker. And Sen. Travis Hutson is still vying to lead his chamber.
And Curry? By far, the best support that any local chief executive provided DeSantis on the trail. Whatever delayed Curry’s backing of DeSantis, the fact is that Curry got on board before he absolutely had to.
One area in which Jacksonville may score meaningful help: septic tank phaseout.
The city has a (no pun intended) backlog of properties using old septic and not on city sewer; fixing the problem will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Potentially, a billion.
The city’s general fund budget, for comparison, is roughly $1.3 billion.
It’s quite possible that, given the DeSantis administration’s focus on the environment, that legislation to get state help for Jacksonville’s remediation may gain traction this time.
Cummings carried it previously. Who will carry it this time?
Reformed felons, now voters
The Florida Times-Union’s Andrew Pantazi was on hand Tuesday when the first reformed felons were allowed to register to vote in the wake of 2018’s Amendment 4.
Questions had emerged about whether the amendment would require so-called implementing legislation, but in Duval and elsewhere in Florida, a pool of 1.4 million reformed felons are eligible to (and many did) register.
One person Pantazi talked to found out he could register from television.
With Jacksonville elections this year, time will tell if a bloc of new voters may help to sway certain plebiscites.
History is made as the Florida Constitution restores the right to vote to over a million Floridians. One of the last vestiges of Jim Crow in Florida is no more. Hallelujah!
— Jimmy Midyette! (@JimmyMidyette) January 8, 2019
Lovely parting gift
In one of his last official acts as Governor, Scott doled out $5 million in Job Growth Grant Fund to Macclenny. The dispersal is to “to provide water and wastewater from the Town of Callahan to the Crawford Diamond industrial site, a 1,841 acre certified mega-site entitled for 10.5 million square feet of heavy industrial use.”
Scott said: “For the past eight years, we have fought for every family in all of Florida’s 67 counties to have the opportunity to live their dreams in our state. I’m proud that every part of our state has experienced a drop in its unemployment rate as nearly 1.7 million private-sector jobs have been created since December 2010. With these additional awards through the Job Growth Grant Fund, we are making targeted investments that will create even more jobs.”
Bradford County also got a bite of the apple: “$2,300,000 to build an access road through the Keystone Heights Airport, opening over 1,300 acres for industrial, commercial or manufacturing business development use; and to enhance Broadband capabilities through the installment of fiber optic facilities, improving high-speed internet and telecommunications connectivity, a major recruitment tool for the airport.
Last-minute judge pick
Per the Florida Times-Union, Sen. Scott in his last days as Governor saved DeSantis the trouble of picking a Duval County judge to replace Circuit Court judge Lester Bass.
Prosecutor Erin Perry, 37, is the pick. She had applied for judgeships before but broke through this time on a message that included shorter sentences and dropping charges where warranted.
As Duval moves slowly toward a restorative justice model, these are points to remember.
State Attorney Melissa Nelson was “pleased the Judicial Nominating Commission nominated and Gov. Rick Scott appointed Erin Perry to the Duval County bench. Erin has dedicated her career to public service. Her appointment is a loss to our office and her colleagues, but ensures Judge Perry’s continued service to our community.”
King makes Council bid
Lisa King, the chair of the Duval County Democratic Party, filed on Monday for a run for the Jacksonville City Council At-Large Group 1 seat.
King is resigning the chair position for her latest bid for elected office. She ran for City Council previously in 2015, losing a district race to Republican Al Ferraro.
King, as of Monday morning, is the only Democrat in a four-person field. Republicans Jack Daniels, Terrance Freeman, and Christian Whitfield had all filed previously. 2018 Reform Party gubernatorial nominee Darcy Richardson is also in.
It is uncertain whether Daniels or Whitfield will qualify before the Friday deadline. Also uncertain: whether incumbent Republican Anna Brosche will forgo running for Mayor and run for re-election.
King did make a courtesy call to Brosche, who wished her well, she said.
Meanwhile, the new party chair is former vice-chair Daniel Henry.
Henry is the first African-American male to chair the local group.
“Today I’m humbled and honored to become the Chair of the Duval County Democratic Party,” Henry said Monday. “I take this mantle with the same passion and drive I’ve had from the beginning of my service, hungry to lead an amazing and dedicated group of volunteers to victory!”
Pricey public records
Democratic City Councilman Garrett Dennis demanded a tranche of records from Republican Mayor Curry last month.
Dennis wanted “expedited attention” for his request for information, including secondary employment forms for mayor’s office employees, non-payroll payments to city employees since October 1, 2017, “texts, emails, calendar appointments, or other public records regarding the [Downtown Investment Authority] CEO position (interim or permanent) since June 1, 2018,” and “records reflecting hours worked by Brian Hughes, as broken down between DIA and COJ Chief of Staff.”
The request, voluminous though it was, was fulfilled late last week by city workers.
“Please note this effort cost the taxpayers of the county $6,475.75. However, the invoice is noted there is no charge to the councilperson,” read the email from a staffer to Dennis and other city officials.
The most interesting material in the request (a breakdown of Hughes’ hours and internal communications about the Downtown Investment Authority CEO position Hughes now holds) brought no fruit. Hughes doesn’t have to track his hours, and no such discussions existed, per the city.
Likewise, there were no records responsive to the search for a JEA CEO, a position now held by Curry ally Aaron Zahn.
Dennis has expressed dismay about Hughes, Curry’s former political operative who has juggled two of the most powerful positions in the city policy realm in recent months, and one potential read of that request is that Dennis hopes to detail a narrative of double-dealing.
Taylor, back again
Taylor, who ran at-large eight years ago, will now run in Westside Jacksonville’s District 12.
Taylor’s candidacy comes months after a failed challenge to a special election in the district, one that saw former fire union head Randy White win without opposition.
White had filed as the only candidate for the 2019 race before incumbent Doyle Carter (a friend of White’s) submitted a resignation letter.
In July, Taylor did not indicate interest in the 2019 election, saying that the special election should have been “properly noticed” and that officials should “comply with the law.”
The candidate also likened the special election, which he said was improperly noticed, to “communism.”
“No one in District 12 will vote for White after learning his involvement in this conspiracy to defraud the voters of a choice, which is exactly what they did. Equivalent to communism,” Taylor said.
The road is uphill for Taylor.
White has $70,000 banked and the services of Tim Baker, Jacksonville’s political consultant to the stars, locked up.
If Taylor gets within shouting distance, expect the oppo to flow.
Jags season ‘blessing in disguise?’
Few expected the Jacksonville Jaguars to be in the position of a) having the seventh selection in the April NFL draft and b) think about using that selection to draft a quarterback. Many thought the Jaguars would ride a Blake Bortles-led offense and a suffocating defense to the Super Bowl.
The Jaguars thought so, leading them to sign Bortles to a three-year contract extension during the offseason totaling $54 million. With his benching late in the season, Jacksonville may be prepared to move on from the five-year veteran from Central Florida.
If so, it will be expensive. Half of the money in Bortles’ contract is guaranteed. He is due $16 million in 2019.
If the Jaguars do take the financial hit and the more than $16 million against the salary cap, would they go for a quarterback and if so, who? All signs point to “yes,” on the hit with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins as a good answer to the who question.
With Urban Meyer retiring as the Buckeyes’ coach, Haskins is expected to enter the draft. If they can get him, Jacksonville will obtain a leader who threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in 2018.
Multiple mock drafts have Haskins either being available with the seventh pick or trading with teams like Tampa Bay or Oakland to move up in the draft order. Another possibility is West Virginia, and former Florida Gator, quarterback Will Grier.
“Jacksonville is arguably the team that needs a quarterback more than anyone in the NFL right now after the Blake Bortles run appears to be over,” wrote Tim Bielik, sports reporter for Cleveland.com. “With Justin Herbert (of Oregon) staying in school, Haskins, if he leaves Ohio State after the Rose Bowl, could jump all the way to the top of the board.”
Haskins seems open to the idea of playing home games at TIAA Bank Field. This week he sent out Instagram photos of himself in the uniform of a few teams, including Jacksonville.
The season was a disappointment, but with the high draft pick awaiting, former Jaguars’ great Maurice Jones-Drew called the season “a blessing in disguise.” Jags fans, and Jones-Drew himself, would rather see the team playing for a Super Bowl title, but we know what he meant.