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Jacksonville Bold for 3.8.19 — More signs than voters.

Why is there an enthusiasm gap?

A local Democratic political consultant addressed the sad shape of Jacksonville’s voter turnout, at least during the initial stages of early voting.

Why is there an enthusiasm gap?

Theories abound.

In Duval County, Democrats outnumber Republicans, yet the change agent here was a Republican former City Council president who went rogue.

Just as Charlie Crist struggled to enthuse Democrats in 2014, Anna Brosche has been a tough sell.

While she doesn’t get along with Curry, she’s voted for his budgets and reforms (for the most part).

And the JEA issue may be a case of “this dog don’t hunt” for voters.

Filling out the field are Independent candidate Omega Allen and Jimmy Hill, another Republican Curry irked since becoming Mayor.

They won’t win. But the will shear off some votes and make Curry work a bit harder to get over 50 percent turnout in an election where no one seems to care.

A lot of activists talked a big game about change. Instead, we are seeing a “No Surprises” re-election campaign run the ball straight up the middle, more interested in breaking the will of opponents than rushing to score.

Is there any solace for those who don’t want this to end? Maybe.

Tampa had a low-turnout election (20 percent or so) this week, and it will go to a runoff.

There are those who hope that somehow happens in Jacksonville, too.

But who will voters choose?

Since Christmas, negative ads have defined Brosche. Hill and Allen are running their campaigns with change found in the couch.

If any of them somehow survive March, it’s hard to imagine what it will look like in May.

Cops not props

The message from the Jacksonville Ethics Commission to local politicians: Even if the General Counsel looks the other way when cops are used for political messaging, it’s still a bad idea.

That’s what the Florida Times-Union reports, at least.

Does this blur the line? Reasonable people disagree.

Incumbent Mayor Lenny Curry, under fire because of stubbornly high murder rates, has used police officers to validate his claims that he has delivered on public safety.

A supporter of Brosche thought that infringed upon the Hatch Act.

While the Ethics Commission can’t trump the binding opinion of the General Counsel, who believes that ordinance can only bar face to face campaigning in uniform, they did note that cops in political ads “erodes the public trust in government.

It will be worth watching to see if there is any postelection shuffling on that appointed body, given how yoked public safety is to Republican messaging this election.

Spend spend spend

With early voting well underway, Jacksonville candidates are in the “smoke ’em if you got ’em” phase of the run-up to the first election.

Per WJXT, everyone’s spending more than raising.

Over yet? Or is this how the rest of the spring will look? Image via WJXT.

Curry, as of the March 1 report, still had well over a million dollars to deploy. And flexibility, via whatever the arrangement is with the Florida Republican Senatorial Committee, to buy TV time at favorable rates.

It is complicated to track Brosche’s money (committee receipts are at the state level, which is due March 11). But she’s not close.

The story is simple: Curry needs to defeat Brosche and the rest of the field in March getting over 50 percent of the vote, or his donors spend another couple of million because the operation didn’t close the deal.

Super Mario

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Mario Rubio has left Jacksonville for Tallahassee.

Mario Rubio is on the move. Image via ABC News.

A city hall fixture during the last couple of mayoral administrations, the 69-year-old Rubio is now the state Director of Community Development.

Rubio was most recently Jacksonville’s Small and Emerging Business Administrator. “He earned relatively high marks in periodic evaluations from the city,” the Times reports.

Curry said under Rubio, “we have introduced a number of tools, processes, and offerings that are providing greater support and resources to our small business community.”

Rubio, a former Green Beret, became known nationally as a surrogate for his younger brother during his unsuccessful 2016 campaign for President.

Ominous signs

Sen. Audrey Gibson, leader of the Democratic caucus, responded to Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ first State of the State address Tuesday.

Sen. Audrey Gibson was not sold on the new Governor’s speech.

As expected, she had concerns.

While Gibson lauded DeSantis’ focus on environmental issues and what the Governor called “high-quality education,” she added that “ominous signs that are rising, signaling that his proposed solutions really aren’t new at all.”

Gibson urged that the Governor commit state resources to septic tank mitigation, with a “long-range statewide plan with sufficient funding” rather than piecemeal grants to local and state governments.

Gibson also noted that Democrats see “high-quality education” differently than DeSantis and the charter school advocates in his orbit.

“Using positive terminology like ‘family empowerment,’ and then moving thousands of students out of their neighborhood school and into a voucher system while building privately run charter schools in the same economically depressed areas that have been deliberately left behind is a bait and switch scheme our children and families do not deserve,” Gibson said.

Read more here.

Tighten up

Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley wasn’t a real bet for a big budget anyway, but he told us as Session begins to expect a “very tight” budget.

The reason why: hurricane damage.

Rob Bradley has some hard decisions to make in the next two months.

Republican by registration and conservative by temperament, the Fleming Island Republican estimates a hefty $2.7 billion price tag for recovery from Michael alone.

While Florida’s reserves can weather the fiscal storm, Bradley notes that Michael (and Irma before it) “created a major cash flow issue for our state.”

“We’ve spent a lot of our reserves on basic recovery efforts, and it’s taking the federal government a long time to reimburse us for their share of those costs,” Bradley said. “It’s going to be a very tight budget year.”

Read more here.

Hemp flowers

Bradley is leading on another issue: a suddenly-urgent drive to ramp up in-state hemp production.

A new cash crop at the right time for Florida.

He’s the Senate sponsor of SB 1020, legislation that would authorize Agriculture Secretary Nikki Fried to set up a program in which hemp would be industrially farmed.

No homegrown, in other words, a condition that didn’t sit well with people attending a Senate committee the bill cleared this week.

Bradley embraced a corporatist model on medical cannabis, and though he stresses that there are differences between the related plants (“hemp doesn’t get you high”), what’s clear is that the model envisioned involves highly-capitalized producers and as few surprises as possible.

Million dollar man

State Sen. Travis Hutson hopes to lead the Republican caucus in 2023, and before Legislative Session, he flexed his fundraising muscles.

Travis Hutson flexes his fundraising muscles. Image via FlaglerLive.com.

All told, Hutson raised $960,000 thus far in 2019, per informed sources, which claim that sum is more than anyone not in leadership has raised.

This (goes the argument) makes him a “certain front-runner” for the slot.

Over half a million was raised during one Feb. 18 fundraiser. $300,000 more came in the next weekend.

In addition to what added up to roughly $900,000 in hard money, another $60,000 in soft cash filled out the total.

Donors this cycle included HCA, Disney, International Speedway, Universal/Comcast, Florida Blue, Florida Home Builders Assc, JB Coxwell Contracting, RingPower, Anderson Columbia, Florida Relators, A Duda and Sons,

Reports are due March 11.

Hutson’s principal competition is Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passimodo.

Through January, her Working Together for Florida political committee had roughly $125,000 on hand.

Straw flaw

Fear not: your plastic straws aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Plastic straws: not quite an endangered species after all.

The Miami Herald reports “the Senate Commerce and Tourism committee approved a bill Monday that, instead of taking aim at plastic straw use, sets up a study to look at the effects of the plastic utensils. It also puts a five-year moratorium on local plastic straw bans.”

That’s quite the extensive study.

Sen. Hutson introduced the revised bill.

“I realized that I was kind of putting my own thoughts into this. it was government overreach,” the Elkton Republican said. “So what I did was file an amendment that would put a moratorium but give us a study.”

Studies have come and gone, and come to nothing.

This bill is timely: St. Augustine Beach is mulling a plastic ban.

Pre-emption may take care of that though.

Bundle ban advances

A bill that could let voters end the controversial practice of bundling constitutional amendments cleared its second Florida House panel Tuesday.

HJR 53, sponsored by Republican Reps. Bobby Payne and Cord Byrd, was favorably reported by State Affairs, by a 22-0 vote.

The bill must clear Judiciary; then it will be ready for the House floor. The Senate version likewise has one committee stop left.

If the bill becomes law, people will get to vote for an amendment limiting amendments to one subject in the next general election.

Legislative interest in this matter occurred after the constitutional Revision Commission bundled together several unrelated measures and put them on the ballot.

Righting past wrongs

State Rep. Tracie Davis is carrying another bill (HB 1077) designed to help those victimized at the Dozier School for Boys get a constructive remedy.

Rep. Tracie Davis seeks a ‘constructive remedy’ for Dozier School victims. Image via Phil Sears.

“This bill is an essential element in achieving closure for the families involved in this tragedy,” she said.

State Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat, is carrying the Senate version.

The bill compels the state to find living victims to help them.

Davis frames this bill as a “first step,” and believes the bill will be supported given the successful push for an apology last session.

Holland and Knight senior policy adviser and former Gov. Bob Martinez has been instrumental on this issue, and will “work closely” with legislative sponsors to ensure passage.

Unblock crossings

This week, Jacksonville City Council committees urged CSX and the town of Baldwin to find a way forward on stalled railroad crossings.

CSX and Duval County have not found resolution thus far.

Council resolution 2019-102, sponsored by 13 members of the body, also urges that the state Legislature provide a fix.

That bill is up Tuesday in front of the full Council

That remedy (HB 309) has been filed by Rep. Wyman Duggan, a land-use lawyer from Rogers Towers in his first term.

Baldwin, on the western edge of Duval County, has been frustrated thus far in its attempts to deal with the ongoing problem created by stalled CSX trains.

Though local ordinances exist to discourage trains stalling out at crossings, an “arrangement” between the State Attorney’s office and the railroad company has been reached in lieu of clarifying the respective legal standings of the town and the company.

Duggan’s bill would limit to 15 minutes the length of time a train could block tracks.

Big dig going great

At Monday’s meeting of the JAXPORT board of directors, contractors revealed that the harbor deepening project is progressing well.

Dredging is ahead of schedule.

Ray Waters of The Dutra Group and Russell Zimmerman of Great Lakes Dredging asserted that the project, which will deepen 11 miles of river to 47 feet, is proceeding free of notable adverse impacts.

Dutra noted that its end of the project ($484 million total) is just over 50 percent completed, with 1.5 million cubic yards dredged, and no notable environmental impacts created thus far.

Great Lakes, which started its part of the project in November 2018, has a base contract of $113.167 million, and a potential option of $96 million. They expect completion by late 2020.

Thus far, 400,000 cubic yards have been dredged, a small fraction of the 2.7 million in its original contract and an additional 2.7 million cubic yards in its option.

Great Lakes anticipates the third contract after this one, as well. Zimmerman quipped that it would have to be announced and bid first, which occasioned laughter from the board.

Neither presentation elicited questions from the board.

Monday’s events follow on similarly encouraging comments by CEO Eric Green last week, which Action News Jax reported. The project, expected to finish in 2025, could wrap in 2023, said Green.

JAXPORT inks new deal  

With a unanimous vote, the Jacksonville Port Authority Board approved a 25-year agreement with Seattle-based terminal operator SSA Marine — which will develop a $238.7 million international container terminal at Blount Island.

The project will create nearly 3,000 new jobs, with a projected $158 million revenue boost over the next 25 years.

JAXPORT signs a big deal with SSA Marine, taking the port to new heights.

SSA Jacksonville International Gateway Terminal will stretch approximately 80 acres at Blount Island but has the potential to reach 120 acres, reports Action News Jax.

This new terminal is an expansion of SSA’s current agreement on Blount Island and will accommodate larger container comes from the Asian and Pacific lines.

“What this means is that we’re on the map,” JAXPORT CEO Eric Green told reporters. ”We’re in the top 15 ports in the country. We have two robust international trade operators, SSA and TraPac. We have a true private partnership with both, and this takes us to another level.”

Name game

The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee reported favorably a bill that would allow VyStar to sponsor the local arena.

VyStar poised to step into the naming rights arena.

The bill (2019-95) had nine co-sponsors as of Friday and was introduced at the request of Mayor Curry.

In another sign of the executive branch’s interest, Finance Chair Greg Anderson noted that the administration wanted this bill up first in the agenda.

Anderson obliged.

Finance was the remaining committee stop before full Council deliberation next week.

VyStar would agree to a $525,000 sponsorship fee annually for the next 15 years, with a 3 percent escalator to a final payment of $794,110 in 2033.

Ten percent of that sum would go to a trust fund, and VyStar would also contribute up to $180,000 in cash and considerations for various other veterans’ initiatives, including luncheons and a concession donation match fund.

All told, VyStar would be responsible for $9,76 million in hard costs.

Jail fail

Via Action News Jax, a story about Duval County’s main jail needing close to a million dollars in capital improvements.

Sheriff Mike Williams’ much-maligned facility (what doesn’t it need?) is on the hook for $900,000 of capital spend.

Duval County’s main jail facility needs nearly $1 million in improvements, including ADA compliance.

The issue is the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Per ANJax, the department reached a federal settlement earlier this decade, and now (despite talk of moving the facility out of downtown), money is finally being spent to make the required changes.

The ADA was passed in 1990, yet Jacksonville is still spending to comply nearly 30 years later.

To block, or not to block

On Tuesday afternoon, the Jacksonville City Council Rules Committee pondered the question of whether one public official can block another on Twitter.

To block or not to block? Garrett Dennis wants to know.

At issue: a resolution sponsored by Councilman Garrett Dennis asking Attorney General Ashley Moody to weigh in on this matter, which opens up a larger question: whether tweets by a public official are necessarily public record.

The panel deferred action on the measure.

A federal judge ruled last year that President Donald Trump was not allowed to block followers on the popular social media platform, yet he still blocks people nonetheless.

Dennis invoked this ruling in his testimony. A federal appeals judge in Virginia made a similar ruling regarding a local officeholder earlier this year also.

Dennis noted in close that General Counsel Jason Gabriel urged him to push forward on this.

But the committee didn’t take his word for it and will summon him in two weeks.

Poop chute

The Jacksonville City Council race in District 2 hasn’t seen an oppo dump.

A fecal dump, however, is a different matter, as WCJB reports.

Democrat Carson Tranquille discovered a package of poop on his doorstep last week.

It’s unclear whether a campaign disclosure was on the delivery.

If it hadn’t been for an Amazon package, he suggests that the unrequested dung would have been there for a while.

Tranquille is challenging Republican Al Ferraro, who is a Curry ally.

Ferraro is winning the fundraising war in the deep red district.

Housing horrors

The Florida Times-Union took a look at “sexual misconduct allegations” at the Jacksonville Housing Authority, and to say the least, there seem to be some issues.

The Jacksonville Housing Authority faces a slew of accusations over ‘sexual misconduct.’ Image via Jacksonville.com.

The story leads with a tenant allegation that a maintenance mechanics showed up to do the work … but demanded a quid pro quo.

If no quid pro quo? Out she’d go.

The previous leader of the JHA, per the T-U report, dated a tenant at one point.

The current leader wouldn’t talk to the paper.

The JHA handles 2,400 families. There is a waiting list. And, apparently, some abuses of power.

Airport award

The Airports Council International honored Jacksonville International Airport this week.

“Despite challenges brought on by record growth, the JAX airport community increased efforts to deliver world-class service to more passengers than any year in our history,” Jacksonville Aviation Authority CEO Mark VanLoh said. “Looking toward the future, we believe ongoing facility upgrades will ensure continued customer satisfaction.”

Jacksonville shares its honor with Indianapolis and San Antonio, two comparably sized markets.

JIA to grow

Anticipating future growth over the next few years, the Jacksonville International Airport is launching an expansion plan that will include a third concourse for an additional six gates.

Expansion: Jacksonville International Airport is looking to add a third concourse, growing by an additional six gates.

First Coast News reports the main level of the concourse will feature passenger lounges, adjacent restroom facilities, and a centralized concession court to maximize convenience for travelers.

There is no timeline for the expansion as of yet. JIA experienced double-digit passenger growth in 2018, handling nearly 6.4 million travelers.

Could be worse

The bad news: expect a recession in the next couple of years.

The good news: Northeast Florida isn’t as bad off as will be the case elsewhere.

That’s the conclusion drawn by the chief economist of PNC Bank, per the Jacksonville Daily Record.

PNC Bank Economist Gus Faucher is warning of recession. Image via Jax Daily Record.

“It’s one of the strongest economies in the country,” Faucher surmises.

Military spending: Helpful. Tourism: Also a boon. Dredging: Can only help.

Faucher notes a deficit in high-tech jobs, a sign of a talent deficit the city has been working for some time to remedy.

Decision time

The newly appointed Mayor of St. Augustine knows his way around City Hall.

In the wake of Nancy Shaver’s resignation for health reasons, Tracy Upchurch was chosen to fill her term, as WJCT reported.

Tracy Upchurch meets with a student. Image via Flagler College/WJCT.

A former Mayor and state Legislator, Upchurch is a professor at Flagler College.

Timing was essential if the locals wanted to pick.

“Normally all of this stuff can be out in the public,” Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline said during the meeting. “But now, here we are Monday, and we’re under the clock. We have to have this decision made by Sunday or the governor appoints.”

Whatever was or wasn’t “out in the public,” the Commission moved forward, apparently less than worried about public records requests relevant to the Sunshine Law on that provocative quote.

JTA expands to Clay

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is expanding to offer new services in Clay County.

As reported by Action News Jax, passengers will be able to access the new Clay Community Transportation service through the Red or Blue lines.

JTA further expands into Clay county. Image the Florida Times-Union.

The service will serve Clay County through 11 different locations, including the Clay County Library, Orange Park Mall, Orange Park Medical Center and Clay County Courthouse.

JTA Vice President and Chief Transportation Officer Lisa Darnall said in a statement that the agency is working to find the best destinations for people to board the bus.

“We do have a route deviation on these routes,” Darnall told Action News Jax. “So (if) somebody is not able to get to a bus stop, we can deviate the bus to pick them up.”

Clay County has experienced steady growth in population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with 5,000 more residents gained from 2016 to 2017.

Foles on Jags horizon

It now appears to be better than a 50-50 chance a Super Bowl MVP quarterback is on the way to the Jaguars. Nick Foles, who led the Philadelphia Eagles to the 2018 Super Bowl title, is fully expected to be coming to Jacksonville.

“A market for Nick Foles outside of Jacksonville has not developed, and though nothing is certain until it is official, the Jaguars absolutely expect to sign Foles,” sources told Philly.com.

Welcome to Jacksonville: Eagles QB Nick Foles is fully expected to make the move to the Jaguars. Image via Getty.

If Foles does head south, it will not be official until March 13, when the free agency period officially begins. Teams can begin to talk to Foles, or any free agent, on March 11, but no other suitor for his services has surfaced yet.

In a free market system, Foles would like to see others get into the mix. The price tag was expected to approach $20 million for next year, but if the Jags are not competing with another team, Foles would have little leverage to get a bigger contract.

The Jaguars cannot comment until that time, but the leaks should start coming by the 11th, if not earlier.

At the recent NFL Scouting Combine, head coach Doug Marrone met with the media and talked in general terms about what he was looking for in a veteran quarterback. It certainly sounded like someone fitting the description of Foles.

“The more experienced or the more knowledge your quarterback has and the perfect scenario for me is I like it where the quarterback knows more, and everyone else has to catch up to the quarterback,” Marrone said. “I think that’s what keeps people on their toes.”

With the apparent addition of Foles, Jacksonville is poised to say goodbye to veteran quarterback Blake Bortles. He is due $1 million if he is on the Jaguars’ roster by March 17, which management is likely unwilling to pay.

In the unlikely event Foles does not sign, it will be on to the draft to select one of the high profile quarterbacks available when the Jaguars select.

The next phase in the history of the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise is about to begin.

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