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Jacksonville Bold for 12.20.19 — Season’s beatings

The Jacksonville political chessboard looks similar, but different, from when 2019 began.

Season’s beatings 

For Jacksonville politics, the year is all but over.

Nevertheless, the chessboard looks similar — yet different — from it did at the beginning of 2019.

Mayor Lenny Curry is still the man, having withstood nominal challenges for reelection early in the year.

Lenny Curry is still the man in Jacksonville, even after some rough patches.

However, compared to the smooth operation of his first term, where his team manufactured four years of unanimous votes for whatever he wanted, there are more headwinds this year.

Curry’s hand-picked heads of JEA and the Kids Hope Alliance are not just gone, but left under circumstances that will merit further investigation on each front.

The exploration of selling JEA, despite multiple attempts to reframe it as a way to make Jacksonville debt-free or to escape the “death spiral” (as one board member put it) of owning a municipal utility, has been a particularly tough sell.

In the last half-decade, the story of Jacksonville politics has been the “Lenny Curry Show.”

On television, Year 5 can make or break a show for syndication. However, there is no such threshold for mayoral administrations.

What there is: a need to finish strong, to preserve political capital, to not take Ls in a public forum.

With most on City Council eyeing their post-Curry political futures, the open question in 2020 will be whether Curry can get the suddenly restive Council in line.

His legacy is riding on it.


Another big-name endorsement this week for Republican Judson Sapp in his bid for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, via the former congressman from that same district.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, the outgoing incumbent Rep. Ted Yoho successfully primaried in 2012, endorsed Sapp this week.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, the latest to fall in behind Judson Sapp.

“It is my pleasure to endorse my friend Judson Sapp for Congress. Having served in the U.S. Congress representing this very same district, I know what it takes to be effective — and Judson Sapp has demonstrated that quality in creating jobs with his business and serving and living in his community,” said Stearns.

“We need to send a strong conservative to Washington to fight for our values. Judson Sapp is a successful community leader who has stood with our President and will stand up for us in Congress.”

Active Congressmen John Rutherford and Vern Buchanan have already endorsed. Some say the former means that Jacksonville will line up behind Sapp.

Others disagree.

“I have known Congressman Stearns and his wife since I was a child,” said Sapp. “I have always admired Mr. Stearns for his genuine concern for constituents and his studied approach to public policy.”

Sapp is one of many candidates in the race, declared and otherwise. Fellow Clay County Republican Amy Pope Wells is in, with Clay County Commissioner Gavin Rollins and Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn among the more prominent names considering a run.

CD3 runs south-southwest from Clay toward Ocala.

Gimme the loot

U.S. Rep. Rutherford extolled several budget bonanzas for the 4th Congressional District this week, with a spending accord passing Congress.

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford highlights new spending in a news release this week.

“As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I am proud to announce that the Fiscal Year 2020 bills fund critical programs for our Northeast Florida community,” said Rutherford. “Included in this bipartisan agreement is continued support for NAS Jacksonville, Naval Station Mayport, JAXPORT and the Port of Fernandina.”

“It also strengthens veteran care and suicide prevention throughout the First Coast, continues the fight against diseases like Alzheimer’s, and safeguards our kids in schools through continued funding of my STOP School Violence Act of 2018. Important to our coastal communities, this bill also extends the authorization for the National Flood Insurance Program. In an often-divisive Washington, I am proud of our bipartisan collaboration on the Appropriations Committee to smartly and efficiently fund our nation’s priorities. I look forward to continuing to fight for our community in Congress,” Rutherford added.

Rutherford provided a list of “major wins.” These include $32.4 million for NAS Jacksonville’s Targeting and Surveillance System Support Facility and $18.7 million for a new police station at Blount Island Command.

Rutherford, in his third term, faces a primary challenge from perpetual long shot Gary Koniz. Should he survive that, Democrat Donna Deegan likely will face him in the general.

Nat Sec only

While many Republican Congress members laud pork-barrel spending in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget accord reached Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Mike Waltz took a different tack.

Rep. Mike Waltz drew the line on some spending this year.

Waltz, whose district includes southern St. Johns County, held the line on voting for most spending, except National Security expenditures, indicating discomfort with the process.

“I voted against the behemoth package to fund the remaining federal departments because it was introduced fewer than 24 hours before the vote and significantly increased spending from last year,” Waltz said.

Waltz did vote for the Fiscal Year 2020 national security package, which includes Pentagon, NASA, Homeland Security and Justice Department spending.

“Providing resources for national security departments and NASA is a positive ending to a year which has left Floridians frustrated by partisan gridlock in Washington,” Waltz said. “From defending our assets with a Space Force to launching the first woman to deep space from Florida’s coast, investing in modern defense systems, keeping our promises to our ally Israel and strengthening border security, this package puts Americans first.”

Included: $600 million for NASA, which plans to be on the moon again in 2024; $500 million for Israel military aid; $70 million for U.S. Space Command and $40 million for U.S. Space Force.

Florida-specific spending includes some of the $1.7 billion in disaster aid for military bases and $346 million for planes produced in Florida.

No impeachment, Waltz says

As the impeachment vote loomed Wednesday, Waltz took a strong stance against what he and most Republicans deem to be a political distraction from the “People’s Business.”

“It’s a shame that impeaching President Donald Trump has been Democrats’ No. 1 priority since they lost the election in 2016, well before the current charges regarding Ukraine. For the past three months, Speaker Pelosi has rushed through a secretive, unfair, partisan and incredibly divisive impeachment process. We should all be working together to keep our economy the strongest it’s ever been, keep Americans safe from our enemies overseas and make the American dream real,” Waltz asserted.

Impeaching Donald Trump is a ‘shame,’ says Michael Waltz.

“While Democrats have been distracted and moving full-speed ahead with impeachment, they waited nearly a year to vote on the USMCA trade deal and have yet to tackle major issues in a serious way, like our growing federal debt, fixing our broken immigration system, protecting Social Security and Medicare, reforming our health care system and modernizing our infrastructure,” Waltz added.

“I believe we need to focus on our jobs in Congress rather than taking this President out of office. Let the American people decide our next President in the 2020 election,” Waltz said.

Try clemency?

Rep. Paul Renner has a suggestion for the 23,000 plus former felons awaiting clemency determinations: be patient, because laws aren’t changing in 2020.

Rep. Paul Renner’s advice: Do the crime? Serve the time. Or appeal for clemency.

Renner, the House Judiciary Chair, told the Tampa Bay Times not to expect laws to be changed “retroactively” to accommodate people convicted on drug laws that have been rewritten since their sentencing.

“I’m thankful (voters) gave us the opportunity to look at retroactivity, but what they didn’t do is mandate it,” he said.

For someone who made “multiple drug deals,” such as a former pill dealer who got caught up in a sting (as TBT profiled previously), Renner adds that “at some point, there’s a consequence and punishment for that.”

Inmates with “sympathetic circumstances” should apply for clemency, Renner added.

That process can take a while.

The backlog is over 23,000, and the state Clemency Board (comprised of the Governor and the Cabinet) meets every three months, reviewing a few dozen cases.

Doctor doctor

A new bill from Rep. Wyman Duggan, the first-term Republican representing House District 16, offers some relief to those dealing with soaring medical bills.

Sooner or later, that’s everyone reading this who doesn’t have a government job.

HB 959 offers exemptions in lien categories. A debtor’s “interest in a motor vehicle” (as long as it’s under $10,000) and a debtor’s property holdings under $10,000 (if a homestead exemption isn’t in play).

Rep. Wyman Duggan is proposing medical billing reform.

The bill also requires pretreatment estimates to be provided to patients. The current statute allows medical centers seven days to provide such, a period in which it is possible to incur astronomical charges.

Medical facilities can’t exceed 110% of that estimate without a “written explanation of the excess charges.”

As well, facilities are required to have an internal mechanism for “grievances,” such as excess charges. And there are new limitations proposed to mitigate aggressive debt collection as well.

Dems make House moves

Just as was the case in 2018, Duval Democrats continue to challenge for historically safe Republican state House seats.

Last week, Ben Marcus opened a campaign account to run in House District 16, a Republican-leaning seat on Jacksonville’s Southside.

Ben Marcus is the latest to take a run at Jason Fischer.

Marcus, a consultant who also briefly interned for a member of Congress in D.C., will square up against Rep. Jason Fischer.

“I believe that state legislators’ primary role is to support their constituents and local elected bodies. It’s clear that some legislators, my opponent included, seem to put ambition and ideological purity ahead of that,” Marcus added.

Fischer, a lightning-rod for criticism from the Jacksonville left, has $172,000 already raised between his campaign account and political committee, a significant leg up in an R-performing district.

Marcus is the second Democrat to file a challenge to a House Republican in Duval.

HD 15 Republican Duggan drew a challenge from Democrat Tammyette Thomas, and the neophyte candidate’s long odds are getting longer if November campaign finance reports are any indication.

Duggan’s picked up his fundraising pace, with a $35,000 November haul between his campaign account and his political committee lifting him to $107,000 on hand.

Thomas has yet to report fundraising.

Aaron error

On Tuesday morning, the JEA board unanimously moved to terminate without cause — and with significantly reduced terms — the contract of embattled CEO Aaron Zahn.

From A to Z: Zahn’s tenure is a wrap. Image via A.G. Gancarski.

Those terms have not been finalized, but he would have to forfeit the vast majority of the money owed him under current deals.

Unless he works out better terms before a Dec. 30 deadline, he will get one month ($52,000) of consulting fees, a fraction of the 12 months of payments he was promised. And 20 weeks of severance pay.

Off the table for now: a side deal giving him 100% of his salary in case of involuntary termination.

Zahn, the most public exponent for the thus far politically toxic scheme to privatize America’s eighth-largest utility, is slated to get administrative leave pay as terms are finalized, with a target date of Dec. 30 for a final accord.

The same board that selected Zahn — choosing his “passion” over outside candidates with actual experience in the public utility sector, moved to fire him — replacing him with COO Melissa Dykes on an interim basis.

Dykes was interim CEO previous to Zahn’s hiring.

Tennessee bound

Maple Street Biscuit Company was one of Duval’s success stories this decade, expanding over the years until being bought out by Cracker Barrel.

Sen. Marco Rubio at Maple Street, March 2016. Image via Slate.

They’re too big for Jacksonville now, reports the Jax Daily Record, and are headed for higher ground.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. CEO Sandy Cochran said, “we’re committed to preserving the integrity of the Maple Street brand,” but “the Maple Street team will be relocating to Nashville.”

How will that “integrity” look? Well, marketing to the youth, “as a growth vehicle that complements Cracker Barrel by accelerating our penetration in this segment (breakfast and lunch fast-casual dining) by providing increased exposure to urban and suburban markets and the millennial and Gen Z” markets.

Minshew ruins Raiders’ finale

The comeback engineered over the final 5:15 by Gardner Minshew in Oakland, leading to a thrilling 20-16 victory, is one of the few high points of the season. After receiving multiple middle fingers from Raiders fans, who saw their team play in Oakland for the final time, Minshew said afterward “it was fun to ruin that for them.”

Gardner Minshew spoiled the end of the Raiders’ season.

As the Jaguars were pulling off the upset, across the bay in San Francisco, the Atlanta Falcons, this week’s opponent, accomplished something greater by knocking off the Super Bowl contending 49ers on the game’s final play. The Falcons, like the Jaguars, are 5-9 but Atlanta has also beaten the 11-3 New Orleans Saints. The game is Sunday in Atlanta.

Campbell honored

Selections for the Jan. 26 Pro Bowl were announced this week. The Jaguars’ only selection was defense end Calais Campbell, who was chosen for the third consecutive year and fifth overall. He was also recently nominated by the Jaguars for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, given to the player who has demonstrated outstanding service to his community.

More changes coming

Changes were expected in the Jaguars’ organization after the season, but owner Shad Khan did not wait as he fired executive vice-president of football operations Tom Coughlin. When the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) won a grievance against the Jaguars this week, it also revealed the team was, by far, the leader in player dissatisfaction.

With Coughlin previously being fingered by former Jaguars’ star Jalen Ramsey as the reason he left, the hearing also revealed former star Dante Fowler, Jr. was impermissibly fined $700,000 by management.

Doug Marrone’s job may be on the line.

In a statement, Khan indicated he was prepared to fire Coughlin at season’s end, “but, in recent days, I reconsidered and decided to make this change immediately.” The status of head coach Doug Marrone will be determined soon after the final game on December 29.

One Coughlin’s replacement is chosen he will face a difficult rebuilding task. The team has little salary cap space to make any serious moves to upgrade unless they can unload player payroll.

With Minshew’s play this year, would the team consider trying to move the big salary of now-demoted quarterback Nick Foles? Answers will start coming in a little more than one week after the season ends on December 29.

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