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Jacksonville Bold for 4.16.20 — Still flattening the curve

Decision-makers wrestle with how and when to reopen the economy.

Still flattening the curve 

Northeast Florida politics and politicians are still navigating a crisis with no playbook.

Coronavirus has upended the campaign game we expect from legislators who are permitted to fundraise after Session.

That hasn’t happened, not with crisis response at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

There has been no opportunity for the Governor to travel the state, highlighting wins in this year’s legislation or the budget. In fact, the open question is whether (and by how much) the next fiscal year’s budget will be tweaked.

More locally, decision-makers wrestle with how and when to reopen the economy, and the possibility of another wave of coronavirus to follow if the decision isn’t on point.

It’s an unusual time, both for the region and Jacksonville Bold.

Reopen or no?

The race between U.S. Rep. John Rutherford and likely Democratic challenger Donna Deegan continues to heat up, with Deegan taking issue on Twitter with Rutherford endorsements of defunding the World Health Organization and re-opening the economy early next month. 

Donna Deegan believes defunding the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic is not the smartest move.

“First, it’s common sense that when you are battling an illness you don’t stop paying your doctors and nurses. Defunding the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic is just not smart. In fact, it’s reckless and it’s playing politics with people’s lives

“Second, Early May? Based on what evidence? Where is the testing Congressman? When will we finally test at a level that will allow us to begin to lift restrictions responsibly? To actually know the extent of the spread. Testing has dropped by half this week. Not nearly enough.

Deegan has raised more money than Rutherford in two straight fundraising quarters, fueling hopes that she can overturn a strong party registration advantage in the Northeast Florida Republican-heavy 4th Congressional District. Clearly, she is bringing the heat on Twitter also.

Lawson to DeSantis: Drop lawsuit

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case involving another challenge to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as “Obamacare.” The State of Texas is the lead plaintiff in the case to be argued later this year, but Florida is among those signing on.

Democratic Rep. Al Lawson, who represents part of Jacksonville, is among Florida delegation Democrats urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to pull Florida out of the lawsuit. Lawson and his colleagues say health care costs could go up by 67%, and further claim that up to 1.9 million Floridians could lose their health care if Obamacare is overturned.

Al Lawson tells Ron DeSantis to drop out of the Obamacare lawsuit.

Lawson also joined the argument to not only withdraw from the lawsuit but further urged DeSantis to expand Medicaid, which former Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature have refused to do. They also seek a special open enrollment period for Obamacare during the coronavirus crisis.

“You have to lay politics aside,” Lawson said during a media call with his colleagues. “It’s unacceptable, and we certainly hope the president, within his heart, would decide to do something. We hope the Governor would also do something about this.”

Lawson said that greater health coverage would lessen the strain on emergency rooms, already stretched with COVID-19 patients. He further added that opening up enrollment in the ACA allows people to contribute financially to their own health care instead of depending on the system to pick up the costs.

Pause button

Jennifer Bradley, running to succeed term-limited husband Rob in the Florida Senate, started with strong fundraising and endorsements, a clear lane in the GOP primary, and a party registration advantage that will not be overturned anytime soon.

Campaign on the back burner, claims Jennifer Bradley.

The coronavirus crisis has impacted operations, she said.

“While my campaign has hit the pause button on most traditional campaign activities as well as fundraising, my desire to connect with and serve north Florida is stronger than ever. There is no one across our state that hasn’t been impacted by this virus. Some people have gotten sick, but many others have seen their challenges present more slowly as social and economic consequences spread. So my focus right now isn’t politics — or asking folks for help or money — that’s simply not where my heart is,” Bradley told Jacksonville Bold this week.

“Instead, I’m spending extra time managing our law office where our employees are like family, and we have clients that depend on us. I also continue to reach out to the community via social media and phone calls. I direct people to available resources when they reach out to me. Supporting food drives and food banks is more important than ever,” Bradley noted.

“My focus is also at home with my family. For the first time in a while, all our children are at home for an extended time. To me, the silver lining to this collective struggle is enjoying that family time as well as witnessing the incredible spirit of generosity across the state. We will emerge stronger and more focused than ever,” she predicted.

Compromise, teamwork

Sam Garrison, the Orange Park lawyer who is seeking to succeed termed-out Rep. Travis Cummings, likewise appears certain to sail to victory in November with or without a full-bore campaign effort.

However, that’s not his focus right now, which is closer to home.

Sam Garrison is close to home, like all of us, these days.

“I’m constantly reminding myself to focus on what I can control. Right now, that means being a good husband and dad while our family are all working from home together. My wife is a high school teacher, and we have two teenage daughters, so we’re learning a lot about the importance of compromise and teamwork,” Garrison said his week.

However, he is “also checking in regularly with our friends and supporters to see how they’re doing and let them know how much I appreciate them.”

That’s straight out of the Travis Cummings playbook, as is his assertion that “Clay County is united in our support for Gov. DeSantis and his team. They are doing an amazing job under incredibly difficult circumstances.”

Cargo down

Some tough numbers for JAXPORT, according to the Florida Times-Union this week.

The toplines, per David Bauerlein: “8% drop in cargo containers and a 21% plunge in automobile shipments in March.”

These are, say port officials, precipices without precedent, except perhaps the Great Recession of 2008.

Less traffic on the roads, and at the port.

Expectations are that April and May will also be gloomy, then it’s an open question if there will be a quick rebound.

For JAXPORT, the corona-crisis has seen an untimely reversal of fortunes, after four straight record years of container volume through 2019. Dredging continues, but indications are the last tranche of trench spending will have to come from the city of Jacksonville, which faces tight budgets of its own going forward.

Jax Beaches cash

In the throes of the coronavirus outbreak, Jacksonville beaches communities have rallied to help nonprofits along Northeast Florida coastal areas.

The Beaches Community Fund is in the process of distributing nearly $365,000 to nonprofit organizations. The Community Fund announced in a news release Tuesday that the money will be distributed to organizations that have needs due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Since we’ve worked closely with the Beaches nonprofit community for five years, we immediately recognized the additional stress the pandemic would place on these agencies and their clients,” said David Loeb, a member of the Beaches Community Fund. “There was no question that the families of the Beaches Community Fund would act quickly to help fortify these organizations so that they could respond to our neighbors and fellow Beaches residents.”

Jacksonville beach communities are opening their wallets to help nonprofits during the coronavirus crisis.

The $365,000 will be distributed among 18 different nonprofit organizations in the coastal communities in Duval County, ranging from the likes of the Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry, Feeding Northeast Florida, and Beaches Habitat for Humanity among other organizations.

“We understand that these nonprofit organizations need maximum flexibility right now to respond to our community’s immediate needs without jeopardizing their ability to survive,” said Helen Short, also a member of the Beaches Community Fund. “Because we’ve invested in our relationships with them, we can help these agencies respond quickly and in a way that works best for them and their clients.”

Thirty-three and counting

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is touting 33 years of accreditation through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, with more to come.

Since 1987, the Jacksonville Zoo has met rigorous standards in operations standards ranging from animal well-being to financial stability. With another thorough inspection behind them, they’ll hang on to their AZA seal of approval through at least 2025.

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is celebrating 30+ years of accreditation. Image via Mark Steppe/Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

“AZA accreditation validates Jacksonville Zoo and Garden’s commitment to the highest level of animal care, welfare and conservation,” said Tony Vecchio, the Zoo’s executive director.

“We are honored to be one of the few organizations to hold the accreditation for more than 30 years while continuing to provide fun, enriching, and memorable experiences for our members and guests.”

It’s another entry on the brag board for the century-old attraction, which boasts a collection of rare animals 2,000 durable, the region’s most extensive botanical garden, and an international presence through its conservation programs.

AZA reaccreditation comes on the heels of a conservation victory — earlier this month, the Zoo announced the birth of a Lappet-faced vulture, an endangered African species it has worked to save from extinction.

Visitors will be able to celebrate the anniversary and welcome the baby bird once Jax gets its post-coronavirus pratique.

Flatline?

While coronavirus is an existential concern in parts of the state, the mood in St. Johns County is somewhat sunnier.

County Administrator Hunter S. Conrad, picked for the job in February, addressed the response.

SJC is ready to move on from COVID-19.

The county, which has nearly 265,000 people at last count, has seen 176 cases, 29 hospitalizations, and two deaths from the novel coronavirus.

“Some of them and many of them may not be any longer in hospital,” Conrad said, denoting a “downward trend” in new cases, with only one new case Monday.

“That is good news seeing those numbers begin to flatline,” saying that “further decisions” could be made at the “discretion” of the commission next week, presumably to reopen the county’s beaches.

Public commenters asked for access to the ocean, at least for county residents.

Perhaps next week they will make a move, regardless of what Duval has to say about it.

Beseler-backed

A big-time endorsement in the Clay County Sheriff’s race went the way of an aspirant candidate from Duval County this week.

“No one knows what it takes to be a successful Clay County Sheriff better than a retired three-term Clay County Sheriff. That is why I believe Michelle Cook is the best choice for the next Clay County Sheriff,” asserted Rick Beseler this week.

“I have known Michele since she was a youngster growing up in Green Cove Springs. I watched her as she became a seasoned professional police officer, a recognized leader in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office, then on to head her agency as Chief of Police in Atlantic Beach. Her skills are proven. Chief Cook is smart, tough, fair, honest, and ready to tackle the job,” Beseler added.

The former sheriff wants a new sheriff. Image via News4Jax.

Beseler retired after three terms, and was replaced by Darryl Daniels, who has recently pushed a poll saying he is ahead in the race.

In terms of cash on hand, another candidate (Mike Taylor) has roughly $77,000 on hand, ahead of Cook, who has approximately $57,000, and Daniels, with roughly $28,000.

Jags, NFL soldier through pandemic

April usually is among the most fan-friendly months for those rooting for NFL teams. The COVID-19 virus has changed much of that, but by now, Jaguars fans should have already learned the official schedule and be prepared to determine who will join the team via the draft.

The schedule is delayed because it is far from specific training camps will open anywhere near on time, let alone start the regular season. Learning the dates of the eight road games, six home games and the two games in London will have to wait.

When it comes to the draft, the old saying “the show must go on,” applies here. Players will still be selected on the scheduled dates of April 23-25, but not with team personnel sitting at tables in one location.

Instead, a virtual draft will occur with picks coming from team personnel making the picks from home. While this is the best the league can do, the thought of so many different connections from around the country should prompt the question, “what could possibly go wrong?”

The NFL draft goes virtual, with team decision-makers to work from home. Image via AP.

Unless they make a trade over the next week, the Jaguars will have the ninth pick of the first round as well as the 20th selection, which they received from the Los Angeles Rams as part of the trade for Jalen Ramsey last year.

As of today, the Jaguars have 11 picks covering the draft’s seven rounds. The team is clearly in a rebuilding mode, but having so many selections gives them the option of either stocking up young players and building the team from the bottom up, or using the picks as part of a trade or trades to draft up and shore up a need.

The needs were already evident as the season progressed last year. Still, since 2019 ended, Jacksonville has traded away Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell, star cornerback A.J. Bouye and quarterback Nick Foles. That is how a team winds up with 11 draft picks.

Rising star defensive end Yannick Ngakoue no longer wishes to play for the Jaguars, so expect another trade. With the loss, and expected loss, of that kind of talent, it is no surprise the Jaguars are currently classified as the Miami Dolphins of 2020.

Going into 2019, Miami conducted a fire sale that saw them unload their best talent, leading several to predict they would not win a game (they went 5-11). Heading into 2020, Sports Illustrated, likely among others, rank the Jaguars 32nd out of 32 teams.

The Dolphins surprised the football world by going 5-11, but that will not be good enough in Jacksonville. Jags’ owner Shad Khan kept coach Doug Marrone and General Manager Dave Caldwell around for another year, but clearly indicated he wanted results.

They will need an infusion of talent to get the results Khan seeks.

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