Jacksonville Bold for 10.1.2020 — Feels like fall

Lichgate Tree Tallahassee Florida
There's politics in the air.

Feels like fall.

In a year of surprises, October will hold them in the presidential race narrative. Maybe every day.

But closer to home, it’s less surprising that the Republican machine is ramping up.

Outside groups are putting thumbs on scales that already tip toward the right.

The attack spots are hitting up and down the ballot.

And in what is the least surprising point at all, Duval is polling within the margin of error in one survey of local voters regarding the Presidential race.

Democrats, many hoping that Duval can be BluVal in 2020, may or may not feel good about the latest St. Pete Polls survey that shows Joe Biden over President Donald Trump, albeit barely, with a 1.5 point edge, well below the 3.6 MOE.

Pinning presidential hopes on Joe Biden to help Duval turn to BluVal.

Biden’s advantage is with independent voters, with 53% of those polled going for him, compared to 40% for the President.

Meanwhile, Trump is doing better with Republicans than Biden with Democrats, a point worth watching given questions about real enthusiasm for Biden. Trump is the choice of 84% of Republicans, compared to Biden at 14%.

Biden is preferred by only 78% of Democrats, meanwhile, with 15% of them backing Trump.

Meanwhile, Biden has work to do with White voters across the board, as only one in three currently back him. Trump, for what it’s worth, only has the backing of one in ten Black voters.

AFP in CD 4

Americans for Prosperity is getting airtime in Florida’s 4th Congressional District, with a radio buy opposing Amendment 2.

Amendment 2 proposes to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour, effective Sept. 30, 2021, then an additional $1 per hour each year for five years, until September 30, 2026, when it would become $15 per hour. After that, the state’s minimum wage would follow annual inflation adjustments.

AFP is joining businesses across the state, many suffering substantial losses due to the pandemic, to claim that a higher minimum wage will result in cuts — both in work hours and jobs.

Many Republicans say the rise will also cost taxpayers — from the government as an employer to higher prices for government contracts.

Ads opposing Amendment 2 could indirectly boost Congressman John Rutherford.

The radio flight started Saturday and runs through Friday, October 9, and the conservative group has committed nearly $45,000, according to the Advertising Analytics website.

Over $28,000 of the outlay will buy spots on news/talk radio, with the balance routed to country music stations.

Ads opposing Amendment 2 would indirectly benefit GOP Rep. John Rutherford, whose district is 48% Republican and is up in polls (and fundraising) compared to Democrat Donna Deegan, both candidates are also advertising, including recent television buys.

Deegan, a former broadcast journalist, placed $85,000 in ad buys running through Nov. 3, bringing her total election cash to $239,000.

Rutherford, in office since 2016, spent $186,000 on television so far.

SCOTUS & 2020 election

The appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court will likely be felt early into her tenure if she is confirmed before the election. Republican Rep. Michael Waltz is confident her services and those of the other eight justices will be needed while ballots are still counted in some states.

“We are likely to see a number of (law) suits because the wide variety of state laws involving vote-by-mail, covering the periods of when the ballots have to be mailed, when they can be received, how signatures are matched …” are so different, he told Bloomberg Radio’s Sound On podcast with Kevin Cirilli.

“There are several states — Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania — that are frankly blasting ballots out. Their elections supervisors are kind of freaking out,” he added. “Lawsuits will follow, and the makeup of the Supreme Court will be significant if the election is settled in the court as it was in 2000 with [George W.] Bush versus [Al] Gore.”

If approved, Amy Comey Barrett’s effect on SCOTUS will come sooner than later.

This is precisely the fear of Democrats, who strongly oppose confirming Coney Barrett before the election. While admitting there is little they can do to stop it, Senate Democrats expect to try to force delays that could conceivably push the Senate confirmation vote beyond the election, when public opinion would tilt strongly in their favor to wait.

Waltz was asked how the controversy surrounding Coney Barrett will affect both the presidential race and down-ballot races. Duval County has been a traditional GOP stronghold, but Trump won the county by only 6,000 votes in 2018, and many predict Biden will come out on top this year.

“I think it is going to affect turnout on both sides with voters who care about these issues, many of which will be decided by the court.”

Poll position

A series of surveys from St. Pete Polls released this week show good news for the Governor and the ½ penny sales tax for school rebuilds.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is over 50% approval in Duval County with a double-digit favorability rating. Notably, he’s over 80% with Republicans, which is precisely where he’d want to be.

Duval digs Ron DeSantis. Image via AP.

The sales tax referendum on the November ballot likewise looks like it will be a winner, with an approval level in the mid-50s, according to the poll. Everyone in the political establishment is on board with this, but there is softer support among Republicans than Democrats. But with no organized opposition, things look good there.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, amid the second-term unraveling of the JEA sale push, is still in positive territory, with a +4 favorability rating despite only 60% of Republicans approving of the former chair of the state and county parties.

For his part, Curry’s internals are looking a bit better, he said.

Finally, despite all the noise about vote-by-mail, two out of every three Duval residents intend to show up and vote.

Fundraising ramps up

A trio of Republican state legislators had five-figure hauls in fundraising for the two weeks ending Sept. 18, as fundraising picks up for established incumbents in what historically are easy-path seats.

Rep. Cord Byrd, representing House District 11, raised just over $10,000 in hard money, giving him over $87,000 on hand, with another $27,000 parked in his 1845 political committee.

Cord Byrd holds a cash edge. Image via Cord Byrd.

Democratic opponent Joshua Hicks, who was endorsed by Barack Obama last week, outraised Byrd in the week, bringing in over $11,000, and he now has just over $55,000 on hand.

Hicks, running against the odds in a deep red district, continues to keep pace.

In HD 12, incumbent Rep. Clay Yarborough likewise brought in over $10k in the same period. Yarborough has raised $190,000+ this cycle and retains nearly $55,000 for the stretch run against Democrat Emmanuel Blimie, who has raised a total of $27 of outside money, largely self-financing his effort.

And in HD 15, Rep. Wyman Duggan is playing to win, raising almost $60,000 in hard money in the last four weeks. Duggan, in a swing district and facing a challenge from Democrat Tammyette Thomas, is already running broadcast ads.

Thomas has raised just over $10,000 in the same period and has a similar amount on hand. The ability to self-finance that 2018 nominee Tracye Polson had simply isn’t there.

Losing streak

Eventually, he’s gotta win sometime, somewhere. But it won’t be in Duval for 2020.

Rep. Anthony Sabatini took yet another L in his quixotic legal challenge to local mask orders, this time against Duval County’s executive proclamation.

Another mask-wearing lawsuit bites the dust for Anthony Sabatini.

Circuit Judge Katie Dearing rejected the challenge Monday from the Lake County Republican, who filed a challenge in July on behalf of Jacksonville business owner Jason French.

“The Mayor, politically accountable to the City of Jacksonville, has determined that this measure meets the dangers presented to the City and its people by the COVID-19 emergency,” Dearing wrote Monday in a 21-page opinion.

“It is no more the Court’s job to impose a mask requirement on the citizenry based on these studies than to invalidate a mask requirement based on the opinion of Plaintiff’s expert. Those are questions for the politically accountable elected representatives of Jacksonville to decide,” Dearing wrote.

Electric youth

Speaking of JEA, the action continued this week, as ably documented by the Jax Daily Record.

Former CEO Aaron Zahn has reached out to at least a few and potentially every member of the Jacksonville City Council as “material witnesses.” JEA claims Zahn knew his contract contravened Florida law due to the extraordinary vig-style bonus he would have achieved if the sale had succeeded.

The special committee investigating the matter eyes subpoenas of Bold City Strategic Partners and Data Targeting, two companies associated with political consultant Tim Baker, as members dig into work Bold City did with Florida Power and Light, one of a few companies in the running to buy the utility.

Aaron Zahn is reaching out to potential witnesses in the JEA sale debacle.

Councilmember Rory Diamond, a Republican who has arguably been the most visible member of the panel, is off the committee meanwhile. The other members, including fellow Republican Randy DeFoor and Democrat Brenda Priestly-Jackson, will bring the work to a close later this year.

Clerk’s race gets nasty

With a Democratic plurality in Duval County, the Republican operation behind Clerk of Courts candidate Jody Phillips has taken the gloves off, with a brutal mailpiece against Democrat Jimmy Midyette.

Midyette, who launched his general election campaign with an ad daring the Curry machine to come after him, reaped the whirlwind. The mailer came from the Phillips supportive “Citizens for a Better Duval” committee.

For Midyette, this attack seemed inevitable.

In the race for Duval Clerk of Court, nastiness was expected.

” My guess is this has been sitting on somebody’s hard drive for a while. They’re using the same tactics against me that frankly worked against Scott. And we’ve seen these same basic mailers over the last few cycles here. Drag and drop. From the same PACs funded by the same state players.

“I don’t know if this homophobic stuff will work — even though they darkened Mayor Brown’s skin-tone in 2015 for a similar mailer. Just have to hope we’ve learned some things after five years of it.”

The political committee defends the mailer as “self-explanatory and sourced.”

“I thought Jimmy wanted to bring it on,” said a party familiar with the political committee’s thinking.

JAA Board

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority installed its new leadership panel this week.

The JAA elected its new board chair. Patrick Kilbane will be the chair for 2020-21. It’s the second stint at the head of JAA for Kilbane. He was also board chair in 2016-17.

Kilbane steps from his most recent post as vice-chair of JAA to take over the helm as chair from Russell Thomas. Kilbane has been serving on the JAA board since 2014, when then-Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to the panel.

Kilbane is no stranger to civic or quasi-government boards. He currently serves as chair of the Judicial Nominating Commission for the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court.

Airline counters at Jacksonville International Airport. Image via Jacksonville Aviation Authority.

Other notable appointments to the JAA board include:

Ray Alfred, who will serve as vice-chair. Alfred’s served on the board for six years.

Michelle Barnett will serve as secretary. She’s been on the JAA board since 2019.

Jay Demetree, who’s been on the board since 2015, will serve as treasurer.

The JAA board has a total of seven members on the panel.

“We are fortunate to have two tested leaders in Russell Thomas and Patrick Kilbane chairing our board consecutively as we respond to the challenges that COVID-19 has dealt the aviation industry,” JAA CEO Mark VanLoh said. “I look forward to working with Patrick and the board to restore air service to Jacksonville and maintain the confidence of travelers that we are doing everything we can to keep them safe.”

Best workplace

The Jacksonville Business Journal is naming Northeast Florida-based law firm Rogers Towers as one of its 2020 Best Places to Work in Jacksonville.

To decide which businesses will make the cut, the Business Journal, joined by Quantum Workplace, surveyed employees around the First Coast. Rogers Towers made the list of large companies (100-249 employees) based on amenities such as tuition reimbursement, work-from-home options, and time for healthy activities at work.

Congratulations to law firm Rogers Towers, named one of the Best Places to Work in Jacksonville.

Founded in 1905, Rogers Towers specializes in several areas: Banking and Financial; Litigation; Construction; Corporate; Labor and Employment; Education; Environmental; Eminent Domain; Elder Law; Family Law; Health Law; Immigration; Intellectual Property; Land Use; Public Finance; Real Estate; Taxation; Transportation and Logistics; Trusts and Estates; and Wills The firm has offices in Jacksonville, Ponte Vedra Beach, St. Augustine, Amelia Island, and Fort Lauderdale.

Zoo honors

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens bagged a significant award for an African-themed exhibit at the attraction on the city’s North Side.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums acknowledged Jacksonville’s zoo with an Exhibit Award for the African Forest display that opened in September 2018. The exhibit is a 2.7-acre in the central area of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

The African Forest exhibit at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens received national honors. Image via Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

The African Forest exhibit features nearly a dozen different species of animals ranging from monkeys to mandrills to gorillas and other creatures.

“The construction of African Forest was a milestone for us at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and a testament to how we have spent more than 106 years at the very forefront of animal care and wellness, wildlife education and conservation. Coupling a wellness-inspired design with a multisensory rich environment not only enhances the guest experience, but also creates a shared understanding of and passion for animal conservation,” said Tony Vecchio, executive director of the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

Part of the objective of the exhibit is not only a display for humans, but it’s also designed to heighten and increase interaction between the animals housed there. Zoo personnel such as Terry Maple studied the behavior of animals before opening the exhibit. Then a “Behavioral Wellness” team constructed the exhibit based on those findings.

The award for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens was presented during a virtual ceremony conducted by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Getting defensive

The hope and promise shown by the Jaguars in their first two games took a hit in last week’s clunker against the Miami Dolphins. An upset win over Indianapolis and a narrow loss to a good Tennessee Titans team, gave way to a 31-13, nationally-televised drubbing at the hands of a rebuilding, but improving, group of Dolphins.

“When you have a young team, there are going to be challenges,” head coach Doug Marrone told the media early this week.

Going into the season, the Jaguars had the youngest roster in the NFL.

The Jacksonville Jaguars has one of the youngest rosters in the NFL.

As the team heads to Cincinnati to play the winless (but one tie) Bengals, the coaching staff hopes to get a better start. In the last two weeks, they have fallen behind 14-0 and been forced to play catch-up. They almost climbed all the way back against the Titans, but an ineffective offense doomed them in the Miami loss.

Giving up an average of more than 20 points in the first half of all three games can put any team in a bind, but a young and developing offense with a questionable line is not a recipe for success. Marrone has a simple explanation.

“Obviously we’re not executing well,” he said. “I think that’s the first thing you’ve got to look at; I think we have to see what we can do to help.”

The defense is putting little pressure on opposing quarterbacks and is allowing opponents to convert third down at an astonishing rate of nearly 75%. Opponents have scored touchdowns eight out of nine times they have reached Jacksonville’s 20-yard line.

On the offensive side, football watchers witness the importance of wide receiver DJ Chark, who missed Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury. His receiver teammates did not pick up the slack of his absence, but that allowed undrafted rookie running back James Robinson to shine, scoring both Jacksonville touchdowns.

While Chark is a star and Robinson appears to be on track to earn that title soon, the Jags became in need of a kicker with injuries to the steady Josh Lambo and Brandon Wright, Lambo’s temporary replacement. The team signed veteran Steven Hauschka, who won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks.

Jacksonville has won the coin toss in all three games this year and took the ball in the second half. If they win the toss again Sunday, Marrone is reportedly considering taking the ball first to avoid falling behind early again.

While the Jags are the NFL’s youngest team, they will see a Bengals squad with a mix of veterans and young players, including quarterback Joe Burrow, the top pick in this year’s NFL draft.

Staff Reports


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