Jacksonville Bold for 2.17.21: Beating Rutherford?

Candidates are jockeying to face John Rutherford. Does anyone have a chance?

A new Congressperson?

One of Northeast Florida politics’ enduring mysteries is why people keep lining up to challenge Rep. John Rutherford in Florida’s 4th Congressional District.

Rep. John Rutherford will be challenged. Why?

The GOP primary field is already up to three candidates: perpetual candidate Gary Koniz; Erick Aguilar, who ran from the right against the former Jacksonville sheriff last time out; and a new candidate, Leigha Garner-Lopez, who identifies herself as Luna Lopez on her campaign website.

Lopez, from North Georgia, offers an idiosyncratic biography: “From a very young age, she held many household responsibilities, such as growing food in the garden, working livestock and taking care of the family’s guard dogs. It was also up to Luna to sew her own clothes, help with the family home building, dispose of garbage, and chop firewood. One of Luna’s most memorable gifts was an ax at age 10. When she was 14, she received a chainsaw.”

Luna left high school early because of bullying. She also claims to have been a recent cult member.

“On May 12th, 2017, Luna experienced a life-changing rebirth. She was born and raised in a tightly-controlled cult that did not allow her to have any political affiliation, vote in any election, or take any employment within the government. Despite family opposition and intense mind control tactics used by the cult, Luna’s overwhelming compassionate desire to see all people be free and prosperous, coupled with the strength she received from God through prayer, allowed her to critically think herself to a state of waking up from the brainwashing.”

Things are better currently: “She is now on a journey to unite a country at war with itself, a journey to upend the current elite-controlled system so that the people’s voice can ring loud.”

Booze moves

Coronavirus crisis-inspired business changes that forced Florida restaurants to rely more on carryout and delivery orders — including beer, wine and mixed drinks — stepped closer to becoming protected in Florida statutes Tuesday.

One of the bills seeking to make cocktails-to-go permanently legal in Florida flew through the Senate Regulated Industries Committee Tuesday. It drew bipartisan praise and only minor concerns about details such as the quantities of drinks sold in takeout orders.

Libations on the move.

Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island pushed her Senate Bill 148 to argue that the restaurant industry still is suffering from the COVID-19-caused crash of the hospitality industry, and alcohol sales in carryout and delivery food orders have been their lifeline. She and others also argue it is likely that the economic and cultural changes caused by the pandemic could foster long-term, even permanent changes in how restaurants do business.

“The current executive order has been a lifeline, helping restaurants accomplish a goal of being successful while also providing a convenience to consumers,” Bradley said. “My guiding principle as I approached this bill was: how can we mirror the takeout experience that a restaurant offers to match the in-person dining? How do we allow restaurants to continue to serve and meet their customers’ needs in the new environment?”

Bradley said she worked closely with alcohol retailers’ representatives, who might be nervous about new competition for the alcohol-at-home market. Several key industry groups and companies offered support for the bill, including Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Independent Spirits Association and ABC Fine Wine & Liquor.

Notary bill keeps moving

That wasn’t the only success for the first-term Clay County Republican this week: legislation that would allow notaries a choice regarding the electronic technology they use sailed through its second Senate committee.

Notary notice is yet another success for Jennifer Bradley.

Senate Judiciary approved the bill by a 10-0 margin and put it on pace to be in its final Senate committee (Rules) next month during the Legislative Session.

It’s been slower going so far in the House, where fellow first-term Clay Republican Rep. Sam Garrison is carrying the companion bill. However, it finally got placed on the Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee’s agenda, so it looks likely to move from there.

Big Tech crackdown, continued.

This week, Bradley also filed a bill seen by some as a companion measure for other legislation on the state level looking to crack down on Big Tech.

It’s clear Jennifer Bradley is having a strong Session.

Bradley’s SB 1308 creates a statutory cause of action against an “interactive computer service” that serves as a platform for transmitting pornographic images of minors.

Tech companies do get 24 hours notice to remove the image or images upon being notified, but failure to do so leaves them open for legal action. If the affected person is still a minor, an adult must bring the suit.

If this bill passes, the state can issue $100,000 daily penalties for noncompliance. That money would go into the Crimes Compensation Trust Fund.

Confidentiality assured

A new bill in the Florida House would shield applicants for state college and university presidencies from having their information exposed.

Sam Garrison has privacy in mind.

HB 997, filed by Garrison of Clay County, would exempt personal identifying information for those applicants until a vote nears: “at least 21 days before the date of a meeting at which an interview will be conducted or at which final action or a vote is to be taken on the employment of the applicants.”

To this end, meetings before the final hiring process will also be outside of the Sunshine when more preliminary applicants are being winnowed out.

The legislation as written has a built-in sunset date in 2026, complying with open government review provisions in Florida Statutes.

Sen. Jeff Brandes is carrying the companion version, which is already moving through committees.

Tax questions

Rep. Angie Nixon led a letter this week to Florida’s Department of Revenue seeking more information on corporate taxation, including how many of the state’s most profitable companies may be getting out of taxes.

Angie Nixon, Anna Eskamani and Tracie Davis want a full accounting of corporate taxation.

“Right now in Florida, corporate income tax data is confidential. We only know what the largest businesses have paid through the off-chance that they are involved in litigation, and we can capture data that way,” said Nixon. “Floridians deserve receipts and the data to know how the bad policies that have favored corporations for decades are negatively affecting our economy and our ability to fund the essential services our citizens depend on.”

Rep. Tracie Davis, another Jacksonville Democrat, signed off on the letter. So did progressive firebrand Rep. Anna Eskamani.

Corporate tax rebates have been a controversial talking point among Democrats in the Legislature, and it’s clear Nixon seeks some ballast for this year’s debate.

Slow build for Byrd

Rep. Cord Byrd has considerable ground to make up in the embryonic money race in Senate District 4.

SD 4 field starts to fill war chests.

Byrd, one of three local legislators looking to succeed Sen. Aaron Bean, staked his Senate campaign account with $7,500, raising an additional $2,500 to his 1845 political committee. All told, he has roughly $45,000, putting him well behind his two opponents in the early going.

Rep. Jason Fischer leads the field with Fischer, holding over $700,000 in hand between his campaign account and his Friends of Jason Fischer political committee. It’s not new money: Nearly $150,000 of that comes from his previous committee, with four other political committees putting in roughly $475,000.

Rep. Clay Yarborough is also in the game, with over $300,000 on hand between his campaign account and his political committee.

Outside money will play in this primary, of course. But it’s up to Byrd and Yarborough to find a way to make up money ground nonetheless.

Hospitals shorted?

Gov. Ron DeSantis has stressed a “Seniors First” approach to vaccinations, but some say that is leaving hospitals last.

WJXT’s Kelly Wiley reports that hospitals aren’t getting enough doses to help their target population: people with preexisting conditions.

Hospital officials were cautious but direct in couching criticisms.

Chad Neilsen, director of Infection Prevention and Control for UF Health, said: “We really just need a set amount that we’re going to get to move forward and be able to reach our patients and the population that they’ve asked us to.”

UF Health and other hospitals seek more shots.

“So clearly, the number of patients far outweighs the number of vaccines we have. We want to be very intentional on how we approach that,” added Baptist Health EVP Elizabeth Ransom.

Changing environment

According to a Guardian write-up from Claire Goforth, Jacksonville’s environmental activism world is getting a bit more diverse.

“For decades, the city at the mouth of the St Johns River was less known for its sights than its stench. Night and day, paper mills and other industrial facilities belched foul odors — most of them in predominantly Black neighborhoods in the city’s northwest and urban core,” Goforth notes.

Claire Goforth makes a splash across the pond. Image via Folio Weekly.

The world of environmental activism has mainly been a White province. But Goforth documents groups’ efforts to bring more inclusion from areas most directly impacted by Jacksonville’s industrial history.

These neighborhoods are often older and almost invariably neglected, without the advocacy they’ve needed, at least until now. And real change won’t come soon enough.

“If you are exposed to dioxin, and you are breastfeeding your kids, your kids are getting the dioxin from childhood, from infancy … These are very dangerous things,” notes Edward Waters College professor Prabir K. Mandal.

Port success

Jacksonville’s port racked up a substantial activity level in the first quarter of business at the international cargo hub.

JAXPORT officials say that quarter, which began Oct. 1, showed strong demand for consumer goods vehicles. The port’s vehicle volumes increased 7% over the first quarter of business in the previous year. Some 185,513 vehicles moved through the port so far, which is the second busiest quarter at the port in its history.

Meanwhile, cargo container volumes also jumped in that first quarter, increasing 5% over the previous year. That accounts for about 353,400 cargo units that have passed through the port in that first quarter.

“We strive to be a resource for shippers as they adapt to supply chain challenges related to the pandemic,” said JAXPORT CEO Eric Green. “As consumer trends continue to shift and e-commerce grows, efficiency becomes increasingly important. The investments we are making in our facilities ensure we can maximize all of the efficiencies Jacksonville offers, including our fast access to the growing Southeast consumer market.”

JAXPORT facilities on Blount Island. Image via Jacksonville Port Authority.

The uptick in activity and volume at Jacksonville’s port comes as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to initiate a massive channel deepening project that deepens the main channels of shipping in the St. Johns River from 40 feet to 47 feet. The project’s expected completion date is the end of 2022.

Women of distinction

The Girl Scouts of Gateway Council will celebrate Jacksonville’s top women leaders with a virtual ceremony Thursday, April 29.

The “2021 Jacksonville Women of Distinction” interactive tea and cookies event will honor those Northeast Florida female professionals who demonstrate ethical practice, accomplishments and community contributions.

And since Girl Scouts are hosting the annual event, each participant will receive a tea kit and box of Girl Scout Cookies with every ticket purchase to enjoy the event with friends and family. All proceeds from this annual event — virtual in 2021 — go to support the Girl Scout leadership program, ensuring that all girls in their communities have the “support, experiences, and opportunities they need to realize their potential.”

This year’s honorees include community advocate Molly Curry; Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene; Cynthia Griffin, Florida Blue’s vice president of Medicare Pharmacy Programs; RS&H Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Growth Leader of Transportation Kim Holland and Jenny Vipperman, the chief lending officer of VyStar Credit Union.

Also, Corie Pauling will receive the 2021 Regional Impact Award. Pauling is a TIAA senior vice president, Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer and head of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Leaders to look up to — Jacksonville’s 2021 Women of Distinction.

The event begins at 11 a.m. Eastern time. Sponsorship and support opportunities are available by contacting Rachael Mueller at [email protected] or (904) 421-3491.

St. Johns FSA tutoring

A tutoring organization is beginning to offer help to kindergarten- through-10th grade students in St. Johns County about to face the Florida Standards Assessment Test that schools will start administrating in April.

The Tutoring Club of St. Johns is now offering FSA readiness training for kids through the end of February. The readiness assessment programs cost $75 per student through the end of this month.

“The company’s trained tutors help students who are challenged in the classroom prepare for the mandatory tests by identifying skill discrepancies and utilizing a variety of methodologies and strategies. Providing curriculum to fill specific gaps bundled with asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking can help students reason logically to find the answer,” said Kimberly Mullins, co-owner of the Tutoring Club.

Kimberly Mullins wants to help St. Johns County students with test prep. Image via Tutoring Club of St. Johns.

“This method of teaching can have positive and future implications. We prepare students for future classes and help them develop self-confidence and trust in their learning abilities,” she said. “FSA testing times are lengthy and stringent, and students can benefit greatly from specific FSA prep. FSA can fast track the preparation for most students.”

The three main areas of focus on the FSA exams include language arts, mathematics and writing. The FSAs begin in St. Johns County on April 5 and run through May 21. Those interested in enrolling in the Tutoring Club can contact the organization to schedule appointments at (904) 571-9580, email [email protected], or visit their website at tutoringclub.com/stjohnsfl.

Staff Reports


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn