Jacksonville Bold for 10.20.21: Saving Christmas?
Who will save Christmas? Brian Mast?

Big ship and santa claus
Will Florida ports ‘save Christmas?’

Saving Christmas?

Gov. Ron DeSantis stopped by Jacksonville to deliver an important message: Florida ports (including JAXPORT) offer a solution to supply chain snarls that threaten the consumer economy — possibly putting Christmas in doubt.

Ron DeSantis: Will Florida ports ‘save Christmas?’ Image via The Governor’s Office.

DeSantis showed up late but was in good spirits, quipping about how “last-minute shoppers” (like him) would especially be in a fix, if shelves aren’t packed at Christmastime.

For JAXPORT, the Governor’s appearance was validation.

Last week, Northeast Florida received port dredging money in recent years, allowing deepening the St. Johns River trench to the 47 feet necessary to accommodate larger super container ships.

But ahead of the money flowing in (and the project moving) was a lot of consternation.

Now the end of the project is in sight and timing is everything.

While Los Angeles, Tacoma and other ports struggle to offload, there’s no bottleneck at JAXPORT and elsewhere.

Ports, including JAXPORT, are going to offer incentives to businesses to try them out as a workaround to “logistical problems,” DeSantis said.

For the Governor who often seems to position Florida as a direct contrast to Joe Biden-era Washington, the show up allowed him to focus on solutions rather than political polemic. And it allowed him to highlight Jacksonville, which has seen heavy investments in recent years, as a critical player in the process.

Friend of Herschel’s

Political operative (and living legend) Susie Wiles is listed as a host on the invite for a December fundraiser for former President Donald Trump and Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker. But that’s where her involvement ends, Wiles said this week.

“I am a friend of Herschel’s,” Wiles told Bold. “I don’t work for the campaign.”

The invite became nationally notorious not for the involvement of Wiles, but of retired professional wrestler Ric Flair. The septuagenarian “Nature Boy” recently got some adverse publicity from the “Dark Side of the Ring” series, rendering him toxic in pro wrestling circles, but still definitely a name of note for the Mar-a-Lago fundraising set.

Walker, meanwhile, will be fundraising in Duval sooner than that event with Wiles, Flair, former MLB pitcher Tom Glavine, and other notables. He is in town on Oct. 29, the evening before the Florida/Georgia game. Hosting the event is Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and businessperson Kent Stermon, a player behind the scenes in regional and state politics.

Meanwhile, those close to Curry suggest that he’s not done with politics — meaning he’s a name to watch as his term ends in 2023.

Quiet quarter

U.S. Reps. John Rutherford and Al Lawson, from Florida’s 4th and 5th Congressional Districts, respectively, continue to prepare for 2022.

However, neither seems particularly worried about what’s next, given the slow pace of Q3 fundraising.

Big checks? Look elsewhere in Q3.

Rutherford had the more robust summer of the two.

The former Jacksonville Sheriff raised $109,051, spending $56,847 and $204,000 on hand. Donors fit the usual profile of Rutherford supporters, a combination of Northeast Florida power brokers and D.C. corporate PACs.

Lawson was less active.

The Democrat raised $25,625 for the quarter, a low number for an incumbent, with a smattering of small checks (including $1,000 from former aide Tola Thompson, now with Ballard Partners) and PAC contributions. Lawson carried $234,773 into Q4.

The biggest challenges either Rutherford or Lawson could face would be in redistricting. Rutherford’s Jacksonville seat will see some changes due to population growth in the Jacksonville area. Lawson’s seat, devised in 2016 as part of a redistricting designed to make the previous Corrine Brown-held CD 5 less gerrymandered, is a sprawling east/west configuration that could see more significant changes.

At least that’s the theory.

Rutherford has one opponent who is touting strong fundraising. Erick Aguilar has more than $435,000 on hand as of the end of September. However, Federal Elections Commission records reveal $405,000 of that came from the candidate himself.

Key hire

When it comes to endorsements, Rep. Charlie Crist dominates the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2022, but Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried picked up a prominent name as a consultant.

Nwabufo “Obi” Umunna is on board as a campaign adviser at a time when elected NE Florida Dems — including Sen. Audrey Gibson, Rep. Tracie Davis, and City Council members Garrett Dennis and Reggie Gaffney — are backing Crist.

Umunna helped deliver Jacksonville for Andrew Gillum in 2018; he believes Fried is the best bet next year.

“Florida needs new voices and new leaders to defeat DeSantis and put our state back on track,” Umunna said. “Polling shows she’s the best positioned to win this primary, and our campaign has already taken the lead in cash on hand — evidence that momentum is on our side and Floridians of all political stripes are backing Nikki Fried.”

He didn’t seem fazed by endorsers going with Crist: “We are excited about the incredible list of backers we already have, including the all-star list on the Latin America and Caribbean Advisory Council we rolled out this morning, with more endorsers to come in the weeks and months ahead.”

“Nikki is the only candidate in this race who has won statewide as a Democrat,” Umunna added, “and it’s clear that she’s the best positioned to flip Florida next fall.”

Umunna believes voter engagement will be essential.

As he wrote for Florida Politics in 2020: “Where Dems are leaving votes on the table are with the ‘3—7’ rated voters who typically vote during presidential elections only.”

Engaging those voters will be Fried’s path to the nomination.

Neat & tidy

Sen. Travis Hutson filed a bill last week that would allow alcohol distributors to pretty up their products’ placement on store shelves.

The bill (SB 492) would authorize “in-store servicing,” which would allow distilled spirits distributors to maintain the in-store appearance and display of the products they sell to vendors.

The proposal would also allow distributors to place liquor in an on-premises storage area designated by the vendor, rotate out bottles, and price stamp beverages on store shelves.

Travis Hutson wants prettier product placement.

The bill is an edit to the statute on “tied house evil,” a prohibition-era law prohibiting financial connections between distributors and vendors.

While the law does not prevent distributors from ensuring their products are neat, tidy, and label-out on store shelves, Hutson’s bill would explicitly grant them that right.

Hutson, a Republican, chairs the Senate Regulated Industries Committee; he’s often the prime sponsor on alcohol-related legislation.

Last Session, Hutson pushed a bill — now law — to bump craft distillery production caps from 75,000 to 250,000 gallons a year, opening the door for them to sell in more ways.

Palm City Republican Rep. Toby Overdorf sponsors the 2022 version in the House. Both the House bill and Senate companion (HB 237) await committee assignments.

Ghost ships

Hutson also filed a bill to make it easier for officials at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and other state and local agencies to deal with derelict boats.

The bill (SB 494) would edit the statute to allow FWC to declare a boat “derelict” if “tied to an unlawful or unpermitted mooring or other structure.”

The proposal would also give FWC permission to launch a grant program to help local governments cover the cost of “removal, storage, destruction, and disposal of derelict vessels.”

Travis Hutson and Tayler Sirois are looking to clean up derelict boats.

FWC would set up a grant application process that considers the number of derelict vessels within a local government’s authority, the threat posed by those vessels and the “degree of commitment of the local government to maintain waters free of abandoned and derelict vessels and to seek legal action against those who abandon vessels in the waters of this state.”

The proposal would allow FWC to use funds that aren’t committed by the end of the third quarter to remove derelict vessels itself — or to pay outside contractors to handle it for them.

Funding for the program would be from the Marine Resources Conservation Trust Fund or the Florida Coastal Protection Trust Fund. The Commission would also draw up plans to get federal disaster funds to pay for removals.

Hutson’s bill would also bar public bathing beaches of swim areas from being set up “in whole or in part within the marked channel of the Florida Intracoastal Waterway or within 100 feet of any portion of the marked channel.”

Rep. Tyler Sirois is on board with companion legislation (HB 323). Both bills are awaiting committee assignments.

Vacation sequel

Rep. Jason Fischer has unfinished business in what will be his final Legislative Session in 2022.

One item: HB 325 would create a statewide regulation system for vacation rentals that would supersede local ordinance.

Jason Fischer tackles his final House to-do list. Image via Florida House.

This bill’s been around for a while.

In 2019, Fischer said it “stands up for the little guy, and I’m proud to sponsor it.”

“Today’s patchwork system where every city or county regulates vacation rentals differently is unworkable and broken,” he added.

In 2020, running the bill back again, Fischer struck a similar tone: “The proper place for the regulation of vacation rentals is the DBPR — just like the hospitality industry.”

The bill came back in 2020, despite what the Governor said in 2019. DeSantis told reporters he “expressed privately” his “concerns” about “micromanaging vacation rentals” as something that “should be determined locally.”

DeSantis, who speaks his mind freely on all manner of issues, hasn’t given any indication he has evolved on this one, even as the rule tends to be the longer a Republican is in Tallahassee, the more they evolve on preemption issues.

Will the third time be the charm, in what will be a Session driven by election concerns later in the year? Time will tell. We have reached out to Fischer to see if the Governor has moved on this since 2019, but he’s not saying.

Law and order

Fleming Island Republican Rep. Sam Garrison filed a bill earlier this month to increase penalties for tampering with or fabricating evidence related to a criminal investigation.

Under current law, anyone who alters, destroys, conceals, or removes evidence connected to a criminal proceeding or investigation commits a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, a $5000 fine, and five years of probation.

Garrison, an attorney and former prosecutor, has put forward a measure (HB 287) to enhance the charges for evidence tampering depending on the severity of the crime under investigation.

Evidence tampering is taboo for former prosecutor Sam Garrison. Image via Florida House.

If the evidence is related to a violent felony, those tampering would face a second-degree felony. The same charge would apply to altering evidence related to a capital felony investigation.

A second-degree felony in Florida is punishable by up to 15 years of prison or probation, with a fine of up to $10,000.

If passed, the bill would go into effect on Oct. 1, 2022.

As of Wednesday, there is no Senate companion. But with Garrison set to become House Speaker after the 2026 election, that’s likely to change.

Stopping suicide

A Jacksonville Republican seeks to ramp up suicide prevention funding.

House District 15 Rep. Wyman Duggan, representing the western part of Duval County, has mixed several vendors into the ask, including one that did not get state funding this fiscal year.

Duggan seeks $500,000 for suicide prevention for the Neptune Beach-based Here Tomorrow. The organization now serves Duval, and the funding would allow for seven more recovery peer specialists, a director of operations position, and expansion into three counties.

Wyman Duggan seeks to give hope to Northeast Florida. Image via Florida House.

The expansion could serve as many as 800 people.

The appropriations request notes that the Jacksonville Jaguars and Mayors of beaches communities support the request. The lobbyist on record here is Chris Carmody of GrayRobinson.

Save Wells Rd.

On the track to be Speaker of the House later this decade, Rep. Sam Garrison proves all politics is genuinely local.

Garrison is among the notable Clay County politicians working to save Wells Road, the northern Orange Park commercial corridor that has fallen on hard times in recent decades.

As WOKV reported, the “Gateway to Clay” project aims to bring “beautification and safety” to the area.

Gateway to Clay. Image via WOKV.

“This vision for this part of the county is vibrant, it’s optimistic, it’s hopeful,” Garrison said. “This initiative is a desire for us to try to push forward, cast a vision for the North end of the county for the next 10, 20, 30 years to make sure all of Clay County is included in the growth and exciting things we have ahead.”

The initiative stems from crime concerns in the county.

Orange Park Mall is not thriving, and Clay is dealing with homegrown crime and spillover threats from Duval.

At the Clay County legislative delegation meeting in September, the “criminal element” on Wells Road was a significant concern of Sheriff Michelle Cook.

Garrison was blunt.

“We don’t want that part of our county to turn into Arlington 2.0. No one up here wants that,” he said in September. “It’s not a crisis. But if we don’t act quickly, in 10 years, we will have a crisis.”

Local leaders are moving on this. The concern is genuine. And they are quickly putting strategies to the test for a deeply recurrent crime problem in Orange Park.

Growing list

Republican Jessica Baker piled on more endorsements in her bid to succeed Rep. Clay Yarborough in House District 12 next year.

The Assistant State Attorney has received nods from several top-level politicians at the state and federal levels, such as Senate President Wilton Simpson and U.S. Reps. Rutherford and Michael Waltz.

This week she expanded the list of local backers, which already included Curry.

The new set includes Jacksonville City Council Vice President Terrance Freeman and Councilmembers Ron Salem, Aaron Bowman, Randy White, Rory Diamond and Kevin Carrico, who issued a joint statement supporting her House bid.

Jessica Baker racks up the endorsements.

“Jessica Baker is the conservative choice for our next state Representative. She has served our community with distinction as charter revision commissioner, a prosecutor and conservative leader. She will bring the right experience, energy and integrity to her new role. We are proud to endorse her and look forward to continuing working with her,” they said in a campaign news release.

Baker responded, “As this pandemic has ravaged our city for more than a year-and-a-half, this powerhouse group of council members have fought to protect the health and safety of our city and our economy, and I am honored to have their support.

“As a prosecutor and a military wife, I understand the challenges our city faces, and appreciate the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make each and every day. As your next state Representative, I will always protect the rule of law and make public safety my top priority.”

Before Baker entered the race a couple of weeks ago, it appeared former Republican Rep. Lake Ray would be the odds-on favorite to succeed Yarborough, who is leaving the House early to replace term-limited Sen. Aaron Bean.

Ray started October with roughly $150,000 in the bank between his campaign and political committees, and he also has endorsements from Bean, Yarborough, and a handful of other state lawmakers. Baker quickly gained traction in the Republican Primary race, touting a volley of high-profile endorsements every few days.

Baker’s inaugural fundraising report drops in mid-November.

Republican ramp-up

Those seeking to understand how Republicans continue to dominate the Jacksonville City Council despite a Democratic registration advantage — take a look at fundraising in the at-large 2023 Council races.

Three of these citywide races for “mini-Mayors” on the Council provide particular examples of how early efforts create a decisive advantage.

AL-2 incumbent Salem continues to build a nest egg to ensure that his narrow escape in 2019 doesn’t happen in ‘23. As of September fundraising, the Southside pharmacist has raised more than $90,000 to his campaign account. He also has raised another $160,000 to his local Moving Jacksonville Forward political committee.

Ron Salem fundraising continues, no challenge yet in sight.

However, Salem hasn’t raised the most amount of hard dollars in the at-large field. The leading fundraiser, Morgan Roberts, has raised more than $100,000 to her campaign account in at-large Group 4.

Both of them are unopposed.

In another at-large race, a Republican faces opposition but has a strong fundraising advantage in the emerging field of four.

Former Army Colonel Chris Miller raised close to $70,000 in his bid. Endorsers include Sen. Aaron Bean, Rep. Cord Byrd, City Council members Danny Becton, Aaron Bowman, Kevin Carrico, Rory Diamond, and Terrance Freeman.

Miller faces a current Council member, Democrat Brenda Priestly Jackson.

Jackson raised just $550, less than the other Democrat in the race, Charles Garrison, who has a little more than $4,000 raised in one month.

Even Libertarian Jerry Rohrbaugh, who has brought in $1,400, raised more than Jackson, who is leaving the safe seat of District 10 for a citywide run, apparently with some early complications.

Never say never

Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes has made some moves. One of which is to Riverside. He’s renting a place over there and is looking to buy.

Another potential move could be a run for office, potentially in City Council District 14. He’s not ruling it out. Noting that he’s “focused on continuing to ensure the success of Mayor Curry’s vision,” Hughes says he will “absolutely look for ways to continue to see Jacksonville remain on the great trail we’ve been blazing for years beyond his time in office.”

‘Never say never’: Brian Hughes could roll onto Jacksonville City Council dais.

“It’s hard today to imagine that would be as an elected official, but I am a firm believer in never saying never,” Hughes told Jacksonville Bold.

Hughes notes that he has been involved in Northeast Florida politics for more than a decade.

“Leading up to 2012, that includes working with a first-time candidate who won a race for Congress and is now our Governor,” Hughes noted. “Subsequently, that work has helped elect Mayor Curry and other local and state officials. I also helped pass two citywide referenda.”

Representing District 14 is Republican Randy DeFoor, once aligned with the Mayor but is currently not.

DeFoor is weighing reelection. Potential Hughes/DeFoor debates, in the event both ran, would certainly enliven candidate forums.


A Jacksonville City Council member LeAnna Cumber received the Eve Award from the Florida Times-Union for her legislative work on behalf of women and against sex trafficking.

Established in 1969, the T-U award is for women “who contributed the most during the past year to the community,” per a City of Jacksonville release.

This esteemed recognition for women bears the “first woman” name and means a lot to the first-term Republican.

LeAnna Cumber wins special recognition for contributions as a woman. Image via Dennis Ho.

“It’s something I’ve been really interested in and active in all my life, and as a survivor of sexual assault, it’s also something that’s really personal to me,” said Cumber to the Florida Times-Union. “So now that I’m in a position where I can give voice to those who feel like they’re voiceless and change things from the top, it made me realize that I need to take advantage of that.”

Cumber has sponsored legislation to help those without recourse, including a bill that made 21 the minimum age for women working in the adult entertainment field. That bill is being challenged in federal court.

Cumber is looking at a run for Jacksonville Mayor, and while nothing is certain, she has some momentum, with nearly a million dollars in her state-level JAX First political committee.

Filed candidate Matt Carlucci, a Council colleague of Cumber’s, has raised a little more than a million dollars. The leading fundraiser in the potential field, Jacksonville Chamber CEO Daniel Davis, has nearly $3 million on hand, however, illustrating the high stakes ahead as Jacksonville prepares to enter the post-Curry era.

Welcome home

This week, Baptist Health announced Kyle Dorsey will become president of Baptist Medical Center South beginning next month.

Dorsey has spent the past seven years working for the hospital system, including four years as the vice president of operations for Baptist Jacksonville and Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

For the four months between Mayo’s promotion and Thomas’ appointment, Dorsey served as interim president for Baptist Jacksonville — the youngest ever to hold the position, interim or otherwise.

Welcome back, Kyle Dorsey.

Dorsey, who holds a Master of Health Administration from Ohio State University, began his career in the hospital system as Baptist Medical Center South’s assistant administrator for clinical and support services.

“I have had amazing opportunities to grow at Baptist Jacksonville for the past four years,” he said. “Some people may not know that I started my Baptist Health career at Baptist South, so it’s exciting to return ‘home’ to work alongside this great team and build upon a legacy of leadership and care that’s second to none. I feel very fortunate.”

The 37-year-old replaces Nicole Thomas, promoted to president of Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville earlier this year.

“I have enjoyed watching how Kyle has developed as a member of our executive leadership team and am confident that he will excel in this important role,” said Baptist Health president and CEO Michael Mayo. “I have a tremendous sense of pride in the bench strength of our leadership at Baptist.”

Baptist Health Executive Vice President and COO Matt Zuino added: “Kyle is an energetic leader who accomplishes great things through teamwork and focus. It’s no surprise to us that his talents have been recognized at the national level, and we are thrilled to promote from within the organization.”


Healthgrades is again naming Flagler Hospital as one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Orthopedic Surgery and Spine Surgery.

Every year, the leading review and ranking company for consumers, physicians and health systems, evaluates hospital performance at nearly 4,500 hospitals nationwide for 31 of the most common procedures and conditions.

From 2018-2020, patients treated at hospitals receiving the Best Hospitals Award have, on average a 41.0% lower risk of experiencing a complication while in the hospital than if they were treated in other hospitals.

Flagler Health again nabs top honors for quality care. Image via Flagler Health+.

“To be honored with this prestigious award speaks to the dedicated and talented Orthopedic team we have assembled here at Flagler Hospital,” said Flagler Health+ President and CEO Jason Barrett. “It is very rewarding to see Flagler Hospital be recognized as one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Orthopedic Surgery and Spine Surgery, areas that we are passionate about providing the best care possible for the residents of our community.”

Other Flagler Hospital recognitions include:

— Healthgrades Bariatric Surgery Excellence Award™ for 2 Years in a Row (2021-2022)

— Healthgrades 2022 Gastrointestinal Care Excellence Award

— Healthgrades Pulmonary Care Excellence Award for 2 Years in a Row (2021-2022)

— Five-Star Recipient for Treatment of Sepsis for 8 Years in a Row (2015-2022)

— Five-Star Recipient for Treatment of Respiratory Failure for 7 Years in a Row (2016-2022)

— Five-Star Recipient for Appendectomy for 8 Years in a Row (2015-2022)

— Five-Star Recipient for Valve Surgery in 2022

— Five-Star Recipient for Pacemaker Procedures for 4 Years in a Row (2019-2022)

Learn more at flaglerhealth.org.

Victory at last

When the Jaguars took the field Sunday against Miami in London, it had been 399 days since they last won a regular-season football game. The team’s baggage on the trip included 20 consecutive losses, only six away from equaling the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ record of infamy in1976-77.

The Jags left that part of the baggage behind, though, for the return flight to Jacksonville. Matthew Wright ensured that converting a 53-yard field goal on the game’s final play gave the Jaguars a 23-20 victory over the Dolphins.

That is not a misprint.

“I feel great for him,” Coach Urban Meyer said of Wright on Jaguars.com. “I don’t think anyone on our team had ever heard him speak until about 10 minutes ago. I had to tell him to raise his voice in the locker room when they gave him the game ball. How cool is that for him?”

Jaguars win. No, that’s not a typo. Image via AP.

Entering the game, Jacksonville was the only NFL team without a field goal this season. Wright ended that drought by connecting from 40 yards in the first half, then hit a 54-yarder with 3:40 remaining in the game to tie the score at 20-all.

Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence had an intense day. He completed 25 of 41 passes for 319 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

It was Meyer’s first win as an NFL coach and, momentarily at least, changed the narrative surrounding him and the team. After a narrow loss to Cincinnati, Meyer stayed behind when the team flew home. Shortly after that, a video surfaced of a young lady, not Meyer’s wife, dancing on him in a restaurant.

Meyer apologized and received a reprimand from Jags owner Shahid Kahn.

The Jaguars have a few extra days to savor the victory as they head to their bye week. They return to action Oct. 31 at Seattle.

Staff Reports

One comment

  • Kay

    October 29, 2021 at 9:29 pm

    Again your focus is on campaign donations and not policy. Ronny D is the best Governor we have ever had.

Comments are closed.


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