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If Gov. Ron DeSantis gets his way, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson’s district may be erased on congressional redistricting maps.
But Lawson, representing Florida’s 5th Congressional District, is fundraising as if he expects another term.
The Tallahassee Democrat closed his 2021 fundraising with a strong fourth quarter. Lawson raised $114,305 for the three months ending Dec. 31 and carried $333,675 cash into 2022.
Lawson historically enjoyed considerable support from traditionally Republican donors; that didn’t change in Q4. Contributors include former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, former DEP head Noah Valenstein, lobbyist Brian Ballard, and U.S. Sugar Vice President Robert Coker.
Lobbyists dominated much of the rest of the report, with Ron Sachs, the Southern Group, and the Mayernick Group among the donors.
Lawson does not face viable competition yet, after three progressively easier primary elections against Jacksonville Democrats and joke general elections after that.
As observed previously, the only serious challenge ahead for the Congressman is the Governor’s redistricting map.
And then there’s this …
Speaking of that map, DeSantis wants the Supreme Court to weigh in on whether he has to maintain a minority access district that connects Jacksonville and another population center — as it has for three decades.
“I seek this Court’s opinion on whether Article III, Section 20(a) of the Florida Constitution requires the retention of a district in northern Florida that connects the minority population in Jacksonville with distant and distinct minority populations (either in Leon and Gadsden counties or outside of Orlando) to ensure sufficient voting strength, even if not a majority, to elect a candidate of their choice,” DeSantis wrote Tuesday.
The letter strikes a tone of defiance, with more rhetoric projecting frustration with CD 5 that was “designed solely to cobble together enough minority voters from distant and distinct geographic areas to elect candidates of their choice despite not constituting a majority.”
DeSantis urges the Court to help him be “sufficiently conscious of race to comply with the Florida Constitution’s anti-diminishment provision but avoid being so conscious of race that my actions could violate the U.S. and Florida Constitutions.”
Lawson objected to this gambit.
“While disappointing, Ron DeSantis’s continued assault on the rights of Bk and minority voters is not a surprise,” Lawson asserted. “I hope that the Florida Supreme Court chooses to respect our separation of powers, rises above politics, and avoids wading into this partisan dispute.”
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to protect the right to vote for minority communities,” Lawson added. “Ron DeSantis’s effort to disenfranchise every minority voter north of Orlando is an act that will not go without a fight … The Governor seeks to push aside the Florida Legislature and hijack this constitutional process for his own political goals.”
The Senate has adopted a map that looks more or less like what exists now. But the House? Its redistricting committee canceled its Friday meeting, waiting on Supreme Court guidance.
Pack your patience. This could take a while.
Students at Edward Waters University woke up Tuesday to news of a bomb threat on campus, and Democrats representing Jacksonville denounced the terror, calling for swift justice.
“I have spoken to Edward Waters University President Dr. (Zachary) Faison today regarding the terrorist bomb and threat of violence. I am deeply disturbed by the threats made nationally and in my own district,” Lawson said. “We are working to ensure EWU students, faculty and staff are safe while the local authorities investigate this matter. It is reprehensible and unbelievable that at the beginning of Black History Month there is an orchestrated effort to harm students at our beloved educational institutions. HBCUs were created to provide higher education to Black Americans during a time when other institutions barred their doors. We must protect HBCUs and the advancement they continue to afford us. I strongly condemn these hateful threats being made. Our community is upset, and we are ready to bring the conspirators to justice.”
Rep. Tracie Davis also denounced the bomb threats, saying they were part of a larger wave of violence.
“These threats of violence to Historically Black Colleges and Universities throughout the country, on the first day of Black History Month, tell me everything I need to know about the state of America,” Davis said. “Even my alma mater, Edward Waters University, had to suspend all operations immediately. This is shameful.
“Between the HBCU bomb threats and the recent display of anti-Semitic hatred, what’s happening in Florida is troubling. Sadly, a lot of the policy priorities we’re seeing from Republicans this session will only add fuel to the fire.
“When they want to ban books and words, how can students learn, and teachers teach, without an honest and safe environment?
“For people that look like me, this isn’t a game. We are the ones hurt by another person’s mild discomfort or someone’s political posturing. These endless, politically motivated attacks need to stop, and our leaders need to start putting the people first.”
They include Ben Frazier, a former journalist and community activist who became nationally known for his arrest last month at a DeSantis presser in Jacksonville.
Fried lionized him for creating “good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Frazier was on hand. He lauded Fried’s commitment to voting rights.
“Voter suppression is real,” Frazier thundered. “And we have a Governor who supports it.”
“Inspiring words, inspiring action,” said Fried in the wrap-up. “Thank you for your service.”
Also recognized posthumously was Clara McLaughlin, most recently known as the publisher of the Florida Star. The proclamation will go to McLaughlin’s daughter.
Freedom of choice
An Aaron Bean bill allowing the Governor to circumvent the Cabinet to appoint the state’s top environmental official moves forward — but with a key change.
The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee postponed a hearing on the bill (SB 1658) earlier this month. The reasons were opaque.
Bean said the legislation needed to be “fine-tuned,” and on Monday, it was.
Following the changes, the committee voted 4-1 to advance the proposal.
As initially filed, the measure only removed the requirement that three members of the Florida Cabinet must approve the Governor’s pick for Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), sending the appointment only to the Senate.
The amendment would instead allow the Governor the choice to “court support” from three Cabinet members — or sidestep them and seek the Senate’s consent.
Fried is on record with her opposition.
“Unfortunately, this is par for the course when it comes to transparency from Florida Republicans,” Fried said when the bill was filed. “DeSantis is too scared to have a real discussion about the DEP nominee so instead, he’s having his allies in the Legislature change the whole appointee process and circumvent oversight from the Cabinet.”
Bean rejects that characterization, saying the bill is just “good government.”
The Jacksonville City Council General Election has Republican Nick Howland and Democrat Tracye Polson squaring off, and the first televised debate between the two will run between now and the election on Action News Jax.
Polson went on the attack early, positioning herself as an opponent of the “corrupt politicians” and “backroom deals” in City Hall.
Howland stressed his background as a military veteran and executive and kept his rhetoric soaring at first.
“I don’t see past failures,” Howland said. “I see future opportunities.”
On affordable housing, Howland held out hopes that market pressures would abate, saying that the City Council could “control rents to some degree.” Polson noted that many members of the workforce can’t pay market rents, suggesting they be paid more.
Urban Core communities was another topic.
Howland invoked his experience on the Jacksonville Charter Commission, discussing how “unkept promises” of Consolidation should be kept.
Polson said she had been campaigning in those communities.
“They send me pictures of the potholes that go ignored for months,” Polson contended.
During a discussion of law enforcement, Howland heated things up, saying Polson wanted to “defund the police.”
Polson replied: “Defund the police is a phrase that is used to shut down conversation and divide us.”
Howland went into some guilt-by-association attacks, and Polson, took the bait. She talked of being a “volunteer peacekeeper” at the George Floyd protests last year, a phrase that may (or not) resonate with a majority of Jacksonville voters.
Polson was “appalled” that Howland implied she would condone violent protests.
Mail voting continues; for now, turnout is still south of 5%. Democrats have an advantage, with roughly 45% of the vote. Election Day is Feb. 22.
See Arias run
Republican Raul Arias launched a run Tuesday for the Jacksonville City Council to succeed term-limited Danny Becton in the GOP-dominated District 11.
Arias, a veteran of the United States Navy and owner of the popular Mambos restaurants, is a familiar figure in Jacksonville and a rising star in local politics.
Mayor Lenny Curry appointed him to the Housing & Community Development Commission, where he currently sits.
Arias sees a City Council run as the next logical step in serving a community that he calls home.
“The Navy brought my family and I to Jacksonville more than 17 years ago, and we immediately fell in love with our great city,” Arias said. “With hard work and building a strong connection in our community, I built a successful local business and created jobs.
“As the next City Councilman in District 11, I will prioritize rebuilding our infrastructure, promoting job growth through small businesses, and keeping our streets safe with strong public safety.”
Jacksonville may be more familiar with Arias’ wife: Lorena Inclan is a longtime anchor and reporter for Action News Jax.
For years, District 11 — on Jacksonville’s Southside — has been a safe bet for Republicans. Two have already filed ahead of Arias: Norman Brewer, Jr. raised just over $16,000 for the race; Annalyn Velasquez-Insco has been slow to start, with $30 raised to date.
Democratic Jacksonville City Council member Reggie Gaffney, Sr. may be running for state Senate, but his District 7 could stay under the Gaffney name.
Reggie Gaffney, Jr. filed this week.
Senior would be termed out in 2023, so, despite the Senate run, Junior would have likely been in the mix anyway.
Gaffney Sr. was particularly interested in keeping a Democratic District 7 for as long as possible during the Council’s redistricting talk; what’s clear now is there was a specific endgame to those concerns.
The District 7 race is already crowded. As the week began, five Democrats were on the ballot. However, none raised much money.
Nahshon Nicks leads in fundraising with just over $9,000. Gaffney Jr. will be an early favorite.
As a measure of how seriously Jacksonville takes family values, Gaffney Jr. is not the only legacy candidate running in 2023. Republican Joe Carlucci is also in the race and could appear on the same ballot as current Council member Matt Carlucci.
Speaking of Carlucci, the Council member spent Monday evening with citizens, irked about the continued suspension of curbside recycling pickup.
Hosting a town hall event, Carlucci got an earful and reiterated what he’s been saying for a while — the program is underfunded.
“It’s a labor market issue,” Carlucci said, as reported by WJXT. “Not enough drivers, because we’re not paying them enough.”
The recycling issue does not seem like it’s going to be imminently resolved. It’s been a backdrop for ads from Democrat Tracye Polson in her City Council at large campaign, and one suspects that if regularity does not resume, it will be a disproportionately large issue in 2023.
The block is hot
Housing prices continue to soar, with out-of-state buyers flying down to close cash deals on Duval County properties.
That’s the latest from the Jacksonville Daily Record, which presented a story this week about how realtors have seen the market blow up since the beginning of the pandemic.
Remote work has changed things, with people fleeing high cost of living cities and coming to Florida, where the cost of living continues to rise. But housing prices here haven’t caught up to the rest of the country yet, so the math works for the newcomers.
The median house price is now $350,000, up more than 20% since the end of 2020. A full 91% of listings closed above the list price, according to the Northeast Florida Association of Realtors.
There’s another move to the private sector from the Curry administration.
Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Burch is exiting as of the end of the month.
“Stephanie’s expertise has been invaluable to us on a daily basis,” Curry said. “She has done an exceptional job helping lead this administration and overseeing many of the largest departments in the city. I am confident she will excel in her future endeavors and has been an exemplary employee and valued member of this administration.”
Suite 400 won’t have to look very far (or at all) for Burch’s replacement. Charles Moreland will take over the Deputy CAO position, serving alongside CAO Brian Hughes.
“Throughout his three decades of public service, Dr. Charles Moreland has proved time and time again that he is willing to step up and do what is necessary to serve his community,” Curry said. “As the leader of my COVID-19 taskforce, Dr. Moreland has coordinated local, state, and federal resources to make sure Jacksonville citizens have access to all of the resources they need. I am confident he will assume the new responsibilities with the grace, selflessness, and commitment he has consistently demonstrated.”
A St. Augustine Beach Commissioner resigned after a DUI dust-up involving his wife.
Ernesto Torres is leaving to spend more time with his family, per the St. Augustine Record.
Ms. Torres was driving when a police officer pulled the couple over; the Commissioner promptly played the “do you know who I am” card.
“Wow … after all I’ve done for you guys. I vote to give your department a pay increase. You’re welcome, by the way,” the police report read. “I always support the BPD, and this is the thanks you give me? You guys are a joke.”
Torres attempted to use his position to get out of the arrest, reaching out to the St. Johns County Sheriff and the local police chief, who told officers to handle the matter like any other DUI arrest.
Torres’ case will be in the hands of the Florida Commission on Ethics, which will investigate and could recommend sanctions.
The winners are …
The St. Johns Cultural Council this week named three winners of its 2022 Dr. Gail Pflaster Recognizing Outstanding Women in the Arts awards.
The recipients are First Coast Cultural Council executive director and CEO Donna Guzzo, Bank of America managing director and Lightner Museum trustee Teresa Radzinski, and Tale Tellers of St. Augustine founding member Jane Sims.
Nominations for the ROWENTA awards were received from the community and included numerous women who have made significant contributions to the arts in St. Johns County through their work, leadership, and philanthropic support.
Honorees were selected by a panel of community members in January. The annual ROWITA celebration will take place on March 26 from 2-4 p.m. at the Lightner Museum, 75 King St., in historic St. Augustine. Former honorees and Junior ROWITA scholarship recipients will also be recognized at the event, which is open to the public.
According to Christina Parrish Stone, the Cultural Council’s Executive Director, the 2022 nominees have all positively impacted the cultural community.
“Our final selections are women in the visual, literary, and performance arts, and are educators, presenters, and philanthropic supporters as core leaders in our regional arts community. They were eligible for the award as were past nominees who have not been selected,” she said.