Drew Wilson, Author at Florida Politics

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

FMA using new software to boost healthcare cost transparency for patients

The Florida Medical Association is teaming up with a Sunrise-based tech company to help patients better understand the cost of medical care by swiping a card after an appointment.

The deal, announced Thursday, gives FMA doctors access to “ezVerify,” a software platform from Automated HealthCare Solutions that promises to identify patient-specific health insurance information in real time to provide patients a fixed dollar amount to expect to when their healthcare bills arrive.

FMA, a professional group that represents Florida’s medical and osteopathic doctors, said the partnership would be a “game changer” for its 22,000 members and the millions of Floridians who get their care from FMA providers.

“We are excited to work with AHCS and be at the forefront of bringing transparency to our valued physician members and their patients. We believe this technology and partnership will set the standard for transparency in patient/physician relationships,” said FMA CEO Tim Stapleton.

AHCS added that ezVerify takes the “unknown” out of the equation when it comes to out-of-pocket costs and is a surefire way to keep patients from being “unpleasantly surprised” when they receive a bill.

Dr. Gerald Glass, the CEO and Co-Founder of AHCS, said his company’s solution would “in a matter of seconds” allow patients to “fully and completely understand their insurance coverage and their direct financial responsibility.”

“In an age where insurance is complex, our transparency tool streamlines the process and removes the guesswork for patients and physicians.”

FMA and AHCS said the ezVerify partnership is just one of what they expect to be multiple joint projects to “improve the patient/physician experience and expand transparency across Florida’s healthcare system.”

Gus Bilirakis backs Ed Hooper for Florida Senate

Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper announced Thursday that U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis is backing his campaign for the Florida Senate seat currently held by Jack Latvala, who faces term limits in 2018.

“I am excited to have a partner to work with in Ed Hooper. I know of few better prepared to work on the issues important to Tampa Bay area citizens. Ed has dedicated his career to public service, especially helping our first responders and heroic military servicemen and women,” Bilirakis said.

“I look forward to working with Ed to ensure that our communities are the best places to work, live, and play. I am proud to support him as the next Senator for Florida District 16.”

Hooper touted the endorsement from Bilirakis as well as his fundraising numbers for November, which showed him with $60,000 in new money between his campaign and committee accounts.

“I made a push this past month. I am extremely pleased with the response received,” Hooper said. “I want December to be a quiet month so everyone can enjoy time with family, friends, and in the spirit of the season.”

Hooper has called the Clearwater area home for 45 years, including 24 years working for the city’s fire department. He served in the House from 2006 through 2014, when term limits forced him to retire and spent his three years out of the Legislature working as a consultant.

Currently, he is the only Republican candidate in the race, though he faces a challenger in Democrat Bernie Fensterwald, who had about $4,200 in his campaign account at the end of November.

By the same date, Hooper had $235,335 in his campaign account with another $93,098 on hand in his political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper.

Deede Weithorn touts endorsements, fundraising for HD 113 campaign

Democratic House District 113 candidate Deede Weithorn announced Wednesday that she had picked up endorsements from Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber as well as a trio of city commissioners.

The endorsements from Gelber and commissioners Michael Gongora, Mark Samuelian, and Micky Steinberg add to a list of backers that already includes Cuban-American businessman and former US Ambassador to Belgium Paul Cejas, current North Bay Village Commissioner Andreana Jackson, and former Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin.

“On the Miami Beach Commission, Deede was a resounding and consistent voice for government transparency and accountability,” Gongora said. “In my opinion, she was the driving force responsible for raising our city’s bond score from A to AA.  I can think of no better person to fight for our community’s interests in Tallahassee.”

Weithorn is running to replace Rep. David Richardson in Miami-Dade County seat. Richardson is opting out of a fourth term in the Florida House to run for the congressional seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“After more than fifty years here, I know this district and this district knows me. I’m honored to receive such an outpouring of early support and I look forward to going to Tallahassee in order to advocate for responsible solutions to the problems we face both locally and on the state-level,” she said.

Weithorn filed for the race back in July and is currently the only candidate vying for the open seat.

Through five months on the trail she had raised $45,203 for her campaign account, including just shy of $6,000 in November, and her campaign said she is “expected to close the year with approximately $60,000 raised” which would make December her best fundraising month thus far.

HD 113 covers southeastern Miami-Dade, including Miami Beach and North Bay Village. It is a reliably left-leaning district, with about double the number of registered Democrats as Republicans.

Richardson faced his first GOP challenger in the 2016 election cycle. He easily triumphed over Republican Jonathan Parker with 65 percent of the vote.

New candidates sign up to succeed Richard Corcoran and Frank White in 2018

New candidates have filed for the House seats being vacated next year by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Pensacola Republican Rep. Frank White.

Filing for Corcoran’s seat was New Port Richey Democrat Tyler Sambucci, who joins Republicans Bill Gunter, Elle Rudisill and Ardian Zika in the race for Pasco County-based HD 37. Corcoran, a Republican, faces term limits in the House and is likely to enter the gubernatorial race sometime after the 2018 Legislative Session.

HD 37 carries a heavy advantage for Republicans, so Sambucci will face an uphill battle if he makes the general election ballot next year. The Republican frontrunner, Zika, has gained the backing of several Pasco Republicans, including former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning, and has a six figure campaign fund.

At the end of November, the Pasco County businessman had more than $130,000 cash on hand while Rudisill had about $11,500 and Gunter had about $4,400.

Opening a campaign account to replace White, who is running for Attorney General in 2018, was Gulf Breeze Republican William Bussing. He joins Robert Andrade in the Republican Primary.

Andrade filed for HD 2 in early November after White announced his AG bid, but he was able to show more than $50,000 cash on hand, including loans, in his first campaign finance report.

Also running for HD 2 is Democrat Ray Guillory, who was the Democratic nominee on the ballot last year. He had about $30 in his campaign account through October, but even with a six-figure sum the ruby-red Panhandle seat would be safely out of reach: White won with 61 percent of the vote last year compared to about 39 percent for Guillory.

Vance Aloupis has $200K banked for HD 115 bid

The leading Republican running to replace termed-out Rep. Michael Bileca in HD 115 hit the $200,000 mark in cash on hand last month, according to new campaign finance reports.

Vance Aloupis added $27,678 to his campaign account last month and spent just $1,360, putting his fundraising total at 220,312 and his cash on hand just $42 shy of $200K.

“I continue to be humbled by the outpouring of support for our campaign. With contributions from more than 640 individual donors, the endorsement of incumbent Rep. Michael Bileca, and the continued dialogue with residents about the future of our community, our campaign is in a very strong position moving forward,” Aloupis said in a press release.

Aloupis, the CEO of The Children’s Movement of Florida, faces Carlos Gobel, Rhonda Rebman-Lopez and Carmen Sotomayor in the Republican Primary.

Rebman-Lopez has a firm grip on the second place spot in fundraising with $94,229 raised, including $44,025 in loans. She has $89,570 of that money on hand. Gobel and Sotomayor are a distant No. 3 and No. 4, respectively.

Gobel added $2,251 in November for $7,901 raised to date with just under $7,000 in the bank. Sotomayor, the first-in candidate, has raised $615 over 11 months and has $34 in her campaign account.

Also running are Democrats Jeffrey Solomon and James Linwood Schulman. Solomon leads his primary opponent with $10,734 on hand compared to $3,924 for Schulman.

HD 115 covers an inland strip of Miami-Dade County, including parts of Pinecrest, South Miami and Palmetto Bay.

The majority Hispanic district has a Republican lean, and Bileca has had no trouble holding on to the seat against Democratic challengers, winning his most recent re-election campaign with about 54 percent of the vote.

Jennifer Webb tops HD 69 field with $21K raised in November

Republican Ray Blacklidge touted his fundraising success in the race to replace Rep. Kathleen Peters Tuesday, but new campaign finance reports show Democrat Jennifer Webb posted the highest total for November.

Peters announced earlier this year that she would forego a fourth term in HD 69 to instead run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission. Blacklidge and fellow Republican Jeremy David Bailie have filed for the race, with the former holding the advantage in fundraising.

Blacklidge tacked on $5,364 last month and spent $4,985, leaving him with a small net gain in cash on hand and putting his total fundraising past the $75,000 mark, including $5,500 in loans. Heading into December he had $50,561 in the bank. Blacklidge also has $18,500 stashed away in a political committee, Friends of Ray Blacklidge PC, though he hasn’t reported any new contributions for it since September.

“This community is rallying around our positive message,” Blacklidge said in a Tuesday email. “I’m grateful for the friends who are joining our team because they believe in our campaign to create jobs and grow our economy. We are going strong, and I look forward to continuing to connect with as many District 69 residents as possible.”

Bailie for his part added $3,400 last month and spent $1,184, leaving him with $23,476 in the bank after three months in the campaign, compared to six months for Blacklidge.

Though the winner of the Blacklidge v. Bailie contest has the better shot at taking over for Peters next fall, Webb’s inaugural campaign finance report was the best of the three candidates and puts her nearly even with Bailie moneywise.

Webb showed $21,225 in contributions and spent just $840, leaving her with $20,385 after four weeks in the race.

Making the donor roll were St. Petersburg City Councilmembers Darden Rice and Karl Nurse, St. Petersburg Free Clinic director Beth Houghton, and Emily DiVito of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, among others.

HD 69 covers parts of Pinellas County, including Gulfport, Madeira Beach, South Pasadena and Treasure Island. The district has a slight Republican lean, though voter registrations between the two major parties are relatively close.

Peters won her 2012 contest against Democrat Josh Shulman 52-48, but those margins were pushed higher in the two cycles she was an incumbent — she won 58-52 in 2014 and took 57 percent of the vote in 2016.

Lori Berman endorses Joe Casello as successor in HD 90

Lantana Democratic Rep. Lori Berman, who is running in the special election for Senate District 31, is joining a host of other Palm Beach County leaders in endorsing Joe Casello for the seat she currently holds in the House.

“I have known Joe for several years and I have been tremendously impressed by his work on the City Commission in Boynton Beach,” Berman said. “I know that he’ll be an effective legislator in Tallahassee and I look forward to working with him on the issues important to the people of Palm Beach County. I’m excited to endorse him in this race.”

In a press release touting Berman’s endorsement, the Boynton Beach Democrat also pointed to endorsements from Reps. Joseph Abruzzo, David Silvers, and Matt Wilhite, Palm Beach County Commissioners Mack Bernard, Mary Lou Berger, David Kerner and Melissa MacKinlay, as well as a handful of labor and civic organizations including the AFL-CIO and Florida Professional Firefighters.

“I’m humbled to have such a breadth of support – from those representing working families, to those representing businesses driving our economy, to elected officials at every level,” he said. “Now more than ever, I’m confident that we are in an extremely strong position to win this seat and continue fighting for the issues that matter most. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work immediately on everything from public safety to public schools to job creation.”

Casello is currently the only candidate filed to run for House District 90.

Berman is termed out in 2018 and Casello filed in May to replace her in the 2018 general. Through the end of November he had raised $26,460 including $5,000 in loans and had $22,706 on hand heading into December.

Prior to his election to the Boynton Beach Commission in 2013, Casello worked as a firefighter and a licensed electrical contractor. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

HD 90 covers part of Palm Beach County west of Interstate 95, including the communities of Boynton Beach, Seminole Manor, Atlantis and Lantana. It is a Democratic stronghold with 47,864 registered Democrats compared to 26,555 registered Republicans.

HD 2 Republican Alex Andrade tops $50K in first finance report

Republican Alex Andrade brought in more than $50,000 in his first month campaigning to replace Rep. Frank White in House District 2.

“We’re excited and encouraged by the strong start to our campaign. Throughout this first month we worked hard to take our conservative, results-oriented message to each and every part of the district and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re committed to continuing to work hard to grow our base of support and ensure Florida is the best state in the country to live, work, retire and vacation,” Andrade said.

“I can’t thank our supporters enough for the trust and confidence they’ve placed in me and our campaign. I’m energized and humbled by the start to the campaign and I’m looking forward to the months ahead.”

Andrade took in $42,626 in contributions and put $10,000 of his own money into his campaign last month. After spending a little under $2,000 on fundraising, event expenses and travel reimbursements, he finished the month with $50,678 in the bank.

Making the inaugural donor roll were a few other Andrades, each pitching in $1,000, as well as lobby shop Suskey Consulting, Orlando attorney Chris Dawson, Pensacola physician Sidney Clements and wife Katherine Clements and a handful of real estate and construction firms.

Andrade filed to run for the Pensacola-based district early last month after White announced he would leave the House next year to take a crack at succeeding termed-out Attorney General Pam Bondi.

The Moore, Hill & Westmoreland attorney is a two-time alumnus of the University of Florida, earning both his bachelor’s degree and J.D. from the state’s flagship school.

During his time at UF’s Levin College of Law he served as President of the Trial Team and Chief Justice of the UF Supreme Court, earning himself a slot on the UF Student Affairs Hall of Fame in 2014 via a vote by a committee including faculty, staff and two hall-of-famers.

So far, Andrade is the only Republican filed to run for HD 2 next year. Democrat Raymond Clayton Guillory filed for the seat back in March, but hasn’t gained any traction on the fundraising trail and stands little chance of winning the heavily Republican seat.

According to voter registration statistics from 2016, HD 2’s electorate is 48 percent Republicans and 33 percent Democrats, with the bulk of the rest holding no party affiliation.

When White ran to replace former Republican Rep. Mike Hill last year, he won with 61 percent of the vote compared to about 39 percent for Guillory.

Democrat Hillary Clinton lost the district to President Donald Trump 56-39 on the same day, with the bulk of “Never Trumpers” in HD 2 preferring to cast their ballot for Libertarian Gary Johnson rather than a Democrat. Johnson’s 3.5 percent score was his second highest among all House districts.

Joe Negron named ‘Champion of the Everglades’

Environmental group Audubon Florida presented Senate President Joe Negron with an award Tuesday recognizing his “steadfast leadership” in Everglades restoration.

Negron earned the “Champion of the Everglades” award for a bill he ushered through the legislature earlier this past session that mandated the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee to reduce discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries and prevent a repeat of the historic and harmful algal blooms that wreaked havoc on Florida waters in 2016.

Audubon Florida’s deputy director, Julie Hill-Gabriel, described the legislation as “an incredible victory” for the Everglades.

“President Negron helped secure a much-needed restoration project for America’s Everglades. His tireless efforts responded to an ecological crisis by garnering support for one of the most important wins for Florida’s environment in a decade,” she said. “We applaud President Negron for his commitment to protecting Florida’s environment for generations to come. It is with great excitement we name President Negron as a Champion of the Everglades.”

Audubon Florida said the award is reserved for “individuals who have gone above and beyond their call of duty to protect Florida’s water and wildlife in the River of Grass.” Past winners of the award include Nathaniel Reed and former Gov. Jeb Bush.

“Audubon Florida has been a strong partner in the ongoing effort to reduce and one day eliminate harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee that destroy our environment and harm our economy,” Negron said. “I am honored to receive this award and look forward to working with Audubon in the future as we continue to closely monitor the implementation of Senate Bill 10 and other legislative efforts to restore and protect Florida’s environment and natural resources.”

Committee backing voting restoration amendment raises $1.1M in November

The committee backing a 2018 ballot initiative that would automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent Florida felons brought in more than $1.1 million in contributions in November.

November’s $1.16 million haul marked the best fundraising month yet for Floridians for a Fair Democracy, which headed into December with $562,134 on hand.

The vast majority of the money came in from Laurie Michaels, a Fort Worth, Texas, psychologist and philanthropist who founded Open Road Alliance, a fund that that provides grants and loans to fill a market demand for fast, flexible contingency funding in philanthropy.

Also on the donor roll were Washington, D.C.-based political committee New Approach PAC, Atherton, California, Retiree Liz Simon and Massachusetts-based Gamechanger. Each of the three chipped in $100,000.

Expenses for the political committee came out to $800,000 for November, with $712,385 of that sum heading to Calabassas, Calif.-based PCI Consultants, a firm that gathers petition signatures for ballot initiatives.

The rest of the money was split up between business services and payments to county supervisors of elections for petition signature verification fees.

The initiative would restore the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. Certain felons, such as those convicted of murder or sexual offenses would not be eligible for automatic restoration.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Florida Division of Elections showed the ballot imitative had 495,455 valid signatures.

To make the ballot, initiatives need signatures equal to 8 percent of the voter turnout in the most recent presidential election. That equals 766,200 signatures for initiatives aiming for the 2018 ballot, which is a significant jump from the 683,149 needed to make the cut in 2016.

Floridians for a Fair Democracy’s Chair Desmond Meade told Florida Politics two weeks ago that the committee has gathered more than 900,000 signatures.

“Knowing that we set the goal of collecting 1 million, the fact that we are less than 100,000 petitions away from our goal is an amazing attestation to the growing energy, excitement, and support around second chances,” he said.

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