A.G. Gancarski – Florida Politics

A.G. Gancarski

Paula Wright to challenge Kim Daniels in HD 14 Dem primary

Arguably, the most iconoclastic Democrat in the Florida Legislature, Rep. Kim Daniels appeared poised to sail to re-election.

Now, she will have a primary challenge from Duval County School Board Chair Paula Wright.

Wright qualified just before the noon Friday deadline and told Florida Politics that education issues are motivating her run.

When asked to appraise Daniels’ performance in Tallahassee, Wright withheld comment.

Daniels, an evangelist by trade, has just under $11,000 in her campaign account, a low number for an incumbent. However, she demonstrated an ability to self-finance in her 2016 race.

Interestingly, two politicians in Daniels’ orbit — Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown and former Daniels’ aide Roshanda Jackson — filed to run primary challenges against State Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Tracie Davis, respectively.

There were strong suggestions from allies of Gibson and Davis that Daniels had a hand in those candidacies.

Brown was indicted on federal fraud charges and suspended from City Council, and raised no money for his Senate bid. He pleaded poverty and has a court-appointed lawyer.

Jackson had $800 on hand at the end of May.

At this writing, neither qualified.

Moody’s: Florida now earns highest credit rating

Some good news for Florida’s credit ratings emerged Thursday, with upgrades across the board from Moody’s seemingly vindicating Gov. Rick Scott‘s approach to financial management.

Per a media release: Moody’s upgraded one notch from Aa1 to Aaa, with a stable outlook for the best rating possible, despite what is called an “aging population.”

“Florida’s general obligation debt upgrade to Aaa reflects a sustained trend of improvement in its economy and finances, low state debt and pension ratios, and reduced near-term liability risks via the state-run insurance companies. Florida’s economy is performing strongly in terms of job growth, and long-term growth prospects are favorable despite the challenges posed by an aging population base.”

Florida joins 14 other states with an Aaa rating. Scott has repeatedly asserted that under his watch, Florida shed $9 billion of debt ($5.5 billion in general debt, and $3.5 billion from the repayment of an unemployment compensation loan from 2009).

On Friday, Scott offered a lengthy statement on how his approach saved Florida’s economy.

“When I became Governor in 2011, Florida’s economy was in terrible shape. By December 2010, state debt and unemployment had skyrocketed, taxes had been needlessly hiked by more than $2 billion and frivolous spending was commonplace — all costing Florida families more than 800,000 jobs. Since day one, we’ve worked nonstop to reverse this course, and today’s rating from Moody’s demonstrates the success of Florida’s economic turnaround,” Scott asserted.

“The entire country should take note,” Scott added, citing the fulfillment of his agenda.

The Moody’s release lauds Florida’s “healthy reserves and historically strong governance practices and policies that are expected to continue,” and “consistently low debt and pension liabilities that compare well with other Aaa-rated states.”

Hurricanes have been an issue the last couple of years, but Moody’s trusts the state to deal with those impacts: “Florida’s exposure to storm-related costs and other climate risks is high, but the state’s economy and finances have proved to be highly resilient to storm events and also position it well for the challenge of adapting to longer-term climate trends.”

Florida’s pension liability of $16.5 billion is 35 percent of state revenues, which compares well to the 50-state median of 82 percent. Debt per capita is also below that median.

Also up: Florida’s Department of Management Services facilities pool revenue bonds and certificates of participation to Aa1 from Aa2; Department of Children and Families certificates of participation to Aa2 from Aa3; State Board of Education’s Lottery Revenue bonds has been upgraded to Aa3 from A1.

Former GOP House hopefuls vie for Jacksonville City Council appointments

Gov. Rick Scott suspended two Jacksonville City Council Democrats, Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, June 1, after the federal government indicted the duo for a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration.

Since then, applications have poured in for the Governor’s perusal, and the latest list shows many veteran politicians with an urge to serve.

Among the latest applicants: three Republicans who ran for State House but fell short in 2016. None of these candidates had demonstrated an interest in running for election for these seats, and all waited until late in the process to apply.

Terrance Freeman, who finished second in a five-man primary in the Southside’s HD 12 is one. Rev. Mark Griffin, who lost a surprisingly competitive race in the HD 13 general election, a second. And Chris Whitfield, thumped in the general election in HD 14, is the third.

Freeman, a former aide to Council President-designate Aaron Bowman, “would consider [the appointment] the opportunity of a lifetime.”

If appointed, he vows to offer “a strong voice in local government” and to “work collaboratively with the Mayor’s Office and Council leadership to represent the District with honesty, integrity, and honor, ensuring that I’m leading discussions that are beneficial for the district and the City of Jacksonville as a whole.”

Whitfield, who lost by 40 points to Democrat Kim Daniels in the 2016 general, couched his interest in similar terms.

“I threw my name in the hat to ensure the hardworking citizens of either district had reliable and trustworthy representation until they can elect a permanent representative,” Whitfield said.

“A safe community, potholes, flooded streets and food deserts don’t care about Republican or Democrat. Integrity and honesty matter and the people deserve that and need someone who will make their needs a priority, even in the interim,” Whitfield said.

We asked Whitfield if he thought his chances were improved by being a Republican.

“No, I don’t think party will matter. From my interactions with the mayor and governor, I believe they care about the citizens and what’s best for them and the governor will select the person he feels will best represent those citizens until they can make their voices heard on election day,” Whitfield predicted.

The late Republican applications came after many Democratic candidates and former candidates had already indicated interest.

Among the hopefuls: former and current District 10 candidate Joseph Willis; former school board chair Brenda Priestly Jackson; former at-large candidate Ju’coby Pittman; current candidates Tameka Holly and Celestine Mills; Terry Fields, former state Representative and a 2015 City Council candidate; former House candidate Rahman Johnson; current candidate Kevin Monroe; former Councilwoman and obelisk aficionado Pat Lockett-Felder; former candidates James Breaker and Mincy Pollock.

It remains to be seen whether the Governor will consider party loyalty before making these appointments, but the three newly-filed Republicans all have connections the Democrats lack.

Aaron Bean to face Carlos Slay in GOP primary, then two candidates in general election

In Senate District 4, the electoral landscape is becoming much more interesting for incumbent state Sen. Aaron Bean.

The Fernandina Beach Republican faces both a primary challenge and (should he prevail) two emerging general election opponents.

All three candidates qualified as of Friday morning,

In the GOP primary, Bean takes on a familiar rival: Carlos Slay, a former Nassau County tax collector candidate, who some believe is running at the behest of Janet Adkins, Bean’s old Nassau nemesis. 

Adkins lost a school superintendent race in 2016 to a Bean-backed candidate.

The winner between Bean and Slay will then face two general election opponents: Democrat Billie Bussard and Libertarian Joanna Liberty Tavares.

Between Bean’s campaign account and political committee, he has thus far over $160,000 on hand, and the fundraising prowess to raise more.

Still, the reality is the road to November has a few more complications than just a few weeks ago.

Florida Politics caught up with Bean at an Adam Putnam event Saturday, and he discussed the way forward.

“There are multiple candidates in this race,” Bean observed, “so we are running. We’re knocking on doors. We’re going to be raising money. We’re going to get our message out about what we’ve accomplished the last six years. And what we can do the next four years.”

We asked specifically about Slay’s willingness to go on a personal attack, and the challenge that presents.

“Our campaign’s going to focus on accomplishments and looking forward,” Bean said. “I think that’s what the voters want.”

“People that I talk to, they want to hear ‘what have you done for us, what are you going to do,'” Bean said.

If Bean is successful against Slay, the general election awaits.

“We’ve got to continue to work hard,” Bean notes. “I’ve been out there hustling and reaching out to voters long before any of these candidates even announced.”

Bean makes a habit of visiting Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, as well as other groups, and has done so since Session ended in March.

Bean’s political committee, before the entry of these opponents, gave $50,000 to Travis Hutson‘s Sunshine State Conservatives committee.

We asked the Senator if there are any concerns about resources.

“We’re working to really help Florida continue to go in the right direction, a very positive direction,” Bean said. “It doesn’t just stem from Aaron Bean; it stems from keeping the majority in the Senate and the Governor’s Office.”

Bean is not the only Jacksonville-area Senator to face a challenge.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Democratic Leader-Designate, faces opposition (at least at this writing) from Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown.

Despite his suspension from Council after an indictment, and a court-appointed attorney for his federal trial (after pleading indigency), Brown is still an active candidate at this writing.

Audrey Gibson, Tracie Davis to celebrate qualifying with firefighter union

At this writing Friday morning, it’s unclear if two Jacksonville Democrats running for state office will have competitive elections or not.

State Sen. Audrey Gibson was presented with a primary challenge from Jacksonville City Councilor Reggie Brown. That challenge, which people in Gibson’s orbit believed was a setup by Jacksonville Republicans irked by Gibson not supporting the 2016 pension reform referendum, became increasingly theoretical when Brown was indicted on fraud charges.

State Rep. Tracie Davis faced her own primary challenge, from Roshanda Jackson, a former aide to Duval Delegation colleague Rep. Kim Daniels.

However, as the qualifying deadline loomed, it didn’t appear she would make it to the ballot either.

Whether Gibson and Davis face ballot competition or not, they are still slated to kick off their campaign at a nexus of political power in Jacksonville: the Firefighter Union Hall on Stockton Street.

Their event kicks off at 4 p.m.

If Brown or Jackson do qualify, they face long odds beyond the institutional support the incumbents will enjoy.

On the House side, Davis has $47,000 on hand. And Sen. Gibson has $135,000 on hand.

Ron DeSantis, armed with President’s endorsement, in Ponte Vedra, Lake City, Ocala on Saturday

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Republican candidate for Governor, will have company on the campaign trail Saturday in the form of House colleague Matt Gaetz.

The two conservatives, fixtures on Fox News, plan a three-stop swing through the northeastern corner of the state.

The first: the Sawgrass Marriott in Ponte Vedra, where the start time is 9 a.m.

This will be DeSantis’ second visit to the Jacksonville area in a week; he met with Republicans in Orange Park last Friday.

From there, the duo hits Lake City’s Quail Heights Country Club at 12:30, followed by a 3 p.m. engagement at the Holiday Inn on Southwest 38th Street in Ocala.

Spokesman David Vasquez asserted that “DeSantis has been engaging Floridians all over the Sunshine State. He was born in Jacksonville, raised in Dunedin and stationed in Mayport, but now he has the chance to meet Floridians from every part of the state who are excited about an Iraq veteran and a proven conservative who’s endorsed by President Trump.”

DeSantis’ tour will be buoyed by President Donald Trump offering a second tweet endorsing him for Governor.

This has to be considered a timely (re)endorsement, and a necessary one, given that recent Fox News and Florida Chamber polls show DeSantis down 15 points.

DeSantis’ chief rival for the Republican nomination, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, has routinely jabbed DeSantis (without naming him) for not being on the trail or knowing the concerns of Florida voters.

“What I know is I’m in every corner of the state. I know Florida best,” he said in Jacksonville Saturday. “I’ve put in my time. I’ve listened to Floridians and their issues and their challenges, and we have put out specific plans on how to put Florida first and build on the success of Gov. [RickScott.

Putnam contrasted his path to that of DeSantis, who pursued “three different offices in three years, that’s a lot.”

Jacksonville Councilmembers accused of fraud scheme now have court-appointed lawyers

Suspended Jacksonville City Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown were in a federal courtroom Thursday afternoon.

The central question: Who would represent Katrina Brown?

The answer: Taxpayers will pay for her lawyer just as they will her former colleague and current co-defendant.

The two Browns (who are unrelated) allegedly committed a conspiracy to defraud, say federal prosecutors. United States Attorneys contend the pair extracted hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal use from a Small Business Administration-backed loan provided for Katrina Brown’s familial BBQ sauce plant.

Reggie Brown, who has been deemed indigent by the court, already had a court-appointed lawyer coming into Thursday.

Katrina Brown, meanwhile, expressed confidence that she could retain private barrister Curtis Fallgatter at a hearing last week. However, that didn’t prove to be the case.

Given the financial uncertainty on Katrina Brown’s part, Fallgatter said a court-appointed counsel might be in order until her financial situation was more certain.

Brown is accused of taking a $2.62M Small Business Administration loan and not developing a business, but instead using much of the money for personal purposes, which undoubtedly will lead some observers to skepticism of the claim of penury.

Brown was making $3,000 per month from the City Council; however, suspension from that body cut off that income.

Her debts, said Judge James Klindt, are greater than her income. Nonetheless, she will have to contribute $1,000 and pay a monthly stipend.

When asked about the seeming improbability of receiving loans and grants of over $3 million for a business and having nothing to show for it, Katrina Brown wasn’t talking. Fallgatter was.

Regarding the financial plan that would have allowed him to be retained, Fallgatter noted that “problems have developed” and it wouldn’t be “fair to Ms. Brown or the court” not to move forward with a court-appointed lawyer.

“This is a testament to the fact that all of the funds were put back into the business. She didn’t walk away with any boats, cars, planes,” Fallgatter said. “She’s upside down. She lives with her folks. Has very modest funds. A car that she owes more on than it’s worth.”

Katrina Brown would not answer questions related to Council, including whether or not she was stepping down or if she had been in contact with Council members — many of whom have been concerned about the bills she sponsored in recent weeks.

Reggie Brown also was engaged by the media. He would not answer questions about whether or not he still intended to run for the state Senate against Audrey Gibson.

“I’m just going to say that I’m innocent and we will wait and watch the process unfold,” the Councilman said.

We asked if he intended to flip on Katrina Brown as part of proving his innocence.

“You’ll learn one day that just because people ask questions doesn’t mean you have to answer,” Reggie Brown said.

The Browns, upon indictment, issued a joint statement from their first-appearance lawyers proclaiming innocence: “Unlike cases where true fraud exists, no one took any money they were not entitled to. All funds were properly invested in the business.”

Thirty-eight counts from the federal government make a different case, with charges that could add up — at least in theory — to hundreds of years in prison and millions of dollars in fines for both.

Cumulative potential penalties for Katrina Brown: 720 years and a $12 million fine.

For Reggie Brown: 601 years and an $8.275 million fine.

Despite their suspension from the City Council, neither Brown will resign. Gov. Rick Scott will pick fill-in members in the coming weeks.

The arraignment of both Browns will be Monday afternoon. A trial is to be slated for September, as of now.

East versus West dynamic still evident in Alvin Brown, Al Lawson race

The Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, a scrum between the Tallahassee incumbent Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, looks to be a test of whether Duval Democrats can take back the district against Lawson, a genial career politician with friends on both sides of the aisle.

The battle has been one of dueling press releases on issues ranging from gun control to Lawson’s willingness to work with President Donald Trump, but with roughly two months before the primary, ground game is becoming a factor.

To that end, both Brown and Lawson are in the process of getting their campaign headquarters up and running. And predictably, those efforts are concentrated initially in each candidate’s geographic base.

Mayor Brown will be in attendance Thursday evening at his campaign headquarters (900-15 Dunn Avenue) for an event intended to engage campaign volunteers. That kicks off at 6 p.m.

While grassroots support is key, so too is the support of the Jacksonville money class. Though it has been slow in coming, Brown (as first reported by Florida Times-Union journalist Nate Monroe) is slated to have Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan host a fundraiser next week.

Khan, who supported Brown’s re-election campaign heavily, has not made a habit of supporting electoral challengers in local races. His preference has been to support incumbents with whom he can partner, so the decision to go against a sitting incumbent (one well-regarded by many in Jacksonville’s political class) is worth noting.

In addition to Khan, the host committee via the invite obtained by Florida Politics features dozens of Duval’s heavy hitters.

From Jacksonville University President Tim Cost and Gary Chartrand to trial lawyers Eddie and Chuck Farah to traditional Republican money men like John Baker and John Rood, what’s clear is that some of the power elite is backing their local candidate, even if Republican office holders like Mayor Lenny Curry and Sheriff John Rutherford seem to lean Lawson’s way.

Lawson is making moves of his own, opening a campaign headquarters in Tallahassee Saturday. That event is at 225 East Jennings Street from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Lawson this week also pocketed a key endorsement from the western side of the 11-county district, via Gadsden County Sheriff Morris A. Young.

“Congressman Lawson has been dedicated to North Florida for a number of years,” Young said. “I have watched him grow as a state representative, state senator and, now, congressman. I am proud to know him. He is doing a great job in Washington.”

Ultimately, Brown will have to convince people west of Jacksonville that Lawson should be replaced. He will need endorsements and infrastructure west of I-295 to counteract the incumbent, who has gotten one key Jacksonville endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police.

Brown didn’t even make a play for that endorsement.

Watchers await new fundraising numbers for Brown and Lawson. As of the end of March, Lawson led in cash on hand, $159,710 to $127,764.


HD 15 roundup: AFL-CIO backs Tracye Polson, Joseph Hogan; GOP candidate forum looms

The race to succeed Rep. Jay Fant, a departing Jacksonville Republican who hopes to be commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, continues apace.

The sole Democrat in the contest continues to receive meaningful endorsements, while the trio of Republicans vying for the party’s nomination in August is just beginning to dialogue with voters.

On the Democratic side, Tracye Polson scored the endorsement of the Florida AFL-CIO this week.

“Labor unions and their members have been the backbone of this country and our state for decades. It means a great deal to me to earn the endorsement of the Florida AFL-CIO, which works on behalf and fights for working families every day. I look forward to working with our North Florida Central Labor Council and labor unions across the state to fight for better pay and benefits, affordable health care, gender equality and a safe work environment for everyone,” Polson said via statement.

Meanwhile, the three Republicans in the race — lawyer/lobbyist Wyman Duggan, yacht broker Mark Zeigler, and Joseph Hogan (also endorsed by the labor union) — have a key candidate forum to look forward to next week.

The Republican Club of Westside Jacksonville will, on Monday night, host the trio of candidates.

They will make brief introductory statements, then take questions from the audience, per club VP Raymond Johnson.

“All three candidates have said they will attend and we will be giving them 5-10 minutes to make their campaign statements and then will take questions from the audience. Questions will be open for anyone to ask and whatever is asked the candidates can answer,” Johnson asserted.

The HD 15 money race shows Polson ahead of the Republicans with $118,000 cash on hand as of the end of May.

Of the GOP field, Duggan had $111,000 cash on hand, with Zeigler over $30,000 and Hogan with just under $7,000.

However, this event won’t be a test of financial bona fides, but an ability to connect with the grassroots; it will be interesting to see how the three Republican first-time candidates operate in that setting.

Jacksonville’s Clay Yarborough may extend money lead

State Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican in his first term, will likely expand his money lead over Democratic challenger Tim Yost at a fundraiser Thursday evening.

The event, kicking off at 5:30 p.m. at the Jacksonville offices of Foley & Lardner, includes numerous elected officials on the host committee.

From the Florida Senate: Rob Bradley, Aaron Bean, and Travis Hutson.

From the state House: Cord ByrdTravis CummingsJason FischerPaul Renner, and Cyndi Stevenson.

From the Jacksonville City Council: Danny BectonAl Ferraro, Bill Gulliford, and Matt Schellenberg.

At the end of May, Yarborough had over $105,000 on hand, and no primary competition, as he prepares for a general election clash with Yost, who had $3,600 on hand.

Yarborough’s HD 12 includes Arlington and other Southside neighborhoods in Jacksonville. It is historically Republican.

Those with interest in attending should RSVP to jennifer@jennifermcdougald.com.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons