News Service Of Florida, Author at Florida Politics

News Service Of Florida

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

Gambling regulators dealt blow in license dispute

Gambling regulators were wrong to try to take back a South Florida jai alai license they claimed was issued by mistake, an administrative law judge ruled this week.

The issue surrounds what is known as a summer jai alai permit originally granted more than three decades ago in Miami. The permit, which was converted from a greyhound permit, is owned by the Havenick family, which also operates dog tracks in Miami and Naples.

For years, the permit owners have leased space for matches at Miami Jai Alai. But this year the Summer Jai-Alai Partnership, known as “Summer Partners,” decided to move its operations to The Casino at Dania Beach, which the Havenicks manage, in Broward County.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation signed off on the requested license in March, but three months later told Summer Partners the agency had issued the license in error and intended to revoke it. Regulators maintained they had mistakenly given approval for the operators to move the jai alai games from Miami-Dade County to Broward County.

Transferring from one county to another isn’t allowed, the regulators argued.

But siding with Summer Partners attorney John Lockwood, Administrative Law Judge Robert Meale ruled Tuesday that nothing in law bans licenses from being relocated across county lines, so long as the operations stay within 35 miles of the original location of the permit.

And Meale appeared skeptical that gambling regulators were unaware of what they were doing at the time they granted the 2017-2018 license, noting that an employee involved with reviewing the application attached “a large Post-it note” to the file advising of the move from Miami-Dade to Broward.

“The note is still attached to the file, which was presented at the final hearing. The note is impossible to miss,” Meale wrote in the order recommending that the department withdraw a notice of intent to revoke the license.

Tuesday’s decision was the latest in a series of setbacks for gambling regulators.

Last year, Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early ruled that the state’s gambling overseers were wrong to do away with a rule governing controversial “designated player” card games without replacing the regulations.

Also last year, a federal judge struck a blow to the state when he allowed the Seminole Tribe of Florida to continue offering blackjack at its casinos for another 14 years, even though a state deal with the tribe authorizing the lucrative card games expired in 2015. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle based his decision on state gambling regulators allowing pari-mutuel operators to conduct designated player games, which he said breached what is known as an “exclusivity” agreement that the Seminoles had with the state.

In the summer jai alai dispute, the state argued that a law about converted summer jai alai permits allows permit holders to operate “at any jai alai permittee’s plant it may lease or build within such county.”

Meale, however, chided regulators for changing their policy about county restrictions, writing that the Department of Business and Professional Regulation had at one time construed the statute to allow licenses to be moved across county lines if they remained within the 35-mile restriction.

“It is unclear, though, when petitioner changed its position,” Meale wrote.

Lockwood accused state regulators of changing their policy “as a result of political pressure” from Fronton Holdings, a competitor of Summer Partners that owns the Miami locale which Summer Partners had leased for years.

Regulators filed the intent to revoke the license after being contacted by Fronton Holdings, Lockwood wrote in a court filing.

Lockwood argued that the change of policy amounts to an improper unadopted rule. Meale agreed.

“Respondent is entitled to the formal adoption of such a rule,” so that it can be decided whether the rule would be an invalid exercise of authority by the department, and so that it can also be subject to a rule-making review process, Meale wrote.

Lockwood said he was pleased with the decision.

“A government agency cannot just take away a license because they changed their mind,” he told The News Service of Florida. “This allows us to continue forward with our planned operations at Dania and upholds the division’s long-standing interpretation of the statute.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Gambling regulators dealt blow in license dispute

Gambling regulators were wrong to try to take back a South Florida jai alai license they claimed was issued by mistake, an administrative law judge ruled this week.

The issue surrounds what is known as a summer jai alai permit originally granted more than three decades ago in Miami. The permit, which was converted from a greyhound permit, is owned by the Havenick family, which also operates dog tracks in Miami and Naples.

For years, the permit owners have leased space for matches at Miami Jai Alai. But this year the Summer Jai-Alai Partnership, known as “Summer Partners,” decided to move its operations to The Casino at Dania Beach, which the Havenicks manage, in Broward County.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation signed off on the requested license in March, but three months later told Summer Partners the agency had issued the license in error and intended to revoke it. Regulators maintained they had mistakenly given approval for the operators to move the jai alai games from Miami-Dade County to Broward County.

Transferring from one county to another isn’t allowed, the regulators argued.

But siding with Summer Partners attorney John Lockwood, Administrative Law Judge Robert Meale ruled Tuesday that nothing in law bans licenses from being relocated across county lines, so long as the operations stay within 35 miles of the original location of the permit.

And Meale appeared skeptical that gambling regulators were unaware of what they were doing at the time they granted the 2017-2018 license, noting that an employee involved with reviewing the application attached “a large post-it note” to the file advising of the move from Miami-Dade to Broward.

“The note is still attached to the file, which was presented at the final hearing. The note is impossible to miss,” Meale wrote in the order recommending that the department withdraw a notice of intent to revoke the license.

Tuesday’s decision was the latest in a series of setbacks for gambling regulators.

Last year, Administrative Law Judge E. Gary Early ruled that the state’s gambling overseers were wrong to do away with a rule governing controversial “designated player” card games without replacing the regulations.

Also last year, a federal judge struck a blow to the state when he allowed the Seminole Tribe of Florida to continue offering blackjack at its casinos for another 14 years, even though a state deal with the tribe authorizing the lucrative card games expired in 2015. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle based his decision on state gambling regulators allowing pari-mutuel operators to conduct designated player games, which he said breached what is known as an “exclusivity” agreement that the Seminoles had with the state.

In the summer jai alai dispute, the state argued that a law about converted summer jai alai permits allows permit holders to operate “at any jai alai permittee’s plant it may lease or build within such county.”

Meale, however, chided regulators for changing their policy about county restrictions, writing that the Department of Business and Professional Regulation had at one time construed the statute to allow licenses to be moved across county lines if they remained within the 35-mile restriction.

“It is unclear, though, when petitioner changed its position,” Meale wrote.

Lockwood accused state regulators of changing their policy “as a result of political pressure” from Fronton Holdings, a competitor of Summer Partners that owns the Miami locale which Summer Partners had leased for years.

Regulators filed the intent to revoke the license after being contacted by Fronton Holdings, Lockwood wrote in a court filing.

Lockwood argued that the change of policy amounts to an improper unadopted rule. Meale agreed.

“Respondent is entitled to the formal adoption of such a rule,” so that it can be decided whether the rule would be an invalid exercise of authority by the department, and so that it can also be subject to a rule-making review process, Meale wrote.

Lockwood said he was pleased with the decision.

“A government agency cannot just take away a license because they changed their mind,” he told The News Service of Florida. “This allows us to continue forward with our planned operations at Dania and upholds the division’s long-standing interpretation of the statute.”

Regulators back FPL on controversial plume costs

State regulators Tuesday approved a controversial proposal by Florida Power & Light to collect at least $176.4 million from customers for a project dealing with a saltwater plume that moved from an FPL plant into nearby groundwater.

Representatives of consumers and business and environmental groups fought the proposal, contending that customers should not have to pay for the cleanup project in Miami-Dade County.

But the state Public Service Commission Tuesday unanimously agreed that FPL can collect the money through part of customers’ bills that goes toward a variety of types of environmental expenses.

Commissioner Gary Clark described the issue as a “tough one” but indicated he didn’t think the problem, which stems from a cooling-canal system at FPL’s Turkey Point complex, could have been foreseen.

“I listened to the testimony and re-read the testimony over the last week, and it’s really hard for me to say that anyone could have actually seen this coming,” Clark said.

State Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, whose office represents consumers in utility issues and fought the FPL proposal, said he and his staff will wait to see a final written order from the Public Service Commission before deciding whether to appeal the decision. The proposal was also opposed by the Florida Industrial Power Users Group, which represents large business customers, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The South Florida Water Management District in 2013 determined that “hypersaline” water from the Turkey Point cooling-canal system had moved off-site, and FPL later entered into agreements with Miami-Dade County and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to fix the problem.

In a brief filed last month with the Public Service Commission, FPL said it had complied with regulatory requirements in operating the decades-old canal system.

“FPL operated the CCS (cooling canal system) and the related interceptor ditch in full compliance with all applicable regulations, and nonetheless an unintended consequence occurred,” the brief said. “It is not uncommon for an owner/operator to operate a facility in compliance with all applicable permits, etc., and nonetheless a conditional violation … occurs.”

But opponents said the saltwater has contaminated the Biscayne aquifer and that the utility’s shareholders – not customers – should pay for remediation.

“Whether the acts were overtly intentional, or a matter of uncaring neglect, is irrelevant, and any notion that the consequence of a massive hypersaline plume was unintended by FPL is misplaced,” the Office of Public Counsel said in a brief last month. “The overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the decadeslong harmful buildup of salt from the CCS outside the system was entirely foreseeable and would occur absent close attention and intervention by FPL.”

The remediation project is expected to take about 10 years and cost an estimated $176.4 million, according to FPL numbers. Interest costs could push the tab to about $200 million.

With Tuesday’s approval by the Public Service Commission, FPL plans to recoup $82.3 million for the project next year, with that amount covering expenses from 2016, 2017 and 2018. The utility’s customers, however, might not notice a change in their monthly bills because of reductions in other environmental costs.

A residential customer who uses 1,000-kilowatt hours of electricity a month will pay $1.59 for the environmental costs in 2018, down from $2.44 this year, according to the utility. The Public Service Commission each year reviews and approves those costs, which are collected through what is technically known as the “environmental cost recovery clause.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Denise Grimsley proposes generator tax reform

A Senate Republican on Tuesday proposed creating a tax exemption for generators installed at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities.

The proposal (SB 1246), filed by Sebring Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley is similar to a measure (HB 803) filed last month by Rep. Rick Roth, a Loxahatchee Republican.

The bills, which will be considered during the 2018 Legislative Session, come as nursing homes and assisted-living facilities look at carrying out generator requirements pushed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Both bills would create a sales-tax exemption for emergency-electrical equipment at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, with the exemption capped at $30,000.

Scott’s administration moved forward with the regulations after eight residents of a sweltering Broward County nursing home died Sept. 13, three days after Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s air-conditioning system.

Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, however, have repeatedly raised concerns about the costs of installing generators and adding fuel supplies to meet the requirements.

Supreme Court to rule on judge, Facebook friend

With potential ramifications in courthouses across the state, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday said it will take up a dispute about whether a judge should be disqualified from a case because she is a Facebook friend with a lawyer.

Justices issued an order saying they will consider an appeal of an August ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeal that rejected a request to disqualify Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko. The dispute stems from Butchko being a Facebook friend of attorney Israel Reyes, who was hired to represent an insurance-company executive in a case before her.

The Herssein Law Group, which had sued a former client, United Services Automobile Association, for alleged breach of contract and fraud, is seeking the disqualification. In a Supreme Court brief filed in October, the Herssein Law Group said the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruling conflicted with an earlier decision of the 4th District Court of Appeal that said a judge should be disqualified from a criminal case because of being Facebook friends with a prosecutor.

“The Third District Court of Appeal’s opinion, therefore, creates completely different standards for judges in Florida, depending on which district the judge sits in, to determine when and whether they are violating the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct,” the brief said. “This is untenable for both judges and the public perception of the judiciary. The application and interpretation of the Code of Judicial Conduct must be uniform for all judges in the state of Florida.”

Attorneys for the insurance company, however, filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to turn down the case. They argued, in part, that the Herssein case has different circumstances from the earlier case involving a prosecutor.

“Further, petitioners (the Herssein Law Group) are sophisticated litigators who have practiced in Miami-Dade County for many years,” the insurance-company brief said. “It is highly questionable whether any reasonably prudent person in petitioners’ situation would have a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial simply because the trial judge and Reyes are Facebook `friends.’ “

The Supreme Court, as is standard, did not explain its reasons for deciding to take up the case. It said it would schedule oral arguments in a separate order.

In its ruling in August, the 3rd District Court of Appeal concluded that “a `friend’ on a social networking website is not necessarily a friend in the traditional sense of the word.”

“To be sure, some of a member’s Facebook `friends’ are undoubtedly friends in the classic sense of person for whom the member feels particular affection and loyalty,” the decision said. “The point is, however, many are not. A random name drawn from a list of Facebook `friends’ probably belongs to casual friend; an acquaintance; an old classmate; a person with whom the member shares a common hobby; a `friend of a friend;’ or even a local celebrity like a coach. An assumption that all Facebook `friends’ rise to the level of a close relationship that warrants disqualification simply does not reflect the current nature of this type of electronic social networking.”

Governor’s office weighs how to replace Public Service Commission seat

Gov. Rick Scott‘s staff has not determined how to fill a Public Service Commission seat after the withdrawal of an appointee who was accused by an influential senator of sexually inappropriate behavior.

Scott said Monday it remains unclear if the Public Service Commission Nominating Council will have to restart the search process or if a name can be selected from among other finalists proposed by the council in August.

“I’ve been talking to our general counsel’s office to understand exactly how it’s going to work,” Scott said after a meeting with community leaders in Gadsden County.

Ritch Workman, a former state House member who was supposed to join the Public Service Commission on Jan. 2, walked away this month from the appointment, which would have required Senate confirmation.

His decision came after Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, said she would not put Workman’s appointment on her committee’s agenda because of his “abhorrent” behavior to her last year.

Workman, a Melbourne Republican, had been selected by Scott in September to replace Commissioner Ronald Brise on the five-member commission. Members are paid $131,000-a-year. Brise, who was on the short list of candidates from the nominating council, has been on the utility-regulatory board since 2010.

‘Alternative transportation’ authority proposed

House and Senate Republicans are proposing the creation of a “Statewide Alternative Transportation Authority” that would oversee developing transportation systems for such things as autonomous vehicles.

The authority would be within the state Department of Transportation and would receive $60 million beginning in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, according to the House and Senate proposals.

The House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee last week approved the House version (HB 535), sponsored by Rep. Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican, and Rep. James Grant, a Tampa Republican.

Meanwhile, Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young filed the Senate version (SB 1200) on Friday. The bills will be considered during the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts Jan. 9.

Joe Negron supports Rick Scott on ‘job growth’ fund

Senate President Joe Negron backs a still-untapped $85 million “job growth” fund created this year, as Democrats continue to question the need to replenish what critics have called a “slush fund” for the governor.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, offered support for Gov. Rick Scott‘s 2018 budget request to set aside another $85 million for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund. Negron was less specific about whether lawmakers should meet Scott’s request to spend $100 million on the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida.

“I’ve always been supportive of the Job Growth Fund and supportive of the governor’s economic development initiatives,” Negron said Friday during an interview with The News Service of Florida. “With regard to Visit Florida, the exact amount I’ll leave up to the individual committees and members to make that decision. But I don’t think you can argue with the results.”

Scott’s tourism-marketing request would represent a $24 million increase from the current year, an increase that has drawn skepticism from some lawmakers.

Visit Florida President and CEO Ken Lawson said Wednesday before the House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee that the agency has seen annual visitor counts grow from 87.3 million in 2011 to more than 112 million last year, in part because of lawmakers boosting the public-private agency’s funding from $35 million in 2011 to $76 million in the current fiscal year.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has argued in the past that people are motivated to travel more by their personal finances than by state marketing. But the increased visitor numbers seemed to hold some sway for Negron.

“From the meetings I’m having with tourism officials throughout the state, they report a very strong industry,” Negron said. “I’ll let other folks determine the amount. But apparently what we’re doing is working. I certainly don’t want to unilaterally disarm in the tourism space. That’s a very important part of our economy, and we’re competing with the rest of the world.”

Meanwhile, several Democratic members of the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee said Thursday they’d like to see how the money in the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund is used before agreeing it should be replenished next year.

“You expect us to grant this request before we have any information on the outcome from what you’re proposing,” Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said.

Among the concerns is how the grants may be spread across the state.

“I know that in my community there has been some proposals, but if it turns out that you put all of those projects in Sen. (Bill) Galvano’s (Manatee and Hillsborough counties) district and none in mine, then how are we going to address that if we’ve already voted to give you an additional $85 million,” Thurston said, referring to another member of the subcommittee.

The program, created in June during a special Session, had attracted 217 proposals worth a combined $791 million as of last Tuesday.

The fund, established as a compromise to Scott’s initial request for Enterprise Florida to get $85 million to help attract businesses to Florida, requires the money go to regional projects rather than single businesses.

Among the largest requests:

— Hillsborough County, Apollo Beach Boulevard extension. A $33.6 million project along the “I-75 Job Corridor” linking U.S. 41 and U.S. 301 over the interstate. Request: $23 million.

— State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota STEM campus. The proposal seeks money to help secure land and make other improvements needed to support a campus. Request: $22.44 million.

— Marion County, Crossroads Commerce Park. The $272 million project, encompassing more than 900 acres, is envisioned as having distribution, warehouse and manufacturing facilities. Request: $22.24 million.

Cissy Proctor, executive director of the state Department of Economic Opportunity, defended the pace of the application review process.

Proctor said Thursday the department, reviewing the proposals with Enterprise Florida, will make recommendations for the governor to consider “as appropriate.”

We are “working as fast as we can, but understanding that we need to have accountability,” Proctor said. “We have to have strong contracts around these proposals. We need to have strong return on investment.”

Proctor said money allocated for a specific budget year would be available for five years but only toward the projects approved in that fiscal year.

Joe Negron: Senate likely to consider tax amendment

Senate President Joe Negron said Friday he is open to the concept of a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes.

In an interview with The News Service of Florida, The Stuart Republican said the Senate is working on a measure “that will be similar in goal” to Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposal to amend the state Constitution to require two-thirds votes by the Legislature before raising taxes or fees or creating new ones.

Negron said the measure is being developed by Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican.

In August, Scott called for a constitutional amendment that would require a “supermajority” vote before raising taxes and fees, which now can be created or raised by majority votes in the state House and Senate.

Scott said increasing the voting requirement “would make it harder for politicians in the future” to raise taxes or fees.

In November, the House unveiled a proposal (HJR 7001), sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican, that would require two-thirds votes by the Legislature to raise taxes or fees. That would translate to support from 80 members of the 120-member House and 27 members of the 40-member Senate.

The House proposal also would require each tax or fee increase to be passed as a single-subject bill.

The House proposal is pending in the Appropriations Committee, where if it gets a favorable vote, it would be ready for a debate on the House floor.

As the former chairman of budget committees in the House and Senate, Negron was asked about the impact of raising the threshold for passing taxes or fees.

“It’s highly unlikely that the Legislature would raise taxes,” Negron said. “I think the real issue is going to be, what should the percentage of the vote be? Should it also include fees?”

Kurt Wenner, vice president for research at Florida TaxWatch, testified at a House Ways & Means Committee in November in favor of an approval threshold of three-fifths votes by the House and Senate.

“It doesn’t get to where, basically, a third of the members could defeat something,” Wenner told the committee.

The Florida Constitution already contains a provision requiring a three-fifths vote by the Legislature to raise the state corporate income tax.

Negron expressed some doubt about including fees in the amendment. He recalled his time as the House budget chairman looking at agriculture-related fees that had not been raised in decades.

“If you’re making a fee actually reflect the current cost of something and it’s a fee, I think that’s a different issue than raising taxes,” Negron said.

But Negron said he expects the Senate to consider some version of an amendment increasing the voting threshold.

“I do think the Senate will take up a proposed constitutional amendment, which Sen. Stargel is working on, that addresses that issue and I am open to that,” Negron said.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years and has the power to place constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot, will take up a measure (Proposal 72) next week that is similar to the House proposal, requiring two-thirds votes to raise taxes or fees.

The proposal, sponsored by Commissioner Fred Karlinsky, is scheduled to be heard by the commission’s Finance and Taxation Committee on Tuesday.

All of the proposals, if they are passed by the Legislature or the Constitution Revision Commission, would require approval by at least 60 percent of voters during the November 2018 election.

At least 14 other states require extraordinary votes by their legislatures when raising taxes, according to House analysts.

The vote thresholds range from a three-fifths vote to three-fourths votes in Arkansas, Michigan and Oklahoma. The Michigan threshold is limited to property taxes. Seven states have a two-thirds threshold, similar to the House proposal.

The Florida Legislature last voted for a major tax increase in 2009, raising taxes on packs of cigarettes by $1.

Terrie Rizzo is the new Florida Democratic Party Chair

Terrie Rizzo, who began her political career as a campaign volunteer a little more than a dozen years ago, was selected Saturday by Florida Democrats to lead their party for the next three years.

Rizzo, chairwoman of the Palm Beach County Democrats, easily beat Brevard County Democratic Chairwoman Stacey Patel in an 830-291 vote by the party’s executive committee at the Rosen Centre Hotel.

Rizzo replaces Stephen Bittel, who was elected as the party’s chairman less than a year ago but abruptly quit last month after being accused by female workers and consultants of creating an uncomfortable work atmosphere.

Rizzo has been the chairwoman of the Palm Beach Democrats since 2012. In her acceptance speech, she said she began her journey in the state party as a volunteer on John Kerry‘s presidential campaign in 2004. She later won election as precinct committeewoman and then as the county vice chairwoman, before becoming the leader of the Palm Beach Democrats shortly before the 2012 presidential election.

“This is what the Democratic Party should be like, where people can start at the bottom and rise to the top,” Rizzo said, adding she was “overwhelmed and very humbled” by her election.

At one time, four major candidates, all women, were vying to replace Bittel.

But within the last week, Monica Russo, the statewide head of the Service Employees International Union, dropped out, criticizing the byzantine party rules governing the process. Russo endorsed Patel.

On Saturday the field narrowed to two candidates, when Alma Gonzalez, a state committeewoman from Hillsborough County, threw her support to Rizzo.

With the Democrats trying to reclaim the governor’s office and defend U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s seat next year as well as contend for state Cabinet seats and a host of legislative races, Gonzalez said party unity is critical for success.

“The reality for us is to recover and re-engage and regain our momentum. We cannot be divided in this party,” Gonzalez said. “There are external forces coming at us and we must be focused on that rather than on the inside.”

The margin of Rizzo’s win over Patel does not obscure the fact that party activists remain divided, going back to division between the two Democratic presidential candidates in 2016, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Patel, a Sanders delegate to the Democratic National Convention, said she looks “forward to talking to Terrie and figuring out the road forward.”

“This is our party and we’re not going anywhere,” Patel said, saying she ran for the leadership post to make sure “the voice of the people is heard and not just the voices of the people who have been given power in the party.”

Rizzo, who in her prior role as the head of all the county Democratic party leaders has worked with Patel, said she will reach out to all the factions in the party including the Sanders supporters.

“We need that voice moving forward,” Rizzo said in an interview. “We all have common values. It’s just a matter of how you get there.”

As for taking over a party organization after the last leader was accused of inappropriate behavior, Rizzo said: “There will be zero tolerance for sexual harassment moving forward. We will review it and institute policy procedures to handle that.”

Rizzo also acknowledged other problems, including lagging finances for the state party.

“There are obviously some challenges,” she said.

Rizzo’s supporters note that when she took over the Palm Beach organization, the local party was in debt. In the 2016 cycle, Rizzo helped raise over $600,000 for her county party operation, without using paid staff or consultants, according to the state party.

Christian Ulvert, a veteran Democratic strategist, said he has been impressed by Rizzo’s work in Palm Beach, which has the third highest number of registered Democrats in the state.

“She can replicate a successful (county) model at the state level,” he said.

Ulvert, who is advising Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine, said Democrats have been successful in 2017 races, including a state Senate seat in Miami-Dade County, by “tapping into the anxiety voters feel over President Trump’s agenda.”

“I think Terrie is well positioned to understand that strategy and also offer a forward-looking vision that Democrats can really rally around,” Ulvert said. “She’s done it in Palm Beach.”

Rizzo, 70, spent more than four decades working in health and fitness fields, including managing health and fitness education programs at Stanford University.

She and her husband, Mike, have been married more than 45 years. They have a married son and two grandchildren, who live in California.

As part of the election process, Florida Democrats also made history on Saturday by electing Judy Mount, the former vice chairwoman of the state party, as the interim party chairwoman. Mount presided over Rizzo’s election.

Mount is the first African-American woman to lead the Florida Democrats, said Johanna Cervone, a spokeswoman for the state party.

“We are grateful for her dedication and leadership,” Cervone said.

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