Headlines Archives - Florida Politics

‘The old he-coon walks’: Adam Putnam channels Lawton Chiles in Lake City stump speech

In the GOP campaign for Governor, it wasn’t too long ago that Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was left for dead.

Putnam suffered what appeared to be a mortal wound when President Donald Trump came to Florida for U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. And then there were polls showing DeSantis up by 20 points.

Some discussed the idea of Putnam getting out of the race. Previous Putnam donors moved over to DeSantis.

However, he doubled down, with a bravura performance in a Jacksonville debate, and some new polling showing that the race could be a dead heat.

In a primary season full of ironies, perhaps the greatest would be if Putnam could overcome Trump endorsing his opponent — after a campaign season where the leading question was about how Trump would, in the words of Putnam, put his “thumb on the scale” in the campaign.

We caught Putnam’s speech off the beaten path: on the outskirts of Lake City, at a breakfast buffet with a raft of domestic pickups in the parking lot.

This is Putnam’s element: what once was “real” Florida, which is becoming demographically obscured by blotched suburban and exurban sprawl, homes for transplants from other places, who brought their values with them.

A lost cause? Perhaps. But you wouldn’t know that from Putnam’s speech or from the reception in Lake City, a place where Donald Trump Jr. isn’t likely to make a campaign stop with a candidate.

Putnam’s remarks were full of markers of cultural authenticity, of being a “real Floridian” (unlike his primary opponent). Many of these were familiar.

From trumpeting endorsements from nearly 50 sheriffs and Attorney General Pam Bondi, to noting the next Governor needs to know where Union and Bradford Counties are “without a GPS,”, and — most tellingly — lifting a famous line from Democrat Lawton Chiles‘ 1994 defeat of Jeb Bush.

“The old he-coon walks just before the light of day,” Putnam said, before describing himself as a “fifth generation Florida cracker.”

Putnam noted the importance of “running up the numbers out here,” as spots on two-lane roads are not DeSantis Country, because DeSantis doesn’t make the appeal.

“They don’t bother to drive up your road and visit you at your business,” Putnam said.

Putnam also razzed DeSantis’ dependence on Trump, at one point lampooning him calling the White House and asking “what are we going to do today, boss?”

After the remarks, we caught up with the candidate, who was laconic in his answers.

Asked about the poll mentioned up top, Putnam described it as a “good way to start a Monday,” but the “only poll that matters” is, of course, Election Day.

“I like the feel on the ground, I love the sense that I’m getting from the crowds, the energy, the doorknocking. This is where I believe a year and half’s work pays off of actually being in people’s communities, listening to them, hearing their concerns and sharing my vision for Florida … running on more than just an endorsement,” Putnam said.

Worth noting: his team has knocked on 300,000 doors, a stark contrast to what seems to be a phantom field operation on DeSantis’ side, an appeal to what the candidate calls “Trump/Putnam voters,” who support the President, but who also expect a “real plan for Florida” from the next governor, rather than just being “totally dependent on the President’s coattails.”

Putnam’s appeal, he says, is targeted to “small towns and big cities alike,” citing workforce development as something that matters statewide.

“This is not a message that is narrow in scope,” Putnam said.

DeSantis has already leaked potential Lieutenant Governor picks. When asked about that, Putnam said “he can run his campaign the way he wants to and I’ll run mine the way I want to.”

In a real sense, with candidates that fundamentally deviate little from Florida Republican status-quoism, difference in presentation, style, and temperament will be dispositive in the end.

Republican Governors Association starts spending spree in Florida

The GOP has held the Governor’s Mansion since the election of Jeb Bush in 1998, and the Republican Governors Association is spending big bucks to keep it that way.

According to newly filed campaign finance reports, electioneering communications organization Florida Facts received a $2.45 million cash infusion from the Republican Governors Association on Aug. 2, and it quickly put the money to work with a $2.12 million media buy through California-based Target Enterprises and another $225,000 in spending for “professional services,” likely media production, through that firm and Maryland-based OnMessage, Inc.

OnMessage has been the preferred media consulting shop for term-limited Gov. Rick Scott since he burst onto the political scene in 2010. In his two gubernatorial campaigns, Scott’s campaign and committee accounts paid the Annapolis firm more than $14.3 million.

Florida Facts, which shares an address with the HQ of the Republican Governors Association, finished the reporting period with just under $100,000 in the bank.

There are currently 33 Republican governors, including Scott, in office nationwide, and 26 of those Republican-held seats will be on the ballot in 2018. In its quest to shore up candidates ahead of a possible “blue wave,” the RGA has reeled in record-breaking fundraising hauls, including $113 million so far in the 2018 cycle.

In Florida, the winner of the Aug. 28 Republican primary between U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will be the beneficiary of the Republican Governors Association’s spending.

The eventual Republican nominee will go up against one of five Democrats running for the job, with former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine currently atop the polls heading into the final leg of the nominating contest.

The general election is Nov. 6.

Charlie Crist, Lois Frankel endorse Nikki Fried for Agriculture Commissioner

Lawyer and medical marijuana activist Nikki Fried landed another pair of endorsements for her bid to take over as Agriculture Commissioner in the fall, this time from Democratic U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist and Lois Frankel.

“I’m thrilled about the prospect of Nikki Fried as Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture — she’s smart, prepared, and a tireless advocate for the people. We need Nikki elected to the Florida Cabinet to be a champion for rights, fairness, and progress,” said Crist, who recently sponsored a bipartisan bill to grant veterans and other federal workers access to medical marijuana without risking their jobs.

Frankel added: “It is exciting to see such a talented woman running for office in Florida. Nikki is someone we must elect to be the next Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services — a member of Florida’s Cabinet.”

Fried, 40, was a late entry into the statewide race, though her campaign has quickly picked up steam. To date, she has surpassed the combined fundraising total of her two Democratic primary opponents, Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter and South Florida Audubon Society President Roy David Walker.

In addition to Crist and Frankel, Fried has also landed endorsements from numerous Democratic politicians, most recently from former Congressman Patrick Murphy, with others coming in from former CFO Alex Sink, 25 state lawmakers, 33 county and municipal leaders, labor union SEIU, Ruth’s List, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, and others.

“It is incredible to have Congresswoman Frankel and Congressman Crist’s support. They have both been stalwarts for our environment, our water and for medical marijuana,” Fried said. “Like both of these leaders, I look forward to taking our fight to Tallahassee and putting an end to the disarray that the Republicans have put our state through for the last two decades.”

Fried, Porter, and Walker will duke it out in the Aug. 28 primary election, the winner of which will move on to face one of four Republicans vying for the position currently filled by term-limited Republican Adam Putnam, who is running for Governor.

Of the four Republicans, Lehigh Acres state Rep. Matt Caldwell and Sebring state Sen. Denise Grimsley, who recently rolled out her first TV adhave had the most success on the campaign trail and in fundraising.

Grimsley has raised $2.65 million since declaring for the race in February 2017 and currently holds the cash lead with more than $1.1 million in the bank between her campaign and political committees, Saving Florida’s Heartland and Let’s Grow Florida.

Caldwell has raised $2 million since entering the race in April 2017 and has $1.07 million on hand between his campaign and political committee, Friends of Matt Caldwell.

Fried, for her part, had raised about $256,000 between her campaign and Florida Consumers First political committee with $122,500 in the bank as of Aug. 3. She is likely to show a boost, however, thanks to a recent Orlando fundraiser hosted by Sink and Ruth’s List, as well as attorney and medical marijuana advocate John Morgan and Richard Swann, whose involvement in Democratic Party fundraising goes back decades.

As deep-sea drilling issue bubbles, ‘Explore Offshore’ to make affirmative case

The American Petroleum Institute thinks there’s a case to be made for expanding offshore drilling. And API offshoot “Explore Offshore,” billed as a “bipartisan coalition,” is poised to make that argument.

The group, rolled out just hours after POLITICO reported an industry interest in drilling within 75 miles of shore, has some star power associated with it. Former Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson is national co-chair.

State co-chairs are likewise known quantities, in former Puerto Rico Sen. Miriam Ramirez and former Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp.

Kottkamp and Ramirez both offered enthusiastic advocacy for drilling, with Kottkamp noting the importance of lobbying local elected officials.

“Affordable energy is critical to our quality of life in the Sunshine State. We are speaking with our local leaders throughout Florida to discuss ways to maintain our state’s natural beauty and meet the energy needs of our growing population of over 20 million residents and 110 million annual visitors,” Kottkamp said.

Ramirez noted that “we can support thriving tourism industries here in Florida all while developing offshore energy resources that could create high-paying jobs in our state.”

The effort, Nicholson says, is not limited to Florida.

“As we plan ahead as a country, access to our offshore energy resources is a key part of the nation’s economic future and national security, and that is why I am pleased to chair the national Explore Offshore USA coalition. Uniting supporters from Virginia to Florida, we will continue to work to ensure access to our offshore energy resources to support reliable, affordable energy, boost national security, and assure a strong United States economy,” Nicholson asserted.

This effort comes at a time when Florida’s political scene has been roiled by mixed signals regarding whether or not offshore oil rigs are in Florida’s future, including opposition from many Congressional Delegation members to expansion of industry prerogatives

Sen. Bill Nelson has already dubbed his potential general election opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, as “Oil Slick Rick” after what he and political allies deem to be flip-flopping by Scott on the issue.

Scott took credit for taking the issue “off the table” after a January meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, even as no such assurance has been memorialized in law or departmental directive.

Scott, meanwhile, has attracted strong interest from the energy sector as a Senate candidate.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Scott has raised at least $880,000 from energy interests well outside Florida.

In that Times piece, a Scott spokeswoman decried any implication that the donations are transactional on this issue.

“Anyone who contributes to Gov. Scott’s campaign does so in support of his candidacy, which includes priorities such as protecting Florida’s natural treasures by keeping drilling away from our coastline,” Lauren Schenone said. “It was Gov. Scott who worked to have Florida taken off the table for oil drilling.”

Jonathan Webber, Deputy Director of Florida Conservation Voters, added in a statement, “In Florida, our environment is our economy. Any proposal for expanding offshore oil drilling puts our economy and environment at serious risk.

“How many so-called ‘foolproof plans’ now sit on the trash heap of history? Floridians learned a harsh lesson from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which coated Panhandle beaches in noxious black tar and hurt local businesses up and down the Gulf coast. No one can ignore that this outdated practice is unsafe. Climate change and sea-level rise are already causing enough dramatic consequences for Floridians.

“We should be investing in Florida businesses that offer clean energy alternatives, like solar power. Members of Florida’s Congressional Delegation are elected to office for moments like this. Now is the time for them to speak up in Washington and publicly oppose this plan. Offshore drilling is a risk that our state cannot afford.”

Nicholson, however, contends many concerns about drilling are misplaced.

“There is little to no chance of this exploration being visible from the coastal lands, and the miracle of new science and technology has made the chances of a disastrous accident like that of the BP Deepwater Horizon in 2010 nearly impossible,” Nicholson said during a news conference at the Florida Press Center.

David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said that because of technological advances since 2010, “we’re at a safer point than we’ve ever been.” Still, he said, there are no guarantees that another oil rig blowout will never occur.

“I think there are some of us who would like an absolute guarantee. I’ll be transparent with you: There are no absolute guarantees in the activities of mankind,” Mica said. “But we must try to improve our technologies with the very best and brightest. And Florida is producing many of them.”

Some material from the News Service of Florida is used in this article with permission.

State urges Supreme Court to OK greyhound racing measure

Pointing in part to the “common sense” of voters, Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office Wednesday filed a 44-page brief urging the Florida Supreme Court to allow a proposed ban on greyhound racing to go on the November ballot.

The brief urged justices to overturn a ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers, who said the proposed constitutional amendment included misleading language and should not go before voters. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case Aug. 29.

“This (Supreme) Court has long maintained that the amendment process is ‘the most sanctified area in which a court can exercise power,’ and a proposed amendment should be submitted to the electorate unless its ballot language is ‘clearly and conclusively’ defective,” Bondi’s office said in the brief. “Because the ballot language at issue in this case fully informs the electorate of the proposed amendment’s chief purpose and is not misleading, Florida’s voters have a right to consider its merits and cast their vote.”

The state Constitution Revision Commission this spring approved placing the measure on the ballot. It is aimed at ending greyhound racing at pari-mutuel facilities.

But the Florida Greyhound Association, which includes breeders, owners and trainers, filed a lawsuit arguing that the proposal, known as Amendment 13, should be kept off the ballot because it would be misleading to voters.

One part of Gievers’ decision agreed with an argument by the association that the ballot proposal would be misleading because it would not actually ban dog-race wagering. That is because betting would still be allowed at Florida tracks on races broadcast from outside the state.

But in the brief filed Wednesday, Bondi’s office urged the Supreme Court to reject that argument.

“In concluding that the ballot summary will mislead voters into believing that the proposed amendment will end wagering on out-of-state dog races, the trial court erred by failing to credit voters’ common sense and by inverting the language that will actually appear on the ballot,” the brief said. “Florida’s voters understand that when they vote on a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution, they are deciding what the law shall be in Florida, not in other states. Thus, they will understand that Amendment 13 will not end dog racing in other states.”

Poll: Philip Levine atop what’s looking like two-person race with Gwen Graham

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are going down to the wire in what is starting to look like a two-person race in the Democratic primary battle to run for governor, with Levine holding a lead among the most likely of voters, a new poll shows.

The poll, from SEA Polling and Strategic Design, has Levine leading Graham by seven points among the most likely of Democratic primary voters, but just barely ahead of her among voters who already have cast ballots.

And the other three major Democratic candidates have fallen back, slipping toward out of reach of the top spot with voting already underway and just 13 days left before the Aug. 28 Election Day.

The SEA poll has Levine leading Graham 30 to 28 percent among those who already have voted, with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum running a distant third with 15 percent, businessman Jeff Greene getting 14 percent; and businessman Chris King just 3 percent.

Among those voters who self-rated their chances of voting as five out of five, Levine opens up a lead on Graham, 31 percent to 24 percent, with Gillum and Greene back in the mid-to-low teens, and King still in the low single digits. Among all 600 Democratic voters surveyed by SEA, the relative standings and patterns remained the same: Levine, 27; Graham, 24; Gillum, 15; Greene, 13; and King, 3.

The poll was conducted Saturday through Tuesday, live interviews of 600 Democrats, with an overall margin of error of 4 percent. The poll was conducted for an undisclosed group of Democrats not directly affiliated with any of the five campaigns, according to SEA President Thomas Eldon.

The results show four trends from the previous two Democratic gubernatorial polls SEA conducted in early and late June, Levine and Gillum up; Graham and Greene down.

This is the first major poll publicly released since Greene launched his attack ads on Graham.

“Greene’s decision to go negative against Gwen Graham appears to have brought her back to the pack, but also seriously diminished his chances as he has dropped into the fourth place in the low teens,” Eldon stated in a memo.

Among factors still to be watched: Gillum’s grassroots campaign, aimed at stirring up voters among Democrats who normally don’t get out to primaries, especially in off-year elections; and Graham’s expectation to attract the votes of undecided women awakened by the #MeToo movement this year.

Yet they could cancel each other out. Eldon said that there appear to be “balloon” effects seen in the polling movements involving Levine and Greene as one pair, and Graham and Gillum as another: when one goes up, the other goes down, he said.

Democratic candidates talk local issues at gubernatorial forum

Several Florida gubernatorial candidates were on hand at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood on Wednesday for a forum hosted by the Florida League of Mayors

Many of the state’s mayors were on hand for the forum, which was also held in cooperation with the Florida League of Cities and Leadership Florida.

Unsurprisingly, many of the questions honed in on how the candidates would work with mayors on local issues.

The main focus was on so-called “Home Rule powers.” Those powers come from Article VIII, Section 2(b), and essentially allow cities to enact local ordinances without prior state approval.

But advocates, including many of those mayors in attendance, worry those powers are being stomped over by the state government through the passage of pre-emption laws which seek to take authority away from local governments on various issues.

The conference came on the same day a new poll was released from SEA Polling and Strategic Design, showing Philip Levine with a lead over Gwen Graham. Both once again appeared at the head of the pack of candidates, with Andrew Gillum, Jeff Greene, and Chris King lagging behind.

There’s also the issue of the state passing mandates without providing proper funding. Local governments point to legislation passed after the Parkland shooting, which required resource officers in schools throughout the state.

Some local governments say that not enough state money was allocated to make that happen, which means local jurisdictions are stuck footing the remainder of the bill.

That dilemma was raised to each of the candidates present at Wednesday’s forum: Gillum, Graham, Greene, and Levine. King did not attend. Neither did Republicans Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam.

“Florida has an $89 billion budget,” Graham said. “On Nov. 7, I will be appointing an audit committee to tear through that budget, see where we’re spending our resources.”

Graham went on to promise to redirect funds toward more important areas, such as the funding of resource officers.

The other candidates agreed.

“Education in this state is a question of priorities,” Greene said. He too argued more of the state budget should be focused on education so as to help local communities bear some of the burden.

The candidates were also asked about the issue of Home Rule generally, and all promised to be a Governor that would respect local autonomy more so than their Republican predecessors.

“The reason why local governments exist is so that those local governments can reflect the values of the constituencies who elect them,” Gillum added.

“I believe that we’ve got to protect Home Rule because it’s foundational to the Democratic society that we live in. It’s the American way.”

Gillum highlighted his time as Tallahassee Mayor dealing with some of these issues, as did former Miami Beach Mayor Levine.

“The biggest issue I encountered, my God I encountered it all the time, was pre-emption,” Levine recalled.

He spoke about how Miami Beach dealt with Airbnb during his tenure as Mayor.

“The people of Miami Beach decided they don’t want it. But we have those folks up there in Tallahassee that want to dictate and tell us that we should have it.

He detailed his efforts to install steep fines for residents participating in short-term rentals, while arguing other cities should have the right to make the decision that’s best for them.

Graham one-upped her opponents, walking into the forum with a button reading, “I love Home Rule.”

“We’ve got to get back to respecting Home Rule and respecting all that you do in your cities,” she said to the lawmakers in attendance.

“Let cities work.”

Hospitality union launches ad bashing Gwen Graham on megamall

Florida’s major labor union for hospitality workers, UNITE HERE, is launching a new television and internet commercial attacking Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham over her family’s involvement in the American Dream Miami megamall.

The 30-second spot, “Mega Mall Millionaire Gwen Graham,” from the union’s political action committee, charges that she has a $14 million stake in her family company, which is selling land for the controversial mall being planned in Miami-Dade County.

“While Gwen and her family make millions, Florida will be stuck with poverty wage jobs, endangered wildlife, and massive traffic congestion,” a narrator charges in the ad.

And it charges that would be happening even though she is campaigning on improving wages and protecting the environment.

“Sorry Gwen, but actions speak louder than words,” the narrator concludes.

UNITE HERE, which represents more than 260,000 mostly service industry workers across the country including at least 30,000 hospitality workers at Walt Disney World, other Central Florida resorts, and in Miami, has endorsed one of Graham’s rivals, Philip Levine, in the Democratic gubernatorial race.

Most recent polls have shown Levine and Graham well on top of the pack of five major Democrats that also include Andrew Gillum, Chris King, and Jeff Greene. Levine, King and Greene also have attacked Graham for her relationship to the mall, Greene doing so in statewide TV commercials that Graham then countered with rebuttal TV commercials.

Graham’s positions: She stepped down from any involvement in her family’s businesses years ago; the Graham Companies are selling some of the land for the mall’s development, but otherwise are not involved; the mall’s site is actually well within the area already planned by Miami-Dade County for development, not anything that sprawls into unplanned territory.

American Dream received approval from the Miami-Dade County Commission in May after a contentious battle during which opponents, citing its proximity to the Everglades watershed and other factors, dubbed it the “American nightmare.” The mall is being developed by Triple Five Worldwide Group of Edmonton, Canada.

UNITE HERE already has attacked Graham and her family’s company over their involvement, with earlier statements supporting Greene’s attacks.

“We think that Gwen Graham can’t hide behind the fact that it’s her family who’s involved in the project,” Wendi Walsh, Secretary-Treasurer for UNITE HERE Local 355 in Miami, said in a news release. “She skirts the issue at every turn.”

In that release, the union said it is spending six figures to target more than 800,000 Democratic voters, mostly in South Florida. In addition to advertising on social media and websites, they’re buying 50 30-second ad spots during morning and evening shows on CNN, MSNBC, OWN and BET in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area.

Cost to protect Rick Scott rises to $2.5 million

Protecting Gov. Rick Scott cost the state $2.5 million last fiscal year, up from $2.3 million the year before.

That’s according to a new report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The combined cost to guard the governor, First Lady Ann Scott, their family, and the Governor’s Mansion and grounds was roughly $3.25 million in 2017-18, up more than a quarter-million dollars from 2016-17 ($2.99 million).

The annual Report of Transportation and Protective Services, released Wednesday, also shows individual costs for 37 protective details for “visiting dignitaries.”

All costs include agents’ and officers’ salary and any overtime, plus the cost of transportation and other expenses. That total was about $50,000.

That’s down from last fiscal year, when 75 protective details were performed at a cost of $304,000, last year’s report shows.

For example, the Feb. 20-21 visit from U.S. Second Lady Karen Pence – who gets Secret Service protection – came in at just $406.

The most expensive visit was March 23-27, by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his family: $6,553. It was listed as “personal.”

State law authorizes security and transportation for anyone “whom the failure to provide security or transportation could result in a clear and present danger to the personal safety of such persons, or to the safety of other persons or property within this state, or could result in public embarrassment to the state.”

Andrew Gillum puts progressive ‘Chance’ ad on TV

As promised last week when his campaign first unveiled the spot as an internet digital ad, Andrew Gillum is launching his “Chance” commercial — citing progressive causes from gun control to abolishing and replacing ICE, ending “Stand Your Ground” to impeaching Donald Trump — on television.

The TV buy will be limited, as is Gillum’s campaign fund, with an initial five-figure purchase to place the commercial on TV in West Palm Beach, Orlando, and Tampa starting Wednesday.

The campaign seeks to tie in with the Tallahassee Mayor’s rallies set for Friday in Tampa and Orlando with progressive Democratic lion U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“As we get into the home stretch of this primary, our campaign’s positive energy and enthusiasm — while others are mired in the muck — is on full display with this ad touting Mayor Gillum’s bold, progressive vision for Florida,” Gillum’s campaign said in a news release.

Earlier his campaign touted the internet ad as “the most progressive ad in Florida history.”

Gillum is running third in the latest poll of the five Democrats running in the Aug. 28 gubernatorial primary, well behind front-runners Philip Levine and Gwen Graham, but ahead of Jeff Greene and Chris King.

The actual video and voice-over by Gillum are a lot less stark than the commercial’s overall effect. With shots of Gillum confidently striding a corridor, sitting lovingly with his family, smiling as he meets people, and speaking at rallies, Gillum offers inspirational, but not inflammatory words:

“My mother said the only thing in life you should ever ask for is a chance. So I want you to know that if you give me the chance to not only be your nominee but to be the next governor of the great state of Florida, that I’m going to make you proud every single day of the week. So I want y’all to join me on this mission, all right? And together we are going to take this state back, flip Florida blue in 2018, and flip this country blue in 2020.”

But while that’s playing out, and his voice rises toward an urgent tone, background music gets more dramatic, and a series of text screens pop in and out with increasing speed until they look like the backs of playing cards in a deck being shuffled, many of the messages being repeated:


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