Influence Archives - Florida Politics

GOP ponders whether Donald Trump helps sell health care

It was a platform most politicians can only hope for: A captivated, 6,000-person crowd and more than an hour of live, prime-time television coverage to hype the Republican vision for a new health care system.

But when President Donald Trump got around to talking about the Republican plan — about 15 minutes into his speech — he was wildly off message. Instead of preaching party lines about getting the government out of Americans’ health decisions and cutting costs, he declared: “Add some money to it!”

The moment captured a major dilemma for Republicans as they look for ways to jumpstart their stalled health care overhaul. A master salesman, Trump has an inimitable ability to command attention, and that could be used to bolster Americans’ support for Republican efforts and ramp up pressure on wavering lawmakers. But some lawmakers and congressional aides privately bemoan his thin grasp of the bill’s principles, and worry that his difficulty staying on message will do more harm than good.

“You know, he’s very personable and people like talking to him and he’s very embracing of that, so there will be certain people he’d like to talk to,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “But I’d let Mitch handle it,” he continued, referring to the lead role Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has played thus far.

McConnell delayed a vote on the health legislation this week after it became clear he couldn’t muster enough Republican support to offset the unanimous opposition from Democrats. GOP leaders are now hoping to pass a bill in the Senate and reconcile it with an earlier version approved by the House before lawmakers head home for their August recess.

Trump has largely ceded the details to McConnell, deferring to the Kentucky lawmaker’s legislative expertise. He has spent some time talking privately to wavering senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, testing his powers of persuasion. But he’s invested no significant effort in selling the American people on the impact the Republican bill would have on their health care coverage, beyond making sweeping declarations about how wonderful he expects it to be.

“We’re looking at a health care that will be a fantastic tribute to your country,” Trump said during a White House event Wednesday. “A health care that will take care of people finally for the right reasons and also at the right cost.”

His approach is a contrast to former President Barack Obama, who delivered an address to Congress on health care and held town halls around the country about the Democrats’ legislation in 2009. The Obamacare measure barely cleared Congress and became a rallying cry for Republicans, something Obama blamed in part on a failure by his party to communicate its virtues clearly to the public.

At times, even Trump’s largely generic health care commentary has left Republicans fuming. Some lawmakers were particularly irked by Trump’s assertion that the House bill — which he robustly supported and even celebrated with a Rose Garden ceremony — was “mean.”

One Republican congressional aide said that comment left some lawmakers worried that the president — who had no real ties to the GOP before running for the White House — could turn on them if a bill passes but the follow-up becomes politically damaging. The official insisted on anonymity in order to describe private discussions.

Newt Gingrich, the former GOP House speaker and a close Trump ally, said Republicans have struggled to communicate about the complexities of health care policy because “nobody has served as a translator.” He said Trump is well-positioned to take the lead, but acknowledged that the real estate mogul-turned-politician would need some help from policy experts in formulating a sales pitch.

“Trump will be able to repeat it with enormous effectiveness once somebody translates it,” Gingrich said.

The White House disputes that Trump isn’t steeped in the details of the Obamacare repeal efforts. Economic adviser Gary Cohn and other officials on the National Economic Council have convened several meetings with him to explain differences between the House and Senate bills. One senior White House official described the president as “fully engaged” in the process.

During a private meeting Tuesday with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is strongly opposed to the current Senate bill, Trump said his priority was to increase the number of insurance choices available to consumers and lower monthly premiums, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the discussion. The official said the president also specifically highlighted the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s projection that average premiums would be 30 percent lower in 2020 if the Senate bill took effect.

To some Trump allies, more public engagement on a substantive policy debate like the future of the nation’s health care system would also be a welcome reprieve for a president whose approval ratings have tumbled amid the snowballing investigations into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia.

“I think his numbers would go up if he had a couple of addresses,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign adviser. “If he communicates directly with the American people, he cuts through the noise.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Americans for Prosperity urges Marco Rubio to be ‘leading voice in effort to passing pro-growth tax reform’

Americans for Prosperity wants Sen. Marco Rubio to lead the charge to pass pro-growth tax reform.

The organization launched its third ad as part of a grassroots campaign urging members of Congress to “un-rig the economy by seizing the opportunity to enact pro-growth tax reform. The digital ad is part of a summer-long effort by Americans for Prosperity to push for broad, pro-growth tax reform.

“Congress has a once in a generation opportunity to fix our broken tax code. Americans deserve new system that is honest and fair, and that will also help grow the economy and create jobs,” said Chris Hudson, the state director of Americans for Prosperity Florida, in a statement. “Senator Rubio can be a leading voice in the effort to passing pro-growth tax reform based on AFP’s 5 Principles of simplicity, efficiency, equitability, predictability, and no new burden on taxpayers.  We strongly urge him to make this issue a top priority.”

Americans for Prosperity said it will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on digital advertising as part of the push this summer, followed by direct mail, door-to-door visits and other grassroots efforts.

Personnel note: Chris Hart IV joins Florida TaxWatch

Chris Hart IV, who stepped down after less than three months as CEO of Enterprise Florida (EFI), has taken a post as Executive Vice President of Florida TaxWatch, the organization announced Thursday.

“We are thrilled to welcome Chris as part of the Florida TaxWatch family as a key part of our leadership team,” TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said in a statement.

“He will be at the center of efforts to ensure that the nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute builds upon its successes while increasing the organization’s resources, capabilities, brand awareness and strategic importance as the most timely, relevant, comprehensive and utilized taxpayer research institute throughout the state of Florida,” he added.

Hart quit Enterprise Florida in early March, after officially coming on board that January, citing a lack of “common vision” with Gov. Rick Scott. 

“I’ve come to realize that Gov. Scott and I do not share a common vision or understanding for how Enterprise Florida can best provide value within his administration,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “This difference of opinion is of such a critical nature that I no longer believe I can be effective in my position.”

Hart previously was president and CEO of CareerSource Florida.

“It is odd that Chris Hart never shared any differences of opinion or vision with the Governor until we first read that he had them in his resignation letter,” Jackie Schutz, then a spokeswoman for the governor, said in a statement. “The future of EFI and its role in creating more jobs in Florida as we compete with other states is more important than one person’s sudden change of opinion or position, no matter how surprising.”

Hart also has been Interim Director of the now-defunct Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development under both Scott and Gov. Charlie Crist. He was appointed by Crist in 2010 to chair the Governor’s Gulf Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force, responsible for coordinating state efforts in response to the Deepwater Horizon spill.

He also served in the House of Representatives for two terms and co-founded a small business, the release said. Hart is co-founder of The Hare & The Hart, serves on various boards and is Senior Warden at St. Peter’s Anglican Church.

Hart received an MBA from the University of South Florida and an undergraduate degree in political science from Florida State University. He and his wife Amy reside in Tallahassee and have two adult children.

“I’m extremely excited to be part of an organization of the caliber and prestige of Florida TaxWatch,” Hart said in a statement.

“It is an excellent opportunity for me and I look forward to working with Dominic, Robert Weissert, the organization’s outstanding volunteer leadership and the strong team here as we work together to strengthen our abilities to provide Florida’s taxpayers and policymakers with top-notch, independent research that makes the Sunshine State the best place to live, work and play.”

Joe Negron joins Akerman law firm as litigator

Five months after he quit a law firm job following concerns of conflicts of interest, Senate President Joe Negron has joined the Akerman firm’s West Palm Beach office.

The firm announced the move Wednesday in a press release. Negron will be “of counsel,” an arrangement usually meaning an attorney works on a case-to-case basis and not as an associate or partner.

Negron previously worked at Akerman from 2005-10. It is ranked the largest law firm in the state by Florida Trend magazine and the Daily Business Review.

“Joe is widely known by both the bench and the bar as a compelling advocate who skillfully represents businesses and directors in complex commercial disputes,” said Lawrence Rochefort, chair of Akerman’s Litigation Practice Group. “His strong reputation and track record make him a powerful addition to our trial team.”

In January, Negron—a Stuart Republican—had resigned from the Gunster law firm, four days after Gov. Rick Scott suggested ethics reforms affecting lawyer-legislators.

At the time, Negron said his decision was spurred by Gunster’s representation of U.S. Sugar, which was named in a land acquisition provision included in a Senate measure (SB 10) aimed at protecting Lake Okeechobee from toxic runoff.

Both Gunster and Akerman have lobbying practices in the capital.

“Throughout my legislative service, I have carefully scrutinized my legal and legislative work to ensure I fully uphold the highest ethical standards,” Negron said earlier this year.

“For the first time, I have reached a crossroads where my firmly held conviction to promote legislation that would benefit my constituents, community, and state has the potential to result in a possible perception of a conflict with my professional employment,” he said.

“In the abundance of caution, to avoid even the possible appearance of such a difference, and to make certain I can continue to effectively advocate for my community, I have made the decision to step away from my position with the Gunster Law Firm.”

Negron has “30 years of experience in high stakes litigation, business law and complex commercial litigation,” the press release said.

“He counsels officers, directors, publicly traded and privately held corporations, and individuals in an array of business disputes, including breach of contract and warranty, breach of fiduciary duty and negligence,” it says. “He represents clients across a range of sectors, including healthcare, insurance, real estate and technology.”

On Wednesday, Negron said in a statement, “Given Akerman’s leadership position in Florida and in major markets across the United States, I am very pleased to be returning to the firm, which provides the right platform for me to advance my practice while maintaining my deep commitment to the West Palm Beach market.”


New website targets Alex Diaz de la Portilla in SD 40, calls him ‘completely unfit’ to lead

A Venice-based political committee has launched a website taking aim at former Alex Diaz de la Portilla in the special election to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles in Senate District 40.

Making a Better Tomorrow has launched a new website, called the “Facts about ADLP.” The site, which is available in both English and Spanish, features a filing filled with what it calls “the evidence against Alex Diaz de la Portilla.”

The website includes digital file folders labeled “supporting Obamacare-style programs,” “raising insurance rates,” “hurting our schools,” “raising taxes,” and “a career politician,” among other things. The group calls the information as “staggering evidence of how liberal and completely unfit he is to lead.”

The website is the latest in a series of advertisements from Making a Better Tomorrow going after Diaz de la Portilla in Senate District 40. The group has released a series of mailers, including one this week call out the Miami republican for voting to raise taxes, cut funding to education, and cut funding for senior programs.

Diaz de la Portilla served in the Florida House from 1994 until 2000, when he was elected to serve in the Florida Senate. He served in the Senate until 2010, serving stints as the Majority Leader and Senate President Pro Tempore.

He faces Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Lorenzo Palomares in the special election to replace Artiles, who resigned earlier this year amid scandal, in Senate District 40. The race for the GOP nomination is expected to be a bitter and expensive battle, with outside groups pouring thousands upon thousands of dollars into the race.

Making a Better Tomorrow has raised more than $289,331 million since 2014, according to state records. The group hasn’t received any donations since February 2017, when it received a single $4,000 contribution. State records show it ended May with $41,923 cash on hand.

Personnel note: Mark Pafford joins state League of Women Voters board

Mark Pafford, the former House Democratic Leader, has joined the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of Florida, the organization announced Tuesday.

Pafford “brings extensive government experience to the League,” President Pamela Goodman said in a statement.

In a phone interview, Pafford told Florida Politics he hopes “to be a great resource, bringing some internal knowledge of the process and a constructive viewpoint for bipartisan policy development.”

Pafford, originally a West Palm Beach Democrat, served in the House 2008-16, when he was term limited. He rose to Leader for the 2015 and 2016 Legislative Sessions after being Deputy Whip and Democratic Policy Chair.

He had been CEO of Florida CHAIN, a statewide advocacy organization for health care consumers, but was laid off last year after the group lost funding. He still sits on the organization’s board of directors, according to its website.

Pafford said he now works for Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph as his administrative officer.

The League also announced other new board members: Stephanie Owens, founder of St. Petersburg’s Dolphin Strategies consulting firm; Marty Sullivan, co-Chair of the League’s Natural Resources Committee; and Maggie Lawrence, media buyer and project manager with Tallahassee’s SalterMitchell PR firm.

“These new members will contribute significantly to the League’s continuing efforts to act on selected governmental issues and to influence public policy through education and advocacy,” Goodman said.

Personnel note: Jonathan Zachem appointed DBPR secretary

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday appointed Jonathan Zachem as the new Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).

Matilde Miller, who had been serving as interim secretary since January, has accepted the job of Vice President of Compliance for VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s public-private tourism marketing agency.

“DBPR is often on the front lines of supporting new and existing businesses across our state” Scott said in a statement. “With his leadership experience at DBPR, Jonathan understands the importance of reducing burdensome regulations while helping our job creators and families.

“I know that Jonathan will be a great leader as we continue to work together to make Florida the most business-friendly state in the nation,” the governor added. “I appreciate Matilde Miller’s service to the State of Florida and her dedication to our mission of growing jobs for our families.”

Zachem was the department’s deputy secretary. Before that, he was chief attorney and then director of DBPR’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

He also worked for the Prosecution Services Unit (PSU) of the Florida Department of Health.

Zachem received his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida, a graduate degree from the University of South Florida and a law degree from the Barry University School of Law, according to the Governor’s Office.

Four members of Florida Citrus Commission back Ben Albritton in SD 26

Citrus leaders are throwing their support behind Ben Albritton in his bid to replace Sen. Denise Grimsley in Senate District 26.

The Albritton campaign announced Tuesday four members of the Florida Citrus Commission, including Chairman Marty McKenna and Vice Chairman Mike Garavaglia, have endorsed Albritton in his Senate District 26 bid.

“Citrus is the heart of District 26, and as a grower and former board member, Ben Albritton has a unique understanding of the importance and needs of our industry,” said McKenna in a statement.

Garavaglia called Albritton a “champion of Florida agriculture” and said he will “continue to be an effective advocate for citrus and the entire agriculture industry in the Senate.”

Florida Citrus Commission members V.C. Hollingsworth III and Ned Hancock also endorsed Albritton.

“We know Ben Albritton to be a man of his word. He is a passionate and enthusiastic representative of Florida agriculture and deeply enjoys serving our state and its people,” said Hollingsworth and Hancock in joint statement. “We look forward to his continued leadership in the Florida Senate.”

First elected to the House in 2010, Albritton can’t seek re-election in 2018 because of term limits. He’s vying to replace Grimsley, who is foregoing re-election to run for Agriculture Commissioner, in Senate District 26, which includes parts of Charlotte and Polk counties, as well as DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties.

Education funding, other bills OK’d by Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill making it easier for parents and residents to challenge school textbooks and school library books.

The legislation, which was one of 29 bills signed on Monday, allows parents and residents to review instructional materials and then challenge them as inappropriate before a hearing officer.

It was one of five education bills signed by Scott, including increasing funding by $100 per student in the state budget.

Scott also signed the bill establishing the $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund along with $50 million in repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee.

That bill “also fully funds VISIT FLORIDA at $76 million and implements new accountability and transparency measures to VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida (EFI),” the governor’s office said in a statement.

Rick Scott vetoes re-organization of state’s technology agency, a priority of Blaise Ingoglia

A House bill aimed at shaking up the state’s Agency for State Technology was vetoed Friday by Gov. Rick Scott.

Sources earlier had told Florida Politics the measure (HB 5301), backed by state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, could fall under the Governor’s veto pen.

It passed both chambers this Legislative Session with only 13 total votes against it. In part, Ingoglia had complained the state’s data center costs were “escalating out of control.”

But James Taylor, executive director for nonprofit Florida Technology Council, criticized an earlier version of the bill in a story this April.

“The only thing this truly does is put Florida further behind,” Taylor said. “When you’re trying to fix something, it is always more expensive in the beginning. And that’s where we’re at right now.”

The House had angled for a major overhaul, even doing away with the agency, but agreed to keep it intact during budget negotiations.

The agency came under fire in January after a report by Florida Auditor General Sherrill F. Norman’s office laid out a laundry list of security and other problems at the relatively new agency.

Jason Allison resigned as Chief Information Officer in February. He joined the Foley & Lardner law firm as a “director of public affairs” in the Tallahassee office.

The agency, which replaced the predecessor Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, was created by lawmakers in 2014. Allison was appointed its head that Dec. 9. He was paid $130,000 a year.

Among the audit findings: The AST failed to “review user access privileges for the mainframe, open systems environments, and the network domains,” kept an inaccurate “inventory of IT resources at the State Data Center,” and “State Data Center backup tape records were not up-to-date and some backup tapes could not be located and identified.”

Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, previously explained that the agency won’t be abolished: It “is going to stay,” he said.

The bill reduces the agency’s “top-heavy” management structure, eliminating “the deputy executive director, chief planning officer, chief operations officer, and chief technology officer.”

It also requires the agency head, the state’s Chief Information Officer, to have 10 years of “executive management experience.”

A provision to move more information to cloud computing earned criticism from Government Technology this May. The website said it “cripple(s) the enterprise structure, allowing data center customer agencies to unilaterally move to cloud solutions.”

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