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aaron bean

Aaron Bean earns backing of Florida Retail Federation

Republican Sen. Aaron Bean, who faces challengers on all sides in his 2018 re-election bid, got a boost Thursday by way of an endorsement from the Florida Retail Federation.

The retail trade group highlighted the Fernandina Beach lawmaker’s help voting down a bill to increase the “felony threshold limit” — the value of goods an individual must steal before they can be charged with felony theft.

“Senator Bean’s support of Sunshine State retailers has been instrumental particularly in fighting to ensure the felony threshold wasn’t raised and expanding access to healthcare to help protect Florida families,” said FRF President/CEO R. Scott Shalley. “Our members are appreciative of the Senators’ efforts, and we know we can count on his continued support when he returns to the Florida Senate.”

The FRF endorsement also touted Bean’s background in elected office as well as his public service, including holding a board seat with the First Coast YMCA, Big Brothers & Big Sisters and the United Way.

Challenging Bean for the District 4 seat this year are Democrat Billie Bussard, Republican Carlos Slay and Libertarian Joanna Liberty Tavares.

When it comes to Bussard and Tavares, Bean has SD 4’s heavy Republican tilt in his corner. When it comes to Slay, who went negative from the jump, Bean is looking to out-campaign him the old-fashioned way — door knocking and fundraising.

Bean is in good shape on the fundraising front. As of May 31, he had more than $100,000 banked for his campaign with another $72,000 at the ready in his affiliated political committee. None of his opponents have posted a campaign finance report.

Primary or no, Tracie Davis exudes confidence in path forward

State Rep. Tracie Davis, a first-term Jacksonville Democrat, faces (at least through noon Friday) only nominal ballot opposition — in the form of state Rep. Kim Daniels‘ former aide.

Davis has already qualified for re-election. Her opponent, Roshanda Jackson, has not.

Despite any challenge, Davis isn’t changing her approach.

“I qualified Monday,” Davis related Tuesday in Jacksonville. “I’m just staying focused doing what I’m doing in the community now that I’m home [for the summer].”

“If I have a challenge, I run a race,” she added. “And if I don’t, I continue to work hard in my community.”

The state party offered support and resources, Davis said, similar to that offered (and extended) to state Sen. Audrey Gibson when Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown filed to oppose her.

Of course, Brown faces his own battle in a federal courtroom over fraud charges, with a status hearing Thursday afternoon.

If anything, it has been an interesting campaign season, Davis noted.

“Hopefully at noon on Friday,” she said, “we have the opportunity to get back to work for the people who elected us, without opposition.”

Jay Fant exiting Attorney General race, applying for OFR commissioner

The Republican race for Attorney General is now a two-candidate affair.

State Rep. Jay Fant of Jacksonville is bowing out and applying to be commissioner of Florida’s Office of Financial Regulation (OFR).

Commissioner Drew Breakspear is resigning effective June 30, after CFO Jimmy Patronis told him he “no longer ha(d) confidence” in Breakspear’s ability to lead the office, which acts as the state’s watchdog for the financial industry.

Fant explained  Tuesday the role would be a solid fit for his banking experience — including a high-profile loss.

“After years of work in the private sector,” Fant said, “I first decided to pursue elected office because I experienced first hand what wayward government policy does to business.”

He added: “I was running a small community bank during the Great Recession and Florida real estate crisis. Our company, like all banks and financial firms, suffered tremendously. The federal government intervened by passing a massive bank bailout that helped the largest banks and left the small community banks out in the cold. 64 banks in Florida alone, including ours, went out of business. Wall Street won. Main Street lost.”

“Businesses in Florida must operate on a level playing field, and our willingness to fight for that is vital to the success of free enterprise,” Fant said. “These beliefs led me to run for the Florida House, and then last year to run for Attorney General. The recent opening for Commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, however, is the position most in line with my experience in banking, law and policymaking; I will seek that appointment.

“My passion is to see that limited government be fair for all Floridians.”

For Fant, who’s been struggling in the Attorney General’s race, this may be the closest he gets to a Cabinet position.

The OFR reports to the Financial Services Commission, which is made up of the Governor and Cabinet: Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer and Agriculture Commissioner.

State law says they can hire or fire the OFR’s head “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.” Patronis is a friend and political ally of Gov. Rick Scott.

Fant was on Scott’s side last year, when he voted against a bill backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran that sought to abolish Scott’s favored Enterprise Florida economic development organization.

Fant said then that he doesn’t “like going against leadership on a vote, and I stick with them on just about everything, but this just isn’t one of those things.”

And Scott later had Fant’s back at an Enterprise Florida meeting later that year.

“There are not a lot of people in the Legislature that stood up for us and talked vocally about their support of Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida,” Scott said. “Jay Fant was one of the few, and I want to thank Jay for doing that, and I wish all luck in your next endeavor.”

During a gaggle, Scott then amplified his comments, calling Fant a “leader.”

Remaining in the AG race are Ashley Moody, a former Circuit Court judge, and Frank White, a House colleague of Fant.

If Fant were to endorse, it likely wouldn’t be Moody, given the heated exchanges between the two during the primary.

Among White’s backers is Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry; the move could strengthen an important relationship locally for Fant, who left a safe House seat to pursue the AG job.

Second candidate Sharol Noblejas files for impending Jacksonville City Council vacancy

Even before the 2019 city elections, the Jacksonville City Council is in a time of turmoil.

Two members have been suspended, facing federal charges in a conspiracy to defraud. And a third member, Doyle Carter, has already submitted a resignation letter as he runs for Duval County Tax Collector.

Whereas the two suspended members will see their replacements picked by the Governor, Carter’s seat is subject (as is the Tax Collector position) to a contested special election on the August ballot — with a November runoff if no one candidate gets to 50.01 percent.

Republican Randy White, a former fire union head and friend of Councilman Carter, filed months ago and has close to $85,000 banked. On Monday, a second Republican, Sharol Noblejas, ensured there would be competition.

Noblejas, in the current class of Leadership Jacksonville, also is on the Mayor’s Asian-American Advisory Council, is on the Board of Directors for Night of Asia, and is on the Asian American Federation of Florida.

She has been mulling a run for some time, but the unique circumstances of the opening spurred her into action.

“I was thinking of 2023,” Noblejas said, “but this looked like a good opportunity.”

Noblejas counts Council President Anna Brosche as a supporter (but not an official endorser, she said Tuesday).

This sets up an interesting dynamic: White is friendly with Mayor Lenny Curry, and Curry’s chief lieutenants Mike Weinstein and Sam Mousa, and will see his campaign run by Curry’s political adviser Tim Baker.

She also expects to get support from women’s groups and Republican groups.

If elected, she wants to “make the Westside safe for families and children,” citing a need for pedestrian overpasses.

Now that the race is competitive, the oppo will float. And one such piece of business will be a Chapter 11 marital bankruptcy from 2011.

The story was a familiar one, Noblejas related. She lost her job, it took her a year to find a new one, and the bankruptcy was a way to “stay afloat.”

Leslie Dougher files another election complaint against Bill Nelson campaign

Former Republican Party of Florida Chair Leslie Dougher has reinvented herself as a gadfly for Sen. Bill Nelson’s re-election campaign in recent months, including protesting at his events.

Dougher, Gov. Rick Scott‘s choice for RPOF chair years back, has also not been averse to filing elections complaints against Scott’s opponent.

January saw a Senate Ethics Complaint filed against Nelson, for allegedly campaigning in a government building.

And June sees a Federal Elections Commission complaint about political signs near a Nelson May 29th fundraiser that lacked disclaimers.

The complaint asserts that it is a “logical presumption” that the campaign “paid for or authorized” the signs.

Dougher’s last complaint was deemed a “political stunt” by Team Nelson. We are reaching out now for what likely will be a similar comment.

Citing abuses by corporate ownership, Florida Times-Union newsroom moves to unionize

Staff, including reporters, photographers, copy editors and desk editors at the Florida Times-Union, moved Tuesday toward unionizing the newsroom, under the NewsGuild-CWA

The next move: NLRB-monitored election by Times-Union staff members in the next 20 to 40 days. If a majority votes to unionize, the staff will begin negotiating a contract with GateHouse Media.

Two other GateHouse shops at the Lakeland Ledger and Sarasota Herald-Tribune have already organized.

Longtime reporter Steve Patterson notes that the newsroom has “lost co-workers in recent years.”

“Our staff wants some stability. A union can’t solve all our problems, but it can be an advocate for us when we really need it,” Patterson added.

Wages have been a concern. Previous ownership of Morris Communications cut pay 10 percent in 2009. And wages haven’t fully recovered since, despite repeated cuts of staff and attempts to install efficiencies, including off-site printing and design.

Beth Reese Cravey, a T-U writer since 1987, has “yet to hit $40,000 a year in salary,” she said.

“Other reporters have come and gone at starting salaries higher than mine. I cover nonprofits, among other things, and I often qualify for the income-based programs I write about. That’s because I have never had a voice with enough strength behind it to be heard,” Cravey said.

“I believe forming a union will give us that voice,” Cravey added. “But it’s not just about money. It’s about respect and being valued.”

Staff feels a particular urgency now. The GateHouse purchase, per a mission statement, “brought more uncertainty perhaps than any other time in the newspaper’s 154-year history.”

The newsroom was once 100 workers strong, as recently as five years ago. Now the staff is 40, including ten layoffs during the GateHouse era.

The newsroom staff shrank from more than 100 to fewer than 40 in the past five years, including the layoff of 10 newsroom workers in January.

A mission statement from reporters asserts that “current and past owners have actively harmed the newsroom” with cuts.

“We fear that GateHouse’s short-term strategies will lead to more and more cuts in the future. As of today, there are fewer than 40 full-time employees working across the Times-Union newsroom in metro, opinion, life, sports, photo and the copy desk – a third of the staff we had just five years ago. Once-filled desks now sit empty,” the mission statement adds.

“For too long, under Morris and under GateHouse, we have come to work waiting for a shoe to drop, waiting to be called into an office, waiting to learn of layoffs. We have had no say in the future of our own newspaper, and the disconnect between corporate and the newsroom is vast. We believe the success of The Florida Times-Union depends on its editorial staff. We must be a part of GateHouse’s decision-making processes to ensure we are not overlooked,” the mission statement continues.

Fair wages, affordable health insurance, and workers’ rights are among the concerns enumerated.

Jacksonville likely to push back budget presentation, compress budget hearings

A bill that cleared Jacksonville City Council committees this week will, if approved by the full Council next week, push back the Mayor’s budget presentation to July 23, and will require serious budget meetings by the Finance committee that may impact Council members’ Labor Day travel plans.

On Tuesday morning, the Finance Committee approved the legislation 5-1, at the request of Council President-designate Aaron Bowman, who will be traveling in his business recruitment role as VP of JAX USA, a Chamber arm that focuses on business recruitment.

Bowman will be out of the country.

“This one I did not take lightly,” Bowman said, who will be at the International Air Show handling economic development opportunities, with an eye toward recruiting more air companies to come to Jacksonville.

“It’s so important for our region,” Bowman said.

“I did not want to miss my first event as Council President,” Bowman added.

This is not unprecedented: the date has been pushed back in city history three other times.

The first Finance Committee budget hearing would be pushed back also: to Aug. 16, with scheduling compressed so that the panel can have tentative approval of the budget Sep. 5 and actual approval on Sep. 10.

Per Councilwoman Lori Boyer, there would be an impact: “Finance committee meetings running up to and through Labor Day weekend now” including “cleanup” and amendments.

“A lot of people try to go away on that weekend,” Boyer noted.

Feds quibble with Corrine Brown co-conspirator early release motion

Carla Wiley, a co-conspirator with Corrine Brown in the One Door for Education scheme to defraud that ended the congresswoman’s political career, wants an early release to a halfway house.

However, the federal government opposed the motion Monday. [Government Opposition to Wiley Early Release]

Wiley, who served as the CEO of the phony charity and is now serving 21 months in federal lockup, was urged by federal attorneys to make her case via the Bureau of Prisons.

“A prisoner is required to exhaust all administrative remedies available to her through the BOP before filing her petition in federal court,” asserts the filing. “Wiley has not stated what steps she has taken within the BOP to obtain her requested relief.”

Wiley, who moved to cooperate with the feds well before Brown’s trial last year, contended that she had a “minor role” in the scheme, limited participation, “decision-making authority,” and benefit.

Jacksonville wins appeal of pension reform lawsuit

Monday brought good news for the city of Jacksonville, as the First District Court of Appeal rebuffed five plaintiffs challenging the city’s pension reform referendum of 2016.

The city prevailed in circuit court last year over plaintiffs Joseph Andrews, Connie Benham, Dr. Juan P. Gray, Lynn Price and Reverend Levy Wilcox.

They objected to the wording of the referendum, which passed 65 to 35 percent on the August 2016 ballot.

Per the DCA order: “The trial court found that the summary clearly articulated the chief purpose to ‘reduce or eliminate the City’s unfunded pension liability through the use of a dedicated 1/2-cent sales tax to be adopted for not more than 30 years once the Better Jacksonville 1/2-cent sales tax ends’.”

“We see no problem with this conclusion,” the DCA asserted.

The appellants also objected to the timing of the referendum on the ballot, as Council’s action in May approving the referendum preceded the July 1 effective date of the state law allowing the referendum. That objection was also spiked.

The pension reform legislation allows the city to extend the Better Jacksonville Plan half-cent sales tax from 2031 until 2060 to pay off unfunded pension liability on now-closed defined benefit plans.

When the City Council passed the legislation, Jacksonville faced having to spend $360 million on pension costs; because of the re-amortization of what was then a $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability. The cost went down to $218 million, allowing the city to invest in raises for workers and capital improvements.

Employees hired since October 2016 are on a defined contribution plan.

Lenny Curry critics ‘chirp’ about strongman tactics, transparency issues, stalled agenda

With less than a year before Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry faces the voters, a “good news/bad news” scenario awaits his political operation.

The good news: there’s no viable competition filed to run against him yet, even as one could make the argument that City Council antagonists Anna Brosche and Garrett Dennis have sounded like candidates for a while.

The bad news: criticism of Curry’s governing style has started to emerge from historical advocates and allies.

Curry has historically said “let the critics chirp.”

However, these are new critics — historical allies who now feel comfortable voicing private critiques in public.

Does it matter?

In Folio Weekly this month, former Mayor and Curry endorser John Delaney likened Curry to Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump.

“Trump, Rick Scott, Mayor [Lenny] Curry, […] they’ve got the strong man style of governing and kind of power things through,” he said.

Delaney, now employed as part of a “strategic alliance” between Rogers Towers and The Fiorentino Group, has nothing to gain professionally by making that assertion. Buried paragraphs into a longer article about his tenure as University of North Florida President, it might have been easy to miss.

However, those in Curry’s orbit did not miss it.

The editorial page of the Florida Times-Union has been a consistent cheerleader of the mayor’s initiatives with unbylined editorials, even rolling up their sleeves and mansplaining to Brosche why she should have let Curry speak out of turn at a February meeting on the JEA valuation report.

“Pure and simple, Brosche’s conduct went over the line last week—way over,” read the remonstration.

However, a bylined piece from editorial page editor Mike Clark put the Mayor on notice, with the strongest critique of Curry in three years from the paper’s editorialists.

“A strong and effective mayor is needed to make consolidated government work. The final grade has yet to be issued on Curry,” Clark wrote.

“Curry began his tenure on an impressive winning streak,” per Clark. “But his wins have stalled in the last year, especially relating to Downtown.”

And then, a statement that might be seen as ironic who remember the T-U’s editorial condemnation of Brosche for not kissing Curry’s ring on Valentine’s Day.

“His winner-take-all leadership style has been characterized as bullying by his critics. Lack of transparency also is a frequent criticism of the administration.”

Before writing this article, we sought Curry’s take on the T-U piece; however, his Monday media availability was limited in scope.

Team Curry has professed (and professes) not to be worried about re-election. A UNF poll has him at 56 percent approval, but that’s not the number his team sees.

When asked about a potential challenge from Anna Brosche, Curry wasn’t worried.

“I’m going to continue to pursue the priorities that I’ve laid out,” Curry added, “and make the case to the public.”

“I have the resources to make the case to the public,” Curry said, alluding to having raised $2 million so far for the re-election.

“I’m going to continue to do that,” Curry said, “and I’m confident that the engagement and interaction I have with everyday people will result in Lenny Curry being mayor, not just through this next year, but in the years ahead.”

Curry doesn’t necessarily need the support of the chattering classes to win. With the kind of money he has, and the bully pulpit of the Mayor’s Office, he (or his political operation) can shiv the critics.

However, there are those who see a path to unseat him.

Garrett Dennis, a Democrat, asserts Curry will be a one-term mayor.

Dennis believes that there is an “anti-Curry machine” that won’t be placated, likening the momentum to that which made Tommy Hazouri a one-term mayor.

Will the Curry critics line up behind a Dennis or a Brosche?

Or will Curry prove them wrong, and in the process prove that it pays to put the emphasis on strong in a strong mayor government?

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