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Beth Tuura gets blessing of Linda Stewart in HD 47 race

The last Democrat to hold the seat in Orlando-based House District 47, Linda Stewart, has endorsed Beth Tuura among three Democrats running for the seat this year, Tuura’s campaign announced Wednesday.

Stewart, a longtime activist and former county commissioner who is running for the Florida Senate this year, picked Tuura over Democrats Henry Lim and Clint Curtis. The trio want a shot at incumbent Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Orlando, who ousted Stewart in the 2014 election.

“I am pleased to endorse Beth Tuura in her race in district 47,” Stewart stated in the release. “Her social and business experiences will make her a great voice for women and working families in Central Florida.”

Tuura said she seeks to continue Stewart’s legacy of fighting for issues such as fair wages, expanding access to healthcare, and strengthening our public education system.

“I have had the pleasure of working alongside Representative Linda Stewart in the past and I am honored to have her endorsement,” Tuura said. “I will fight to win back District 47 and bring my business and leadership skills to Tallahassee to get Florida back on track.”

Six candidates submit petitions appearing to reach qualifying threshold in Central Florida senate races

The first three days of pre-qualifying for state Senate races in Central Florida show four of the 10 declared candidates in three races fell short of submitting enough valid signatures for the ballot by petition.

So far, only an Aug. 30 Democratic primary in Senate District 11 would be assured, based on those candidates who appear to have enough verified signatures.

The Florida Department of State will not officially start qualifying candidates until next week. Those who do not qualify by petition may pay filing fees of $1,781.

In SD 11 covering west Orange County, two Orlando Democrats, former state Rep. Bob Sidler and former state Sen. Gary Siplin, each turned in more than the 1,552 required valid petitions signatures to qualify. Late Wednesday, Chuck O’Neal also crossed the threshold.

But Democratic primary opponent state Rep. Randolph Bracy Bracy, of Oakland, turned in 264 on Monday, while O’Neal fell just short, turning in 1,544.

There are no Republicans running in the heavily Democratic district.

In SD 13 in north-central and northeast Orange, Republican Dean Asher and Democrat Rick Roach, both of Orlando, appeared to have cleared the petition threshold.

Democratic former state Rep. Linda Stewart of Orlando turned in only 1,154 verified signatures, and former state Rep. Mike Clelland of Longwood has not yet turned in anything.

In SD 15 in south Orange and north Osceola County, Democratic state Rep. Victor Torres of Orlando turned in enough valid petitions, but Democrat Bob Healy of Kissimmee is short, with just 645 so far. Republican Peter Vivaldi of Windermere has not yet turned in anything.

All three districts are represented by senators not seeking re-election. In SD 11, Democratic state Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando is running for Congress, as is Democratic state Sen. Darren Soto of SD 15. In SD 13, Republican state Sen. President Andy Gardiner is term-limited out of office.

Dane Eagle posts $37K in May fundraising in HD 77

Rep. Dane Eagle does not currently face an opponent in his House District 77 re-election bid, but the Cape Coral Republican isn’t taking any chances.

The second-term lawmaker brought in $37,575 from more than 50 contributions during May, according to newly released campaign finance data.

Those included 18 contributions of $1,000, the legal maximum for state legislative campaigns.

Among those were checks from Rep. Dana Young‘s political committee, his own “Conservative Coalition for Florida’s Future” committee, Koch Industries, and the law and lobbying firm Becker & Poliakoff.

The haul brings Eagle’s fundraising totals to $113,461 for the 2016 cycle, with nearly $38,000 of that remaining on hand.

The May fundraising activity marks Eagle’s first contributions since January, before the 2016 Legislative Session. Legislators are prohibited from accepting donations during the annual lawmaking period.

Eagle announced his campaign kickoff last month with a fundraiser in Cape Coral co-hosted by Gary Aubuchon, a former state representative and the president of Aubuchon Homes; Brian Rist, the president and CEO of The Smart Companies; Michel Doherty, a prominent Lee County political supporter and Lee County Tax Collector Larry Hart.

Democrat Graham Madison Morris had originally planned to challenge Eagle but has since exited the race, giving Eagle a clear path to re-election in the conservative-leaning HD 77.

Ken Keechl tops George Moraitis in May fundraising, still trails in HD 93

Democrat Ken Keechl still has a long way to go to close the fundraising gap with incumbent Republican Rep. George Moraitis in House District 93, but May did see Keechl cut into his lead.

Keechl brought in $17,247 during the May reporting period according to new campaign finance data, bringing his overall total to $38,445 overall. Nearly all of that sum remained on hand through May 31.

Moraitis, for his part, raised $8,075 in May for a total of $101,423 overall for the cycle. Of that, Moraitis’ campaign account boasted nearly $65,000 on hand.

Keechl, an attorney from Wilton Manors, is seeking to prevent Pompano Beach’s Moraitis from finishing out his fourth and final term in moderate, coastal HD 93.

A former Broward County commissioner and mayor, Keechl unsuccessfully sought office in the last three election cycles after ousting an incumbent to win a seat on the commission in 2006.

Though Moraitis has cut a moderate profile and established himself as a fighter for local priorities like beach renourishment and quality-of-life issues, national politics could well overdetermine this contest.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney narrowly won HD 93 in 2012, but based on HD 93’s relatively affluent, white make-up compared to most Democratic districts, Hillary Clinton will likely outperform President Barack Obama in November.

Jacksonville resolves CDBG environmental documentation issues, repaid $160K

In good news from HUD, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry received written notice that monitoring issues from previous mayoral administrations’ reports in 2014 and 2015 had been resolved for Community Development Block Grants and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program.

Four problems in total have been resolved. But here’s the bad news from HUD: one of them cost the city $160,625.

The $127,000 problem: the city failed to complete compliance reviews for activities related to CDBG, HOME, and Neighborhood Stabilization Program Grants.

This required repayment of $160,625 for demolition of 13 properties, which incorrectly was paid with HUD funds. With $33,739 paid as the result of a previous monitoring visit, the balance of $126,886 had to be paid … and was.

The other issues lacked hard costs:

The first: environmental review records lacked adequate documentation to demonstrate compliance. A variety of forms were used, and project descriptions were inadequate.

Staff members, as mandated, were trained appropriately, and policies have been revised to meet HUD’s standards.

The second issue involved using an incorrect form to submit its reports, failing to “adequately” aggregate its projects, and incorrectly completing environmental assessments for individual sites instead of projects.

This issue with environmental assessments has been resolved.

The final issue: inadequate documentation of compliance with Acceptable Separation Distance guidelines set up by HUD, relative to properties within a mile of a “thermal or explosive hazard.”

As required, the city confirmed that above-ground storage tanks adjacent to the Norwood neighborhood contained neither thermal nor explosive leaks or gas.

Holly Raschein raises more than $44K for HD 120 re-election bid

Holly Raschein had one of her best fundraising periods to date, taking in more than $44,000 in May.

State records show Raschein raised $44,051 in May. The one-month influx brings her total fundraising haul to $253,477. The Key Largo Republican is running for a third term in Florida House District 120.

Top donors in May included Disney Gift Card Services, Disney Photo Imaging, and the Celebration Company. All three of those organizations gave Raschein $1,000. She also received $1,000 donations from Marathon Aviation Associates, Banana Bay Resort, and Automated Healthcare Solutions.

Raschein spent $14,851 in May, and has spent $83,080 since opening her re-election campaign account. She has more than $170,000 cash on hand.

Democrats Kevin Diaz and Daniel Horton are also running for the HD 120 seat. State records show Diaz raised $610 in May, bringing his total fundraising haul to $6,940. May fundraising totals weren’t available Wednesday for Horton.

Authenticity of Hans Tanzler’s ‘Rawhide’ ad questioned

The first TV ad in the race for Florida’s 4th Congressional District is taking a hit for being inauthentic.

The ad in question is “Rawhide” by Republican Hans Tanzler.

Operatives from opposing campaigns have suggested “Rawhide” was filmed at Tanzler’s Gainesville-area ranch rather than in CD 4.

On Tuesday, Tanzler’s campaign fessed up.

“You need a lot of space to film something like that … (It) did not seem to quite fit the script to be running a horse through downtown Jacksonville or Riverside,” wrote consultant Brett Doster in response to an inquiry from FloridaPolitics.com.

When asked if filming outside the district raised any issues or if it was just a matter of a logical use of available resources, Doster indicated it was the latter.

“Generally speaking, ads are filmed outside of districts all the time. Specifically in this case, Tanzler has a farm an hour away in Northeast Florida, and it was fiscally responsible to be where his horse is and also better for the horse. We got footage with Hans all over Northeast Florida, and given his heritage and where his home is, I don’t think anyone can question his commitment to District 4,” Doster wrote.

Florida Times-Union columnist Ron Littlepage called Tanzler the “Ortega Cowboy,” suggesting his 30-second spot will be a contender for the worst ad of the campaign.

The ad, which will be seen in the Jacksonville market throughout June, is part of a sustained ad buy for the duration of the primary campaign.

Democrats Henry Lim and Clint Curtis battle sharply in HD 47 debate

Democrats Henry Lim and Clint Curtis made clear during a debate Tuesday night that House District 47 voters have a clear choice between someone not eager to compromise and someone who thinks its the best way for Democrats to be effective.

The two paired off in the first of two debates focusing on education and the economy, hosted Tuesday night by the Young Democrats of Orange County, at the Barry University School of Law in Orlando. In the second debate, House District 48 Democrats Alex Barrio and Amy Mercado found less to disagree about though both pushed their distinct personalities, Barrio as a seasoned Tallahassee veteran, Mercado as a mother and businesswoman.

Lim, an immigration lawyer and chair of the Orlando Citizens’ Police Review Board, took the hardline in the first debate, promising to stand firm in Tallahassee on Democratic principals.

“It is very important for this community to see the candidates: who is willing to fight? Who has the heart to fight? Who has the heart to bring our issues into November and beyond?” Lim challenged. He then proceeded to show that fight in question after question about economics.

Curtis, also a lawyer who gained fame 15 years ago as the whistleblower on a voting machine-rigging scheme in Florida that stopped computerized balloting, pressed the practical realities of getting work done. He belittled Lim as having the potential to be like radical Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, famous for shutting down the government by standing by principals.

“You can can see there are obvious differences between ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!,’ and ‘let’s get things done,'” he said. “When I was fighting against the voting machines, I was going against Jeb Bush, Tom Feeney and all the big shots. The odds of winning that were astronomic, right? But we won because we compromised. We we moved a little in their direction, they moved a little in ours, and we actually got things done.”

Nonetheless, Lim got more of the applause from a crowd of about 100, and won a straw poll afterwards.

His differences with Curtis were more on legislative tactics and strategy than on policy. And it’s possible neither of them get the nomination, because there is a third major candidate, Beth Tuuro of Orlando, who did not attend the event. The trio are set to take on state Rep. Mike Miller, an Orlando Republican, for a seat that has gone back and forth between the parties in recent elections.

Both agreed on most education issues. Both oppose school vouchers, which Lim said “hurt kids” in public schools. Both want schools to scale back or eliminate standardized testing, which Curtis declared, “turned out to be a big mistake.”

But on economic issues including budget matters, or offering tax subsidies to attract businesses, their differences flared.

Lim declared, “Hell no!” when he was asked if he would accept a Republican leadership offer to back a bill that made him uncomfortable, but which included funding for something in his district. Curtis said he would take the offer as a signal his vote was needed, and would negotiate for more.

“We’re going to have to compromise with them to get anything, because they still control the house,” Curtis said. “If we say ‘No! No! No!’ they still win.”

“That is the old way of doing things,” Lim said. “That is why Republicans beat us us every election cycle. It is time for us to get a backbone, stand for our principals and fight! We are on the right side of history.”

Democrats Alex Barrio and Amy Mercado, in a House District 48 race debate.
Democrats Alex Barrio and Amy Mercado, in a House District 48 race debate.

Barrio, a former legislative aide and union official who won the second straw poll, and Mercado, a former Orange County Democratic Party chair, are battling over a clearer path to Tallahassee. They have no other Democratic opponents and no Republicans have yet filed to run. Mercado’s father, state Rep. Victor Torres, currently holds the seat. He is running for the state Senate.

Lenny Curry at first pension tax townhall: ‘We’ve got one shot at this’

“This has to pass.”

On Tuesday, in the atrium of Jacksonville’s City Hall, Mayor Lenny Curry held the first of 10 town hall meetings with city employees over the next couple of months, with the aim of selling the pension tax referendum, which he called “one of the most important votes Jacksonville has faced in its consolidated history.”

As has been the case since Curry began messaging toward extending the half-cent infrastructure tax as far out as 2060 to deal with the unfunded pension liability of 2016, the language was urgent and the hard sell was on to “Team COJ.”

Curry began his remarks by noting the “tough years” endured by city employees during the revenue crisis created by the $2.7 billion unfunded pension liability, billing the referendum as a “solution once and for all,” a solution which would close the old plan to new employees.

Much of what Curry said was familiar to those paying attention.

Curry noted the current unfunded liability is almost three times the operating budget, an untenable situation that has created a local version of a “big crisis facing every city” and “governments around the country.”

In Jacksonville, where the current fiscal year’s hit from the unfunded liability is $260 million, services have been “slowly cut over years.”

A new bit of information: Curry said that based on current estimates, the current unfunded liability would be “fully funded around 2045.”

Curry also sought to reassure the future pensioners: “all three plans are closed to new employees only,” with the only hit to current employees being a hike from 8 to 10 percent of their income for their contribution.

New employees, said Curry, will receive “plans that reflect the market” and are “sustainable” as a result of collective bargaining every three years.

“City employees did not create this problem,” said Curry; rather, the culprit was “bad decisions made over years.”

****

Curry outlined the elements of the campaign to sell the pension tax, including a website, TV ads, mail pieces, and “grassroots” efforts, like the town hall meeting.

“The website will be in language you understand,” Curry told one employee, “and you will probably get tired of getting mail from me and seeing me on TV.”

As well, he expects “wherever you see suffering,” a category that includes issues ranging from infrastructure woes to public safety shortfalls, to be something voters should notice as proof positive that the dedicated revenue source for the unfunded liability must be approved.

And, as he has said many times, he is “absolutely opposed” to a millage hike.

Ultimately, Curry is all in behind the sales tax extension, and expects to bring voters along with him.

“Friends, we’ve got one shot at this … there is no going back to Tallahassee and getting a second bite of the apple.”

****

As has been the case for many of these pitches, there is a certain castor oil effect to the language.

“I can tell you without question,” Curry said, “a reduction of services” would result if the referendum failed.

“Without a yes vote,” Curry said, “the financial crisis … will only get worse.”

“The crisis exists now,” Curry added, but it can be solved.

With a yes vote.

****

The close involved Curry, the CPA who campaigned as being “not a politician,” calling for what he referred to as a “rah rah moment.”

On the count of three, the dozens and dozens of city employees listening to Curry, not just from the atrium of City Hall, but also on each of the three floors and a mezzanine above, called out, in unison, “Yes for Jacksonville!”

Worth watching: the May fundraising report for the “Yes for Jacksonville” political committee, which will surface this week.

April, the first month of operations, saw an intake of $225,000.

There will be, of course, a direct correlation between the money this committee takes in through May and June, and the message presented to the public in July and August.

Truckers block downtown Tallahassee traffic to protest ‘deterioration’ of industry

A group of trucker owner-operators briefly held up traffic in Tallahassee’s busiest downtown thoroughfare to protest what they call the “deterioration” of the trucking industry.

The group convoyed from Miami, with around a dozen semi trucks bringing traffic at the intersection of Monroe and Tennessee streets — about three blocks from the Florida Capitol —  to a completely standstill for 15 minutes.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, two arrests were made at the scene of the protest. Javier Figueroa was booked by Florida Highway Patrol officers for blocking an intersection and resisting arrest without violence, while Magdiel Millar was arrested by LCSO for impeding the arrest of Figueroa and resisting arrest without violence.

In a memo released Monday, truckers Ponce Seoane and Alberto Cruz-Torres, two of the protest’s main organizers, said changes in the industry are leaving them with precious little to show for their work.

“We provide for an entire nation while barely providing for our own families,” they wrote in the trucking publication Overdrive Online.

The protestors cited decreasing wages, the rise of transportation brokerage firms who take a profit and limit the autonomy of owner-operators, and a lack of transparency in the rates of profit and driver payment in the industry.

One truck bore the slogans, “No more brokers, no more abuse” and “Say no to cheap freight.”

“We’ve just had enough. We feel like we should be compensated fairly for what we do,” they said Monday. “We want transparency from the brokers and a fair wage.”

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