Florida Legislature Archives - Florida Politics

Rick Scott appeals major marijuana ruling

Less than three hours before a 5 p.m. deadline, Gov. Rick Scott’s administration Friday filed a notice to appeal a Tallahassee judge’s order that struck down a 2017 medical marijuana law as unconstitutional.

The notice, filed at 2:36 p.m. Friday, came after Scott sought support from Republican legislators and the state’s marijuana operators to appeal Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson’s decision that the 2017 law ran afoul of a voter-approved constitutional amendment.

“The governor has directed the Department of Health to appeal this ruling after hearing from the Legislature, which is responsible for creating laws, not the judiciary,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said in an email Friday afternoon.

Most industry insiders had remained skeptical that Scott would allow the deadline to lapse without notifying the court he intended to appeal. But a delay by the Governor’s office in filing the notice sparked a frenzy of activity throughout the week.

The appeal comes amid a heated campaign in which Scott, a Republican finishing out his final few months as governor, is attempting to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Dodson had given state health officials until Friday to begin registering new medical-marijuana operators after deciding the law, passed during a special legislative session last year, failed to properly carry out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

The circuit judge found fault with parts of the law that, among other things, capped the number of marijuana licenses and created a “vertical integration” system that requires marijuana operators to grow, and process cannabis and distribute related products. Already-licensed operators worried that the ruling could create uncertainty in the fast-growing industry — while also allowing more companies to receive licenses.

Dodson’s decision came in a challenge filed by Tampa-based Florigrown LLC, which was denied a license by the state and is owned in part by strip-club owner Joe Redner.

Redner, who also got a victory against the state health department in a separate medical-marijuana case now under appeal, called Scott’s decision to appeal Friday “a travesty of justice.”

Numerous sources close to key legislators and the Scott administration told The News Service of Florida this week that the governor’s office requested that the House and Senate formally ask Scott to appeal the judge’s decision in the Florigrown case.

State lawmakers scurried to urge the governor to get Dodson’s decision reviewed by the 1st District Court of Appeal, a venue with a history of being friendlier than the circuit court toward the Scott administration and the Republican-dominated Legislature. Two of the state’s 14 licensed medical-marijuana operators also responded to support Scott in the appeal, as they sought to protect investments in an industry where licenses have been involved in transactions worth more than $60 million.

But those efforts, and Scott’s appeal, elicited Redner’s contempt.

“I believe the statute is unconstitutional, and all this does is keep free enterprise from operating in the state of Florida. It helps give cartels and monopolies the marijuana business. It’s a calculated plan. I believe also that the reason the governor waited so long in order to appeal was that they were shaking down the present holders of licenses for campaign contributions,” Redner said in a telephone interview.

Florigrown CEO Adam Eland said he wasn’t surprised by Scott’s appeal, “but it infuriates me.”

“Our position has always been that Gov. Scott and the Legislature created a cartel here in Florida rather than a medical marijuana program for the patients. This is what a cartel looks like,” Eland told The News Service of Florida.

Dodson’s Oct. 5 ruling scolded state officials for treating the Constitution “like a recommendation” and gave the Department of Health two weeks to register Florigrown and to begin registering other medical-marijuana operators, or risk being found in contempt.

The Scott administration has faced harsh criticism, including from state legislators, for the rollout of the medical-marijuana industry during the past few years. Much of the blame has been placed on the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, a division of the health department.

The push for outside support for an appeal was viewed by many insiders as an attempt by Scott’s advisers to mitigate further criticism for what could be construed as yet another delay in carrying out the 2016 constitutional amendment. Health officials have been accused of a wide range of lapses, such as protracted delays in licensing marijuana operators and months-long waiting periods for eligible patients to receive ID cards required for access to treatment.

More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved the medical marijuana amendment in 2016, and polls have demonstrated widespread and bipartisan support for medical marijuana among all demographics throughout the state.

Florigrown is one of several companies that have gone to administrative or circuit courts to try to get licenses.

But if Dodson’s order is allowed to stand, it “will cause great uncertainty for Florida’s medical marijuana program and potentially undermine the industry’s ability to provide access to safe and effective medical marijuana to qualifying patients,” Ryan LaRocca, vice-president of current operator Surterra Therapeutics, wrote to Office of Medical Marijuana Use Director Courtney Coppola.

Similarly, Knox Medical CEO Jose Hidalgo warned health officials that Dodson’s order not only could have a negative impact on the quality of products available to patients, but could also result in an unregulated market that could “result in an oversupply of this unregulated medication that will clearly outpace the needs and demands of the qualified patients in Florida.”

Ben Pollara, the chairman of a political committee behind the 2016 constitutional amendment, acknowledged that allowing Dodson’s ruling to stand would have thrown the state’s medical marijuana industry — and the nearly 200,000 patients it serves — “into chaos.”

“Despite running for the cover of the Legislature before filing, there was never any real question Rick Scott would file this appeal,” Pollara said in a text.

But the appeal “doesn’t change the fact that the next governor is going to have to address Dodson’s valid concerns, and clean up the mess that the Scott administration has made of Florida’s medical marijuana system,” he added.

How will Will Robinson or Tracy Pratt fund Florida Forever?

Both candidates running in Florida House District 71 say the state must properly fund Florida Forever, but would raid different programs to pay for it.

Democrat Tracy Pratt says private prisons should pay the price for preserving more land. Republican Will Robinson would gut Enterprise Florida to elevate the environment.

The topic came up at a Tiger Bay forum in Sarasota in Thursday, where the House candidates both stressed their environmental credentials.

“I’m not an election year environmentalists,” said Pratt. “If we can’t address our environmental problems we’re in some serious trouble.”

Robinson stressed a long commitment to the land as well, noting his family donated the property for the Robinson Preserve in Sarasota.

“I think that’s something that irritates voters a lot,” he said. “And I hear it on the campaign trail. We vote on stuff, and then you guys in Tallahasee or you girls in Tallahassee do different things.”

Both noted that when voters approved Amendment 1 by an overwhelming majority. Some 75 percent of voters statewide approved the measure in 2014. But lawmakers haven’t held to that. This year, the Legislature budgeted $101 million for Florida Forever, half what the Senate proposed. The year before, no money made the final cut.

But when Tiger Bay moderator Morgan Bentley asked the candidates how to pay for the program, the two offered different solutions.

Robinson said he sees funding that can be pulled from business incentive funding still.

“I’m not a big believer in turning over government handouts to companies,” he said.

Robinson expressed particular irritation that Florida funded incentives to lure Wawa gas stations here.

“Wawa is a great company, but it’s not fair we paid x millions of dollars for one to come down here and compete across the street from a Racetrac,” he said.

Pratt, a champion for criminal justice reform, said she sees savings in slashing the prison industrial complex.

“The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and Florida is in the top 10,” she said. “We incarcerate people at a higher rate to the tune of $20,000 per person per year.”

Meanwhile, she said, the state cuts opioid funding and leaves people with no support to cycle in and out of the system.

Rick Scott seeks backing on medical marijuana appeal

With a 5 p.m. Friday deadline looming, Gov. Rick Scott has sought support from legislative leaders before appealing a Tallahassee judge’s order that critics say would create pandemonium in the state’s medical-marijuana industry if allowed to stand.

Responding to Scott’s request, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, incoming Speaker Jose Oliva and other Republican House leaders on Wednesday urged the Governor to seek “immediate review by a higher court” of an order by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, who ruled this month that a 2017 medical marijuana law was unconstitutional.

The impending court deadline — and the Scott administration’s failure to file an appeal thus far — has sparked a buzz within the state’s lucrative and highly restricted medical-cannabis industry, where licenses have sold for upwards of $60 million in recent months.

Dodson gave state health officials until Friday to begin registering new medical-marijuana operators after deciding a state law, passed during a special legislative session last year, failed to properly carry out a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

Siding with Tampa-based Florigrown LLC, Dodson rebuked the Governor, the state Department of Health and the Republican-dominated Legislature for what he said was an unconstitutional law aimed at implementing the voter-approved ballot initiative.

Dodson’s harshly worded Oct. 5 order scolded state officials for treating the Constitution “like a recommendation” and gave the Department of Health two weeks to register Florigrown and to begin registering other medical-marijuana operators, or risk being found in contempt.

But, in Wednesday’s letter to Scott urging him to ask for a temporary injunction, House leaders wrote that Dodson’s order is “rife with substantive and procedural errors.”

Dodson’s order requiring health officials to move forward with new licenses “poses a serious risk of hardship to businesses that invest in the court’s temporary licensure scheme,” should his ruling be overturned, the House Republicans argued.

“The order also creates practical impossibilities and substantive dangers” by appearing to initiate “a different model regulatory system for which it has no rules, procedures, or infrastructure,” they wrote.

“Such an unpredictable regulatory environment is ripe for litigation, which will prevent, rather than ensure, access to this medical treatment,” the House Republicans said.

Industry insiders had expected Scott’s administration to appeal Dodson’s order as it has with nearly every other ruling it considered contrary to state policy, but politics may be playing a role in the delay.

Scott, a Republican who is finishing out the final months of his eight years as governor, is in a heated battle to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat who’s held his post for nearly two decades.

More than 71 percent of Florida voters approved the medical marijuana amendment in 2016, and polls have demonstrated widespread and bipartisan support for medical marijuana among all demographics throughout the state.

Numerous sources close to key legislators and the Scott administration told The News Service of Florida on Thursday that the Governor’s office requested that the House and Senate formally ask Scott to appeal the judge’s decision in the Florigrown case.

“Some people may call it ‘cover,’ but really what we have is we’re litigating an exceptionally complex and high-profile issue,” lawyer John Lockwood, who represents licensed medical- marijuana operators as well as those seeking entry into the state. “I don’t find it unusual that the administration may be looking to all the different stakeholders to seek feedback on the issue and the importance of the appeal.”

The Scott administration has faced harsh criticism, including from state legislators, for the roll-out of the medical-marijuana industry. Much of the blame has been placed on the Office of Medical Marijuana Use, a division of the health department.

Health officials have been accused of a wide range of lapses, such as protracted delays in licensing marijuana operators and months-long waiting periods for eligible patients to receive ID cards required for access to treatment.

Dodson found fault with parts of the 2017 law that, among other things, capped the number of marijuana licenses; created a “vertical integration” system that requires marijuana operators to grow, and process cannabis and distribute related products; and improperly restricted who could get licenses.

The law ordered health officials to grant licenses to operators who were already up and running in Florida or who were involved in litigation as of Jan. 1, 2017. The law also required a license for a black farmer who meets certain conditions and set aside a preference for applicants with certain ties to the citrus industry.

A spokesman for the health department said Wednesday agency officials are reviewing the judge’s ruling.

When asked whether the Governor has sought support from key lawmakers to boost support for an appeal, Scott spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said the health department “has worked nonstop to implement the law the Legislature wrote.”

“They are taking the appropriate time to review the best path forward,” she said in an email.

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who has been instrumental in medical-marijuana legislation, called Dodson’s ruling “classic judicial overreach.”

“The irony of the trial court’s decision is that, if it were to stand, it would negatively affect the suffering patients that the court purports to protect. Patient access and safety would be undermined if the decision were to stand. For the sake of the welfare of Florida patients, I certainly encourage the DOH to appeal,” Bradley, an attorney, said in a text message.

Dodson’s decision striking down the 2017 law could also negate regulations associated with carrying out the constitutional amendment and result in what some predict would leave the industry in turmoil.

“The trial court’s order requires the issuance of an unlimited number of separate, independent licenses to any entity that either buys, grows, processes, transports, sells or administers medical marijuana. Presumably, one of these license holders could open an unlimited number of locations, anywhere in Florida, and perform any or all of those functions at those locations. If the trial court order stands, it will be the wild, wild West,” Bradley told the News Service.

Medical marijuana lobbyists, lawyers, operators and others spent Tuesday and Wednesday calling and texting each other and Scott’s representatives as the clock wound down toward Friday’s deadline.

But some of the Governor’s harshest critics questioned whether the crisis was genuine.

“This whole thing just frankly seems so silly. The notion that the Governor would treat this lawsuit differently than he has every other one on appeal is just ludicrous,” said Ben Pollara, the campaign manager of the political committee behind the 2016 constitutional amendment.

“It looks like he is just either seeking some political cover for a decision he’s already made, because it’s the same decision he’s made in every other circumstance in the past. Or he’s setting up a shake down of the MMTCs (medical marijuana treatment centers) for his super PAC. Or it’s both,” Pollara told the News Service.

Lawmakers wait to see if storm action is needed

Roads are out. Some schools are rubble. Housing needs are growing.

The next leaders of the Florida Legislature say they’re ready to assist Gov. Rick Scott or state agencies in the recovery from devastating Hurricane Michael. They just need to be asked.

“If the governor identifies an unmet need that requires swift legislative action, we will certainly work with him to address it,” incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said Monday.

But Galvano and incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, are not expecting such action until more is known about the impacts of the storm, which came ashore Wednesday near Panama City with 155 mph sustained winds. Michael plunged more than 400,000 utility customers into the dark and leveled homes and businesses in a deadly path that cut north across rural Panhandle communities into Southwest Georgia.

“In the here and now, if the governor or any agency needs resources or assistance for issues created by Hurricane Michael, the Florida House stands ready to help,” Oliva said.

State lawmakers are set to return to Tallahassee shortly after the Nov. 6 election for an organizational session that includes seating new members and formally making Oliva and Galvano the leaders of their respective chambers.

The 2019 Legislative Session will start in March. But lawmakers can take actions in the interim by holding special sessions or convening the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which is made up of House and Senate members and can shift money to address needs.

Galvano noted that lawmakers from the hurricane-impacted areas have been working with Scott, Cabinet members and state agencies, while Senate staff members in Tallahassee has been coordinating with district offices to ensure the continuation of constituent services.

Also, Galvano said state budget reserves are available for Scott to direct toward the storm response.

“The governor has broad executive authority to utilize those reserves to allocate state resources needed to further a comprehensive response in the immediate aftermath of the storm,” Galvano said.

In waiting, Oliva said he would also like to see if measures crafted by the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness after last year’s Hurricane Irma had any effect.

“It is my hope that many of those recommendations became a reality, but we will likely assess what went wrong and what went right after we all work to help our fellow Floridians put their lives back together,” Oliva said.

Many of the post-Irma proposals were designed to address issues in the agriculture industry and more densely populated portions of the state, where major highways that serve as arteries for food, water and fuel also are primary evacuation routes.

Money was set aside for a variety of purposes, such as $15 million for affordable housing in the Irma-battered Keys and $11.2 million for beach restoration.

Lawmakers also approved, as part of a wider tax-relief package, a property-tax break for homeowners displaced by Irma. In addition, they approved tax breaks on fuel used to transport agricultural products after the storm; on agricultural fencing materials purchased for repairs after the storm; and for citrus packing houses that had their businesses interrupted by Irma or by the deadly disease citrus greening.

Despite the changes, other storm-related proposals — such as taking steps to strengthen the electric grid, create a strategic fuel-reserve task force, and use rail-tank cars to bring fuel into evacuation areas to avoid a repeat of runs on gas stations — failed to advance during this year’s Legislative Session.

Rep. Jeanette Nunez, a Miami Republican who chaired the select committee and is now the running mate of GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, said after the 2018 Session that she hoped lawmakers would try to tackle some of the recommendations that failed to advance rather than grow complacent.

Kathleen Peters endorses Ray Blacklidge as her successor

State Rep. Kathleen Peters is endorsing Ray Blacklidge as her successor in House District 69, Blacklidge announced Monday.

Peters and Blacklidge are both Republicans. Blacklidge is running against Democrat Jennifer Webb for the seat covering west St. Petersburg and parts of mid-west Pinellas County.

Peters is not seeking re-election because she’s running for Pinellas County Commission to replace the late John Morroni who lost a long battle with cancer earlier this year.

“Ray Blacklidge is a solid leader I’m proud to endorse,” said Peters. “His background in the private sector and strong history of service to our community make him perfectly poised to be an effective voice for Pinellas County in Tallahassee. I am confident that he will serve us well, carry on my political agenda, and I urge all District 69 voters to support him.”

Blacklidge is an insurance industry executive and attorney who is running on a conservative platform that aligns with much of what Peters championed in her six years serving in the Florida Legislature.

Peters pushed a pro-business agenda in the house and supported school choice programs in K-12 education — both platforms Blacklidge supports.

However, Peters also brought some bipartisan priorities to the House including her stalwart efforts to increase mental health access to residents. Blacklidge says he supports mental health reform, particularly as it related to school safety.

During a recent campaign forum, Blacklidge said the answer to thwarting rampant school shootings was to increase mental health access, not by increasing gun regulation.

“I’m honored to have Representative Peters’s support,” Blacklidge said. “She has been an effective legislator for our area, and I look forward to continuing to work with her to provide our communities with effective and responsive representation.”

Peters’ district is a mostly even split between Democrats and Republicans. Republicans make up 36 percent of the district while Democrats account for 35 percent. Independents and other minor parties account for 29 percent of the district.

The district voted plus-3 for Donald Trump in 2016.

A recent poll has Webb leading Blacklidge by 15 points.

Meet Debra Kaplan, Democrat running for House District 31

Just like in 2016, we’re again asking every candidate, including incumbents, to complete a questionnaire we believe offers an interesting, albeit, thumbnail sketch of who they are and why they are running. 

If you are a candidate and would like to complete the questionnaire, email Peter@FloridaPolitics.com.

Significant other? Kids?

Two dogs.

Education background? Professional background?

AA Mass Media Becker College 1972, 27 years as journalist at The Hartford Courant (Litchfield reporter); WOTW AM/FM covered 1976 Presidential Primary and sold advertising; reporter for Thomson Newspaper Chain in the Lower Naugatuck Valley in CT covering politics, city and regional governments, politics and homicide and police/courts; created entertainment and business sections for now-defunct Ansonia Evening Sentinel.

Reporter in Florida at now-defunct Sun Newspaper Group in Orlando and the Apopka Chief and Planter.

National bylines exclusives on Ronald Reagan presidential run in 1980, Abbie Hoffman interview after prison release for cocaine conviction and several feature pieces on Hot Air Ballooning, a Day in the life of a circus clown and awards for series on living with cancer; series on domestic violence and a series on AIDS.

Won Florida Newspaper Association sports reporting on a wheelchair athlete from Apopka and Best Series on Middle-Class People living without health insurance and using community health centers for care from the National Community Health Associations of America for best medical series from a small newspaper while at the Apopka Chief.

Wrote freelance pieces for the Amerasia News, Heritage Community News and other weeklies.

Worked in public relations and promotions doing movie product placement and tie-in events for Subway sandwiches for Lethal Weapon 2 and Bull Durham. Oversaw national tie-ins and events with the March Of Dimes, American Cancer Society and other groups.

Worked in promotions for the Villages including the opening events for the Rialto Movie Theater, the Senior Professional Bowling Association competition on CBS at the Community’s bowling center, events at Katie Belle’s and the Senior Mrs. America competition in the Villages.

Worked as a Senior Business Development Agent for the former HIG, PRC and now Alorica winning qualified business opportunities for high-tech and financial clients.

What was your first job?

Picking tobacco in Connecticut when I was 14. Worked that as a summer job over two summers. Also worked as a newspaper stringer for the Waterbury Republican when I was 16 as a summer job.

In 25 words or less, why are you running for office?

I believe the working people in this district have not been well represented. I feel public education has not gotten the financial support it deserves.

Did you speak with anybody in your political party before deciding on running? Receive any encouragement? From whom?

I spoke to many people in leadership including Nancy Hurlburt, Lake DEC chair and Jane Hepting, candidate development chair.

Who do you count on for advice?

My steering committee.

Who is your political consultant? Campaign manager?

None.

Who was the first person to contribute to your campaign? Why did they donate?

Connie Albright, She believes in my candidacy and she feels I would better serve our district.

Who, if anyone, inspires you in state government?

Anyone willing to work for the betterment of all citizens, not just their donors.

Why do people mistrust elected officials and what are you going to do about it?

Big donations from Big Sugar, Koch Brothers, and other special interests that get all of the attention and the ear of elected officials like the incumbent.

I believe that we must be open and accessible as well as accountable to the residents of this district, as well as speak to our mayors and chiefs of police and school officials. I have signed pledges I will not take money from the big donors.

What are 3 issues that you’re running on? (You’re not allowed to say education or “improving the schools”)

Bringing common sense to Tallahassee and working for the betterment of all citizens including protecting our water and acquirers from pollution, septic system leakage and fertilizer runoff; common sense educational funding by sunsetting programs which are not working and using those funds for public education and expanding vocational education; common sense gun laws which protect the second amendment but closes the gun show loophole.

We must keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have one. If you can pass a background check and take a course on safe gun handling you should be able to get a concealed weapon carry permit.

What is a “disruptive” issue (i.e., ride-sharing) you are interested in?

Do more to end the school to jail pipeline and juvenile justice reform.

What does your legislative district need from Tallahassee?

More access to their state Representative and a commitment to listen to voters no matter who they are because our job is to listen and act in the best interests of all.

Who was the best governor in Florida’s modern history?

Lawton Chiles

If you could amend the Florida Constitution, what would you change?

The process of deciding what amendments are included. Stop bundling disparate concepts because it is confusing to voters.

Are yard signs an important part of campaigning in your district?

Yes and no. A lot of Homeowners Associations prohibit them. I prefer billboards.

What’s the first thing you read each morning?

My emails.

Where do you get your political news?

Online, newspapers NPR.

Who do you think will be the next President of the United States?

I do not know. I am more concerned about this year and state races.

60 Minutes or House of Cards?

60 minutes

Social media presence? Twitter handle?

Facebook and @writer61752 on Twitter.

In 140 characters, what’s a Tweet that best describes your campaign message?

Common sense Kaplan bringing common sense back to Tallahassee.

Hobbies?

My dogs, Pinterest, writing, exercising, going to Broadway touring shows and rock concerts.

Favorite sport and sports team?

Football and basketball. Follow the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars. Follow LeBron James.

Meet Tracye Polson, Democrat running for Florida House District 15

Just like in 2016, we’re again asking every candidate, including incumbents, to complete a questionnaire we believe offers an interesting, albeit, thumbnail sketch of who they are and why they are running. If you are a candidate and would like to complete the questionnaire, email Peter@FloridaPolitics.com.

Significant other? Kids?

My husband and I have five adult children – three from his first marriage and two from mine. Our kids work in a range of fields: science, law, business, public policy and social work. Of course, I think they are the most intelligent, hardest working young people I know. As the mom and step-mom of them, who range 24 to 33 years of age, I don’t relate personally to disparaging comments about millennials because I’ve met so many of their friends and those other young people, too, give me hope for our future.

Education background? Professional background?

I was the first in my family to graduate from college – my parents did not – and I did so at the age of 31 while working full-time, already a mom to my 7-year old daughter and four months pregnant with my son. One of the reasons I don’t like the message “not everyone wants or needs to go to college” is it misses the more important point of assuring the opportunity to attend college for those who want to, even if they come from a background of financial hardship. I’m a champion for personal choice, setting one’s own direction. Every person should have an opportunity to build their career, in college, trade school, the military, or elsewhere that their interest and ability takes them. Let’s promote a love of learning, valuing of hard work, and support of options that lets each person pursue a path to financial security and meaning that they themselves choose – that options aren’t limited severely by the family into which one is born or their home’s zip code.

I have a master’s degree in Social Work and a Ph.D. in Clinical Social Work. I defended my doctoral dissertation on high-conflict divorce and its potentially corrosive effect on children while undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer and was the class speaker at graduation in 2014.

What was your first job?

I was 15 when I went to work as a sales associate for a small, family-owned woman’s clothing shop. I loved working for this entrepreneurial and civic-minded family and am still friends with them today. I learned about my personal responsibility at work, business, sales, and more in that job. It was a great experience that I’m fortunate and grateful to have.

In 25 words or less why are you running for office?

I was moved by women in Jacksonville, alarmed by President Donald Trump’s behavior toward women. I felt the need to step forward and serve.

Did you speak with anybody in your political party before deciding on running? Receive any encouragement? From whom?

I spoke with many people, across party lines, before filing including Democrats Senator Audrey Gibson, former candidate Lisa King and former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg as well as Republicans such as Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Brosche and former mayoral candidate Audrey Moran, to name just a few.

Who do you count on for advice?

I have a wide range of friends and family, from different backgrounds including business, the military, and education that provide me advice, perspective, and support. They are people active in both parties and not at all political as well. One cannot have too many good friends, and it’s best when they have different perspectives, as many of us now are subject to hearing over and over the thoughts of those encased in their own ‘bubbles’ or narrow points of view.

Who is your political consultant? Campaign manager?

Scott Arceneaux is my political consultant and my campaign manager is Haleigh Hutchison, Councilman Tommy Hazouri’s former executive assistant. I really like my team; they are experienced locally and statewide, and deeply ethical. As a first-time candidate, immersed before filing in the running of my own small business, I wanted thoughtful assistance. That’s the process I’ll use as a legislator – one similar to my response to this and the previous question – listening to a wide range of knowledgeable input.

Who was the first person to contribute to your campaign? Why did they donate?

Patty Forbes. She worked most of her career as a lawyer and small business program manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration in D.C. and later as Staff Director and Chief Counsel for the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. During her career, she developed and refined many Federal small business programs aimed at providing access to capital and business education to new or growing small business owners. One of her proudest accomplishments was the enactment of the Small Business Administration’s Microloan Program which has provided small loans to budding entrepreneurs for more than 25 years. After her retirement in 2014, she taught low-income children in the Virginia public schools.   

Patty has known me for decades and knows I am ethical, caring, hard-working, a good listener and a fighter for what is right and if elected, she knows I will do everything I can to address the real needs of ALL of the people in District 15.

Who, if anyone, inspires you in state government?

Senator Audrey Gibson and Representative Tracie Davis. They are two strong, approachable, and effective legislators who care about their constituents and Jacksonville. I can’t wait to work with them in Tallahassee.

Why do people mistrust elected officials and what are you going to do about it?

I think many people see elected officials as unapproachable or distant, non-transparent or opaque. As a professional working in the field of human behavior, I know definitively that we are all human, unique, fallible and, yet, redeemable. Some officeholders become swayed by power, money, and fame; their identity becomes fused with ‘a role’ versus seeing themselves as simply ‘a person’. I am fully aware that I’m just a person, with my own unique abilities and needs and aspirations for our community common to many. My many roles in life include being a mom, mental health professional, a business owner, wife, daughter, and now candidate. Each of these roles is a part of my overall identity, which remains essentially unchanged by the political process. During my campaign I have been very approachable, and I’ll remain so. I sit with anyone willing to have a conversation about the needs of our community. I will bring that openness and availability to Tallahassee as the next State Representative in District 15.

What are the three issues that you’re running on? (You’re not allowed to say education or “improving the schools”)

I’m reluctant to not mention as one of my top three issues – education – as voters in House District 15 have told me over and over that (a) it is the issue that matters most to most, though not all, people and (b) they want addressed Florida’s school and student performance, which has fallen far behind many states.

My work’s focus has been on families for as long as I can remember. I’m deeply engaged in why some families struggle to get by financially, why some families are devastated by domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and why other families seem more caring, stable and successful. From this focus on families it’s clear that nearly every issue our community struggles to improve requires support of the family, including these issues important to me as House District 15’s Representative: 1. high-quality and affordable health care, the absence of which can devastate families financially; 2. public safety, crime prevention and its clear connection to drug abuse and, more generally, mental health; and 3. improved public education and its undeniable linkage to good, well-paying jobs.

What is a disruptive issue you are interested in?

In the state of Florida, it is unambiguously apparent, by the science and what’s happening in our repeatedly flooding streets that rising water levels and climate change rise is a “disruptive” issue. We cannot afford to continue to ignore the need for a comprehensive plan to address the infrastructure improvements needed to address this; the potential effects if unaddressed are too severe, financially and environmentally. Furthermore, there is great economic opportunity in Florida and Jacksonville becoming a leader in “green” and sustainable environment industries.

What does your legislative district need from Tallahassee?

A representative that will fight for every person and family in Jacksonville, no matter of party affiliation, economic condition, age, gender, race, sexual orientation or background. I believe most of us want similar things – to feel safe in our homes and communities, a good job paying a wage from which a person can support oneself, opportunities for advancement for those who strive, to raise our children with excellent public schools nearby, to be able to go to a doctor and get medical treatment without the fear of bankruptcy or losing one’s home.

Who was the best governor in Florida’s modern history?

Reubin Askew. He was an early champion of civil rights and was instrumental in helping move Florida in the right direction during the 1960’s and 70’s. He was known for his honesty and integrity and ushered in an era of transparency and good government that we still benefit from in the form of our Sunshine laws and an independent judiciary. We could all learn from his example.

Are yard signs an important part of campaigning in your district?

For me they’re a fun part of campaigning; I enjoy talking with voters as they let me place a sign in their yard. One morning while I was out canvassing my campaign manager messaged me saying: a person had seen my yard sign, ‘googled’ me to learn more about who I am, then called our office to ask for a sign, and had just made a very generous donation to the campaign. All without having met me in person yet. After I finished canvassing I delivered a sign to them and we spent some time discussing issues that matter most to them.

What’s the first thing you read each morning?

I reach for my phone first thing each morning to make sure none of my patients or family members are in crisis, then I read my email where there are links to articles in the Florida Times Union, Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times and other news sources.

Where do you get your political news?

The local and state newspapers I mentioned above and Florida Politics, public radio (WJCT here in Jacksonville), and other sources such as national newspapers and reliable websites.

Social media presence? Twitter handle?

Yes, my campaign can be found online at www.polsonforjacksonville.com, on Facebook and Instagram at “Polson For Jacksonville,” and on Twitter @PolsonForJax.

In 280 characters, what’s a tweet that best describes your campaign message?

I’m a mental health professional, small business owner, cancer survivor and an Army veteran’s daughter. I’ve spent my life studying why some families thrive and others struggle to survive. I will bring my professional expertise to Tallahassee and fight every day for working families in Jacksonville.

Hobbies?

Between my business and the campaign, I do not have as much time for hobbies now, but I enjoy biking for fitness, working out with a helpful local trainer, reading clinical journals to stay up with best practices in my field, traveling to interesting places with our kids, and going to dinner out at some of my favorite spots in Jacksonville.

Favorite sport and sports team?

I love watching college football and basketball. I became a Gator fan when my daughter attended UF during the era of Chris Leak, Tim Tebow, Al Horford and Joakim Noah. I’d never been to games where there was so much enthusiasm – and orange and blue. I also enjoy attending The Players Championship every year. And, of course, go Jags.

Janet Cruz TV ad

Bob Buckhorn stars in Janet Cruz TV ad

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is the center of the latest Janet Cruz television ad that will be featured on broadcast and cable channels throughout the coming weeks.

The ad launched Tuesday. It shows the two-term mayor in black and white, standing in a bare room.

My friend Janet Cruz embodies what it means to be a Tampanian. And as a daughter of immigrants, she has spent every day enhancing their legacy,” Buckhorn says.

The 30-second spot goes on to describe a candidate who “will make sure our public schools are fully-funded, and without mold and crumbling infrastructure.”

The Cruz campaign claims her opponent, incumbent Republican Dana Young, voted on or otherwise supported $1.3 billion in cuts to public education throughout her tenure in the legislature.

Young is running to keep her Senate District 18 seat. She previously served two terms in the Florida House.

The Young campaign rejects Cruz’s consistent attacks on her voting record as it relates to public education. Young defends her record supporting school choice, like voucher programs and charter schools.

Democrats like Cruz argue those programs siphon money out of traditional schools, and amount to cuts to public education.

Voucher programs use tax credits to fund scholarships to private schools for low-income students who can’t get into quality public schools. Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately operated.

“This election gives Hillsborough families the opportunity to right so many wrongs caused by Young’s reckless votes and once again put our community ahead of the special interests and well-connected insiders,” Cruz said.

Buckhorn’s mention of mold in schools is a nod to Plant High School, where the aging building’s air conditioning is not properly functioning and has resulted in mold.

The Hillsborough County School District recently approved a one-half percent sales tax referendum for the November ballot to fund repairs like those necessary at Plant High.

The Cruz and Young matchup is one of the most hotly contested in the state. Recent polls have the two in a neck and neck battle for the Senate District 18 race in Tampa.

Cruz currently represents House District 62 seat in Tampa. Former Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes will replace Cruz in that seat.

Valdes defeated Mike Alvarez in the Democratic primary in August. There were no Republican challengers in that race for the heavily Democratic and Hispanic district covering west Tampa.

Chamber poll: Amendments 1, 2 on track to pass; 5 coming up short

A new Florida Chamber of Commerce poll obtained by Florida Politics shows voters favor three constitutional amendments that reduce taxes or make it harder to increase them. But only one of those amendments, Amendment 1, polls at the required level for passage.

A majority of voters favor passage of Amendment 1, a near-majority support Amendment 2, and a solid plurality support Amendment 5, according to the poll. All three of those amendments, which appear on ballots statewide on Nov. 6, relate to taxation.

About 60 percent of voters polled plan to vote ‘Yes’ and support Amendment 1, which if passed will bring the maximum homestead exemption in the state from $50,000 to $75,000 on homes assessed at more than $100,000. The poll shows 27 percent will vote ‘No’ and 12 percent remain unsure.

But even if all undecided voters end up voting against the amendment, it still would meet the 60-percent threshold required for passage.

Amendment 2, which would make permanent a tax cap on annual assessments for non-homesteaded properties (excluding school taxes), has the support of 50 percent of voters surveyed, while another 25 percent plan to vote against the measure and 24 percent remain unsure.

That likely puts the measure on the road to passage—winning 2-to-1 passes the 60-percent mark easily.

But the measure will need 60 percent of voters who weigh in on the question to support the measure, so if voters break against the amendment, passage could turn dicey.

A plurality of voters also supports Amendment 5, which would require a two-thirds vote of the Florida Legislature to enact or increase taxes and fees. The poll shows 45 percent of voters will vote “Yes,” with 36 percent voting “No.” Another 18 percent remain undecided.

That means of those who have an opinion on the measure, just 56 percent favor the amendment, short of the amount of votes required to make it part of the Florida Constitution.

In order for the measure to pass, that means undecided voters need to break decidedly in favor of the change.

The Florida Chamber Poll was conducted Sept. 19-24 and received responses from 622 voters, 41.5 percent of whom were registered Democrats, 40.5 percent were Republicans and 18 percent did not belong to one of the major parties. The poll has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

Tallahassee who’s-who on Rachel Perrin Rogers’ witness list in Florida Legislature suit

Rachel Perrin Rogers is seeking court testimony from a who’s-who list of Tallahassee powers and insiders in her lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation against her from the Florida Legislature regarding the sexual harassment claims she raised last fall against former state Sen. Jack Latvala.

Perrin Rogers, who is pursuing a lawsuit case through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, informed an administrative law judge Tuesday that the witnesses she intends to call include Latvala, outgoing Senate President Joe Negron, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, other lawmakers, as well as Florida Legislature staff, lawyers, lobbyists and others including Florida Politics Publisher Peter Schorsch.

Her witness list was first reported Wednesday by Politico Florida.

Perrin Rogers, chief legislative aide for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, alleged late last fall that the once-powerful Senate Budget Committee chair and Republican gubernatorial candidate from Clearwater, Latvala, had repeatedly groped her and made unwelcome comments about her body over a period of four years. A legislative investigation of allegations against Latvala led to a special master’s report finding probable cause to support allegations. Latvala resigned Dec. 19. A separate criminal probe ended in July without any charges being brought.

Perrin Rogers filed a complaint with the EEOC, against the Florida Legislature, alleging she was the victim of discrimination and retaliation after she came forward with her accusations against Latvala. Her case was assigned to EEOC Administrative Law Judge Alexander Fernandez.

The witness list Perrin Rogers’ attorney Tiffany Cruz  filed with Fernandez on Tuesday included Bondi; Latvala; Negron; Simpson; Schorsch; Negron’s Chief of Staff Cheri Vancura; Florida Senate Legal Counsel George Meros; Jean Seawright; former Judge Ronald Swanson, who was the Special Master; state Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Lauren Book; Caitlin Murray; Nancy Black-Stewart; and Florida Senate Sergeant At Arms Tim Hay.

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