Florida Senate Archives - Florida Politics

David Simmons selected Senate President Pro Tempore

State Sen. David Simmons is primed to be the upper chamber’s second-in-command during the 2019 and 2020 Legislative Sessions.

Senate President-elect Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, on Wednesday announced his selection of the Longwood Republican to fill the role.

The Senate is expected to approve Simmons’ appointment on Tuesday, when the chamber meets for Organizational Session.

Simmons is a longtime state lawmaker, having served an eight-year stint in the state House before being elected to the Senate in 2010. During his first term in the Senate, Simmons served as Majority Whip, another leadership role.

The Pro Tempore “is responsible for ensuring we abide by the letter and spirit of the Senate Rules to ensure all Senators have the opportunity to advocate for their constituents,” Galvano wrote in a memo announcing the selection to his chamber colleagues.

“We share a love of history and an appreciation for the rules and procedures that govern the legislative process,” Galvano continued, noting Simmons previously chaired the Senate Rules Committee. “As President Pro Tempore he will ensure we maintain the high standards of fair and open civil discourse expected of the Florida Senate.”

Simmons has been a “reliable partner” in working through difficult policy issues presented to lawmakers, added Galvano.

“We have all seen David’s unmatched work ethic and tireless determination to fiercely advocate for the issues and causes he supports,” said Galvano. “However, those of us who have served with David in both the House and the Senate have also witnessed the countless occasions where he demonstrates the same tenacity and dedication when speaking up for his fellow Representatives or Senators if he feels that a colleague has been treated unfairly.”

Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva announced his leadership team last week, along with committee assignments.

After contentious election, Ed Hooper lays out Senate priorities

Newly-elected state Sen. Ed Hooper has a lot of plans for his term in office, but the first order of business is finding an office.

While hunting for real estate is a necessary first detail, the Pinellas Republican is still laying the groundwork to implement some of his priorities.

The former state Representative bested Democrat Amanda Murphy Tuesday.

He’s planning his first trip to Tallahassee Saturday to meet with staff and elected officials about some bills he either wants to support or file during the next Legislative Session.

One of the Republican’s top priorities is reducing distracted driving. There have been several efforts in recent years to make texting while driving a ticketable offense.

The Legislature approved making distracted driving a secondary offense in 2013. That means law enforcement officers can cite drivers for texting while driving if they’re pulled over for another infraction like speeding or running a red light, but those officers couldn’t pull a driver over based on the distracted driving alone.

Hooper also wants to focus on education improvements including increasing funding for public education. In a detraction from some in his party, Hooper doesn’t agree that charter schools, which are often run by for-profit entities, should share half of the public school funding for school maintenance. Charter schools educate just 10 percent of Florida’s public school students.

He does support maintaining Florida’s tax credit scholarship. That programs allows businesses and individuals to deduct money from their taxes for making contributions into a fund that provides scholarships for low-income students to attend private school.

“It’s for an under-served population,” Hooper said. “I know it’s not popular for some. I would hate it if it was giving rich kids scholarships, but it’s not.”

Hooper also said he wants to crackdown on fraudulent and rampant assignment of benefit claims in the insurance industry and reduce the cost of flood insurance for property owners.

He has a local project in mind, too. Hooper wants to work with lawmakers to fund improvements to U.S. 19 from north Pinellas County into Pasco.

“A lot depends on committee assignments,” Hooper said. “I’m hoping to get a transportation assignment. If I’m lucky, I won’t get on any health care committees. That’s the one that can never get funding.”

Hooper said he’s also prepared to work across the aisle in the Republican-led Senate and pointed to several examples during his tenure in the Florida House of Representatives in which he broke with his own party.

That includes a bill that was ultimately passed allowing pharmacists to give patients injections and offshore drilling, among others. Those issues gained wide support from Republicans.

“It’s a lot easier to do that in the Senate than the House,” Hooper said. “It’s much easier to have independence when you’ve got a body of 40 instead of 120.”

Janet Cruz lead over Dana Young grows, but recount still imminent

Janet Cruz’s lead over Dana Young in their Florida Senate District 18 race grew to 355 overnight after the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Canvassing Board began counting provisional ballots and uncounted vote-by-mail ballots.

Cruz’s lead had been just shy of 300. The outgoing House Democratic Leader had challenged Young, a Republican, for the state Senate seat she’s held only since 2016. 

Young’s photograph and personal information already has been removed from the Florida Senate’s website, with a label for SD 18 that says “Pending General Election Result.”

Florida law requires a machine recount for races with margins of 0.5 percent or less, and manual recounts for races separated by 0.25 percent or less.

A recount by hand would only inspect ballots with undervotes, no preference marked, and overvotes, more than one preference marked, for the race in question. 

The current margin is 0.18 percent.

That gap could widen later Friday after the canvassing board meets again to count another 850 ballots. If all of those went for Cruz, which is almost impossible, it would put the race out of automatic recount range.

More than likely, the updated counts won’t change the recount. Here’s why: Many of the votes will be rejected, for a variety of reasons, and some likely will have voted for Young.

Of the 653 ballots reviewed Thursday night, 369 (57 percent) were accepted. Of those, just over 60 added to Cruz’s lead – just 10 percent of all the ballots counted.

If that math holds, Cruz is looking to gain about 85 votes in the next round of counting, which would put her lead at 0.2 percent, still within manual recount range.

All Supervisor of Elections offices must turn in their first set of unofficial election results to the Department of State by Saturday. After that, the department will either certify results, or in races with extremely close counts, order recounts.

That’s expected to be the case in the Cruz-Young race. If ordered, Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer will begin a recount Sunday morning.

Despite the looming recount, Cruz has already declared victory in the race. Young has not conceded.

The local elections office accepted 118 early voting provisional ballots Thursday; 76 were rejected. Of those rejected, 42 were because the voter was not registered and 22 had registered after the deadline to vote in this election.

All 248 Election Day provisional ballots were accepted including 144 from voters who simply forgot to bring their ID to their polling place.

Recount? Janet Cruz vs. Dana Young race in SD 18 still too close to call

GOP state Sen. Dana Young‘s future in the Florida Senate is still uncertain after a nail-biter race against Democratic state Rep. Janet Cruz.

With nearly 200,000 votes cast in the Senate District 18 contest, the two were separated by 289 votes late Tuesday, with Cruz holding a slender advantage. If that margin holds, it would trigger an automatic recount. 

The Tampa Bay Times reported that the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office said about 5,000 late countywide mail ballots and about 760 provisional ballots still needed to be counted.

Both parties made the Senate District 18 race one of their top legislative priorities in Tuesday’s elections.

The race also was one of the most vituperative in the Tampa Bay area, with a barrage of negative campaigning flooding mailboxes, airwaves and social media.

It started with news that Cruz, the outgoing House Democratic Leader, had failed to pay property taxes on a home she owns her her current House District 62. Cruz claimed homestead exemption on both that property and one her husband owns outside the district.

Cruz immediately remedied the taxes she owed and paid it back in full, plus interest. She said it was an oversight, but the Young campaign capitalized on the blunder and continuously used it in ads against her.

Later, Cruz critics speculated whether she was carpetbagging. She rents a home inside the district, but her husband’s home, where several documents list her as a resident, is outside its bounds.

Questioned about the discrepancy, Cruz provided proof of rent payments. That led to yet another complaint that she did not disclose that rent as a liability on her public financial disclosures as House rules require.

The Cruz campaign, limping from the onslaught of negative headlines, fired back with allegations that Young was using her position in the Florida Senate, and previously the House, to benefit financially.

Young has over the years filed several bills benefitting the craft beer industry. Her husband owns a beer bottling and equipment manufacturing business; the Cruz campaign said he had financial interests in legislation his wife sponsored or supported.

Another note: Young’s reported net worth has nearly tripled since she took office in 2010. 

Manny Diaz takes SD 36 over David Perez

State Rep. Manny Diaz is moving to the Senate, after defeating his Democratic opponent, David Perez.

Diaz defeated Perez 54 percent to 46 percent.

Diaz, who served as the state Rep. in House District 103, was a strong fundraiser as the contest neared its end.

But Perez, who worked as chief of staff for former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, held his own throughout the general in terms of money raised.

Both candidates also earned their fair share of outside support from various interest groups.

Perez earned the right to face Diaz after defeating Julian Santos in the Democratic primary. Diaz ran unopposed on the Republican side.

And a poll about a month before the election showed Perez had a shot. The Public Policy Polling survey gave Perez a 41 percent to 38 percent lead over Diaz. But that appears to have overestimated Perez’ chances in the race.

The two candidates were running to replace GOP state Sen. Rene Garcia, who was term-limited.

The district mostly covers an inland portion of northern Miami-Dade County including Miami Lakes, Hialeah, and Miami Springs.

Amendment 5

Supermajority tax amendment approved by supermajority of voters

A ballot measure that requires a two-thirds vote by the state Legislature for any future tax increases was approved by Florida voters Tuesday.

Amendment 5 was up 66 percent-34 percent as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. Constitutional amendments need no less than 60 percent of the vote to pass.

Also known as the “Supermajority Vote Required to Impose, Authorize, or Raise State Taxes or Fees” amendment, it’s one of a dozen amendments on the statewide General Election ballot. It, along with a pair of property tax proposals, was placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature.

Five days out from Election Day, voters were teetering between enshrining the amendment in the state’s governing document and telling state lawmakers to kick rocks with 47 percent in favor and 34 percent opposed.

In the end, quite a few more than the 19 percent of voters who said they were undecided last week ended up breaking toward “yes.”

Specifically, Amendment 5 requires two-thirds of both legislative chambers — that is, 80 members of the House and 27 members of the Senate — to approve any new taxes or fees or to increase existing ones.

Critics railed against the proposal, saying it would make it far more difficult to pass such measures at the state level.

If the Legislature’s hands were tied by a future economic crisis, such as the Great Recession that dominated the end of the Charlie Crist era and the first act of Rick Scott’s tenure in Tallahassee, the anti-A5 crowd crowed that state lawmakers’ efforts to keep the books in the black could be derailed by a handful of elected officials in the “taxed enough already” troupe.

Unlike the two property tax measures green-lit for the 2018 ballot, however, Amendment 5 will not impact tax and fee collections by county and municipal governments.

Political committee Floridians for Tax Fairness spent $1.7 million this election cycle fighting Amendment 5 and Amendment 1, a measure which would have upped homestead exemptions by another $25,000. In the end, the Joseph Pennisi-chaired committee went one for two on Election Day.

The amendment goes into effect Jan. 8.

Ed Hooper puts breaks on ‘blue wave’ in Amanda Murphy upset

Former State Representative Ed Hooper narrowly beat Amanda Murphy in an upset for the “blue wave” Democrats were hoping for.

Hooper won 52 to 48 percent in the race for Senate District 16.

Murphy issued a statement concession statement about an hour after the polls closed Tuesday evening.

“I want to thank our incredible team for their hard work and dedication throughout this campaign,” she said. “Our message was always that we can accomplish so much more when we work together than when we lean into those things which divide us. While tonight’s results are obviously disappointing, I am grateful for the opportunity I have had to speak with so many incredible people over the last year. I wish Ed Hooper the best as our next State Senator.”

The Clearwater swing district leans conservative, but it’s a narrow gap between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate while Democrats account for about a third. The district went plus-12 for Trump in 2016.

The heated race saw outside spending pouring in from both Democratic and conservative groups.

Groups supporting Hooper blasted voters with negative ads in television, digital and mail ads. The attacks mirrored those against other Democrats, seeking to tie Murphy to what they describe as “radical socialist” ideas and politicians including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Gillum.

One direct mail piece showed an image of a little girl crying saying Murphy “behaves like a spoiled child” next to it and on the back that she “throws a fit when she doesn’t get her way.”

Some saw the attack as sexist. Voters are typically turned off from negative campaigning and, particularly in the age of the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements, which Democrats hoped would drive more women and younger voters to the polls to upset Hooper.

Turnout demographic analysis in the coming days will reveal whether that was the case.

The Senate seat was previously occupied by longtime politician Jack Latvala who resigned earlier this year amid allegations of sexual abuse. That could have been another kick to Hooper’s chances of winning as voters, particularly younger voters, sought to put more female representation into political offices.

Hooper outspent Murphy by more than double, giving him powerful buying power in one of Florida’s closest races. Hooper brought in well over $1 million in the race, campaign finance records show.

Hooper formerly served in the Florida House of Representatives. His victory comes after being bested by Pat Gerard in a 2014 bid for Pinellas County Commission.

Murphy also served in the Florida House, but lost her seat to Republican Amber Mariano in a close race separated by fewer than 700 votes.

No surprise here: Jeff Brandes trounces Lindsay Cross

Florida Senator Jeff Brandes will keep his Senate District 24 seat representing parts of St. Petersburg.

Brandes stomped his Democratic challenger, Lindsay Cross, 54 percent to 46 percent.

Cross was an underdog candidate in a difficult matchup against a well-known incumbent. She fought a hard battle right up until Election Day, but couldn’t bridge the gap created from her late entrance into the race and inability to keep up with Brandes’ campaign finance war chest.

Brandes is a popular politician in Florida respected across party lines. He gained respect from many Democrats after supporting legalizing medical cannabis and pushing for relaxed regulation over the industry once voters approved it.

He’s also made a name for himself pushing for more access to autonomous vehicle technology and other innovative solutions to modern day problems. Brandes is a bill-sponsoring machine in Tallahassee, proposing often bipartisan legislation ranging from allowing students to use computer coding as a language requirement to regulating “delivery robots” to serve as a sort of Uber of commerce.

Cross waged a strong grassroots campaign. She managed to stretch her limited funding by using creative marketing strategies. Rather than buying up expensive television ads (she did have some), Cross focused on alternative sources to reach voters like Hulu, Netflix and Pandora.

She also used social media as a strong outreach tool. In the final two weeks of her campaign, Cross began posting daily videos on Facebook highlighting issues in her race.

While not overtly negative, Cross attempted to beat Brandes on local issues. An environmental scientist by trade, one of Cross’s biggest appeals to voters was her commitment to sound environmental policy protecting drinking water, Florida’s myriad waterways and combating climate change.

She also hammered away at red tide, which is still plaguing Pinellas County beaches, driving visitors and residents away from the beaches and costing jobs. Cross blamed Brandes for supporting polluters, including the sugar industry.

She also opposed Brandes’ commitment to Florida’s network of charter schools, noting traditional public schools shouldn’t have to share funding with for-profit educators that only teach 10 percent of Florida’s school children.

But Brandes’ vast name recognition and expansive fundraising lead gave him a strong advantage.

Brandes raised more than $2 million compared to Cross’s less than $200,000.

Cross entered the race late after another candidate, Carrie Pilon, bowed out to tend to family medical matters. Her late start left early fundraising efforts sluggish and didn’t give her enough time to build funding momentum to even come close to matching Brandes.

The race isn’t necessarily an upset for Democrats. Unlike other Florida races, Cross was not expected to have a viable shot at upending Brandes’ reign in the Senate.

Gary Farmer

Gary Farmer cruises to re-election in SD 34

State Sen. Gary Farmer has prevailed in the race for Senate District 34 over write-in candidate Richard Hal Sturm.

Farmer earned 94 percent of the vote to Sturm’s 6 percent.

Farmer was widely expected to hold on to the seat in his matchup against Sturm, who appeared on the ballot as a write-in candidate.

The incumbent did face a challenge in the Democratic primary from former state Rep. Jim Waldman. It was the second time the two faced off after a previous primary battle in 2016. But Farmer defeated Waldman easily, all but securing his re-election in the SD 34 seat.

Sturm was one of several write-in candidates targeted by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg as “sham candidates.”

No Republican filed to run in SD 34, which should have made the Democratic primary open to all voters. But if a write-in candidate qualifies for the general election, that “closes” a primary to registered members of that party only.

Farmer did earn some backlash in March after he reportedly pushed back against state Sen. Lauren Book’s consideration for a Senate leadership post. Farmer seemingly implied Book’s responsibilities as a mother may get in the way of her leadership duties.

Those comments caused Farmer to lose the support of state Sen. Kevin Rader. Farmer later apologized for the comments.

While the controversy arose again in the weeks before the Aug. 28 primary, it didn’t appear to carry over to the general election campaign.

Farmer has spoken up during his time in the Senate regarding increased teacher pay and environmental protection. Both issues were at the forefront of statewide campaigns this election cycle.

blue wave

Darryl Paulson sees possible ‘blue wave’ in Tampa Bay

Longtime Florida politics expert Darryl Paulson says voters “appear to be saying no to both Republicans and President Trump.”

Jeff Brandes seems to be the only secure candidate at this point,” said Paulson, a former Republican, in an interview. “That is due to his incumbency, his huge financial advantage and his Democratic opponent entering the race at a late date.”

Other local Republicans in the Tampa Bay area are facing credible threats in races that should be easy wins for Republicans, indicating the so-called “blue wave” that might be coming to this region.

The Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg looked at four races:

— Amanda Murphy and Ed Hooper in Senate District 16.

— Janet Cruz and Dana Young in Senate District 18.

— Gus Bilirakis and Chris Hunter in Congressional District 12.

— Ross Spano and Kristen Carlson in Congressional District 15.

In each of them, Republicans have at least one reason they should be waging easy campaigns.

Senate District 16 is a Republican-leaning district, having been in the hands of Jack Latvala for years. But without an incumbent in the race, Hooper is facing a credible challenge to keep the seat red.

Paulson (Photo: USF)

“Murphy is the more charismatic candidate and has sufficient resources to pull off an upset,” Paulson said.

In the Cruz/Young race, Paulson said Young should have an advantage and, in any other year, would be the clear favorite.

But because Cruz, as a current elected state representative, is a well-known political figure in Hillsborough politics. That throws water on Young’s incumbent status.

He also points out that, even though Young is out-raising Cruz, Cruz has raised enough financial resources to remain competitive in the race. It’s a matchup Paulson said “could go either way.”

Paulson isn’t sure if Hunter can pull off a win in his battle to unseat longtime Congressman Bilirakis in the Clearwater Congressional district, but notes it is a possibility.

“Bilirakis should be a lock to win his congressional race, but is facing strong opposition from Hunter, a former FBI agent and a model candidate,” Paulson said. “Bilirakis may have damaged his campaign with last-minute false allegations about both his and his opponent’s record.”

Paulson is referring to several of Bilirakis’ campaign missteps.

As far back as July, someone published a push poll asking leading questions about whether they would support Hunter if they knew he supported open borders and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as Speaker should Democrats regain that chamber.

Hunter hasn’t said either of those things and, in fact, said he thought Democratic leadership needed to venture away from the traditional establishment vanguard.

Bilirakis also came under fire more recently for staking claim to federal legislation aimed at addressing the national opioid crisis. Not only did that effort not include Bilirakis’ fingerprints, he also co-sponsored legislation in 2016 that did the exact opposite.

Furthermore, he “claimed Hunter supported a proposal to raise energy bills $1,200 a year. Never happened,” Paulson said. “Both missteps occurred in October and made Bilirakis look scared.  

“This would be a major upset, but it may well happen.”

Paulson also sees a potential shift for Democrats in the Congressional seat currently held by Republican Dennis Ross. That district includes Brandon, Plant City and Lakeland and is heavily conservative.

Ross won re-election against a Democratic challenger in the previous election cycle handily and the district went double digits in support for President Donald Trump.

But “the longer the race goes on, the more likely it looks to be trending Democrat,” Paulson said.

“Midterms are often a referendum on the party in power and the person in the White House,” he added.

And that, it seems, might be happening.

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