Gwen Graham Archives - Florida Politics

Gwen Graham joins ‘Rebuild 850’ efforts after Hurricane Michael

Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham is joining efforts to rebuild the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael, taking a leadership position with the Rebuild 850 initiative.

Graham, who finished second in this year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, will serve as a co-chair for the group along with GOP former Florida House Speakers Allan Bense and Will Weatherford.

Rebuild 850 urges people to donate, volunteer, and invest in the region hit hardest by the storm. The organization attempts to coordinate the efforts of various groups such as Volunteer Florida, the Florida League of Cities, the American Red Cross, and many others.

“The people of North Florida have always been proudly self-reliant, but in the unprecedented aftermath of Hurricane Michael, they need all of Florida to pull together on their behalf,” Graham said.

“Rebuild 850 will play an important role in rebuilding our communities and helping the families hit hardest by the storm, which is why I am proud to join this vital initiative and to serve with Speakers Bense and Weatherford.”

Pegging Graham to help lead the group, alongside the Republican politicians, is aimed at demonstrating the need for widespread help to carry out the recovery efforts.

“Hurricane Michael didn’t care about the political affiliation of the people whose lives it impacted, and recovery must also rise above any divisions,” Weatherford said. “There is nothing more important than helping our communities get back on their feet.”

Donations to REBUILD 850 will be administered by Volunteer Florida’s Florida Disaster Fund. That’s the state’s private fund established to assist communities following disasters.

The funds are distributed to approved organizations that are serving affected individuals throughout both disaster response and long-term recovery.

Short-term goals include tree removal and debris cleanup, tarp installation, mucking out and gutting of homes, and food distribution. Long-term recovery includes rebuilding homes, businesses, and communities while offering financial guidance and planning services.

“Gwen’s caring leadership and deep connections to the region are why we asked her to co-chair Rebuild 850,” Bense added. “It doesn’t matter what part of Florida you call home — we’re all in this together, and all Floridians must pull together to help our neighbors in need.”

How the Collective PAC almost brought it home for Andrew Gillum

During the sleepy, largely oppo-free Democratic primary campaign for Governor, one of the rare moments of interest was when a previously-unknown group made moves to take the frontrunner down.

The Collective PAC, dedicated to putting African-Americans into office, spent $2 million backing Andrew Gillum during the campaign.

Of that sum, $1.75 million went to ads chipping away at Gwen Graham, who lost the primary to Gillum by 3 percent, with African-American and urban area turnout driving the surprise win.

The group dealt with the usual, including attacks on it as a dark money group without accountability. And their candidate, as of now, awaits the results of a recount.

On Wednesday, we talked to Collective PAC founder Quentin James, who noted issues of “concern” with the recount, including “mail-in ballots held up in the processing center where some of the pipe bombs were being sent through.”

Beyond those ballots, James notes a concomitant concern about rejected vote-by-mail ballots in general, saying that “over 130,000” have been rejected for logistical factors, including signature match and time issues.

But James stopped short of saying that he wouldn’t accept the results of the election if Republican Ron DeSantis prevails, as long as “every legally cast ballot is counted,” including provisional, military, and vote by mail.

“Hopefully all of these will be sorted out in the next 24 hours,” James said, adding that it may be a “few more weeks” before all is clear.

“Depending on results,” James said, the Collective PAC “may end up playing in this process.”

That would be a substantial investment, should it come to pass.

With the spread between the candidates at 0.41 percent pending the results of the automatic recount, there is a reasonable chance that Gillum may not get the benefit of the manual recount, triggered by a 0.25 percent margin.

We wondered if, in light of Gillum underperforming most polls of the general election, the Collective PAC should have invested more heavily in the race against DeSantis than it did against Graham.

“Our helpfulness was much more needed in the primary,” James related, as outside groups bolstered Gillum, and the “party coalesced” around him.

While the group did give six figures during the general and texted every registered black voter, “resource allocation” among the 50 candidates the group supported led the PAC to “spread the love.”

With Republicans looking to have prevailed, albeit by narrow margins, we had to ask if the Democratic Party could have done more for the candidate.

“I don’t think Democrats are at fault,” James related. “Andrew Gillum got more votes than any other Democrat in statewide history … Presidential-level support. The Democrats did all we think they could’ve done.”

James noted the polls tightening, as Republican oppo began to hit with swing voters, and that Gillum’s lead generally was within the margin of error in those surveys.

“I don’t think [Gillum] ran a bad campaign,” James related.

The loss, should it hold, came down to “[Donald] Trump and the Republicans dialing into their number one topic: fear.”

In the primary, Gillum was aware of his effort being buoyed by outside groups.

“I try to be my own best messenger,” Gillum said this summer, “and hope that they can pick up from kind of where I leave off, and frankly create ads and advertisements that use my voice and get my voice out there.”

While it is uncertain whether the recount will work out for Gillum and Sen. Bill Nelson, what’s clear is that the Collective PAC got significant ROI, with the worst-case scenario being that an African-American candidate came very close winning the Governor’s race.

The best case scenario? That depends on tabulation in 67 counties.

It’s not the party … it’s the after party! A rundown of where Florida candidates will be on election night

On Election Day, as polls close, the after-parties begin.

Candidates — along with nearly everyone else in America — will be glued to their screens Tuesday night for election results. In the end, win or lose, there will be a party.

Some will celebrate a hard-fought victory, while others will be a bit more somber, drowning their sorrows.

Want to party like a politician? Here’s a rundown of where candidates will be as the polls close.

If your favorite candidate isn’t listed, check the Party or venue websites for more information.

U.S. Senate

Gov. Rick Scott is hosting his election night party at 7 p.m., Naples. The address will be provided upon RSVP. Press credentials required; media access begins 3:30 p.m. Hotel rooms are available in the Scott for Florida room block; email for details. RSVP must be submitted by Friday, November 2, to


The Ron DeSantis for Governor campaign election night party begins 6 p.m., Rosen Centre Executive Ballroom, 9840 International Dr., Orlando. The event is open to members of the media with credentials; press preset begins 4 p.m. Please apply for credentials here.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, wife R. Jai Gillum will join running mate and Orlando businessman Chris King and his wife Kristen will hold an election night celebration starting 7 p.m., Florida A&M University Lee Hall, 1601 South Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, Tallahassee. While it is a public event, those planning to attend should RSVP to secure a ticket. Tickets are required for entrance in the area. Parking will be limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Shuttle service will be available from Bragg Memorial Stadium to the election night celebration starting at 6 p.m. and ending at midnight. Attendees should prepare to go through an airport security-style entry — please do not bring large bags/backpacks, laptops, large camera equipment, signage or weapons. Additionally, there will be a “clear bag” policy in effect for the event. Clear bags must adhere to the dimensions of no larger than 12” x 6” x 12;” small non-clear shoulder bags or clutch purses must be no larger than 4.5” x 6.5.” All bags will be checked upon entrance to the event. The public entrance for this event will be on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, south of Lee Hall and adjacent to the FAMU Student Union Building.

Reform Party gubernatorial candidate Darcy Richardson will be hosting a private event to monitor results in Jacksonville with campaign staff and family. The Reform Party of Florida is hosting its watch party at the Holiday Inn on 8310 Galbraith Road in Tampa.

Florida Cabinet

The Ashley Moody for Attorney General campaign party will be at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel, Costa Del Sol Ballroom, 4200 Jim Walter Blvd., Tampa. Doors open at 7 p.m. Media will be allowed access at 4:30 p.m. and must be set up by 6 p.m. Media contact is Christina Johnson. Contact her at

Democratic candidate for Attorney General Sean Shaw will hold his general election night event at 6 p.m., LeMéridien Tampa, 601 N Florida Ave, Tampa. RSVP or get more details on Facebook.

State Sen. Jeremy Ring, who is running for Florida Chief Financial Officer, will join The Nikki Fried for Agriculture Commissioner campaign for an election night watch party at Good Spirits, 476 N Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. There will be parking available in the corresponding lot and garage as well as workspace set aside for the press. Doors open for guests at 7 p.m. and 4:20 p.m. for members of the press. RSVP to

Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell will cast ballots with his family at 5:30 p.m., House of Worship Church of God, 940 Pondella Road, North Fort Myers.

U.S. House

CD 2 — Democrat Bob Rackleff will hold an election-night party, 7 p.m., Waterworks, 1133 Thomasville Road, Tallahassee.

CD 6 — The Nancy Soderberg campaign and state Rep. Patrick Henry invites voters, supporters, and volunteers for a watch party, 7 p.m., Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, 1864 Victory Circle, Bldg K, Daytona Beach. Press contact: Wellesley Daniels (917) 751-4782 or

CD 9 — Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto will be at the Ramada Gateway Hotel Ballroom, 7470 Irlo Bronson Memorial HWY 192 in Kissimmee. Republican nominee Wayne Liebnitzky hasn’t announced an election night activity, possibly because Florida’s 9th is a Dem lock.

CD 12 — Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis is hosting a results-watching party 7 p.m. at the St. Nicholas Community Center, 348 N. Pinellas Avenue, Tarpon Springs. For more details contact either Summer Robertson (727) 237-6811 or Towson Fraser (850) 443-1444.

CD 13

CD 15 — Democrat Kristen Carlson will hold her election night watch party at 7 p.m., The Lakeland Room, Historic Lake Mirror Tower Building, 130 S. Massachusetts Ave., Lakeland. RSVP to Robert Walters at for press credentials.

CD 18 — Democratic challenger Lauren Baer hosts a watch party with friends and supporters from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., Palm Beach Gardens Embassy Suites, 4350 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens. Those looking to attend can RSVP by using this link.

CD 19 — Democrat David Holden hosts a watch party with friends and supporters starting 6:30 p.m., Holiday Inn Fort Myers Airport at Town Center, 9931 Interstate Commerce Drive, Fort Myers. Venue information at Open to media but limited to the public (due to space). Advanced notice appreciated. Contact David Silverberg at (239) 451-1253.

CD 25 — The Mary Barzee Flores for Congress election night party begins 7 p.m., The Bend, 6844 NW 169th St, Hialeah. The event is open to the public and press. Press are welcome to arrive after 6:30 p.m.; doors will open to the public at 7 p.m. Day-of, on-site contact for logistics will be Jade Tacka, (817) 880-5423 or For all other media inquiries, contact Sam Miller at (703) 408-1447 or

CD 26 — The Carlos Curbelo campaign is inviting voters to an 8 p.m. watch party at his campaign headquarters, 12877 SW 42nd St, Miami. Contact

CD 26 — Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will hold her party starting 7:30 p.m., Black Point Ocean Grill, 24775 SW 87th Ave., Cutler Bay.

CD 27 — Democrat Donna Shalala will hold her election night watch party beginning 7 p.m. at the Coral Gables Woman’s Club, 1001 E Ponce De Leon Blvd, Coral Gables.

State Senate

SD 18 — State Rep. Janet Cruz will hold her watch party 7 p.m., Grillsmith Restaurant, 14303 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa.

SD 24 — Lindsay Cross will be at The Getaway, 13090 Gandy Blvd N in St. Pete, 6 p.m. More information is on her campaign Facebook page.

State House

HD 1 — Vikki Garrett will join the Escambia Democratic Party for a watch party beginning 6 p.m., O’Charley’s 6233 N. Davis Hwy., Pensacola.

HD 11 — Nathcelly Rohrbaugh and AFL-CIO will be watching returns beginning 7 p.m., Chem Cell Club Inc., 2951 Riverside Dr., Fernandina Beach.

HD 11 — Nathcelly Rohrbaugh will be at 2951 Riverside Dr., Fernandina Beach.

HD 15 — Tracye Polson will be at Two Dudes Seafood Restaurant Riverside, 2665 Park St., Jacksonville (Corner of Park and King).

HD 28 — Lee Mangold will be with the Seminole County Democrats at an event starting 6 p.m., Miller’s Ale House, 477 East Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs.

HD 36 — State Rep. Amber Mariano’s watch party will be 7 p.m., Kickin Wingz, 8702 SR-52, Hudson.

HD 36 — Democrat David Perez will hold his party starting 7:30 p.m., La Carreta Restaurant, 5350 W 16th Ave., Hialeah. RSVP on Facebook.

HD 42 — Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa will be at Gator’s Dockside in Saint Cloud. Democratic nominee Barbara Cady will be at Soto’s party at the Ramada Gateway in Kissimmee.

HD 47, 48, 49, 50 — Anna Eskamani, state Rep. Amy Mercado, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Pam Dirschka will watch returns starting 7 p.m., Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Downtown, 191 East Pine Street, Orlando.

HD 48 — GOP challenger George Chandler will join the Orange County Republican Executive Committee will be at the Westgate Lakes Resort & Spa, 9055 Turkey Lake Rd., in Orlando. Many of the Florida House candidates from Orange County will be there.

HD 57 — Mike Beltran and the Hillsborough County Republican Party are inviting friends and supporters to watch election returns at 6 p.m., Due Amici Restaurant, Amici a famiglia, 1724 E. 7th Ave., Ybor City.

HD 57, 58, 59 — Democrats Debbie Katt, Phil Hornback and Adam Hattersley will be watching returns starting 6:30 p.m., 11135 Winthrop Market St, Riverview.

HD 59 — Republican Joe Wicker, who is running for an open seat in Hillsborough County’s House District 59, will hold an election-night party, 6 p.m., El Rico Frappé Latino, 122 Pierce Christie Dr., Valrico.

HD 63, 61 — Democrats Fentrice Driskell and state Rep.-elect Dianne Hart will be celebrating starting 6:30 p.m. at the Vizcaya Restaurante & Tapas Bar, 10905 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa.

HD 66

HD 66 — Alex Heeren will be at the West Bay Tap House, 80 Clearwater Largo Rd S, 6 p.m. More information is on his campaign Facebook page.

HD 69 — Jennifer Webb will begin her party at 7 p.m., Peninsula Inn Gulfport, 2937 Beach Blvd. S. in Gulfport.

HD 69 — Ray Blacklidge — Gator’s Cafe, 12754 Kingfish Dr., Treasure Island, beginning 5:30 p.m. More information is on his campaign Facebook page.

HD 71 — Republican Will Robinson is hosting a campaign victory party, 6:30 p.m. The campaign will provide location upon RSVP with Allie at If you wish to stop by, include the names of all of those attending to ensure your name is on the guest list. Food and beverages will be provided.

HD 72 — State Rep. Margaret Good will be watching returns starting 7 p.m., Michael’s on East, 1212 S East Ave., Sarasota.

HD 73 — Democrat Liv Coleman in the Manatee Democratic Party will hold an event beginning 7 p.m., Manatee County Democratic Party, 435 Cortez Rd W, Bradenton.

HD 74 — Democrat Tony Mowry will join Englewood Indivisible for a watch party beginning 7:30 p.m., Stefano’s Family Restaurant, 401 S Indiana Ave., Englewood.

HD 78

HD 83 — Emma Collum holds her watch party at 7 p.m., 26 Degrees Brewing Company, 2600 E Atlantic Boulevard, Pompano Beach.

HD 84 — Democrat Delores Johnson will be watching returns starting 7 p.m. at the St. Lucie County Democratic DEC Office, 910 N. 25th Street, Fort Pierce.

HD 89 — Democrat Jim Bonfiglio is the host of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party election night watch party at 7 p.m., Embassy Suites, 1601 Belvedere Road, West Palm Beach.

HD 93 — Democrat Emma Collum will hold an election watch party starting 7 p.m., 26 Degree Brewing Company, 2600 E Atlantic Blvd, Pompano Beach.

HD 103 — Democrat Cindy Polo will join the NW Dade Democratic Club for a watch party starting 7 p.m., 5inco Indoor & Colombian Flavor, 8081 W 28th Ave., Hialeah.

HD 105 — Democrat Javier Estevez will hold an election night watch party at 7 p.m., 8502 SW 146th Court, Miami. RSVP on Facebook.

HD 113 — Democrat Michael Grieco will hold his election night watch event beginning 7 p.m., Hôtel Gaythering, 1409 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. RSVP on Facebook.

HD 114 — Democrat Javier Fernandez is holding his event beginning 7 p.m., Pub 52, 5829 SW. 73rd St., South Miami. RSVP On Facebook.

HD 115 — Democrat Jeff Solomon will join state Sen. Annette Taddeo and Leader-Designate Kionne McGhee at an event hosted by the by Miami-Dade Democrats beginning 7 p.m., The Brick, American Kitchen & Bar, 8955 SW 72nd PL, South Miami.

HD 118 — State Rep. Robert Asencio will be holding his party starting 7 p.m., Isla del Encanto 2, 11236 SW 137th Ave., Miami.

HD 120 — Democrat Captain Steve Friedman will hold his election watch party starting 7 p.m., Angler House Marina, 80500 Overseas Hwy, Islamadora.

Down-ballot races

Pinellas County Commission District 6 — Amy Kedron is not making her event public, saying it was due to “security concerns” raised against Tampa Bay Times reporter Mark Puente.

Palm Beach County Commission — Robert Weinroth will be celebrating at 7:30 p.m., Delray Beach Marriott, 10 N Ocean Boulevard, Delray Beach.

Duval County Tax Collector — Mia Jones will be watching election returns at about 7 p.m., 645 Oak St, Jacksonville.

Candidates aren’t the only ones hosting election night parties.

The Orange County REC Victory party is at 7 p.m., Westgate Lakes Resort & Spa, 9055 Turkey Lake Rd., 7th Floor.

The United Teachers of Dade watch party begins 7:30 p.m., UTD Headquarters, 2200 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. RSVP Required.

New Florida Majority, a progressive coalition working to engage “marginalized and excluded constituencies,” will be hosting several watch parties throughout the state.

— New Florida Majority, Dream Defenders, FLIC Votes, and FANM in Action will hold a joint Amendment 4 watch party beginning 6 p.m., Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59th Terrace, Miami.

— Also beginning 7 p.m., La Perla Escondida Restaurant, 717 N. Dixie Hwy., Palm Beach.

— Also beginning at 7 p.m., Austin’s Soul Food Restaurant, 4807 N. Main St., Jacksonville.

The Duval Democratic Party will be watching returns beginning 7 p.m., Cuba Libra Ultra Lounge, 2578 Atlantic Blvd., Jacksonville.

Duval County Republicans will be watching results at 7 p.m., Whisky Jax, 10915 Baymeadows Road, #135, Jacksonville.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, the group behind Amendment 4, the proposal to restore voting rights to former felons who paid their debt to society, will be holding an election watch party at 6 p.m., DoubleTree at SeaWorld, 10100 International Drive, Orlando. RSVP with kimberly@safeandjust.

Act Now for Children’s Services is hosting its Children’s Trust election night watch party starts 5:30 p.m., 1310 Southwest 13th Street, Gainesville. Online registration is here.

As campaign nears close, Gwen Graham slams ‘anti-woman’ Ron DeSantis

Gwen Graham, who came within just a few percentage points of garnering the Democratic nomination for Governor, has been relatively quiet during the general election campaign.

However, on Saturday evening, she broke that relative silence with an unambiguous statement of support for Andrew Gillum, and a sharp rebuke of Republican nominee Ron DeSantis as potentially “the most anti-woman Governor in Florida history.”

“The stakes could not be higher on Tuesday for Florida women. During his time in Congress, Ron DeSantis was one of the most anti-women and extreme members of Congress,” Graham said.

“From voting against equal pay to opposing our right to choose, DeSantis has made clear his opposition to women’s rights. But most disturbing is his 2013 vote against the Violence Against Women Act — legislation that has played a critical role in saving lives and reducing domestic violence,” Graham added.

“By opposing VAWA and recently calling it unconstitutional, DeSantis made clear that he does not care about protecting the safety of women or giving law enforcement the resources to fight domestic violence,” Graham added.

“DeSantis’ opposition to the Violence Against Women Act is deeply disturbing — and shows just how dangerous a DeSantis administration would be for women in this state. There is no question in my mind that Ron DeSantis would be the most anti-women governor in Florida’s modern history. Andrew Gillum is the only candidate in this race who always has and always will stand up for Florida women — and that’s why we must win on Tuesday,” Graham asserted.

The media release from the Gillum campaign establishes context for Graham’s position: “In 2013, early into his first term in office, DeSantis established himself as one of the most anti-women and extreme members of Congress by voting against the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act. Earlier this month, DeSantis told Fox 13 Tampa Bay’s Craig Patrick that VAWA violated the Bill of Rights.”

Graham’s statement here comes a day after the Miami Herald noted that “alsorans” such as her and Republican runner-up Adam Putnam have not been active in support.

While Putnam has been remarkably reticent in stretch-run support of DeSantis (a chilliness mirrored by former Putnam partisans cool to DeSantis’ campaign), Graham, via a spokesperson, asserted to the Herald that she was on board.

“Since the primary, Gwen Graham has stood on stage with Mayor Gillum campaigning for him, she has donated to his campaign, sent emails in support of his campaign to her supporters, posted her support on social media, and continues doing everything she can to elect Andrew Gillum as Florida’s next governor,” Graham adviser Julia Gill Woodward told the Herald.

Latest haul pushes matching funds over $8 million

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum drew nearly $500,000 on Friday as Florida’s matching-funds program has doled out nearly $8.4 million this year to statewide candidates.

The release of the latest weekly checks also showed that Democratic Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried has qualified for the taxpayer-funded program, which provides matches for individual contributions of $250 or less to candidates’ campaigns.

Candidates for Cabinet offices — Agriculture Commissioner, Attorney General and Chief Financial Officer — must amass $100,000 in such relatively small-dollar donations to qualify. Gubernatorial candidates must first raise $150,000 worth of contributions of $250 or less to be eligible. Contributions to candidates’ political committees are not matched.

Fried, an attorney and lobbyist from Fort Lauderdale, got a check for $117,627 on Friday. She became the 10th statewide candidate this year to participate in the program — though four of those candidates lost in primaries. Fried’s Republican opponent, state Rep. Matt Caldwell, has decried the program as “campaign welfare.”

The program gave candidates $6.065 million in 2010 and $4.3 million in 2014.

The biggest user of the program this year has been Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, who drew a check for $279,046 on Friday and has now received just over $2.3 million from the state.

In the past, the most any candidate has drawn from the program was the $2.58 million received by Democrat Charlie Crist in 2014 for his unsuccessful gubernatorial run.

Gillum, who received a check for $499,442 on Friday, has received nearly $2.23 million from the state. Overall, Gillum, DeSantis and their political committees have raised a combined total of more than $96 million for the contest.

Gillum’s check Friday was not the largest single amount going to a candidate this year.

When the program opened July 27 for the current election cycle, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who was defeated by Gillum in the Aug. 28 Democratic gubernatorial primary, received a check for $991,598.

The same week, $932,471 went out to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who eventually lost to DeSantis in the Republican primary, and $643,226 was sent to DeSantis.

In the race to replace term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi, Democratic state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa received $11,808 from the state on Friday and Republican Ashley Moody, a former Hillsborough County circuit judge, got $11,223.

Moody has now received $428,737 from the state, which Shaw has pulled in $302,535.

Republican state CFO Jimmy Patronis got a matching-funds check for $7,284 on Friday. He has now drawn $324,279 from the state.

Caldwell, a property appraiser from North Fort Myers, and former state Sen. Jeremy Ring, the Democratic candidate for CFO, are the only major-party candidates for Governor or Cabinet seats on the November ballot not participating in the program.

Dennis Ross’ latest gig: Develop college program in civics, civility

Dennis Rossthe Republican congressman from the 15th Congressional Districtjoined Southeastern University President Kent Ingle to announce the retiring congressman’s new job during a Wednesday news conference.

The Lakeland Republican is becoming part of a major center for the teaching of government and civics both for students and the general public.

Upon his departure from the U.S. House in early January, Ross will join the SEU faculty in his hometown as Distinguished Professor of Political Science launching the American Center for Political Leadership.

University officials and Ross said the institution would be a “nonpartisan center dedicated to research, academic programs, courses, workshops and resources that will prepare the next generation of political leaders and passionate citizens who aim to promote traditional American values and individual freedoms.”

In recent years Ross had expressed concern over the lack of understanding of government and the loss of civics and history education in public schools.

In Congress, he had sponsored with then-Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham, a bipartisan resolution to encourage elementary and secondary schools to administer U.S. history and civics tests and to promote civics education among students.

His often-voiced concerns over the lack of civility in Washington and the lack of understanding of civic affairs among many Americans may have partially affected his decision not to run again.

“Over the years I have grown concerned over the lack of civics education among young people,” Ross said to the heavily attended conference for the announcement of the center.

Many adults also do not understand the history and civics of the nation.

“The Wall Street Journal noted (in a survey by The Woodrow Wilson Foundation) that only one in three Americans could pass the same test required of immigrants who must pass it to become naturalized citizens.

“Only 24 percent could identify what Ben Franklin was famous for and only one-third of citizens could identify a right guaranteed in the Constitution,” he said.

“Only half the citizens eligible to be voters are registered. And only half of those vote regularly,” Ross said. “Only 25 percent of that universe (of those eligible to register and vote) control the policies of our government. So when you say, ‘How in the world did that person get elected?’ The electors know.”

During questions from the audience Ross, a conservative Republican, said the center would indeed be nonpartisan for all to understand and promote a civil process.

Ingle said the center would empower the next generation of leaders with three primary goals: protecting individual freedom, encouraging civic engagement and advancing civility.

“The center will become a national platform for these issues,” he said.

When Ross announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election to a fifth term it set off a stampede of primary candidates from both major parties.

The shape and number designation of the district have changed through the years, but the general area had had a Republican congressman since 1984 when then U.S. Rep. Andy Ireland changed his party registration from Democrat to the GOP.

The current race to replace Ross in the 15th Congressional District between attorney Kristen Carlson, a Lakeland Democrat and Republican state Rep. Ross Spano of Dover has been termed a “toss up” by at least two groups devoted to assessing political campaigns.

Southeastern University describes itself as a Christ-centered institution of higher learning in Lakeland with 8,759 students from the 50 states and more than 33 countries offering 80 degreed programs.

Where are Ron DeSantis’ better angels?

Wednesday night provided a case study on how politicians should respond when a natural disaster hits their state.

Offering a shining example, former U.S. Rep. and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham was pictured volunteering at a local Red Cross shelter in Gadsden County. This is the second time in 13 months Graham and her husband helped manage a shelter set up to assist as many as 700 people.

Gwen Graham offers assistance to an evacuee from Hurricane Michael on October 10, 2018. Photo credit: Facebook.

Contrast Graham’s response with that of Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for Florida governor. Already facing criticism, including from former Governor Jeb Bush, for continuing to air negative ads against his opponent, the former congressman took to to Fox News to attack Andrew Gillum yet again.

DeSantis had earlier in the day told Florida Politics reporter A.G. Gancarski that while Hurricane Michael was bearing down on Florida it was not an appropriate time to talk about the campaign. Yet here was DeSantis hours later, making a partisan play against Gillum.

It’s inexplicable what Team DeSantis was thinking when it decided it was a good idea for its candidate to appear on Fox News. Unless DeSantis was prepared to wear a T-shirt emblazoned with the number where viewers could text a donation to hurricane victims, he had no business appearing on network TV last night.

This is yet another unforced error from DeSantis — one that makes him appear insensitive, if not crass.

Contrary to what many others were arguing, I did not believe DeSantis’ negative ads needed to come down in markets not affected by the hurricane. My thinking was influenced by what a bad decision it was for John McCain to suspend his presidential campaign during the 2008 financial crisis. Rather than looking like a statesman, McCain came off as confused and ineffectual.

That’s why DeSantis was smart not to suspend his campaign. And he was doing the right thing by organizing low-key rallies where folks could donate supplies to the victims in north Florida.

But then he undoes all that by playing political pundit — the job for which he appears best suited — on Fox News.

There is no doubt that Ron DeSantis excels at being, as the Florida Democratic Party labeled him last night, a “partisan warrior.” But this latest episode raises the question: Has he demonstrated he has the leadership needed to govern the state?

Look at Gwen Graham. Look at the pictures her husband posted on Facebook. She exudes the kind of empathy we hope for in not just our leaders, but ourselves. That in moments of great consequence, we are capable of offering something of ourselves to those in need.

Look at this picture of Graham comforting a child impacted by the hurricane.

It’s hard to see that and not wonder why she’s not Florida’s next governor. But that would take away from what Gillum accomplished on the campaign trail and so that kind of question has to be put away some place.

But what can be asked is this: Why have we never seen this kind of moment from Ron DeSantis? The only time I can think of DeSantis being photographed with a child is when he made that television ad in which he taught his children about why America needed to ‘build a wall.’

Just once, it would be reassuring to see Ron DeSantis, the well-educated former naval officer, husband and father, allow his better angels to guide him on the campaign trail.

Instead, he’s listening to someone — or something inside him — that thought it best, while hundreds of thousands of Floridians were without power, to go on TV and knock his political opponent one more time.

Andrew Gillum, Ron DeSantis reel in records amount of matching money

With slightly more than a month to go before the November election, Florida statewide candidates have topped a matching-funds record from the 2010 election.

Bolstered by small-dollar fundraising in the race for Governor, $6.08 million has been sent by the state to candidates this year, according to figures provided Tuesday by the Florida Division of Elections.

A little more than $400,000 was sent out on Friday to five candidates in the Nov. 6 general election.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum’s latest check from the state was for $246,965, and former Congressman Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor, received a check for $140,037.

In 2010, the state doled out $6.065 million to 10 candidates in the controversial matching-funds program, which voters approved in 1998 with the intention of diminishing the importance of special-interest money.

Some lawmakers continue to push for repealing the program. But the Legislature has not put the issue back before voters since a 2010 effort failed when it only gained 52.5 percent of the vote, short of the required 60 percent for adoption.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, called the program a “gross waste of taxpayer money” in 2017 when he called for the state Constitution Revision Commission to propose a measure to remove public financing from the Constitution.

Even before this year’s Aug. 28 primary, candidates seeking the taxpayer money shot past the 2014 matching-funds total of $4.3 million.

The program matches individual contributions of $250 or less to the campaign accounts of candidates for statewide offices. Candidates do not have to take part in the program.

With the latest check, DeSantis has received $1.37 million from the state.

Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, has landed $1.1 million from the program.

In all, nine statewide candidates this year decided to dip into the fund, though four of those candidates — including gubernatorial candidates Gwen Graham and Adam Putnam — lost their primaries.

The two remaining candidates in the race for Agriculture Commissioner, Republican Matt Caldwell and Democrat Nikki Fried, have not tapped the program. Caldwell, who won his primary with 34.6 percent of the vote, decried the use of the matching-funds program as “campaign welfare.”

In the race for Attorney General, Democrat Sean Shaw got a check for $12,152 on Friday and has received $251,578 from the program. Republican Ashley Moody received $1,580 in matching funds on Friday and has received $384,026 from the state.

In the race for state chief financial officer, incumbent Republican Jimmy Patronis received a check for $840 on Friday. Patronis has received $310,600 through the program. Democratic CFO candidate Jeremy Ring has not taken part in the program.


Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Sean Shaw

Personnel note: Sean Shaw for AG brings on Julia Gill Woodward, Shellie Levin

Democratic state Rep. Sean Shaw has brought on longtime Gwen Graham staffer Julia Gill Woodward and Alex Sink for Governor alumna Shellie Levin as senior finance consultants for his statewide bid for Attorney General.

Woodward, a graduate of Florida State University, was Graham’s campaign manager during her 2018 bid to become Florida Governor, which fell short by a couple points in last month’s primary election.

Prior to the 2018 run, Woodward worked on Graham’s successful 2014 campaign to oust of former U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland from the old 2nd Congressional District. Following that victory, she followed Graham to Washington DC to serve as her chief of staff during her single term in Congress.

Before her work for Graham, Woodward spent a year as the deputy campaign manager and the finance director for Keith Fitzgerald’s 2012 congressional bid. She also served stints as the statewide political director for Loranne Ausley’s CFO bid and the deputy finance director for the Florida Democratic Party.

Also joining Team Shaw’s is Levin, an attorney whose political beginnings date back to 1997, when she began working for EMILY’s List, a national group that helps elect pro-choice Democratic to public office.

In 2010 she joined former CFO Alex Sink’s gubernatorial campaign, serving as deputy campaign manager where she was tasked with restructuring the finance team that ended up raising more than $40 million for the statewide campaign.

In the years since, the Nova Southeastern law school alumna has worked under the banner of Shellie Levin Solutions, with a client roster that has included EMILY’s List, America Votes and Floridians for Solar Choice, which was unable to get its own preferred ballot imitative before Florida voters two years ago but was a staunch opponent of the failed amendment pushed by Consumers for Smart Solar.

The new hires come about a week after Shaw announced his general election finance committee, which includes more than 20 members, including Sink, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy and St. Petersburg state Rep. Ben Diamond as well as numerous Florida attorneys.

Shaw, who served as insurance consumer advocate under Sink, easily won the Democratic nomination for Attorney General in the Aug. 28 primary election and now moves on to face Republican nominee Ashley Moody, a former prosecutor and circuit court judge.

As of Sept. 14, Shaw held a cash lead in the statewide race with a combined $637,000 in campaign and committee dollars at the ready, though he trails in overall fundraising. Moody expended most of her funds in her bruising primary against Pensacola Rep. Frank White and had about $156,000 between her two accounts on Sept. 14.

The general election is Nov. 6.

Bill Nelson

Andrew Gillum to make first Pinellas appearance since primary win

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is making his first campaign stop in Pinellas County since his surprise victory in the Democratic primary for Governor.

Gillum and incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson are featured speakers at the Pinellas County ‘Democrats’ Wave to Victory’ dinner this Saturday at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon.

The event is the party’s biggest fundraiser benefiting Pinellas County Democratic candidates.

While the hotel is nowhere near Pinellas beaches, red tide will likely be a topic of conversation. Gillum is considering touring some of the devastation this weekend, according to campaign sources.

The giant bacteria bloom, known as red tide for discoloring water to a rust-like color, is covering Florida’s Gulf Coast from southwest Florida all the way north to Clearwater.

Mounds of dead fish have been piling up on beaches. The foul odor and even respiratory distress caused from bacteria in the air has pushed visitors away from the beach, leaving popular spots like John’s Pass looking like ghost towns.

The issue has become a talking point, particularly in Nelson’s campaign. His opponent, term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott, was booed out of a Cuban restaurant in Venice this week by critics.

While the campaign and the Governor’s Office continue to emphasize red tide is a naturally occurring event that has been ongoing since the 1840s, Democrats and other critics fire back that his environmental policies have exacerbated the situation.

A Real Clear Politics poll released this week found 32 percent of respondents believed the state government was to blame for the outbreak.

Nelson’s race is one of the most important Senate races in the nation this year. While Democrats hope to overtake a majority in the Senate by unseating incumbent Republicans, they also must protect incumbent Democrats.

Polls show Nelson faces a credible risk of losing to Scott, and the Real Clear Politics poll put the two neck-and-neck this November.

Other guests at the Wave to Victory Dinner include Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw, CFO candidate Jeremy Ring, and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried.

Congressman Charlie Crist and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman are also attending. The event includes a cocktail hour from 6-7 p.m. and dinner and program from 7-10 p.m.

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