June 25, 2017

Latvala: Potential GOP rivals for governor are 'government animals'

Florida Legislature (4)
@PatriciaMazzei

Senate Budget Chief Jack Latvala did not hold back when asked in a local Miami TV interview Sunday about his potential Republican rivals in the 2018 governor's race.

Would Latvala, a Clearwater senator who has yet to declare a bid, make a better governor than Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has?

"Oh, absolutely," Latvala told WFOR-CBS 4's Jim DeFede on "Facing South Florida." "Because I've actually made a payroll. I've actually paid workers comp claims. I've been in business all these years, while Adam has been in elected office since he was 22 years old."

What about House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, another possible contender?

"Richard is a trial lawyer at heart," Latvala declared. "That's his background: He's a lawyer with a law firm that lobbies now. I don't knonw how much he actually works and practices law. He's basically a government animal as well."

Latvala spent eight years in the Legislature in the 1990s, and is in the seventh year of his second legislative tour.

Latvala, who said he'll make a decision about whether to run in August, pitched himself as a practical alternative.

"The values that I have, the record that I have of accomplishment, is going to be appealing to people who want to see results," he said. I"m not a guy who just goes and talks. I'm a guy that goes and solves problems, and I think that's what people want more than anything else in their political leaders."

Asked if he considers himself a moderate, Latvala said -- not surprisingly -- that he considers himself a conservative.

"But I'm a little more environmentally conscious, perhaps, than other Republicans," he said. "And I'm an old-fashioned Republican from the standpoint that I think government ought to stay out of our lives -- and that includes our personal lives. Some people think that makes me a moderate. Let them think what they want."

As governor, Latvala said he'd keep incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott's focus on jobs, but also add issues like infrastructure and mental-health spending to his priorities.

Latvala did not directly criticize the governor, even though Scott signed a contentious education law, House Bill 7069, that Latvala voted for but thought Scott would veto.

This session, Latvala said, is "probably my least favorite of the 15 that I've been involved in."

"Tallahassee is becoming too much like Washington," he said. Then, without naming names, he added: "We have a lot of vitriol, a lot of unpleasantness, that we didn't used to have in Tallahassee -- even among the leaders of our own party. Name-calling. A lot of big egos in play."

Photo credit: Steve Cannon, Associated Press

June 23, 2017

Andrew Gillum: FBI says I'm 'not the focus of investigation' into city of Tallahassee

Gillum 050917

@ByKristenMClark

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said in a formal statement Friday that he spoke with the FBI last week about its probe into redevelopment deals in the city, and he said FBI officials "assured me I was not the focus of an investigation."

Gillum's statement was distributed to media through a city of Tallahassee spokesman, not Gillum's 2018 Democratic campaign for governor.

His lengthy comments come a day after the Associated Press reported that the FBI had launched its investigation, which the AP said involves prominent business owners and developers in Tallahassee, including a former campaign treasurer for Gillum.

MORE: "Federal authorities launch probe into city of Tallahassee"

The AP said it received copies of federal grand jury subpoenas through a records request. The subpoenas seek documents from the city and a local redevelopment agency. Gillum was not named in the subpoenas, the AP reported, and the subpoenas did not reveal what potential wrongdoing federal authorities were specifically investigating.

Gillum's only comment Thursday had come through his gubernatorial campaign, when political spokesman Geoff Burgan said: "We expect the city to respond fully and completely to the subpoena, and we hope the situation is resolved quickly."

On Friday, Gillum himself offered more details in his official capacity as city mayor. Here's his complete statement:

“Last week the FBI approached me about several people and businesses here in Tallahassee. I spoke with them, and told them they could expect both the City and my personal cooperation with their investigation. They assured me I was not the focus of an investigation, and that they would be moving quickly with their work. 

“I take any allegation of corruption in the City of Tallahassee very seriously, and I am committed to rooting it out in its entirety. If corruption has taken place in our city, those parties must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. We will not tolerate, enable, or turn a blind eye to corruption.

“While no one likes the City being under the FBI’s scrutiny, in light of what is happening nationally, we must remember that the FBI is here to protect us and we must aid them in their work. They have my full support and cooperation as the Mayor, and the full cooperation of the City of Tallahassee.”

In responding to questions from the Herald/Times, a city spokesman added that Gillum was alone when he spoke with FBI officials last week and he has not retained a personal attorney.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

*This post has been updated with additional comment from the city.

June 22, 2017

Federal authorities launch probe into city of Tallahassee

06222017_145810_gillum_8col

From Gary Fineout at the Associated Press:

In a move that could shake-up next year's race for Florida governor, the FBI has launched an investigation into redevelopment deals involving prominent business owners and developers in the state capital.
 
Federal grand jury subpoenas this month seek five years of records from the city of Tallahassee and a local redevelopment agency that involve high profile projects and developers including an ally of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
 
Gillum, one of several Democrats in the 2018 governor's race, is not named in the subpoenas to the city and agency, which were provided Thursday to The Associated Press in response to a public records request.
 
"We expect the city to respond fully and completely to the subpoena and we hope the situation is resolved quickly," Geoff Burgan, a spokesman for Gillum's campaign, told the AP. 
 
The subpoenas ask for any documents and communications between the redevelopment agency, the city, their officials, and a list of people and corporations. The material is to be turned over to the grand jury in July. 
 
The companies cited have developed the Edison, an upscale restaurant frequented by lawmakers and lobbyists in a city-owned building; and Hotel Duval, which features a steakhouse and a rooftop bar blocks from the capitol. 
 
The Edison received financial assistance from both the city and the local Community Redevelopment Agency. Gillum sits on the agency board and one of the owners of the restaurant is a lobbyist who once served as his campaign treasurer. 
 
The list of individuals, corporations and entities in both subpoenas include donors to Gillum and a political committee backing his run for governor. One of them is the chief executive of a company that has been setting up medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. 
 
Amy Alexander, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of Florida, said she had no public information about the investigation. 
 
Lewis Shelley, the Tallahassee city attorney, said by email that the FBI has requested records and "that other than the request for information by subpoena, the City has no further information on this matter. City staff is fully cooperating and has begun gathering the requested records." 
 
Gillum has been viewed as a rising star for Florida Democrats, and had a speaking slot at last year's Democratic National Convention. He was just 23 and still a student at Florida A&M when he became the youngest person elected to the Tallahassee city commission in 2003. He was elected mayor in 2014. 
 
But he has already weathered controversy during his bid for governor. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Gillum used $5,000 in city money to buy software from a Democratic Party vendor to aid in sending out campaign emails. He paid the city back and apologized after the report. 

Photo credit: Tallahassee Democrat

*This post has been updated.

Panhandle politicians warn that Rick Scott's CFO pick may not staunch his trouble over charter schools

Jimmy PatronisGov. Rick Scott's expected pick of Jimmy Patronis as the state's next Chief Financial Officer would be a solid addition to the Republican Party ticket but may not do much to smooth some rough waters developing in the Panhandle over schools, area Republicans said this week.

Patronis, a Panama City restaurateur and former state legislator who was named by Scott to the Public Service Commission, is the leading candidate to replace outgoing CFO Jeff Atwater, sources close to the governor told the Herald/Times last week.

Two others have been openly interested because they want to run as the incumbent on next year's ballot: Rep. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota and former state senator and Manatee County developer Pat Neal. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry talked to the governor about the job but, sources said, his family was not prepared to trade life in Jacksonville for Tallahassee.

Neal, who brings with him the ability to self-fund if needed in the statewide campaign next year, has lobbied hard for the job. Gruters and Latvala have not been approached by the governor who is expected to make the appointment next week. Patronis and Neal did not return requests for comment.

"I expressed an interest early on,'' said Gruters, who like Patronis was an early and loyal supporter of Scott and remained by his side through a series of tough votes against House Speaker Richard Corcoran last session. But Gruters is pragmatic when he says, "I have a fighting chance but it's slim."

Scott's political advisors have sent signals that they want the candidate to add value to a ticket in the face of what be a tough political year. Neal, a millionaire developer of more than 12,000 Gulf Coast homes, is capable of spending tens of millions of his own money to aide the Republican ticket in 2018. He served in the Florida House from 1974 through 1978 and in the Florida Senate from 1978 through 1986 and has led the Florida Christian Coalition. 

Patronis is extremely popular among Republican loyalists and "would be a brilliant choice" and "beyond reproach," said Sen. George Gainer, the Panama City Republican who has known the 45-year-old Patronis for decades. 

"He'll tell you the truth and be consistent,''  said Gainer, who himself is a multi-millionaire regional car dealer.

"This position is a matter of trust -- the trust of the State of Florida,'' he said. "I'd trust him with everything I've got."

Henry Kelley, a former tea party activist who ran the governor's Okaloosa County campaign in 2010, also believes Patronis would be a good appointment to serve the remaining 18 months of Atwater's term and run as the incumbent. 

"Jimmy certainly has a Rolodex but the idea that Patronis will help the governor in the Panhandle doesn't hold water,'' he said. 

Republican polls show the governor with 80 percent approval ratings among the GOP faithful in the Panhandle, but Kelley, who now works as a director of community affairs for the Okaloosa county school system, said the displeasure with Scott's decision to sign HB 7069 has seeded distrust among Republican school advocates in the region and it that could haunt him. 

"He had a chance to stand up for public schools and he didn't,'' Kelley said. "I think the world of Jimmy. If he is going to reward a good soldier, good for him. But a guy from Bay County can't swing a stick in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Walton and Okaloosa County. And his name recognition is low -- to extremely low."

"They voted to harm what is arguably the region's most valuable asset,'' he said, then ticking off a list of inequities the bill creates by giving charter schools an advantage over traditional public schools -- from school zoning to recess, to teacher contracts and certification, to salaries and Title I funds. "If they're all public schools, why don't they get treated the same?" 

Continue reading "Panhandle politicians warn that Rick Scott's CFO pick may not staunch his trouble over charter schools" »

What Jon Ossoff’s loss means for Democrats trying to win swing seats in Miami

IMG_2021 (2) (2)

@alextdaugherty 

Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old centrist Democrat who didn’t live in the Atlanta-area district he was seeking to represent in Congress and whose resume includes stints as a Capitol Hill staffer and documentary film producer, just ran the most expensive campaign ever for a House seat.

He lost.

Now, the focus turns to the 2018 election for Democrats where their best chance at breaking up a Republican-controlled government runs through the House.

“We as Democrats have to come to terms with the fact that we lost again,” said Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat gaining buzz for a potential presidential run in 2020. “We’re the party that stands up for working families, the middle class and yet many of them are not voting for us.”

Democrats must flip 24 seats to control the House, and two Miami-Dade seats currently occupied by Republicans are considered near must-wins: the open seat occupied by retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Miami-to-Key West seat occupied by Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

“I applaud the enthusiasm behind Ossoff’s candidacy, but how many Democrats could we have gotten elected for $30 million?” said Scott Fuhrman, a Miami Democrat who lost to Ros-Lehtinen by 10 percentage points in 2016 even though national Democrats chose not to spend in the race. Fuhrman was planning to run against Ros-Lehtinen again before she announced her retirement and a slew of Democrats jumped in the race. He dropped out in early June.

Local Democrats are quick to warn outsiders like Daily Kos Elections, a liberal blog that kick-started the cash flow to Ossoff, that using messages that resonate with the Democratic base nationally may not be the best idea in Miami, where foreign policy issues in Latin America are of large importance to Democrats, independents and Republicans alike.

“In Miami generally it is very difficult to tie national winds to what goes on in Miami-Dade County because we’re such a unique little island of diversity,” said Ben Pollara, a Democratic consultant who worked on Fuhrman’s campaign and will work in the election to replace Ros-Lehtinen.

Fuhrman put part of the blame on minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, chair of the Democrats’ fundraising organization.

“Moral victories in politics are BS and at the end of the day Democrats needed a win last night and they didn’t get it and people should be held accountable,” Fuhrman said. “For whatever reason people tend to fail up in our organization.”

The nearly $50 million invested into Ossoff’s campaign, along with months of attention from national Democrats and constant media coverage, didn’t pan out.

Read more here. 

Miami-Dade Democrats ask Democratic state attorney to resign

  Kathyfrundlemh
via @jkbjournalist

Miami-Dade Democrats approved a resolution Wednesday night calling for State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle to resign, citing her failure to hold law enforcement officers accountable for criminal wrongdoing and civil rights abuses.

The local party’s criminal justice committee, which drew up the resolution, specifically pointed to the case of Darren Rainey, an inmate who died in a shower at Dade Correctional Institution five years ago this week. It was voted on at the monthly meeting of the party’s executive committee.

The rebuke comes as Fernández Rundle is considering a run for either governor or state attorney general.

Rainey, who suffered from mental illness, was locked in a hot shower by corrections officers, who left him there for 90 minutes. Inmates at the prison contend that guards used the shower to torment unruly inmates with unbearably hot water and steam.

More here.

Photo credit: Matias J. Ocner, for the Miami Herald

Gillum wants state law so women can maintain no-cost birth control if Obamacare is repealed

Gillum 050917

@ByKristenMClark

Criticizing President Donald Trump's administration for wanting to "turn back the clock and take essential healthcare away from women" by rolling back parts of Obamacare, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on Thursday will propose protecting women's access to free birth control through a new state law instead.

“As governor, I'm going to stand with women and ensure that neither the government nor their employer stand between a woman and her doctor in making the critical health decisions that affect her life. This is an essential part of providing better quality care and economic security and stability to more Floridians," Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, said in a statement provided to the Herald/Times.

Enacting such a measure would require earning support from Florida's Republican-led Legislature, which would prove challenging -- particularly in the more conservative-minded House.

The proposal is an addition to a health care platform Gillum first unveiled last month in Tallahassee. At the time, he called for state protections to prohibit health insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, charging higher premiums for those conditions and charging higher premiums for women than men.

Such safeguards, along with the no-cost birth control coverage, are currently protected under the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare -- which congressional Republicans are seeking to dismantle and replace with their own plan. (The U.S. House has already passed its version; Senate Republicans are crafting theirs behind closed doors, which has drawn criticism and protests from Democrats.)

RELATED from PolitiFact: "7 questions about the Senate health care bill and transparency"

Meanwhile, three weeks ago, various national media reported that White House officials had drafted a rule to rollback the requirement under Obamacare that forces religious employers to cover birth control in health care plans -- which sparked Gillum to add the issue to his health care policy platform.

Two female doctors from Miami praised Gillum's idea in a statement provided by his campaign.

"Access to contraception is such an important part of a woman's health," said Dr. Annette Pelaez, an obstetrician who works at Miami MDs For Women. "This common-sense proposal would ensure that women in Florida can continue making responsible health decisions motivated by wellness, instead of by cost or coverage."

"There is no doubt that the women our practice sees would be harmed by Trump's proposal to reduce access to contraception," agreed Dr. Roselyn Bonilla, a gynecologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami. "That makes Gillum's proposal all the more important. As a physician, I'm glad that someone is willing to put the medical rights of women first, above politics."

Gillum is among at least three Democratic contenders seeking to replace Republican Gov. Rick Scott after next year's election. The other candidates are former Tallahassee U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and Orlando businessman Chris King -- although Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando trial attorney John Morgan could also run.

Among Republicans, the only declared candidate so far is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, but he's likely to face a challenge from House Speaker Richard Corcoran, of Land O'Lakes; Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, of Clearwater; and/or U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, of Ponte Vedra Beach.

Photo credit: 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum speaks at a press conference in Tallahassee in May. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

June 21, 2017

Corcoran's Watchdog PAC pulls in $608,000 in first month -- including $100k from Norm Braman

Corcoran profile photo AP Steve CannonStraight off a controversial session, House Speaker Richard Corcoran ignited his month-old political committee this week with $608,000 in contributions -- half of it in the form of generous gifts from the political committees of his two top deputies, Reps. Jose Oliva and Carlos Trujillo. But the other generous check to the Watchdog PAC came in the form of a $100,000 contribution from Miami auto magnate Norman Braman.

The contribution of $250,000 from Oliva's political committee and the $100,000 from Trujillo's PAC, are noteworthy, but in the secret world of shape-shifting transfers between political allies in Florida, they are not all that meaningful.

The Braman gift, however, is telling as Corcoran is rumored to be using the PAC to position himself for higher office. Miami's business leaders were in a serious tizzy in late April, when it appeared that Miami Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the House's lead negotiator on a gambling bill, presented an offer to the Senate that indicated House leadership was prepared to overcome years of resistance and agree to authorize a new gaming facility in Miami-Dade. 

Braman joined Healthcare executive Mike Fernandez, and Miami developer Armando Codina calling legislators enraged that they would move forward with the idea without understanding the impact it could have on the city, local businesses and the city's successful economic boom. In less than a week, talks collapsed and the bill was declared dead. 

Corcoran's report, posted on his Watchdog PAC site, indicates he raised another $183,000 in donations of between $100 and $1,000 before his much publicized fundraisers hosted by Orlando trial attorney John Morgan at the home of another Orlando trial attorney, Zander Clem. Reports show the fundraiser brought in about $17,450, mostly from attorneys, chiropractors and health care types -- likely many looking forward to the expanded application of medical marijuana. Absent from the contribution list was a check from Morgan. Clem gave $2,500 and former Democratic House Rep. Mike Clelland, who works for Morgan, gave $500. 

Another round of checks came in June 20 from mostly attorneys and health care folks raising $56,250. Corcoran's next fundraiser is set for June 28 in Miami, hosted by the speaker's many friends in the Miami delegation. 

Oliva's political committee, Conservative Principles for Florida, had $778,810 on hand after its last report on June 8. The June 6 donation to Corcoran's committee has not yet been recorded on the Division of Elections web site. Trujillo's political committee, Conservative and Principled Leadership for Florida, however, had only about $40,000 on hand on June 8 and reported the contribution to the Watchdog PAC on May 31. 

Photo: Steve Cannon, AP

 

After Georgia loss, Democrats highlight improved generic polls in GOP-held South Florida districts

IMG_Economic_Impact_of_I_2_1_8BAO5GJG_L296697696 (6)
@PatriciaMazzei

Two Republican-held congressional districts in South Florida remain among the most attractive for Democrats to flip next year, according to an internal Democratic memo circulated after the party lost a closely watched and incredibly expensive special Georgia election Tuesday night.

Recent Democratic polls in Florida's 26th and 27th districts show Democrats doing better than they were when they surveyed voters in the same districts last October, wrote Ben Ray Luján, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Luján's memo tried to keep Democrats motivated after Jon Ossoff's loss to Republican Karen Handel in the Atlanta suburbs -- a race that cost both sides about $55 million, the most expensive in history. In the memo, Luján listed 30 competitive districts Democrats plan to target to try to win back the House in 2018. They would need to flip 24 GOP-controlled districts to do so.

"The House is in play," Luján wrote for the first time. 

Among them are FL-26 and FL-27, now held by Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. When Democrats polled Ros-Lehtinen's district in October, a generic Democratic candidate outperformed a generic Republican by 7 percentage points. The beloved Ros-Lehtinen, however, is sui generis: She defeated challenger Scott Fuhrman by nearly 10 points.

But Ros-Lehtinen is retiring, and Democrats' more recent polling shows a generic Democrat leading a generic Republican by 18 points.

Similarly, Democrats say they've gained ground in the district held by Curbelo, who is running for reelection. A generic Democrat polled evenly with a generic Republican in his district in October; now, Democrats say they're up by 7 points.

Still, a generic ballot is not the same as testing specific candidates. Curbelo is a sophomore much less entrenched than Ros-Lehtinen, but he appears pretty well-liked in his Westchester-to-Key West district. There's perhaps no bigger sign that he's a tough opponent than the fact that he's yet to draw a big-name Democratic challenger ahead of 2018.

If Democrats continue the strategy they tried in Georgia, they will likely keep trying to run in congressional districts against President Donald Trump. In his memo, Luján included a chart noting Trump's job performance is under water in both Ros-Lehtinen's and Curbelo's district. Some 61 percent of respondents have a negative view of Trump's work so far in Ros-Lehtinen's district, according to the DCCC. That number is 52 percent in Curbelo's district.

Luján, who was in South Florida last month, wrote the DCCC will try to recruit candidates across the country in July.

"Let’s look outside of the traditional mold to keep recruiting local leaders, veterans, business owners, women, job-creators, and health professionals," he wrote. "Let’s take the time to find people who fit their districts, have compelling stories, and work hard to earn support from voters."

Read Luján's memo below.

Continue reading "After Georgia loss, Democrats highlight improved generic polls in GOP-held South Florida districts" »

June 17, 2017

'We are better than this,' Biden tells Florida Democrats

0247 Biden Fundraiser 06171

@PatriciaMazzei @martindvassolo

Still recovering from a crushing November loss, Florida Democrats turned to the 2018 election cycle Saturday with the help of the man who remains their party’s biggest cheerleader: former Vice President Joe Biden.

Without ever mentioning President Donald Trump, Biden rejected the new president’s rhetoric and assured Democrats there is a way for them to recover their political standing.

“The state the nation is today will not be sustained by the American people,” Biden said. “We are better than this.” 

At times funny, at times so serious he was whispering, Biden spoke to Democratic activists in Hollywood for more than 50 minutes, sounding like a potential candidate for president in 2020 — or at least like one the party’s most impassioned messengers for 2018. Biden created a new political action committee, American Possibilities, last month, fueling speculation that he is considering a presidential bid.

Though he discussed making community college free and narrowing the wage gap — the sort of issues that make up Democratic presidential platforms — Biden made no reference to the PAC or 2020, when he will be 77 and Trump will be 74. 

Instead, Biden began by making a case for the reelection of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who will likely face his biggest challenger yet next year in Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Florida Democrats have struggled to win in non-presidential years, when fewer of their voters have shown up to the polls.

“No one, no one, no one has ever questioned his word when he’s given it, and no one, no one that I’ve met in my entire time in the Senate and eight years as vice president doesn’t respect Bill for his moral courage and his physical courage,” Biden said. “Bill, I’ll come back to Florida as many times as you want — to campaign for you or against you, whichever helps more.”

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff