February 08, 2017

Will $100 million for citrus tree compensation be the biggest member-project ask?

Canker 1997Florida homeowners who lost their beloved citrus trees to the failed canker eradication program 17 years ago could be compensated this year under a $100 million budget request being filed this week by a Miami lawmaker.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz wants the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) to make good on four court rulings ordering the state to pay more than 114,000 homeowners in Broward, Palm Beach, Lee and Orange counties whose citrus trees were cut down between 2000 and 2006 to curb the spread of citrus canker.

State agriculture inspectors deployed crews with chainsaws to chop down 577,253 orange, grapefruit and key lime trees throughout the state — even if the trees showed no signs of infection.

Outraged property owners representing counties with 94 percent of the lost trees joined five class action lawsuits to seek compensation. In four of the cases, the court ordered the state to pay more than $100 million in judgments, attorneys fees and interest. The fifth case, involving Miami-Dade residents who lost 40 percent of the healthy trees removed in Florida, is still pending.

The budget request filed by Diaz — and a similar one expected to be filed in the Senate by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami — is likely the largest member project to be filed this session in the House. Under new House rules, every budget request made by individual members must be filed and voted on as a separate bill.

Diaz, who chairs the powerful House Commerce Committee, said it is time the state compensate Floridians “whose property was illegally taken through no fault of their own.”

“Anyone who was in Florida for the citrus canker scare knows of someone who had their property taken away and who never received a dime for it,” he told the Herald/Times. “There are tens of thousands of Floridians who were stripped of their citrus trees and are still wondering why the state has not made them whole.” Story here. 

January 31, 2017

Ag Commissioner Putnam: 'We need to make workforce development a priority'

Putnam_adam2 apday 0131 kmc

@ByKristenMClark

Although Republican Gov. Rick Scott has made jobs and business incentives a staple of his administration, a statewide official who might seek to replace him in next year’s election says Florida needs to do a better job of making sure its residents are actually qualified to fill in-demand jobs and be hired by the companies that move here.

“The talent pipeline is not in place,” Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told reporters Tuesday. “The worst of all worlds is for us to recruit contracts or recruit businesses to Florida and not be able to staff the pipeline to meet their talent needs.”

More here.

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

January 23, 2017

Potential 2018 governor candidate already tops $7M raised in political committee

@JeremySWallace

The Republican many expect to run for governor started 2017 off with a bang financially.

At the start of January, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam collected a $250,000 donation check from Florida Power and Light - the largest single donation Putnam has received yet for a political committee he runs called Florida Grown PC.

That donation also helped Putnam top $7 million raised since he created Florida Grown in 2015. He’s spent just over $2 million out of that fund, but still holds nearly $5 million in the account.

Florida Power and Light now has given a total of $587,000 to Putnam’s account since the start 2015. That makes the utility company the largest single donor to Florida Grown, narrowly edging out the Voice of Florida Business, a political committee run by Associated Industries of Florida, which gave $500,000. Another fund controlled by AIF gave $425,000 to Putnam’s committee.

FPL is also a major donor to AIF’s funds. FPL has given more than $2.6 million combined to the Voice of Florida Business and AIF since 2014.

Putnam has not declared for governor, but speculation that he will was everywhere during the Republican Party of Florida’s Annual Meetings last weekend. RPOF chairman Blaise Ingoglia went so far to tell GOP activists that if Putnam and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran both run for governor in 2018, he would remain neutral even though he works with Corcoran in the Florida House.

Here are Florida Grown PC’s Top 10 Donors

1. $587,000 -  Florida Power & Light
2. $500,000 - Voice of Florida Business
3. $425,000 - Associated Industries of Florida
4. $400,000 - Florida Jobs PAC
5. $235,398 - Disney Worldwide Services
6. $210,000 - U.S. Sugar Corporation
7. $160,000 - Publix Supermarkets
8. $160,000 - Florida Retail Federation
9. $125,000 - FCCI Services Inc
10. $110,000 - Duke Energy

January 13, 2017

Republicans make final pitch to lead state party

@JeremySWallace

On the eve of Republican activists deciding who will lead the Florida GOP for the next two years, the two candidates battling for the helm were leaving nothing to chance on Friday night in Orlando.

Current Republican Party of Florida chairman Blaise Ingoglia jumped from conference room to conference room at the Rosen Centre Hotel trying to shoot down what he called false rumors that he would use the party to help Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran if he decided to run for governor in 2018 in a field that could include current Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Never mind that neither Corcoran, a Pasco Republican, or Putnam, a Polk County Republican have declared to run. Still, Ingoglia said he felt compelled to address the rumors that he said are flying around in emails.

“I just want to set the record straight here,” Ingoglia, a Hernando County Republican, told a room full of county Republican Party chairs. “The Republican Party will remain neutral and I will remain neutral in the primary as I always do.”

Coming off a year in which Republicans dominated Democrats at the ballot box, you would think Ingoglia’s position would be secure. But Sarasota Republican Christian Ziegler has aggressively campaigned against Ingoglia, saying the party needs to be more unified going into 2018 when the governor’s race will be on the ballot. Since Ingoglia first one the position in 2015, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Senate have worked more independently from the RPOF. Ziegler said if he wins Saturday morning’s election, he’d work to bring all the different segments of the RPOF back together.

"It’s a shame" that the governor isn’t more involved with the party, Ziegler told the same group of Republican Party chairs a few minutes after Ingoglia addressed the same group.

Later, before another group of activists in another conference room crowd, Ziegler emphasized that the has a “great relationship with the governor” and talks to him regularly.

Scott has not publicly backed either candidate for the post.

On Saturday morning, both candidates will get one more chance to appeal to party activists before a final vote is taken for the position which pays $115,000 a year.

The state leader is picked by county party leaders from each of the 67 counties. Each county has the potential of 3 votes, plus the governor, the House Speaker and Senate President each have 10 voters. In addition, Republican members of Congress from Florida, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and the four elected cabinet members all get a vote.

October 24, 2016

Adam Putnam reaffirms his support for Trump over Clinton

PutnamGate

@JeremySWallace

The choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is not even in question for Adam Putnam, the Republican many expect to be a leading contender for governor in 2018.

Putnam, the state’s elected agriculture commissioner, told reporters on Monday that Trump was not his first, second or even third choice for the Republican nomination, but he won fair and square. 

Asked if he is going to still vote for Trump, Putnam answered: “Absent of some cataclysm, I believe that the change he’s going to bring to this nation, his underlying views and philosophies as it relates to the role of government and taxation in peoples’ lives, are preferable to Hillary Clinton’s.”

Putnam supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for the GOP nomination, even campaigning with him in the early primary states. After Bush dropped out, Putnam got behind Marco Rubio. But once Trump secured the nomination, Putnam said he would vote for Trump because he was the GOP nomination.

But along the way, Putnam has openly criticized Trump for “running his mouth about the most ridiculous things.”

Putnam’s latest comments of support for Trump came during a press conference in Tallahassee to promote a new statewide anti-terrorism ad campaign designed to encourage people to report suspicious activity to law enforcement.

October 21, 2016

Which special interests are donating to leading contender to be the next governor

PutnamTimesFile                                                                                                                        OCTAVIO JONES/Tampa Bay Times

@JeremySWallace

The biggest industries in Florida continue to line up to write checks to win over the Republican that most expect to be a leading contender for governor in 2018.

Since Sept. 1, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has raised more than $300,000 -  a third of that from Disney Worldwide Services - for a political action committee he controls called Florida Grown. Since the start of 2015, Putnam has now raised over $6 million for that fund and spent just over $2 million, the latest campaign finance reports released today show.

Since the start of 2015, only Gov. Rick Scott has raised more money for a political action committee affiliated with an elected official than Putnam. Scott has raised just over $7 million in his committee called Let’s Get To Work.

Putnam, a former Congressman from Polk County, is half way through his second four-year term as the state’s agriculture commissioner and cannot seek re-election because of term limits.

The top donor to Putnam has been Associated Industries of Florida, a powerful Tallahassee-based business trade group. AIF’s PAC and two other groups affiliated with AIF (The Voice of Florida PAC and Floridians for a Stronger Democracy) have combined to give $850,000 to Putnam’s Florida Grown committee.

Also among Putnam’s top donors: U.S. Sugar Corporation, Florida Power & Light, Florida Jobs PAC (a PAC associated with the Florida Chamber of Commerce) and Publix Super Markets. Those donors all gave Putnam at least $160,000 since the start of 2015.

Florida Grown's Top Donors:

$400,000 - The Voice of Florida Business
$400,000 - Florida Jobs PAC
$350,000 - AIF PAC
$281,275 - Florida Power and Light
$235,000 - Disney Worldwide Services
$210,000 - US Sugar Corporation
$160,000 - Publix Super Markets
$160,000 - Florida Retail Federation Political Committee

September 28, 2016

Adam Putnam offers candid critique of Florida's future at Florida Chamber forum

Adam PutnamAgricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is positioning himself to run for governor in 2018, issued a critical assessment of the future of Florida at a gathering of business leaders Wednesday, suggesting that the state has veered off course with education reform and economic development and must do better at protecting water, land and business diversity.

Pointing to a series of charts produced by the Florida Chamber of Commerce that showed grim statistics, Putnam joked: "I think we need to order up a round of shots" to "get our head around this."

Among the data presented at the chamber's Future of Florida Forum: 57 percent of the Florida elementary school kids are on free and reduced lunch, 11 percent are obese, that 70,000 students are homeless, 16 percent of the state is in poverty, and per capita income is only $42,733.

The difference between the areas that are improving and those declining "is leadership,'' Putnam said. "It's up to us to chart the course of this state."

Putnam urged the audience of business leaders to remember that "water is Florida's golden goose" and to
"think about water infrastructure the way we think about other infrastructure in our state."

"You couldn't print enough money to recruit a company to Flint, Michigan" he warned, "because they failed at the most basic function local government has."

But to sustain Florida's economic recovery, the state must focus on education. He noted that the state faces a future budget deficit because spending on Medicaid outpaces growth but "if the state were educating its young and preparing them for careers they're not going to be on Medicaid."

"We have begun to lose the support of the most important shareholders in the education system and that's the parents, in many cases the most involved parents,'' he said, "...because we got wrapped around the axle of reform for reform's sake instead of explaining to parents why their kids need to learn more" in the third grade today than the previous generation."

He also said that economic development must be less focused on "shiny objects" and more focused on nurturing and encouraging small businesses.

"We need an economic development approach that is respectful to a small business mindset," he said. He noted that Publix started as a small business in Lakeland. Bealls began as a small business in Bradenton. Lilly Pulitzer, Tropicana were also homegrown Florida companies.

"If we're job snobs we're going to miss the opportunity to support those small business leaders who are going to create something big. I want it to begin in Florida,'' he said to applause.

He suggested that Florida should embrace its talented military veterans in the midpoint of their lives by encouraging them to return to service in the classroom, where they can instill discipline and be a valuable example.

"We know that some of the most talented people in the world are going to end up here at some point in our life. those,'' he said. "We want them three decades sooner. I want Florida to be more than the prize of a life well-lived and the success accumulated someplace else. We can be the jumping off point for the American Dream. The place where those dreams incumbate, grow, develop and explode."

Putnam also emphasized to the chamber, which is funded by the largest corporations in Florida, that their job is "not to protect that we have" because that is short-sighted.

"Think of all the giant companies that would have been the platinum sponsor of this event that aren't in existence anymore,'' he said. "Our job is not to lock our businesses in place, because we would have picked unwisely a decade ago with banks, law firms, airlines, aerospace companies that have been wiped off the map.

"Our job is to create an economy that is agile and welcoming, perceptive, dynamic and ready for whatever may walk thorugh that door with the quality of our people and the reception of our state government."

September 20, 2016

Will the governor and Cabinet hold FDLE accountable for investigating inmate deaths?

Prison deathsSix years after 27-year-old prison inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo died at Franklin Correctional Institution  after being gassed by corrections officers, an investigation has still not been complete and witnesses to the incident, who allege he was tortured and beaten by corrections officers, have still not been interviewed, according to a 33-page federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday.

On Tuesday, the head of the agency charged with investigating the state's role in the death, Rick Swearingen, faces his six-month performance review before the governor and Cabinet today. The governor and Cabinet jointly are responsible for oversight of FDLE.

On Monday, the Herald/Times asked if the governor and Cabinet believed FDLE was sufficiently following up  on the abuse-related deaths at the Department of Corrections, as the agency had told legislators it would do. For the past three years, the Miami Herald has chronicled or revealed details about many of the deaths.

The question was not about the pending investigation but how the governor and members of the Cabinet is holding FDLE accountable regarding its performance about an inmate death nearly six years ago and other deaths the agency is charged with reviewing. 

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater responded. No one chose to answer the question, or explain why they didn't want to answer it. We did not receive a response from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Here is what we asked:

"We are writing today about a federal lawsuit being filed in connection with the death of inmate Randall Jordan Aparo in 2010. We understand the investigation was re-opened by FDLE, however, many of the witnesses in the case and others have not been interviewed, according to the lawsuit. 

"As you prepare the performance review of FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen on Tuesday, could the governor provide us with an answer to this question:

"Have you have been assured that Commissioner Swearingen and his staff are sufficiently following up on the abuse-related deaths at the Department of Corrections? If you are confident these investigations are underway, please explain how you reached that conclusion."

Here's how the governor's office answered the question at 9:47 p.m.

"Commissioner Swearingen has done a great job in his leadership role at FDLE. We look forward to his performance review tomorrow,'' said Lauren Schenone, the governor's press secretary. "Florida is now at a 45-year crime low because of the hard work of Florida’s law enforcement officers, and Commissioner Swearingen has dedicated his career to making sure Florida is the safest state in the nation.”

Here is how the office of CFO Atwater responded: "Our office has not had specific conversations about inmate investigations," said Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for Atwater.

Here is how Bondi's office responded: "It would not be appropriate to comment on a pending investigation,'' said Kylie Mason, Bondi press secretary. "Furthermore, any discussion relating to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen's performance review must be addressed in the open at the public Cabinet meeting."

September 09, 2016

Adam Putnam recalls being with President Bush on 9/11

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was a freshman member of Congress during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- and he was with then-President George W. Bush in Sarasota when Bush learned about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. He later joined the president on Air Force One.

Putnam retells the story about that day in a gripping oral history published by Politico Magazine on Friday, two days before the 15-year anniversary of the attacks.

Rep. Adam Putnam: [Rep. Dan Miller and I] went up to the president’s cabin and he gave us a briefing. He told us that “One way or another” all but a couple planes were accounted for. That was his phrase “one way or another.” He told us Air Force One was headed to Barksdale and was going to drop us off there. When we left the cabin, I turned to Dan and said, “Didn’t you think that was an odd phrase?” He didn’t notice it. I said “‘One way or another,’ that sounds like that there’s more to it than that.” I said, “Do you think there’s any way we shot them down?” We were left hanging.

More here.

August 15, 2016

Four people control who is disenfranchised in Florida; three say it's time for reform

Restrictions on felons voting is one of the two ways Florida legally disenfranchises voters.

One way, the write-in law, which allows a write-in candidate to close a primary to all voters, is intended to undercut the constitutional provision that allows all voters to vote in a primary election.

The other is the law that permanently requires felons who have completed their sentences to apply and petition for their voting rights to be restored. But unlike the write-in laws, which the Florida Legislature can revise to make less restrictive, the laws regulating ex-felons voting is controlled by the governor and Cabinet and the state Constitution. Any change in the rules requires the governor to be on the prevailing side.

In interviews with the Herald/Times, everyone but Gov. Rick Scott said they are open to changes in the system they installed five years ago.

“If someone does an analysis, we have been granting civil rights to those who were waiting who would have automatically had their rights restored [under the previous system] and it’s probably time for us to revisit,” said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

“Having had some time and experience on the Clemency Board, I’ve come to believe that there are opportunities for improvement,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said she was open to some reforms before an application may begin.

"I wouldn't mind reevaluating the time frame of how long we wait,'' she said. "I would reconsider reevaluating the time frame to three years." But she does not support automatic restoration for non-violent felons.

“Serving your time meant that you lost your rights,” she said. “If you’re going to have your rights restored, I want you to ask for them.”

Scott, however, said through a spokesperson he does not support any changes. 

Florida leads the nation in the number of felons who have served their time who are disenfranchised with an estimated 1.5 million Floridians barred from voting. According to the Sentencing Project, Florida holds nearly one-fourth of all disenfranchised former felons in the nation. Read more on that here. 

The practice is a vestige of post Civil War white supremacy and now disenfranchises more whites than blacks. There once was a time when more blacks were registered to vote in Florida than whites. Our story on the history of disenfranchising black voters here.