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June 13, 2018

Jeff Greene says he'll play king-maker if he wins Democratic nomination for governor

Jeff Greene

Jeff Greene says everybody wants to know the same thing now that he's officially running for Florida governor: How much of his own money will the billionaire spend on his campaign?

A more interesting question might ask how much he's willing to spend to get other Democrats elected.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Greene said he'd seek to play kingmaker in state legislative races this summer by dumping cash into competitive state House and Senate races if he wins the Democratic nomination. A real estate tycoon with a net worth estimated at around $4 billion, Greene has the kind of cash to make him a counterbalance to, say, Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas gaming magnate who has dumped at least $10 million into conservative Florida campaigns since 2010 — the last time Greene ran for statewide office.

"Everyone asks me for numbers. The reality is whatever it takes," said Greene, who invested $24 million into his failed 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. "We’re not going to just throw money around. We'll spend as little as we have to but as much as we need to.

Greene, who tossed out the number $200 million when talking Tuesday to the Associated Press, has continued to contribute to other Democrats over the past eight years. He gave $4,600 in 2014, for instance, to the congressional campaign of Gwen Graham, whom he's now running against. But, perhaps with the number 200 on his mind Tuesday, he mentioned $200,000 when speaking hypothetically about his ability to influence competitive general election races through political committee donations heading into November were he to be the Democratic nominee.

"When I win the nomination I’ll be getting involved in other races. I hope the Republicans read this and understand the days of easy rides to controlling the House and Senate are over for good," said Greene, whose enthusiasm waned when asked if he'd do the same should he lose. "I’ll be doing whatever it takes to go toe to toe dollar-wise to get the message out in the general election."

Political strategists and his opponents were skeptical of Greene's chances to win the Democratic nomination when he quietly filed to run this month (without officially announcing his campaign or talking to the press for days). But Greene's money makes him a threat, since the question isn't whether he can dump millions into TV ads but how much he's willing to spend.

"All bets are off if he spends $50 million, and unlike his last attempt spends it in away that compels voters to support him," Democratic consultant Steven Vancore said as news spread that Greene had filed to run.

Greene spoke to the Miami Herald late Tuesday night after a day of interviews, his first since filing paperwork June 1 to seek the Democratic nomination against Andrew Gillum, Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine. Green said he'd stayed quiet because he needed to get his campaign team set up first.

To read more, click here.

String of high-profile legal battles keeps Florida judge in spotlight

Karen Gievers has been on a legal roll of late, as high-profile cases keep randomly finding their way to this circuit judge in Tallahassee.

She ruled that Floridians have the right to smoke medical marijuana — a defeat for Gov. Rick Scott, who's appealing. She refused to dismiss a legal challenge to Scott's blind trust in another setback for the governor, who's asking an appeals court to toss the suit.

Earlier, Gievers handed a defeat to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, when she threw out his "facially defective" subpoenas of a Visit Florida vendor's business and tax records. That was after she approved Corcoran's lawsuit accusing the state lottery of illegally extending a contract. She even had a case in which the state broke leases to flee a bat-infested office building that workers claimed made them sick.

RELATED COVERAGE: Judge halts Florida ban on smoking medical marijuana

Rick Scott's blind trust battle goes to court (again) on July 17

Judge quashes final subpoenas in Visit Florida lawsuit, signaling loss for Corcoran

A long-time child advocate in Miami, Gievers, 69, spent years battling the state over a deficient and underfunded system that kept foster children in state care too long.

A judge had appointed the Miami lawyer to represent six siblings, which became a class action lawsuit. She was a Democrat taking on Democratic bureaucrats and politicians and won the backing of the Florida Supreme Court in a budget crisis early in Lawton Chiles' career as governor.

She was the first woman president of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, and was president of the Miami-Dade Bar Association in the year following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when many people desperately needed pro bono legal help.

As a lawyer, she grew frustrated with the snail's pace of justice. As a judge, she manages about 600 cases and tries to keep dockets moving, working from a third-floor office in the Leon County Courthouse that's filled with artwork and souvenirs of a long career.

"As a trial judge, I knew I had to put into practice what I had been saying all those years," Gievers said.

In her chambers this week, she prodded opposing lawyers to keep talking in a routine car accident case that's months from trial. One of the lawyers, Cindy Massion, told Gievers: "I don't want to be in here begging for a continuance because I know the court doesn't like that."

Massion said her son once appeared before Gievers as a juvenile, but that the judge probably didn't remember. Gievers didn't.

"She handled it very professionally," Massion said.

Gievers twice sought high office and lost. She ran statewide as a Democrat for secretary of state in 1998 against Katherine Harris, and for insurance commissioner in 1994 — against a guy named Bill Nelson.

Gievers framed the Nelson race as a choice between "a career politician (sound familiar?) who is used to taking money from special interests he regulates and a consumer advocate who will stand up for the people." The editorial boards liked her more than voters did.

She moved from Miami to Tallahassee following the second race after her law office flooded out, set her sights on a judgeship and won.

Born in the movie-making town of Culver City, Calif., where Gone With the Wind was filmed, Gievers grew up a baseball fan. Walter O'Malley had just moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

She kept statistics on Dodger players and worked as an "usherette," as they were called then, at the old L.A. Coliseum, where she had a perfect vantage point right behind the play-by-play man Vin Scully.

"I can tell you how many bases Maury Wills stole," she said (104 in 1962). That led to more ushering work, where she saw the Beatles and met UCLA basketball legend John Wooden and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor. "I go a little past his waist," she said.

Gievers moved to South Florida when her first husband landed a job at National Airlines in Miami. She had dropped out of UCLA and began her college career all over, starting at Miami-Dade College.

In 2010, Gievers replaced L. Ralph "Bubba" Smith Jr., who retired and had been a central figure in the 2000 presidential recount. Voters in six counties re-elected her in 2016 but the mandatory retirement age of 70 has caught up with her and she'll leave the bench in April.

"I'm deferring any consideration of what I'm going to do in the next chapter of my life until after I'm done," Gievers said.

June 12, 2018

Remember when Cabinet meetings used to focus on agency oversight?

Florida Cabinet KeelerThe state agency in charge of regulating taxation in Florida has four equal bosses — Gov. Rick Scott and the three elected members of the Cabinet — but in the past two years, in public meetings and correspondence, they have asked few questions and have given the agency scant public scrutiny.

The agency's director, Leon Biegalski, was the governor's choice to lead the Department of Revenue when he was elevated from deputy secretary at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation in April 2016. Since then, the governor has canceled DOR's regular appearance in 9 of 19 before the Cabinet meetings.

When Biegalski appears before the Cabinet on Wednesday, it will be the first time this year. Will they ask any questions?

Judging from the transcripts of the previous meetings, that's not likely. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam asked only two questions in Biegalski's 10 appearance before them — and both came from Putnam. Story here. 

Until Scott's tenure, the Florida Cabinet had a tradition of meeting every other week. 

Florida, unlike most other states, has a unique power-sharing relationship between its governor and the Cabinet members. They share oversight and hiring authority of the directors of the departments of revenue, law enforcement, highway safety, the division of bond finance and the state board of administration.But the shared role also underscores the structural weakness of Florida's governor in controlling the shared agencies and Scott has ratcheted down the amount of substantial dialogue that takes place during Cabinet meetings.

In the last seven years, Cabinet sessions have been more ceremonial and less substantive. More time is devoted to award ceremonies than under previous governors, and a regular feature is Bondi’s promotion of offering dogs for adoption.

Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, sets the calendar and has convened only three Cabinet meetings this year. He scheduled eight meetings for the entire year, the fewest in recent memory, and canceled the meeting in May.

When the Cabinet had both Democrats and Republicans on it, there were more questions of agency heads in the public forum than there have been under Scott.

At a Nov. 20, 2008, Cabinet meeting, as former Revenue Director Lisa Echeverri Vickers presented her legislative budget request and annual performance report, former CFO Alex Sink grilled her about enforcement of tax revenue collection. Vickers acknowledged that she is asking for more auditors to help them collect the unpaid taxes.

Sink, a former banker and a Democrat, then asked about tax collections on short sales, a policy based on the rule because the Legislature failed to pass a statute, and the agency's application of "a glitch in the depreciation laws" that had left many businesses vulnerable.

The discussion provided an opportunity for the public to hear the agency's response to handling two important issues in an open forum.

Under Gov. Jeb Bush, former Revenue Director admitted during his annual performance review on Sept. 21, 2004, that the measures related to review of property appraisers "were fairly easy to achieve."

"You're an honest man, Zingale,'' Bush replied.

"Well, we want to do better than that,'' Zingale responded.

Marili Cancio files to run against Annette Taddeo for Miami-Dade state Senate seat

Marili Cancio

The Republican Party finally has its candidate to run for Florida’s 40th Senate District, and it’s not Frank Artiles.

Marili Cancio, an attorney and Miami Dade College Trustee, filed Tuesday to run a campaign against Annette Taddeo.

" I think I’d be an effective legislator who can bring dollars to South Florida," Cancio said.

Cancio is a frequent contributor to Spanish-language news stations. She was appointed to her position by Gov. Rick Scott, and has defended Donald Trump on social media.

Artiles, who was forced to resign from the seat last year amid a controversy over racial remarks, still has a campaign account open and has hinted that he’d run again. But he hasn’t raised a dollar in more than a year, and Cancio’s candidacy makes it more likely that the party’s leadership was not supportive of an Artiles comeback.

Florida Chamber polls predicts close Senate race, Putnam win and many amendments failing

Gov. Rick Scott greets Key West city leaders on June 8, 2018. Gwen Filosa FLKEYSNEWS.COM

The Florida Chamber of Commerce released new poll results that show Republican candidates doing well in statewide elections, but many of the constitutional amendments not seeing the same success.

Gov. Rick Scott was predicted to win over incumbent Bill Nelson for the U.S. Senate, but only by 3 percentage points — within the plus-or-minus 4 point margin of error. A total of 605 voters were polled via phone statewide by a company called Cherry Communications. The Chamber did not release the poll questions.

In a separate poll, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam is shown to prevail over his Republican primary opponent Rep. Ron DeSantis for governor, by 17 points (32 to 15), with nearly half of Republican voters still undecided. The margin of error for that poll was 5.3 points.

It's important to note the Chamber has endorsed Putnam and Scott, has spent money on a pro-Scott ad.

More generally, voters who were polled said that jobs/the economy ranks as their top issue this election, with education following very close behind. Gun issues, immigration and health care were all ranked lower.

Of the 13 amendments to the state constitution on the ballot this year, only four showed enough support to pass so far: Amendment 1 (expands the homestead exemption in property taxes), Amendment 3 (gives voters, not the Legislature, the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in Florida), Amendment 7 (first responder and military benefits) and Amendment 8 (school board term limits and expanded state powers to establish local schools outside a school board's control).

One that doesn't show enough support is Amendment 4, a potential political game-changer which would restore the right to vote to an estimated 1.5 million convicted felons in Florida — excluding people who were convicted of murder or felony sex crimes. But a whopping 43 percent of respondents said they were "unsure" about this amendment, showing that there is still a long way to go before November.

Rubio's criticism of Kim Jong Un mirrors past criticism of Donald Trump

Marco Rubio 3


Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he was skeptical that any deal between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un would eliminate the country's nuclear weapons program, though he hopes such a deal can be negotiated.  

"Should be skeptical of any deal with (Kim Jong UN)," Rubio tweeted Tuesday. "Limits to future strategic weapons instead of eliminating current program not an acceptable outcome. Hope I’m wrong but still believe they will never give up nukes & ICBM’s unless believe failure to do so triggers regime ending reaction." 

Then Rubio took at shot at Kim, who took power in North Korea after his father and grandfather previously ruled the country, arguing that the 34-year-old autocrat "would not be elected assistant dog catcher in any democracy."  

"One more thing about KJU," Rubio tweeted. While I know POTUS is trying to butter him up to get a good deal, KJU is NOT a talented guy. He inherited the family business from his dad & grandfather. He is a total weirdo who would not be elected assistant dog catcher in any democracy." 

Rubio's comments on the North Korean dictator mirror his attacks on Trump during the 2016 presidential primary, when the Florida Republican said Trump's career in real estate was due to his father's wealth. 

"Here’s the guy that inherited $200 million," Rubio said during a debate. "If he hadn’t inherited $200 million, you know where Donald Trump would be right now? Selling watches in Manhattan." 

And Rubio's tweet criticizing Kim Jong Un drew a head-scratching response from Missouri Republican Rep. Billy Long. 

"If he one day runs for President of the Korean Peninsula perhaps you can give him some pointers on running a successful Presidential campaign?" Long said in response to Rubio, mocking Rubio's presidential loss to Trump and offering a scenario where a third-generation dictator would somehow run for elected office in a unified Korea. 


Troutman releases six quick-hit digital ads highlighting agriculture, gun issues

Screen capture from a Troutman ad | YouTube

About a year after formally entering the race to be Florida's next commissioner of agriculture, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven released six new digital ads along with a revamp of his campaign website Monday night.

The short ads each introduce Troutman and touch on an issue, including gun rightswater sustainability and citrus greening, a disease that has had detrimental effects on Florida's citrus industry. They will run on YouTube and social media, according to campaign spokesman Carlo Fassi.

"Hello, I'm Baxter Troutman, a conservative businessman and a family farmer. And I am a champion for Second Amendment rights," begins one. Troutman then goes on to say that as Commissioner of Agriculture, he will defend Floridians' right to bear arms against attacks from "the Left and the liberal media."

Troutman, a Republican whose family is in the citrus and cattle industries, has dedicated around $3 million of his own funds to his roughly $3.4 million campaign war chest.

His top opponents, both Republican, are state Sen. Denise Grimsley who has fundraised about $1.2 million and state Rep. Matt Caldwell who has raised around $2.1 million.

All three candidates have family ties to farming. However, in one of Troutman's ads, he claims he is "the only candidate who truly grew up with dirt in his toes."

June 11, 2018

Florida Chamber poll shows Putnam leading DeSantis


A new poll commissioned by the Florida Chamber of Commerce shows Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam leading U.S Rep. Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination for governor.

Putnam is ahead of DeSantis by 17 points (32 to 15) according to the poll, conducted June 7 through 9 by Cherry Communications. Nearly half of likely republican voters remain undecided, according to the poll.

The poll was conducted by phone, and has a margin of error of 5.3 percent. Some 501 likely voters were queried. it found that Putnam is ahead in every “major” media market in the state save Miami-Dade. Questions and methodology were not released to the press.

The state chamber has endorsed Putnam, so consider that when reading the results.

Democratic super PAC reserves air time for Bill Nelson

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson will get a "seven figure" advertising boost from Senate Majority PAC, which today announced it has reserved $80 million in air time in Florida and eight other states.

"Our record fundraising this cycle has allowed us to both be on-air in several states now and increase our strategic investments," said J.B. Poersch, president of Senate Majority PAC. "We are implementing an aggressive media strategy to combat the Republicans' baseless, partisan attacks and promote our candidates that are fighting for higher wages and lower health care premiums."

The TV time is reserved from after Labor Day through Election Day in November. This reservations will total roughly $80 million and cover Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia.

The group did not provide specifics other than each state will get at least seven figures.The super PAC in May spent $2.2 million for a bio ad about Nelson and that was followed by a $600,000 digital campaign in partnership with Priorities USA Action.

But Nelson continues to be far outpaced in advertising by Gov. Rick Scott's campaign and the pro-Scott New Republican PAC, which Monday announced another $3.5 million in spending, in the form of a negative ad about the long-serving Democrat.

Nelson through the decades, as a pro-Scott super PAC pours it on

Another day, another hard-hitting Rick Scott TV ad against Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida's U.S. Senate race.

This time it's the pro-Scott New Republican Super PAC out with a new 30-second ad that literally traces the aging of Nelson from his origins as a 29-year-old state legislator in 1972. Eight separate closeups of Nelson's face appear in the 30-second spot, driving a career politician message.

The statewide ad, backed by a $3.5 million buy, starts this week and is backed by 15-second and six-second digital ads, the PAC said.

"Politician Bill Nelson continues to run for public office, leaving few footprints behind," a male narrator says. "Votes with Hillary Clinton 89 percent of the time. And raises taxes again."