December 11, 2018

DeSantis names state representative to lead Department of Business and Professional Regulation


State Rep. Halsey Beshears | Florida House of Representatives

Governor-elect Ron DeSantis' transition team announced the appointment of state Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, to lead the Department of Business and Professional Regulation on Tuesday.

"Throughout his distinguished career, Halsey has been a champion for deregulation and, under his leadership, this agency will become the focal driver that will make Florida a premier destination for entrepreneurs and companies seeking to relocate," DeSantis wrote in a statement.

Beshears, 47, owns several businesses in North Florida, including commercial property management, bicycle equipment and a wholesale agriculture company, according to the transition team's release.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation is in charge of licensing and regulating various businesses and professions, such as cosmetologists, veterinarians and real estate agents.

His appointment marks the second state lawmaker to be plucked from the Legislature into the new governor's administration, following the surprising appointment of Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz to the Department of Emergency Management, likely requiring special elections to refill those seats.

DeSantis' lieutenant governor, Jeannette Núñez of Miami, also hails from the statehouse.

December 10, 2018

Mucarsel-Powell chief of staff pick has Capitol Hill experience

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Congresswoman-elect Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has named former Bill Nelson and State Department advisor Laura Rodriguez as her first chief of staff. 

In Rodriguez, the first-time lawmaker is tapping someone with experience on Capitol Hill. Rodriguez worked for the State Department's legislative affairs bureau during the Obama administration where she was the point person for the House of Representatives. She also worked for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in addition to advising Nelson. 

"As someone who was raised in the district, Laura is very familiar with the needs of the communities I will represent," Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement. "Her experience working on Capitol Hill and her work ethic will serve our district very well."
"As a woman, mother, and the daughter of Colombian immigrants, Congresswoman-Elect Mucarsel-Powell is an inspiration for me personally," Ms. Rodriguez said in a statement. "Her legislative agenda to help all residents of her District access affordable healthcare, fight for common sense gun reform, addressing the unique challenges South Florida faces with Climate Change and Sea-Level Rise and protecting our environment are exactly what her District and our country need." 
Mucarsel-Powell will be sworn in alongside newly elected Miami Rep. Donna Shalala on January 3rd after defeating Republican Carlos Curbelo last month.

Collecting ballots? It's illegal in North Carolina, but legal in Florida

A contested election. Accusations of election fraud. Widespread attention from the national media.

No, it's not in Florida, which has had its fair share of election hijinks over the decades.

It's in North Carolina, where a Congressional race might get a rare election do-over after allegations surfaced that a political operative helped the Republican candidate win by illegally collecting absentee, or vote-by-mail, ballots.

The case highlights a notable difference between the two states, however: North Carolina has much tougher laws than Florida when it comes to voting by mail.

Although Florida, like many states, has imposed tough voter ID laws for casting a ballot at a polling place, it's done virtually nothing to stop fraud in the vote-by-mail process.

Most everywhere in Florida, it's not illegal to collect ballots, like it is in North Carolina, where it's a felony. Rather, it's only illegal to pay someone to collect ballots in Florida, a loophole that allows campaign volunteers and even candidates themselves to go door to door collecting voters' ballots.

(One exception is in Miami-Dade County, which has its own county code limiting anyone from possessing more than two ballots at a time.)

Another safeguard, requiring the signature of a witness, such a family member, on the vote by mail ballot envelope, is not required in Florida. In North Carolina, it is.

Florida used to have both protections, but Florida's Republican-led Legislature stripped them away.

In 1998, after Miami was rocked by absentee voting scandals that uncovered a vast network of people collecting and filling out mail-in ballots, lawmakers in Tallahassee outlawed non-election workers from possessing of two or more of them.

But three years later, lawmakers repealed it. 

In the 1990s, two witness signatures were required on absentee ballot envelopes in Florida. But in 1997, it was reduced to one signature, and in 2004, lawmakers eliminated the requirement entirely.

In 2012, following another round of absentee ballot fraud in Miami, a Miami-Dade grand jury recommended bringing back both laws, but lawmakers didn't agree.

One former Palm Beach County commissioner said the situation in North Carolina is similar to her own two years ago, when voters there complained that two a state House candidate and a county commission candidate were going around helping people vote and collecting their ballots.

In both races, an unusually high return in vote by mail ballots helped the candidates win.

An investigation by the Palm Beach Post found the two Democrats did go into people's homes, and some voters said the candidates had actually signed their ballots, which is illegal.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, a fellow Democrat, assembled a task force to investigate the claims. They found fraud, but no suspect, and agents didn't follow up on the allegations uncovered by the Post. Charges were never filed against the lawmakers, who are still in office.

Priscilla Taylor, who was on the losing end of the commission race, told the Times/Herald the laws need to be strengthened. She's now running for mayor of West Palm Beach.

"It is certainly a serious issue that needs to be addressed," Taylor told the Times/Herald over the weekend. "Stealing elections should not be tolerated on any level."

December 07, 2018

‘A freshman, but not a rookie’: Donna Shalala starts her new career in Congress



As Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York shivered while waiting for the official House of Representatives photo on a cold November morning outside the U.S. Capitol, Donna Shalala was nice and toasty.

Freshman members of Congress were required to ditch their jackets for the group photo, so Shalala, ever the Miamian, waited until the last possible second to join the group without layers in the 30-degree weather.

She’s used to Washington.

Shalala, 77, who will become the second-oldest first-year member of Congress in U.S. history, greets constituents and fellow lawmakers with the slogan, “I may be a freshman, but I’m not a rookie.” She claims to have found a 15-minute commute from her Georgetown condo to Capitol Hill, a product of her years of working within the highest levels of government and preference for rising early.

After a long career as President Bill Clinton’s Health and Human Services Secretary, leading the University of Miami and a stint as the head of the Clinton Foundation, Shalala is excited to become a low-ranking cog in a 435-person lawmaking body that recently earned a lower approval rating than cockroaches and traffic jams.

“I’m the only one walking around saying this is going to be fun. Everyone else looks tense,” Shalala said.

At least in official channels, Shalala won’t have much power. She can’t lead a committee as a first-year member, and ascending the leadership rung takes time. She hasn’t been assigned to any committees yet, but is looking to sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee or another committee that is likely to address healthcare, though major policy changes are unlikely until at least 2021.

“Certainly, in the first year I’m trying to stay focused,” Shalala said. “The people in this district have a handful of things that they’d like us to do. I listened to the people’s priorities and they made it very clear that they’re deeply concerned about healthcare and obviously about immigration, the environment and sensible gun control.”

But Shalala’s advantage over her peers is that she already knows the key players. Nancy Pelosi has already assured Shalala that she will be a part of any high-level policy discussions related to healthcare, Shalala said.

Read more here.

December 06, 2018

Nikki Fried names senior adviser, sister as inaugural committee co-chairs


Incoming Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nicole "Nikki" Fried announced her inaugural committee, which will be co-chaired by her senior adviser, Ben Pollara and her sister, Jenni Shaffren. 

Shaffren said the role brings her “deja vu” to the sisters’ shared University of Florida days. Shaffren, who is four years Fried's junior year, took an active role in both helping her sister campaign for student body president, but also planned an elaborate ball in her honor.

"It was a formal dinner, a string quartet," she said. "This is another chance for me to let Nikki shine in a much bigger venue. It's just an honor to be a part of such a monumental, historic event."

Over the course of the campaign, Shaffren served as the “Palm Beach hub” for people who wanted campaign signs or literature. She even brought her 6-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter along to learn about the voting process.

"After all of my work I did on the campaign, she felt it was something I had worked hard toward," Shaffren said. 

Pollara, who was also the campaign manager of the successful 2016 ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana, said the committee is "a big burden of responsibility" to "put the best face on the Florida Democratic party," since Fried was the only Democrat elected to statewide office this year.

Pollara was also involved with planning three Democratic National Conventions as well as Barack Obama's inauguration in 2012.

Finance chairs for the committee are several longtime Democratic strategists and activists, notably including Sean Pittman — one of the top advisers on Andrew Gillum's failed campaign for governor.

The senior financial adviser to Fried’s campaign, Stephanie McClung, will serve as executive director of the committee.

Honorary co-chair seats include soon-to-be former U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, state Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson, state House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee and the state's Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo.


Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis announces first stops on 'thank-you tour'


CHRIS URSO | Times Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis waves to supporters while flanked by his wife Casey, left, and Lt. Governor elect Jeanette Nunez after thanking the crowd Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando.

Florida Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis announced the first three stops on his thank-you tour today, and they're all on Saturday in central Florida.

DeSantis is making the customary tour starting in New Port Richey, The Villages and Port Orange.

“This historic win would not have been possible without the support of thousands of volunteers who believed in our vision for the state,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Thanks to their hard work and dedication, we are now preparing to take office and build on Florida’s success. This election was about a bold vision for Florida’s future and I look forward to celebrating our shared victory.”

The transition plans to announce more stops in the coming days.

The fist three events are all on Saturday, Dec. 8th:

What: Pasco County rally with DeSantis and Attorney General-elect Ashley Moody
When: 8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.
Where: Spartan Manor, 6121 Massachusetts Ave, New Port Richey, FL

What: Rally in The Villages with DeSantis and Moody
When: 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Where: La Hacienda Recreation Center, 1200 Avenida Central, Lady Lake, FL

What: Volusia County rally with DeSantis
When: 3 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Where: Riverside Pavilion, 3431 S Ridgewood Ave, Port Orange, FL

‘Trumpism isn’t the future’: Ousted Miami Republican reflects on election loss



Carlos Curbelo couldn’t win a two-front war.

National Democrats spent more money in Curbelo’s district than any other across the country on a healthcare-centric TV campaign. Donald Trump spent the final stretches of the campaign attacking immigrants, which didn’t help Curbelo in his majority-Hispanic district months after he led an unsuccessful GOP rebellion to force Congress to act on the issue.

And Curbelo’s Democratic opponent, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, avoided strategic and ethical blunders that plagued former Rep. Joe Garcia, the Democrat Curbelo beat in 2014 and 2016.

The combination added up to a 1.8 percentage point loss.

“I think the number one factor in my race was spending,” Curbelo said, as he worked out of a Washington coffee shop during his final weeks in office. “We got outspent significantly and a lot of the casual voters that showed up, especially late, voted straight ticket Democrat and I’d say that was really what made the difference. The barrage of ads and negative attacks do work, as much as everyone says they hate them.”

Curbelo’s assessment of his race is a hat tip to national Democrats, who considered it a personal affront that he was able to win, by more than 11 percentage points, the most Democratic-leaning seat in the country held by a Republican in 2016. Instead of repeating mistakes like backing Annette Taddeo’s failed primary campaign against Garcia two years ago, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee encouraged Mucarsel-Powell to enter the race early and began a campaign focused on healthcare in a district where nearly 100,000 people are enrolled in Obamacare. The DCCC spent just under $7.2 million to defeat Curbelo, the most the group spent in any race across the country. The haul was the largest share of $20.1 million spent on TV ads in the district by campaigns and outside groups from both parties, according to Advertising Analytics. House Majority PAC, a super PAC that seeks to elect Democrats, also spent about $2.5 million on TV ads in the district.

More here.

December 04, 2018

State senator wants Florida's elections chief elected, not appointed


Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner

Don't call it election reform.

But one state senator is reviving his idea to make Florida's secretary of state — who is also the state's elections chief — an elected office, rather than a position appointed by the governor.

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, said the time is right following the chaos of Florida's midterm election, which featured Gov. Rick Scott making unfounded claims of voter fraud in his U.S. Senate race and his secretary of state repeatedly countering that there was no evidence of it.

"I think now’s the time more than ever," Bean said. "I think it’s just fundamental to have an independent person who’s elected in that position."

Bean said he has nothing against the current Secretary of State, Ken Detzner. But he believes an elected position would make the job more accountable to the people.

His bill wouldn't necessarily fix the myriad problems with Florida's election process, some of which were exposed in the midterm election. Bean says he expects other legislation to deal with those problems.

And it faces a steep uphill battle. Although a similar bill he pitched last year passed the Florida Senate, it died in the House. Bean has yet to find a sponsor to pass the bill through the House this session.

What his bill would do is create a constitutional amendment to would roll back part of a voter-approved amendment 20 years ago.

In 1998, the Constitution Revision Commission proposed eliminating several of the elected Cabinet positions, including secretary of state. Back then, there were six, plus the governor.

The effort had bipartisan support, including from then-Republican Comptroller Bob Milligan and then-Democratic Treasurer Bill Nelson. After the amendment passed, their offices were eliminated and combined them to form current chief financial officer position.

The result, which went into effect in 2002, left the Cabinet with just three positions — attorney general, agriculture commissioner and chief financial officer, plus the governor.

And it gave Florida's governor more power, with the ability to appoint the secretary of state. The education commissioner became chosen by the governor-appointed State Board of Education. Both positions were previously elected.

But Bean's bill would not eliminate the appearance of partisanship for the state's elections chief.

The last elected secretary of state, Republican Katherine Harris, was co-chair of George W. Bush's presidential campaign in Florida in 2000, yet she certified the results of that controversial election.

And Georgia's secretary of state was dogged by claims that he used the power of the office to catapult himself into the governor's mansion.

November 30, 2018

Nikki Fried announces full transition team, job openings on new website

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At the end of election day in November, it appeared that Democrat Nicole "Nikki:" Fried had lost to Republican Matt Caldwell for the Florida Cabinet post of agriculture commissioner.

But after late vote tallies in Broward and other counties showed she was actually ahead, Fried claimed victory and started working on a transition.

The state division of elections had just ordered automatic machine recounts for three statewide races, including Fried’s, but she moved on anyway and announced her transition leadership. 

Her transition team, she said then, will be led by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, who represented the large agriculture community of Martin County. Also on the team is U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and Fred Guttenberg, a gun-control activist whose daughter, Jaime, was murdered in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last February.

On Friday, Fried announced the rest of her team and unveiled a new transition website. The team will be working out of the Department of Agriculture in the state capitol.

“We have brought people together from all corners of our state and all walks of life to help build a Department that will respect the priority issues of the people and work hard to deliver results,” Fried said Friday. “From Democratic, Republican, and independent leaders, to leaders in Florida’s agriculture and environmental communities, public safety, energy, consumer protection, and marijuana industries—our transition team reflects the values of all Floridians.”

The team includes:

  • Former Senator Denise Grimsley, one-time agriculture commissioner candidate who served 14 years on the Agriculture committee and three years as Chairman.
  • State Attorney Dave Aronberg, a former assistant Attorney General and state Senator where he served as Chair of the Everglades Restoration Committee. 

  • Former Congressman Allen Boyd, who represented the Panhandle area from 1997 to 2011

  • Susanne Clemons, a fifth-generation Floridian from Highlands County who once served as the first female state chairman of the USDA State Farm Service Committee.

  • Darin Cook, co-founder and co-CEO of Infinite Energy, a Florida-based energy provider.

  • Former Sen. Rick Dantzler, who also served in the Florida House of Representatives and ran for Governor in 1998. Dantzler was appointed by President Obama in 2013 to serve as State Executive Director for the Farm Service Agency. He works for an organization that funds research for the Florida citrus industry and is primarily involved in fighting citrus greening.

  • Sheriff Jerry Demings, the recently elected Mayor of Orange County.

  • Chris Hand, a Jacksonville-based attorney and former speechwriter and press secretary for former Florida Governor and then-U.S. Senator Bob Graham. 

  • Former Florida House Speaker Jon Mills, who helped draft the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative in 2014, the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative in 2016, and the Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative in 2018.

  • Sam Poole, former director of the South Florida Water Management District.

  • Scheril Murray Powell, a Fort Lauderdale Agricultural and Cannabis Attorney based in Fort Lauderdale.

  • Former State Rep. Dean Saunders, who spearheaded significant Florida land conservation initiatives during his time in the Legislature.

The general counsel for the office will be Benedict Kuehne, a trial and appellate lawyer and election law specialist. He represented Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 recount trial and also represented Fried’s campaign in the recent recount.

The transition team staff include Eric Johnson as executive director, former campaign manager Shelby Scarpa as deputy executive director, Deborah Tannenbaum as senior advisor, Jordan Anderson as director of operations and former campaign spokesman Max Flugrath as communications director.

The team must also fill around two dozen jobs within the office's many departments, which are listed on her new website.

November 27, 2018

Lobbyist Brian Ballard continues trend of inaugurating ceremonies for Florida governors

CHRIS URSO | Times Florida Governor elect Ron DeSantis along with his wife Casey wave to the crowd Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Orlando. DeSantis defeated Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum.

Powerful Tallahassee and Washington lobbyist Brian Ballard will continue the trend of organizing inaugural ceremonies for Florida's governors, Governor-elect Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday.

Ballard, who co-chaired the inaugural committees of former Republican governors Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, is in charge of planning the Jan. 8 event for the new governor, along with Ballard's wife, Kathryn.

Also helping are co-chairs Stanley and Gay Hart Gaines, a longtime Republican activist, and lobbyist Bill Rubin and his wife Lys.

“The 2019 Inauguration will be a celebration of our great state as we move forward together toward continued success," DeSantis and incoming First Lady Casey DeSantis said in a statement. "The Inaugural Committee will play a critical role in organizing inclusive inaugural events which reflect the diversity and uniqueness of Florida.”

Leading the finance team, which is in charge of raising money for the events, is lobbyist and chair Nick Iarossi, along with co-chairs James “Bill” Heavener, the CEO of the for-profit Full Sail University, and Mori Hosseini, Chairman and CEO of ICI Homes.

The rest of the inaugural committee includes some of DeSantis' biggest donors and supporters, including the reclusive GOP donor and Marvel chairman Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter.

You can view the entire list of inaugural committee members here.