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.

Incoming Attorney General Ashley Moody announces top lobbyist to inaugural committee

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Republican candidate for Florida Attorney General, Ashley Moody, speaks to news crews after voting in the Aug. 28 primary at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. [ BRONTE WITTPENN | Times]

Incoming Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced her inaugural committee today, and among the names is a lobbyist whose recent clients include a company being sued by the current attorney general.

Michael Corcoran is a top lobbyist in Tallahassee whose recent clients include Verizon, Tampa Electric, Coca-Cola — and opioid drug maker Purdue Pharma.

Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, is at the heart of arguably the biggest lawsuit the Attorney General's office is handling right now, a potentially multi-billion dollar case against drug makers and distributors that Attorney General Pam Bondi blames for causing and fomenting the opioid crisis.

"It's time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction that they have caused," Bondi said during a press conference announcing the lawsuit this year.

Purdue has denied any wrongdoing.

Corcoran is the brother of just-departed House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is helping with Governor-elect Ron DeSantis' transition team.

Corcoran lobbied on behalf of Purdue in the Legislature this year. The company was in favor of Gov. Rick Scott's proposal to tighten opioid prescriptions.

It's unclear if Michael Corcoran is still representing them, though. He didn't return a request for comment.

Moody's spokeswoman, Christina Johnson, said that the inaugural team "has no relation to the function and operation of the Attorney General’s Office," and that "Mike and Jesse Corcoran have had a more than decade long friendship with Ashley Moody."

She noted that Moody, a former federal prosecutor, has been a supporter of the opioid lawsuit and is married to a Drug Enforcement Agency agent.

"From the beginning of her campaign, the Attorney General-Elect has been passionately outspoken about the opioid epidemic, its effects, solving this crisis, and holding those responsible accountable," Johnson said.

Corcoran also served as statewide finance chair for the Tampa Republican's campaign.

"He has earned a reputation as one of Florida’s most prodigious fundraisers for Florida House, Senate, Congressional and locally elected candidates and is widely considered to be one of Florida’s leading political experts," Moody's campaign said in a press release Tuesday.

The inaugural committee is responsible for raising money for and organizing the Jan. 8 inauguration ceremony.

Corcoran is one of three co-chairs on Moody's committee. The others are state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and state Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. The executive director for the committee is Samantha Blair, the finance director for Moody's campaign.

November 26, 2018

Former Scott, Crist advisor Shane Strum named DeSantis chief of staff

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TAILYR IRVINE | Times Ron DeSantis reacts to a high five during the DeSantis rally at the DeSantis and Scott Hillsborough County Campaign Headquarters on November 2, 2018 in Tampa.

Florida Governor-elect Ron DeSantis named a former advisor to Gov. Charlie Crist as his chief of staff today.

Shane Strum, a senior vice president for Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, will assume one of the most important jobs in the DeSantis governorship.

It's a spot that Strum is familiar with: He was chief of staff to Crist between 2009 and 2011, and he was a transition advisor to Gov. Rick Scott for two months after Scott was elected.

“I am very pleased to announce that Shane is returning to public service and bringing his expertise to our administration,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Having spent many years in both the private and public sector, and previously serving two Florida Governors, Shane will be a great addition to our team.”

Strum is a former chairman of the Broward Republican Party, and he worked for years in state government as well.

Under the Crist administration, he championed strategic transportation and infrastructure planning and higher education reform.

And before that, he served as the Deputy Secretary for Business Operations in the Florida Department of Management Services, overseeing a 450-person team.

Strum will take the job on Jan. 8, when DeSantis takes office.

DeSantis was also considering for the job lobbyists Kathy Mears and Scott Ross and his own chief of staff in Congress, Scott Parkinson, who is also deputy executive director of DeSantis' transition team.

November 21, 2018

Want to work for Ron DeSantis? Transition team activates job application portal

Desantis rally

As Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis works to fill hundreds of jobs in the administration, his transition team has opened up their search to the public.

The transition team launched a new website on Wednesday, featuring an application portal where people can submit their credentials.

Gov. Rick Scott had a similar portal during his transition, though it's unclear how many hires were ultimately made from the public.

DeSantis' website also has a countdown clock that ticks down the seconds until his inauguration on Jan. 8. At time of publication, it was 47 days, 12 hours, 56 minutes and 27 seconds away.

But who's counting?

November 20, 2018

Florida Senate president urges "civility" and a rejection of ugly national discourse

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Senate President Joe Negron shakes hands with Sen. Bill Galvano during the first day of the 2017 legislative session. The two senators are leading supporters of a 2018 bill that boosts higher education, including restoring the Bright Futures scholarship to its original levels. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

The next leader of the Florida Senate rejected the sharp political discourse that dominates America's politics, telling his fellow senators today that the chamber will be an "example" to other states and governments over the next two years.

Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who took over for Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, on Tuesday, encouraged both sides to come together after a "vigorously fought" election cycle.

"As Senate President, I have very little ability to change the national discourse, or to stem the tide of modern-day incivility that is so pervasive in an era of social media and 24-hour news cycle," he said,  "But I can tell you as Senate president, and while I’m Senate president, that the Florida Senate will have civility, transparency, candor, and provide opportunity."

He added that the actions of his fellow senators "stand in stark contrast to much of the dialogue we are witnessing today, not just in the political process, but really, in all areas of society."

Galvano, a soft-spoken moderate who has spent 16 years in the Legislature, earned praise last year for leading the Parkland school safety bill through the Senate last year.

It was a largely bipartisan bill that included some of the first gun restrictions in Florida in decades, earning him the ire of the National Rifle Association and a $200,000 check to his political committee from the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund.

"Incoming Florida Senate President Bill Galvano calls himself a Republican but is rumored to be the one who colluded with anti-gun Democrats to engineer the gun control package," NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer wrote in September.

Tuesday's swearing in, with Governor-elect Ron DeSantis watching, kicked off the start of the 2019 legislative session. Over the next few months, lawmakers will begin pitching bills until March 5, when the official two-month sprint in the legislature begins.

Galvano said he couldn't predict what lawmakers would be facing next year, but he encouraged his colleagues to "think innovatively." He said that he looked forward to implementing the many constitutional amendments that were passed this year.

"Together, we can be the example for other states and world governments, as to how to focus on policy, not politics, service, not severance," he said.

His message of unity earned praise from the Democratic minority leader, Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

"You have always been a measured thinker, very receptive to ideas, and very thoughtful and willing to listen," Gibson said.

After weeks of recounts and lawsuits, Florida's midterm results are now certified.

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A Republican observer looks at a ballot during a hand recount, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla. Florida's acrimonious U.S. Senate contest is headed to a legally required hand recount after an initial review by ballot-counting machines showed Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson separated by fewer than 13,000 votes. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) FLWL102

After two weeks of machine and manual recounts, lawsuits, accusations of "rampant fraud" and near-nonstop controversy, Florida's midterm election ended Tuesday morning with little fanfare.

With nearly a dozen cameras watching, the state's Elections Canvassing Commission signed off on the election results in a ceremony that lasted barely five minutes.

State Sen. Rob Bradley, who was filling in for Gov. Rick Scott, gave a smile and a thumbs-up to the cameras after signing the results.

"The voters can be assured that the results that we just certified reflect the intent of the voters in this election," Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said. "Everyone we certified as winners were the winners in these elections."

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the other two members of the commission, certified the results over the phone. Bondi apparently could have appeared in person — she was on the Senate floor of the Capitol just a few minutes later.

In normal years, the canvassing commission is hardly notable. It meets after every general election to certify the results of each federal, state and multi-county race.

Scott, a Republican, recused himself from the commission after denouncing heavily-Democratic Broward and Palm Beach counties for committing "rampant fraud." That prompted President Donald Trump to repeatedly claim voter fraud in the election.

"I have not personally been presented with evidence of fraud," Bradley said when asked whether Scott's claims were true.

He said that voters should vote out the elections supervisors in Palm Beach, Broward and Hillsborough counties, however.

"The voters need to hold those officials accountable," Bradley said.

November 19, 2018

Caldwell concedes, blames Broward’s ‘abject failures’ for loss

Florida Republicans(2)

Florida's last statewide race to be called is over.

After grueling machine and manual recounts for the razor-thin race, Nicole "Nikki" Fried emerged victorious in the contest to replace term-limited Adam Putnam by just 6,753 votes — a margin of .08 percent.

Her opponent, state Rep. Matt Caldwell conceded in a letter to voters and a letter to Secretary of State Ken Detzner Monday afternoon. 

Caldwell was ahead of Fried by about half of one percent on election night, which triggered a state law requiring two recounts: one by machine, one by hand. 

He writes that his loss was a result of the "abject failures" in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, and that he would not pursue further legal action. 

Caldwell filed a lawsuit in Broward County earlier last week, asking the court to determine if Brenda Snipes, the Broward County supervisor of elections, “illegally included ballots after polls closed” Nov. 6. His campaign also filed a public-records request for vote counts and emails among Snipes, her team, and any third parties regarding ballot-counting.

Snipes misplaced more than 2,000 ballots and Palm Beach County's supervisor, Susan Bucher, said technical problems and understaffing meant their recount may not be finished until Christmas. Snipes' staff missed the state deadline to turn in machine recount numbers, and Bucher's never submitted them at all. 

On Saturday, Caldwell filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in Broward to mandate the county to submit machine recount results to the state, which would give Republicans a net increase.

That petition was denied, according to Broward County attorney Andrew Meyers.

"It has become clear that we may never gain an understanding of what transpired in the hours and days after polls closed, despite the exhaustive efforts of my legal team to get to the truth," Caldwell said. 

Caldwell, an eight-year veteran of the House, said he is proud of his time in the public eye and has offered to assist Fried in any way he can. 

"I hope to see Florida continue to prosper and pursue the proper balance between all of the things that make this state great."

In a separate letter addressed to Detzner, Caldwell wrote that supervisors across the state failed to act "fairly and competently," ultimately undermining voters' confidence in the process.

Caldwell laid out a long list of errors and failures that he said "plagued the vote counting process," including problems with logic and accuracy tests, improper commingling of provisional ballots in Broward County and the 2,000-vote discrepancy between first and second unofficial results reported by Broward County.  

"We cannot afford to have another election that produces similar delays, irregularities and questions over the validity of the election system," he wrote. "Let’s get in front of this problem now so we can be the model for fair, free and open elections, instead of the target of national criticism and derision."

Cabinet officers and new members will be sworn in Tuesday during the Legislature's organizational session. 

Florida Dems hire investigator to look into altered mail ballot 'cure' forms

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Bins filled with ballots are stacked at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office as employees count ballots during a recount Wednesday in Lauderhill. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Florida Democratic Party has hired an investigator to dig into altered "cure affidavit" forms sent out to voters whose mail-in ballots had missing or non-matching signatures, according to a statement released by the party's lawyer.

"Upon receiving notice of the allegations that the form was incorrect, FDP took immediate steps, including hiring an independent investigator to review the issues at hand," read the statement by attorney Mark Herron. "As soon as we know the results of the investigation we will advise you."

The move comes after the Florida Department of State sent a letter to federal prosecutors on Nov. 9 asking them to look into the forms, which they had received from voters in four different counties. The forms, which the voters had apparently received from the Democratic party, had an incorrect deadline listed at the top for mail-in ballots to be fixed: Nov. 8, instead of the real deadline of Nov. 5.

In the letter, the department's lawyer, Bradley McVay, wrote that altering election forms is a criminal offense.

READ MORE: Florida officials flag a possible violation of elections law by state Democrats

Then, the Naples Daily News reported that leaders in the party had directed staffers and volunteers to send the altered forms out to voters even after the true deadline had passed.

According to Caroline Rowland, a spokeswoman for the Democrats, the investigation is expected to be finished "shortly."

November 16, 2018

Federal judge denies request to extend mail-in ballot deadline

Walker

Federal Judge Mark Walker denied an injunction Friday night in a case to extend the mail-in ballot deadline to 10 days after the election, just like overseas and military ballots.

VoteVets Action Fund, a progressive veterans' advocacy group, the Democratic National Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee filed their suit against the state in the Northern District of Florida on Monday.

They asked that mail-in ballots that were postmarked before Election Day, but not delivered before the polls closed at 7 p.m., be counted. They argued that the more imminent deadline for domestic mail-in ballots imposes an undue burden on the right to vote and deprives domestic mail-in voters of equal protection.

At a brief hearing in Tallahassee Wednesday, attorneys questioned expert witness Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley. Earley said there were only 145 late domestic vote-by-mail ballots that came into the county. 

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's attorney, Marc Elias, said Nelson's campaign hoped to allow postmarked absentees to be counted within 10 days after the election, similarly to overseas and military members' ballots.

According to Florida law, mail-in ballots cannot be counted if they arrive after 7 p.m. on Election Day. The lawsuit claims voters shouldn’t be faulted for absentee ballots that arrived late.

Attorneys argued arbitrary factors beyond voters’ control, like mail delivery speed, weather emergencies, traffic delays, understaffing and human error cause mail to take longer to process and deliver.

They cited the case of one voter in Miami-Dade County, who reported that he mailed his ballot on October 29, 2018 — over a week before Election Day — yet learned after Election Day that his ballot had not been received by the county’s elections supervisor.

Elias cited the example of a few hundred mail-in ballots that were postmarked before Nov. 6 but were stuck in an Opa-locka mailing facility, possibly because of an FBI investigation into the Aventura man who sent pipe bombs through the mail before the election.

In his denial, Walker wrote that the whole point of the 10-day exception for overseas voters is to give them the same right to vote as domestic voters.

Walker compared the situation to the special precautions a military member may take while sending and receiving mail from loved ones while overseas.

“When he or she receives care packages from family members back home in the United States, it is only because his or her family sent the package weeks before. And when his or her family receives a letter from that uniformed voter, it is only because that uniformed voter sent it weeks before as well,” Walker wrote. “The same holds true for the uniformed voter’s ballot.”

Walker concluded that the different deadlines were meant to level the ground for overseas and domestic voters, and should remain as such.

"These rules have been used for over a decade, and to enjoin the use of them now would create a substantial hardship on the defendants and perhaps undermine the electoral process,” he wrote.