A.G. Gancarski - SaintPetersBlog

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written a weekly column for Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly since 2003. His writings on politics, culture, and sport have appeared in the Washington Times, the Daily Caller, and the American Conservative. His radio and TV appearances include frequent contributions to WJCT-FM (Jacksonville’s Public Radio station); additionally, he has been a guest on Huff Post Live and the Savage Nation radio show. Gancarski can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

Rick Scott extols federal cooperation in war on Zika

Zika season is all but upon us, and to that end Gov. Rick Scott visited Jacksonville Tuesday to discuss Florida’s ongoing struggles with Zika.

Scott found himself messaging heavily around Zika in 2016, frustrated with President Barack Obama not doing as much as he could to fund Zika-related costs.

In 2017, Scott has an ally in the White House — which, combined with a dry season so far and ample lead time, is helping Florida to get ahead of the virus early in the season.

In the gaggle Tuesday, Gov. Scott confirmed the expectation that D.C. would be a better partner for him in the Zika fight with the current President on the job.

“The positive is I’ve known [HHS] Secretary Price a long time. We were asking for support last year. Sometimes we felt it was hard to get support. We’ve gotten more support so far,” Scott said.

“I’ve talked to Sec. Price about Zika, and the importance of staying ahead of this,” Scott added, “and I believe we’re going to have a good partner in the White House.”

“Specifically, the things that were important to us last year — as you know, we fought for federal funding, the $1.1B. What’s going to be important long-term is a vaccine,” Scott said.

“I believe that HHS is going to be a good partner. I think we’re going to have somebody who’s going to be responsive to the extent they can,” Scott added.

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Zika may seem remote now, but it will be an issue soon, Scott urges.

“Right now, we’ve got the issue of fires,” Scott said, “but at some point we’re going to get some rain. And that’s when we’re going to get mosquitoes.”

Hence, the importance of a collaborative response.

“We don’t have active zones this year … actually, we’re seeing less Zika cases because it’s dry. But it’s still early,” Scott noted.

Local Departments of Health are testing pregnant women currently, despite the earliness in the season. And the technology is in state now, cutting a long wait time that has now been resolved.

Rick Scott slow walks Senate bid, CFO questions

Two major political questions in Florida right now are predicated on the eventual decision of Gov. Rick Scott.

But he’s in no rush to provide answers.

One such decision: will he, as is widely expected, challenge Sen. Bill Nelson next year.

Nelson, already in campaign mode, is telling reporters he’s “scared as a jackrabbit” to run against Scott.

“In regard to the Senate race, I haven’t made a decision. I don’t think people like long races,” Scott told us regarding the first question.

“I didn’t get into the Governor’s race until April the year of the election. I’m going to continue to focus on my job as Governor. There’s a lot more to do,” Scott added.

“My primary goal is to get people a job,” Scott continued, noting his job creation total is already up to 1.3M.

Another major question: with the Legislative Session closer to the end than the beginning, who replaces outgoing CFO Jeff Atwater?

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, who meets with Scott in Tallahassee on Tuesday morning, has been discussed as a potential replacement for Atwater.

“Lenny Curry’s been a good friend for a long time, and I’ve enjoyed working with him. He’s done a wonderful job as mayor.”

“CFO Atwater will be leaving at the end of the session – in a few weeks,” said Scott, who wants to find someone who will do the best job possible “for all the citizens of the state.”

Curry, who has a 70 percent approval rating in a just-released internal poll (including 60 percent with Democrats and Independents), has seen his political stock rise as his pension reform plan moves ever closer to becoming law.

A unique advantage that Curry – if the Jacksonville microcosm is dispositive – brings to the table: an ability to reach beyond the GOP base.

Curry is clearly on Scott’s radar. And, with the pension reform package expected to pass next week, if Curry were to leave, he’d be leaving the city with a plan to move forward on dispatching the currently crippling unfunded pension liability.

Rick Scott: ‘About time’ for Syria strike

Taking an unusual step of weighing in on a foreign military incursion, Florida Gov. Rick Scott released a statement Friday morning supporting Thursday night’s U.S. military airstrikes on Syria.

“President Trump took the right action and acted decisively. The Assad regime is responsible for the horrendous killings of innocent men, women and children. These chemical attacks against innocent Syrian people are sickening, and it’s about time someone stood up for them. I appreciate our brave military heroes who conducted this mission,” Scott said.

The next decision by this president that Scott opposes will be the first.

U.S. military action, meanwhile, is something almost all Florida Republicans can support.

Yet, Scott’s statement stopped short of the measures, advanced by Sen. Marco Rubio in one of his many media appearances since Thursday night’s airstrikes.

“We need to now move forward through a combination of diplomacy and, quite frankly, the support of groups on ground, particularly non-jihadist Sunni groups, to create alternatives to the Assad regime,” Rubio said Friday morning.

Rick Scott says decisions related to Aramis Ayala ‘nothing to do with politics’

In Jacksonville Tuesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott discussed his ongoing war with State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

In March, Scott took the Markeith Loyd murder case away from Ayala, due to her reluctance to pursue the death penalty for the cop killer.

In April, Scott scored another pre-emptive strike: reassigning 21 first-degree murder cases that “represent a horrific loss of life.”

“State Attorney Ayala’s complete refusal to consider capital punishment for the entirety of her term sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice,” Scott stated Monday.

While those are salient points, there is also a counternarrative emerging from some quarters: namely, that Scott, being hit from the right by the Richard Corcoran wing of the Florida Republican Party, is taking such an aggressive position to shore up his base.

Meanwhile, there is also the question of subverting the mandate of the people who voted Ayala in last year.

When asked these questions, Gov. Scott had the following response.

“First off, this has nothing to do with politics. It has all to do with — think about the victims. This was about three weeks ago now when the State Attorney in Orlando said that she wouldn’t pursue the Markeith Loyd case to the fullest extent of the law. It just personally bothered me,” Scott related.

“Loyd’s accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend. He’s accused of shooting Officer Debra Clayton, a wonderful young lady, and then walking up to her when she’s on the ground, when he could have just driven off, and shooting her multiple times,” Scott added.

“And then the State Attorney says that she’s not going to pursue the case to the fullest extent of the law — that’s wrong,” Scott continued.

“What bothers me is that’s her job. Think about the victims: these are horrendous crimes. Think about the families: how do they feel when somebody says ‘I’m not going to prosecute somebody to the fullest extent of the law’.”

“We sent to Brad King, but there’s no politics in this. This is — what’s the right thing to do,” Scott said.

We asked Scott the question: is it death penalty or nothing for Loyd?

“Brad King will pursue the case to the fullest extent of the law. Whatever happens — you don’t just say you’re not going to pursue things to the fullest extent of the law. It’s the law of the state! Follow the law!”

Scott continued describing Loyd’s murder of Clayton, including using the phrase “pummeling her with bullets.”

We then asked Scott about the concept that the State Attorney has discretion to pursue charges as she sees fit — including not pursuing capital punishment.

“No, they have — it goes to Brad King, and he’ll review it and make the right decision.”

Pam Bondi’s D.C. trip increases speculation she’s White House bound

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is D.C. bound this week, once again increasing speculation that she might be eyeing a job in the White House before her term ends in 2019.

Bondi is scheduled to moderate a “women’s empowerment panel” Wednesday, featuring some of the top women in President Donald Trump’s administration.

Panelists include Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, SBA Administrator Linda McMahon, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Verma has played a role in the Trump administration’s early messaging in the Sunshine State.

Last weekend, she was part of the Jacksonville pitch of the Affordable Health Care Act, a pitch that proved ill-fated as Republican support for the Obamacare reform didn’t even make it to a floor vote before the Trump Administration had the bill pulled.

The panel comes on the heels of a trip to Washington, D.C. on Monday, where Bondi met with Trump and two Cabinet secretaries on children’s issues.

According to POLITICO Florida, Bondi brought former Tony Dungy, the former Tampa Bay Buccanneers football coach who has become a children’s rights advocate; Derrick Brooks, the former Florida State University and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Hall of Fame linebacker who co-founded a charter school; and Mark Merrrill, an activist with All Pro Dads with her to talk with DeVos and HUD Secretary Ben Carson about children’s issues.

Bondi said she was happy with her work in Florida, and told POLITICO Florida she was working on “some special projects with the White House.”

An early supporter of Trump, Bondi has often been mentioned as a someone who might join the Trump administration. Bondi has long dismissed rumors, saying she was happy with her current job.

The social gospel of Andrew Gillum

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum continues to make good on his promise to campaign in and compete for all 67 Florida counties during his campaign for governor.

Following up a well-received speech in Tampa, where he cautioned against a “Democrat lite” approach, Gillum hit Jacksonville on Sunday.

Jacksonville’s major challenge for Democrats: bridging the divide between various intraparty groups, including younger people inspired by Bernie Sanders and the older establishment types who reflexively backed Hillary Clinton a year ago in the presidential primary.

Finding a way to excite Democrats down-ballot locally has been tough for statewide candidates of late, despite a Democratic edge in party registration.

With that trend in mind, Gillum is smart to get going early.

Putting in the work in Jacksonville, including engaging young grassroots supporters, is key. And in Jacksonville, he found himself evangelizing for a brand of social justice absent from local politics and politicians.

It is a message activists have yearned to hear for a while now. And in Gillum, they have a ready exponent.

But the trouble comes in getting people to hear it. During a day in Jacksonville, Gillum made three stops and worked a national TV hit in. But he didn’t draw much local media interest.

For them, 2018 is remote. However, for Gillum – who regularly talks about his “18-month strategy,” – the time to launch and to get attention is now.

With that in mind, Gillum made many stops: the first at a popular Jacksonville church.

“I don’t know if we’re in a bad reality show or another season of 24,” Rudolph McKissick, Jr., the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church said about this “strange political season,” by way of introducing Gillum at the 7:45 a.m. service.

The pastor referenced VP Mike Pence and Gov. Rick Scott being in town Saturday, saying “the only thing that changes anything is a vote … seems like anytime we have the chance to shift things in the right direction, we don’t vote.”

“Anything I can do to get him elected the next governor of Florida, I will do,” the pastor said, noting Gillum’s family ties locally.

After a spot on MSNBC, Gillum’s next public stop was at the New Town Urban Farm near Edward Waters College.

The Urban Farm took an unused plot of land and turned it into a community garden – a real need in a food desert.

The land, founder Diallo-Sekou told us, was a vacant lot that had rubble in it previously.

The neighborhood is still transitional: an interesting backdrop to the speech was a pickup truck blaring Barry White as it trolled the block, with a sign on the side soliciting donations of clothes for military veterans.

But the Urban Farm is an oasis in the middle of an area always on the news for the wrong reasons, and it was an appropriate venue for Gillum talking about subjects at the heart of his appeal: finding ways to ensure that people have the leg up they need so they don’t end up a statistic.

“There’s a budget director in Washington, D.C. who said that there is no evidence that after school food assistance programs did anything to change the outcomes for kids,” Gillum said.

“That’s what I want as an educator: a hungry kid – attempting to get them to learn a lesson, understand, comprehend … if I’m that kid, and all of us have been there, if your stomach is growling, you can’t think of anything but the sound,” Gillum said.

His thirty-minute Q&A wasn’t one with applause lines or rah-rah moments: it was Obamaesque in its relating policy to real life for those in this state trapped by poverty and its myriad incapacitations and indignities.

Gillum spoke of a farm in his own youth, on his grandparents’ property in South Dade, where collards, squash, tomatoes, and fruit grew in a residential area.

“We lived off the land. Literally. In a place as urban as this, Miami-Dade, Florida. Here, you’ve got land and opportunity,” Gillum said, to do the same thing.

In much of Jacksonville, the physical hunger is palpable. But so too is the hunger for civil rights. Gillum addressed an issue close to his heart: the re-enfranchisement of the state’s 1.5 million who have lost their rights to vote.

“They paid their debt to society. Yet they come back into communities, and they still lack the ability to participate fully in our democracy. The majority of these individuals have committed crimes that are nonviolent – largely, drug-related crimes,” Gillum said.

“We cannot be tried twice for the same crime,” Gillum says. “Yet it seems you can be punished forever for having made a mistake.”

In addition to the vote, re-entry, such as through Ban the Box, is a Gillum priority.

And it’s personal.

“I’ve got brothers who have lost their rights. They’ve committed wrongs, and they have to pay the penalty for that. When they got back out and started trying to reintegrate into society, it was very difficult for them to find a job,” Gillum said.

“I’ve got some real entrepreneurial brothers. But actually, it’s survival. If they had a choice, they’d probably be working somewhere with somebody making a decent, honorable wage to take care of themselves and their families. But because door after door after door got shut to them, they had to create a way for themselves,” Gillum said.

“And that meant, for my brother Chuck who lives here in town, opening up a carwash. And going around with his mobile detailing unit and power-washing businesses and cars and sidewalks, and hiring other former felons,” Gillum said, emotion driving his voice.

Then he dialed it back.

“I think it’s a no-brainer … felon re-enfranchisement … to democratize those brothers and sisters,” Gillum said.

Leaving the Urban Farm behind, Gillum’s next stop was a fundraiser/meet-and-greet at a downtown art gallery 3 miles away.

A different venue and largely a different crowd.

Gillum smiled and posed for selfies, looking relaxed, as people like Sen. Tony Hill and other local political types mixed and mingled.

There was no charity truck blasting slow jams inside the gallery space. However, wine was available.

The key to Gillum’s viability is going to be bridging environments like the Urban Farm with the fundraising circuit, succeeding in both spheres – especially while he’s the most prominent Democrat in the race.

And, before it’s too late, ensuring that local market media in the state is paying attention to his message.

Mike Pence talks ‘disastrous’ Obamacare in Jacksonville

Saturday saw United States Vice-President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Rick Scott talking about what Pence called “the Obamacare nightmare” with small business owners in Jacksonville.

Scott, who closed out the news week reprising a familiar call to allow the states to administer Medicaid via block grants, has worked closely with President Donald Trump and his administration on possible alternatives to the Affordable Care Act.

While the GOP line is “repeal and replace Obamacare,” finding bill language that offers comfort to moderate Republicans in the Senate and the Freedom Caucus in the House has proven challenging, making promotional media stops like this one for the vice-president a necessity as the Trump administration sets the stage for a House vote on health care next week.

Though support for the current bill may be shaky elsewhere in Florida, in Northeast Florida “repeal and replace” are the watchwords.

After a roundtable event with selected small-business leaders, the show for cameras and media commenced: the highlight, of course, was VP Pence, who Gov. Scott introduced as having stood with him in the health care battle since 2009.

Pence hyped the crowd for a couple of minutes, thanking the other speakers and extolling the virtues of Florida, pivotal on “the path to make America great again.”

“It was quite a campaign, wasn’t it? And it’s been quite an administration.”

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After discussing Trump’s “broad shoulders” and other crowd-pleasing ephemera, including his first job as a gas station attendant in his family’s store, Pence eventually pivoted to policy

“We know that when small business is strong, America is strong,” Pence said, describing the president’s “roll back of reams of red tape” and his work to “end illegal immigration – once and for all.”

“Businesses are already responding to President Trump’s ‘buy American, hire American’ vision,” Pence said, vowing tax cuts “across the board” and restraint of “unelected bureaucrats” and other talking points.

Pence pivoted from the crowdpopping lines to reference the Pulse attack last year, a function of “radical Islamic terrorism in this country.”

The wall will be built. And illegal immigrant criminals will be “off the streets of this country.” And “we will rebuild our military,” Pence said.

From there, Pence assured the crowd that “the Obamacare nightmare is about to end.”

Obamacare, said Pence, is a minefield of broken promises, and the VP has heard heartrending stories about the “hard choices” small businesses have made.

“It was a heartbreaking conversation,” Pence said.

Premiums: up 25 percent across the country.

A third of the country has one company available from which to choose.

And, said Pence, enrollment is down year over year.

“Florida’s actually a textbook example of what’s wrong with Obamacare,” Pence said, citing premiums up 19 percent year over year.

“Florida can’t afford Obamacare anymore,” Pence said to applause.

Referring to the business hosting the event, Pence noted that hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been spent otherwise have been spent attempting to comply with this “failed” law.

“The core flaw of Obamacare was this notion that you could order every American to buy health insurance whether they need it or not,” Pence said.

The Trump alternative: “individual responsibility” and reform targeted to the state level, including expanded Health Savings Accounts and tax credits to facilitate buying private insurance.

Those with pre-existent conditions and kids under the age of 26, meanwhile, will be protected under the American Health Care Act, Pence said.

Pence spent some time talking about “engagement with Congress” to improve the bill, a seeming acknowledgement of issues.

As well, Pence vowed to allow “states like Florida” the ability to have a block grant to administer their plans, and a “work requirement” for coverage.

“President Trump supports the bill 100 percent, and we all do,” Pence said. “A new era for federal/state Medicaid partnership has begun.”

“State solutions,” Pence said, are the best way forward for Florida.

As well, Pence added that Americans will “have the freedom to buy health insurance across state lines,” via “dynamic marketplace.”

“It won’t be long until you see Flo and that little lizard on TV ads,” Pence quipped.

While “it’s going to be a battle in Washington,” Pence called for “every Republican in Florida” to support the administration’s moves to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”

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The VP had local and state support on hand.

U.S. Congressman John Rutherford, who flew down from D.C. with VP Pence, opined that “the American dream is being damaged by Obamacare … a policy that drives up costs and strangles small businesses.”

“We need a better way … we must repeal and replace Obamacare with a market-based health care policy that will reduce costs and increase consumer access to health care.”

CMS Administrator Seema Verna, introduced by Rutherford, likewise described the “burden of health care costs and overregulation” on “small businesses.”

“With the support of President Trump, we’re going to undo the damage done by Obamacare,” Verna said, also vowing to let states handle administering Medicare and have “freedom from Washington’s one-size-fits-all approach” – echoing Gov. Scott.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, introduced by Verna, said “this is really simple. The President and Vice President told us they’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare and that’s what happens now.”

Gov. Scott, introduced by Curry, noted that “Obamacare was sold on a lie. A complete lie … choices have gone down, prices have gone up.”

“We’re going to change that,” Scott said. “Obamacare’s on a death spiral. Prices have just gone out of control.”

“We had to sue the Obama Administration for our low-income pool because we didn’t expand Medicaid,” Scott noted.

 

Rick Scott to D.C.: Give us a Medicaid block grant

Florida Gov. Rick Scott appears in Jacksonville with Vice-President Mike Pence Saturday, and the governor set up that meeting with some direct words about the future of Medicaid in the state.

“Today, the State of Florida is requesting greater flexibility from the federal government in running our statewide Medicaid program so we can deliver high-quality care without layers of government bureaucracy,” Scott said.

“My goal is to turn the top-down, Washington-knows-best approach of the Obama administration on its head by requesting flexibilities from the Trump Administration to manage our own Medicaid program based on the needs of Florida families. It is important to me that we have these flexibilities while not removing anyone from our current Medicaid program,” the governor added.

Scott, to the consternation of former President Barack Obama, resisted Medicaid expansion, contending that the state could handle administering low-income health care better than the federal government.

On Friday, Scott reiterated that stance.

“I firmly believe states can administer Medicaid far more efficiently than the federal government and that health care decisions made at the state level will be more successful than decisions made in Washington,” Scott said, vowing “to fight to get rid of the burdensome, duplicative and costly federal requirements put in place by the Obama administration.”

“Unfortunately, the previous administration was determined to micromanage every aspect of our health care system from Washington, which led to the high costs and limitations of services we currently see across the nation. Their excessive strong-arming put politics before the needs of families in our state,” Scott said.

The governor’s requests include a block grant of federal funds to replace supplemental payment programs, “flexibility regarding retroactive eligibility,” assistance with strengthening ties between primary care providers and Medicaid enrollees, streamlining the process to eliminate duplicative bureaucracy and administrative burdens.

The news release from the governor’s office was intended to amplify a letter from ACHA Secretary Justin Senior letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price that went out Friday.

Senior reiterated Scott’s optimism that Florida can provide “the best Medicaid services without removing anyone from our current program.

Planning begins for Jay Fant run for Attorney General

Republican State Rep. Jay Fant has the safest of safe seats on Jacksonville’s deep-red Westside.

However, in the even deeper-red Florida House, he found himself on the losing side of this week’s debate about Enterprise Florida.

Fant spoke passionately and futilely about the need to maintain incentive programs, a position not shared by most of the legislative body.

However, there is a narrative suggesting the Florida House is not Fant’s end game.

Rep. Fant, who has not filed for re-election, is reportedly mulling a run for Florida Attorney General in 2018, multiple credible sources asserted Friday.

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Last week, a strong source tells us that Fant held a finance meeting at the home of Jacksonville power broker John Rood, where he urged people to donate to his political committee, Pledge This Day.

If Fant intends to run statewide, that meeting had better have been beneficial: at the end of February, Fant had $38,000 on hand.

While one can buy a solid new car with that, one would not be able to run a campaign against a more deep-pocketed candidate, such as fundraising machine Ron DeSantis or a number of other people who may want to be AG.

Locals, meanwhile, are bearish on Fant’s chances, questioning his ability to raise money and citing his limited statewide profile in their assessments.

The end result of a Fant run for Attorney General, they suggest, would be more interesting in terms of the shakeup in House District 15 than in terms of Fant running a competitive campaign for AG.

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The prospect of a statewide run gives an interesting context to Fant’s decision in October, running unopposed, to spend $70,000 on a television ad in the Jacksonville market to expand his name identification.

Fant needs some help there: in a Spring 2016 poll of prospective candidates for what was an open seat in Florida’s 4th Congressional District, Fant came in at 6 percent, with a favorable rating of +3 among likely GOP primary voters.

We’ve reached out to Fant regarding the rumored run for Attorney General, and will update when we get his take.

Darryl Rouson files Dozier School apology bill

Countless young Floridian men were brutalized at the Dozier School in Marianna up until 2011.

Two Florida Democrats, St. Petersburg Sen. Darryl Rouson and Jacksonville Rep. Tracie Davis, believe that it is time for the state to answer for the abuse conducted over a staggering 111 years.

HR 1335/SR 1440 were filed, asserts a press release from the legislators, “to strongly condemn and apologize for the horrors and abuses” at the Jackson County reform school, which routinely saw human rights violations imposed to punish infractions as innocuous as smoking tobacco.

Over 50 people died there over the years, shipped to Dozier never to return home, buried in unmarked graves on the school’s grounds.

Those who made it out suffered as well.

“The survivors of abuses at the Dozier School have suffered horrible physical and psychological damages that have plagued them for their entire lives,” Rep. Davis, a Jacksonville legislator, asserted.

“We must acknowledge and remember that this atrocious cruelty was the daily reality for many children and that the brutality they experienced has no place in our society. This resolution is a commitment from the State of Florida to ensuring that our children will never again be subjected to such injustice,” Davis continued.

“With this resolution, we affirm that this state recognizes the cruelty, abuse and violation of fundamental human decency many boys faced at Dozier during its 111-year operation,” stated Sen. Darryl Rouson.

“We must ensure tragedies like this never occur again within our state,” Rouson continued.

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