Peter Schorsch - 3/2505 - SaintPetersBlog

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

Epilogue: Randy Fine explains to colleagues why he dropped out of Speaker’s race

Rep. Randy Fine has officially dropped out of the Speaker’s race, telling his colleagues he would rather be a “member of a unified team than the leader of a fractured one.”

In a lengthy email to his classmates Friday night, the Brevard County Republican explained why initially got into the Speaker’s race and why — with just two weeks until the June 30 vote — he was dropping that bid.

“A large part of the reason I decided to run is that in my 20+ year business career, I’ve always operated inclusive, collaborative, empowered teams, and it was something I wanted to see in the Florida House. I didn’t want to be the ruler, and I didn’t want to be ruled. I spent a lot of time running under the old rules, and in fact, spent significant amounts of my own money helping many of you, and raised $100,000 of additional money that went to your campaigns directly. Make no mistake – I wanted to be Speaker, but even more importantly, if I was going to spend the next eight years doing this, I wanted to be part of a great team,” he wrote in email, obtained by

“But my thought process started to change a few months ago, and in fact, I know the actual date – April 12th. On that day, just halfway into our first session, I saw what I thought was great camaraderie and class spirit rent by an effort that ended up dividing the class in two. Our group has not been the same since, and we all know it. We can’t even seem to keep our emails to ourselves.”

The race, which had been largely been happening behind the scenes, shot into the limelight in April, after state Rep. Alex Miller sent a text message to Rep. Joe Gruters that essential said the race was narrowing to a choice between Rep. Ralph Massullo and Rep. James Grant.

Gruters altered Rep. Paul Renner, who then then called a meeting, which was attended by about 15 members of the 27-member freshman GOP class, to address his colleagues about his interest in the Speaker’s race. Supporters of Renner believed Miller’s text might have violated new GOP rules, which prohibit soliciting support for a leadership contender.

Grant and Renner are considered the leading contenders for the Speaker’s race. Reps. Byron Donalds and Erin Grall have also announced their candidacy.

Fine said as the June 30 vote approaches, he became “increasingly concerned that the absence of clear rules to establish a winner that all of us could buy into — which I would note that we still do not have — we would become a fractured class, with a protracted Speaker’s Race, where no one, at least for some time, could get a majority.”

“I’m not interested in being part of that,” he wrote. “I’d rather be a member of a unified team than the leader of a fractured one.”

Fine said there were personal considerations to his decision as well. He said he misses his family, and the time away has “taken a real toll on our family.”

“My oldest is nine, but will be 16 at the end of our eight years. How much of those precious years do I want to miss? Those of you who know me know that my life revolves around the twin suns (or sons) of Jacob and David,” he wrote. “And I’m definitely not interested in spending time away from them to participate in a class fratricide.”

Fine also wrote that the family’s home was destroyed in October by Hurricane Matthew and the ensuing weather. While they had hoped it could be repaired quickly, Fine said it appears the house will need to be torn down, redesigned and entirely rebuilt.

“I believe God has a plan for each of us, and to a large degree, I believe His decision to put us through this dislocation was a message,” he wrote. “So I have decided to step away from it. I’m not going to call for us not to have a secret ballot, or attempt to call the question, or anything of the kind. I also believe that if it is over – if we want any shot of returning to an April 11th world – we should pull together. We should put Team over self.”

Fine did not disclose in his email who he planned to support in the Speaker’s race, saying he didn’t “want there to be any hint that I’m trying to influence anyone else to do anything they think is best.” On Friday, reported Fine is likely to support Renner for Speaker.

“I know there is a lot to process, but as we look to get together in a few weeks, I hope it can be in the spirit of unification,” wrote Fine.

At Florida Dems Leadership Gala, Joe Biden argues progressives can still win working class vote

HOLLYWOOD — In the immediate aftermath of Hillary Clinton‘s stunning Electoral College loss to Donald Trump for the presidency last November, Democrats took to writing think pieces and conducting heated arguments about how they lost working-class white voters.

Questions like: Was it too much of “identity politics”? Were they too elitist?

Joe Biden has heard and read about those discussions, and he’s sick of them.

“This phony debate going in the Democratic Party, the Hobbesian choice that we’re given — we either become less progressive, and focus on working folks, or forget about working folk. and become more progressive,” he said while giving the keynote speech to more than 1,200 Democrats at the party’s Leadership Blue Gala at the Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood.

“There is no need to choose, they are not inconsistent,” he said to a cheering crowd.

Easy for him to say. Biden’s unique political persona as a longtime member of the Senate representing Delaware has been one of representing the working class whites that Clinton lost to Trump last fall.

Biden himself thought hard about running for president, but with no clear daylight and so much of the Democratic Party establishment supporting Clinton (including President Obama), he opted to stand down during the last election cycle, but made the case on Saturday that the party could win back those voters, with an obvious inference being that he could be that candidate to do so in 2020.

Citing congressional ratings that showed him to be among the top ten liberal senators in the nation in his 36-year career, Biden said he has been a progressive and someone who could capture the working class vote, so Democrats should know that they could get those votes as well.

“These folks we’re talking about who left us — they voted for a black man named Barack Obama!” 

In fact, exit polls that approximately 12 percent of voters who supported Obama turned around and chose Trump in 2012.

The former Vice President talked about the working class voters that the Democratic lost in the crucial Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. He said it was things like digitalization and automation that are putting people out of work, in what he called “this fourth industrial revolution” which is causing real anxiety and fear among many Americans.

“They’re worried that they won’t be able to keep up,” he said. “So we saw of playing to their fears, their lesser angels, their basic instincts, rather than their better angels can still have a powerful impact as a political tool.”

He then dug deep into what he said was the “hopelessness” of some of these Americans, mentioning the statistic that white men aged 45-54 who are dying at a quicker rate than any other demographic right now.

“Highest rate of drug abuse. Not the ‘hood. There,” he barked.

And Biden talked about how that anxiety can play out by lashing out at “the others,” such as undocumented immigrants, Muslims and the transgendered. “Anyone not like you can become the scapegoat.”

It was a compelling speech, marred only by a detour into how cutting tax loopholes could free up money to pay for the community college being the only soft spots in the 51-minute address.

He also chastised Democrats for failing to think big, going for an incremental change instead.

“What the hell is happening?!” he asked. “We build new things by breaking old things.”

“No, no. I’m being deadly earnest,” he followed up, one of half-dozen times he would point out his previous comment, making sure everyone knew he wasn’t joking.

While his intensity came close to yelling at the audience at points, a few times he dropped down to a whisper, where the audience had to literally lean in to hear him, such as when he described a conversation with his father, who once told him: “Joey, I don’t expect government to be able to solve our problems, but I do expect them to understand them. Just understand them.”

Remaining sotto voce, Biden admitted: “That slice of people that Barack and I had, Democrats have always had, that don’t think we understand them anymore. It’s not a lot, but it was the difference in the election.”

The former VP also asked for more civility in our politics, without mentioning the current president’s name. “We have to treat the opposition with more dignity,” he said, then boasted that there wasn’t a single Republican on Capitol Hill who doesn’t trust him or won’t talk to him.

The 74-year-old Biden recently launched “American Possibilities PAC,” a political-action committee that will keep him engaged to help other Democrats, but immediately sparked more discussion about a possible 2020 run, when he would be 77.

Then again, Donald Trump is already the oldest president in our history, having turned 71 last week.

Though there will be plenty of other Democrats in the mix, two of the leading lights — Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — will also be in their 70s in three years. Sanders would be 78; Warren would be 71.

Florida Democrats say they raised more than $1 million from weekend gala

The Florida Democratic Party is wrapping up a successful weekend after having hosted their annual Leadership Blue Gala at the Westin Diplomat.

This year’s Leadership Blue Gala raised over $1 million dollars with over 1300 attendees.

“I am thrilled to announce that the Florida Democratic Party raised over $1 million at our annual Leadership Blue Gala. 1300 people attended to join Democrats from across the state as we continued our mission to turn Florida blue. Vice President Biden capped off a successful weekend with an unprecedented program and wildly successful fundraising.” said FDP Chair Stephen Bittel.

Florida Democrats hosted dozens of speakers, meetings and forums this weekend before the Saturday evening gala headlined by Senator Bill Nelson and Vice President Joe Biden.

Rick Kriseman campaign manages to screw-up the yard sign question

There comes a point in every St. Petersburg mayoral campaign when a Tampa Bay Times reporter is tasked with writing the obligatory yard sign story.

Aaron Sharockman wrote it in 2009.

Mark Puente wrote it in 2013.

And, this week, Charlie Frago offered his version, asking, “Do political yard signs matter in St. Petersburg’s mayoral election?

Now, there are two ways to answer this question. The first is the Nick Hansen way, which we will discuss below. The second is the Mitch Kates way, which is the wrong way, but also the way the Rick Kriseman campaign decided to go.

In case you need a yard sign from the Rick Baker campaign, please call Nick Hansen (pictured here in this 2008 file photo) on his cell phone.

The route Hansen – Rick Baker’s overqualified campaign manager, err, director — took was, when asked this silly question by a reporter who knows better, is to smile through his teeth and say, “Of course yard signs matter! And that’s why we have hundreds, no make that thousands of yard signs down here at campaign headquarters just ready to make their way into voters’ front lawns.”

Of course Hansen knows the truth about yard signs: that they are the second biggest pain in the ass for a campaign (know-it-all volunteers, of course, being number one) but, as the campaign director, he knows that he no choice but to fill his office with enough coroplast that, once planted in the rightaways of unsuspecting streets, one could hopscotch the entire length of Fourth Street by jumping from one sign to the next.

But neither Hansen, nor any other campaign manager worth their win bonus, would ever impugn the importance of yard signs in modern campaign.

And God forbid you don’t actually have yard signs to hand out to supporters! The moment a candidate hits the campaign trail a day will not go by without one (or ten) well-meaning supporters asking, “When do the yard signs come in?”

‘WHEN THEY’RE GOOD AND FUCKING READY!” is the response every campaign pro would like to give as they think of the wasted Saturday and Sunday they must sacrifice as they beg, borrow, or steal someone else’s pick-up truck in order to haul the hundreds of signs that actually have no place yet to go except in the back of the asbestos-infected office the campaign is leasing for three months.

The ridiculous importance of yard signs in a campaign is so out-of-whack that it inspired, arguably, the greatest single piece of political satire ever produced (“Yard sign with candidate’s name on it electrifies congressional race” via The Onion). But everyone who works on campaigns knows this and deals with it, just like they deal with the salesman who tries to convince a candidate that atop a taxi cab is a smart place to broadcast the campaign’s message.

Everyone that is except Mitch Kates.

Kates, who is now a much-sought-after INTERNATIONAL political consultant, worked for mayoral candidate Scott Wagman in 2009. He was asked then the same question Frago asked this week, ‘Do yard signs matter?’

“I think what’s interesting is it seems like people are just counting them, almost like a poll,” Kates told Creative Loafing. “I have to constantly remind people signs don’t vote.”

Kate’s might as well have kicked a leprechaun in the balls he jinxed himself that bad with that quote. And of course his candidate would lose the election after he defied the political gods with his hubris.

Which brings us to the Rick Kriseman campaign.

According to Frago’s reporting, Bill Bucolo, a Democratic activist and supporter of Kriseman, tweeted a FaceBook post Monday where he lamented what he saw as a lack of enthusiasm for yard signs supporting the Kriseman campaign.

Kriseman campaign officials say they’ll eventually start handing out yard signs, but they’re focusing their efforts on face-to-face interaction. According to Frago’s story, they believe that’s more likely to move the needle among potential voters.

That’s not a great response to Bucolo’s complaint, but neither is it Kates saying “signs don’t vote.”

But then the Kriseman campaign got snarky. When asked by Frago how many signs they planned to distribute, campaign manager Jacob Smith quipped, “More than zero.”

Remember that quote the next time you drive down Dr. Martin Luther King Street and wonder why are there so many more signs for Rick Baker than there are for Rick Kriseman.

How many more signs difference will it be? I bet it’s more than zero.

Seriously, how did the Kriseman campaign manage to screw-up the yard sign question?

It has known for three-and-a-half years that the mayor was running for re-election. The campaign has half-a-million dollars in the bank. It could have ordered the yard signs in March and held them in storage.

Instead, Bill Bucolo, among others, is on social media complaining that he doesn’t see any Rick Kriseman yard signs. Instead, there’s an article in the Times in which Kriseman’s campaign manager (whose track record includes stints on Charlie Crist‘s losing gubernatorial campaign and Alex Sink‘s losing congressional campaign before working as the organizing director for Hillary Clinton‘s historically embarrassing loss in Michigan) is mouthing off about how he knows better than silly ol’ Nick Hansen, whose clients included Jeff Brandes, Jack Latvala and Mike Twitty.

What Kriseman, Smith, and Co. should have said is, “Hey, Charlie come get the answer to that question on Saturday when we dig post holes up and down 34th Street to put up all of our 4′ x 8′ signs.”

Do yard signs vote? No, of course they don’t.

Do yard signs matter? In densely populated St. Pete, a city laid out on a tight grid which funnels residents towards a handful of major streets, you’re damn right they do.

And I’m starting to think Rick Kriseman’s campaign will find out just how much they matter come August 29.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Pulse killings bump up Florida’s murder stats

Couched in the latest crime statistics is a sobering reality: “The attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando helped drive up Florida’s murder rate in 2016 to its highest level since 2008.”

The Associated Press noted that fact as Gov. Rick Scott trumpeted this week that “Florida’s crime rate is now at a 46-year low,” according to a press release.

“Statewide there were 1,108 murders, including the 49 who were fatally shot last June at the Pulse nightclub,” the AP reported.

Scott did note the Pulse tragedy in his statement: “In 2016, Florida’s law enforcement was tested like never before…

“From the horrific terror attack at Pulse Nightclub to Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew, Florida’s men and women in uniform have answered the call,” he said. “I want to thank all of our law enforcement for putting their lives on the line to keep Florida’s families safe. Our state’s continuously decreasing crime rate is a reminder of the dedication and hard work Florida’s law enforcement officers show every day.”

Monday marked the one-year anniversary of a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that left 49 people dead and dozens others injured. The attack on the nightclub helped drive up Florida’s murder rate to the highest levels since 2008. (Photo via Scott Powers.)

He went on to note the “more than $4.9 billion in public safety in the Fighting for Florida’s Future budget.”

“This investment includes a pay increase to support Florida’s sworn law enforcement officers, a comprehensive pay plan for correctional officers that will make Florida’s prisons safer, re-entry program funding that will reduce recidivism and increased funding for prevention programs targeting at-risk youth,” the governor said.

But even without the Pulse shooting, the AP reported, “the number of murders would have been up slightly from 2015, when 1,040 people were murdered.”

Add this: “The number of murders caused by firearms was also up — even without the Pulse shootings. In 2015, firearms were used in 767 murders. That increased to 847 in 2016.”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

“Victory is mine” — A few days after the end of a three-day Special Session, Gov. Scott hit the road, crisscrossing the state as part of a five-city “Fighting for Florida’s Future Victory Tour.” Scott touted the Legislature’s decision to increase spending for K-12 public education, fully fund Visit Florida, and set aside $85 million for a newly created Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, his one-time legislative foe, at his side for several stops. “None of this would have happened without the support of the speaker who worked hard all session,” said Scott; while Corcoran said it was “great to partner with the governor.” Senate President Joe Negron didn’t tag along on the tour. A spokeswoman for the Stuart Republican said he had already departed for a prior commitment in California before the scheduled was finalized, but looked forward to “attending future events with the Governor and Speaker Corcoran to discuss the important accomplishments of the 2017 Session.”

Gov. Rick Scott touted his legislative victories, with House Speaker Richard Corcoran by his side, during a one-day, multi-city tour this week. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

You win some —  After weeks of saying he was reviewing a wide-sweeping education bill (HB 7069), Gov. Scott signed the measure just four days after the House sent it to him for his consideration. The controversial bill, among other things, steers more public money to privately run charter schools, requires recess in elementary schools, makes changes to the state’s standardized testing system, and sets aside money for teacher and principal bonuses. The measure was a top priority for House Speaker Corcoran, who said the so-called “Schools of Hope” provision would transform the state’s schools. The legislation was sharply criticized, with school superintendents and other public school advocates calling on the governor to veto it. This law will significantly hurt our public education system, rather than providing our teachers and students with the resources they need to succeed,” said Rep. Shevrin Jones, the ranking Democratic member on the House Education Committee, in a statement.

Gov. Rick Scott signed a wide-sweeping education bill during a stop in Orlando this week. The controversial measure was a top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran. (Photo via the Governor’s Office)

You lose some — While a top priority for Speaker Corcoran got a thumbs up this week, Senate President Negron wasn’t so lucky. Gov. Scott vetoed a wide-sweeping higher education bill (SB 374) that he said “impedes the ability of state colleges to meet the needs of the communities and families they serve.” The bill, among other things, enhanced policy and funding options for state universities to “recruit and retain exemplary faculty, enhance the quality of professional and graduate schools, and upgrade facilities and research infrastructure.” It also restructured the governance of the Florida College System and modified “the mission of the system and its institutions.” Scott said the legislation, a top priority for Negron, impedes the State College System’s mission by capping the enrollment level of baccalaureate degrees and unnecessarily increasing red tape.” Negron said he fundamentally disagreed with the idea that the bill made “positive changes to our universities at the expense of Florida’s community colleges.”

Some the courts decide – The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause asked the state Supreme Court to issue a ‘writ of quo warranto’ against the governor, claiming he doesn’t have authority to appoint three new justices on the last day of his term. Scott, a Naples Republican, has said he plans to name the replacements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince. They face mandatory retirement on the same day—Jan. 8, 2019—that is Scott’s last in office as governor. The lawsuit says Scott can’t replace those justices because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day all three retire, and their terms last till midnight. Later in the week, Scott was given till July 5 to file a response.

It’s a law — Gov. Scott signed a slew of bills into law this week, including a measure (SB 90) that implements the 2016 solar tax break constitutional amendment. Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes and House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, it expands the definition of renewable energy source devices and, among other things, exempts renewable energy devices from tangible personal property taxes. He also signed a bill (SB 494) championed by former Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner (and sponsored this year by Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Bobby DuBose) that would allow more people wrongfully convicted and imprisoned to be compensated by the state; a bill (SB 1018) to increase public notification of pollution incidents; a bill (HB 493) directing the Department of Transportation to study the viability and cost of creating a statewide system for the designation of safe school crossing locations;  and a bill (SB 398) capping fees and revising the requirements for issuing estoppel certificates. Scott also signed into law a measure (HB 477) aimed at combatting the state’s opioid crisis. The law, among other things, enhances penalties for fentanyl abuse and its derivatives. “This legislation was my top priority this session—because it gives law enforcement and prosecutors the tools we need to combat the trafficking of fentanyl and save lives,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.

SPF K-12

Parents of fair-skinned kiddos, rejoice! Sunscreen is now allowed at school.

Tucked into the wide-sweeping education bill signed into law by Gov. Scott this week was a provision that allowed students to “possess and use a topical sunscreen product while on school property or at a school-sponsored event without a physician’s note or prescription.” The sunscreen, according to the provision, must be regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter use.

The Governor’s decision to sign the bill into law means Florida is now the fifth state to adopt similar measures that aim to make sure children are protected from sun exposure while in school. The proposal — which was similar to ones adopted by Alabama, Arizona, Utah and Washington — have been backed by the American Dermatologic Surgery Association and the Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery.

“Creating a culture of sun-safe behavior in our youth is an important part of how we can reduce the risk of skin cancer,” said Dr. Thomas E. Rohrer, the president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association, in a statement. “As dermatologic surgeons, we must help the public understand the real risks of excessive sun exposure and how to mitigate them.”

According to the ASDSA, the provision is needed because some schools across the nation require children to bring a prescription in order to bring and use sunscreen. The ASDSA worked with multiple agencies, including the American Medical Association, to show why the provision was needed.

“Increasing access to sunscreen in our schools is an important step in the uphill battle against skin cancer,” said Dr. Terrence Cronin, Jr., the president of the FSDDS and the state affairs chair for the ASDSA. We must continue to be proactive in our efforts to lessen the risks associated with harmful sun exposure.”

Skimmer crack down

You can breathe a sigh of relief next time you head to the gas pump.

Gov. Scott signed a bill (HB 343) into law recently that updates Florida statutes to enhance protections from new methods of credit card theft.

Sponsored by Rep. Robert Asencio, measure, which goes into effect Oct. 1, identifies the scanning and skimming devices used by criminals to steal consumer information and conduct credit card fraud. It also criminalizes fraudulent activities, and aims to protect Floridians who rely on the safe use of their credit cards.

“Credit card fraud and identity theft are too common in our state,” said the Miami Democrat in a statement. “This legislation will update our laws to keep up with the underhanded methods of criminals and ensure they are held accountable for their actions.”

By the numbers

Two thousand cupcakes. Sixty-six new members. One vote.

Those are just a few of the big numbers from the 2017 Legislative Session, at least according to Moore Communications Group. The statewide communications agency released its annual “other” session wrap-up, which looks at a few of the other capital city watchers might have missed while they were watching all the action the floor.

Take for instance the number of cupcakes handed out on Epilepsy Awareness Day. According to MCG, the folks behind Epilepsy Awareness Day handed out purple cupcakes on April 18.

(Graphic via Moore Consulting Group)

Feb. 23 was the busiest day in LobbyTools history, according to the MCG analysis, with 1,082 individual bill actions added to the system within 24 hours.

In the age of social media, it’s no surprise that Moore Communications has the lowdown on the number of tweets sent this session. According to MCG, there were 51,208 tweets sent about the 2017 Legislative Session.

Welcome to the board

There’s a few new members of the Board of Occupational Therapy Practice.

Gov. Scott announced this week that he appointed Dr. Daniel Calvo and Tameka German to the Board of Occupational Therapy Practice, which oversees the licensure and regulation of occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants.

Calvo, a 39-year-old from Lakeland, is the regional consultant of clinical services for Accelerate Care Plus. He fills a vacant post, and was appointed to a term ending Oct. 31, 2017.

German, a 39-year-old from Tallahassee, is the owner of Premier Therapy Services. She succeeds Tammy McKenzie, and was appointed to a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

Both appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Congratulations, Mr. President (and Madame President-elect)

You might want to start calling Michael Higer “Mr. President.”

Higer, a partner on Berger Singerman’s dispute resolution team, will be sworn in as the 69th president of The Florida Bar when the bar holds its annual convention in Boca Raton next weekend.

Higher is a member of the Bar’s Board of Governors, and serves on its executive committee. He is a former chairman of the Bar’s Business Law Section, and served as the chair of Bar’s special committee on gender bias, which recently issued a 12-point plan to address bias and promote inclusion.

Born in Miami Beach, Higer got his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from the University of Miami School of Law. He joined Berger Singerman in 2015, after stints at Jacobsen Schwartz Nash Block & England; Coll Davidson Carter Smith Salter & Bartkett; and striking out on his own to form Higer Lichter & Givner.

The Bar will also swear in Michelle Suskauer as the president-elect during its annual convention. Suskauer will take the reins in June 2018.

Money for an apprentice

Rep. Asencio is hoping he and Gov. Scott can find common ground in the governor’s favorite four letter word — J-O-B-S.

The Miami Democrat is asking Scott to set aside $12.75 million from the $85 million in the newly created Florida Jobs Growth Grant Fund for apprenticeship programs. The request is similar to an amendment proposed by Asencio during the three-day special session earlier this month, which would have set aside money for an apprenticeship program.

Rep. Robert Asencio is asking Gov. Rick Scott to set aside $12.75 million for apprenticeship programs. The request is similar to an amendment proposed by Asencio during the three-day special session. (Photo via the Associated Press)

“The Governor will soon have the final version of the bill on his desk and the ability to allocate funds to invest in our youth and our entire state’s future,” said Asencio in a statement. “From South Florida, to the Space Coast, to even the White House, everyone is laser-focused on the incredible benefits apprenticeship programs will have on our country’s working families. We cannot afford to let this opportunity pass us by.”

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that cut back the federal government’s role in creating and monitoring apprenticeship programs. The order also doubled the amount of money for apprenticeship grants to $200 million a year, up from about $90 million a year.

“I call on Governor Scott to allocate $12.75 million, the amount my amendment intended to provide for apprenticeship programs, from the $85 million in discretionary funds in Florida tax dollars,” said Asencio. “This will help not only hundreds of people in South Florida, but many more across the entire state through public-private partnerships. It’s time we invest in working Floridians and give them the opportunity to better themselves and our state.”

Celebrating a golden anniversary

The Florida Bar is raising a glass to more than 250 attorneys who have dedicated 50 years to the practice of law.

The Bar will honor 254 attorneys during luncheon at The Florida Bar Annual Convention at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. In order to be recognized, attorney need to be members in good standing of the Florida Bar, active or inactive, and attain their 50th anniversary of admittance to the practice of law in 2017.

Honorees include Baya Harrison III, Stewart Parsons, Peter Spriggs, and Barry Richard.

As our Jim Rosica once wrote about him for The Tampa Tribune, Richard “is one of the Greenberg Traurig law firm’s powerhouses, perhaps most notable for representing then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential-election challenge in Florida. But (he) also represented the defendant in a dispute over royalties lodged by funk-music legend George Clinton in Tallahassee federal court.”

Richard now represents the Seminole Tribe of Florida in its fight over blackjack with the state, and the Florida Lottery in its court battle against House Speaker Richard Corcoran over a $700 million contract for new equipment.

Richard is married to Allison Tant, the former head of the Florida Democratic Party.

High fives all around

Work it — You’d be hard pressed to call this millennial lazy.

Gov. Scott presented Joe Sleppy with the Young Entrepreneur Award during the Cabinet meeting this week. Scott honored the 21-year-old for his work to create Capacitech Energy, an Orlando-based technology company. Founded in 2016, Capacitech Energy is focused on helping power electronic manufacturing companies reduce the size and cost of their products.

“It’s exciting to see a young entrepreneur pursue his passion for technology and build a small business in Florida,” said Scott. “Joe’s hard work and dedication lands him on the path for continued growth and future success.”

Scott also presented Partners in Association Management with the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award. Founded in 1998, the Tallahassee-based company provides management services to state, regional and national associations.

Creating a sanctuary — Kelly Kowall created a sanctuary for families in need.

Five years later, she’s being honored for the help she’s provided to so many others.

Gov. Scott and Volunteer Florida CFO Chester Spellman presented Kowall with the Volunteer Florida Champion of Service Award during the Cabinet meeting this week. Kowall, the founder and president of My Warrior’s Place in Ruskin, received the award for her work to help families who are mourning the loss of a veteran or first responder.

“Volunteer Florida is honored to recognize Kelly for her invaluable work to provide members of the military, veterans, and military families with a place to recover from traumatic events or the loss of a loved one,” said Spellman.

Kelly Kowall, the founder of My Warrior’s Place, was recognized for her work to “help those who are mourning the loss” of a veteran or first responder. (Photo via the Governor’s Office)

My Warrior’s Place was founded in 2012 after Kowall’s son, Army Specialist Corey Kowall, died in Afghanistan in 2009. The Ruskin retreat is a sanctuary that provides reprieve and support services for veterans, active-duty military members, first responders, and Blue, Silver, and Gold Star families grieving over losses or recovering from PTSD. Trained instructors and assistants teach multiple grief and bereavement coping mechanisms, including referrals to resources for continued progress outside of the retreat. The retreat has provided service to more than 5,000 individuals.

“I’d like to thank Kelly for her selfless service to help those who are mourning the loss of our brave and courageous veterans and first responders,” said Scott. “I applaud her continued efforts to honor the lives of our veterans, and provide a place for families and friends to find peace through their grieving process.”

Thanks, teach — The school year has come to an end, but that didn’t stop Gov. Scott and the Florida Cabinet from tipping their hats to a group of educators this week.

Scott presented seven educators with the Governor’s Shine Award during the Cabinet meeting. The award is presented to teachers and administrators in Florida who make significant contributions to the field of education.

“The hard work and commitment of these outstanding educators has been recognized in their schools and districts and I’m proud to present them with the Governor’s Shine Award,” said Scott. “I applaud their dedication to ensuring students across Florida are prepared for success in college and a future career.”

All of the teachers honored this week were the 2017 District Teachers of the Year and the 2018 State Teacher of the Year finalists.

Scott recognized Latrece Brown of Duval County, Katelyn Fiori of Indian River County, Juan “Diego” Fuentes of Martin County, Janeen Gibson of Hardee County, Tammy Ross Jerkins of Lake County, Lyndita Saunders of Collier County, and Kristen White of Santa Rosa County.

Advocacy honored — For more than two decades Ben Ritter has worked on behalf of veterans with disabilities. And this week, Gov. Scott took a minute to give Ritter a round of applause for his service.

Scott presented Ritter, a former non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps., with the Governor’s Medal of Merit during the Cabinet meeting this week. Scott, a Navy veteran, thanked Ritter for his service and his “commitment to advocating for veterans and citizens with disabilities.”

“Ben’s dedication to improving the lives of those with disabilities is humbling,” said Scott. “I’m honored to present him with the Medal of Merit today for his service and positive impact on the lives of countless Floridians.”

Ben Ritter was honored by Gov. Rick Scott for his work on behalf of disabled veterans. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

Ritter lost the use of his legs during an unsuccessful back operation in 1988. In 1997, be began working in Tampa representing veterans with disabilities, serving as the government relations director for the Florida Gulf Coast Paralyzed Veterans of America from 1997 until 2012 and as an American Disabilities Act Consultant to the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

Ritter currently serves as on the Hillsborough County Veterans Council, is co-chairman of the Tampa Mayor’s Alliance for Persons with Disabilities, and is a member of the local Military Officers Association of America Chapter and Hillsborough County Alliance for Citizens with Disabilities.

“Ben’s passionate advocacy on behalf of persons with disabilities is well known and respected in Florida’s veteran community,” said Lt. Col. Glenn Sutphin, the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. “His tireless efforts to help drivers with disabilities resulted in Florida’s gasoline stations displaying their phone numbers on gas pumps for pumping assistance.”

Financial clarity

Students heading to college fall will have a little better understanding about their financial future, thanks to a new law signed into law this week.

Gov. Scott signed a bill (SB 396), sponsored by Sen. Dorothy Hukill and Sen. Aaron Bean, that requires colleges and universities to provide students with financial information about their student loan debt.

“An affordable education allowed me and my family to live the American dream, so ensuring that every Florida student understands the costs of higher education is very important to me,” said Scott in a statement. “This bill is another step in the right direction and builds on our college affordability bill enacted in last year and our fight to hold the line on tuition, making it possible for more students to get a great education in Florida.

Under the law, which goes into effect July 1, schools are required to annually provide students with an estimate of the total amount a student has borrowed in student loans; the student’s potential loan repayment amount; an estimate of the monthly loan payment amount; and the percentage of the borrowing limit the student has reached at the time the information was provided.

“Student loan debt is growing every second and every second students are putting themselves further into debt for their education,” said Hukill in a statement. “Our students need to be as informed about their debt and what it will cost over the life of the loan as they would be when they buy a car or a house.”


Working together — When it comes to a workforce development, it’s all about collaboration.

That’s the idea Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, wanted to get across during the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Learners to Earners education summit this week. The annual conference aims to connect the state’s business community, workforce professionals and education leaders to talk about ways to prepare Florida students for the future.

Proctor said while it is important for students to continue their education, the “responsibility doesn’t fall on students alone.” She encouraged employers to make investments in training, have conversations about what degree programs are working for them, and what type of opportunities they can provide to meet the needs for the jobs of the future.

“We know there are many paths to prosperity,” she said. “Getting a great education is step one.”

The future is now — Mary O’Hara-Devereaux had a message for educators and business leaders this week: Stop talking about the future like it’s something that is still to come.

“I think it’s very important for leaders to remember the future is already here, it’s not just evenly distributed,” said O’Hara-Devereaux, the CEO of Global Foresight, a think tank and strategic consulting firm. “2030 is only 12 years away. The changes that are out there are huge. We will have more disruption in the next 12 years, more advances in the next 12 years than in the past 20 years.”

As one of the nation’s leading futurists, O’Hara-Devereaux has been featured on Bloomberg TV, Fox, and NPR. During her speech to the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Earners and Learners summit this week, O’Hara-Devereaux talked about the laws of the future she bases her ideas off of.

Those laws include if “something big is going to happen, it’s got to start some time,” and “how will you live.”

Extraordinary contributions honored —Education Commissioner Pam Stewart tipped her hat to more than three dozen Florida business this week for their contributions to public education in the Sunshine State.

Stewart presented 44 companies with the Commissioner’s Business Recognition Award during the Florida Chamber Foundation’s annual Learners to Earners Summit this week.

“I am pleased to present these businesses with the Commissioner’s Business Recognition Award as a token of our appreciation for their ongoing support,” said Stewart in a statement. “Strong partnerships between the education and business communities are essential to student success, and I hope more businesses will take advantage of this mutually beneficial opportunity.”

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart speaks during the Florida Chamber Foundation Learners to Earners Education Summit. (Photo by Colin Hackley/Florida Chamber Foundation)

Stewart highlighted several companies during her presentation, including the Tampa Bay Lightning, which has invested $6 million into its five-year “Build the Thunder Program.” Through the program, the Lightning donates hockey gear to underprivileged children and seeks to teach them critical life skills.

Stewart also highlighted The Green Bag Project, which is supported by Lowe’s and helps to ensure students in need in Osceola County have food when school is out, like during holiday breaks and on weekends.

She also applauded Ajax Building Corporation’s working in Pinellas County, which has dedicated more than $1 million in time, labor and resources to transform a vacant school building into The Starting Right Now facility, which serves homeless and unaccompanied youth.

Make it affordable

A new law could help promote affordable housing in Florida.

Gov. Scott signed a bill (HB 421) this week that extends the use of self-insurance funds to public housing entities with interest in public housing housing investments. The law, which goes into effect July 1, authorizes a variety of companies to join the same self-insurance fund as the authority that owns or governs them.

“Working to find solutions that will make more affordable housing opportunities available for Florida’s working families is imperative to strengthening our state’s economy and communities,” said Rep. Sean Shaw, who sponsored the legislation in the House. “This important piece of legislation will give Floridians a chance to begin planning a path to economic security. I’m proud to have been a part of building consensus across party lines to help strengthen families across our state and I thank the governor for signing it into law.”

One stop pick-up

Need to pick up a bunch of prescriptions? Have no fear, soon might be able to do it all in one stop.

Under a bill (SB 800) signed into law by Gov. Scott his week, health insurers would be prohibited from denying patients the ability to receive a partial refill of a prescription if they choose to enroll in a medical synchronization program through their pharmacy. The law, sponsored by Sen. Doug Broxson and House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, will allow more patients to synchronize their prescriptions.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz talks with House Speaker Richard Corcoran during the 2017 Legislative Session. Cruz sponsored legislation, signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott this week, that allows more patients to synchronize their prescriptions (Photo by Colin Hackley.)

The lack of synchronization in prescription fill dates has been identified as one of the major contributors to medication non-adherence. That can lead to poor health outcomes for patients, and an estimated $300 billion a year in avoidable costs to the U.S. health care system, according to Cruz’s office.

“This new law is an invaluable tool for elderly and chronically ill patients in Florida who find it burdensome to make multiple trips to the pharmacy each month,” said Cruz. “Medication synchronization will lead to better health outcomes and longer lives for thousands of Floridians who are in need of continuing care.”

Summer #SuitsForSession

Remember those suits you donated to during the 2017 Legislative Session? Volunteer Florida wants you to know what happened to them.

The statewide volunteer organization announced it plans to spend the summer highlighting the individuals who were impacted by the #SuitsForSession Capitol service project.

“By highlighting the stories of people across Florida who were personally impacted by #SuitsForSession, we hope to spark a discussion about ways in which the private sector, public sector, and volunteers can innovate to help job-seekers gain self-sufficiency,” said Volunteer Florida CFO Chester Spellman in a statement “Entering or re-entering the workforce can be overwhelming, especially for those experiencing homelessness, health issues, or other challenges. Our goal is to support job-seekers by providing not only professional attire, but a sense of self-confidence.”

The annual clothing drive collected more than 3,200 items of new or gently-used professional attire, which was then sorted and distributed to Chapman Partnership in Miami, Dress for Success Tampa Bay, ECHO Outreach Ministries in Tallahassee, Bridges of America, and the Florida State University Unconquered Scholars program.

Chairwoman of the board

Kudos, Carol Dover!

The Florida Agriculture Center & Horse Park’s Board of Directors announced this week that it unanimously selected Dover, the president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, to serve as its chair. Dover, who has served on the board since its inception, will serve the remainder of the current term, which ends Dec. 31.

“Every challenge presents an opportunity, and as I serve in this new role, I’m determined to reinvigorate our stakeholders, promote a positive workplace culture, and maintain fiscal responsibility and transparency,” said Dover in a statement. “As a passionate equestrian, I’m excited to work together with our local and state partners to effectively promote FHP as the premier venue for agricultural, equine, and community events.”

The 500-acre multi-purpose facility is located in Ocala-Marion County and provides a world class setting for equestrian events throughout the year. The center includes a 79,500-square-foot all weather arena, seven regulation dressage arenas, and over 100 obstacles and stabling.

Dover has served as the president and CEO of the FRLA since July 1995.

Art City, USA

Tallahassee residents love art — or at least they love shopping for it.

That’s according to a report from Artfinder, an online marketplace, which looked at the art buying habits across the United States. The recent report found Tallahassee was the No. 1 art buying city, with 1,303 pieces of art bought per million inhabitants in 2016.

“We are now seeing a new generation and a new kind of art buyer emerging,” said Artfinder CEO Jonas Almgren in a statement. “Our audience are typically younger than those who buy from galleries, and they don’t necessarily classify themselves as ‘collectors’ — they’re not buying for investment, they’re buying because they want something handmade by a real person on their wall, something no one else has got.”

New Haven, Conn. ranked No. 2 on the Artfinder list, followed by Anaheim, Calif. in the No. 3 spot. Tampa came in fourth with 789 pieces of art bought per million inhabitants in 2016; and and Raleigh, North Carolina rounded out the Top 5. Miami landed in the Top 10 with 620 pieces of art bought per million inhabitants in 2016, according to the Artfinder research.

Vacation state of mind

Floridians are ready for a vacation.

A new survey from AAA – The Auto Club showed 67 percent of Floridians are planning to take at least one vacation this summer. The survey found that a majority of travelers are planning at least on vacation ranging from three to eight days, and about 21 percent of Floridians are taking a vacation longer than 21 days.

“The summer travel season kicked off with the most Memorial Day travelers in 12 years,” said Vicky Evans, the assistant vice president of travel sales development for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “So far this year, AAA has also seen tremendous growth in travel bookings, compared to last year. This survey suggests that momentum will continue, creating the busiest summer travel season in more than a decade.”

About 30 percent of Floridians said they feel better about taking a vacation this year, compared to last. The report found 67 percent of Floridians said they’ll be heading to the lake or beach, 51 percent will be making their way to theme parks, and 41 percent are planning to go on ocean cruises.

Water world

Diver down — As scallop season approaches and more people hit the water, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to make sure Floridians stay safe diving this summer.

FWC officials are reminding Floridians to use a divers-down warning device whenever they are snorkeling or scuba diving.

A divers-down flag displayed on a boat must be at least 20-inches by 24-inches and displayed at a high point, where it can be observed from 360 degrees around the vessel. All divers must prominently display a divers-down devices in the area in which the diving occurs.

Diving? Make sure you use a dive flag to alert boaters. (Photo via FWC)

The FWC is also reminding boaters that vessels should make a reasonable effort to stay at least 100 feet away from a divers-down device within a river, inlet or channel. In open waters, vessels need to make a reasonable effort to stay 300 feet away. Divers should stay within the same distance of their displayed vehicle.

“Divers share the responsibility of boating safety with the boat operators,” said Capt. Tom Shipp with FWC’s boating and waterways section. “Diving without the divers-down symbol displayed or using it for reasons other than to inform others of the presence of divers is unlawful.”

The 2017 recreational scallop season for Dixie and parts of Taylor counties opened Friday and remains open through Sept. 10.

More snapper please — Love snapper? You now have more time to snag yourself some fresh fish for dinner.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced an additional 39-day season for recreational snapper fishing in Gulf of Mexico federal waters. The extended season is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Monday, Sept. 4, and includes Monday, July 3 and Tuesday, July 4 and Monday, Sept. 4.

“This major expansion of the federal red snapper season is great news for every community along Florida’s Gulf Coast. The red snapper season helps drive our economy and this extension will allow families and visitors to take advantage of red snapper fishing opportunities during Father’s Day and Fourth of July weekends,” said Gov. Scott. “I encourage every Floridian and visitor to get out on the water to enjoy Florida’s world-class fishing.”

A red snapper caught on a tagging trip off the waters of Panama City. (Photo via FWC)

This marks the longest Gulf federal red snapper season since 2013.

“An extended federal Gulf red snapper season will have a tremendous positive economic impact on Florida’s coastal communities, which depend on our state’s $9.6 billion sportfishing industry,” said Gary Jennings, director of Keep Florida Fishing, in a statement. “We appreciate efforts to expand access to our fisheries, and we will continue to push for improvements to federal management of recreational fishing.”

Here’s this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Jacksonville’s Paul Renner on cusp of winning Speaker’s race

Jacksonville Republican Paul Renner could be on the cusp of winning an intra-party contest to determine who will serve as House Speaker beginning in 2022.

The first-term state Representative currently commands a majority of his 26 colleague’s votes, after Melbourne’s Randy Fine put aside his own bid to be Speaker on Friday and decided to take on the role of kingmaker.

“If the race is over, we should wrap it up for the betterment and unity of our class,” Fine told

Fine is now likely to support Renner when the House GOP freshman caucus convenes June 30 to select a leader.

To reach the conclusion about the state of the race, interviewed no less than 18 members of the freshman class, as well as reviewed a cache of member-to-member emails and text messages provided to the media organization by several different members.

Supporters of Jamie Grant, Renner’s chief rival for the Speaker’s post, dispute this count and contend that neither candidate has the support of a majority of the class. They add that Grant actually has more definitive votes in his pocket than Renner.

FP readily admits that this is but a snapshot of the current state of the race. Members have nearly two weeks to change their minds. And current House leadership, said to be partial to Grant, could intervene in an attempt to persuade members to back the Tampa Republican.

The GOP has a commanding majority in the Florida House, so whoever among the freshman class emerges as its leader is likely to become Speaker, beginning in 2022.

Whether the race is definitely decided or still up in the air, it is a remarkable turnaround for Renner who, only six weeks ago, was “on the ropes,” according to a report by POLITICO Florida.

In April, Renner called a meeting that was attended by about 15 members of the 27-member freshman GOP class. During the meeting, Renner reportedly addressed his colleagues about his interest in the Speaker’s race, which had lost some momentum since some of his backers lost their primaries in August.

But since then, Renner has rallied and Grant’s efforts have stalled, despite the fact that one of Grant’s chief competitors for what is described as the “anti-Renner” bloc, Frank White, declared he was not interested in becoming Speaker.

Byron Donalds and Erin Grall have also declared they are running for the position, but neither is expected to garner enough support to make it past the early rounds of balloting scheduled to occur when the class is scheduled to meet in Central Florida.

Based on’s own whip count, Renner has the definitive support of Chuck Clemons, Joe Gruters, Don Hahnfeldt, Sam Killebrew, Tom Leek, Stan McClain, Bobby Payne, himself, Rick Roth, and Clay Yarborough (10 votes).

Grant can count on Cord Byrd, himself, Michael Grant, Amber Mariano, Ralph Massullo, Alex Miller, Jackie Toledo, Frank White, and Jayer Williamson (9 votes).

Fine’s support gives Renner 11 votes.

Jason Fischer says he will back Renner, making it 12.

Both sides also concede Bob Rommel is in Renner’s column. That’s 13 very likely votes for Renner.

In addition to his solid 9, Grant is counting on the support of Grall once she is eliminated on the first or second ballot.

This leaves Thad Altman, Donalds (after he is eliminated on the first or second ballot), Mel Ponder, and Cyndi Stevenson.

According to sources close to Altman and Fine, Altman will support Renner now that Fine is with the Jacksonville Republican.

Donalds is a complete unknown; one source says Donalds is ideologically aligned with Grant (they also point out that Grant’s patron, Speaker Richard Corcoran, recently appointed Donalds’ wife, Erika, to the Constitution Revision Commission), while another says there is no way that Donalds can vote for Grant after “Text-gate.”

In April, state Rep. Alex Miller sent a text to Gruters that essentially said the race was narrowing to a choice between Massullo and Grant.

Gruters alerted Renner to the text, which ultimately led to that April meeting to discuss his candidacy. Supporters of Renner believed her text might have violated new GOP rules, which prohibit soliciting support for a leadership contender. At the time, she said what she wrote did not violate the rules.

Ponder is thought to be with Grant because the three members from Northwest Florida —Ponder, White and Williamson — are thought to be moving together (Williamson even said as much) but the District 4 representative has told both Grant and Renner that has not reached a final decision. Neither camp is counting on his vote because they do not want to spook him to the other side.

The final vote of the four, Stevenson, has been the most mercurial, but sources close to both Fischer and Stevenson insist they are a package deal, and Fischer is definitely for Renner. A handful of members tell that they have received calls from Stevenson that they describe as in favor of Renner.

Handicapping the race this year is slightly more complicated because new rules prohibit members from directly or indirectly soliciting or accepting any “formal or informal pledge of support” prior to June 30. The class also has agreed to vote by secret ballot, doing away with the pledge card system.

Those members who can’t attend the June 30 vote will be able to cast their vote through some type of direct communication to either Rep. Larry Metz or Republican Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues.

It’s unclear how Adam Smith decided Andrew Gillum is Florida Democrats’ “best hope”

Tampa Bay Times’ political editor Adam Smith just declared Andrew Gillum the Democratic frontrunner for Governor.

Based on what?

Before I go one inch further, let me say this. Gillum may be the frontrunner. He is a thoughtful progressive and charismatic speaker and if he can turn the ship of his campaign around, he could be the star many people already think he is.

However, as we sit here today, June 16, 2017, it is really hard to say that he is the “Democrats’ best hope.”

This claim is made without regard to any polling numbers and with, as the story notes, a series of out-of-the-gate problems; a “Mostly False” PolitiFact finding, an email scandal, an open criminal investigation and elections complaints.

Pause for a moment and consider the following three kind-of-important things Smith does not reference:

  1. The story ran on the same day Gillum’s hometown paper lead with the headline, “Leon has highest crime rate.” (This story follows the headline from a few weeks back about how Gillum’s city likewise has a serious crime problem.) That’s not good.
  2. Gillum has raised the least amount of money of the three Democrats currently running and one, Graham, has only been in the race for a little over six weeks.
  3. Gillum has spent more than his opponents and is currently spending more than he is raising (his soft account just posted that he spent over $100,000 already this month while raising only $10,000.) That is simply unsustainable.

So, by what metric does Smith make the frontrunner claim? Polling? No. Money? Um, NO! Press? Way no.

The claim is based on Smith’s opinion that Gillum is charming, charismatic and has more endorsements than his opponents.

But here’s where the Smith column truly confounds me. He references that Gillum got caught fudging numbers, is under investigation, used tax dollars to send political emails and hasn’t exactly managed the press effectively (well, except the Times apparently loves him.)

Yet, THAT series of negatives puts him at the front of the pack. How does this even make sense?

Look, I’m not saying Gillum is dead-man-walking. It’s too soon to tell. And I’m not picking any winners or even front-runners at this early stage.

But it’s really – REALLY – hard to say he is the “best” of the crew.

Tempers flaring as Speaker’s race barrels to conclusion

A group of House Republicans reacted strongly to a story about the House Speaker’s race, with one calling it “a shameful tool,” according to emails provided to the media organization.

The post in question, wrote state Rep. Mike Grant, “suggested Rep. (Cord) Byrd would be targeted for a primary challenge based on his vote for Speaker.”

First, here’s what the story actually said:

“We understand that there is one holdout: Rep. Cord Byrd, a regional anomaly in his support for Jamie Grant. One assumes the donor class is watching which way Byrd goes on this one. Even though he’s in the deepest of deep red seats, only one man is going to win what looks like a binary Speaker’s race. And for Northeast Florida, there is but one choice.”

In any case, Grant took it as a call to action.

“(W)hile Rep. Byrd knows, as do all of us, that (the) House Majority would willingly spend any amount of money to thwart these types of cowardly political ploys, I wanted to make unequivocally clear to each and every member of our great class, that should any one challenge, or threaten you with a challenge, know that I will spend whatever it takes personally to see you through the Primary,” he wrote.

Rep. Joe Gruters responded, “I hope everyone would be willing to join your efforts in trying to protect all of our classmates both now and after this election for speaker.”

He added that Byrd nor “anyone else is going to get targeted in a primary as a result of the upcoming vote and we will be united as a class moving forward no matter who wins.”

Rep. Paul Renner weighed in: “I agree with Mike that targeting any member of our class is unacceptable. I am certain we will do whatever is needed to support our classmates against any election challenge.”

He said, “Cord and I attended an event together in which we raised over 260K, dedicated resources to make sure that every member of our class returns. Next week our regional delegation is coming together again to raise money for House Campaigns, which will protect all of our incumbent members.”

“I will continue to raise the funds necessary to ensure the re-election of our entire class,” Renner concluded. “Together, I am confident we will have a successful 2018 election cycle.”

Rep. Ralph Massullo next weighed in, saying, “I couldn’t agree with you more and am honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with you and support our class and whatever member among us who may be the target of any special interest. We may not be family, but we certainly can be the next best thing…together.”

Rep. Bob Rommel finally said, “I agree we don’t need any outside threats that may want to influence the decision of any member. I will pledge to help any Republican who is threatened.

“On a side note,” he added, “someone has been leaking information about our private meetings and our private emails regarding this leadership race. If it is a House member or staff member, please stop.”

The Speaker’s race is barreling toward a vote later this month. Five members of the class —Grant, Renner, Byron Donalds, Randy Fine and Erin Grall — have all announced their candidacy.

A vote will likely take place in the Orlando area on June 30. Those who can attend the vote will be able to vote in person, while those who can’t are expected to be able to cast their vote through some type of direct communication to either Rep. Larry Metz or Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues.

The vote is expected to be conducted through secret ballot, not the traditional pledge card method.

Tom Rooney backs Ben Albritton for Florida Senate

Ben Albritton is receiving the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, who represents Florida’s 17th Congressional District.

Albritton is seeking the District 26 seat in the Florida Senate, now held by Denise Grimsley, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner.

“Ben Albritton is a tireless and dedicated servant leader committed to strengthening our communities,” Rooney said in a statement Friday. “I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with Ben on issues important to our region, and I am confident he will continue the tradition of excellent representation Denise Grimsley has provided.”

Rooney was elected to Congress in 2008, and he sits on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He chairs the Subcommittee on the National Security Agency. His district includes nine counties, spanning from Florida’s Heartland to the Gulf Coast.

“I am honored to have the support of Congressman Rooney,” said Albritton. “When it comes to defending agriculture, reining in big government, and supporting small businesses, there is no question we have a champion in him. I plan to fight for those same issues in the Florida Senate.”

In 2010, Albritton was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he has been a staunch advocate for entrepreneurs and children in Florida’s foster care system. He is also known for his strong conservative record on Second Amendment rights and protection for the unborn. He is the Chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and Vice Chair of the House Natural Resources and Public Lands Subcommittee. He also sits on the Appropriations Committee, the Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee, and the Government Accountability Committee, and he currently serves as the Chair of the Polk County Legislative Delegation.

With Grimsley’s decision to not seek re-election, District 26, where Republicans outnumber Democrats 43 to 34 percent, is an open seat. Centered in Florida’s Heartland, the district covers parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties, as well as all DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties.

Ryan Duffy

Personnel note: Ryan Duffy joining U.S. Sugar

Ryan Duffy, who joined Hill+Knowlton Strategies after serving as former House Speaker Will Weatherford‘s spokesman, now will be heading to U.S. Sugar as its Director of Corporate Communications, the company announced Friday.

“We are pleased to add Mr. Duffy to U.S. Sugar’s leadership team, where he will help articulate the company’s positions and share our vision of sustainable American food production with all of our stakeholders,” said Judy Sanchez, the Senior Director for Corporate Communications and Public Affairs.

“Through his corporate and political work, Duffy brings a wealth of talent and experience communicating for a variety of audiences that will be an asset to our company,” she added. His first day is Aug. 1.

He will “assist in managing the company’s media relations and public outreach efforts while providing strategic counsel on all public-facing corporate initiatives,” according to a press release.

Duffy joins Eric Edwards, the longtime Tallahassee-based legislative assistant to Republican state Sen. Don Gaetz, who is now the Clewiston-based company’s Assistant Vice President of Governmental Affairs.

“It is truly an honor to work for an agribusiness that is not only steeped in history, but is also setting the standard in innovation among America’s sugarcane farming businesses,” Duffy said in a statement. “I look forward to joining a team of professionals that have helped to make U.S. Sugar as successful as it is today.”

He is currently a Vice President at Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Tallahassee and has been a speechwriter to former U.S. Sens. George LeMieux and Mel Martinez and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Duffy has a graduate degree in Political Management from George Washington University and an undergraduate degree from Florida State University.

Duffy, once named a Florida Politics “30 Under 30” rising star in Florida politics, and wife Danielle have two children, 4-year-old Cormac and 2-year -old Donovan.

U.S. Sugar, with over $1 billion in annual revenue, stokes envy among other agribusinesses and roils controversy among the state’s environmentalists.

It got its start in the early part of the 20th century, when businessman Charles Stewart Mott “invested millions of dollars of his own funds in a sugar cane farming operation and convinced others that the dream of growing in the rich muck soils around Lake Okeechobee was not only possible, but it could be profitable,” the company’s website says.

It now farms nearly 190,000 acres in Hendry, Glades and Palm Beach counties, creating jobs and contributing to America’s table. But it’s regularly been criticized, usually unfairly, for agricultural practices that cause runoff into the state’s “River of Grass.”

In 2013, the conglomerate got a measure passed by lawmakers and approved by Gov. Rick Scott that saved the industry millions of dollars on Everglades pollution cleanup.

U.S. Sugar’s political contributions average approximately $1.5 million per year. When you subtract dollars spent in years involving a constitutional amendment related to their industry, that average is significantly lower.

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