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Matt Caldwell releases video highlighting #2LaneTravels Work Days Tour

Rep. Matt Caldwell spent Friday afternoon elbow deep in shark carcasses.

The North Fort Myers Republican heaved the sharks onto a scale, weighed them and packed them back in ice, preparing them to be shipped. It was a dirty job in an industry that he will oversee if elected Agriculture Commissioner in 2018.

Caldwell kicked off his #2LaneTravels Work Days at Key Largo Fisheries in Key Largo on Friday. The statewide tour is a chance for Caldwell to showcase the industries that the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services oversees.

“The Commissioner of Agriculture oversees all the blue collar jobs in Florida. If I’m going to be in charge of overseeing and regulating these jobs, I need to understand what goes into it,” said Caldwell. “The people who end up at top are the ones who started in the mail room. For me, the same thing is true here, if I can do the best job I can … if I’m blessed to come out on top, I have to understand (the jobs).”

Work days are a political tradition in the Sunshine State. Bob Graham, the state’s former Democratic governor and senator, made them a staple of his political career.

“Everyone knows Gov. Graham and his work days,” said Caldwell. “(It showed he) wasn’t afraid of doing hard work and was committed to understanding Florida top to bottom.”

Gov. Rick Scott held several work days during his first term in office, including selling doughnuts in Jacksonville and working as a park ranger at Hillsborough River State Park. Gwen Graham, a former U.S. and Democratic candidate for governor, is following in her father’s footsteps and doing her own workdays, including installing rooftop solar panels.

For Caldwell, the work days serve a dual purpose. While it helps it him better understand Florida, he’s also hopeful it will help Floridians better understand what the Agriculture Commissioner does.

“When you go around and try to explain to people who aren’t farmers, I remind them of the show ‘Dirty Jobs,’” he said. “Pretty much everything he does is what the Commissioner’s Office oversees.”

Caldwell said he expects future work days to include working on cattle ranches, with timber crews, and in tire shops.

Caldwell is one of four Republicans vying for their party’s nomination to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in 2018. Sen. Denise Grimsley, former state Rep. Baxter Troutman, and Paul Paulson have also filed to run.

Putnam, who can’t run for re-election in 2018 because of term limits, is running for governor.

Baxter Troutman opens iGrow PC to fund Ag. Commissioner bid

Baxter Troutman has opened a political committee, allowing him to raise unlimited dollars toward his bid to replace Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in 2018.

State records show Troutman launched iGrow PC, a state political committee. He filed a statement of solicitation with the Division of Elections on June 14, two days after he filed to run for the statewide seat. POLITICO Florida first reported the creation of Troutman’s political committee.

Troutman filed the necessary paperwork to run for Agriculture Commissioner on June 12, and opened his campaign account with a personal contribution of $2.5 million. He is the grandson of late citrus baron and one-time gubernatorial candidate Ben Hill Griffin Jr.

The 50-year-old served in the Florida House 2002 to 2010. Troutman, who proposed to his wife Rebecca on the floor of the House while it was in session, campaigned for her last year in her unsuccessful run for Polk County School Board. She will serve as the co-chair of his campaign, and Troutman said he looks forward to “spending the months ahead traveling the state to talk with Floridians about our future.”

“Every corner of this great state feels the practical and economic impact of agriculture, and we simply cannot afford someone in this important leadership position who doesn’t understand how to make it work for taxpayers,” he said. “For these reasons, I have spent the past few weeks talking to friends, neighbors and my family. The strong encouragement to move forward with this campaign has been humbling. Winning the faith and support of so many is truly a blessing.”

Republicans Denise Grimsley, Matt Caldwell, and Paul Paulson have already filed to run for the seat. Putnam can’t run for re-election again in 2018 because of term limits.

Florida Democratic governor candidates call for 2018 unity

Florida’s three announced Democratic gubernatorial candidates agreed on most issues at a forum Saturday, from education to the economy to faith, but got their loudest cheers when they called for ending a 20-year string of Republican governors in 2018.

Speaking to 300 Democratic faithful at the state party’s annual fundraiser, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and entrepreneur Chris King all said Florida needs to move away from the policies of Govs. Rick Scott and Jeb Bush by getting a Democrat elected for the first time since 1994. Scott is term-limited and cannot run for a third term next year. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is the leading Republican candidate.

All three said the state needs to raise its $8.10 minimum wage, with Gillum and Graham expressly calling for $15 an hour. All said the state needs to improve its education system by supporting traditional public schools and reversing Scott’s and Bush’s emphasis on charter schools. And all said Democrats must stop giving the Republican Party a monopoly when it comes to messages of faith.

Gillum, who has been mayor of Florida’s capital city since 2014, said the party needs to push an “unapologetic” progressive message and not cede the state’s rural and traditionally conservative areas to the Republicans.

“We are not trying to be ‘Republican light,'” he said. He got a big laugh when he said he campaigned recently at The Villages, the famously conservative retirement complex in central Florida – “Lord, have mercy.”

“Those are the folks we have to get to,” Gillum said. “You don’t lose that county and pick up that one. The person who will be the next governor will be the one who gets one more vote than the next person.”

Graham, the daughter of former senator and governor Bob Graham, said that when she hears Scott’s frequent mantra — jobs, jobs, jobs — “It means many people are having to work multiple jobs just to get by.”

“We have got to fix that,” said Graham, who served one term in Congress from North Florida. She said she introduced a bill while was in Congress that would have funded technical training in middle school.

“It’s a time in life when you want to excite kids, make them want to go to school every day and give them something to feel passionate about. We need to have technical training in middle school, through high school, through community colleges, wherever someone ambitious ends up in their educational journey to make sure the jobs that are here today, the ones we want to grow in the future, will have a trained workforce.”

King, a political newcomer who founded a company that invests in senior and low-income housing developments, said Democratic candidates have been too timid in discussing issues of faith. He got nods from the other two candidates.

“The other party has taken this away from us,” said King, who attends a non-denominational Christian church in Orlando. He said the religious right has created a limited definition of what people of faith should care about, but he will “go toe-to-toe with them” by saying people can be religious and support gay rights, affordable housing and expanded health insurance systems.

“My senior adviser is Muslim. My campaign manager is Jewish. We have Catholics and Christians. This is going to be a campaign that wants to bring people together,” King said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Report: Top Ron DeSantis contributes $500K to state political committee

A top supporter of Rep. Ron DeSantis has contributed $500,000 to a state-level political committee that could be used to help fund a gubernatorial bid.

POLITICO Florida reported that Frederick Sontag contributed $500,000 to Fund for Florida’s Future, a state level political committee, on May 5. The committee, which was required to report all contributions it received in May by Monday, received $535,000 in contributions last month.

Sontag is the founder of Spring Bay Companies, a Ponte Vedra Beach private equity firm focused on technology investments, and has a history of supporting DeSantis. POLITICO Florida reported that in 2016 Spring Bay Capital, a company owned by Sontag and affiliated with Spring Bay Companies, gave $500,000 to the Fighting for Florida Fund, a super PAC backing DeSantis.

DeSantis is believed to be mulling a 2018 gubernatorial bid. If he runs, he’ll need a massive war chest. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam has $10 million in the bank. Sen. Jack Latvala and House Speaker Richard Corcoran are also considering a run.

Did Republican state and national leaders mail in Pulse appearances?

In one of the more biting moments in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” mathematician Gerald Lambeau, played by Stellan Skarsgård, apologizes to his old friend, psychologist Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, for having missed the funeral of Sean’s wife.

“I got your card,” Sean snapped, not at all disguising his anger.

Did we just see state and national Republicans mail in [or tweet in] their condolences and best wishes for Orlando’s one-year observation of the Pulse mass-murder that killed 49 and tore out the heart of a community?

Orlando is increasingly becoming a Democratic stronghold, but plenty of Republicans still thrive in Central Florida, and plenty get elected, and the area is worth fighting for. The local GOP contingent was well represented, by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, several county and city commissioners, several state lawmakers and others. But, except for Democrats U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Val Demings and Darren Soto, who all spoke at one event or another event, none of the state and national political leaders made much of an appearance at Orlando’s Pulse activities.

There’s a real chance state and national Republican leaders weren’t asked to come, discouraged to come, or just knew that their appearances would be, at best, awkward. There has been widespread criticism that too many of them just never fully acknowledged the pain in Orlando was both about a terrorist attack and about the biggest hate crime against gays in American history.

And Monday’s commemorations all were intimate, mostly involving only those public figures who had been there with Orlando throughout.

Some Republicans tried to do something.

Gov. Rick Scott was the lone state or national leader who came to Orlando, but it was a stealth appearance, not announced in advance, and apparently without any remarks. He stopped for a private breakfast at the Orlando Police Department headquarters, and then for an unannounced brief visit to the Pulse nightclub Monday morning, essentially a photo-op. He did not attend any of the major events, and he did not let anyone know he was stopping by Pulse, not even Pulse owner Barbara Poma.

Marco Rubio took to the floor of the Senate Monday evening and made an emotional Pulse speech, full of very personal observations, and acknowledgment that, whatever else the tragedy was, it also was an attack on Orlando’s gay community.

“Obviously the attack was personal for the 49 families with stories of their own and of course the countless others who were injured. I know it was personal to the LGBT community in Central Florida,” Rubio said on the Senate floor. “As I said Pulse was a well-known cornerstone of the community, particularly for younger people. And as I said earlier This was deeply personal for Floridians and the people of central Florida, and I’ll get to that in a moment because I’m extraordinarily proud of that community.”

And he and Nelson introduced a resolution Monday in the Senate to commemorate Pulse.

Murphy, Demings, and Soto also introduced a Pulse remembrance resolution in the House of Representatives, and also spoke on the floor Monday. And all three found time to speak in Orlando, to Orlandoans, first.

Unlike Nelson, Murphy, Soto or Demings, Rubio was nowhere to be seen in Orlando during the observations that began at 1 a.m. and ended at midnight Monday.

Others in state and national GOP mailed or tweeted it in, and continued to miss the point that Orlando sees the tragedy both as a terrorist attack AND a hate crime against gays.

President Donald Trump did not come, nor did he send any White House or Cabinet delegates or surrogates to Orlando. He did not make any proclamations, though he did tweet, including a picture montage of the 49 murder victims.

“We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting. #OrlandoUnitedDay.” Trump announced on Twitter Monday.

Rubio also sent his tweets — three of them.

“One year later, we honor 49 of our fellow Americans of @pulseorlando and continue to pray for their families.” Rubio tweeted, and “The #PulseNightClub tragedy was rooted in a hateful ideology that has no place in our world. #OrlandoStrong,” and The #PulseShooting was an attack on the LGBT community, Florida, America, and our very way of life. #OrlandoUnitedDay”

U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis, Bill Posey and Daniel Webster, who each have districts that are not quite Orlando but close enough to include Orlando suburbs and many who were deeply affected by Pulse, did not make any Orlando appearances.

DeSantis put out a statement, and Webster mentioned Pulse in a Facebook post. Both focused on terrorism, a true angle to the tragedy, but one that continues to divide along partisan lines, as neither made any mention of the attack being on Orlando gays.

“The massacre at the Pulse nightclub represented the face of evil in the modern world. Fueled by a putrid ideology, the terrorist indiscriminately killed dozens of innocent people, forever devastating their families and loved ones. Orlando rallied in response to the attack in a remarkable fashion. It is incumbent on our society to root out radical Islamic terrorism from within our midst,” DeSantis wrote.

“Today, we remember the 49 innocent lives tragically lost due to a horrific act of terror in Orlando one year ago. Our prayers continue to be with the surviving victims, loved ones and all those affected,” Webster wrote on Facebook.

Scott also signed a proclamation on Friday, declaring Monday as Pulse Remembrance Day, surprising some in Orlando with his clear acknowledgment — lacking in some previous statements — that Orlando’s LGBTQ community had suffered mightily and needed acceptance.

Other Republicans followed the same pattern of DeSantis and Webster, ignoring the LGBTQ hate crime angle.

Attorney General Pam Bondi tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“Today we honor those lost in the #Pulse attack & the citizens & first responders who ran toward danger to save lives.” Bondi tweeted.

Agricultural Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam both put out a statement, and tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“On the anniversary of the Pulse attack, we pause to remember the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken, their loved ones who continue to mourn and heal, and the first responders who put themselves in harm’s way for their fellow Floridians without hesitation,” Putnam wrote. “We also remember how Orlando, the Central Florida community and the entire state came together amidst such tragedy. People stood in lines for hours to donate blood, generously gave their time and money to total strangers and worked together to meet the needs of all those impacted. This anniversary is not just a solemn milestone to remember those we tragically lost, but it’s also a reminder of the strength, courage and compassion of the people of Florida.

“My prayers to all family, friends & loved ones of the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken one year ago today,” Putnam tweeted. And then, “And to the 1st responders in Orlando who put their own lives in danger to help others in need, TY for your strength, courage & compassion.”

Jack Latvala raises more than $47K in May

Sen. Jack Latvala raised more than $47,800 in about 20 days in May.

Florida Leadership Committee, the Clearwater Republican’s political committee, raised at least $47,891 between May 10 and May 31, according to contribution data posted to the committee’s website.

The Division of Elections’ deadline for reporting May numbers is Monday. Florida Leadership Committee hadn’t posted its information with the state as of Monday morning, but has posted contribution data on its website.

Top contributors during the three-weeks included AT&T Services, Third Amendment Media Production, and real estate executive Edward Pantzer.

Latvala, the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, is believed to be mulling a 2018 gubernatorial bid. In May, Latvala said he planned to announce his decision in August.

He appears to be boosting his coffers ahead of an eventual decision. State records show the political committee has raised more than $1.4 million between January and April of this year. It ended April with more than $3.1 million cash on hand.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam already launched his 2018 gubernatorial campaign. His political committee, Florida Grown, raised more than $1.01 million in May, according to contribution data posted to the political committee’s website.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is also believed to be considering a 2018 gubernatorial bid. His new political committee, Watchdog PAC, did not report raising any money in May.

Jose Oliva’s political committee spreads the (financial) love

In advance of his 2018-20 House Speakership, state Rep. Jose Oliva‘s political committee this year has been sharing the wealth with his friends and allies, campaign finance records accessed Monday show.

Most recently, the Miami Lakes Republican’s committee, called Conservative Principles for Florida, gave $1,000 on May 19 to fellow House Republican Jose Felix Diaz’s state Senate run.

Diaz is seeking to take the South Florida seat vacated by former Sen. Frank Artiles.

On March 7, the committee chipped in $1,000 to Miami Republican Jeanette Nuñez, now the House Speaker pro tempore.

She’s eyeing current Sen. Anitere Flores’ seat in the 2020 election, according to the Division of Elections.

That month, the PC also wrote a check for $10,000 to the Friends of Matt Caldwell political committee.

The House Republican from North Fort Myers recently declared his candidacy for agriculture commissioner to replace the term-limited Adam Putnam, now a GOP candidate for governor.

In January, the committee gave $1,000 to political newcomer and attorney Mike Mena, who won a seat on the Coral Gables City Commission after a first-ever runoff election in the city’s history in April.

Also In January, insurance agent Jorge Gutierrez was the recipient of $1,000 for his Hialeah Gardens City Council campaign. “He is currently serving a four-year term until March 2021,” the city’s website says. 

Oliva remains as CEO of Oliva Cigar Co. after selling the company last year to a European concern.

Whodunit? or, How did citrus get into Special Session medical marijuana bill?

Everyone loves a mystery, so how did a provision to help concerns with underused or shuttered citrus factories get into this year’s medical marijuana legislation?

Language in both bills (SB 8-AHB 5A) would give preferential treatment for up to two growing licenses to applicants who can show “they own one or more facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses, and will use or convert the facility or facilities for the processing of marijuana.”

The Senate bill was approved by the Health Policy Committee on Thursday morning. Bill sponsor Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, said he didn’t know where the verbiage came from.

“Im not aware of any specific companies,” he told reporters after the meeting. “It’s consistent with Florida-based businesses being central to how we deal with the burgeoning medical marijuana industry.”

No argument there, but who brought the idea forward, he was asked. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam‘s office, for instance?

Bradley nearly blanched: “Mentioning Adam Putnam and marijuana in the same sentence, that is the first time that has ever been done in my presence. So, no.”

Putnam, now a candidate for governor in 2018, opposed the medical marijuana amendment when it first went to voters in 2014, but recently agreed that lawmakers needed to add marijuana implementation to the Special Session “call.”

That led former state Rep. and now northwest Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz to tweet: “As Agriculture commish he had no interest in helping w cannabis reform when I asked. Now he’s running for gov and is full of opinions #weird.”

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues of Estero on Wednesday night also said he was unaware where the language originated. The House bill also cleared its committee there.

A number of lobbyists who work for medical marijuana concerns said they, as well, didn’t know the source of the provision.

One thing’s for sure: The recession and the citrus greening epidemic hit the citrus industry hard, leaving many commercial plants around the state dormant or dead.

“I think it’s good public policy,” Bradley said. “If you travel parts of the state, it breaks your heart to see these old orange juice factories, jobs lost. Transitioning some of those facilities to something new is good.”

Later on Thursday, Sen. Jeff Brandes tried to remove the citrus provision from the bill through a floor amendment.

“This is a carve-in for a special interest,” the St. Petersburg Republican told fellow senators. “It doesn’t look right, it doesn’t feel right.”

Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, added: “This is a giveaway … we shouldn’t be doing this.”

Even Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican who rose to support the language, still said, “Enough’s enough. This is to support one business and we’ll soon find out who it is.”

The amendment failed on a 16-20 vote. The bill now goes to a final vote Friday.

Baxter Troutman entering competitive Agriculture Commissioner race

Former state Rep. Baxter Troutman of Winter Haven said he will run for Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.

The grandson of the late citrus baron and one-time gubernatorial candidate, Ben Hill Griffin Jr., Troutman will enter the competitive race to succeed Adam Putnam, a Bartow Republican who is term-limited and is running for governor.

“I will file either Friday or Monday at the latest,” Troutman said. “This isn’t a decision I came to lightly and it isn’t a step to advance to a higher position up the career ladder.”

His run will ensure a heavy GOP primary with state Sen. Denise Grimsley of Sebring, Rep. Matt Caldwell of North Fort Myers and Paul Paulson, an Orlando real estate executive and unsuccessful candidate for mayor of the Central Florida city.

University of Miami law student Michael Christine is the sole Democrat in the race after Daniel Sohn of West Palm Beach announced on his Facebook page that he was withdrawing due to health reasons.

Troutman, 50, served in the Florida House 2002 to 2010. His disagreements with his cousin, former state Sen. J.D. Alexander, both in the Legislature and in the family’s agri-businesses made for great soap opera-like commentary, but both men have said they have since settled their differences.

Troutman, who proposed to his wife Rebecca on the floor of the House while it was in session, had campaigned for his wife last year in her unsuccessful run for Polk County School Board. The couple have a daughter.

He said he had considered running for Agriculture Commissioner at the end of his terms in the Florida House.

“I was going to do it, but (then-Congressman) Adam Putnam called and talked me from the cliff,” he said.

A citrus grower and owner of a temporary employment service, Labor Solutions, Troutman said he is running because he “understands the plight of the farmer.”

And he took what will likely become a campaign stance toward his Republican opponents in the race, stating he is the one with the most experience in agriculture.

“I can read a book about World War II and give a speech about World War II, but I can never know what someone who fought in World War II knows. The same applies for agriculture commissioner, you have to have dirt on your shoes,” he said.

With Grimsley, however, Troutman has an adversary who has also been in agriculture; whose family owns citrus groves as well. Both could compete for votes from the same constituency.

‘Progress’ on getting marijuana in Special Session but ‘no deal’ yet

Legislative leaders working behind the scenes are getting closer to putting medical cannabis implementation into the call of this week’s Special Session.

For instance, one senator, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “some progress” had been made but there was “no deal” as of Monday afternoon.

When this week’s Wednesday-Friday Special Session was announced last Friday, it only included plans to fund education, tourism marketing and economic development.

That’s despite dozens of lawmakers, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who have said the Legislature needs to pass implementing legislation this year for the state’s constitutional amendment on medical marijuana.

Lawmakers came to impasse on a bill during the regular session that ended in May. The biggest sticking point was a cap on the number of retail locations licensed growers could have in the state.

In a memo to House members Friday, Corcoran said the House has “communicated to the … Senate that this is an issue we believe must be addressed and that we are prepared to expand the call.” Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, posted on Facebook he has filed the substance for a “comprehensive medical marijuana bill to the legislature’s drafting office … out of an abundance of caution.”

“I remain steadfastly committed to adopting a patient-focused medical marijuana law,” he wrote.

Florida for Care, the group advocating for implementing legislation, sent an email to supporters urging them to contact their legislators to “demand medical marijuana be added to the call for next week’s special session.”

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott said he would be “supportive” of the Legislature adding it to the call of the Special Session. Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam also has come out in support of addressing marijuana in a Special Session.

The amendment was passed in 2016 by just over 71 percent of statewide voters. An implementing bill gives guidance and instructions to state agencies on how to enforce state law.

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