Andy Gardiner Archives - SaintPetersBlog

With no legislative action, Confederate statue remains in U.S. Capitol

The General abides.

With lawmakers taking no action this year, a bronze statue of a Confederate general representing Florida shall remain indefinitely in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Two competing bills died this Legislative Session. One called for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.

Another proposed a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place.

“Next year, we expect movement in the House and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” said state Sen. Perry Thurston, who sponsored the Bethune measure. “I am encouraged we will get it done next year.”

Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, a marble rendering of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, is unaffected.

The move to replace Smith’s statue came after renewed debate about Confederate symbols, including the battle flag ubiquitous in the South.

City workers this week started moving a Confederate statue called “Johnny Reb” from a park in the heart of downtown Orlando, to a nearby cemetery. And the Hillsborough County Commission is set to discuss the removal of a Confederate memorial that sits in front of the county’s courthouse.

The state Senate also recently removed a decades-old mural that had been outside the 5th floor press and public galleries that included a depiction of another Confederate general and flag. The Senate in 2015 voted to remove that flag from its official seal and insignia.

At the time, then-Senate President Andy Gardiner said the artwork was “beginning to show signs of age that must be addressed if the mural is to be preserved.” Parts of it were fading and peeling.

The removal was part of an almost-$5 million renovation of the Senate chamber, the first since the Capitol opened in 1978. The 10-foot-by-16 foot “Five Flags Mural” now is in storage at the Historic Capitol.

Additional material provided by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

Updated 4:45 p.m. — The Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday voted 4-3 to keep the Confederate memorial in front of the courthouse in downtown Tampa.

Voting to move it: Al Higginbotham, Pat Kemp, Les Miller.

Voting to keep it where it is: Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman, Stacy White.

Fate of program for disabled children rests with Rick Scott

Debby Dawson, who lives in southwest Florida, has a simple message to Gov. Rick Scott: The state’s existing scholarship program for disabled children is “life changing” and has helped her 7-year-old autistic son “develop by leaps and bounds.”

Dawson is part of a chorus of parents from around the state who have mounted a campaign through letters, emails and phone calls urging the Republican governor to sign a sweeping education bill that will soon come to his desk.

But that same bill has sparked an outpouring of an even larger negative reaction to Scott both directly and on social media.

School superintendents, the state’s teacher union, parent-teacher groups and Democrats have called on the governor to veto the bill. Even Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2018, called the legislation a “train wreck” on Tuesday and said Scott should take a “hard look” at vetoing the bill.

That’s because GOP legislators crafted the 300-page bill largely in secret, and included in it portions that would steer more state and local money to privately-run charter schools. The legislation (HB 7069) also mandates recess in elementary schools, expands virtual education courses to private and home schooled students, and tweaks Florida’s testing system.

Scott, who supported the creation of the scholarship program, has not yet said what he plans to do.

But if he vetoes the bill, however, he will wipe out an extra $30 million for the Gardiner Scholarship program that provides tuition, therapy and other services to roughly 8,000 disabled students. Legislators included $73 million in the state budget for scholarships, but those who operate the program say it is growing and they may not have enough money to serve everyone without the extra money. Additionally, legislators passed a separate bill that would expand those eligible for the program.

That’s why Dawson wrote Scott asking him to sign the bill. She said without the extra money her other son – who is about to turn 3-years-old – may not get a scholarship in the coming year.

“As a parent who has seen how life changing this grant is, and knowing my second child may not have the same opportunities as my oldest, it is heartbreaking, to say the least,” Dawson wrote in an email to a reporter. “This grant opens up doors for our children where the doors were once shut and locked tight.”

Legislative leaders have not given a detailed explanation on why they put the extra money for the scholarship program in the bill, which was not released publicly until two days before a final vote. Initially, the state Senate had more than $100 million in its budget for the program but then agreed to lower it during budget negotiations.

Sen. Jack Latvala, the budget chairman, said the decision to include the money in the bill and not the budget was at the urging of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. When asked Corcoran called it a “compromise” since the House did not include the higher amount in its initial budget.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat opposed to the bill, argued that legislative leaders crafted the legislation this way in order to make it harder for Scott to veto the bill.

“I was deeply disturbed that (the families of disabled children) were hijacked and used as pawns to mollify opposition to an otherwise bad bill,” Farmer said.

School choice advocates, including former Gov. Jeb Bush, are asking Scott to sign the bill. Former Senate President Andy Gardiner, who has a son with Down syndrome and helped create the program, said he hopes the “governor is mindful” that the bill isn’t just about charter schools and that many families will be affected by his decision.

Barbara Beasley, whose 9-year-old daughter receives a Gardiner scholarship, says it has dramatically improved her daughter’s life, but she said that “lawmakers sold us down the river with their backroom dealing on the education bill.” She said other parts of the legislation are detrimental to public schools and should be stopped.

“I beg Governor Scott to order lawmakers back to session to fix their mistakes, separate these items from the bad and push them through,” Beasley said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

INFLUENCE talks with Jack Latvala on life, political success and ‘what he’s learned’

Recounting an impressive list of achievements spanning four decades, veteran lawmaker Jack Latvala seems to have done it all: an effective Florida Senator and political consultant, a self-described “environmentally-conscious” Republican and the proud father to state Rep. Chris Latvala.

The Clearwater senator, chair of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, recently sat down with FloridaPolitics.com’s Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster to reflect on his life, successes and years in Tallahassee.

“Most senators are sincere,” the 65-year-old Latvala said. “I learned who in this body can be counted on and who can keep their word. Of course, I’ve always been a good vote counter on issues or whatever, because I look people in the eye and then I can usually tell if they’re sincere or not.”

Born in Oxford, Mississippi in 1951, Latvala talked about his start in politics, working for the Republican Party of Florida in 1975, a role he continued for five years.

“The last couple of years, I was the ex­ecutive director of the legislative campaign committee,” he said. “After Jack Eckerd ran for gov­ernor, he agreed to stay active in the party, and he was the chair of that committee. He hired me and brought me to Pinellas County.”

It was there Latvala started Largo-based GCI Printing Services, his government affairs and direct mail business, which the senator said grew into one of the largest GOP direct mail companies in the nation outside of Washington, D.C.

“I did the direct mail fundraising for the state Repub­lican Party in 28 states at our zenith,” Latvala said, including all of George H.W. Bush’s direct mail in the South. After Bush’s election in 1988, Latvala said they split he became one of the three vendors nationwide for direct mail services.

That experience helped Latvala hone his talents for his own political ambition.

In 1993, after local state Rep. Sandra Mortham chose to run for Secretary of State, Latvala made the decision to run for the Florida House.

“I raised money and had a lot of money in the bank, and 10 days before qualifying in ’94,” he said, “the incumbent Republi­can state Senator in my district resigned to run statewide for Lieutenant Governor. So I shifted over to the Senate race.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

It was a lot different (then),” Latvala said “There were 40 leaders raised up by their communities, who came to Tallahassee and did what they thought was best for their communities. No one told a Florida Senator how to vote. You could get 21 votes; you could pass something.”

But with term limits and more House members winning Senate seats, Latvala believes there’s a lot more “follow the leader.”

“It was the worst when I came back in 2011,” Latvala said. “Then after I stood up to them and got a group of other people to stand up to them, it slowed down a little bit. But the House members that are coming over are very used to following their Speaker, to following their leader. I don’t think it’s all that good. That means one Speaker, one President makes all the decisions. And I just don’t think people want that.”

For Latvala, the most difficult years in the Senate were 2011–12, under President Mike Haridopolos. The last two years with Senate Pres­ident Andy Gardiner weren’t that great either, he said.

“The House ran over us on redistricting, ran over us on Medicaid expansion,” Latvala said. “Now it’s like nobody wants to extend the session because it makes you look bad. So, if you can get all the way to 60 days, you get your way.”

Latvala’s proudest accomplishments include the Florida Forever bill, which extended the state’s land-buying program, as well as measures creating the state’s chief financial officer office after constitutional amendments. He also played a key role in implementing the net ban law in 1994, taking another three years “to close all the loopholes,” as well as passing series of criminal justice bills that became a crucial part of Florida’s now 45-year low crime rate.

When Latvala returned to the Senate, he said he came back an “environmentally conscious Republican,” something a little bit harder to find than back in the 1990s.

“I’m kind of a conservative, but I’m a centrist,” he said “I take care of a lot of issues that independents and Democrats are concerned about, whether its environmental or whether it’s protecting our public employees, public safety employees, public schools.

“A lot of Democrats and independents care about that.”

Read Latvala’s entire interview, now available in the spring 2017 edition of INFLUENCE Magazine.

 

Senate Judiciary Committee gives big win for ridesharing regulation

Momentum remains strong in Tallahassee for the first bill in Florida to regulate ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the proposal (SB 340) unanimously without debate.

The bill, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, would require ride-sharing companies to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While with a rider, drivers would be required to have $1 million worth of coverage.

It also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

While all indications are the bill will get through the Legislature this spring, opposition from certain groups continues.

Former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, now a lobbyist for the Florida Taxi Association, said the bill would tie the hands of local governments from regulating their own communities. Bogdanoff referenced problems with “exorbitant” numbers of cars circling around Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Port Everglades. She said issues that had been resolved between local governments and Uber and Lyft would be removed from the books, and also acknowledged the cold hard reality of the political calculus this session.

“I realize the train has left the station, or the car has left the Port, or whatever you want to call it,” she said.

Megan Samples, with the Florida League of Cities, again called the bill a pre-emption on local governments, particularly decrying what she said would be looser background checks for ride-sharing drivers.

Rich Templin, representing the Florida AFL-CIO, testified on behalf of the Amalgamated Transit Union. He said he was hoping to draft an amendment before the next stop for the bill that would address additional safety guidelines in the bill, considering that more public transit agencies are working with Uber and Lyft on options like first-mile last mile and paratransit options. He said he was worried the Brandes bill would undue guidelines already in place.

Immediately after the bill’s passage in committee, spokespersons for Uber and Lyft immediately issued statements praising the vote.

“Lyft applauds Chairman Greg Steube and sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes for guiding SB 340 to approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said Chelsea Harrison, communications manager for Lyft.

“This is important legislation that brings Florida one step closer to a consistent statewide framework for innovative services like Lyft,” Harrison added. “Floridians want access to ridesharing, and we look forward to providing the state’s residents and visitors with a safe, reliable transportation option for many years to come.”

“Today’s unanimous vote on Senate Bill 340 by the Senate Committee on Judiciary is a positive indication that Florida lawmakers support the safety, economic, and mobility benefits that come from ridesharing services like Uber,” said Stephanie Smith, Uber’s senior manager for public policy. “We are grateful to all of the Senators who voted ‘yes’ on the bill, with special thanks to Sen. Jeff Brandes … who continues to be a champion for modern transportation options.”

During the past two sessions, the House had pushed similar bills, but the issue tangled up in the Senate, where former President Andy Gardiner wanted to address more narrow issues such as insurance requirements for ridesharing drivers. After Gardiner left office last fall, the way eased a bit in the Legislature’s upper body.

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition pushes for statewide bill to get passed this year

Last year in the Florida Legislature, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to create statewide regulations regarding ridesharing, but the bill died ignominiously in the state Senate.

Similar bills are winding their way through committees in both chambers already in 2017, and on Wednesday, the group Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition announced their support for that legislation, being sponsored in the House by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant and in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes.

“We fully support legislation that embraces innovation, and legislation that creates predictable regulatory climate across the entire state for ridesharing companies,” said Frank Walker, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce on a conference call.

Florida is one of only 12 states in the nation that has yet to create a statewide law regarding ridesharing, or transportation network companies (TNC’s) as they are also known.

In 2016, the drama was in the Florida Senate, where Uber blamed Senate PresidenAndy Gardiner for the inability for the ridesharing legislation to advance. He’s been succeeded by Palm City Republican Joe Negron, who has praised the current legislation.

“I think you’ve got two different bodies then you had last year,” said Walker, when asked why he’s more optimistic that the bill will pass this year. He also said that there is simply more demand for Uber and Lyft. “Environment plays a big role, and so does demand,” he said.

No region of the state has more interest in seeing a ridesharing bill passed than in the Tampa Bay area. That’s because of the large unpopularity with the body charged in Hillsborough County to regulate Uber and Lyft, the Public Transportation Commission.

Over the years, PTC officers have cited numerous Lyft and Uber drivers for operating illegally. Those actions ceased after the PTC finally passed a bill last fall bringing the two companies into compliance.

“Local regulations at best have been problematic and dysfunctional, and have not been helping to foster and grow the local economy, and that’s why we need a statewide regulation,” said Bob Rohrlack, President/CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Rohrlack blamed “the status quo,” meaning the taxicab industry predominantly, for putting up roadblocks to protect, and not grow markets. “The local regulations penalize entrepreneurs. That’s something that none of us should be accepting,” he said.

In previous years, there has been criticism that the ridesharing companies have not been accommodating towards the disabled. But Kim Galban-Countryman, Executive Director of Lighthouse of the Big Bend, says the TNC’s are helping people with disabilities, especially those living with vision loss.

“Convenient transportation options are an absolute necessity for people with vision loss, and ridesharing introduces a simple affordable means to get around,” Galban-Countryman says.”Through various voice activated systems and services, individuals with visual impairments who otherwise would not have access to convenient transportation options can maintain their independence, and call a Lyft or Uber driver to take them where they need to go.”

Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition was formed before the 2016 legislative session.

Legislature to hear this week bills regulating ridesharing companies

Will 2017 finally be the year the state of Florida implements a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to operate under?

Legislators have failed to produce a bill over the past three regular sessions in Tallahassee, but hope springs eternal that all parties can come together this year.

On Wednesday, members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will discuss a bill sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls (HB 221). St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate.

The bill has the backing of Uber and Lyft, as well as Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Technology Council and the Tampa Bay Partnership.

A similar bill failed last year, but because of a change in Senate leadership, Brandes is predicting it will have a better chance of passing in the upcoming session. Uber contended that former Senate President Andy Gardiner was the obstacle to the Senate passing the bill that was sponsored by former Rep. Matt Gaetz in the House.

As has been the case at the local level, the taxi industry is intensely against the bill, arguing it gives transportation network companies an advantage. County governments have long regulated taxi cabs, setting their rates, determining how many can be on the road, requiring background checks and demanding services such as the ability to accept credit cards or serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods.

Florida Senate reopens chamber after $6 million upgrade

The chamber of the Florida Senate is reopening after a $6 million upgrade.

Outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner showed off the renovated chamber on Monday.

Workers spent the last eight months tearing out carpet, replacing desks and installing a new stained glass dome and new wood columns. The state motto of “In God We Trust” is now displayed prominently above the president’s rostrum.

Senate leaders had been considering renovations for more than a decade, but Gardiner said they went ahead with the renovations because the 2016 session ended in early March.

The renovations mark the first substantial work that has been done to the Senate chambers since it was opened in the late ’70s. The Florida House renovated its chamber in 2000.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Blaise Ingoglia announces he’s running for re-election as Florida GOP chair

Announcing earlier than he intended to do, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said Thursday he will run for re-election to his post next January.

“I was hoping to announce this after Thanksgiving so everyone could spend time with their families and give everyone a much-needed break from politics, but the events of today will not allow me, or us, that luxury,” Ingoglia wrote on his Facebook page. “I want everyone to know that I will indeed be running for a second term as the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.”

The “events of today” Ingoglia was referring to was the announcement earlier Thursday that Sarasota state committeeman Christian Ziegler will challenge Ingoglia for party chair.

In his statement, Ingoglia said when he declared his candidacy for chairman two years ago, he promised “much needed reforms” and delivering the state’s 29 electoral votes to a Republican presidential nominee.

“We not only delivered on our promises, we delivered historic wins for Sen. Marco Rubio, our Congressional delegation, our Florida Legislature, and delivered by winning the State of Florida for the first time since 2004 for now President-elect Donald Trump. I humbly ask for your continued support as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.”

In addition to serving as party chair, Ingoglia was just re-elected to his House District 35 seat in Hernando County, and makes his living as a home builder.  A New York City native, Ingoglia developed a side career as a skilled poker player, and years ago began producing a series of videos and seminars called “Government Gone Wild,” where he decried the rising federal debt.

In January of 2015, he upset incumbent Leslie Dougher in the race for party chair. Dougher was Gov. Rick Scott’s handpicked candidate, and afterwards he took the hundreds of thousands he had raised out of the party’s account and put into his own political committee, “Let’s Get to Work.” Later, Senate President Andy Gardiner followed suit, removing more money and putting it into the Senate Republicans’ fundraising committee.

Nevertheless, speculation that schism would hurt the party in last week’s election proved not to be the case, with Trump defeating Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percent, a seismic achievement in a state both candidates desperately fought to win.

Christian Ziegler announces his candidacy for Republican Party of Florida Chair

Christian Ziegler, the 33-year-old state committeeman for the Sarasota Republican Party, has announced his candidacy for chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

“As we turn the page from the election, we have a lot of work to do over the next two years to ensure victory in 2018 — work that takes focus and resources,” Ziegler said in a statement sent to members of the Florida Republican Party Thursday.

“In addition to supporting the Trump Administration, we will need to strengthen our Republican Party of Florida to send an ally to the U.S. Senate who will work alongside our great senator, Marco Rubio,” he writes. “We will need to replace our term-limited governor and the entire Cabinet, in addition to protecting majorities in the state Senate and House of Representatives. And we will need to win the many congressional and local races across our great state.”

The RPOF is currently chaired by Spring Hill’s Blaise Ingoglia, who last week fulfilled his often-stated No. 1 goal since taking over the reins of the party nearly two years ago — to turn Florida red in the 2016 presidential election.

In addition to being party chair, Ingoglia also serves as a state representative in House District 35, where he successfully won another two-year term in office last week. And in August, he became the Hernando County state committeeman.

In his pitch to party members, Ziegler indirectly refers to Ingoglia’s other activities by saying the party needs a chairman “whose sole focus is strengthening the party,” adding, “I will make this my full-time mission.”

Ziegler is a close ally to Joe Gruters, vice chair of the state party and chairman of the Sarasota Republican Party (who just won his own two-year term in state House last week). Gruters got in early in backing President-elect Donald Trump in Florida, and Ziegler says, “I have built relationships with the current Trump Team … that will help foster a united party.”

Ziegler also serves as the chairman of the 134-member RPOF State Committeeman and Committeewomen’s Caucus, and says he will “bring that same passion and leadership style to the Republican Party of Florida as Chairman.”

The 46-year-old Ingoglia was elected RPOF Chairman in January 2015, when he upset incumbent party chairwoman Leslie Dougher, Rick Scott‘s personal choice to head the state party. He then cleaned out much of the RPOF staff, prompting Scott and Senate President Andy Gardiner to split from the party and begin raising money independently for Florida Republicans and, in the case of Scott, for himself with his “Let’s Get To Work” political committee.

Shortly after Ziegler’s announcement, Ingoglia announced on his Facebook page he was running for re-election for party chair.

Andy Gardiner, business leaders launch Florida Unique Abilities program to help disabled find work

Senate President Andy Gardiner appeared in downtown Orlando Wednesday to promote the launch of the new Florida Unique Abilities partnership, an initiative that businesses can join to support hiring those with disabilities.

Gardiner and business leaders representing AT&T, Walgreens, and SeaWorld, appeared at the Canvs building on Garland Avenue to talk up the program, saying it would behoove businesses all over the state and country to start hiring more people with disabilities. The Florida Unique Abilities partnership, they said, would offer a concrete way for businesses to show support and get the word out.

“Businesses can lead by example,” he said. “Every agency that wants to will have to send a report on what they intend to do to hire those with disabilities. That gives us the ability to promote Florida as the best place to live, work and play.”

To qualify as a partner with the program, businesses must meet one of three criteria:

— Employ at least one Florida resident with a disability for nine months prior to applying.

— Provide a financial or in-kind contribution to programs that serve the disabled.

— Or contribute to the establishment of a program that helps those with disabilities achieve independence.

Gardiner said the initiative was an important first step.

“It’s a good start,” he told FloridaPolitics.com. “It’s about recognition and hopefully recruiting more business partners to help this population of need and get a dialogue started.”

Others, like Steve Pemberton, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens, and Troy McNichols, Director of External and Legislative Affairs with AT&T Florida, spoke of the bonuses of hiring those with disabilities.

They all said it was important to be inclusive and nondiscriminatory in hiring, as those with disabilities, like anyone else, can bring strong new ideas and better quality to the workplace.

The final speaker at the ceremony was Whitney Harris, the Special Projects Coordinator with the Florida Chamber Foundation. Harris, who is disabled herself, quickly shut down any audience misconceptions that she was there to be an “inspirational” figure — rather, she was just like anyone else.

“I’m an eighth generation Floridian and a first-generation person with disabilities,” she said. “I’m not here to tell you an inspiring story or talk about how I can overcome my disability and be like everyone else. There’s nothing to overcome. I’m just a different flavor of normal. There are 1.13 million disabled people in Florida, and I’m just one of them.”

She stressed the importance again of businesses hiring those with disabilities — they, just like everyone else, need to support their families and themselves.

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