Andy Gardiner Archives - Page 2 of 22 - SaintPetersBlog

Is Oscar Braynon running the best Senate political operation in years?

Democratic uber consultant (and frequent Uber customer) Steve Schale contends in a must-read, table-setting blog post about which Florida Senate races are worth watching that “Oscar Braynon is running the best Senate political operation I’ve seen in years.”

Really?

Technically, Schale is absolutely right. Braynon is running the best political shop in years because, when compared to previous Democratic efforts, O.B. looks like a black James Carville.

Beyond Schale, there are other super-smart people in Tallahassee who think very highly of the Florida Democrats’ Senate political arm. Associated Industries of Florida’s Ryan Tyson often sings its praises, warning Republicans that if the Dems ever have more than two nickels to rub together, they’ll be dangerous.

Schale is also right on two more points:

— that, especially based on recent history, if Braynon’s Democrats overreach, they’re more likely to end up with just 14 or 15 seats in the Senate;

— and that if the Senate Dems get to 16 or 17 seats, that would make a huge impact in the chamber.

But I’m not ready to sing Braynon’s praises. One could make the argument that if the Democrats don’t get to 16-plus seats, the fault squarely lies with Braynon.

Putting aside all of the usual knocks on Florida Democrats — can’t raise money, etc. — Braynon has made glaring strategic mistakes for which he must be held accountable.

The first is not being able to recruit a candidate in Senate District 22. Few developments made me more relieved than to see our friend Jeff Brandes go without a challenge this cycle, but SD 22 is a genuine battleground seat that could have been won in a presidential year (and, admittedly, lost back to the Republicans in the 2018 non-presidential cycle). Braynon was left at the altar by Augie Ribeiro, who flirted with running in the seat, then decided to run in Senate District 19. Still, the seat encompasses St. Petersburg and South Tampa — veritable hotbeds for whatever constitutes Democratic intellectualism (for example, several major national and statewide environmental organizations, such as Defenders of Wildlife, have their offices in the district). It’s just a sin of omission that Braynon was not able to field a candidate here.

O.B.’s second tactical mistake is one borne out of his personal loyalty and willingness to reach across the aisle. By not pinning down his friend, Republican Anitere Flores, in SD 39, Braynon has allowed a couple of million dollars of Republican money to be freed up and redeployed to other races. Had a poll shown Flores in the slightest bit of trouble, Joe Negron would have spent $5 million to protect his chief lieutenant. Instead, Negron can now spend that money to shore up Dana Young in Senate District 18.

And while not outflanking the Republicans in SD 39, Braynon also left himself exposed on his left after backing the wrong candidates in two Democratic primaries. Braynon’s caucus of one backed Mike Clelland over Linda Stewart in SD 13, and Ed Narain over Darryl Rouson in SD 19. He didn’t spend a lot of money to do it, but Braynon now has two members who he personally tried to block from coming to Tallahassee. Look for both of them to give Braynon fits during the 2017-18 legislative sessions.

The honest truth about Braynon is that he is one of the smartest, most well-liked Democrats to hold the leadership post in a while. He’s O.B. from the press skits video of him and Andy Gardiner cutting it up as the “honest” Senate President.

But the Democrats were given the greatest political gift they’ve received in decades with the Florida Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling. Some political reporters, such as Mary Ellen Klas, speculated the Democrats were in position to pick-up six seats.

However, at the end of the day, they might just pick up just one seat (SD 13). If that’s what constitutes running the best Senate political operation in years, that’s hardly worth recognizing.

ABLE United launches, offers tax-free savings for disabled Floridians

Floridians with disabilities will now be able to save up to $100,000 in a tax-free account to pay for their health care, education and job training without jeopardizing their government benefits.

Under a 2015 law, sponsored by Estero Republican Rep. Ray Rodriguez and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, ABLE United launched the program July 1. The state law is the result of the federal Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Jacksonville Republican, shepherded through Congress in 2014.

“The mission of ABLE United is to encourage and assist the saving of private funds to help people with disabilities to cover costs that support their health, independence and quality of life,” said Kevin Thompson, director of the program. “Simply put, to have a better life experience.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner, who attended the Capitol news conference with his wife and children, said the savings accounts would help Floridians with “unique abilities,” like his son who has Down syndrome, have more opportunities, ranging from going to school to finding a job.

“ABLE United provides the opportunity for people with unique abilities to save for the future without the concern of losing important state and federal benefits,” Gardiner said.

Under the former law, disabled Floridians could not earn more than $700 a month or have more than $2,000 in assets without the threat of losing benefits like Supplemental Security Income or Medicaid.

The limits led to some “troubling” statistics, Rodrigues said, including the fact that the unemployment rate for the disabled was around 36 percent, and the poverty rate was 24 percent in Florida.

Rodrigues, who has a son with cerebral palsy, said many disabled Floridians want to work or otherwise improve their lives, but they were afraid of losing the “safety net” of government support.

“For the benefit of the safety net, you have to accept a life of extreme poverty,” he said.

Through a website, ableunited.com, Floridians with disabilities, like blindness, muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis, can create the savings account, which is similar to a federal 529-college savings plan. The law allows up to $14,000 a year to be contributed to the account.

Eligible individuals must be Florida residents and have acquired their disability before the age of 26.

The money can be used for health, housing, education, employment training, transportation, legal fees and other activities.

Florida is a national leader in the program and is one of three states that have established ABLE savings accounts, said Michael Roush of the National Disability Institute, a nonprofit group whose aim is to lift disabled Americans out of poverty.

Don Gaetz: We don’t need special session for gun control

State Sen. Don Gaetz is telling constituents not to take the special-session-on-gun-control bait.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who was Senate president in 2012-14, sent out an email Monday. It reprinted and linked to an op-ed he wrote for the Northwest Florida Daily News, Okaloosa County’s newspaper. It appeared Sunday.

He wrote on the mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub that left 49 people dead and 53 wounded. The shooter, later killed by police, called 911 to claim allegiance to the Islamic State terror group.

“Though law enforcement investigations are far from concluded, one thing seems clear — the demented and tortured wretch who committed these murders was either inspired by ISIS or wanted the world to believe he was,” Gaetz said.

But his Democratic colleagues in the Senate are pointing to the shooting as the need for a special legislative session to look at gun control in the Sunshine State.

Democratic Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando, who is running for Congress, will hold a press conference Tuesday in Orlando with other lawmakers to detail “their effort to convene a special session to address gun violence,” according to a news release.

“Some Florida state senators are using these killings to draw attention to themselves and their own campaigns for higher office — as if calling for a special legislative session would somehow cure madness, wipe away grief or defang ISIS,” Gaetz wrote. “It does get a politician in the blogs or on the front page for a news cycle or two. But how smarmy.”

Gaetz added that Senate President Andy Gardiner, a fellow Republican “who has lived in Orlando his entire life, isn’t taking the special session bait. He’s far too sensible.”

To the contrary, “huddling up a bunch of breathless legislators in Tallahassee to snap-pass laws banning guns won’t stop some terrorism-inspired human tool from building a bomb out of fertilizer or shopping the robust weapons black markets … ,” he said.

“… I surely hope we can resist allowing this tragedy to be exploited as just a slot into which politicians can jam their own agendas,’ added Gaetz, who is term-limited and leaving the Senate at the end of this year.

Soto could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mitch Perry Report for 6.16.16 -CLC clears the path for Rubio

Politics never takes a day off, and some would probably say it shouldn’t. Take the reaction this week to the shooting massacre in Orlando.

Democrats have done what they believe urgently needs to be done to lessen the possibility of further mass gun shootings, by introducing gun control legislation in Washington.

In Washington early this morning, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy put himself into the history book with a nearly 15-hour filibuster to force the Senate to take action to address gun violence. Murphy tweeted at 1:53 a.m. that “we will have a vote on closing the terror gap & universal background checks.”

Meanwhile in Orlando, a handful of state Democratic lawmakers like Darren Soto and Geraldine Thompson called for the Legislature to hold a special session to call for additional gun control measures. That didn’t go down well with GOP leadership.

“The President does not support expending taxpayer dollars on a special session unless there is definitive support within the Senate for a concrete legislative proposal that requires time-sensitive action,” said Katie Betta, a spokesperson for Senate President Andy Gardiner. “Absent those elements, the President has a hard time viewing press conferences calling for a special session three days after the worst act of terrorism in this country since September 11 as anything more than political posturing by two Senators who have declared their intention to run for Congress.”

Is it exploitive, or just a natural reaction to try to prevent further tragedies?

Yesterday, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner was accused of being exploitive when he was able to lobby his colleagues to approve hanging the rainbow flag over the County Center in downtown Tampa for the rest of gay pride month.

And what about the GOP U.S. Senate race? Although the momentum for Marco Rubio to reenter the race has been growing for weeks, we’re now told that it’s the events in Orlando that may be the X factor that brings Rubio back, and his ally, Carlos-Lopez Cantera, to leave the race.

In a statement yesterday, CLC issued a statement after talking to Politico, saying that “I have asked Sen. Marco Rubio to reconsider his decision and enter the senate race.  The decision is his and his alone to make. As friends for 20 years, this race is so much bigger than the two of us, and, as you have heard me say on the trail, this race isn’t about an individual, this race is about Florida and the future of our country.”

But is the race bigger than CLC, but not bigger than Rubio?

“You should reconsider running for your seat,” Lopez-Cantera says he told Rubio last Sunday in Orlando, after they had been on the ground, dealing with the aftermath of the shooting tragedy.

So Orlando changed everything about this Senate race, at least for these two men? That’s apparently what CLC is saying now. He emphasized in his statement yesterday that he remains in the race – for now. Again, this will all be cleared up in the next few days, because the calendar demands that it be so.

In other news..

David Jolly will announce his plans to run in either the House or Senate tomorrow – anyone wanna bet that he actually stays in the Senate race?

Patrick Murphy introduces new legislation regarding the Zika virus.

Pat Kemp leads in the Democratic race for County Commission District 6 contest.

The BOCC also took one step closer to preparing for the introduction of a high-speed ferry project being spearheaded from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman. 

Senate District 18 Democratic candidate Bob Buesing clarifies his stance on the TBX project.

David Jolly, Kathy Castor and Vern Buchanan were among the members of the Florida delegation to get a disturbing update on the Zika virus in Washington.

Todd Wilcox continues his “Preserving Peace through Strength” tour today in Florida.

Plaintiffs seek summary judgment in Amendment 1 suit

Advocacy groups suing the Legislature over environmental funding now are asking a judge to hand them the win.

Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and others filed a 57-page motion for summary judgment Wednesday. Granting such motions allows parties to win a case without a trial.

They filed suit last year over Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that mandates state spending for land and water conservation.

The measure requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally-sensitive areas for 20 years. This year, that number is expected to total more than $740 million.

But the suit and Wednesday’s motion allege House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, and other state lawmakers aren’t following through. The Legislature opposes the motion and will file a response soon.

“Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment because Amendment One prohibits the Legislature from appropriating land acquisition and restoration funds for any other purpose, but the Legislature appropriated most Amendment One monies to salaries and ordinary expenses of four state agencies,” the motion says.

Those agencies are the Department of Environmental Protection, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Department of State and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The standard for summary judgment is “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”

The motion says: “That the Legislature appropriated funds for those purposes is not in dispute, and as a matter of law those appropriations are unconstitutional.”

The amendment, which needed a minimum of 60 percent to pass, got a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

“Florida voters did not vote for salaries and operating expenses … Amendment One allows only for acquisition and restoration of conservation lands,” the motion adds.

“State officials have misused these funds, plain and simple,” said David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice, the nonprofit environmental law firm representing the groups.

“Floridians put an amendment into the Constitution directing the state to use these tax dollars to buy and restore conservation land,” he added. “With this legal action, we are asking a judge to hold up the intent of Florida voters.”

The case is in Leon County Circuit Civil Court and assigned to Circuit Judge George Reynolds III.

Andy Gardiner touts Center for Students with Unique Abilities at education summit

The push to make sure Florida graduates can enter the workforce shouldn’t stop when it comes to students with intellectual disabilities.

That was the message Senate President Andy Gardiner sent during a speech at the Degrees to Jobs Education Summit on Wednesday afternoon. Gardiner used his speech to highlight the work the Legislature has done to make sure all Floridians receive a good education.

The Orlando Republican also encouraged business and higher education officials to continue to work to make sure people with unique abilities have access to higher education opportunities and workforce training.

“As you spend your time talking about degrees and what we want to have, I hope … you won’t forget about this population,” said Gardiner. “There are families all over this state, kids who want to be part of this system.”

The state is already taking steps to make sure that students who want to be part of the system can be. Lawmakers earlier this year approved legislation to create a program at the University of Central Florida to help students with intellectual disabilities get into college and other post-secondary schools.

The program, dubbed the Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities, would act as a clearinghouse to approve programs at other universities and colleges. It will also serve as a resource for students and parents to learn about programs.

Gardiner said officials from other states had already been in contact with the University of Central Florida to find out more about the program.

“We’ve been a real leader in this area,” said Gardiner.

Gardiner is one of several speakers who have taken the stage during the education summit. Gov. Rick Scott kicked off the event earlier in the day, and is scheduled to speak later Wednesday. He’s widely expected to roll out higher education initiatives aimed at helping students get out of college sooner.

The two-day event has been billed as a chance for the business community and higher education officials to make connections to ensure graduates are prepared for the workforce. While Scott is hosting the event, it is being sponsored by several outside organizations, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida College Foundation, and Universal Orlando.

Rick Scott kicks off 2016 Degrees to Jobs Summit

Calling it an opportunity to connect businesses and university leaders, Gov. Rick Scott kicked off his 2016 Degrees to Jobs Summit in Orlando on Wednesday morning.

The goal, Scott told a room of about 350 university, college and business leaders, is to “challenge everything we’re doing.”

“This is going to be a fun two days,” he said.

The two-day summit aims to connect Florida’s business leaders with university and college officials about how to best prepare students for the workforce. The line-up includes panel discussions on college affordability personnel management and personnel management; and presentations by Senate President Andy Gardiner, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and a panel of football coaches from across the state.

Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, kicked off the day, laying out the state of Florida’s workforce. Proctor, who has been on the job since the beginning of the year, said the summit is an opportunity to build relationships to make sure the lessons learned at the summit will “turn into something real, into something tangible.”

“Take this as a call to action, to do something today, right here, right now,” she said. “Take an active role, take advantage of a unique opportunity.”

Since 2010, Proctor said the private sector has created more than 1.1 million jobs. The employment rate, she said, has dropped considerably and is now at an eight-year low. Those milestones mean Florida could be a hotspot for graduates to enter the workforce.

“We want Florida to be the best state in the nation for university and college graduates to get a job, because we know the first step for individuals and a family is a great education,” she said.

Proctor urged the business community to use this summit as a chance to connect with universities and colleges to create new opportunities for Florida students. She said whether it is through internships or full-time jobs, the state wants Florida companies “to hire Florida graduates.”

“Take the time to make a connection,” she said. “We want to make sure your company, and graduates, are ready for tomorrow.”

Scott spoke for about 5 minutes Wednesday morning, setting the stage for the next two days. The Naples Republican is scheduled to speak later in the afternoon. The Associated Press reported that Scott will call for several changes designed to help students get out of school sooner.

Andy Gardiner, Lars Houmann, call for more health care access, but not Medicaid

At an industry-sponsored summit in Orlando Tuesday, outgoing Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and the leader of one of Florida’s biggest hospital system both called for urgent help in providing more access to health care.

But not through Medicaid.

Gardiner, an Orlando Republican, and Lars Houmann, president of the Florida Division of Adventist Health System, told the Florida Health Care Affordability Summit that the great challenge is opening up health care to uninsured and low-income residents of Florida.

“I would encourage you to also talk about access, and access for all individuals,” Gardiner told the forum, organized by the Associated Industries of Florida.

They both said Florida has another chance, and should take it, to negotiate with the federal government for a waiver from the federal Medicaid program that might allow the Sunshine State to take federal Medicaid expansion money but use it for alternative programs to Medicaid.

For the past three years, the federal government has been trying to encourage states to accept money to expand Medicaid programs to provide coverage for people too poor to buy Obamacare insurance, but who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. In Florida’s case, that’s about $50 billion over ten years. Gardiner’s Senate has twice crafted deals to negotiate waivers with the federal government for Florida-driven programs, but the Florida House has refused.

“If the desire in the state of Florida is not necessarily to look at free-market options, that is a debate for another day, I would encourage you to talk about models like the money we put into free and charitable clinics,” Gardiner said.

Houmann also urged expansion of access to uninsured and laid out economic slides showing what they cost hospitals and Florida.

He also stressed that at Adventist Health, which runs the Florida Hospital systems in Orlando and Tampa Bay, the strategic thinking is turning toward keeping people healthy — keeping them out of hospitals.

Yet he argued that Medicaid is just a bad program for both patients, doctors and hospitals, and should not be expanded, but replaced with something that works better. Medicaid, he argued, comes with too many strings and too little money to be a good business for doctors or hospitals, and patients are punished because few doctors accept it, and their services suffer from overload.

“Yes, it is an entitlement program. Yes, it does take care of a larger part of our population,” he said. “But frankly, I could not put my heart into term ‘expand Medicaid.’

“I could put my heart into bringing the money that the Affordable Care Act made available for Florida for expanding coverage,” he added. “Frankly, this is a political lecture; we did have an opportunity to bring a deal to Washington … to restructure our program. But we couldn’t get that done.”

Senate mural will be saved, but removed from Capitol

It’s official: The nearly 40-year-old mural outside the Florida Senate chambers will be taken down.

In a letter, Senate President Andy Gardiner said the mural will be preserved, however, for viewing elsewhere. It’ll be stored till then.

The letter was sent last Tuesday to Jeff Howell, the Republican Party of Florida treasurer. Howell, a Tallahassee attorney, leads an informal volunteer campaign to save the artwork.

The 10-foot-by-16 foot “Five Flags Mural” greeted visitors to the Senate’s 5th floor viewing galleries. The mural’s removal comes as the chamber is undergoing an almost-$5 million renovation, the first since the Capitol opened in 1978.

The work also happens to depict a Confederate general and flag. The Senate previously voted to remove that symbol from its official seal and insignia.

The name of the mural refers to the five flags that have flown over the state: U.S., Confederate, Spanish, French, and British.

Gardiner told Howell the painting is “beginning to show signs of age that must be addressed if the mural is to be preserved.” Specifically, parts of the works are fading and peeling.

The current contractor will “remove the mural and wall and to relocate these pieces to the Senate archives maintained by the Historic Capitol,” Gardiner said.

“Once removed, the Senate may elect to turn over ownership of the mural to a private entity for preservation,” but that would have to be paid for with private funds, he added.

The Senate got two estimates, one at $60,000, the other for $21,000-25,000.

Howell was in a trial and unavailable for comment. A phone number for the mural’s artist, Renee Faure of Jacksonville, was disconnected as of Monday.

Faure previously said she found it “quite hard to believe that this defacement of artwork is being considered,” referring to its removal.

Her daughter, Dreanna Bane, told FloridaPolitics.com that Faure had spent months, first in preparation and then in painting, on the work: “She had to do a lot of research” on all the historical figures depicted, Bane said. “It was a labor of love.”

Renovations are planned to be done by the Reorganization Session held after every election.

The new look includes a new ceiling dome and other design elements similar to the exterior of the Old Capitol. Among those is a pediment on top of columns over the president’s rostrum with the words “In God We Trust.”

Jeff Brandes say his next focus will be on reforming Florida prison system

A mentally ill inmate who was in protective custody was found dead at the Columbia Correctional Institution on Tuesday, a day after a corrections officer was hospitalized in an attack.

It’s yet another black mark on a prison system that many say is overcrowded and underfunded, though Department of Corrections insist those issued had nothing to do with the attack.

The Florida Legislature opted not to give the Department of Corrections the 734 additional positions that the agency said were necessary to make Florida’s prisons more secure during the just concluded legislative session. The new jobs were part of an effort by the department to have corrections officers work eight-hour shifts instead of 12-hour shifts. The department has been reeling from a series of reports about issues such as contraband smuggling and abuse of inmates.

St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes  says it’s time for a change in how the Legislature deals – or hasn’t dealt – with this issue, and he vows to put his energies into taking a fresh look at the problem.

“We have a prison system with 100,000 prisoners in it,” he told the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon with the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation at Maestro’s restaurant in Tampa on Friday.”We have a prison system that, if you go in today as a guard, you are likely not be employed there within a year,” he said, referring to statistics that say that one-quarter of all prison guards in the state don’t last a year, and nearly a third leave within two years. And he mentioned how guards only start out making $30,000 annually, and often are recruited to work in local sheriff departments at considerably higher pay, sometimes with signing bonuses attached.

“We have a problem with our prison system in crisis. Our prisoners are in crisis,” he said solemnly, adding that it was crucial for lawmakers and citizens to think about “separating those who we’re scared of, from those we’re mad at.”

Other issues that came up during the forum was the fact that Governor Rick Scott’s top legislative priority of the year –  a proposal to have the Legislature fund $250 million in economic incentive cash – did not get passed this year.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee from Brandon said he supported the proposal, but said that too many other Republican lawmakers saw it as a form of choosing winners and losers, and could not get behind it.

Lee said that plan, as well as the governor’s call for a $1 billion tax cut, became less realistic once revenue estimates in January revealed that there was $400 million reduction in general revenues from what was previously estimated. Added on was the state’s loss of funds the Low Income Pool, or LIP, a joint state-federal program that helps some hospitals and clinics pay for treating uninsured and underinsured patients.

“Unless we come up with another way to draw down federal money, hospitals in the state of Florida are going to continue to be on their own, and we’re going to continue to have to invest GR (general revenue) money,” the Brandon Republican said, adding that another potential source of money faded with the inability to get a gaming compact signed this year.

“Frankly, we just didn’t have a billion dollars,” he said.

Tampa GOP Representative Dana Young, who is now running for a newly created state Senate seat in Hillsborough County, once again expressed disdain at a certain unnamed Senator in the Legislature who she said singlehandedly thwarted a bill that would have provided a regulatory framework for ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

“It passed the House unanimously, so I just want you to know, it wasn’t ‘the Legislature,’ it wasn’t us not doing our jobs, it was a procedural issue and that is something that could have saved a lot of trouble here in Hillsborough County, a lot of drivers getting tickets, and I just wanted you to know the rest of the story.”

During the session, Uber specifically put the onus on Senate President Andy Gardiner for the bill’s lack of progress in the senate.

And Tampa Representative Janet Cruz made a pitch for more funding for community colleges, generating cheers from the business community. “This is your work force,” she said, specifically alluding to Hillsborough Community College, which did receive $65 million from the Legislature. “These are the people who live in Tampa, and stay in Tampa that will go from HCC to USF and stay at home and help their families. So that’s an area where we can do better.”

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