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Tale of 2 parties: Florida GOP high, Dems low ahead of 2018

The state Republican and Democratic parties met two miles from each other Saturday, their first meetings since Donald Trump carried Florida in November’s election, but the atmosphere and enthusiasm were worlds apart.

As both parties chose their leaders, it was easy to see which has more confidence heading into an election cycle when the governor’s office and all three Cabinet seats will be open. Republicans were aglow in victory after Trump stunned many political observers by winning the state Barack Obama carried in 2008 and 2012. At the same time, Democrats held a contentious election to choose a new chairman with little talk about this past election.

“How good does this feel? We defied the mainstream media, we defied conventional wisdom, defied the pollsters,” Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told GOP county chairs. “Right across town, Democrats are having their election and they’re not feeling near as good.”

As both parties prepare for 2018, Republicans are focused on how to build off the momentum Trump built with voters who traditionally haven’t been part of the political process while Democrats elected wealthy real estate developer and major party donor Stephen Bittel as chairman in hopes of ending two decades of futility at the polls.

“Donald Trump got a lot of people off of the couch and got them involved. It is our job at the Republican Party of Florida to harness all of that passion, all of that energy, and keep them in the game,” said state GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, who was easily re-elected. “And when we do, and mark my words we will do it, we will cripple the Democrat Party for a generation.”

After the Democrats elected Bittel, a group of protesters stood outside the meeting room holding signs that read, “SHAME,” ”This is not the party of the people” and “People over $$.”

Still, Bittel tried to paint the best picture of the party’s future.

“We have had an under-resourced operation in Florida for a long time. That changes, starting today, and we will build a different kind of party, I’m a different kind leader and we will change things,” Bittel said. “I grew up in Florida in an era when we won everything. I’m looking forward to that era again.”

But Bittel, 60, grew up more than four decades ago, and there’s a new generation of Democrats who have rarely seen victory.

Florida hasn’t elected a Democrat as governor since 1994. They’ve lost 14 of the past 15 Cabinet races. And despite Democrats’ success in passing a ballot initiative that requires political districts to be drawn in a way that doesn’t favor parties or incumbents, Republicans maintain huge majorities in the Legislature and hold 16 of Florida’s 27 U.S. House seats.

Republicans appear better situated heading into a critical state election. Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the three GOP Cabinet members, including Putnam, are leaving office because of term limits. Also in 2018, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is seeking a fourth term, and it’s widely thought Scott will challenge him in what could be Nelson’s toughest re-election yet.

But despite under-performing again in 2016, Democrats think 2018 can be different. Democratic strategist and former state party political director Christian Ulvert pointed at several pluses. First, Nelson, the one consistently successful Florida Democrat since 2000, will be on the ballot.

“This year, we have a potential for Bill Nelson setting the tone, to really set the stage from the top down,” Ulvert said.

He also said the party has a rich field of popular city mayors who could be on the ballot for statewide races, including Fort Lauderdale’s Jack Seiler, Tampa’s Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach’s Philip Levine, Orlando’s Buddy Dyer and Tallahassee’s Andrew Gillum.

Putnam, who is likely to run for governor, warned Republicans that despite their successes, the party cannot become complacent.

“We can’t get arrogant and cocky and lose our way,” Putnam said. “We can’t take anything for granted.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Professional services firm announces HQ relocation to Tampa from North Carolina

BlueLine Associates, a professional services firm, is relocating its global headquarters from Cary, North Carolina to Tampa.

For the move., BlueLine expects to invest more than $2 million in the local economy, and create 150 new jobs, paying an average wage of $71,909. While the firm currently has offices in Tampa, the relocation of its headquarters will expand the company’s footprint to include its financial, legal and human resources groups.

Gov. Rick Scott hailed the move as “great news.”

“We were competing with North Carolina and Louisiana, but ultimately BlueLine Associates chose Florida for their new headquarters,” Scott said in a statement. “I look forward to BlueLine Associates continued success in our state.”

BlueLine provides consulting, managed services and staffing solutions to small, mid and large companies in a variety of industries. In 2015 and 2016, BlueLine was recognized on the “Best Places to Work” lists of both Consulting Magazine and the Triangle Business Journal.

“This move gives us access to Florida’s strong talent pool and allows us to continue the strategic expansion of our business,” said BlueLine President Rocky Silvestri. “Our company culture is at the core of our business success, our client’s satisfaction, and the happiness of our people.  We are excited to bring those guiding principles to Tampa.”

According to Scott’s office, the project was made possible through strong partnerships between Enterprise Florida, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Several state and local leaders added their voices to applaud BlueLine’s decision.

Chris Hart IV, Enterprise Florida president and CEO, said: “Blueline Associates has chosen Florida because it is the best place to do business. The talent and the strong, business-friendly climate in Florida continue to attract growing businesses. Hard-working Floridians are getting jobs that could have gone to other states, but they ended up right here in Florida.”

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor added: “BlueLine Associates’ relocation to the Tampa area is yet another example of a business recognizing the unique opportunities for growth in Florida. Our state boasts a strong and talented workforce, a business-friendly, low tax environment and fewer regulations that enable companies to grow and succeed.”

“Hillsborough County offers BlueLine Associates a deep bench of information technology consulting, staffing and management consulting talent, as well as the amenities that will make it easy for them to recruit exceptional candidates to the area,” said Hillsborough County Commission Chair Stacy White.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn pointed out that the move is further proof that Tampa’s star “continues to rise.”

“As millennial talent flocks here and our downtown undergoes a historic and exciting transformation,” Buckhorn said, “Tampa is gaining a national reputation as the place to be for companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 corporations. We wish BlueLine Associates a prosperous future here.”

Candidates interested in a position with BlueLine Associates can visit blueline-associates.com, for more information on available positions.

 

Tampa City Council to discuss amending ordinance on public feeding of the homeless

Five days after the arrest of seven members of the group Food Not Bombs for feeding the homeless in Gaslight Park without a permit, the Tampa City Council agreed Thursday to hold a workshop to discuss the possibility of amending its current ordinance on the issue.

“What if we create Sunday as the one day where they can come in – and not just Food Not Bombs (but) a church or another non profit – to set up some tables, feed some homeless people, and not have to worry about being trespassed or arrested and can truly do so?  asked Councilman Guido Maniscalco in proposing the workshop, which his fellow council members voted unanimously to support.

Food Not Bombs members were found last Saturday to be in violation of  City Ordinance 16.43, which states that, “No person shall conduct any activity or utilize any department managed land in a manner which will result in commercial activity, as defined in this chapter, or provide for the distribution or sampling of any materials, merchandise, food, and/or beverages to the general public, without prior written approval from the department.”

But other cities, like St. Petersburg, do allow small-scale food distribution without a permit. Maniscalco is calling for a workshop so that the city’s legal department can research St. Pete’s code and offer their own suggestions on how to possibly accommodate the public feedings. He said he also wants other council members to weigh in as well with their own ideas.

After hearing a steady stream of citizens criticizing the city for “criminalizing the homeless,” Councilman Harry Cohen felt the need to tell the audience at Thursday’s council meeting that “we’re all compassionate people up here, and we want to find a way to express that compassion in the types of rules and laws that we pass in the city.”

Two of the seven members of Food Not Bombs that we’re arrested last weekend told the council that the city’s current ordinance is a form of government overreach, and should be considered an embarrassment.

“The idea that city government has the authority to prevent us from caring for each other  is absurd,” said Jimmy Dunson. “We are going to bring about a better world, we are going to make this city bold, we are turning on our porch lights and calling the homeless back home. We just ask that the city doesn’t ask its police force to stand in the way of that.”

“This is like the Wizard of Oz, where rather than permits, fees and handcuffs, the city needs some a heart, a brain and some courage,” added FNB member Dezeray Lynn. “It’s time for the city and TPD stop pretending that two small tables in a public park where our taxes already pay for the public use of that park is what is making this into a problem.”

Tampa is certainly not the only city around the country that has ordinances on the books that restrict the practice of public feedings in city parks.  Two years ago, Food Not Bombs sued the city of Fort Lauderdale after it passed a similar law as Tampa’s ordinance. The group claimed the city law would “have a chilling effect on plaintiffs’ exercise of free speech and association,” but a U.S. District Judge ruled in favor of Fort Lauderdale last fall.

Nevertheless, several speakers at Thursday’s meeting told Council members how the arrests were a blot on the image of Tampa.

“I have actually been rather astonished and dismayed with the way that the city of Tampa deals with its homeless population,” said Aaron Walker, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Tampa, referring back to the issue the council and Mayor Bob Buckhorn had in dealing with panhandlers several years ago. He said he wasn’t in Tampa last week when the arrests occurred, but “it seems to that the optics of this particular problem are not in our favor, something we need to deeply consider.”

City Attorney Sal Territo said that the media attention from the arrests, which took place as thousands of people descended into Tampa for Monday night’s national college football championship, was an unfair depiction of the city’s attitude towards the homeless. He called it “an unfortunate situation.”

“It wasn’t because they were feeding people in the park,” he told the Council. “They were there without a permit, and the parks are supposed to be available to everyone. And this park does not have facilities for people who were eating in the park. So it really wasn’t the mean spirited way it was being portrayed.”

Tampa resident Susan Simpson said she was a supporter of Tampa Food Not Bombs. She said as a Christian and and as an employee of a church, her motto is to love God first, “and love thy neighbor as well.”

Speaking to SPB after the meeting, Maniscalco himself invoked his Christian background as to why he wants to find a way to move forward on the issue.

“I go to church every Sunday,” Maniscalco said. “I call myself a Christian. Yet we criminalize the essence of what we’re taught in church, which is to help your fellow man. So I feel like a hypocrite as a compassionate human being.”

Mayor Buckhorn was quoted in Thursday’s Tampa Bay Times as saying he is open to compromise with FNB, but added, “You can’t destroy a neighborhood in order to make your conscious feel better, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”

The workshop is scheduled to take place on Thursday, February 23 at 9:00 a.m.

 

Andrew Gillum, possible governor candidate, launches ‘Campaign to Defend Local Solutions’

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is fighting for local rights, announcing he’s launched a statewide campaign to “defend local solutions.”

A rising star in the Democratic Party, Gillum has been mentioned as possible 2018 gubernatorial contender. He announced today he’s launched the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a nonpartisan, grassroots effort aimed at bringing together “individuals, organizations, and elected officials concerned about the erosion of local rights.”

And this new organization could help boost his profile across the state, especially when it comes to red meat issues for Democrats.

“This effort …  will send a message to state lawmakers, and give citizens around the country the tools to push back against special interest groups and large corporations, and maintain their right to put forward local solutions to the issues facing their community,” wrote Gillum in a post on Medium announcing the creation of the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions.

Among other things, Gillum said the group will “hold events to rise against looming threats on issues like minimum wage and health benefits, the environment, local hiring practices, and water quality.”

“We will help bring awareness and support to similar fights being undertaken by local officials across the country that are fighting to defend local solutions,” he continued. “And we will elevate the voices and narratives of these efforts, so that no attempt to bully or intimidate local communities around the country will ever be tolerated.”

If Gillum were to get in the race, he’d likely face a crowded Democratic field. Former Rep. Gwen Graham, the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham, and Orlando attorney John Morgan are considering a run. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer have all been floated as possible contenders.

Gillum’s announcement comes just days before the 1st District Court of Appeals is set to hear oral arguments in a case involving Gillum and the city of Tallahassee after the City Commission decided not to repeal city codes regulating firearms.

“I’m being personally sued by the gun lobby. In 2014, as a Tallahassee City Commissioner, my colleagues and I refused to repeal ordinances that prevent shooting guns in a public park,” he wrote. “Because of our actions that day, and our commitment to the safety of our citizens, my fellow locally elected officials and I are facing fines of $5,000 per vote, damages up to $100,000, and the potential to be removed from our elected jobs by the Governor of Florida. We have also been forced to find our own lawyers to defend us in Court.”

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Florida Carry and the Second Amendment Foundation sued the city, Gillum, city commissioners Gil Ziffer and Nancy Miller, and then-Mayor John Marks in 2014. The groups claimed the commission violated state statues when it refused to repeal city codes regulated firearms provisions, according to the paper.

Among other things, the city code said it was illegal to discharge a firearm in a city-owned park or facility. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, plaintiffs in the case said it violates state law, which says only the state can regulate firearms.

In November 2015, Circuit Court Judge George S. Reynolds ruled the city didn’t violate state statute. Florida Carry and the Second Amendment Foundation appealed the ruling, sending it to the 1st District Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are scheduled for Jan. 10.

Gillum said the suit isn’t about guns, but about “huge special interests, in this case the National Rifle Association (NRA), spending big money to take away local voices and local control, using tactics called preemption and super-preemption.”

“It’s also about how these special interests and corporations, after getting their way with state government, are trying to intimidate and bully local communities by filing damaging lawsuits against officials like me. Like your local commissioners. Like your local councilmembers. Like your Mayor. And like you,” he wrote. “It’s wrong, it’s cowardly, and unfortunately, it seems to be getting worse; especially in places with far-right conservative state governments.”

“I am calling on you to help defend your vote, defend your rights, and to help us #DefendLocal at DefendLocal.com,” he continued. “This is how we fight and win against bullies like the NRA.”

Infamous dates: The moments that influenced Florida politics in 2016

Everyone expected Florida to play an important role in politics this year.

And why wouldn’t they? Presidential hopefuls hailed from here; the state’s electoral votes were coveted; and its Senate race could have determined control of the U.S. Senate.

But just like many predictions in 2016, some of the prophecies for Florida’s outsized role on the national stage fell flat. Many believed a Sunshine state politico would be a presidential nominee (not quite right) or that the election would hinge on its 29 electoral votes (close but no cigar). And that much anticipated battle for the U.S. Senate? It fizzled out before the first vote was even cast.

Here are the dates that really mattered in Florida politics this year. And some of them might just surprise you.

Jan. 20Florida Senate says it won’t appeal redistricting decision — A years-long battle over the state’s political lines came to an end in January, when Senate leadership announced it planned to let the court-ordered maps go into effect. The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald reported the four-year legal battle cost Florida taxpayers more than $11 million. The new maps threw a wrench in the 2016 election cycle, with all 40 of Florida’s state Senate seats on the ballots. While many believed the new maps could boost Democrats chances in 2016, that didn’t quite pan out.

Feb. 20 — Jeb Bush ends 2016 presidential bid —  All signs pointed to Jeb Bush being the front-runner for the GOP nomination. The son and brother of two presidents, the former Florida governor racked up a massive war chest and plenty of big-name endorsements. But Bush couldn’t make headway in a crowded field of Republican hopefuls and was often on the receiving end of then-candidate Donald Trump’s attacks. After a sixth place finish in Iowa and a fourth place finish in New Hampshire, Bush hung his hopes on South Carolina. He spent days on end campaigning in the Palmetto state, but it was just too late. He came in third, and ended his campaign that night.

March 15Donald Trump triumphs in Florida primary — Was it the turning point for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? Maybe. The New York Republican was already on a winning streak by the time the March 15 primary rolled around, but the Sunshine State contest was the biggest one to date. And Trump was up Sen. Marco Rubio, who was believed to be a hometown favorite. Turns out, Florida voters weren’t keen on sending Rubio to the White House. Trump trounced Rubio, winning every county except for Miami-Dade County. Rubio ended his presidential campaign that night, saying America was in “the middle of a real political storm, a real tsunami. And we should have seen this coming.”

April 21Gwen Graham hints at 2018 plans — When the dust settled on new congressional districts, one thing was clear: Florida’s 2nd Congressional District was solidly Republican. What wasn’t entirely clear was whether Rep. Gwen Graham would run for re-election or follow in her father’s footsteps and run for governor in 2018. She put the rumors to rest in April, announcing she was dropping her re-election bid and was “seriously considering running for governor in 2018.” In the months since, Graham has continued to fuel speculation about her plans for 2018, most recently telling reporters every part of her “wants to run for governor,” but that her husband’s battle with cancer will play a significant role in her decision.

April 28Workers’ compensation decision rocks business community — A Florida Supreme Court decision striking down the state law limiting attorney’s fees in workers’ compensation cases might have been a victory for injured workers, but it also set the wheels in motion for what would become significant workers’ compensation rate hikes. The 5-2 ruling in Castellanos v. Next Door Company was just one of the decisions striking down workers’ compensation laws this year. Those rulings prompted the National Council on Compensation to ask state regulators to approve a nearly 20 percent rate hike. That rate, which was eventually lowed to 14.5 percent, went into effect Dec. 1. The state’s business community has said the rate hikes could have a dramatic impact on business, and are pushing lawmakers to tackle workers’ compensation reform in 2017.

June 1249 killed in an attack on Pulse nightclub — In the wee hours of the morning on June 12, a gunman entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring more than 50. It was the deadliest mass shooting in recent history, and sent shockwaves through the state and country. Gov. Rick Scott spent several weeks in Orlando, visiting with the victims and their families, attending funeral services, and meeting with members of the community. In the weeks and months that followed, the community came together to support the victims and their families. Spearheaded by Mayor Buddy Dyer, the city set up the OneOrlando Fund to assist victims of the attack. As of Dec. 2, the fund distributed $27.4 million for 299 claims, or 98 percent of all eligible claims filed.

June 17David Jolly drops out of U.S. Senate race, announces re-election bid — When Rep. David Jolly announced he was forgoing a re-election bid to run for the U.S. Senate, all signs indicated former Gov. Charlie Crist would sail to an easy victory. But after more and more politicos pushed encouraged Sen. Rubio to run for re-election, Jolly ended his U.S. Senate bid and announced a re-election bid, challenging Crist in an effort to keep his seat in a newly drawn district that favored Democrats. He had the support of many local Republicans, but Jolly’s push to end the practice of lawmakers dialing for dollars soured many congressional Republicans. When Election Day rolled around, Crist defeated Jolly, 52 percent to 48 percent.

June 22 — Marco Rubio reverses course, decides to run for re-election — After a devastating loss in his home state’s presidential primary, Sen. Rubio swore he wouldn’t run for re-election. The Miami Republican said multiple times that was going to serve out the remainder of his term and then go back to being a private citizen. And, as he mentioned on more than one occasion, a close friend — Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera – was already running for his seat. But in the days after the Pulse shooting, Lopez-Cantera encouraged his friend to run for re-election. Rubio ultimately announced his re-election bid just days before the qualifying deadline, effectively clearing the Republican field. He walloped Carlos Beruff in the Republican primary, and led in nearly every poll between him and Democrat Patrick Murphy. Rubio sailed to victory, winning a second term with 52 percent of the vote.

June 29 — Gov. Rick Scott declares state of emergency after algae clogs waterways — The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing Lake Okeechobee discharges down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers after record rainfalls earlier in the year. While those discharges sparked outrage in both communities, the appearance of algae blooms on the state’s east coast prompted action from the governor. Scott declared a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties in June, and called on the federal government to quickly approve permits for dispersed water management projects. The declaration helped push the issue of water quality to the forefront of many campaigns.

July 8Corrine Brown indicted — It was a no good, very bad year for former Rep. Corrine Brown. Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which she represented since 1993, was redrawn as part of the state’s ongoing redistricting case. She and several other political operatives were served with subpoenas at a BBQ joint in Jacksonville. And in July, Brown and her chief of staff were indicted on federal corruption and fraud charges. The charges stem from her involvement in an allegedly fraudulent charity scheme. Brown was defiant, saying “just because someone accuses you, doesn’t mean they have the facts.” To add insult to injury, Brown was lost her primary in the newly drawn district.

July 29 — Zika comes to Florida — The first reported cases Zika virus in the Sunshine State began popping up in February, when state health officials confirmed there were nine travel-related cases of the mosquito-borne virus. Gov. Scott declared a public health emergency in four Florida counties, a number which would grow as the months wore on. As concerns about the illness spread, officials called on the federal government to assist Florida in combatting the disease and minimize the chances of homegrown cases. But in July, health officials announced the first cases of locally acquired Zika had been reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly issued a travel warning for the Wynwood neighborhood, where the first cases were found. The state eventually identified several Miami-Dade communities, including a portion of Miami Beach, where local people had contracted the illness. The state cleared the final Miami-Dade Zika zone in early December. According to the Department of Health, there were more than 250 cases of locally acquired infections reported this year.

Aug. 30The Grayson era comes to an end — Rep. Alan Grayson was known throughout Florida — and beyond — as a bombastic, no holds bar congressman. And he lived up to that reputation when he ran for U.S. Senate. Grayson made headlines after his ex-wife claimed domestic abuse over two decades, a claim he refuted (but not before getting physical with a reporter). Grayson gave up seat in Florida’s 9th Congressional District to run for office, but convinced his second wife to run. That pitted Dena Grayson against Susannah Randolph, a former aide to the congressman, both of whom tried to carry the banner for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. And there was no party at the Grayson house when primary night rolled around. Rep. Murphy crushed Rep. Grayson in the U.S. Senate primary; while former state Sen. Darren Soto defeated both Dena Grayson and Randolph (Dena Grayson came in third). The hits kept coming for the Grayson political dynasty. In November, Star Grayson, the former congressman’s daughter, finished a distant third in a three-person race for the Orange County Soil & Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors.

Sept. 2Hurricane Hermine ends Florida’s hurricane-free streak — The Category 1 hurricane was the first storm to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. And boy, did it leave an impression. The storm smacked the Panhandle, knocking out power to thousands upon thousands of customers. While power was restored in some communities relatively quickly, Tallahassee struggled to get up and running. That led to a tussle between Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum and Gov. Scott. In a testy press release, the governor said the city was declining help from other utility companies and expressed frustration over how long it was taking to get the power back on. Gillum shot back, saying Scott was just trying to undermine a cooperative process. But politicos across the state noted the way Gillum, a rising star in the Democratic Party, handled the situation might come back to haunt him in future political runs.

Sept. 26 Water contamination concerns prompt rule changes — Days of rain leading up to, and following, Hurricane Hermine overwhelmed St. Petersburg’s sewer system. City officials opted to release millions of gallons of partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay, marking the first time in about a year the city did that. Combine that with news that a Mosaic Fertilizer sinkhole released 215 million gallons of toxic, radioactive water into the water supplies, and it’s no wonder concerns about Florida’s water supply ran rampant this fall. After many people raised questions about when the spills were reported, Gov. Scott ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to establish new reporting requirements. Those requirements are meant to guarantee local governments and the DEP are notified within 24 hours of a pollution incident. The state in October reached a deal with Mosaic over the sinkhole, which held the company accountable for fixing the sinkhole and rehabilitating the impacts of the spill.

Oct. 7 — Deadly storm threatens Florida’s east coast — One month after Hurricane Hermine made landfall near Tallahassee, Floridians were faced with another hurricane barreling toward their shores. What started as destructive tropical cyclone morphed into Hurricane Matthew, the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007. Gov. Scott and other officials throughout the state encouraged Floridians to evacuate and warned of days without power. The storm sideswiped the entirety of the East Coast, causing damage up and down the coast. The storm tore apart A1A in Flagler Beach, forcing it closed and requiring significant restoration.

Nov. 8Medical pot becomes legal — The second time was the charm for a medical marijuana ballot initiative. The constitutional amendment which allows people with debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana, easily passed with 71 percent of the vote. Supporters of the amendment, led by Orlando attorney John Morgan, were able to fend off opposition attacks. Florida was one of six states that legalized marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes on Election Day, marking one of the biggest electoral victories for marijuana reforms in years.

Nov. 10Corcoran era brings new rules to Florida House — Calling for a new culture of transparency in the Florida House, House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced new rules aimed at getting tough with with the capital’s lobby corps. The rules prohibit representatives from flying on planes owned, leased or paid for by lobbyists; require lobbyists to filed individual disclosures for each bill, amendment and appropriation they’re working on; and increased the lobbying ban on former members from two to six years. Corcoran also created the Committee on Integrity and Ethics, an oversight committee.

Dec. 22Will Weatherford rules out 2018 gubernatorial bid — Considered a likely 2018 gubernatorial contender since he left office in 2014, former House Speaker Will Weatherford ended the year (and helped officially kick off the 2018 election cycle) by saying he would not run for governor in two years. “I have decided that my role in the 2018 gubernatorial election should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate,” he said in a statement. “My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business.” Weatherford was the first candidate to formally say whether they were running. But even without Weatherford in the race, Floridians can expect a crowded field. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is expected to run, and Speaker Corcoran has been mentioned as a possible candidate. On the Democratic side, Rep. Graham has already expressed her interest, as has trial attorney Morgan. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer are all believed to be pondering a run.

Adam Putnam political committee brings in more than $2.3 million in 2016

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam raised more than $2 million in 2016, boosting his war chest ahead of a likely 2018 gubernatorial bid.

State records show Florida Grown, Putnam’s political committee, raised more than $2.3 million through Nov. 30. The committee has raised more than $6.3 million since February 2015, according to state campaign finance records.

Records show Florida Grown spent nearly $1.4 million in 2016, including at least $240,000 for political consulting and $51,450 for advertising and advertising design work.

Putnam is one of several Republicans pondering a 2018 gubernatorial bid. While he hasn’t formally announced his plans for 2018, many consider Putnam to be the man-to-beat in what will likely be a crowded Republican field.

Former House Speaker Will Weatherford announced on Dec. 22 he decided against a 2018 bid, saying his role in the 2018 gubernatorial election “should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate.”

“My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to supporting Republican candidates that share my conservative convictions and can keep Florida headed in the right direction.”

But Weatherford is far from the only Republican considering hoping in the race. House Speaker Richard Corcoran is believed to be considering a run, and a recent Gravis Marketing poll conducted for the Orlando Political Observer tested how Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater and former Rep. David Jolly would fare on the ballot.

The field is expected to be just as crowded on the Democratic side. Former Rep. Gwen Graham, the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham; John Morgan, an Orlando trial attorney and top Democratic donor; Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn; and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer are all considering a run.

Will Weatherford’s decision enhances, not removes, future options

I think Will Weatherford’s just-announced decision not to run for governor in 2018 merely delays the inevitable. I believe he will be Florida’s governor eventually, and that will be a good thing.

Weatherford, the Land O’Lakes Republican, is a smart, articulate, center-right conservative in the Jeb Bush tradition. He has a strong legislative resume, including a turn as House Speaker. At age 37, he also is young enough that he can afford to wait eight years, which is another way of saying “Merry Christmas, Adam Putnam.”

The sea certainly does seem to be parting among Republicans for Putnam to make his move on the governor’s mansion. Florida CFO Jeff Atwater has shown no appetite for the job. Attorney General Pam Bondi is more likely targeted for a job in Washington.

Weatherford would have been a formidable challenger, but says his top concern right now is family.

He has four children – the oldest is 8, the youngest is 2. Last year he and his brothers Drew and Sam launched Weatherford Partners, a venture capital group, and serves as managing partner. Tellingly, he did not fall into the Republican conga line in the presidential race. He said he did not vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

His decision to sit out the governor’s race this time removes a lot of drama, for sure. Weatherford and Putnam are pals, but so were Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and we saw how that went.

If Weatherford had gotten into the race, it could have gotten bloody for Republicans. Having two candidates as strong and well-known as Putnam and Weatherford could have split the party, but what this does is increase the likelihood of a Putnam coronation for the nomination.

It allows Putnam to stay low-key for the next year or so, stockpiling cash and support while waiting for the Democrat slugfest between Gwen Graham (assuming her husband’s prostate cancer doesn’t worsen) and possibly Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Weatherford can campaign now for Putnam, and wouldn’t a photo of the two of them together on a platform make for a mighty fine poster for Republicans?

Weatherford will need to find a way to stay in the public eye. As he saw with Jeb Bush, sitting on the sidelines for too long in politics means someone else is getting all the headlines. A cabinet job or gubernatorial appointment to a public post could both keep him in the news and allow him to tend to family matters.

Deciding for now to wait doesn’t remove Weatherford’s options. If anything, it enhances them. If his aim is to one day sit in the governor’s chair – and, really, why wouldn’t it be – then stepping back now doesn’t hurt his chances one bit.

Will Weatherford opts out of 2018 gubernatorial bid

Will Weatherford is taking a pass on 2018.

The former House Speaker said Thursday he won’t run for governor in two years, saying his role in the 2018 gubernatorial election “should be as a private citizen and not as a candidate.”

“My focus right now is on raising my family, living out my faith, and growing my family’s business,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to supporting Republican candidates that share my conservative convictions and can keep Florida headed in the right direction.”

First elected to the Florida House in 2006, Weatherford quickly rose to a leadership. He was selected to serve as House Speaker for the 2012-14 legislative session, during which time he was one of the youngest Speakers in the country.

He used his time in office to advocate for education reform, lower taxes and free-market health care. And in 2014, he led the charge to push through legislation that allowed children of immigrants in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities.

Weatherford left the public sector at the end of his term in 2014, choosing to spend more time with his growing family. He and his wife, Courtney, have four children — Ella Kate, Molly, Madelyn, and William, who was born in September 2014.

But almost as soon as he left office, the chatter began about his next step. He was often mentioned as a potential 2018 contender, and earlier this year indicated he was considering a run.

“I tell people I’m not running towards it, but I’m not running away from it,” he told the Tampa Bay Times in May. “I’m really focused on our company and our business. My guess is sometime after the election I’ll have to make a decision internally.”

Weatherford is the managing partner of Weatherford Partners, a venture capital and consulting firm he founded with his brothers, Sam and Drew.

“For Will, I know this was not an easy decision to make, but it’s a decision that is right for him at this juncture in life,” said Alan Bense, a former House Speaker and Weatherford’s father-in-law, in a statement. “I have no doubt that when the time is right for him and his family, Will will answer Florida’s call and return to public service. His core conservative principles are rock solid and his commitment to doing what’s right – even when unpopular – will never go out of style.”

Bense continued: “Florida’s loss is our family’s gain. We enjoy the time we spend with Will, Courtney, and their four wonderful children. I look forward to seeing what’s in store for Will down the road.”

A supporter of former Gov. Jeb Bush, Weatherford was an often outspoken critic of then-candidate Donald Trump. He has said didn’t vote for Trump, called the president-elect a divisive figure, and has indicated the negative tone of recent elections doesn’t appeal to him.

Weatherford is one of the first potential Republican contenders to make his 2018 plans known, and several Republican leaders said they were disappointed he decided against a run.

“He’s a fine young man,” said Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican. “I would have looked forward to supporting him.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is largely believed to be preparing for a gubernatorial bid, raising nearly $6.4 million for his political committee since February 2015. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has also been mentioned as a possible 2018 contender.

On Thursday, Putnam said Weatherford’s “passion (for) giving all Floridians the (opportunity) to fulfill their God given potential is matched only by (his) devotion to family.”

“(Will Weatherford) was a great Speaker for Floridians,” tweeted Putnam shortly after Weatherford’s announcement. “His voice will always be heard by people seeking serious solutions to challenges.”

The 2018 is expected to be hotly contested on both sides of the aisle. Several Democrats — including Gwen Graham, the one-term congresswoman and daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham; John Morgan, an Orlando trial attorney and top Democratic donor; and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn — are considering a run.

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Airbnb reaches agreement with Hillsborough County over tourist taxes

Airbnb has reached an agreement Wednesday with the Hillsborough County Tax Collector Office, in a deal that could immediately add thousands of dollars in county revenue.

Home hosts in Hillsborough will begin paying bed taxes for overnight guests, which is estimated at about one-quarter million dollars a year.

Airbnb will collect and remit taxes from 838 property owners countywide who rent out bedrooms, apartments and even entire houses as lodging for visitors, Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden said in a statement announcing the deal.

“As an elected official tasked with the collection of tax revenue for Hillsborough County,” Belden said, “it’s my job to ensure the best possible outcome for taxpayers and the county.”

Property owners offer short-term rentals through Airbnb, an international company that uses a mobile app to connect tourists and other visitors with homes for bed-and-breakfasts or private residences. The service has become part of the fast-growing peer-to-peer lodging industry.

Currently, only those savvy property owners with the will to collect and remit tourist taxes have done so.

The Hillsborough agreement brings further integrity to Airbnb’s rapidly-growing business in Florida, which has been sharply criticized by some for avoiding regulation and taxes, as well as placing lodging facilities in neighborhoods, sometimes inappropriately.

Nevertheless, the company’s positive efforts have attracted strong political backing.

And the Hillsborough deal brought some praise from critics.

“We applaud the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s office for holding Airbnb’s feet to the fire and finalizing a deal with them that makes them not only provide real data, but allows them to audit their website and collect for back taxes,” Sarah Bascom, spokesperson for AirbnbWATCH Florida, said in a statement. “We believe County Tax Collectors, like Mr. Belden, are right to be skeptical about the data secrecy that Airbnb has been known for. Counties shouldn’t take a bad deal that potentially undermines neighborhoods while picking winners and losers in the tourism industry just to gain some quick revenue.”

Gov. Rick Scott expressed support for the operation Tuesday, joined Wednesday by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

In a statement from Buckhorn’s office, the mayor calls the agreement with Airbnb to collect local tourist taxes “transparent and accountable.”

Airbnb will report information on accounts to the county for auditing purposes, and ensure they collect the appropriate taxes.

As part of the agreement, the Tax Collector’s office and Airbnb reached a consensus on all points: public records exemptions, waiver of “look-back” on back taxes, and the process for auditing host accounts.

“I am very pleased to announce that Airbnb acquiesced to all the terms; I am a firm believer that if you cannot do the right thing, then you just should not do it at all.”

The agreement was executed Tuesday evening, becoming effective February 1, 2017.

“This agreement is yet another way to allow people traveling to the City of Tampa more options to authentically experience our incredibly unique culture and neighborhoods,” Buckhorn said in the release. “I’m proud of this collaboration with Airbnb to enhance Tampa’s status as a truly world class city and am excited to work with my Hillsborough County counterparts to put this new tax revenue stream to good use.”

Belden hopes other jurisdictions in the state of Florida will adopt the agreement.

In fact, Airbnb announced Tuesday similar agreements with 31 Florida counties, including Pinellas, Orange, and Osceola, and is seeking such deals with others.

“Airbnb and our host community are passionate about cultivating Hillsborough County’s growing tourism industry,” said Tom Martinelli, Airbnb Florida policy director. “We’re particularly excited that this brand-new tourist tax revenue will infuse new funding for Visit Tampa Bay to continue its mission of marketing Hillsborough to the rest of the world. We are committed to serving as steadfast partners to Mayor Buckhorn, Tax Collector Belden and the rest of this remarkable community.”

If the 2016 number of guest arrivals and host income were to remain consistent in Hillsborough, Airbnb projects that, through the new agreement, it would collect and remit to the county about $250,000 in annual tax revenue.

Airbnb’s presence in Florida has more than doubled over each of the past two years. Hillsborough County saw a similar increase — 198 percent in 2016 — according to a statewide report Tuesday from Airbnb Florida.

In 2016, Hillsborough County hosts earned $5.1 million in supplemental income. Tampa hosts accounted for $4.53 million, with hosts in the suburbs and other Hillsborough communities making approximately $580,000.

Tampa’s 600 Airbnb hosts welcomed about 32,000 guests in 2016. That represents 198 percent year over year growth in guest arrivals, one of the highest growth rates of any major American city and far outpacing the Florida statewide rate of 114 percent year-over-year increase in visitor arrivals.

Airdna, a consulting firm doing data analysis on Airbnb, reported Wednesday the company now claims 838 hosts in Tampa.

The tourist development tax is used for Hillsborough County to promote the region as a tourism and convention destination, as well as helping support tourism and sports facilities.

In fiscal year 2016, Hillsborough County collected $ 29.6 million in bed taxes.

Alan Clendenin moves to Bradford County, becomes state committeeman, now running for Florida Democratic Party Chair

Two weeks ago, it appeared that Alan Clendenin‘s hopes for becoming state chair of the Florida Democratic Party died after falling twelve votes short of being re-elected as Hillsborough County’s state committeeman.

That position is one of just a handful in local Democratic Party politics that would qualify a candidate to run for state party chair.

But in a stunning development, the DNC Committeeman and Tampa resident moved in recent days to North Florida, specifically Hampton in Bradford County, where there was a vacancy for their state committeeman position.

On Monday night, he was sworn in as state committeeman, once again becoming a full-fledged candidate for party chair.

“I ran last time against the entire paid staff of the Democratic party — both state and national — and came damn close to winning,” Clendenin said about his unsuccessful bid for the party chair post in 2013. “This year I’m going to enjoy that same type of support, and hopefully add a few more votes to it and hopefully be successful.”

Clendenin was speaking from his new trailer home in Starke, which will serve as his residence for at least the next few weeks. Th9isn week, he’ll meet with people in Bradford. Then, after Christmas, he’ll go on a “roadshow” of sorts, a listening tour of Democrats up and down the state in advance of the FDP party elections, which take place mid-January in Orlando.

Two weeks ago, Clendenin seemed a “dead man walking” over his chances for the state party chairmanship.  A stunning loss at the December 5 Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee meeting occurred shortly after DEC Chair Ione Townsend made a controversial decision regarding the party’s bylaws. The decision resulted in the exclusion of several locally elected officials in nonpartisan races (meaning the entire Tampa City Council, a couple of Hillsborough County School Board members and Mayor Bob Buckhorn) from participating in the county’s reorganization meeting.

In that race for state committeeman, Clendenin lost to Russ Patterson, 52-40.

Nevertheless, Clendenin has many Democratic friends around the state, some acquired during his campaign for state party chair four years ago, which he lost to Allison Tant by 139 votes, 587-488.

Clendenin said several DEC party officials around Florida contacted him after learning what happened in Tampa. He ultimately discovered that his best opportunity would be in Bradford County, where the former state committeeman decided earlier this month not to run for re-election, leaving a vacancy and opportunity.

“Bradford was one of those areas four years ago that were just absolutely steadfast supporters,” Clendenin said. “I had spoken extensively about the need for a 67-county strategy, and with the Bradford folks, I could not have asked for people to be more supportive. I’ve maintained a very good longstanding relationship with them.”

Meanwhile, in Miami, Coconut developer Stephen Bittel continues to gain more endorsements as he battles former state Senator Dwight Bullard for a state committeeman position there. The winner is expected to run for the FDP chair position as well. On Monday, the Florida Education Association and the Florida Service Employees International Union came out in support of Bittel.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, one of the most influential Democrats in the state, had kind words for Bittel coming short of formally endorsed him. Nelson did tell FloridaPolitics.com last week he believes that Bittel, if elected, would bring a level of “professionalism” to the state party.

But as the only statewide elected Democrat, Nelson doesn’t want to “inject any thought that I am trying to strong-arm anybody, which I am not.”

“People took the bait and ran with it,” Clendenin said about the impression that Nelson is backing Bittel. While Nelson has definitely said nice things about Bittel, Clendenin said he hopes Nelson “will say some of the same positive things about me.”

As far as living in Bradford County, Clendenin said it’s more akin to how he grew up.

“I lived for a long time in Sanford in a farm that my grandfather was renting,” he said, “and I’ve bounced around from school to school.

“This is a small town. My extended family is from Southern Georgia, this is more in kind with my family and my growing up than what people probably know me.”

The 2013 election for state party chair was an intense, bitter race. Clendenin was a “little more cognizant” about some of the “maneuvers” that can happen in such races and said he’s ready for whatever comes his way.

“What I bring to this party is part of the solution,” he said. “Four years ago, I would have said ‘righted the ship.’ Now it’s taking the ship off the ocean floor, and hopefully the people I speak with will see that.

“It’s the time to really turn this into a grassroots, bottom-up organization that can win races across the state, as well as state races.”

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