David Jolly Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Max Goodman headed back to work for Vern Buchanan

Max Goodman, the well-regarded communications pro who worked for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan for nearly a decade before helping David Jolly’s campaign(s) in 2015 and 2016, is returning to work for Buchanan as Chief Communications Advisor.

Goodman will be based out of Washington D.C.

Goodman joined Jolly’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in the fall of 2015 as his political director and was later named his campaign manager. But after Marco Rubio opted to run again for the U.S. Senate seat he had given up in 2015 to run for president, Jolly and the other Republicans who had been competing for the then-open seat dropped out (with the exception of Carlos Beruff, who got smoked by Rubio in the GOP primary).

After Buchanan narrowly defeated Democrat Christine Jennings in 2006, Goodman began working for Buchanan, ultimately becoming his full-time communications director in 2010, and was later promoted to senior aide in 2012.

Max is the younger brother of Adam Goodman, the famed political ad-maker who is currently working on Rick Baker’s mayoral campaign in St. Petersburg.

 

If David Jolly runs again in 2018, would rank-and-file Republicans support him?

Unless you’ve been boycotting cable news, former Pinellas County GOP Congressman David Jolly has been a ubiquitous presence, thanks to his unflinching takedowns on Donald Trump, the titular head of the Republican Party.

“Donald Trump is done,” Jolly opined on “11th Hour with Brian Williams” last month after the Justice Department named Robert Mueller as the special counsel to oversee the investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

While that independence from GOP orthodoxy makes the former lawmaker a desired quantity on MSNBC and CNN, the feelings among some rock-ribbed Republicans toward him aren’t nearly so warm and fuzzy.

That independence has led some observers to believe that Jolly is done for the time being for politics, but the former aide to longtime Congressman Bill Young said this week that the idea of running again in Florida’s 13th Congressional District is something that is “actively under consideration.”

Any decision won’t come until next January, however, when he says he’ll have a better idea on when can take the temperature of the “macro political environment.”

“But I’m also not convinced that Charlie (Crist) runs for re-election,” he says. “I think there’s a lot that can change between now and ’18 and so it’s still something under active consideration.”

Kevin Cate, a spokesperson for the Crist campaign, declined to comment.

Susan McGrath, the chair of the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee, often takes to her Facebook page to disparage Jolly after he appears on the cable networks criticizing the president.

“David Jolly is the consummate example of a politician that wants to portray himself as something he’s not in order to fool the voters of CD 13 so that he can try to win back his old seat,” she told FloridaPolitics.com in an email.

McGrath continued: “He had no issues with the Republican Party when he ran in a district that had a Republican advantage. He may try to run from the Republican Party and Donald Trump, but the fact is he lobbied for the privatization of Social Security, lobbied in support of offshore drilling, dismissed his vote to deny additional VA funding as ‘a procedural vote’ and for ‘bricks and mortar’ and sponsored legislation to defund Planned Parenthood and on and on. To present himself as moderate is simply not honest. His record speaks for itself.”

Jolly counters by pointing out he was for same-sex marriage and radical campaign finance reform well before CD 13 was reconfigured from a swing seat to a what is now a very Democratic-leaning district.

While the Pinellas Democratic chair is commenting on Jolly, her GOP counterpart is not.

Republican Executive Committee Chair Nick DiCeglie initially told FloridaPolitics.com he would answer the question of what Pinellas Republicans think of Jolly, but ultimately chose not to respond to further inquiries on the matter.

Another prominent Republican official in Pinellas would also not comment publicly on Jolly, but when promised anonymity, said he didn’t see a path for Jolly in the district.

“If your intention is to rally around the base, that’s not the way to do it,” the official said. “He must be trying to rally the independents, but I don’t know if there’s enough runway there for him to take off.”

“I appreciate his honesty and candor if he wants to have a career as a pundit or something,” he added. “But as far as trying to get people to rally behind you, that’s certainly not the way to go.”

Adding to the issue is while some Republicans feel personally ambivalent about Trump, they will still rally around the president when attacked by Democrats and (they say) the liberal media.

“In my observations, he alienated Trump Supporters and Second Amendment supporters before his failed election,” says Dan Tucker, a Pinellas County Republican State Committeeman.

“However, I like David as a person but what I understand from Republican Club members who are typically an older ‘die-hard conservative’ crowd, is that they feel he has lost it while some are openly hostile toward him and feel betrayed,” Tucker says. “I consider him a ‘Never Trumper’ and vying for Joe Scarborough’s job as a Progressive Republican.”

For George Hudak, a GOP political consultant from Palm Harbor who often works with Republicans in New York, the bigger question is will Democrats support a moderate Republican like Jolly over Crist.

“I think David is a truth speaker, he stands up for what he feels is right,” he says, referring to his fight against the National Republican Campaign Committee which resulted in that group opting not to help fund him in such a competitive election in 2016. “David has a lot of integrity; he and Laura are still loved by many Pinellas Republicans.”

Anthony Pedicini believes it doesn’t really matter who is the GOP candidate in CD 13.

“I do not think a Republican can beat Charlie Crist in the district as it is currently configured,” says the GOP political consultant.

Jolly lost to Crist in 2016 by 3.4 percentage points. That was without any financial help from the National Republican Campaign Committee, who essentially wrote him off after a dispute regarding the commitments made.

Paraphrasing John Kasich, Jolly says he also gets the right to define Republicanism in the 21st-century: “In many ways, I’m fighting for the future of the GOP and fighting for our brand, if you will.”

“The clearest strategy for 2018, if my only interest was running for re-election, would be to keep my mouth shut,” Jolly says. “I mean every consultant on the left and right would tell you — keep your mouth shut, raise money, keep your head down, and then we’ll figure out how to deploy campaign resources three months out — so that is the strategy.”

“If I was just worried about strategy, but I’m not. I’m calling balls and strike, and see what the field looks like next year, but there’s a good chance I’ll be on the ballot, and I will not have the full support of Republicans, nor will I bring over progressive Democrats who disagree with me on policy, but I do think we can put together a majority of Republicans, independents and Democrats and hopefully do what I was trying to do last cycle, which was to truly change politics. “

With all that, Jolly still says he is a “long way” from making a decision.

David Jolly still appearing on Bill Maher’s show Friday; says Al Franken should too

David Jolly fully intends to appear on “Real Time with Bill Maher” Friday night, as do previously scheduled guests Ice Cube and Symone Sanders, the former national press secretary for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

This despite the controversy circling around the comedian, who used the N-word during his show last Friday night, prompting widespread condemnation and calls for HBO to oust him from the gig.

As it stands now, the only previously scheduled guest on the comic’s weekly program who won’t appear is U.S. Sen. Al Franken; Jolly says the Minnesota Democrat is making a mistake blowing off the program.

“Frankly, if Franken had such convictions, then the opportunity was for him to go on the show and to speak to it, not run away and hide from it,” says the former Republican congressman, whose unabashed criticism of President Donald Trump has made him a favorite this year for CNN and MSNBC bookers.

Scheduled to replace Franken is academic and author Michael Eric Dyson. In a statement issued over the weekend, Dyson, who is black, came to Maher’s defense after the comedian used what is perhaps the most toxic word in the English language.

“[Maher] has bravely, and relentlessly, pilloried racism, white privilege, and white indifference to the black plight,” Dyson wrote on Twitter. “In short, he has used his platform to highlight black faces, and amplify black voices, that might otherwise have never been given such a prominent perch to tell their truths.”

Maher subsequently issued an apology, and the next day HBO called the comment “completely inexcusable and tasteless” as well as “deeply offensive.”

The cable network also announced it removed the offensive phrase from “any subsequent airings of the show.”

In the wake of the controversy, some analysts think D.C. lawmakers — who have enjoyed getting a dose of Hollywood cool by appearing on the show — may now think twice about accepting an offer to appear. This year alone, ‘Real Time’ featured politicos like Elizabeth Warren, Darrell Issa and (now most notoriously) Nebraska Sen Ben Sasse, who took some incoming fire for failing to call Maher out for using a racial epithet in replying to Sasse’s invitation to come to Nebraska.

The Hollywood Reporter quoted one public relations professional Tuesday saying that while “commentators will still be interested in the platform, (but) elected officials will be less interested. They have more at stake — they’re associated with the language used on the program.”

Jolly dismisses the idea that if he were still in Congress he’d bow out, a la Franken.

“I’m open to just as much criticism now, just because I speak publicly to hard issues,” he says. “The safest place for a politician to be is silent, and to hide from controversy. That’s not just Franken, that’s the DNA of most politicians.”

Having said that, Jolly admits to having some “trepidation” about doing the show in a way that he didn’t a week ago.

“I did some soul-searching in the days following Friday night,” he adds, “but it wouldn’t be true to my character to shy away from controversy or hard issues.”

Jolly says he has “no idea” what might transpire differently Friday night than the usual formula for the hourlong live program.

“Nobody condones what he said. Certainly I don’t. I’m as curious as the rest of the country in seeing how he handles Friday night. I don’t have any advance knowledge.”

A number of black commentators have said Maher’s comment was offensive, but they don’t think he should be fired. Despite that, there have been many calls for HBO to can him, including one from NPR’s Eric Deggans.

As Deggans wrote earlier this week: “It’s evidence of a pattern — one that HBO now needs to decide whether it wants to continue to be associated with, especially for a channel where 22 percent of its viewership comes from black people.”

#13 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Charlie Crist

Charlie Crist, the 60-year-old former Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat, returned to public office earlier this year, after defeating incumbent David Jolly in a bitter contest for Congress in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

In serving in Washington for the first time after a lifetime in Florida politics, the St. Petersburg native had a rocky transition to working in Washington.

Crist missed one of his first votes, condemning the United Nations for a resolution perceived to be anti-Israel. A few weeks later his head of outreach, Vito Sheeley, left Crist to work somewhat bizarrely for Jolly.

Then came news that he was divorcing his wife Carole, after an eight-year run.

Coincidentally or not, Crist seemed immediately afterward to have gotten his act together and started turning his press coverage around, most notably earning plaudits for hosting a four-hour town hall meeting on the USFSP campus in February.

“The million-dollar question is can be content in Congress, or will the siren of the campaign trail prove to be enticing and see him run statewide once again,” asks strategist and analyst Barry Edwards.

One thing that Crist has carried with him is the persona of working collegially with his colleagues. Criticized by some Democrats for not being sufficiently critical of Donald Trump, Crist joined some of the members of his freshman class in co-signing on to a ‘Commitment to Civility’ pledge.

Joe Henderson’s Take

“Everyone knows how likable Charlie is, and I suppose it’s hard to say a sitting U.S. Congressman shouldn’t be ranked so high. I’ll say it anyway. We all know that he is doing better after a slow start, and I’ll cut him some slack because he was going through a divorce at the time. Even with all that, the news that chief antagonist Rick Baker is running for mayor (instead of Crist’s seat in Congress) means he’ll likely have his job for as long as he wants it. The big question is, how long will that be?”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

 

Charlie Crist finds footing in Congress, raises record $717K in 1st quarter

Charlie Crist is reporting more than $717,000 raised in the first quarter of 2017, a record-breaking amount for any freshman lawmaker during the first months in office.

“I’m humbled by this historic outpouring of early support and honored that so many people are rallying behind the people of Pinellas County,” Crist said in a statement. “This is a part of the country that believes in bipartisanship and making sure Washington is accountable to the people. I’m doing everything I can to amplify that sentiment.”

Crist now has $672,083 cash-on-hand.

In his first few weeks in Washington, the St. Petersburg Democrat stumbled out of the gate, including missing a vote condemning a UN Security Council resolution aimed at Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But he’s since found his footing, and won raves from his constituents after hosting a four-hour town hall meeting in St. Petersburg last month.

He’s also held a number of fundraisers in his short time in office.

But raising more than three-quarters of a million dollars in a non-election year is definitely an achievement for any congressional incumbent, much less one in just his first three months of his term in office.

In that respect, Crist is the antithesis of the man he vanquished in the Congressional District 13 race last fall, David Jolly.

Jolly was not known to enjoy fundraising and wasn’t considered very good at it. One of his signature pieces of legislation he proposed during his time in Congress was the STOP Act, which would have banned federal office holders (like Crist) from raising money in office.

While the bill received plenty of media attention, it went nowhere in the House of Representatives.

Jacob Smith says intensity of electorate will help Rick Kriseman win re-election

Rick Kriseman will make his case re-election this year, mostly based upon the progress St. Petersburg has made since his inauguration as mayor in January 2014.

“We came in with a lot of really big, sort of thorny projects, and the mayor has taken a lot of them by the horns and made them happen,” says Jacob Smith, Kriseman’s newly minted campaign manager.

Among those “thorny” projects are a pathway toward a new Pier, the upcoming groundbreaking for a new police station and what Smith dubs ‘The Kriseman infrastructure plan’: the $304 million investment to fix the city’s aging pipes and sewage plants.

Smith says the mayor looks forward to having a “public conversation” with voters on infrastructure overhaul. Kriseman is also poised to give details about how the money will be spent, where the revenues to pay for it will come from, and what shape the project will ultimately take.

“A lot of people will say that they don’t know — they know we’re spending that money, but they don’t know exactly what the mechanics of that project are,” Smith said.

The infrastructure plan emerged after what is inescapably Kriseman’s lowest moment as mayor — his handling of the sewage situation late last summer.

After a whistleblower had come forth September alleging the mayor falsely claimed millions of gallons of wastewater spilled from a treatment plan wasn’t a safety hazard, lawmakers called for more oversight. That resulted in the Department of Environmental Protection laying down a mandate for fixing the problem or pay a significant penalty.

Smith prefers to look at the sunnier side of that imbroglio, saying that the mayor deserves props for finally acting on a decades-in-the-making problem in regards to sewage management.

The 27-year-old Smith is a Fort Lauderdale native who was Kriseman’s field director during the 2013 campaign and has added a lot more to his CV since then.

After the mayor’s decisive victory over Bill Foster in November 2013, he went to work immediately on Alex Sink‘s bid for Congress in the special election against David Jolly.

In 2014, he worked as a field director for Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial effort and then began work from the start in early 2015 on Hillary Clinton‘s run for the White House. He was living in Brooklyn before moving down to St. Petersburg recently to devote all his energies to the mayor’s race.

Discussion about the sewage situation segues quickly into more positive news, such as an online Fiscal Times report published in January that of the most fiscally stable cities showed that St. Petersburg was listed as the 23rd best city in the country (of cities of more than 200,000 population) and first in Florida.

“Since Mayor Kriseman has taken office, St. Petersburg’s credit rating has gone up, and we’ve become a city more attractive to lenders,” says Smith. “We’ve been called the most financially responsible city in the state.”

Conventional wisdom has it that only one man stands between Kriseman and another four years in office — former Mayor Rick Baker.

There is no bigger guessing game in St. Pete politics than figuring out what Baker will do. Smith says it won’t matter who his main opponent is, Kriseman continue to do his thing.

A favorite criticism among Republicans is that Kriseman has been too partisan.

“Since 2013 Mayor Rick Kriseman has shown he is committed to progressive, left wing policies that have done nothing to improve the quality of life the City of St. Petersburg has come to expect,” says Nick DiCeglie, chair of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee.

“This absent leadership has led to an infrastructure failure that has resulted in raw sewage being dumped into Tampa Bay. This is unacceptable and change must and will occur in city hall later this year.”

Referring to his support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality and respect for immigrant rights, Smith says that the mayor represents the values that St. Pete residents believe in. “What the mayor really wants is a city that is welcoming to all, that respects everyone and that we are living up to our best potential and our best values,” he says.

There is no question that the Democratic left has been energized since last fall’s election. In January, Kriseman took part in the Women’s’ March, an event that drew more than 20,000 to the downtown area, the largest such rally in the city’s history.

Smith predicts the intensity among progressive voters will have implications in the mayoral contest and appears to have Baker on his mind when he thinks of who their main opponent will be.

“At the end of the day, Rick Kriseman has always stood by Barack Obama, endorsed Hillary Clinton. Campaigned for her,” he says. “Any opponent he gets is going to be on the other side of the issue, right?”

“It’s going to be somebody who stood on stage with people like Sarah PalinPaul Ryan, Mitt Romney, where Rick Kriseman was out knocking on doors for Barack Obama, right?” he says. “I think that is a dynamic that will absolutely come into this race. A lot of the most fired up people right now are the people who stand with Rick on a lot of issues.”

Whether it’s Baker, Foster or another Republican who will step up and try to take down the incumbent, it’s getting close to the time when that candidate will have to step up.

The Kriseman campaign announced this week he has the backing of half the current City Council in November and has already raised $260,000.

Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics — the ‘this place is the best’ edition

Besides, maybe, New York City or Washington, D.C., there really is no better place from which to write about politics than Tampa Bay.

One reason is that there are so many competitive congressional and legislative seats in the region. And what’s spent to win those seats is oftentimes as much as the amount spent to win other state’s U.S. Senate seats. These seats are competitive because Hillsborough and Pinellas remain “purple” seats in an era when more and more counties throughout the country move to becoming single-party geographic enclaves.

According to a must-read article from FiveThirtyEight.com which was highlighted by the Tampa Bay Times John Romano, “of the 50 counties that had the most voters at the polls in November, Pinellas had the closest election results in America. It was 48.6 percent for Trump and 47.5 for Clinton. That’s a 1.1 percent swing. Hillsborough County was 51.5 for Clinton and 44.7 for Trump, a 6.8 percent swing.”

It’s razor-thin margins like this that have made and will make Tampa Bay the center of the universe during the 2018 election cycle.

It’s also why a Democrat like Bob Buesing is considering a rematch against Dana Young, even though Republicans traditionally turn out at a better clip than they do during presidential election cycles.

It’s why there’s no battleground more interesting to write about than Tampa Bay. Here’s where sh*t stands.

Hillsborough County teacher Jessica Harrington, a self-described progressive Democrat, is exploring a run in 2018 against Tampa Republican James “Jamie” Grant in House District 64.

In an announcement Tuesday on WFLA News Radio 970, Harrington said she is turning her attention toward Tallahassee. As a member of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus, Harrington initially considered running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Florida’s 12th Congressional District.

Harrington changed her mind after a trip to Tallahassee to drop off letters to lawmakers on education funding.

“I realized that no one really knows me … nationally,” Harrington told WFLA’s AM Tampa Bay. “But a lot of people know me locally.”

Harrington’s primary focus will be public schools, which he says are inadequately funded and overcrowded, something she blames on budget cuts in the early years of Gov. Scott. She is also “greatly offended” by the selection of Betsy DeVos as President Donald Trump’s secretary of education.

Something you rarely see in Pinellas politics is a genuinely competitive Republican primary for a state legislative seat. Even when there is a primary, it’s typically a David-and-Goliath situation, i.e. Jim Frishe vs. Jeff Brandes, where the eventual winner was never in doubt.

However, the scrum shaping up in House District 66, where Rep. Larry Ahern is term-limited from running again, is already developing into an elbows-out contest.

Former state prosecutor Berny Jacques jumped into the race first and has already earned an the endorsement of the young Republicans organization he recently led. Not soon afterwards Pinellas GOP chairman Nick DiCeglie made it clear he intends to run for the seat.

Now this internecine battle threatens to split the local party.

On one side, backing Jacques, is former U.S. Rep. David Jolly. On the other is, well, pretty much the rest of the establishment.

Well, except for the host of young lawyers who agreed to be on the host committee for Jacques’ kickoff party this Thursday.

Of particular note are the names of Jim Holton and Paul Jallo on the host committee. Those are two of the heaviest hitters in local fundraising circles.

Patrick Manteiga notes that Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White raised $55,750 from his re-election kickoff campaign event held last week at the Columbia Restaurant.

Rick Kriseman‘s re-election campaign will be managed by Jacob Smith, a South Florida native who began his political career as a volunteer for Barack Obama‘s first campaign in 2008. In 2012, he joined Obama’s re-election campaign in Southwest Florida.

Smith was the field director for Kriseman’s 2013 campaign.

Look for an announcement from the Kriseman camp soon.

Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford and Treasure Island City Manager Reid Silverboard could be looking at pink slips after voters elected five new commissioners in their towns last week.

Crawford, whose city elected three new commissioners, said he believes he will be terminated, while Silverboard said he is ready to offer his resignation.

Candidates running against major redevelopment projects won big last week, leaving both men wondering if they will have a job in the near future.

“From what I’ve learned is they’re going to terminate my employment when they’re sworn in on April 11,” Crawford said. “I’m a little miffed. I gave a lot to the city.”

Silverboard said he was going to offer his resignation when commissioners take the oath Tuesday.

“I believe that the City Commission is ready for a change in the Administration of the City to lead the organization,” Silverboard said. “It will be in both of our best interest to reach a mutually agreeable severance agreement.”

Anthony Weiss, a backer of the “Stop Tall Buildings” group, said he thinks “it’s an appropriate time for to find other opportunities. I don’t think that if he voluntarily resigns that he’s entitled to a severance package.“

Despite her incumbency, interim Mayor Deborah Schechner didn’t fare too well in the St. Pete Beach municipal elections.

Just 35 percent of the 2,941 voters in St. Pete Beach’s municipal elections chose Scherer, while challenger Alan Johnson is the mayor-elect with 61 percent of the vote.

An additional 4 percent picked John-Michael Fleig.

Schechner was appointed interim mayor after the job became available June 30 when former Mayor Maria Lowe stepped down to accompany her husband to France after he was named deputy director of cemetery operations for the American Battle Monuments Commission.

David Jolly headlining fundraiser for House candidate Berny Jacques this Thursday

Although the 2018 election is more than a year-and-a-half away, House District 66 candidate Berny Jacques is working hard to procure support well in advance of the campaigning for his first run for public office.

On Monday, City of Seminole Councilmember Trish Springer announced that she is backing Jacques in the race to succeed Republican Larry Ahern, who is term limited out next year.

“Berny has done a great job serving on the City of Seminole Developmental Review Board,” Springer said in a statement issued out by Jacques. “I am confident that he will also do a great job for the people of Seminole as our State Representative.”

“I’m honored to receive the endorsement of Councilor Trish Springer,” Jacques said. “Councilor Springer has brought great value to our community as a businesswoman, in civic organizations, and now as a member of the City Council. I am excited about the opportunity.”

Jacques also announced on Monday that he’ll be holding a fundraiser for his emerging campaign this Thursday, March 23, at the Island Way Grill in Clearwater at 5:30 p.m., with special guests former Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly and his wife, Laura Jolly.

The 29-year-old Jacques is a former Pinellas County prosecutor now working as an attorney in the private sector in St. Petersburg. He’ll be running again at least one other Republican to get the nomination for the seat next year, as Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Nick DiCeglie has also announced that he will be filing paperwork to run for the seat, which includes parts of  Clearwater, Largo, Seminole as well as beach communities from Indian Shores to Belleair Beach.

Rick Kriseman taps Jacob Smith to lead re-election campaign

Jacob Smith will serve as campaign manager for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s re-election campaign.

Smith worked in Democratic politics going back to his freshman year at the University of Florida in 2008 when he volunteered for Barack Obama‘s effort in Florida. He also worked on Obama’s 2012 campaign in Southwest Florida.

His most recent job was working as the Michigan organizing director for the Hillary Clinton campaign last year. He began working for the Clinton campaign in April of 2015 as a regional organizing director in New Hampshire, then moved on to Maine and Illinois. He later was selected as organizing director in Indiana and Northern California.

This isn’t Smith’s time working with Kriseman. He served as the field director for Kriseman’s successful 2013 campaign for mayor in St. Pete and then moved on to serve as the field director for Alex Sink’s bid for Florida’s 13th Congressional District seat against David Jolly in early 2014. He then went on to work as field director for Charlie Crist’s gubernatorial campaign in 2014.

“Being a part of the team that elected Mayor Kriseman was an incredible experience,” Smith said. “I’m honored that the mayor asked me to be a part of it again. The mayor has accomplished a lot over the last 3 years. We’re excited to talk about how far St. Petersburg has come under Mayor Kriseman’s leadership.”

Ray Rodrigues stance on medical marijuana angers Amendment 2 advocates

Because polling in 2016 showed less than half of all Floridians want to legalize marijuana outright, Ray Rodrigues believes he is doing the right thing by pushing regulations that ban people from smoking cannabis or using edible pot.

“Here’s what we know,” the Fort Myers House Republican told former Congressman David Jolly on AM 820 WWBA Thursday afternoon. “Amendment 2 passed with more than 70 percent of the vote. And for those of us who were polling this issue during the course of the campaign, support for medical marijuana was always over 70 percent.

“However,” Rodrigues added, during those same polls, we would ask about recreational marijuana. The support for recreational marijuana was never anywhere near the passage rate. It was consistently under 50 percent. So what that told us was the people in Florida want to see patients have access to marijuana for medicinal reasons, but the support for recreational marijuana is not nearly at the same level of support.”

Not every public survey showed that, however. A Quinnipiac poll conducted between April 27 and May 8 of 2016 showed 56 percent supported recreational use; 41 percent opposed.

Rodrigues stunned medical marijuana advocates last week when he unveiled a bill (HB 1397) that included language stating that the medical use of cannabis did not include “possession, use, or administration of marijuana in a form for smoking or vaping or in the form of commercially produced food items made with marijuana or marijuana oils, except for vapable forms possessed, used, or administered by or for a qualified patient diagnosed with a terminal condition.”

Rodrigues is not an outlier when it comes to Florida lawmakers pushing medical marijuana regulations to ban smokable pot.

Of five bills on medical marijuana now floating in the Legislature this Session, three prohibit smoking (two others are sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes and Miami Republican Frank Artiles).

Ben Pollara, the campaign manager for United for Care, says that the Legislature is acting like it’s trying to appease the 29 percent of Floridians who opposed Amendment 2, not the overwhelming majority who did.

“Do I think that’s what the people thought they were voting for? No,” Pollara says about a bill that would ban smokable marijuana. “Do I think that’s what the constitutional amendment says? No. I think the constitution allows — if not the smoking of marijuana — then the purchase and possession of smokable marijuana.”

Of the 24 states that have legalized medical marijuana, only two, New York and Pennsylvania, mandate that patients with a recommendation from a doctor cannot smoke marijuana. In Pennsylvania, edible forms of marijuana can’t be sold in dispensaries, but the law allows patients to produce those items at home.

Rodrigues also told WWBA about 2013 study conducted by Columbia University that found marijuana in a pill form provided longer relief than smoking (4.5 hours compared to 2.5 hours). “When you smoke, you’re using known carcinogens into your body, and reducing lung function,” he said. “So from a medical standpoint, the pill form is definitely medicine. It provides you the benefit of medicine. And the smoking of it is not medicine, it does not provide benefits, it often provides more harm than good.”

“When you smoke, you’re using known carcinogens into your body, and reducing lung function,” he said. “So from a medical standpoint, the pill form is definitely medicine. It provides you the benefit of medicine. And the smoking of it is not medicine, it does not provide benefits, it often provides more harm than good.”

Chris Cano, the executive director of the Central Florida Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (CFL NORML), says that for legislators to determine that smoking isn’t good for some patients is “big government at its worst.” Cano cites the example of Cathy Jordan, a Manatee County woman who has been smoking marijuana for years to control symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

“Cathy Jordan smokes two joints every morning, so that she can cough up the phlegm and fluids that she has due to her ALS,” he says. “So smoking works for her. When he says the science is wrong, he’s absolutely wrong. There’s certain benefits to smoking.”

Michael Minardi, the legal director of NORML of Florida, responded to Rodrigues by citing a 2012 Journal of the American Medical Association study that marijuana smokers performed better on tests of lung function compared to either nonsmokers or cigarette smokers.

Rodrigues acknowledged he has heard from Amendment 2 supporters, who aren’t happy with his bill.

“There were definitely people who believed that they were voting to smoke it because those people have contacted me since we had filed that bill and expressed that sentiment,” he said. “However, I do not believe that is the majority of the people. Clearly, the majority of the people believed they were voting for medical marijuana, and as long as they get the benefits from medical marijuana, the way that it is administered is irrelevant. And I would say that the science is on our side.”

In 2014, the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the “Charlotte’s Web” bill, which legalized strains of marijuana high in cannabidiol, or CBD, but low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound that produces a high.

For nearly four years, Pollara has worked to make medical marijuana legal in Florida. He says that the attitude of most members of the Legislature this entire time is to make it as “unappealing to nonmusical consumers as possible.”

“What gets lost in that is that sometimes what you need is to get high,” Pollara says. “You can’t extricate the medical benefit from the getting high part of it.”

While it doesn’t appear to be the sentiment in Tallahassee at this point, Pollara optimistically surmises that there’s still plenty of time for the Legislature to come up with a final product before Sine Die.

(WWBA does not yet have a link to the Rodrigues interview on their website yet. When they do, we will include the link).

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